The Incarnation – Promises and Prophesies – Part II

When we left Abraham and Sarah last time, God had miraculously-intervened to give them a son. Isaac had been born in their old-age, as God had promised. We are picking up where we left off.

Isaac’s Sons
19 Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 The Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body;
And one people shall be stronger than the other;
And the older shall serve the younger.”

24 When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them.

27 When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. 28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. 31 But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” 33 And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:19-34)

As the boys grew up, Isaac favored Esau but Rebekah favored Jacob, so when Isaac grew old and was ready to give the family-blessing to Esau, Rebekah intervened so that Jacob was able to weasel his way into getting both the birth-right AND the family-blessing from his father Isaac. On the run from his jealous-brother Esau, He encountered God, who would not only change him but give him a new name. That story is told in Genesis 27 through Genesis 28:5.

Jacob’s Dream
10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” (Genesis 28:10-22)

Notice God’s promise to Jacob; “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Did you notice the Messianic-promise? It was essentially the same promise God had given to Abraham; “in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

In spite of Jacob’s shenanigans, God chose him to carry-on the family-line. What was God thinking?

God’s Love for Jacob
1 The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.

2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob; 3 but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” 4 Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the Lord of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.” 5 Your eyes will see this and you will say, “The Lord be magnified beyond the border of Israel!” (Malachi 1:1-5)

The interlude
Was Jacob REALLY a changed-man? Not hardly, because in the next three chapters of Genesis, Jacob pulled even more shenanigans. After marrying Laban’s two daughters, Rachel and Leah, Jacob bilked Laban out of his best livestock after having a dozen children, and then he high-tailed it back home taking his stolen livestock with him. Never fear, God wasn’t done with him quite yet.

Jacob Wrestles With God
24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him and said, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” 31 Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. 32 Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip. (Genesis 32:24-32)

Along with a wrenched-hip, Jacob got a new name, Israel. He became a man of faith after his second-encounter with God, but he was reminded of his shenanigans with every step he took. One of Israel’s sons was Judah. Does that name ring a bell?

When Israel was on his death-bed, he called each of his sons to him to give them their unique-blessing. It is here that we find the first specific-prophesy of the exact-line the Messiah would be descended from.

From the Tribe of Judah…
8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.
9 “Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches; he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 “He ties his foal to the vine,
And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine;
He washes his garments in wine,
And his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 “His eyes are dull from wine,
And his teeth white from milk. (Genesis 49:8-12)

This blessing promises an Eternal-Ruler who would ultimately rule over all the peoples.

The Son of David…
When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”’” 17 In accordance with all these words and all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David. (2 Samuel 7:12-17)

3 “I have made a covenant with My chosen,
I have sworn to My servant David:
4 Your seed will I establish forever,
And build up your throne to all generations.”
29 His seed also I will make to endure forever,
and his throne as the days of heaven. (Psalm 89:3-4, 29)

Both of these Promises speak of an heir to David’s throne who will reign forever. This brings us to three well-known Prophesies from Isaiah.

From Isaiah…
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Emmanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

6 For a child will be born to us; a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And He will delight in the fear of the Lord,
And He will not judge by what His eyes see,
Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
4 But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins,
And faithfulness the belt about His waist. (Isaiah 11:1-5)

From Jeremiah…
‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she will be called: the Lord is our righteousness.’ 17 For thus says the Lord, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; (Jeremiah 33:14-17)

Closing thoughts…
As much as we would like to think that all the patriarchs were “saints“, they weren’t. When God didn’t provide the promised son soon enough to suit Abraham, he took matters into his own bedroom with another woman. Jacob was a master of dirty-dealing, bilking Esau out of both his birthright AND his father’s blessing. While we didn’t look at the chapters dealing with Jacob’s marriages and his dirty-dealings with his father-in-law, he was no “saint” there either. David, in spite of being called “A man after God’s own heart“, committed several atrocious-sins, including adultery and murder, yet God never rejected him. These things should remind us that “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called“, and as inadequate as we may feel to do the work of the Lord, we have His sure-promise that He will be with us all the way.

Our “grand-finale” will be to celebrate the Birth of Christ, as told in the Gospels.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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Studies In Ruth – Introduction

The book of Ruth, sandwiched between Judges and 1st Samuel, is far more than just a nice story. It encapsulates God’s dealings with His people down through history and to this day. It is a story of faith, faith in a God who loves and cares for His people, who isn’t content with merely calling out one group of people as His own. The imagery is rich and its historical and theological significance is timeless.

Ruth has been understood to celebrate the following: (a) that a proselyte, even from Moab, can be faithful to the Lord and gain full-membership in Israel; (b) that qualities of loyalty and covenant faithfulness in a foreigner can be a model for Israel’s response to the Lord; (c) that the Lord as Redeemer will restore the exiled family of Israel to its land. In light of the epilogue (4:18-22), however, and assuming a date close to the time of David, the major purpose seems to include showing that David’s kingship is legitimate. The primacy of the tribe of Judah (the father of Perez; 4:12, 18) had already been established in Israel, in spite of Tamar’s strange act of desperation (Genesis 38). Now the primacy of David must be established, even though there is a Moabite in the line. Boaz is the model for a relative who redeems, while Ruth beautifully reflects God’s faithful covenant-love, claiming refuge under the Lord’s wings, and clinging to Naomi. If God has drawn together all of these disparate-strands so carefully to bless the line of David, is that not more reason to affirm David’s initially-fragile claim to the throne?

