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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, December 09 2021

Repentance - your first step

After God calls us by opening our minds to the truth of the Bible, our repentance is the beginning of a relationship with Him. At its core, repentance is change, turning from our previous self-centred way of life to serve God and focus our life around Him.

The willingness to repent comes from God and Jesus plainly stated, "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44). Upon repentance we realise we have missed the mark (Romans 3:23) and must be willing to let God’s Word change our thinking.

Sin is defined as breaking God's commandments and laws (I John 3:4). We readily consider such acts as murder, theft and adultery to be sin, but Christ made it clear we also sin by our very thoughts. Hatred and lust violate God's commandments against murder and adultery just as surely as the physical acts themselves (Matthew 5:22-28; 1 John 3:15).

Crowds followed John the Baptist asking for baptism, but not everyone was welcomed by him. He admonished them to “...bear fruits worthy of repentance" (Luke 3: 8), and the examples he gave of real repentance are very revealing: “'He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” He told the tax collectors “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” and the soldiers, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages" (Luke 3:11-14).

John the Baptist described personal sacrifice, giving willingly and showing genuine concern for others as fruits of true repentance. He urged his listeners to look inside themselves and examine the motives driving their attitudes and actions.

The change God wants in us can often appear so overwhelming that repentance and conversion to God's way of thinking seem impossible, which is really the point. Without God's help, this transformation is impossible! When Christ compared entering the Kingdom of God to passing a camel through the eye of a needle, the disciples asked in amazement, "Who then can be saved?" (Mark 10:25-26). Jesus replied, "With men it is impossible, but... with God all things are possible" (Mark 10:27).

To truly repent, we must learn to trust and rely on God more than on ourselves. Jesus promised, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7). If you sincerely want to follow God’s commandments and instructions from the Bible, tell Him. Faith in God is a key part of the entire process (Hebrews 11:6). We are to act on faith, then trust God to answer our prayers.

Ultimately God wants all to repent and become His children (2 Peter 3:9) but, although God "desires all men to be saved"(1 Timothy 2:4), He doesn't force anyone to repent. God’s kindness and goodness lead us to repentance as mentioned in Romans 2:4, but He doesn't make the choice for us. The decision is still ours.

Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).

He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).

But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).

This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).

The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.

The Census of Caesar Augustus

Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).

Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).

Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth

Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).

Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.

Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).

These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.