Cleaning House

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

The Last Plague

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

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

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

The Passover Lamb

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

Feast of Unleavened Bread

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

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

A Memorial of Redemption

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

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

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

Exodus of Israel

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

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

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

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

Ordinance of the Passover

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

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

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

Consecration of the Firstborn

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

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

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

Temple background:

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

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

Temple layout:

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

Festival Background:

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

Our scene

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

Since people would have traveled to Jerusalem from all over the Roman Empire, they would not have been able to bring animals for sacrifices with them and still be able to meet the ceremonial requirements for perfection. Having a marketplace right within the Temple (Court of the Gentiles) would have been quite convenient. At the same time, it would have been quite convenient for the priests who received a percentage from the sales. In addition, Temple taxes were required to be paid by the Jews in the coin of Tyre. Money changers were on hand to exchange other coins for the ones required for Temple taxes, sometimes at high fees: Clearly, Passover was a time for commerce in the middle of the National House of Worship.

Jesus was filled with righteous indignation and drove the traders out, overturning their tables and ordering all of the goods to be removed. Note that He did not harm the animals or confiscate the money; He was not doing this to cause harm, but rather to stop the desecration of the Temple. His whip was made of rope, not leather. It would have gotten a man’s attention, but it would not have caused anyone serious harm. The issue that Jesus reacted to here was not that running a market and engaging in commerce was a bad or sinful thing in and of itself, but that the Temple was not the place for such things. Remember, the Temple in Jerusalem during the Old Covenant was the dwelling place of God (in the Holy of Holies). The dwelling place of God, the place of His worship, was not to be taken callously and turned into a marketplace for personal enrichment; it was reserved for reverence.

Jesus was concerned with the purity and holiness of the Temple, His Father’s House, because worship was being disrupted by commerce. The quote referenced in verse 17, “Zeal for Your house will consume me”. is from Psalm 69:9. The Psalmist was consumed with love for God’s house, and so is Jesus. Jesus’ zeal for God’s house as a house of prayer has interesting possibilities for us to consider. First, He certainly had a zeal for the Temple as a place of prayer, but a careful look at the Gospels will reveal that He is never portrayed as praying there. He is mentioned to be praying in the desert, mountains and Sea, but not particularly at the Temple. Of course, creative students will recall that the Temple in the OT is symbolic of a NT reality as mentioned several times in Hebrews. In the NT, many will say that the Temple represents the church, not a building, but the Body of Christ wherein He dwells through the Holy Spirit. It may be said that this approach is a bit of a stretch to apply to this passage, but it is interesting to ponder. What is clear however, is that His consummation took place at the time of His crucifixion, which was done for the forgiveness of sins that His people could be redeemed… and so that all peoples could be redeemed into the Body of Christ.

Naturally the Jewish leaders wanted a “sign“, something to “prove” that He had the authority to do what He had just done, as if they hadn’t already heard about all the miracle Jesus had already done. Jesus didn’t perform miracles “on-demand“, and they weren’t getting one from Him now. Jesus gave them a “sign“, but it wasn’t what they were expecting. Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They were incredulous, because the only “temple” they could think of was the physical temple they were standing in, and it had been under construction for forty-six years. Jesus was already prophesying about His crucifixion and resurrection, something His disciples would only comprehend after-the-fact.

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

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

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

In Christ,

Steve

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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 – Cleaning House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Steve

Bible Study – John the Baptist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ,
Steve

Caught In The Act…

Have you ever been caught doing something that you weren’t supposed to be doing? Have you ever been caught with your hand in the cookie-jar? Have you ever been caught with your pants down? People are caught all the time doing something wrong, and two-thousand years ago, a woman was caught with way more than her pants down. She was caught in bed with a man she wasn’t married to.

2 Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:2-11)

The backdrop…
Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, which was also known as the Feast of Booths. The Feast of Tabernacles was a week long, and commemorated God’s gracious provisions for the children of Israel during their forty-year wilderness wanderings. It was also the longest of the major annual Festivals.

Jesus, as was His habit, went to the Temple early in the morning to teach the gathered worshipers, and by this time in His ministry, the Scribes and Pharisees were itching to catch Him saying something “wrong” so they could do away with Him.

