Day 1: Riddle Explained
We all love a riddle. Author J.R.R. Tolkien gives us one in the story of The Hobbit when Bilbo Baggins and Gollum contend in a battle of wits. “Thirty white horses on a red hill,” begins Bilbo, “first they champ, then they stamp, then they stand still.”
The answer is teeth.
Riddling goes back a long way. Norse mythology included riddles such as this: “Four hang, four sprang, two point the way, two to ward off dogs, one dangles after, always rather dirty. What am I?” Familiarity with a more agricultural environment might help with this one. The answer is: a cow.
There are riddles in the Bible too. Samson’s riddle (“Out of the eater something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet”—answer: honey from a honeycomb built in the carcass of a dead lion), posed to his Philistine wedding party, became the unhappy cause of the failure of his new marriage. But only one riddle has had the power to change the story of earth and its inhabitants for unimaginable good.
Isaiah, prophet of the eighth century B.C., spoke of a “sign” that would signal God’s plan to bring freedom to earth’s inhabitants. “The virgin will be with child,” he began, “and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Many of us have heard this riddle so often it fails to carry the impact it would have had to those first listeners. There are two puzzling situations described: a pregnant virgin, and a child called “God” (Immanuel meaning “God with us”).
In the opening verses of Matthew’s account of the life and times of Jesus, this ancient riddle is remembered. The virgin is a girl named Mary. The embryo growing in her womb is not only a product of chromosomes contributed by the Holy Spirit, but the baby boy is God Himself, come in the flesh to experience humanity firsthand. The riddle is explained after eight hundred years.
But even in the first scene of Matthew’s gospel account of the life and times of Jesus a new riddle is announced. It is delivered to Joseph, the young man who will take Mary home as his wife, fully knowing of her pregnant condition and trusting she is still a virgin. This riddle is meant to console him, no doubt. It’s not the fairy-tale beginning of a marriage he had imagined when he first dreamed of wedding this girl. Joseph’s plans have been sidelined by God’s bigger plan for Joseph’s role as husband and foster father. Joseph is directed to prepare to name the baby boy ‘Yeshua’ (‘Jesus’ in English) because the name means ‘the LORD saves’—“because he will save his people from their sins.”
This is the riddle that concerns us today. Day One of coming alongside the earthly life of Jesus finds every one of us transported into the midst of the riddle concerning Him. We are the people. Every person is an integral part of the race of humanity created by God, and according to the riddle we need to be saved. We are on some downward spiral to destruction apart from what Jesus came to accomplish for us.
Subsequent days of exploring Matthew’s biography of Jesus will show us more—will help us observe what is recorded about Jesus’ life, show us how He lived, tell us what He actually said. Why are we interested? Because those who discover the truth behind the best of riddles have gained wisdom that is of great value in life; the riddle concerning Jesus and us is no ordinary riddle.
Jesus, grant us the grace to understand the riddle of your intentions for us, we the people You have created. Enable us to have hearts fully open to grasping the truth of your life; give us minds open to insight into our own situation of needing to be saved. We call on You to inhabit our twenty-eight day journey alongside You. Amen.
(Photo Credit: “Laughing Boy” by Josh Giovo from USA – Little Bugger. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Laughing_Boy.jpg#/media/File:Laughing_Boy.jpg)