A Samaritan Woman Meets Her Messiah

Most Jews detoured around Samaria when traveling from Judea to Galilee by crossing the Jordan River twice, but Jesus took the western route through Samaria. The Samaritans were much more lax about their ritual-purification so the Jews considered them “unclean“. The Samaritans had also intermarried more with the heathens around them during their captivities, so many Jews also considered them “half-breeds“. This is NOT to say that the Jews were really any more “racially-pure” than the Samaritans, because they weren’t. Even Jesus had four Gentile women in His ancestry, Tamar, Rahab Ruth and Bathsheba. To make matters worse, there was a running-dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans about where to worship God, Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim. All of this gave rise to the “bad-blood” between them. That was why most Jews refused to go through Samaria for any reason. That background brings us to today’s passage.

4 Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. 4 And He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; 6 and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.”

16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”

19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?”. (John 4:1-27
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Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went away again into Galilee.

Jesus’ authority had already been question in Jerusalem several times during Passover, and since the Pharisees had confronted John the Baptist about his baptisms, they may have confronted Jesus also, so, maybe to escape all the controversy in Judea, He decided to go to Galilee where He could minister more freely.

The first four verses of this passage set the background for the story; John the Baptist has been arrested (3:24; Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:20). Opposition was brewing among the Pharisees in Jerusalem because Jesus’ reputation was growing and He was gaining followers and Jesus decided that this was the time to move back to Galilee. It seems that the arrest of John had the affect of freeing Jesus from John’s ministry; John was decreasing, Jesus was increasing. Jesus takes the mountain road that goes through Samaria that He would later send His disciples on (Acts 1:8). When Jesus arrives in Samaria our story begins.

4 And He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; 6 and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

The children of Israel had occupied this part of Palestine before their departure into Egypt, and everywhere they went, they dug new wells. This was semi-arid, mountainous terrain far from any natural sources of water, so Jacob had dug a well close to what became Sychar. We see Jesus’ true-humanity on display, because after traveling in that rough countryside, He was tired and thirsty. It was 30 miles from Jerusalem to Sychar as the crow flies, but much farther on foot. It was also about noon when they arrived at Sychar. The plot of ground referred to here is referred to in Gen. 48:22 and is roughly a half mile from Jacob’s well (see also Josh. 24:32). Jacob’s well was certainly a well-known location, famous for the spring of bubbling water that it created access to. Jesus arrived there that day at about noon, tired and thirsty.

7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Why did she come to the well at noon, rather than in the cool of the day? There is no definitive-answer given, but it could have been to avoid the not-so-nice looks and comments because, even in that society, she was a social-outcast. Did other Samaritans cross the street to avoid her? How many children tagged-along with her? How many different daddies did they have?

Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) How did she know that Jesus was a Jew? Did His accent or mode of dress give Him away? Was it that He was a stranger, so He had to be a Jew? John doesn’t give us any clues, so to speculate is futile.

Approaching a woman at the well He asked for a drink, and the woman’s response is interesting in that she seems to have assumed a quizzical tone; you are a Jew and yet you ask me for a drink? Jews did not associate with Samaritans; in fact the Jewish teaching of the time said that associating with Samaritans would cause a Jew to be defiled. If that were not enough, Jewish men did not speak to women in public; not even their own wives and here is Jesus boldly walking up to a Samaritan woman and asking for water.

10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

As was His custom, Jesus went directly to the lesson He was going to teach, ignoring the customs and traditions of men. The ‘gift of God’ and His identity are the real topics they would discuss: Jesus could provide ‘living water’ and if she understood this she would be asking Him for a drink. Taking Him literally, she notes that Jesus has no means by which to draw water and asks him if He is greater than Jacob whose water isn’t so effective.

Yes, Jesus WAS greater than Jacob, WAY greater!

Of course when Jesus mentions water that would quench a thirst for a lifetime, the woman is interested so that she wouldn’t have to draw water anymore which was very hard work. Notice that in v. 14 Jesus refers to a “spring of water welling up” which is a direct reference to the reputation of Jacob’s well. The water that Jesus was talking about here is a metaphor for eternal life that was the ultimate gift of God; accomplished by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Himself.

15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.”Living-water” was the water which was deep underground, flowing, and the purest, however, Jesus’ usage of “living-water” referred to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was offering eternal-life in the the kingdom of God, but she thought He was offering her an unending source of physical-water from deep underground, such as she would get if Jesus somehow installed indoor-plumbing…

16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”

In verses 16-19, an interesting thing happens: In response to Jesus directive to go and get her husband, the woman tells a falsehood with a half-truth. Jesus knows the whole story, to her amazement and this insight on His part is the probable reason for why she is drawing water at high noon instead of in the cool of the morning with all of the other women. Apparently shocked, she perceives that Jesus is a prophet.

She had had five husbands, but we are not told whether they had died or whether they had divorced her. If she had been widowed each time, she was totally-free to remarry each time, but divorce was a different story in that culture. That she had been married five times is almost a side-issue compared to the fact that she was living with a man she wasn’t married to, because according to Old Testament Law, both of them could and should be stoned. Yes, adultery was a capitol-offense. Before we are too hard on her, a single woman had no means of support, and that was even worse if she still had kids at home. Women were wives and mothers – period. There were no “working-women“, and if her kids couldn’t support her, she and her family went hungry. Like it or not, a woman’s only “assets” were her usefulness to her husband. That was why the custom of kinsman-redeemer came into being, which is one of the core-themes in the book of Ruth.

Simply-put, the kinsman-redeemer custom required that if a woman’s husband died before leaving her an heir to support her, his brother or another close-relative was required to marry her and give her a son. Their first-born became the heir of the deceased-husband’s estate, and if the husband didn’t already have an heir, of his estate also. None of this assumed that the kinsman-redeemer was single, because plural-marriage wasn’t forbidden in the Old Testament. Refusal was seriously frowned-on and brought public-disdain. While this custom doesn’t resonate with us today, it does emphasize the importance God places on family and caring for those who cannot care for themselves.

A few more pieces of background information:
1) The firstborn son received a double-portion of his father’s inheritance so he could support his parents when they became unable to support themselves.

2) Daughters didn’t receive an inheritance because they were expected to marry and their husband would support them. They also married young, usually between 12 and 14.

3) Jesus was Mary’s firstborn son but he assigned her care to John, one of His disciples, rather than to one of His brothers.

19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Notice how quickly she changed the subject and goes on to religious matters…after all Jesus must be a prophet. This goes back to one of the age-old disputes between the Jews and the Samaritans. During the time of the divided-kingdom, the Samaritans were not able to go to Jerusalem to worship, so they established their own worship-center. They still weren’t welcome in Jerusalem.

