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Why Jesus’ baptism is told differently

The Baptism Site on the Jordan side of the Jordan River is one of the most important recent discoveries in biblical archaeology. Excavations only began here in 1996, following Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel in 1994, but have already uncovered more than 20 churches, caves and baptismal pools dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods. (Picture from Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

The fact that our New Testament contains four Gospels by four writers with four viewpoints can sometimes be tricky to navigate when some events of Jesus’ life are told differently.  Yet there are substantial blessings in having these four accounts for Bible students twenty centuries later:  we gain a fuller picture and understanding of Christ Jesus’ life and ministry.

The Master’s baptism is one of a number of examples where there is diversity in the four accounts.  This video blog tells the story of two versions of the baptism, one from Matthew and the other from Luke, that will perhaps shed light on some discrepancies you’ve no doubt noted.

Before reading further (spoiler alert!), you might want to reread Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:4-8, Luke 3:21-22 and John 1:29-34, the four evangelists’ versions of the baptism of Jesus.

The video below was taken on a recent trip to Israel, standing at the traditional site of the Jordan River where historians believe this pivotal event of Christianity took place. (The picture above is from the Jordanian side of the river where new excavations are occurring.)  Christian tourists travel from every continent to be baptized as was the Master Christian.  Here are the hopes of a lifetime to experience the purification that this 2000-year-old immersion in water symbolizes for believers.

Since Mark is believed to have been the first Gospel written, we see how significant the baptism is to the early Christians as Mark chooses to open the story of Jesus not with his birth, but his baptism.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved with you I am well pleased (Mark 1:9-11).”

John baptizes Jesus as he has so many others but this time a sense of God’s presence is so vivid that John hears a voice claiming Jesus as God’s son and identify Jesus.

But in the Luke version, John is not even at the baptism.  He is miles away imprisoned in one of Herod’s fortresses, just before his death.  Again, by rereading the Luke version below, you’ll see the writer is telling us John is well off the scene so that Jesus is known to be unmistakably the Son of God.  There would be no confusion, in Luke’s relating of the story, which figure was the son of God.

20 “…he shut John up in prison.  When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened”  (Luke 3:21,22).

One baptism.  Two versions.  Each writer had his own reasons…thus the beauty of four distinct gospels.

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How the Beatitudes come alive on a Galilean Hill

There are few places in Israel more ‘ground zero’ to Christianity than the Mt. of Beatitudes on the shores of the Galilean Sea, the subject of this month’s video blog. It is in this beauty-filled place that historians think Christ Jesus gave a sermon that included the core teachings of what it is to be part of the community of believers, of Christ’s Church.

The heart of this teaching, called “The Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7), are the Beatitudes.  These eight verses, unified by their common beginning of  ‘blessed’ (makarios in Greek), address an objective–not subjective–state of happiness.   Moving far beyond an emotional state of happiness, Jesus pointed his followers to an objective reality of being spiritually enriched because of one’s citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Christians have made pilgrimages to this sacred site since the 4th century, the first thought to be an Italian woman, Egeria.  Visiting in 380, she wrote to her Christian community back home, “Near there on a mountain is the cave to which the Savior climbed and spoke the Beatitudes.”  A 4th-century Byzantine church was built to commemorate the site, featuring an unusual octagonal floor, in honor of the eight Beatitudes.  The modern Catholic church (in this photo and the video blog) was built in 1936, near the 4th-century Byzantine ruins.

We hope this month’s two-minute video blog gives you, too, the feeling of peace and serenity felt on a recent visit.

Regardless of whether this is the exact spot where Jesus Christ delivered this Sermon on the Mount, or one nearby, the sense of elevation over the sea, the shady trees and the tranquility all make it likely that here was first heard the Sermon to stand through the ages.  And now we get on with trying to live it more.

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Christ Jesus’ home at Capernaum

Welcome to another video blog from a recent trip to Israel.

“He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea…”.

So writes Matthew in 4:13, introducing the reader to this central location of Christ Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee. Capernaum is located on the northwest shore of the Galilean Sea, a beautiful site in calm weather and a treacherous one when rough seas churn.  Although only about 1500 people and 13 acres in size in the first century, Capernaum has found its way into the Christian’s vocabulary as a center for the healing ministry of Jesus Christ — from Peter’s mother in law, to the man with evil spirits, to the centurion’s servant.  Enjoy this brief journey to the heart of the Master’s Galilean ministry.

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Visiting Caesarea Philippi: Place of Jesus’ most important ‘quiz’.

Welcome to another video blog from a recent trip to Israel.

This is one of my favorite sites, Caesarea Philippi, filled with spiritual insights. Because there are two “Caesarea’s” mentioned in the New Testament, it’s helpful to understand their distinctions. One is on the Mediterranean sea (Caesarea Maritima) on Israel’s western coast and was the site of one of Herod’s castles as well as where Paul was held before he was taken as a prisoner to Rome. An earlier vlog (video blog) on it can be found here.