The Old Testament book of Ruth is often used as a women’s Bible study, and I can see why when it shows the amazing faith of a young widow named Ruth. Yet, I think it is even better as a study for men, since the male lead is a real man’s man; Boaz. Both characters show what faith looks like in action, both main characters demonstrate godly humility, devotion and service, and as I see it, the take away from the story is one that each one of us can learn from. What does a godly woman look like? Take a look at Ruth. What does a godly man look like? Take a look at Boaz… and guess what guys; Boaz didn’t have to turn in his “man card” to faithfully follow God.

Setting…
Ruth is set during the time of the Judges before the monarchy. Israel has fallen away from God and has been punished with a famine. Naomi, one of the principal characters, and her family had gone to live in Moab where there was food. While we are not told specifically which judge was over Israel, these events took place shortly after Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land.

It is important for us to bear in mind that famines were not supposed to happen, and that if one did occur, there were more problems in the land than just a famine. In the Law, God linked His statues with blessings and curses; there would be blessings when the people obeyed the Law, curses when they did not, and one of those curses was famine. (Lev. 26:19) That there was a famine in the land is indicative of disobedience afoot. It would seem that the situation became so bad that people were leaving Bethlehem, headed for more favorable areas where they could find food. Understand that for a Jew to leave the Promised Land to live among the Gentile Moabites was a very big deal, and this family must have been very desperate to do this

Why study Ruth?
The “simple-answer” would be, “because it is in the Bible“, but there is more to it than that. As we have seen in prior-studies, God has preserved a line of faithful “God-followers” since right after the Fall because they were necessary in order for God to be able to send that promised “seed of the woman(Genesis 3:15), who would accomplish His plan of redemption. As we will see, these events, and the people in them, were to become important in the coming of King David, and thus his “Greater-Son“, the Messiah, Jesus our Savior.

Elimelech’s Family Goes to Moab
1 Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there. 3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. 4 They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. 5 Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband. (Ruth 1:1-5)

The family lived in Moab for 10 years. During this time, Elimelech died, and then the two sons married local Moabite women, and in turn each of the sons died leaving Naomi alone with her two daughters in law. No reasons are given for the deaths of the men, but one thing is very clear: These events were disastrous. For a woman, or three women, to be left alone in the world without a man or an extended family in those days meant that one of three things would very shortly happen: The woman would find a man to marry, she would become a prostitute, or she would starve. Thus Naomi, Orpah and Ruth were in very deep trouble as our passage draws to a close. What will they do?

Characters…
There are three principal characters, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz:
Naomi, Elimelech’s wife, was Ruth’s mother-in-law.

Ruth, a Moabite, was the widow of one of Naomi’s sons. She may have still been in her teens, so she was definitely a young-widow.

Boaz was a wealthy land-owner and farmer in Naomi’s hometown, Bethlehem.

“Types”
Types” are used throughout the Old Testament to point to something yet to be revealed in its fullness. There are two very-important “types” in Ruth, which we will look at in detail as they come up. Ruth and Boaz are those two “types“.

Themes…
Though clearly an important historical document of its period, the narrative of Ruth is told with dramatic intensity and movement. The story moves quickly through its various stages, each part marked with irony and suspense, all contributing to a symphony of divine providential fulfillment. God inspires Naomi’s return, Ruth’s covenant faithful, and Boaz’s righteous adherence to the law. The book closes with a genealogy of King David, the descendent of Boaz the Israelite and Ruth the Moabite, a young woman who took refuge under the Lord’s wings (2:12) and was rewarded by God who “gave her conception(4:13)

Ruth and Boaz are part of a longer line that often shows God’s grace combined with human-frailty. One of David’s ancestors was Perez, son of an irregular-union between Judah and his own daughter-in-law, Tamar, who was more “righteous” than the patriarch himself (Genesis 38:26). The final few verses of Ruth comprise a genealogy which may have been added later, however it wasn’t unusual for historical-accounts to end with a genealogy. Also, this genealogy highlights the value of Ruth, and reveals the mixed-ancestry of King David, and through him, of Jesus Christ. Even though she isn’t mentioned in this genealogy, Rahab was also in the line of David and of Jesus Christ. (Joshua 6:22-25, Matthew 1:5-6) Rahab was also Boaz’s mother.

Looking beyond this witness to the legitimacy of David’s kingship, we should note the significance of this book in the light of the Gospel. Ruth follows the faith of Abraham, as she leaves home and family to go to a foreign land under God’s care. The universal scope of the Gospel comes to light as Ruth, a Moabite, finds the blessings promised to all the nations in Abraham’s descendants. Finally, Ruth becomes an ancestor of Christ, who in Himself will reconcile to God such different nations as Moab and Israel, and indeed, all nations.

Outline:
I. The death of Elimelech and his sons (1:1-5)

II. Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem in Judah (1:6-22)
A. Naomi and her daughters-in-law leave Moab (1:6-7)
B. Naomi urges Orpah to go back home (1:8-14)
C. Ruth’s solemn promise (1:15-18)
D. Naomi’s bitter homecoming (1:19-22)

III. Ruth gleans in Boaz’s fields (Ch. 2)
A. Ruth goes out to glean (2:1-3)
B. Boaz meets Ruth (2:4-16)
C. Naomi’s assessment of Boaz (2:17-23)

IV. Ruth visits Boaz at the threshing-floor (Ch. 3)
A. Naomi’s plan (3:1-5)
B. Boaz discovers Ruth (3:6-13)
C. Ruth returns to Naomi (3:14-18)

V. Boaz redeems Ruth (Ch. 4)
A. The close relative excuses himself (4:1-6)
B. Ruth and Boaz are married before witnesses (4:7-12)
C. Their first child is welcomed and blessed (4:13-17)
D. Genealogy from Perez to David (4:18-22)

Historical note on place-names:
When the people of Israel conquered and settled the Promised Land, God divvied-up the territory among the twelve tribes, and each tribe’s territory was known by the name of its patriarch. Bethlehem was in Judah because it belongs to the tribe of Judah. Bethlehem was only about five-miles from Jerusalem.