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus pointed her to the fact that worship isn’t about a “location“, as significant as that location might be. He tells her that God isn’t really interested in where a person worships; God cares HOW a person worships. In God’s sight, what is important is that a person worships in ‘spirit and in truth’: The time has come for this epochal change. From the coming of Christ forward the old regulations and traditions are set aside and replaced with reality.

Worship is about God, plain and simple, and we don’t need “special-place” to worship God. God is not restricted to a specific-place, and He is just a delighted in the praises and worship of our small family of believers here as He is from those gathered in the grandest cathedral. He has also promised to be in our midst.

She says that when the Messiah comes he will tell us all about this (not you, a mere prophet). Jesus’ reply reveals to her who He really is, for He is the Messiah. (v. 26)

26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” This is the only time Jesus claimed the Messianic-title before His trial leading up to His crucifixion. The Samaritan woman, whose name is known only to God, met her long-awaited Messiah.

Isn’t it interesting how much like this woman we are!

27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?” For a man to talk to a woman he wasn’t related to was a huge cultural “NO-NO“, and that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan woman was an even-bigger shock, yet Jesus came to Earth for a purpose and He wasn’t going to let cultural-convention get in His way.

Even today, we are constrained by cultural-norms in our social interactions with one another, but they were even stricter then because women were not only second-class-citizens, they were the property of their husband. A man didn’t even speak to his own wife in public, let alone a woman he didn’t even know, but that didn’t stop Jesus from having a conversation with this unnamed woman.

Next time, we will pick up from here with Ministry in Samaria…

Blessings!
Steve

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John’s Testimony

Many scholars consider this section to be a second introduction to John’s Gospel, bringing the first section of a Heavenly view down to an earthly witness of the one sent to prepare the Messiahs path. John the Baptist is the first witness of Jesus as the Christ, and his is the first testimony recorded. Witness or testimony is the clear theme of this passage, and in doing so, the Baptist has made a clear link between the Old Testament prophets and the appearance of Jesus on the scene; this is a theological foundation to Jesus’ later claims on this subject.

The Testimony of John
19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” (from Isaiah 40:3)

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is greater than me, for He existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32 John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:14-34)

“Who are you?”
Verse 19 refers to Jews of Jerusalem, priests and Levites. These distinctions should be understood as referring first to what we might call the “powers that be” among the Jewish leadership of the time. The priests are those Temple functionaries who perform the duties of that office under the Law, and Levites refers to those from the same tribe who perform ancillary functions in the Temple, such as being teachers of the Law and Temple guards. This delegation was sent from the city to find out just who this crazy guy was who was dressing badly, preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan. Johns reply to all of their questions was no; he was not any of those

Why did the religious-authorities question John the Baptist? Didn’t he have the “right-stuff“? Didn’t he have the right “pedigree“? His father, Zachariah, was a priest, and his mother, Elizabeth, was a “daughter of Aaron“, so he certainly had the right “pedigree“, but our answer comes in the “who” that questioned him, the religious leaders. Had John followed his father’s footsteps into the priesthood, as he was qualified to do, he would have never appeared on their “radar”, but his calling was much higher than that. They didn’t believe that he had the “authority” to do what he was doing, specifically, baptizing people. John the Baptist had not graduated from the “Jerusalem Theological Seminary“, nor had he gone through the proper steps to become “ordained” by the “powers that be“. John’s “ordination” came from God, not from man. In a nut-shell, he was operating outside their “system“, and they didn’t like it.

So, if John wasn’t the Messiah, Elijah or the Prophet, then who was he and why was he making such a commotion?

The “Elijah” who was to come was foretold in Malachi 4:5, and the “Prophet” was foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15. The priests and Levites were trying to pin-down who John the Baptist claimed to be. Jesus, in Matthew 11:14, clearly referring to Malachi 4:5, tells the crowd that John is the “Elijah who is to come.” John comes in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), but he denies that he is Elijah himself.

Why are you baptizing?
John now identifies himself by quoting from Isaiah 40:3. John was Gods word spoken, not Gods word Incarnate; Johns mission was to call for the people to prepare themselves for Gods arrival by repentance and baptism in water. He baptized in water to make preparation, but the One who was coming would baptize another way.

John the Baptist recognized that he was fulfilling the prophesy from Isaiah:

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)

John the Baptist came as the forerunner of the Messiah, much as a herald announces the imminent-arrival of a king or other dignitary. His job was to “prepare the way of the Lord”.

After me…
26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

When John the Baptist said that he was not worthy to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal, he wasn’t demeaning himself, rather he was recognizing the greatness of the very Son of God. After the Jewish delegation had left, at some point, John made his declaration that Jesus was the One for whom he had been preparing the way.

We, not unlike John the Baptist, are also heralds for the King. John announced His imminent-arrival the first time, His “stealth-arrival”, but we are called to announce that He is going to return with power and great glory. He is no longer “the carpenter-from-Nowhere’s-Ville”; He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and nobody will be able to miss or ignore His second-coming. We are also not worthy to proclaim this glorious-news, but we must proclaim it anyway. The message is far more glorious than we can ever do justice to, and we, with the Apostle Paul, recognize that “… we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

The Lamb of God…
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Behold, the Lamb of God. He calls Jesus “the Lamb of God” making a clear reference to the sacrificial animal used in Temple sacrifices for the atonement of sin. Jesus would take sin away entirely, not merely making a temporary atonement as the lambs in the Temple did.

Who takes away the sin of the world. The sin that the Lamb of God takes away is the sin of the world. Here, the “world” refers to all people without distinction, not all people without exception. That is, Jesus did not take away the sin of every person who has ever lived, only those who trust in Him for their salvation. He made no distinction regarding regarding the kinds of people for whom He died. Jesus, as the Lamb of God, atoned for the sins of rich people, poor people, Africans, Asians, Americans, Europeans, rulers, servants, men, women – all kinds of people. The “world” designates humanity in its hostility to God, as elsewhere in this Gospel. Although not all persons without exception will be saved, His sacrifice is the only atonement necessary for human sin, and its effectiveness is not limited by time or place (John 3:16).

Our understanding of Christ’s atoning sacrifice to “take away the sins of the world” can be further enlightened by remembering God’s promise to Abram; “And in you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3c).

Where else have we seen the promise of God’s provision of a lamb before?

6 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. 7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!”

And he said, “Here I am, my son.”

Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. (Genesis 22:6-8)

Abraham believed that God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice and his faith was rewarded with that provision. God’s provision of that lamb that day was a powerful symbol and foreshadowing of the perfect Lamb of God. Animal sacrifices could only cover-over sin, but could not take it away. Only the perfect Lamb of God could actually take upon Himself our sin and truly take it away.

He was before me…
This is the one I meant when I said, A man who comes after me is greater than me because he was before me. I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” (John 1:31-32)

John’s statement that he hadn’t known Jesus refers to John’s not understanding that Jesus, his cousin, was the One. John the Baptist also told the people that he himself did not know that Jesus was the Messiah, but that His identity was revealed to him. This does not mean that John had never met Jesus before; after all, they were relatives (Luke 1:26-45). John the Baptist’s point was that his insight was not due to personal acquaintance, but was by revelation from God.

Then John gave this testimony: I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 10 The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I have seen and I testify that this is Gods Chosen One. (John 1:32-34)

Even though Jesus and John the Baptist were related, John knew very little about Jesus or His upcoming ministry until God revealed it to him. The clincher was when John baptized Jesus and the Holy Spirit descend on Him in the form of a dove, combined with the Voice from heaven.

When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, all three members of the Godhead were revealed, Jesus, the Son of God, God the Father, by His voice, and the Holy Spirit, as represented by the dove. God had never revealed His fullness in this way before, which led John to say: “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34)

This is the Son of God. In making this assertion, John is reporting the heavenly-voice that accompanied the heaven-sent Spirit, as recorded in Matthew 3:17, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” While “son of God” was used variously by Jews (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7) and Gentiles (Mark 15:39), the Baptist’s witness, as the last of the old-order Prophets (Matthew 11:11-14), is clear. Jesus is the Son of God, the “only begotten of the Father” (v. 14).

Here, John clearly tells the people how he knows Jesus is the One; John has seen the sign that God told him to watch for. Thus, because John has been made to see the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus like a dove and then remain there, John states positively that Jesus is the Son of God.

John’s statement probably caught his Jewish listeners off-guard, because God didn’t have a “Son”, or so they had been taught, so how could this be? Observant Jews recited the Shema twice a day; “Hear, O Israel! The  Lord  is our God, the  Lord  is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Would John’s testimony be good-enough to put this notion to rest? No, because, as we will see as we progress through John’s Gospel, many people will be offended by the notion that Jesus is God, and ultimately, that claim, that Jesus IS God, will consign Him to the Cross.

What a marvelous testimony!

In spite of the overwhelming-evidence in the New Testament, there are still people who call themselves “Christians” who deny the Deity of Christ. That heresy has had a devoted-following since the time of Christ, and it isn’t going to go away anytime soon. We need to keep our eyes open to recognize it for what it is – heresy.

Wishing you God’s richest blessings in 2018!

Steve

Promises – Take Two

And the Word became flesh…

As we look back to the beginning of God’s relationship with His people, there is an unbroken chain of promises which were given to faithful men and women in the Old Testament. These are signposts which point forward to the culmination of God’s redemptive plan. Redemption is woven into the very fabric of the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. The Incarnation wasn’t a “chance-event“, rather it was part of God’s plan from the beginning of time.

God would have been entirely-justified had He chosen to strike Adam and Eve dead after their disobedience, but He didn’t. He could have chosen to restart humanity, perhaps without “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, but He didn’t. Instead, He chose to redeem humanity, at great cost to Himself, His only Son.

The first promise…
14  The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;

15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

Cursed”, “on your belly” and “eat dust” are all symbols of how Satan will be humiliated. Satan seemed to have won the first skirmish, and he did, but God put him on notice that the war was far from over. Oh, Satan would continue “drawing-blood”, but God will be the ultimate-victor and Satan will be crushed like a cockroach.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed.” God was already promising that their would be two different “seed”, the righteous “seed of the woman”, and the unrighteous “seed of Satan”. The prophesied hostility between the ungodly “seed” of Satan, Cain, and the godly “seed”, Abel, took shape immediately, and resulted in Cain killing Abel (Genesis 4:5). The rest of Genesis 4 shows the rapidly-increasing godlessness of Cain and his progeny, until God stepped in…

Godly line of Seth…
25 Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, “God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26 To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord. (Genesis 4:25-26)

Eve recognized that Seth was God’s appointed “heir” of that godly “seed”. The name “Seth” means “appointed”, and expresses Eve’s confidence that God would continue the covenant family in spite of Abel’s death. We then see glory given to God for His intervention in this conflict.

Enoch
21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. 22 Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. 23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24 Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. (Genesis 5:21-24)

Of all the recorded Old Testament saints, only Enoch and Elijah did not experience physical death. (2 Kings 2:1-12; Hebrews 11:5)

Line of Noah…
9 These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. 10 Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Genesis 6:9-10)

The beginning of Genesis 6 describes how corrupt mankind had become, and yet, there was still a faithful-representative of that godly “seed”, Noah. After the flood, mankind must be rebuilt, and that responsibility falls to Noah’s three sons and their wives.

God’s covenant with creation…
20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.

22 “While the earth remains, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:20-22)

The sanctity of human life…
“Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man.

As God’s representatives on earth, we have been given the responsibility to protect human life and to avenge murder. Why? For in the image of God He made man. Yes, God’s image is marred and distorted by sin, but it is still there, regardless of what some people would like to believe.

7  “As for you, be fruitful and multiply;
Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.” (Genesis 9:6-7)

Where have we seen this command before? The original Creation Ordinance was given in Genesis 1:28.

God’s covenant with creation – continued
8 Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, 9 “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. 11 I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; 13 I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. 14 It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, 15 and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

18 Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth; and Ham was the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated. (Genesis 9:8-19)

Noah, in thanks to God for sparing his family during the flood, made an offering to the Lord. In response to Noah’s faith and offering, God made a covenant, not only with Noah, but also with all creation, that He would never-again destroy the earth and its inhabitants with a flood. Notice that, unlike previous and subsequent covenants, this was a uni-lateral covenant, and God gave us a perpetual-sign of His covenant with creation – a rainbow. Do you remember God’s covenant with creation when you see a rainbow?

Well, it didn’t take long before the conflict between the two “seeds” heated up again.

In the line of Shem…
18  Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth; and Ham was the father of Canaan. 19  These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.

20  Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. 21  He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. 22  Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23  But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness. (Genesis 9:18-23)

Much to-do has been made about Noah getting “drunk” and “uncovered in his tent”, but I believe it has more to do with the commentator’s cultural norms and expectations than about what Noah actually did…

We do know that Ham “dishonored” his father (Genesis 9:22), and his offspring was cursed (Genesis 9:25). Maybe God didn’t kill-off all the ungodly “seed” in the flood after all…

24 When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. 25 So he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brothers.”