The raid…
The Jerusalem “Morality-Police” had made an early-morning raid, perhaps to the woman’s house, and they caught her in bed with a man she wasn’t married to. Was she a known “SINNER“? She may have been, and the Scribes and Pharisees thought that this was a good opportunity to finally “get” Jesus. I doubt that they even gave her the opportunity to cover up before they dragged her out of the house. Besides, she wouldn’t be needing her clothes when they stoned her…

The trap…
The Law of Moses required that someone who committed adultery must be stoned to death. Under Roman law, only the Roman government could execute someone, so if Jesus gave them the “thumbs-up” to stone her, He would be going against Roman law, and if He refused to allow them to stone her, He would be going against the Law of Moses… It seemed like the perfect trap.

The trial…
Could this fraud of a “trial” have started any worse for this poor woman? She had been dragged, likely naked, through the streets of Jerusalem, and was thrust into the middle of the Master’s morning Bible-class. The “Morality-Police” had caught her in a very compromising-position, and now this…

They made their case, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” As far as they were concerned, she was guilty-as-charged, and all they needed was permission to carry out the sentence. If this scene was re-enacted today, they would even have video-proof.

The problems…
I see a couple of serious problems with this case:
1) What were the “Morality-Police” doing snooping in her bedroom?
2) Where was her “partner-in-crime“? The Law of Moses required that BOTH adulterers be stoned.

Handwriting on the ground…
Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground. We aren’t even given any hints as to what He wrote. Perhaps, as His fingers touched that earthly dust, He was reminded of the first time His hands touched earthly soil, when He created Adam out of the dust of the ground. Whatever He wrote, the “MoralityPolice” were annoyed that He didn’t give them the answer they wanted IMMEDIATELY.

He who is without sin…
The Sinless Son of God gave them the go-ahead, IF, they were also sinless. Jesus wasn’t picking up any stones, not that day, not ANY day, and He gave them a lesson in humility, a lesson that should make us wonder whether we have any right to be judging others. If stones didn’t fit His hands, I have no business picking them up either.

The verdict…
Jesus knew their hearts and their malicious-intent. The woman was merely a pawn in their game, and whether they would have actually stoned her is immaterial. They wanted Jesus gone, and they were willing to go to any lengths to accomplish their goal. Rather than judging the woman, Jesus had put her accusers in their place.

When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Our accuser…
We also have an accuser hissing in our ear. Satan would love to keep us enslaved to our past and fearful of moving on. He loves to drag us and our name through the mud, and if possible, cause us to even question whether God could ever love us. There is but one not-so-small problem, and that is that Satan isn’t our judge, he is merely our accuser.

Do you feel like you have written way too many checks on God’s grace-account? Satan would like to make us think so, but God’s grace is so far beyond our comprehension that there is no such thing as a “bad-check“. If we allow Him to, Jesus will stand between us and our accuser as He stood between that woman and her accusers almost two -thousand years ago.

The verdict…
As Jesus said to her, He says also to us, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Steve

Idolatry

Do you have an “idol” in your home? Do you have a shrine to your favorite “deity“? Do you have tributes to your favorite “idol” in your closet, dresser or on your hat-rack? Maybe you are wondering what I am talking about, because you would NEVER worship another “deity” besides God, and yet idolatry wasn’t just a problem in the Old Testament, it is a real problem today, even among Christians.

Virtually every city or town in America has at least one shrine, and many major cities have dozens of shrines and grand temples to their favorite “deities“. Some of those temples have even been built with tax-payer money. Sometimes one of those “deities” will threaten to move somewhere else unless the city builds them a new temple.

Very few homes in America are without at least one altar to the family’s favorite “deities“, and many homes have one of those altars in every room in the house. Usually the biggest altar is in the living room or family room so the whole family can worship together, and the bigger the altar the better.

People spend hundreds, and even thousands of dollars to worship in their favorite temple, and many buy season-tickets to those temples so they don’t miss out on anything. They will stand in line for hours, and some have even been known to camp out overnight so they can get the best seats. Some people take expensive vacations to go worship in their favorite temple and bring homage to their favorite “deity“.

