Connections 01.06.2019: Perspective

Matthew 2:1-12

“Earthrise,” taken on Apollo 8 by Bill Anders

On Christmas Eve in 1968, the Apollo 8 spacecraft was orbiting the moon. The three astronauts inside the craft— Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders—were the first human beings to travel to the moon and back.

I was only ten years old, but I vividly remember the chills I experienced when the astronauts read the opening verses of the Genesis 1 creation poem as they beamed footage of the lunar surface back to Earth.

Bill Anders took many photographs of the moon’s surface to help identify possible landing sites for future lunar landings. On one of the craft’s revolutions around the moon, Earth came into view. As it did, Anders took several shots of it. One of those pictures has become iconic. The photograph is known as “Earthrise.”

On the fiftieth anniversary of that Christmas Eve, Anders reflected on the Earth that he and his fellow astronauts saw from their lunar orbit:

The Earth we saw rising over the battered grey lunar surface was small and delicate, a magnificent spot of color in the vast blackness of space. Once-distant places appeared inseparably close. Borders that once rendered division vanished. All of humanity appeared joined together on this glorious-but-fragile sphere.

Anders went on to say,

Fifty years later, “Earthrise”—the lingering imprint of our mission—stands sentinel. It still reminds us that distance and borders and division are merely a matter of perspective. We are all linked in a joined human enterprise; we are bound to a planet we all must share. We are all, together, stewards of this fragile treasure.

He said something else that we need to think about:

Another vision made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I held my fist at arm’s length. That stunning vision disappeared. From one lunar distance our world was easily obscured. At 10 lunar distances Earth would have been but the size of a ladybug. And at 100—then and now far beyond human reach—Earth would no longer be visible to the naked eye. Here was everything humans had been, everything we were, and everything we might become—and yet our home planet was physically insignificant in space.

We can’t see Earth from God’s perspective, but I can’t help but wonder how insignificant this planet must look to God. Or maybe it doesn’t. After all, God’s vision must be infinite, so maybe God sees the smallest piece of space dust as clearly as the largest star.

This much we know: God loves the inhabitants of this world so much that God sent Jesus to us so that we could know how much God loves us. That’s what Christmas is all about.

But the Christmas season ends on January 5. Epiphany falls on January 6, which this year is on a Sunday. It’s this coming Sunday, as a matter of fact.

On Epiphany, we celebrate God’s revelation to the Gentiles—represented by the magi—of Christ’s coming. When God looked at Earth, God saw the borders and other divisions that separate people from each other. But God made it clear that Jesus came for the sake of all people.

I realize that we don’t have God’s perspective on our planet and on the people who live on it. But I also believe that Christians should be growing more toward seeing both our world and our fellow human beings as God sees them.

Here’s one last quote from astronaut Anders: “We set out to explore the moon and instead discovered the Earth.” From out there, he and his fellow explorers got a different perspective on things down here. They shared that perspective with us.

Maybe if we can learn to see things more from God’s perspective, we’ll better remember that God sent Jesus for all of us. It should—it must—make a difference in how we see, think about, and treat each other.

Discussion

1. How did God reveal the birth of Jesus to the wise men? Are we ever too limited in how we think God reveals important truths to people?
2. Why was Herod frightened by what the wise men said? Why might “all Jerusalem” have been frightened “with him” (v. 3)?
3. The wise men came looking for the Messiah. The religious leaders told Herod that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod sent the wise men to Bethlehem. Why didn’t the religious leaders go too?
4. Herod tries to manipulate the magi’s sincere religious quest for his own selfish political purposes. What lessons might we learn from this?
5. How did the wise men react when they found the child Jesus? How do we react when we encounter him?

Reference Shelf

The gentiles’ diligent search for the born king of the Jews and their exceeding joy on finding him contrasts markedly with the uneasiness of Herod and all Jerusalem at the news of the birth. Since Herod was an Edomite who was appointed king by the Romans (Josephus Antiquities 14.14.4-5 §381-89; 14.15.1 §403), he would have been understandably threatened by any inquiry about a “born king of the Jews.” Omens from the stars also were nothing to be brushed aside. The appearance of comets, for example, were assumed to portend the birth or the death of someone of great consequence. Suetonius tells us that when a comet appeared over Rome for several nights, Nero took the precaution of having several Roman noblemen executed, so that it would have augured their deaths and not his (Nero 36).

Herod’s vexation does not startle anyone familiar with his paranoid concern to preserve his throne and power at all costs. What is surprising, however, is the report that “all Jerusalem” is troubled with him (2:3). One might have expected that all Jerusalem would erupt in great rejoicing at news of the birth of a born king. Perhaps it is the case that when this psychopathic king is troubled, it is time for everyone else to be troubled as well. But later in the story, when Jesus arrives on the outskirts of Jerusalem, the city is again shaken (21:10-11). Troubled Jerusalem therefore forms a united front with Herod against Jesus, and this reaction is an ominous foreboding of what is to come. Herod’s ruthless stealth in trying to eliminate this child competitor (2:7) foreshadows the malevolent cunning of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem who also will furtively plot the death of Jesus (26:3-5).

That Herod would summon high priests and scribes to inquire about the whereabouts of the messiah’s birth is most unusual (2:4). According to Josephus, Herod began his reign with a massacre of the members of the Sanhedrin and kept their influence to a bare minimum (Antiquities 14.9.1 §175; see Babylonian Talmud Baba Batra 3b). The gathering of “all the high priests and scribes of the people” serves to emphasize the complete indifference of official Judaism to the birth of the messiah. Although the priests and scribes would also believe in the portents of stars (if Josephus is any indication, Jewish War 6.5.3 §289), they were not expecting nor even looking for the star of the messiah. Unwittingly, however, they confirm Jesus’ messianic credentials by providing the scriptural confirmation that the messiah is to be born in Bethlehem. Their mastery of the Scriptures, however, does not lead them to obedience. It is the magi, outsiders with only their unholy science of astrology (see Isa 47:13-14; Jer 10:2; Jubilees 12:16-18; Sibylline Oracles 3:227-29), who are the first to learn of and to search for the born king. The scribes and the high priests provide only fine-tuning adjustments to their search. It turns out, however, that the magi do not need their directions; God grants them a miraculous star to guide them to the place.

David E. Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2001), 26-27.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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