26 He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. (Genesis 9:24-26)

Whose land did the children of Israel conquer when they entered the Promised Land?

10 These are the records of the generations of Shem. Shem was one hundred years old, and became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood; 11 and Shem lived five hundred years after he became the father of Arpachshad, and he had other sons and daughters. (Genesis 11:10-11)

24 Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and became the father of Terah; 25 and Nahor lived one hundred and nineteen years after he became the father of Terah, and he had other sons and daughters.

26 Terah lived seventy years, and became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. (Genesis 11:24-26)

Promises to Abram…
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

What does this promise remind us of?

Abram and Melchizedek…
17 Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all. (Genesis 14:18-20)

“The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalms 110:4)

Melchizedek appeared almost as a “vapor” on the time-line of human-history, but he left a lasting-mark on redemption-history. He is only mentioned three times in the Bible, Genesis 14:18-20, Psalms 110:4, and Hebrews 7:1-22. He was a “type” of Christ.

At this point, you may be thinking “Why mention Melchizedek?” Aside from the fact that the Bible mentions him, there are no “insignificant” parts of the Bible, including the lists of names, the “begat’s” and “begot’s“, and the genealogies. Unlike us in the 21st century, the children of Israel, the Jews, didn’t build their “resume” on their “degrees, jobs and accomplishments” as we do, their genealogy WAS their “resume“. Take a peek at Matthew 1:1-16 for Jesus’ genealogy. It is full of surprises. While Melchizedek wasn’t a part of Jesus’ physical genealogy or “resume“, he WAS a part of Jesus’ “spiritual-resume“.

Melchizedek was a Priest and a King, and Jesus is our ETERNAL Prophet, Priest and King.

God’s covenant with Abram…
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.”

2 Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” 4 Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6)

We find an interesting promise in verse 5: “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” This promise goes far-beyond Abram’s physical-descendants – it speaks of Abraham’s spiritual-descendants, us, and harkens back to God’s previous promise to Abram; “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

The Sign of the covenant…
17 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless. 2 “I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.”

3 Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, 4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.

6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. 7 I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8 I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

9 God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. 13 A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

15 Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” 19 But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.” 22 When He finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. (Genesis 17:1-22)

As we saw with the importance of the name “John”, names had meaning. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai’s name to Sarah, which mean respectively “father of nations” and “mother of kings”.

We know from Genesis 16 that Sarah tried to short-circuit God’s promise by giving Hagar to Abraham as his wife. Ishmael was the result of that union, and in the end, that arrangement only brought strife and discord to the family. Ishmael would father a great family, but with a disastrous outcome. Was there something “wrong” with Abraham fathering a child by Hagar? No, there wasn’t, in and of itself, because that was a common-custom of that day. The problem resulted from the intentions of that act – short-circuiting God’s promise. As we will see later on, Jacob fathered twelve sons by his two wives, Rachel and Leah, and by their handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah. They were his legitimate sons, and they became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. (Genesis 30:1-22) Judah, from whose tribe David and Jesus came, was borne to Jacob’s “unloved” wife, Leah. The priestly-line of Aaron came from the tribe of Levi, who was also borne to Leah. (Genesis 29:34-35)

Circumcision, as a “rite-of-passage” for a young Jewish boy, would continue to be seen as the mark of a “true-Jew”, and would become a point-of-conflict during the Apostalic era following Christ’s resurrection and ascension. That conflict would not be finally-resolved for non-Jewish believers until the Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15.

God reiterated His promise of a son for Abraham and Sarah in verse 21; “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.

Birth of Isaac Promised
18 Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. 2 When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, 3 and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. 4 Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; 5 and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do, as you have said.” 6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.” 7 Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. 8 He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.

9 Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. 12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” 13 And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ 14 Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15 Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.” (Genesis 17:1-22, 18:1-15)

How long did it take for “bread and water” to morph into a feast? Observing the Near Eastern custom of hospitality, Abraham typifies the gracious host and is completely at the service of his guests.

We see the same kind of incredulous questioning from Sarah that we noted from Zachariah when Gabriel told him that they would become the parents to John; “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” How was that possible, them having a child in their old-age? “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” This phrase mirrors and prefigures what the angel told Mary in Luke 1:27.

God, in His providence, always maintained a line of Godly men and women down through the annals of time, men and women who were destined to be part of the lineage of the coming Savior. God hadn’t given up on His human image-bearers, and He was willing to do what it took to restore fallen humanity to a right relationship with Himself. We are privileged to be able to look back in time at these important events.

In Christ,
Steve

Who Was 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. He was also the last Old Covenant prophet. 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 Zachariah, 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 Zachariah 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 Zachariah, 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)

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were old and well beyond child bearing; they had no children and no hope of ever having children. He was a priest at the Temple, and she was something of a disgrace for being barren. On a certain day, Zechariah was chosen by lot, as was the custom, to enter the Holy Place to burn the incense to God. This of course was the twice daily ritual following the sacrifice for the atonement of sins. It is important to this story for us to understand that the casting of lots was done to enable God to choose which priest was to enter the Holy Place, thus Zechariah’s selection would have been understood as God’s choice, and no accident.

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. Zachariah 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. This was no “ordinary” angel either, rather he was one of the only two angels mentioned by name in the Bible, Gabriel. He had a very-special message for Zachariah; they were going to become parents, in their old-age. God HAD been hearing their prayers, and was going to grant their wish in a very-special way. Their son would be special, the forerunner of the coming Messiah, in fulfillment of an 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,
so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”(Malachi 4:5-6)

What was the “curse” that was promised in that last phrase if the Jews didn’t turn back to God? As we know from history, Jerusalem fell to the Romans, the Temple was demolished, and the Jews were scattered across the Roman empire in 70 AD. Why?

Because the Jews had rejected the long-promised Messiah.

This would be no ordinary child, for he would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before being born, which was the special favor of God in a time when there was no generally available indwelling of the Spirit. He would prepare the way for the Lord Himself with the spirit of Elijah, the great prophet of old. In the process, he would bring many people back to the righteous ways of the Lord.

Zechariah was to call the boy John.

If you were in Zechariah’s sandals, what would be your reaction? Maybe you’d be overjoyed, or shocked, or terrified, or very proud… or skeptical! Zechariah wanted to know how he could be sure this news was true, a fairly human concern, I’d have to say. It would appear that the angel wasn’t all that impressed with such a reaction, however. He identified himself as Gabriel who served in the presence of God, and informed Zechariah that he would be mute until the miraculous (there’s really no other word for it) birth was completed.

Well, Zechariah asked for a sign, and he got one… right?