They throw elaborate parties to worship at the altars of their favorite deities, and it isn’t unusual for there to be lots of liquor involved also. People go crazy over their “deities“.

God said, in Exodus 20:3-4,
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Another “god”…
Yes, maybe I have finally lost my mind, or maybe I haven’t. The reality is that the vast majority of Americans spend way more time and money on entertainment than they do in the worship of God. That, my friends, is idolatry.

We have “American Idol” and “Dancing With The Stars“…

The shrines…
In most homes, their shrine is their entertainment-center, and the altar, and most important part of the entertainment-center, is their television. Feeding that altar is usually a satelite dish or cable-TV provider, and we can’t forget that DVD player and the Digital Video Recorder. People are paying some serious money for those “special packages” which include subscriptions to all their favorite “deities“. They can worship all their favorite “deities” right in their own home, in the comfort of their own living room or family room. I have a friend who will pay her Direct-TV bill even if she doesn’t have enough money for her rent and utilities. She goes ballistic if she can’t watch TV. She also thinks that I am “deprived” because, even though I have a TV, it isn’t hooked up to anything. A recent Red-box movie rental ended up costing her over $100 after she paid the late-return fee and the overdraft fees on her bank account. NO movie is worth that much to see.

How many towns don’t have a movie theater? Sometimes there is even a movie theater in one of those “one-horse” towns, because movies are big business. New-release movies will rake in a hundred MILLION dollars in just a few short days. That is insane.

The temples…
If there is a major sports franchise in your city, you have at LEAST one temple to the city’s favorite “deity“. If there are several major sports franchises in your city, there will be temple for each, because, heaven-forbid, they share temple space with each other. A nice sports-temple costs a half a BILLION dollars and up.

The grand-daddy…
The grand-daddy of all of the entertainment venues in my neck of the woods is Disney World. That place rakes in money so fast it would make your head swim. It may be the “happiest place on earth“, but it is also the greediest. Tens of thousands of people flock there every day to empty out their wallet and be entertained.

The tribute…
Virtually everywhere I look, I see someone wearing some item of tribute to their favorite “deity“, a jacket, a shirt, a T-shirt or a hat. People love to advertise their favorite “deities” and pay tribute to them. Regardless of which “deity” is on display, the item cost way more than it is worth.

The real problem…
We have become “children of a lesser god“, the “god” of pleasure, the “god” of entertainment, and while we spend BILLIONS of dollars on entertainment, many churches have trouble coming up with enough money to cover their bare-minimum budgets. Our Senior Pastor had to take a ten-week, unpaid sabbatical last summer because my church didn’t have enough money to cover its expenses. Our Associate Pastor was also paid way less than what he should have been for the same reason.

We have a serious problem with our priorities. “Self” has taken the place of God, and pleasure has trumped responsibility.

When was the last time you took vacation to go to a church retreat? Are you more faithful at your favorite sports venue than you are to your church? Do you skip church to watch the Superbowl, or are Sunday-evening church functions cancelled because of the Superbowl? Some churches even have a church-sponsored Superbowl-party…

We have turned entertainment “stars” and sports “heroes” into our IDOLS and pay them millions of dollars a year, for what, while our REAL heroes can’t even make a decent living and they do their work largely-unnoticed. Our value-system has been turned on its head.

Many of these “stars“, “heroes” and “idols” are also horrible role-models. It seems like the worse they are as role-models, the more they get paid. There is something seriously-wrong with that picture.

Am I “deprived”?
Am I “deprived” because I “only” have my computer and a few GOOD books? Am I “deprived” because I DON’T get a hundred channels of garbage on my TV at the touch of a button? Am I “deprived” because I refuse to pay to get “entertained“? Am I “deprived” because my God is the owner and ruler of the universe? Am I “deprived” because I am an heir with Christ of everything God owns, including Heaven? I sure don’t see it that way. I am incredibly-blest to have a good computer and a few good books, and be able to reach the world through this blog to the furtherance of God’s kingdom and for His glory.