By the time of Christ, Israel had been conquered and re-divided many times, and each conquering-empire redrew boundaries to suit them. The Romans had divided the territory into three parts, Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Samaria was ruled from Jerusalem by the Governor of Judea.

We will join Naomi and Ruth next time as they leave Moab and journey to Bethlehem.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Bible Study – Cleaning House

Passover, the scene of our next event in the life of Christ, was one of the most important festivals on the Jew’s religious calendar. It commemorated when the Jews were released from their bondage in Egypt, and is also known as the “Feast of unleavened-bread“. So, we are going to take another side-trip into the Old Testament to look at this historical-event and why the Jews continued to celebrate it. It is also worth noting that Jesus was three years from the cross at this point in time.

The Last Plague
11 Now the Lord said to Moses, “One more plague I will bring on Pharaoh and on Egypt; after that he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will surely drive you out from here completely. 2 Speak now in the hearing of the people that each man ask from his neighbor and each woman from her neighbor for articles of silver and articles of gold.” 3 The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Furthermore, the man Moses himself was greatly esteemed in the land of Egypt, both in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.

4 Moses said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘About midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt, 5 and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the millstones; all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6 Moreover, there shall be a great cry in all the land of Egypt, such as there has not been before and such as shall never be again. 7 But against any of the sons of Israel a dog will not even bark, whether against man or beast, that you may understand how the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.’ 8 All these your servants will come down to me and bow themselves before me, saying, ‘Go out, you and all the people who follow you,’ and after that I will go out.” And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger.

9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, so that My wonders will be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; yet the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go out of his land.

The Passover Lamb
12 Now the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. 3 Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household. 4 Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. 7 Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled at all with water, but rather roasted with fire, both its head and its legs along with its entrails. 10 And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire. 11 Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the Lord’s Passover. 12 For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

Feast of Unleavened Bread
14 ‘Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day you shall have a holy assembly, and another holy assembly on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them, except what must be eaten by every person, that alone may be prepared by you. 17 You shall also observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent ordinance. 18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. 19 Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is an alien or a native of the land. 20 You shall not eat anything leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.’”

21 Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb. 22 You shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts; and none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning.

A Memorial of Redemption
23 For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you. 24 And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever. 25 When you enter the land which the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.’” And the people bowed low and worshiped.

28 Then the sons of Israel went and did so; just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.

29 Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead. 31 Then he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, “Rise up, get out from among my people, both you and the sons of Israel; and go, worship the Lord, as you have said. 32 Take both your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and go, and bless me also.”

Exodus of Israel
33 The Egyptians urged the people, to send them out of the land in haste, for they said, “We will all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls bound up in the clothes on their shoulders.

35 Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; 36 and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

37 Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. 38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock. 39 They baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt into cakes of unleavened bread. For it had not become leavened, since they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

40 Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. 41 And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.
Ordinance of the Passover

42 It is a night to be observed for the Lord for having brought them out from the land of Egypt; this night is for the Lord, to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout their generations.

43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it; 44 but every man’s slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it. 45 A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it. 46 It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it. 47 All the congregation of Israel are to celebrate this. 48 But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it. 49 The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.”

50 Then all the sons of Israel did so; they did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 And on that same day the Lord brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.

Consecration of the Firstborn
13 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.”

3 Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten. 4 On this day in the month of Abib, you are about to go forth. 5 It shall be when the Lord brings you to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall observe this rite in this month. 6 For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders. 8 You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt. 10 Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year. (Exodus 11-13:10)

After 430 years in captivity, God sent Moses back to Egypt to lead His people out and towards the Promised Land. God had already terrorized the Egyptians with nine plagues, which had decimated the landscape and sickened both man and beast, when we come to this tenth and final plague, the Destroyer, or Angel of Death. No firstborn would be spared, from the family of Pharaoh to the lowliest servant, the firstborn of both man and beast would be killed. Even hard-hearted Pharaoh would be forced to succumb to God’s demands to let His people go.

However, before the children of Israel left Egypt, God ordered them to plunder the Egyptians and enabled them to do just that. They made an incredible haul of silver, gold and precious stone, much of which would be used later to build and adorn the Tabernacle.

God was going to spare the Israelites, but only if they did exactly what He told them to do. They were also to commemorate their deliverance from Egypt ever year perpetually, which brings us to the opening of our next scene.

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. (John 2:13-25)

Temple background:
Solomon’s temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and it had only been rebuilt after the Jews were allowed to go back to their homeland. Even though the new temple didn’t have the grandeur of Solomon’s original temple, it was consecrated in 516 BC.

Herod the Great, ever one to enhance his image and legacy, decided that Jerusalem needed a larger and grander temple, so he commissioned the building of a new temple on the site of the old temple. Even though the core of the temple was completed fairly quickly, the temple was being expanded almost constantly. This temple was still not finished when Jesus walked into it as our scene opens.

