An increasingly common story with technology that I’m noticing more as a Dad, and as I move into a new MacBook Pro, because after three years, my MacBook Air is too slow, and my son “needs” a laptop for school; how much technology is bought to replace perfectly adequate technology in our endless chasing of the new – watching the slow death of an iPad.
Single O coffee. 38 Moore St, Austinmer. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a new place in Austinmer, but I’m glad I made the journey. On Tuesdays, this place is closed, and it’s worth going the extra distance to Thirroul and visiting Buck Hamblin (and in fact I did – about a 20 min walk), but when they’re open, you can get excellent coffee in this place. You need to get up pretty early to see the place this empty:
Inside, it reminds me of At All and Sundry – the furniture is from a different era to the staff, but is homey and comfortable.
Lots of reclaimed timber, a big kitchen and coffee area, and fresh muffins if you’re early enough!
The espresso comes out in one of these single-O handmade cups (on sale at the counter).
When I decide to split the avocado toast with my son, they offer me an extra piece (three instead of 2), and we end up sharing 50-50.
But it’s when I order a pour-over that their work really shines. They take their coffee seriously, and it comes across in the product.
And their logo. It’s a beautiful (if hard to photograph) gilded likeness of their store.
Looking forward to my next visit!
I hesitate to even use the word “get” in a title, after years of being told that it’s not a good word to use in English. Today, we would use “get behind me” to talk about a show of support, but it works a little bit differently in first century language: it’s more like “depart or go away”. The expression is the same in Matthew and in Mark, and is entirely missing from Luke, who has chosen to leave out that particular rebuke of Peter from his version of events.
Here are the three gospels that each have three incidences of Jesus predicting his own death to his disciples. They seem upset, but confused about it: in fact they all seem blindsided by it when it finally happens.
See what you think: it’s pretty clear from the different stories that Jesus was expecting to die, but that his followers were unable to form that idea in their heads! In Luke, there even seems to be an expectation that there will be suffering for people who want to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 16:21–23.
Jesus Again Foretells Death, Resurrection
22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 17:22–23.
Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time
17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 20:17–19.
Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 8:31–33.
Jesus Again Foretells Death, Resurrection
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 9:30–32.
Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time
32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mk 10:32–34.
Jesus Foretells His Death
21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus
23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 9:21–27.
43 And all were astonished at the majesty of God.
Jesus Again Foretells His Death
But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, 44 “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” 45 But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 9:43–45.
Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time
31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 18:31–34.
If you’ve ever heard the expression “walks on water”, it has something to do with being able to accomplish amazing feats that no-one else could do (though not with the miraculous, just with a high level of talent).
This miracle appears in three out of four gospels, and seems to be about demonstrating Jesus’ power over nature. There are some different details (Bethsaida and Capernaum are both near the edge of the Sea of Galilee).
Matthew 14:22-32 – Jesus Walks on the Water
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 14:22–32.
Mark 6:45-52 – Jesus Walks on the Water
45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mk 6:45–52.
John 6:16-21 – Jesus Walks on Water
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn 6:16–21.
In Matthew, Peter walks out on the water with Jesus, but in the other two, this detail is not present. Are all three records talking about the same event, and emphasising different things? Or did something similar happen multiple times?
The disciples, who were already familiar with Jesus and what he taught, were terrified. What do we make of someone who has this kind of power?
Zimmah Coffee. Pinnacle Rd, Hobart, Tasmania. As you drive up to the top of Mount Wellington from Hobart, you can’t miss it. There’s parking, and even a short bush track to explore. This wood-clad shipping container has only been open this year – they are serving coffee out of a shipping container, but in a beautiful and elegant way.
Even their logo is well thought-out.
Their commitment to low-environmental-income is on display even from the side of the ordering window, with these planter boxes.
If you want to sit inside, it’s a beautiful space, though really, if you’ve made the journey, you’re probably looking to see the outdoors, so there are a couple of picnic tables to sit at.