How about you?
Are you a child of a “lesser-god“? Do you worship the idols of entertainment and pleasure? If you do, God has a few words for you:

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

In Christ,
Steve

Seasons

When we think of seasons, we usually think of the seasons of the year, Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, but our lives also go through seasons. It would be quite easy to equate the seasons of our lives with the seasons fo the year, and sometimes a season in our life appears where it really doesn’t belong. I wrote about misplaced winters in “The “Winters” of Life“. I want to delve into the seasons of our lives and demonstrate that our cycle of life, or our seasons, are not only “normal“, but that they are ordained by God.

A Time for Everything
3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

A time to be born…
Spring reminds us of new life. Trees start greening-up, flowers start blooming, and it seems that new life is everywhere. Regardless of when they are born, babies are a Spring event, and one of the most joyous events in the life of a family. Babies being born speaks of there being a future, and they are the beginning of a new cycle of life.

Being born-again into Christ is also a Spring event, because we are given a new life, a life with an eternal future. Some of us who have experienced a misplaced Winter in life experience a very-welcome Spring as we emerge from that Winter experience. I am in that place now, having experienced a very brutal Winter, and I am looking forward to what lies ahead of me. I feel rejuvenated.

A time to die…
When someone we love passes on, it reminds us that we all have an appointment with the Grim Reaper, that unless the Lord returns beforehand, we will all die. That is the epitome of a Winter experience. Winter, in many parts of the world, is cold, bleak, seemingly lifeless. Thus it is with death. Life has been swallowed up by death, as the body lays cold and lifeless on the mortician’s slab. I lost my first wife to suicide in 1997. She was 45. I lost my brother to cancer in 2011. He was 54. I lost my father in 2013. He was 78. Each loss had its own unique effects on me.

It is also a time of grief. Someone who we loved has been taken from us, and it is natural for it to hurt. When someone who seemed “too young to die” dies anyway, we speak of it as an “untimely-death“, and yet ALL deaths are “untimely“. God didn’t engineer death and decay into the original “blueprint” for mankind. We were intended to live on and on. Death and decay are results of the fall of mankind into sin. At that, there were several patriaches in the Old Testament who live over 900 years. Moses was still climbing mountains, had a sharp mind, and still had good eyesight at 140 old. Abraham fathered more children at well over a 100 years old.

For many older couples, sex in their “golden-years” consists only of fond memories of days gone by, but that wasn’t in the original “blueprint” either. We know that we are dying when we have already had a funeral for our sex-life. Solomon wasn’t just talking about celebrating anniversaries when he said “Rejoice with the wife of your youth”(Proverbs 5:18b), because that follows “Let your fountain be blessed“(Proverbs 5:18a), which is clearly a metaphor for sex.

The natural seasons of life…
Our lives are pretty easy to divide up in seasons:
Spring is the first twenty years of our lives, as we grow from birth into adulthood.

Summer is the second twenty years of our lives, from ages 21 to 40. This is the time when most people get married, have children, and raise their family.

Fall is the third twenty years of our lives, from ages 40 to 60. This is the time when our children start leaving home and starting lives of their own. This is also the time when our bodies start reminding us that we aren’t young anymore. Mine started rebelling shortly after I turned 40.

Winter is usually the last twenty years of our lives. We are in our waning years. Our bodies may be in full rebellion, and even though some people are hale and hearty well into their 90’s, they are the rare exception. If we haven’t already, we start losing our own parents. I was 57 when I lost my dad, and even though my mom is still fairly vigorous at 83, she isn’t going to last forever.

A time to plant…
Planting is a late-spring to early-sumer activity, which coresponds to couples bearing children. My first wife and I put together a child-bearing “plan” when we first got married, and we were fortunate to be able to have children pretty much on “schedule“. Her younger sister, who had endometriosis, and who was married to man who was virtually sterile, wasn’t nearly as fortunate, although they were blessed with one daughter.

A time to uproot…
Uprooting” is an appropriate metaphor for leaving home. We leave home when we become adults to start a life of our own. We may also “uproot” several other times throughout our lives as we move to new jobs and new life-situations.

A time to kill…
Our lives are not static, and neither are our relationships. Some relationships, even if they started out healthy, become toxic, and we need to have the wisdom to leave those relationships behind. We may need to “pull-the-plug” or “kill” a relationship so that we can move on and heal.