Temple layout:
The heart or core of the temple was the Holy Place and Most Holy Place, which were surrounded by the central courtyard where the Altar of burnt offerings was. Only Jewish men were allowed in this central courtyard. Adjacent to the central courtyard was the Women’s courtyard, which was open to all Jewish men and women. Surrounding the entire temple was a Courtyard of the Gentiles, which during that time, had become very much a flea-market. This is where Jesus encountered the sellers and money-changers.

Background:
Roman currency was not acceptable for money offerings in the temple, so it had to be exchanged for a more-acceptable currency. Animal-sacrifices could also be a problem for people journeying into Jerusalem, so it as common for them to buy animals locally. The problem wasn’t with this commerce, but with where it was being carried-out, on the temple-premises. During these special feasts and high-holy-days, it wasn’t unusual for there to be upwards of a half-million pilgrims in town. The noise was probably deafening and the smell was even worse, not that the temple smelled like a bed of roses either. It didn’t make for a worshipful-environment.

Our scene
Jesus, like most other able-bodied Jews, made that annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and He didn’t like what He found there. The religious leaders, who should have kept commerce out of the Temple, hadn’t, and judging by their reaction to Jesus’s actions, may have even been getting kickbacks from the commerce. At minimum, they challenged His authority to throw the business people out of the Temple.

Jesus was concerned with the purity and holiness of the Temple, His Father’s House, because worship was being disrupted by commerce. The quote referenced in verse 17, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” is from Psalm 69:9.

The Jewish leader wanted a “sign“, as if they hadn’t already heard about all the miracle Jesus had already done. Jesus didn’t perform miracles “on-demand“, and they weren’t getting one from Him now. Jesus gave them a “sign“, but it wasn’t what they were expecting. Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They were incredulous, because the only “temple” they could think of was the physical-temple they were standing in, and it had been under construction for forty-six years.

Jesus was already prophesying about His crucifixion and resurrection, something His disciples would only comprehend after-the-fact.

23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.

Something to note in this final section is that many people believed in Jesus, but only because of the miracles He was doing. This is not unlike people following Jesus after one of His miraculous mass-feedings. Did they want the true Messiah, or did they want Him for what He could do for them?

Not much has changed. While the “health, wealth and prosperity” preachers gather huge followings, many churches where the Gospel is faithfully-proclaimed struggle to keep their doors open. Our Lord’s call to “Take up our cross daily and follow Him” is no more popular now than it was when He issued it. Denying ourselves for the sake of the Gospel has never been easy because it goes against the grain of our self-centeredness. That begs the question: “Do we want our reward now, or later?” As hard as it is sometimes, I’ll take my reward later.

In Christ,
Steve

Bible Study – John the Baptist

There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. (John 1:6-8)

There had been no prophets in Israel for over 400 years. God had been silent, and seemingly absent during this period, but He had promised another prophet, a prophet who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. John the Baptist was called to be that prophet.

John the Baptist was descended from the priestly-tribe of Levi, and his miraculous birth and in-the-womb filling by the Holy Spirit set him apart as someone special, and even though he was only on the scene for a short while, his contribution to the kingdom of God was significant. Before we get into his testimony, let’s look at who he was.

Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.

8 Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”

21 The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. 23 When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home.

24 After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 25 “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.” (Luke 1:5-24)

There were many priests in many families in that time, so a priest might only get the privilege to serve in the temple once in their lifetime. Zacharias was an old man by the time his turn came around, and even though he and his wife had prayed for a child for many years, they were still childless. They were no ordinary couple, because they both were from priestly-lineage. We are also told that they were righteous before God.

Imagine being at the altar of incense and having an angel appear out of nowhere. Fear would be a very normal response. Gabriel also told Zacharias that their child would be special, the forerunner of the coming Messiah, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy.

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
6 And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers, (Malachi 4:5-6)

Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39-45)

56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home. (Luke 1:56)

We see fulfilled the prophecy by Gabriel that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb.

John Is Born
57 Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.

59 And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. 60 But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63 And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. 64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. 65 Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, “What then will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him. (Luke 1:57-66)

Here, we see the fulfillment of Gabriel’s word that Zacharias would be mute until after the birth, and surprise of surprises, once Zacharias confirmed the baby’s name, his tongue was loosened and he was able to speak.

Zacharias’s Prophecy
67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant—As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old—Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our father, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”

76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. (Luke 1:67-80)

Next time…
Next week we will look at John’s testimony concerning Jesus Christ, and after the New Year, we will begin looking at Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry.

In Christ,
Steve

The Heart Of A King…

Their homeland was deserted, their Capitol was in ruins, and what few people were left of their nation were scattered far and wide. A marauding army had swept through their country slaughtering men, women and children, razing cities and towns, and taking anyone they didn’t slaughter captive. Their temple had been reduced to rubble, but not before the marauders looted everything of value. The situation looked hopeless. Then there came a decree…

This scene could be part of our 21st century world, but these events took place about twenty-six hundred years ago. The people were the children of Israel, their capitol was Jerusalem, and their captors were from the Babylonian empire. God had used the Babylonians to punish the children of Israel for their idolatry, just as He had promised, but it was time for their exile to end. Then there came a decree…

The children of Israel still didn’t “get-it“. Even after being taken captive several times, the children of Israel kept going back to their idol-worship. Each time they repented, God delivered them. Wash, rinse, repeat. Wash, rinse, repeat… God was faithful to them, but they weren’t faithful to Him.