The espresso machine has pride of place in the kitchen and order-taking space (though you generally have to order from outside) .
But the best thing is that the coffee is good! Make sure you visit when you’re next touring in Hobart.
The figure of speech here is “loaves and fishes” – by some miracle stretching out a small resource to accomplish a lot.
And it dates back to a couple of events in the midst of Jesus’ ministry: the main one is called “the feeding of the 5000”.
This is such a famous miracle that it appears in all four gospels, reported in different ways. See what you think: here’s Mark’s gospel, usually the most brief in its coverage, but here setting some context. The disciples are tired after a busy mission trip, and Jesus takes them away for a break, when a crowd visits.
Mark 6:30-44 – Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
30 jThe apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mk 6:30–44.
Matthew – a former tax collector – writes this up differently. There’s less detail in the background story.
Matt 14:13-21 – Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 14:13–21.
In Luke’s gospel, which is more concerned with both historical detail, and the plight of the poor and powerless, there’s still a lot of similarity: we have a named location, and the characteristic summarising of teaching.
Luke 9:10-17 – Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
10 On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. 12 Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” 13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 And they did so, and had them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
(Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Lk 9:10–17.
And then John’s gospel, written years later, is a bit more reflective. We have a location, a time of year (near Passover), more detail about the crowd, and we answer the question: why does a group of 12 disciples have only 5 loaves and two fish? There is a boy who brought some food. The disciples hadn’t, it seems, even planned as far as dinner for themselves!
John 6:1-14 – Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
1After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jn 6:1–14.
It’s this clue of the Passover in John 6:4 that reminds us of why this miracle is a big deal – it links to the time that Israel spent in wandering in the desert, and saw God provide them with food (manna, if you recall, but that’s a bit out of scope for looking at the gospels). When Jesus shows his power in feeding a group of people by a miracle, he’s showing that the power comes from God, and is associated with the history of God feeding his people. This is such a clear insight into who Jesus is that it makes it into all four gospels.
What do you make of this story about this miracle?
The idea of the lost sheep is deeply embedded into western culture. In the Shaun the Sheep movie, the premise was that the shepherd had gone missing, and the sheep had to find him, so a reversal of the “lost sheep”, but not an ignorant one.
Jesus actually tells this parable about the lost sheep, which is where the concept comes from. Here’s the version that Luke writes, to a group of people who were complaining about Jesus’ company at breakfast.
4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Luke 15:4-7, ESV
In Matthew’s gospel, there is a little more context provided for the telling of the parable. Greatness in the terms Jesus is talking about involves humility: being like a little child.
Who Is the Greatest?
18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
Matthew 18:1–6, ESV
Soon afterward, after some descriptions of what’s involved in “sinning”, we hear the parable again. The story of the last sheep also informs the idea that young people, who are otherwise defenceless like sheep, need to be cared for, and not harmed.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Matthew 18:10–14, ESV
The idea of a prodigal son (from the Latin word prodigus meaning “lavish”), who would take half his father’s property, squander it all, and then come back and ask for mercy, is a famous one in western culture. And it’s one of those ideas that comes from the teaching of Jesus.
This story appears only in one of the four gospels – Luke’s. Say what you like about Luke’s gospel, it has a big heart for the lost: for people on the fringes of society. The gospels speak about Jesus as someone who has “come to seek and save the lost”.
By way of context, Jesus is talking to a group of people from a Jewish background who were outside the main, devout group, and there were two other groups of people – the Pharisees: highly religious Jewish people who had non-religious jobs, and the scribes – the professional religious people – listening on too.