Meanwhile, the people outside praying were wondering what had happened to Zechariah; he’d been inside far too long. When he emerged from the Temple, they could tell he had experienced some kind of vision, but he couldn’t tell them anything about it. He returned home and his wife became pregnant; the Lord had taken away her disgrace and she went into seclusion for her term. Yet soon another angelic visit would soon take place…

What did Elizabeth mean when she said; “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 1:25)? We get insight into just how important bearing children was to a Jewish woman in that culture. Being “barren” was “disgraceful“, and was often seen as a “curse” from God (1 Samuel 1:5-6), and sometimes it was (2 Samuel 6:23), and being childless meant that the family-name and lineage died out. No child also meant no heir, and that was a dire situation, particularly for a widow.

God had instituted the kinsman-redeemer custom in the Old Testament for cases where the husband died before giving his wife an heir (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). That is the theme of the book of Ruth, which was a foreshadowing of our great kinsman-redeemer, Jesus Christ.

The importance of having a child, particularly an heir, in that culture, cannot be understated. Among the miscellaneous laws God gave the Jews is an exemption from public/military service for young men who had just gotten married. “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.” (Deuteronomy 24:5)Give happiness” is understood to include marital-relations leading to conception of a child, hopefully an heir. We can see why this was huge for Zachariah and Elizabeth. We can also see why Jesus entrusted the care of His mother, Mary, to John (John 19:25-27), since He was her firstborn.

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 Zachariah 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, as told to Zachariah.

In a scene reminiscent of 1 Samuel 1-2, Mary arrives at the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth and as the text tells us, two interesting things happen when she enters the house. First, the unborn John the Baptist leaps for joy upon hearing her voice, and then his mother Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. and Elizabeth herself utters a more or less prophetic message.

Elizabeth became the first human to ever proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

If nothing else, we see in this scene that Elizabeth, in spite of her joy at conceiving a child in her old age, and in spite of being joyous at the important role her son would play in redemption history, that she was fully aware that Mary was carrying the greater of the two, and that as a result, Mary was the more blessed.

What does this tell us some 2,000 years later?

It tells us that this child whose birth we are celebrating now, was no ordinary child, that he was God incarnate. It tells us that this child was/is the One who would change everything and that this change would be for all time. It tells us that in our celebrations, the birth of this child is not to be treated as an afterthought or an “oh by the way” kind of thing, for it is well and truly The Point.

Everything else is fluff.

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 Zachariah, 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 Zachariah would be mute until after the birth, and surprise of surprises, once Zachariah confirmed the baby’s name, his tongue was loosened and he was able to speak.

Many names carried special-significance, particularly in the Old Testament. “John” was one of those “special-names“, and it means “the Lord is gracious“. Under normal circumstances, naming their child was a right specifically-reserved to the father, but Zachariah wasn’t going to get that privilege. The angel had given him the name he was to give his son, and he wasn’t going to be able to speak until after John was born and named.

Zachariah’s Song…
67 And his father Zachariah 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)

At some point after Mary’s song, it was Zechariah’s turn. His was a prophetic song and though it was primarily about his son, it also included elemental references to the Messiah he would serve…

Notice in these verses the clear reference to his son John who came to fulfill the prophecy of old and “prepare the way of the Lord”. Of particular interest is the ending, Zechariah’s mention of the “tender mercy” of God and the way he uses the example of the rising sun each day as an example of God’s mercy. Where would we be if the sun stopped rising?

As we continue reading it becomes abundantly clear that Zechariah isn’t talking about the literal sun, rather he is referring to God’s Son, coming to shine the light of His presence in a dark world that teeters on the edge of destruction. God’s Son will light the path so that we might avoid falling into disaster and be redeemed by God to find the path of peace.

This is a powerful and gripping image, reminiscent of the prophets of centuries before, and one that should light our hearts still today, for it has come to pass, and we who follow Jesus Christ have received its incredible blessing.

With this, Luke has set the stage for the arrival of God’s Son, but this arrival will have an unusual kind of glory…

Next time…
Next week, we will begin looking at the Old Testament promises and prophesies which pointed to the coming Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

In Christ,
Steve

Bible Study – More Controversy

Jesus is surrounded by controversy no matter where He goes. When He is on His home-turf, they can’t believe that He is from Above because they are sure that He is just a “localboy“. While some people believe that He is the Messiah, others think that He is a fraud or worse. In spite of Peter’s confession in the previous section, not all of His disciples are even convinced about who He is. Jesus, however, never “watered-down” His message to make Himself more “popular“.

Jesus Teaches at the Feast
7 After these things Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. 2 Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near. 3 Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. 4 For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” 5 For not even His brothers believed in Him. 6 So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. 8 Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.” 9 Having said these things to them, He stayed in Galilee.

1 After these things Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. Most of Jesus’ ministry was in Galilee, and He only went to Jerusalem for the major festivals. Hatred for Jesus by most of the Jewish religious leaders had grown to the point that they wanted to kill Him.

2 Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near. The Feast of Booths, or Feast of Tabernacles, was a week-long commemorative celebration of when the Jews had “camped” for forty years during their wilderness-wanderings. During the Feast, they “camped-out” while performing various ceremonies which celebrated significant events during their long “camping-trip“. All able-bodied men were expected to go to Jerusalem and participate.

3 Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. 4 For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” 5 For not even His brothers believed in Him. If ANYONE was convinced that Jesus was just a “home-boy“, it was His brothers. After all, they had grown up together, they had the same mother, and they assumed that they had the same father. WRONG!!! Yes, they had the same “dad“, but they did NOT have the same father, and only Mary and Joseph knew “the rest of the story“. His brothers figured that if Jesus was “something-special“, He needed to “come out of the closet“. Sadly, His brothers didn’t believe in Him until after His resurrection. After Pentecost, James became one of the pillars of the Church in Jerusalem, and the author of the Epistle of James.

6 So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. 8 Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.” 9 Having said these things to them, He stayed in Galilee. Jesus simply had His own time-table, and He wasn’t quite ready to go to the Feast.

How often do WE jump-the-gun on God’s timetable, wanting what we want, when we want it, and find out later that we made a BIG mistake? Yes, sometimes God DOES cause something “good” to come from our mistake, but not always. This ministry came to be because of a mistake I made back in 2012. Yes, something GOOD came out of something BAD.

10 But when His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He Himself also went up, not publicly, but as if, in secret. 11 So the Jews were seeking Him at the feast and were saying, “Where is He?” 12 There was much grumbling among the crowds concerning Him; some were saying, “He is a good man”; others were saying, “No, on the contrary, He leads the people astray.” 13 Yet no one was speaking openly of Him for fear of the Jews.

Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Feast when He was ready, and not before, however the crowds were sure that He wouldn’t skip the Feast altogether. Even before Jesus appeared publicly, there was already chatter about whether He was “good” or “bad“. Notice however, that people didn’t talk about Him where they might be heard by the religious-establishment because they didn’t want to bear the wrath of the Establishment.

14 But when it was now the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and began to teach. 15 The Jews then were astonished, saying, “How has this man become learned, having never been educated?” 16 So Jesus answered them and said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. 18 He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Everyone KNEW that Jesus hadn’t graduated from “Jerusalem Theological Seminary“, so how did He get this much knowledge? WE know the answer to that question, because we know that Jesus was the Incarnate Word of God, but they didn’t, so He twisted their tails again. 16 So Jesus answered them and said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. Jesus is claiming Divine revelation. He goes on to add, 17 If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. Jesus is pointing them back to what the Old Testament had revealed about Him, which, if His hearers had learned and understood, would shore-up His claims about Himself.

18 He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. This is a pointed-comparison between the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of the Pharisees. The Pharisee’s teaching was self-centered, whereas Jesus’ teaching was God-centered. The Pharisees sought their own glory, while Jesus sought to bring glory to God the Father.

19 “Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” 20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill You?” 21 Jesus answered them, “I did one deed, and you all marvel. 22 For this reason Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man. 23 If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath? 24 Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Jesus is really going to twist their tails… 19 “Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?”

20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill You?” Now it goes from disbelief to claiming that Jesus has a demon. Could it get any more absurd?

21 Jesus answered them, “I did one deed, and you all marvel. 22 For this reason Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man. 23 If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath? 24 Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Circumcision was part of the covenant God made with Abraham, which was supposed to be done on the 8th day, so when God gave the Law through Moses; it became part of that Law. The Pharisees were so meticulous about keeping the Law that they required circumcisions to be done even on the Sabbath. Circumcision had also become part of their “national-pride“, something which separated them from the “heathens” (Gentiles). This is a continuation of the controversy Jesus cause back in John 5:1-15, when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. What Jesus was confronting the Pharisees with is that it was “okay” in their book to hurt a baby in order to circumcise him on the Sabbath, but they got bent out of shape when Jesus HEALED a man on the Sabbath. They had their “logic” backwards.

25 So some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, “Is this not the man whom they are seeking to kill? 26 Look, He is speaking publicly, and they are saying nothing to Him. The rulers do not really know that this is the Christ, do they? 27 However, we know where this man is from; but whenever the Christ may come, no one knows where He is from.” 28 Then Jesus cried out in the temple, teaching and saying, “You both know Me and know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. 29 I know Him, because I am from Him, and He sent Me.” 30 So they were seeking to seize Him; and no man laid his hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come. 31 But many of the crowd believed in Him; and they were saying, “When the Christ comes, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?”

25 So some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, “Is this not the man whom they are seeking to kill? 26 Look, He is speaking publicly, and they are saying nothing to Him. The rulers do not really know that this is the Christ, do they? 27 However, we know where this man is from; but whenever the Christ may come, no one knows where He is from.” The Pharisee’s plot to kill Jesus was an “open-secret” in Jerusalem, so they couldn’t believe that Jesus was speaking publicly. Even though some people thought that Jesus might be the Messiah (Christ), they weren’t so sure because they “knew” that He was just a “local-kid“. What was really sad about their comments is that there were many prophesies concerning the Messiah, including some foretelling where He would be born, and where He would come from.

28 Then Jesus cried out in the temple, teaching and saying, “You both know Me and know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. 29 I know Him, because I am from Him, and He sent Me.” To make matters worse, Jesus stoked the fires of their speculation, and angst, by telling them that He came from God.

30 So they were seeking to seize Him; and no man laid his hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come. Jesus had a timeline for His ministry, and not even the Pharisees could alter it or rush it to completion.

31 But many of the crowd believed in Him; and they were saying, “When the Christ comes, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?” Did they REALLYbelieve” in Him, if they were still looking for the Messiah (Christ)? Yes, they did acknowledge that Jesus was performing Christ-like signs, but they were still looking…

32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about Him, and the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to seize Him. 33 Therefore Jesus said, “For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me. 34 You will seek Me, and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come.” 35 The Jews then said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find Him? He is not intending to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks, is He? 36 What is this statement that He said, ‘You will seek Me, and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come’?”

32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about Him, and the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to seize Him. The Pharisees were completely-convinced that Jesus was a dangerous nut-case, so they sent their posse out to arrest Him.

33 Therefore Jesus said, “For a little while longer I am with you, then I go to Him who sent Me. 34 You will seek Me, and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come.” Jesus told them that His time on earth was limited, and that He would be going back to be with His Father before long, but they misunderstood where he was talking about, so…

35 The Jews then said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find Him? He is not intending to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks, is He? 36 What is this statement that He said, ‘You will seek Me, and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come’?” Every time the Jews had been conquered by a foreign country, some of them were taken as captives to other parts of that country’s empire, but not all of them went back “home” after their captivity ended. They were known as the “Dispersion“, and the “home-town” Jews couldn’t believe that Jesus would actually take His message somewhere else. They certainly couldn’t imagine Jesus going to those “accursed” Greeks (Gentiles). That was the only “logical” explanation for “You will seek Me, and will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come”.

37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Where have we seen the theme “living water” before? Jesus offered the Samaritan woman “living water” back in John 4:10, and now Jesus is offering “living water” to His hearers, which John explains is referring to the Holy Spirit, which would be poured out on all believers on the day of Pentecost.

Division of People over Jesus
40 Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, “This certainly is the Prophet.” 41 Others were saying, “This is the Christ.” Still others were saying, “Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him. 44 Some of them wanted to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him.

As the controversy over who Jesus is continues, there are really three different opinions about Him. A great Prophet, who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah, had been prophesied 400 years earlier in Malachi 4:5-6, and because of the miraculous deeds Jesus performed, some thought that Jesus might just be that “Great Prophet“. What they didn’t realize was that that great Prophet had already come and gone in the person of John the Baptist, who Jesus affirmed to be the last of the Old Testament prophets (Matthew 11:7-14). Some thought that Jesus was the Messiah, but those who didn’t believe that He was remembered that Micah 5:2-5 spoke of Him being born in Bethlehem, which He was, however, since He called Galilee “home“, they thought that He must have been born in Galilee. Jesus WAS descended from King David. Others thought that He was just a dangerous wacko nut-case, so they wanted to get rid of Him.