The Proclamation of Cyrus
1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”

5 Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers, 30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem. (Ezra 1)

While it might be easy to get the impression that Cyrus was a “godly” man, he was quite the opposite. He was as big a heathen as those who had gone before him. If we pay close attention to what he said, he never acknowledged that “The Lord, the God of Heaven…” was HIS god. He was, like the Pharaoh in Egypt, simply following orders.

God had given favor to the children of Israel allowing them to raid the Egyptians of gold, silver and other precious things when they left Egypt. God likewise gave the children of Israel favor to raid the Persian kingdom of everything they would need to rebuild the temple. The children of Israel made quite a haul, and if we look back at just what was needed for the tabernacle, it was quite a haul also.

Our world…
As we look at events in our world, both locally and globaly, it would be easy to lose heart. Evil is rampant, including in the halls of government. Many politicians wouldn’t know the truth if it slapped them in the face, and lying has become a way of life. What is good for the people, particularly Christians, no longer matters. What matters is keeping them and the global string-pullers happy. It seems to be too late to ask if things will actually get better…but…

Sometimes we lament that God isn’t taking care of the “big” things while we forget how many “small” things God does frequently. “Divine Appointments” is about three “small“, but no less important things that God has “handled” for me recently.

Pharaoh and Cyrus were no less evil and no less corrupt than our current leaders, and yet, when God spoke, they listened, and did what He told them to do. God is still in control, whether we see it or not. As we saw in “Bible Study – The Birth Of Christ“, God caused Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor, to “arrange” for Mary and Joseph to be in Bethlehem at the appointed time. There is not one king, one president, or any other leader who is beyond God’s control. By the way, NOBODY is beyond God’s control. Do we not believe that God could do the same in our day?

I believe He can. How about you?

In Christ,
Steve

MY Way…

Have you ever watched children playing a game, maybe even a simple game, when one of them announces “You aren’t playing it right. This is MY game, and you either play it MY way, or you don’t play it at all“. Demanding our own way isn’t limited to just childhood games, we see it everywhere we turn.

My father was very domineering and demanding. I heard “MY way or the highway!” or a variation of that as I was growing up. That, and his wicked temper were two things I didn’t want to emulate when I got married and became a father. I still got some of his temper, but not the short-fuse that went with it. I never threatened to send my wife packing, although my father threatened mom several times.

Naaman Healed of Leprosy
5 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

2 Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents[b] of silver, six thousand shekels[c] of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house.

10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. (2 Kings 5:1-14)
b) 2 Kings 5:5 That is, about 750 pounds or about 340 kilograms
c) 2 Kings 5:5 That is, about 150 pounds or about 69 kilograms

Naaman had a serious problem. Although he was rich, powerful and famous, he had an incurable disease. “Leprosy” is used generically throughout the Bible for a wide variety of skin-diseases, so we don’t really know any details. If anyone had been able to cure him, he certainly had the resources to reward them generously. When Naaman was told that the Prophet in Samaria might be able to cure him, he made sure that he took ample “reward” with him. At the USA price of $35.00 per gram for gold, he took about 2.4 million dollars worth of gold, and at the USA price of $480.00 per kilogram, he took about 163 thousand dollars worth of silver. What were ten sets of clothes worth, considering that all clothing was hand-made?

Imagine walking into the finest hospital in the world, handing the registrar a certified check for 2.6 million dollars, and saying “Cure me“. That should buy a private suite and the best doctors, ie VIP treatment. Naaman expected VIP treatment, but he never even got the see the Prophet, and boy was he pissed! Not only didn’t he get to see the prophet, but he was told to take a bath in the nastiest river in the region. He was expecting the Prophet to roll out the red-carpet for him and personally cure him of his problem, but the Prophet “snubbed” him. Naaman wanted HIS WAY, but he didn’t get it.

Naaman got healed, but not before he checked his ego at the door. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can be a LOT like Naaman. If you haven’t figured it out already, I can be pretty self-centered, and sometimes I have an ego the size of Texas. As God worked on Naaman, He is also working on me. Sometimes He has to show me a bill-board-size picture of my self-centered egotistical self to get my attention and get me to check my ego at the door – AGAIN. I may yet “get-it” before I take my last breath, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I am still a work in progress, like the painting that is never quite finished. Only after I take my last breath will God’s masterpiece be revealed.

In Christ,
Steve

Tears In A Bottle

You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?
Psalm 56:8

Do you ever feel like you are insignificant? Do you ever feel like you don’t “matter” to anyone? If you do, you are in good company, because, inspite of everyone wanting to know your business, nobody really seems to care. “Self” has become more important than service, and caring has gone the way of political integrity.

David was the “runt“, the “baby“, of his family, and while his older brothers were off fighting King Saul’s battles, he was sent out into the wilderness to tend sheep. When Samuel, the Prophet, came to David’s family to anoint a new king, David was inconspicuously-absent, still out tending sheep. After Samuel passed over all of the older brothers, David’s father finally admitted that he did have a younger son, who was out tending sheep.

One would have thought that David’s “fortunes” would have changed after He slew Goliath, but that made him a national hero, and a threat to King Saul’s throne. So, David spent the next several years on the run, fearing for his life. There were several times when he was only one step ahead of Saul’s army. Even after Saul died and David became King of Israel, he still wasn’t out of the woods, because his own son, Absalom, thought that he could do a better job.

David never lost his faith in God, and in spite of his horrible “fortunes“, he knew that God never abandoned him. Many of the Psalms came from his pen, including this marvelous verse;

You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?

David knew that nothing escaped God’s attention, and yes, God even paid attention to his tears, his times of pain and his times of sorrow. Is there anything that we can learn from David?