This second ‘Caesarea’ (Caesarea Philippi) I wrote about in depth in a blog about 18 months ago and refer to it here in case you missed it. The location is mentioned just twice in the Gospels, once in Matt. 16:13 and the other in Mark 8:27.  In both Gospel versions, Jesus has warned the disciples of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, or their false teachings.   Then he leads them to this place with its unusual history and asks them if they know who he truly is.  Understanding why Jesus led his disciples 18 miles to teach a single lesson (his identity as Christ) is powerful. Combining the written text and video will I hope, bring it to life for you.

Please feel free to share your insights on the below (and share this post with fellow travelers). We love hearing from you.

A fellow traveler,

Madelon

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Luke and his Special Affection for Widows

Jesus_Heals_The_Widow_of_Nains_Son_-_William_Brassey_Hole

Jesus Heals The Widow of Nains Son – William Brassey Hole

Discovering biographical data about writers of Scripture is tough–so many centuries ago, questionable sources, different ideas about using others’ more famous names, etc. We probably know as much about Luke, however, the evangelist/writer/historian, as any author. In addition to his Greek nationality and professional background as a physician, Luke uses the ‘we’ pronoun in parts of Acts to indicate he was a traveling companion to Paul, and thus an eyewitness to the apostle’s astonishing ministry among the Gentiles.

Luke was also committed to putting the Gospel story and that of the early Church in historical context, vital for Christians and others to realize the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened during the reign of known historical Jewish and Roman figures.

But what we don’t know is if a widow raised Luke.

That might seem like an odd query, but even a cursory reading of Luke’s Gospel shows he had a special place in his heart for women who had lost husbands. Because a widow raised my brother and me, I noticed this early on but was still surprised to see the extent of his references to widows. While John never refers to this social class, and Matthew mentions widows only once and Mark three times, Luke cites widows twelve times– nine in the Gospel and three more in Acts.

That’s what led me to think perhaps he had a special sensitivity to the challenges they faced.  While that is speculation, we do know that one of Luke’s underlying themes throughout both his volumes is the universal and inclusive love that the Gospel message carries to the downtrodden and outcast. This includes not just the poor and infirmed, but women, and particularly widows who have lost their husband’s economic and social support.

For example, Luke’s sensitivity to Mary’s unusual pregnancy is unique in the Gospel accounts, with texts of hymns (see Luke 1:46-56), prayers and innermost thoughts (see Luke 1:28-38) on the honor of bearing humanity’s Messiah. From the opening of the Gospel we know women are going to take a primary role and chapter after chapter reveals just that.

But before we even get to Mary’s story, the angel visits Zechariah to foretell Elizabeth’s remarkable conception of John the Baptist (see Luke 1:12-20). So of this Gospel’s first three main individuals introduced, two are women.

Like any good Jewish mother, Mary took her new baby to the temple for purification, ‘according to the law of Moses’ (Luke 2:22). Two key witnesses appear, customary in Jewish law (see Deut. 17:6), to testify to Jesus’ special status as the savior of Israel. First is Simeon, a faithful Jew guided by the Holy Spirit, living to bear witness to the Messiah, which he now does.

The second witness would normally be another man, this being a patriarchal society where women had few legal rights. But instead we meet the prophetess, Anna, a widow of many decades, known for her devotion and faithfulness to God through prayer and fasting. She too witnesses Jesus’ unique role and “speak(s) about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel” (Luke 2:38).

In Luke 4:25 Jesus highlights Sarepta, a receptive widow Elijah visits in contrast to then religious leaders not willing to recognize the prophet, so similar to Jesus’ experience with the elders.

Luke is the only Gospel to document the moving story of the widow of Nain’s son raised from the dead as Jesus came by (Luke 7:11).

Luke has a number of parables unique to the four Gospels, so it’s no surprise to see one prominently feature a widow squaring off against a judge (Luke 18:1). Lauded for her persistence in court, Luke pits two figures representing opposite ends of the social ladder against each other. How startling it must have been for first century listeners to learn that the male judge capitulates to the woman’s pleas.

The Gospel writer also reveals Jesus’ condemnation for scribes who take advantage of the illiteracy of widow clients whose life savings are devoured by their greed (see Luke 20:45)—a kind of first century ‘Bernie Madoff’ scheme.

And like Mark, Luke includes the widow who offers her last monetary bits to a Temple as an object lesson in gratitude vs. penury (Luke 21:1)

Surely the American poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, saw a similar theme throughout Luke’s gospel of inclusion and love, when he penned this beautiful verse often sung as a hymn:

O, he whom Jesus loved has truly spoken,

That holier worship, which God deigns to bless,

Restores the lost, and heals the spirit broken,

And feeds the widow and the fatherless.

Please visit BibleRoads to see a new Bible Study workbook on “The Gospel of Luke” for individual or group study.  

 

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