15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
Luke 15:1-2, ESV
Jesus tells a couple of stories about something valuable that is lost and sought out, and then he tells this parable. (A parable is just a story with a particular message)
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
Luke 15:11-16, ESV
You can still feel the humiliation and helplessness of this story, even two thousand years later, can’t you? There’s something timeless about this kind of situation, the riches-to-rags story.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
Luke 15:17-24, ESV
If you don’t know the story, you might think that this is where it ends, but in fact there’s a third act, where the older brother gets right-of-reply.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”
Luke 15:25-32, ESV
There’s one aspect of the Batman story that is revisited time and time again. The origin story: how a young Bruce Wayne, scared of the intensity of the entertainment they were watching (The Mask of Zorrro”), left the performance early with his parents, ended up in Crime Alley, and saw his parents killed in front of him.
It’s been told again and again. Here’s a mashup someone made.
What do we make of the origin story of Jesus? Where would we even find the story?
There are four gospels – four biographies of Jesus – in the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Mark starts out with Jesus’ cousin – John the Baptist – about to baptise an adult Jesus. John starts out with a discussion about who Jesus is, in abstract terms, and then we see an adult Jesus baptised.
So all the stories we hear in endless Christmas pageants come from just 2 gospels: Matthew (written by a tax collector with a Jewish background) and Luke (written by a doctor / historian).
I want to keep this series concentrating as much as possible on just reading the Bible, so here are a couple of sections of the Bible to read, to see where the ideas you may have heard about Jesus come from.
Luke tells us the story of a census, the manger, and the shepherds:
The Birth of Jesus Christ
2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Luke 2:1-21 ESV
It’s from Matthew that we read the story of the wise men, in the first 12 verses of chapter 12:
The Visit of the Wise Men
2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Matthew 2:1-12, ESV
My kids are getting older, but they’re still not quite old enough to watch the Back to the Future trilogy. We were talking about Rube Goldberg machines, and the kids love to watch YouTube videos of the different machines that people have made.
I remember the start of Back to the Future, how Doc Brown has set up a machine to feed Einstein a fresh tin of dog food, and the next thing I know, we’re watching the opening titles for Back to the Future.
I first saw Back to the Future on the big screen with my Dad when the movie came out in late 1985: over 31 years ago. A lot has happened in my life since then, and I’ve interacted with that movie and its sequels a number of times over the years, and I still have a strong recollection of the events of the film.
And this wasn’t even a set of events I lived through: just a film I saw.
The back to the future trilogy is particularly interesting because it talks about 30-year intervals of time. The film is set in 1985, and involves journeys to 1955, and later to 2015. Watching the film again in 2015, I was struck by the sense of distance that comes from a 30-year period: just as I was watching a film that looked back to my childhood, my Dad would have been watching a film that looked back on his childhood.
30 years is a long time. And not a long time.
Which brings us to the gospels. As we head back to ancient times, the standards of document copying and reporting change significantly. It was not possible to photocopy the documents you would want to: indeed, it’s more expensive to write things down in general. And so people were better at remembering things they had been told, and tended to have a more formal process for memorisation, and – when something was important enough to write down – it was written in a way that tried to conserve space on the page.
If you date Jesus’ life from a birth in 4BC (should that be BCE?) and death in 33AD (should that be CE), then there’s a gap of some 30-35 years between Jesus’ death and the writing of the early gospels: there are a range of scholarly opinions around the dates of the gospels, but here’s a rough guide:
Mark: 65-70 AD, just before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman armies.
Matthew: 75-85 AD (though some say 60-70 AD).
Luke: 80-85 AD
John: 85-95 AD.
Source: Eric Hatfield, Were the gospels written al long time after the event?
I have a pretty good recollection of the Back to the Future films, and the events in them, and as much as I like them, I don’t think they are of eternal significance, nor have I spent a lot of repeated energy learning about them. The people who wrote down the gospels were motivated and well equipped to investigate the events of Jesus’ life, and would have done the best job possible. These documents could still be verified by people who were still alive at the time of circulating them – so there was a built-in fact-checking.
Can we trust the gospels? I think they’re a spectacularly good record of a long distant period of time.
What’s in the gospels? That’s for another post.