You matter to God…
We all go through times of difficulty, and even when we feel all alone, God is paying attention.

Have you cried tears that never made it to the surface? God caught those too.

Have you pasted a smile on your face while hiding a broken heart? God saw your broken heart.

Have you, when you said “I’m okay“, really meant “You wouldn’t understand“? God understands.

Have you lost a loved-one to death? God caught those tears too, including the ones that never made it out of the well.

Has someone you loved left you without you really ever knowing why? God saw your heartbreak.

Is physical pain a constant, or nearly-constant companion? God feels your pain. God is both your Creator and the Great Physician.

Have you watched someone you care deeply about suffer through horrible physical ailments, but were helpless to do anything about? God was there too.

Talk to God…
Something else that we can learn from David is that he talked to God all the time. No matter what was going on in David’s life, he told God about it. The Psalms are full of conversations David had with God, and many of them are laments, so even if all you can do is complain about how bad things are, God wants you to tell Him about them.

We forget that God never gets “too busy” and nothing that we need to say is “too minor” for His attention. If He knows how many hairs are on your head, and when one of them falls out, He is NOT “too busy” to attend to your needs. God is also NOT offended when we ask Him “WHY?“.

Do YOU need to cry?
Crying doesn’t really come naturally to most of us men, but that is because we have been taught to NOT cry. Jesus was a man, the “manliest” of men, and He cried, several times. You have permission to cry, and don’t forget that God has a bottle for your tears with your name on it. Pour out your heart to Him, and while you are at it, thank Him for caring so much about you. David did that too!

In Christ,
Steve

Are You A “Samaritan”?

Every church has its share of “Samaritans“, people who don’t quite “fitin“. No, I am not talking about people from the territory of Samaria in Israel. I am talking about people who, for whatever reason, don’t conform to the “norm” in the church.

The first-century people of Samaria were part of the children of Israel, but they didn’t “fit-in“. They didn’t worship in the temple in Jerusalem. They didn’t always wash their hands when they were “supposed to“. They had rejected all the nit-picky rules of the Scribes and Pharisees, and, in the case of the woman to the well, they hadn’t tossed her out of the community just because she had been married and divorced five times and was living with another man out of wedlock. The Jews would have stoned her, but Jesus met her with grace and mercy.

I got to thinking about this topic several weeks ago when our senior pastor mentioned looking out over our congregation and seeing and knowing who the “Samaritans” are. Many people would have been surprised by how many “Samaritans” are in our church, but I wasn’t, because I am one of them. I commented to him after the service what I am one of those “Samaritans“. How well a church accepts and loves its “Samaritans” is an important “benchmark” for how Christ-like the church is. OUCH! What many “good” Christians fail to realize is that they are in as desperate need of a Savior as the “worst” “Samaritan“.

Only God knows the depths of our struggles better than we do, because if others knew, we would probably be tossed out on our ear. Couples get recognized for how long they have been married, but nobody wants to know how many times a person has been married. I believe that is one of the reasons why most relationships between people in the church are so superficial. People just don’t want to know about other people’s struggles.

What does a “Samaritan” look like?
I came from a dysfunctional family. I have struggled with sexual addiction for most of my adult life. I have been married four times, widowed once, divorced twice, and my current “wife” is living with another man. I went through deep depression and desperate soul-searching for most of 2013. I am a nudist. I often question “traditional” interpretations of the Bible… the “traditions of the Elders“. I have a beard and long hair. I smoke. In case you haven’t put all the pieces together, I am a MESS. I am a work-in-progress, and that progress is pretty slow most of the time. I may look good and smell good, but I am in as desperate need of a Savior as any person who has ever lived. Jesus has met me with grace and mercy, just as He did the woman at the well.

The Church…

But you shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Jesus hadn’t forgotten the great spiritual need in Samaria when He commissioned His disciples. “Samaria” may be somewhere else, but “Samaritans” may be sitting in your church.

The church is called to be a field-hospital for the sin-sick and suffering, for “Samaritans“, not a social-club for the goody-two-shoes. I have seen churches with “No Smoking” signs on their property. Is that because they are “health-conscious“, or is it to keep the “wrong kind” out? Are “Samaritans” welcomed with open arms in your church?

How about you?
Do any of these things ring a bell in your life? This is NOT a message of condemnation for all of your failings. It is a message of hope, and as badly as you have failed, there IS a Savior who wants to extend His grace and mercy to you, as He has to me, as He did to that Samaritan woman at the well so many years ago. He is reaching out His nail-scarred hands, not to pick up a stone, but to enfold you in His arms, and as bad a mess as you are, He wants to make you His mess. Have you accepted His offer? Will you accept His offer?

In Christ, 

Steve

Out Of The Shadows

Do you live a double-life? Are you one way in public, but entirely-different behind closed doors? Do you put on an act when you walk out of the door of your home? Do you believe that you have to act a certain way to “fit-in“, to be “liked“, to be “accepted“? Do you cuss like a sailor all week long because that is how “everyone else” talks where you work, but talk politely and piously around your family, and particularly at church? Does anyone actually KNOW you?

Whether we know it or not, a LOT of people lead a double-life. This is NOT referring to being some kind of covert spy or agent, rather, it is about how ordinary people present themselves when someone is watching. During the work-week, they go along with whatever the “social-norm” is, but on Sunday, they appear to be an entirely-different person. Are you one of them?