A time to heal…
The person who may need to “heal” may be you or me. After going through a very toxic separation from my wife, I had a LOT of healing to do. It would NOT have been a good time for me to think about another relationship, because I was too broken and needed to heal. I am finally to a place where I might entertain the idea of “dating” or at least finding a “girlfriend“. It is NOT, as some would suppose, because I am tired of “sleeping single in a double-bed“, as I have become quite comfortable with sleeping that way. It is because I am tired of doing everything by myself. Something as basic as eating is more enjoyable when one has companionship. I enjoy going out and having dinner with friends, which I do a couple of times a month.

A time to tear down…
Tearing down” may be equated with leaving old relationships behind. When my previous wife and I got divorced, I left her alone on the courthouse sidewalk because her ride wasn’t back from doing his errands. She had filed for divorce, so she had to deal with the consequences. Her lack of a ride was NOT my problem. In order to minimize the hurt from that broken relationship, I had to minimize any further contact. I had to move on, and I did.

A time to build…
We also have to build new relationships. When I moved to where I am living now, I didn’t know a soul except for my wife, who left me a month later. I had to build new relationships. I am thankful that I was led to a good church, where I have been able to develop a few new relationships. I also have a strong relationship with my neighbor-gal, although it is more of a brother-sister relationship. Relationships are important to our emotional and psychological health.

A time to weep…
There are things that happen in our lives when it is appropriate to cry our eyes out, but I wouldn’t know, because crying isn’t part of my emotional-vocabulary. The shortest verse in the Bible says “Jesus wept“. He had just met His friends, Mary and Martha, whose brother, Lazarus, had been dead for several days. Lazarus was a dear friend, so Jesus did what was appropriate for the situation, He wept. I didn’t cry at my own wife’s funeral, nor have I cried much since.

A time to laugh…
Equally-important is laughter. Laughter is good for the soul, and the ability to laugh at yourself is especially important. Some people laugh naturally, and others have to be taught HOW to laugh. I am somewhere in the middle.

A time to mourn…
Weeping and mourning go hand in hand. When we lose a loved-one, we mourn losing them, and our weeping is a visible sign of our mourning.

A time to dance…
Dancing, in the Old Testament, was something the children of Israel did in celebration of God’s mighty acts on their behalf. King David also danced before the Lord through the streets of Jerusalem as the Ark of the Covenant was being brought into the House of the Lord.(2 Samuel 6:14-15) King David is described as only wearing a “linen ephod“, which appears to have been only a short vest, so for most practical purposes, He was wearing very little more than a grin, and a BIG grin, at that.

God did not allow King David to build a permanent temple. That would be Solomon’s job, but there was a temporary “temple” in Jerusalem, so it was very important to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and put it in the temporary temple. The Ark of the Covenant symbolized God’s presence among His people, so bringing it into Jerusalem WAS a HUGE event, and a time of joyous celebration. King David was entitled to dance for that celebration.

In our modern culture, dancing is also used for celebrations. Wedding celebrations often include dancing, with the new bride and groom getting the first dance alone. Whether it is a slow, intimate dance, a waltz, or even a jig, it is hard to be sad when a person is dancing.

A time to scatter stones…
When would we think of “scattering stones”? What if we were preparing a new spot for a garden? Would we want any stones in our garden? That applies to our relationships as well, because “stones” can represent those “rough-spots” in our relationships, those things that cause friction. We want to “work things out” so that we have the smoothest relationships we can attain. Relationships take work…

A time to gather stones…
Stones” can also be the boundaries around our relationships, our walls, what helps safeguard our relationships. We don’t want or need outside interference in our relationships, so good boundaries are an important part of that. This is similar to the stone walls that were built to protect cities, or even to protect a vineyard, in the cultures when this was written.

A time to embrace…
What is the most awaited, and celebrated kiss in a couple’s life? We wait with baited-breath for the celebrant to say, at the end of a wedding, “You may kiss your bride“. That first kiss ALWAYS brings a round of applause, as well it should. That is the first of, what should be thousands of kisses throughout a couple’s life.