45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, “Why did you not bring Him?” 46 The officers answered, “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.” 47 The Pharisees then answered them, “You have not also been led astray, have you? 48 No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? 49 But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.” 50 Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) said to them, 51 “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” 52 They answered him, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” 53 Everyone went to his home. (John 7)

45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, “Why did you not bring Him?” The religious leaders had sent out a posse to arrest Jesus, but they didn’t.

46 The officers answered, “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.” Just because they were mesmerized by what Jesus said, doesn’t mean that they believed in Him.

47 The Pharisees then answered them, “You have not also been led astray, have you? 48 No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? 49 But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.” That is pretty tough talk from the ones who should have been the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah; however, they were basing their “righteousness” on keeping the Law, which they didn’t.

50 Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) said to them, 51 “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” Nicodemus had paid a late-night visit to Jesus back in John 3, so he was already partially-convinced of whom Jesus was, so he reminded the rest of the gang what the Law said about a fair-trial.

52 They answered him, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” 53 Everyone went to his home. The religious authorities in Jerusalem had a very-low regard for Galileans, believing them to be loose-living half-breeds. Had they somehow missed the prophesy in Isaiah 9, which speaks of Galilee, a land in the shadow of darkness, being given new light – by the coming-Messiah. Isaiah 9:6-7, is one of the most well-known of the Old Testament Messianic prophesies.

The Pharisees, who seemed to be SO meticulous about keeping the Law, were grossly-violating the 5th Commandment, You shalt not murder, as they were plotting to kill Jesus. Sadly, their hypocrisy was blatantly-obvious even to a casual-observer, however when Jesus called them on it, it made them even madder. They were, to say the least, unfit spiritual-leaders. This wouldn’t be the last time Jesus encountered them, and eventually they would finally “get their way“, but not until Jesus was ready.

In Christ,
Steve

Would John the Baptist Be Welcome?

God had been silent for about 400 years when He sent the last Old Testament prophet to Israel to proclaim the eminent arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. That prophet was the man we know as John the Baptist. John, who was born to quite elderly parents, was empowered by the Holy Spirit while he was still in his mother’s womb. If John the Baptist were to reappear today, would he be welcome in your church? Would he be welcome in your pulpit?

John didn’t appear in a three-piece-suit with shiny shoes and slicked-back hair. He lived off the land in the wilderness, had long hair and a beard, and looked like what many would call a “bum“. He didn’t “look good” and he probably didn’t smell much better. Would he be welcome in your church? Would he be welcome in your pulpit?

John didn’t come proclaiming a “gospel” of prosperity or “name-it-and-claim-it” religion. He came proclaiming repentance from old ways of living and self-righteous ways of thinking, and that the kingdom of God was at hand. Would he be welcome in your church? Would he be welcome in your pulpit? Would you welcome and heed his message? What was his message?
7 Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 9 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?”
11 He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

12 Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”  13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”

14 Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

15 Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, 16 John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:7-17)

Does this message seem vaguely-familiar? John the Baptist was giving applications to the “Tall Orders” God gave through Micah the prophet almost eight-hundred years earlier:
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you,
But to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Jesus Christ would later sum up these “orders” when some Pharisees confronted Him:
34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

The Jews staked their claim on being children of Abraham, but that wasn’t good enough. Injustice was rampant in Israel, and even though God had condemned it almost eight-hundred years earlier, things still hadn’t changed. John’s message of repentance required more than just mere words, it required concrete actions.

We can show our love for God by loving our neighbor, not just in word-only, but by tangible actions. When my neighbor-gal came home at 11:30 one night and couldn’t walk into her home by herself because of the pain in her broken foot, she needed REAL help. She also needed to borrow my walker again, so real help was both helping her get into her home and putting my walker into the trunk of her car. Mere words of consolation would not have done for her what she needed done. Help required action. I am no “shining-star” in this, but I do try to do what I can, when I can.

John baptized people in the Jordan River in the same way new converts to Judaism had been baptized for hundreds of years, naked, and all the way under. Would you allow him to baptize you?

If John the Baptist wouldn’t be welcome in your church, you are in “good company“, because the religious-establishment of his day didn’t like him or his message either. They were particularly incensed that he was baptizing people. He hadn’t graduated from “Jerusalem Theological Seminary” and hadn’t gone through all the steps to become a “recognized” preacher. He didn’t have the right “credentials“, even though he was a prophet, and he was operating outside of their “system“. Of course Jesus Christ didn’t have the right “credentials” either, even though He was the Incarnate Son of God.

Even if we wouldn’t welcome John the Baptist into our church and pulpit, we should welcome his message. We can learn a lot from John’s simple message of repentance:
Abandon our self-righteous attitudes and admit that we can’t fix ourselves.
Love God with all of our being.
Truly love our neighbor as ourselves.

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

Honoring A Commitment

Divorce courts are full of broken commitments, but it hasn’t always been this way. Honorable people kept their commitments, even if that commitment was to someone who had died several, even hundreds of years earlier.

Did Abraham ever see his offspring settled in the land that God had promised him? Of course not, but that didn’t keep God from honoring His promise to Abraham.

Did Abraham live to see the day when all nations would be blessed by his offspring? Of course not, but that hasn’t kept God from honoring His promise to Abraham, a promise that God is still honoring today.

Did Isaiah live to see the day when his Messianic prophesies, God’s promises to send a Messiah, were fulfilled? Of course not, but that didn’t keep God from honoring His promises to both Isaiah and to the children of Israel.

There was another very special commitment that the person to whom the commitment was made never saw it fulfilled. David developed a very special bond with King Saul’s son Jonathan, and David made a very special promise, a commitment, to Jonathan.

Jonathan knew that he would never be king, because God, through the prophet Samuel, had already anointed David as the next king. In those days, it wasn’t unusual for the new king to “eliminate” any possible threats to his kingdom by the previous king’s heirs. Yes, “eliminate” means SLAUGHTER. So, Jonathan asked David to spare him and his children when he became king, and as we will see, David went way above and beyond in honoring that commitment, but, before I give too much of this story away, let’s look at it from the Bible.

The promise…
12 Then Jonathan said to David, “I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favorably disposed toward you, will I not send you word and let you know? 13 But if my father intends to harm you, may the Lord deal with Jonathan, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace. May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father. 14 But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, 15 and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.”

16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” 17 And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.

42 Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town. (1 Samuel 20:12-17, 42)

The fulfillment…
9 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

2 Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”
“At your service,” he replied.

3 The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”
Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.”

4 “Where is he?” the king asked.
Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar.”

5 So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.

6 When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor.
David said, “Mephibosheth!”
“At your service,” he replied.