Out of the shadows…

While this topic has broad applicability, there is one particular group of people, to which I belong, and that is naturists/nudists. Most of us are masters of living a double-life. Even the thought of the “wrong” person finding out about our lifestyle scares the bejabbers out of us. Coming “out of the shadows” is nerve-wracking at best, and down-right scary at worst. Very few will ever become completely “open” about our lifestyle.

There was a series of articles entitled “Sharing Your Naturism“, co-sponsored by The Naturist Society(TNS) and the American Association for Nude Recreation(AANR), which ran for several months in the AANR Bulletin. The articles were intended as a means of helping naturists/nudists become more comfortable with their lifestyle choice and helping us to be more able and better equipped to share our lifestyle with others. Part of that process includes becoming more open about our lifestyle, or coming “out of the shadows“.

Potential repercussions…

The repercussions from the wrong person or persons finding out about someone being a naturist may be life-changing. As a result, naturists with high-profile jobs or in Christian ministry often resort to writing under pen-names and having multiple profiles on the various social-networking sites. One Christian brother was an assistant pastor of a church until the senior pastor found out about his naturist views and lifestyle. He was relieved of his position – FIRED for being a naturist and told to leave the church. The Lord has since blessed him with both new employment and ministry opportunities.

Other friends have been run out of churches, some multiple times, for being a naturist. Unfortunately “the traditions of the elders” trumps the Word of God in those churches, and they aren’t even interested in finding out what the Bible says. Others have been ostracized by family and friends.

My journey “out of the shadows”…

I was challenged in January 2013 in an email exchange with a Christian brother to come out of the shadows and own my naturist lifestyle. Because of my conservative, Christian upbringing, I had to do a LOT of studying to find out what Scripture says, or doesn’t say, about nudity. I was also interested in God’s dealings with His covenant people in the Old Testament to gain a historical perspective. The same Christian brother who challenged me to come out of the shadows also pointed me to the writings of several Christian naturist authors and bloggers. I didn’t want to be “caught with my pants down” when I started coming out and started getting questions, particularly from fellow Christians. This blog has grown out of, and is still growing out of my studies.

I also wanted and needed to find out how strongly both historical and modern cultural prejudices have and are affecting church theology and dogma. I live in a 21st century Western culture whose attitudes towards nudity and nakedness have been heavily-influenced by 16th and 17th century Victorian and Puritanical prudishness. It is almost impossible to escape these influences, particularly in the Church, because they have been enshrined in the “modesty-doctrine” of the Church.

Before I told a soul, I wanted to be fully-convinced that God, as He has revealed Himself in the Bible, is not only NOT anti-nudity, but that He looks with favor on those who are willing to shed their clothing disguises. What I found shocked the pants off of me, literally; prophets who prophesied naked (Saul, Isaiah, Micah), a king who danced naked before the Lord in the middle of Jerusalem (David), a high priest (Aaron) who was stripped naked in front of all of the children of Israel when he was consecrated and anointed, and the list goes on and on.

That was even before I started reading the ceremonial law in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, with all the ceremonial washings and cleansings which were required for tabernacle/temple worship. Life for the children of Israel, particularly while they were wandering in the wilderness, bore very little resemblance to anything that I can relate to today, except for maybe an extended camping trip. We don’t “get it“, but in order to understand the Old Testament, I had to start learning and understanding their culture and what life was like when this part of the Bible was written.

Imagine NOT having private restroom facilities and having to use the public latrine. Imagine NOT having private bathing facilities and having to use the community bath-house. Imagine only having ONE set of clothes, or maybe only one garment, and NOT having a washer and dryer, so that when that garment was dirty, a person had to take it to the public washing facility to wash, and then hang out naked while it hung on the line to dry. Oh, because they only had one garment or set of clothes, do we really believe that they wore it to work in, since it not only had to be washed by hand, but if they damaged it, they would be left with nothing? These were God’s chosen people, and they were on that “extended camping trip” at His command. Was God really concerned about their nudity? He didn’t give them any reason to have body-shame. Public nudity wasn’t shameful. It just meant that they were going about their normal daily business of life. We are the ones who have made nudity shameful.

Out of the shadows…

Once I became comfortable with the fact that I am not doing anything “wrong” or “sinful” by desiring to partake in social nudity, I started coming “out of the shadows“. I didn’t start “advertising” that I am a nudist, although in early 2013, I did put a small AANR decal on the back window of my vehicle. The first person I told was my mother. We were talking about the resort that I frequent, Cypress Cove, and I told her that it is a nudist resort. It certainly took her by surprise, because she probably thought that she had raised me better than that. She did, but the “better than that” was the traditional “modesty-theology” which has no basis in Scripture. She has more or less accepted that I am a nudist and she hasn’t mentioned it since.

Early this last spring, I came “out of the shadows” to the senior pastor of my church. I had given him the link to this blog, and I didn’t want him to get an unpleasant “surprise” when he came here the first time. He is a serious student of the Bible, but to a certain extent, he has also been taught “the traditions of the elders“. Finding out that I am a nudist broke some new experiential and theological ground for him, but he had no Biblical basis for condemning either me or my lifestyle. He simply ask me to not “advertise” that I am a nudist.

Since then, the AANR decal has been replaced with a “God created nudists/Sinners created clothes” decal. The only church friend who has commented on it had to agree that what it says is true. I am sure that quite a few others have seen it, but no one has asked me about it. I am not “advertising” that I am nudist, but I am not hiding it either.

Consequences…

Have their been consequences for me deciding to come “out of the shadows” as a nudist? Absolutely, and most of them have been wonderful. I no longer have to live a “double-life“. I am no longer afraid of who might find out that I am a nudist. My research and study has given me the material for many of the articles in this blog.

