Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Word Becoming Flesh Meditations on the Incarnation of the Son of God from the Unique Perspectives of the Four Evangelists

Advent Evening Prayer (Weeks of Advent 1 & Advent 2)

St. Matthew & St. Mark


Matthew 1:18-25; Hebrews 1:1-14; Isaiah 7:10-17

[The church was without power on December 1 and there was no Evening Prayer, so this homily represents an attempt to combine two into one.]

8 December 2010

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ.

Our doctrine of verbal inspiration has its sedes in 2 Peter 1:21, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This is to say that the men who wrote the Holy Scriptures, though they were influenced by their own cultures and family upbringings, though they had different gifts and styles in speaking and in writing, and though they were writing to different audiences at different times and in different places, nevertheless they spoke and they wrote by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit so that what was written was what God willed to be written and was, in fact, God’s Word, and not man’s word.

During these midweek services in Advent, we will reflect upon God’s unique Word regarding the incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ as He caused it to be inspired through His evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These four men were very different in culture and capacity. Further, their audiences and intents were also very different. Thus, their Gospels reflect their unique perspectives on the incarnation of the Son of God. Tonight, we consider St. Matthew, the son of Alpheus and St. Mark, the young interpreter of St. Peter.

Matthew, also known as Levi, was a tax collector before Jesus called him to be a disciple and an apostle. Though a Jew, Matthew was considered to be unclean and an outcast because he collected taxes for the Roman occupiers. The Pharisees and the Scribes would have been particularly hostile to Matthew, judging him not only to be unclean, but also a traitor and a thief. But, it was men and women such as Matthew that Jesus came to save: sinners. Jesus called Matthew away from his occupation and his wealth to become a disciple. Not only did Matthew become a disciple of Jesus, but he was also called and sent as one of the Lord’s twelve apostles. Later, Matthew became the evangelist whose inspired record of the Gospel was granted first place in the ordering of the New Testament.

Matthew’s unique perspective on the incarnation of the Son of God served to convince his primarily Jewish audience that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Thus, Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, His ancestors. Matthew makes no effort to hide sinners and scandals within Jesus’ genealogy, instead, he highlights them. Jesus’ ancestors include prostitutes, adulterers, violent men, and other sinners of all descriptions. Though this might surprise us, the truth is that there were no people other than sinners to make up His genealogy. Jesus’ ancestors needed a Savior just as much as we do! Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, was descended from sinners and was just like every man or woman who had ever lived, with the exception that He had no sin. Jesus is, literally, the fulfillment of all humanity. There can be no genealogy of Jesus’ descendants, for history has reached its goal in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Matthew demonstrates that Jesus is the son of David and the son of Abraham: He is a descendant of King David, from whose family the Messiah was prophesied to come, and He is a descendant of Abraham, the father of the Israelites, through whom all nations were to be blessed according to God’s covenant. By emphasizing Jesus’ descent from both David and Abraham, Matthew proclaimed to his audience that Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish Messianic hope. Jesus is the prophesied Messiah of King David’s royal lineage and He is the Savior of the nations promised to come from the seed of Abraham.

After establishing Jesus’ ancestral credentials in the genealogy, Matthew launches straightway into the birth of Jesus. Matthew is deliberate in showing that the circumstances of Jesus’ birth fulfill Old Testament Messianic prophecies concerning the conception by the Holy Spirit, the virgin birth, the Davidic ancestry of Joseph, and even the Messiah’s name, Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.

Then, extending the Messianic role of Jesus to the Gentiles, Matthew records the visit of the Magi from the east, an account that is unique to Matthew’s Gospel. This Jesus was to be the Savior of all people in all times and in all places.

Also unique to Matthew’s Gospel is the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt to escape the murderous King Herod who sought to kill the infant Jesus. This account, Matthew is sure to mention, was also to fulfill the Messianic prophecy, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Even the slaughter of the infants in Bethlehem served to fulfill the prophecy spoken by Jeremiah. Further, Jesus’ hometown residence of Nazareth was also in fulfillment of prophecy, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

These are but a few examples of St. Matthew’s efforts to proclaim to the Jews, the Gentiles, and to you, that the Son of God, the promised Messiah of prophecy, has come amongst us as our brother to be our Kinsman Redeemer and to set us free from the bondage of sin and death. He is the very Word by which the heavens and the earth were made, become flesh and dwelling amongst us. This truth about Jesus is depicted in the iconographic image for St. Matthew and the Gospel bearing his name, a human male with angel’s wings – the Son of God and the Son of Man.

But, if Matthew’s chief concern was to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, St. Mark has written a Gospel of action emphasizing the Words and the deeds of Jesus.

Mark was but a young man during Jesus’ ministry, he was not yet born at the time of Jesus’ birth. Uniquely, Mark’s Gospel does not include a birth narrative but it begins with the preaching of John the Baptist preparing the way for the coming of the Christ by preaching repentance. Mark, also known as John or John Mark, was an interpreter for St. Peter and accompanied Peter and Barnabus on some of their journeys. It is believed that much of his Gospel he received personally from Peter. Mark’s audience were Gentile Christians at the Church in Rome. His writing style is short and fast-paced, perhaps catering to a Roman preference.

While Mark does not emphasize Jesus as the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, like Matthew, he does emphasize the authority of Jesus as the Son of God and the creative power of His Word. In Mark’s Gospel, the disciples respond to Jesus’ authority, the demons fear it, and all creation obeys Him. Thus, the iconographic symbol for St. Mark and the Gospel bearing his name is a Lion – strong, fierce, and powerful, commanding fear and respect. The Jesus of Mark’s Gospel is the prophesied Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

However, though Mark clearly presents Jesus as the Son of God who has power over demons, heals the sick, and forgives sins, this Jesus also possesses a full humanity and has come to serve and to give His life for many. Mark’s Jesus is the suffering servant Messiah of Isaiah’s prophecy. The demons He casts out and the people He heals are commanded to keep silent until Jesus reveals Himself before the Sanhedrin. In Mark’s Gospel, Peter confesses Jesus only as “the Christ”, and only after the resurrection do His followers recognize Him as God. Mark also clearly defines the life of a disciple of Christ as one who follows Him through suffering and even death saying, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

In the first two Gospels we see the revealing of the Word of God made flesh. Jesus is the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, hope and expectation, and He is the Son of Man and the Son of God, become flesh to suffer and die that men might be released from the bondage of their sins and live.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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