7 “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

8 Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”

9 Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. 10 You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)

11 Then Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.

12 Mephibosheth had a young son named Mika, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephibosheth. 13 And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet. (2 Samuel 9)

Mephibosheth spared…
21 During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the Lord. The Lord said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”

2 The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to spare them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them.) 3 David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the Lord’s inheritance?”

4 The Gibeonites answered him, “We have no right to demand silver or gold from Saul or his family, nor do we have the right to put anyone in Israel to death.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” David asked.

5 They answered the king, “As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel, 6 let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and their bodies exposed before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul—the Lord’s chosen one.”

So the king said, “I will give them to you.”

7 The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the oath before the Lord between David and Jonathan son of Saul. 8 But the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, whom she had borne to Saul, together with the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab, whom she had borne to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite. 9 He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed them and exposed their bodies on a hill before the Lord. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning.

Final respects…
10 Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds touch them by day or the wild animals by night. 11 When David was told what Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had stolen their bodies from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.) 13 David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and the bones of those who had been killed and exposed were gathered up.

14 They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish, at Zela in Benjamin, and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land. (2 Samuel 21:1-14)

What if?
What if David had ignored his commitment to Jonathan and slaughtered all of Saul’s and Jonathan’s families anyway? Would anyone have blamed him? Who would have even known about that promise?

42 Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town. (1 Samuel 20:42)

Jonathan and David had called God as their witness, so in honoring his commitment to Jonathan, David was honoring God also. How many commitments do we make to one another before God?

Our commitments…
Have you taken marriage vows and called God as your witness?

Have you taken church-membership vows, calling your fellow church-members and God as your witness?

How many other commitments have you made?

How far are you willing to go in honoring your commitments?

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

She Is A SINNER!

36 Now one of the Pharisees requested Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.

39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”

Parable of Two Debtors
40 And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.”

49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?”

50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)

The setting…
We come to a very interesting “teachingmoment” in the life of Christ. Simon, a Pharisee, invited Jesus to have dinner with him, but as exacting as Simon was in keeping the Law, he hadn’t even extended the customary-courtesies which were normal in that culture. Because everyone wore sandals, or walked barefoot, and the roads weren’t paved, the customary-courtesy that hosts were expect to extend their guest was to, at minimum, wash their feet. The greeting-kiss and anointing the heads of their guests with oil may have been “optional“, but Simon hadn’t even done the basics.

The host…
Simon was a Pharisee, and was probably quite well-known in the community, so word of a special guest at his house spread like wildfire throughout the area. There really was very little privacy, even in a person’s home, because “windows” were simply openings in the walls, and may only have been covered by some sort of “drapes” at night. Otherwise, they were open for all to see in.

The woman…
The woman is not named, but she was probably pretty well-known in the community as well, but NOT for the same reason. She was a “sinner“, which many commentators describe as an “immoral woman“. Was she a prostitute? Did she run the local brothel? She wasn’t someone who was “acceptable” in “politecompany“. She certainly wasn’t someone Jesus should be seen associating with, but…

Her actions…
37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.

She not only washed His feet, she kissed and anointed them, not just with cheap olive-oil, but with very-expensive perfume. She was performing a service to Him, and if I really read her attitude right, she was also claiming Him as her Master. For those could afford servants, these basic-courtesies were relegated to a servant, and she humbled herself to become His servant. It was an act of devotion to Him.

Objection, your Honor…
That didn’t sit well with Simon, particularly since her actions betrayed how sloppy of a host he was. He also didn’t think much of Jesus for allowing her to serve Him as she did. “Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”” If Jesus truly was a Prophet, He should have known better…

Objection over-ruled…
Jesus was not going to allow His character to be questioned, and neither was He going to allow Simon to put down the woman. He addressed Simon directly. “And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.””

Yes, your Honor…
And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.”

Parable of two debtors…
41 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?”

A denarius was a Roman coin worth a day’s wages, so if a person made the equivalent of $100 per day, one debtor owed $50,000 and the other owed $5,000. How many bankers are willing to “writeoff” $5,000? How many bankers are willing to “writeoff” $50,000, and yet that banker graciously “wroteoff” both debts. He forgave their WHOLE debt, interest and all.

Simon thought that he was a “pretty-good” guy. After all, he WAS a Pharisee, and he would have compared himself favorably to the Pharisee in the “Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector“. He certainly was “better” than that poor woman, that SINNER, but, he wasn’t perfect. He still owed a debt to God that he could never pay.

The lesson for us is that whether we are “big” sinners, or whether we are “little” sinners, we still owe God a debt of sin that we can never repay.

A debt of love…
So which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

The appropriate response to a forgiven-debt SHOULD be love for the One who forgave the debt

And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

After pointing out to Simon where he had failed as a host, Jesus showed Simon how she had not only done the “basics“, but that she had gone way above and beyond the “basics“. Did she come seeking forgiveness? Even if that wasn’t her intent, she got way more than she bargained for.

Your debt is paid in full…
48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.”

Jesus didn’t simply say “Thank you” to her, and then dismiss her, He did what only He could do, forgive her sins.

WHAT???
49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?”

EVERYONE knew that only God can forgive sins, so who did He think HE was? In a way, they were right, but they didn’t realize that Jesus Christ was the very Incarnate God. He was everything God was in a human body, so it was His right to forgive sins. He also knew about their self-righteous sinfulness.

Your faith has saved you…
50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

She had encountered the living God, and I can imagine that there was a lightness in her step that she hadn’t felt in many years. She also didn’t have to hang her head in shame. She was FORGIVEN. She was SAVED. That was the best day of her life, and the beginning of her new life. She had gone to Jesus with only herself and a bottle of perfume. She had given all that she had, and she had received way more than she could have ever imagine, a new life.

Parting thoughts…
She had gone to Jesus, confident that He wouldn’t brush her off, and He didn’t. She gave Him all she had, herself, and He gave her far more in return, a new life. She shows us that we can come to Jesus in our need, and that He won’t brush us off or turn us away either. He has given us an invitation, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Where are YOU in this scene? Do you “have it all together” like Simon, thinking that God should be pretty pleased with you, or can you identify with the woman, knowing that you DON’T “have it all together“? Either way, if you haven’t gone to Jesus with your debt, acknowledging that you can’t ever pay it yourself, you need to, because your debt is growing by the minute. Only God, through Jesus Christ, can forgive your sins and release you from your debt. Please join me in acknowledging our debts to God…

“Lord Jesus, I owe a debt to you that I could never pay. I AM a sinner, and only You can save me, so, Lord Jesus, please forgive my sin and release me from my debt. Thank you for inviting me to come.”

In Christ,
Steve