I don’t know whether anyone else in my church has “figured it out” and is shunning me as a result, but that is between them and God. I wasn’t part of an “in-crowd” before, so I haven’t been pushed out of anything that I know of. I still have a good relationship with both pastors, so that hasn’t been affected. Not everyone in my church is equally-friendly.

Final thoughts…

I wish that I hadn’t been taught and believed that our bodies are “shameful and must be kept covered” for all those years, because I can clearly recognize the negative effects those lies have caused me. I have no regrets about becoming a nudist, except that I wish I had known what I know now many years ago. I also have no regrets for coming “out of the shadows” as a nudist, because I believe that being a nudist and NOT hiding what God created in His own image gives Him glory. The next thing on my list is to participate in a nude worship service.

I am naked and unashamed in Christ!

Steve

To Fulfill All Righteousness…

That statement, which came from the lips of Jesus, would seem almost like an oxymoron, and yet that was the reason He gave to John the Baptist for requesting baptism. The sinless Son of God was “fulfilling all righteousness” by being baptized? How could that be? Sit back, relax and buckle up for the tour, as we try to discover what He needed to be done with that act. The journey begins back in the Old Testament, where God gave Moses the instructions for consecrating priests. I also want to touch on why our own baptism should be such a wonderful, deeply-spiritual event.

As 21st century Christians, most of us haven’t been schooled in the Law of Moses. We know and understand the moral law – the Ten Commandments, but those are but the tip of the iceberg for a 1st century Jew. They were also schooled in and bound by the ceremonial law, which impacted virtually all facets of life. In a previous post I mentioned circumcision and its importance and impact. Besides keeping the moral law prefectly, Jesus also kept the ceremonial law to the letter. I encourage you, if you haven’t done so already, to read the Pentateuch, because in my writings, I try to keep and portray a wholistic view of the Bible without imposing 21st century culture on my interpretations.

Something that fails our understanding of worship in the Old Testament is how intimately-tied the Ceremonial Law was to their worship. God had called the children of Israel to be “setapart“, a people who were markedly-different than their neighbors, and that included in their worship. We don’t quite “get” the difference between being “ceremonially-unclean” and something being “bad” or “wrong“, so it is quite easy for us to conclude that something which made a person “ceremonially-unclean” was wrong. Was it “bad” or “wrong” for a woman to have her monthly-period, or for a couple to have sex? Of course not, but both made them “ceremonially-unclean“, which meant that they couldn’t participate in tabernacle or temple worship until they had gone through the necessary “purification“. (Leviticus 15:16-24) The Moral Law and the Ceremonial Law were known collectively as the Law of Moses.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle will pass from the Law until it is accomplished.”(Matthew 5:17-18)

Jesus came to fulfill and keep both the Moral Law AND the entirety of the Ceremonial Law. The Law Giver came to be the perfect Law Keeper…

According to the law…

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. And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Luke 22:21-24)

There were no shortcuts in fulfilling the whole Law. Everything was done how and when it was supposed to be done, because Jesus was a “complete” Jew.

Circumcision is just another “medical procedure” to us, but it was the Rite of Passage to a Jewish boy. It visually-symbolized his inclusion in God’s covenant people, Israel. Jesus could not have been proclaimed to be “The King of the Jews” while He hung on the cross if He had not been circumcised.

Thirty years old…

Why did Jesus wait until he was thirty years old before he began his public ministry? (Luke 3:23) Priests and Levites were not allowed to enter temple-service until they were thirty years old. (Numbers 4:34-37)

Priestly consecration…

God gave very specific instructions to Moses regarding the consecration and installation of priests. “Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve Me as priest.” (Exodus 40:12-13)

His baptism…

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

Even though Jesus was not anointed with oil after His baptism, He was anointed by the Holy Spirit, which the oil symbolizes. Jesus, in His baptism, fully identified with His people, and willingly took on His role as our High Priest.

Jesus – our High Priest…

Jesus was not descended from the priestly line of Aaron, the traditional Jewish priestly line. He was from the tribe of Judah, so He became a priest by special decree. “For it evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructable life. For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 7:14-17)

To fulfill all righteousness?

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and being found in human form, he humbled himself by being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the nake that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

Jesus lived the life we can not live, one of perfect obedience to His Father, and died the death that is rightfully ours, so that we may be clothed in His righteousness. He fulfilled ALL righteousness, because we can not do it for ourselves.

The Priesthood of all believers…

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

Baptism – our priestly consecration…

The 21st century church has forsaken the rich symbolism of baptism in the early church, and most people would be incensed if they had to strip naked in public and be baptized nude. Believers in the early church had no such cultural hangups, because they were thoroughly versed in the ceremonial practices of the Jewish faith and didn’t have the conveniences which we take for granted.. We miss out on the richness of the baptism rite, which was meant to symbolize, or reproduce, the consecration and anointing of priests in the Old Testament.

The putting off of the old garment symbolizes putting off the old man, our old, pre-believer self. The washing with water(baptism) symbolizes being cleansed, purified for holy service. The anointing with oil symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Putting on a new, clean garment symbolizes being covered with the righteousness of Christ. It symbolizes a complete transformation, because once a priest, always a priest…a perpetual priesthood, under our great High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Even if we haven’t gone through the whole baptism rite, we must understand what our baptism symbolizes – becoming a kingdom of priests to our God and Father.

Have you been consecrated for holy service?

In Christ,

Steve