Hugs have been largely-replaced by handshakes in American culture, and many men wouldn’t be caught dead hugging another man, and will only hug their wife or other immediate-family member, and yet touch is very important to our emotional and physical well-being. I am reminded of a picture I saw recently of twin baby girls who had been born several weeks prematurely. One of the babies was doing very well, but the other didn’t look like she was going to make it. One of the nurses, in a last-ditch effort, and against hospital-protocol, placed them together in the same crib. Once they were back together, as they had been in the womb, the one that had been struggling started coming around. The picture shows the healthier one with her arm around the weaker one. Babies who are deprived of physical affection often die quite young.

The Apostle Paul said “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” One pastor I know, when he preached on that passage, said that he would accept hugs, but to not “go-overboard” with it. I have to wonder how affectionate he is with his own family.

A time to refrain from embracing…
When would it be appropriate to refrain from embracing? We certainly DON’T “celebrate” a divorce with a hug, but…

A time to search…
When we lose something of value, we are naturally going to look for it, and that goes double for lost people. I was in Search and Rescue for about a dozen years, and I was involved in over 200 search missions. The most intense missions were searches for lost children. We pulled out ALL the stops. I could write a book about my experiences in SAR.

A time to give up…
Is there ever a hopeless-case, or lost-cause? We never closed out a mission without some kind of resolution. We did suspend a few missions, pending further clues and evidence, but I don’t remember closing any out without being resolved, one way or another. If there was another stone to turn over, we left no stone unturned.

Giving up is hard to do“… There also comes a time in some relationships when it becomes painfully-obvious that the relationship is not salvageable, and that it is at a dead-end. Giving up, and letting the person go, particularly emotionally, is painful at-best. I have had to come to that point over the last couple of years, because even though I am still “married“, on paper, my “marriage” ended January 16, 2013. I have given it everything I could muster, but to no avail, so I finally had to give-up and let-go. Giving up was hard to do, but I had to for my own emotional, psychological and physical well-being.

A time to keep…
Are you a pack-rat? I sure am, and “keeping” is what I do best, often even if it is not worth keeping. But, something that is always worth keeping is HOPE. How many times have you heard it said about a person with a terminal-illness “There is no hope…“? Several years ago, I met a man who was supposed to be dead long before that, but he and his family were living in the same RV park I was in at the time. Even though his doctors had given up hope that he would survive, he not only survived, he was thriving, because someone else didn’t give up on him and gave him a cure that his regular doctors didn’t even know about. His survival would have confounded the best cancer specialists, but what he never gave up was HOPE. Keep HOPE alive regardless of what life throws at you.

A time to throw away…
We live in a very “disposable” society. People throw things away, and people throw other people away. It is one thing to throw things away, but something entirely-different to throw someone away. What we REALLY need to throw away is the excess-baggage of our past. Many of us drag around the excess baggage of regrets, “What if’s?” and “If only…”s. We need to let that stuff go. We need to hear from the lips of Jesus “Your sins are forgiven“, and “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.“, as He released the burdens of her past from that “SINNER“. Every sinner has a future, and every saint has a past.

Max Lucado, in his book, “Traveling Light“, has taken a candid look at the excess baggage we carry around with us, and addressing it from the 23rd Psalm. It is a wonderful book, and yes, I need to read it again. If you have excess-baggage, you owe it to yourself to get a copy and read it as many times as it takes to sink in properly.

Folks, it is time to take out the trash… We may just find that our step is lighter and we can hold our head a bit higher.

A time to tear…
What do you LIKE to tear up? WHAT would you LIKE to tear up? Junk-mail comes to mind in the first instance, and bills come to mind in the second instance. I have no use for junk-mail, so it gets torn up and pitched immediately. Bills are an unwelcome-reminder that we can’t live this life for free.

There is another “bill” which grows ever-larger by the minute, that is, if you are not in Christ. We, prior to coming to Christ, owe a “bill“, a “debt” for ALL of our sins, and only God can tear up THAT bill. The good news is that, if you have come to Christ by faith, God has not only torn up your “bill“, He wouldn’t even know where to start looking to find it again.

Are you in any “goingnowhere” relationships? I think we all have had a few of those. They were good, even great, you grew farther and farther apart, and maintaining that relationship wasn’t worth the effort. Is it time to tear up that “friendcard“? Maybe it is.

Many years ago, I became friends with Gary. He lived in the neighborhood and worked with his dad. I used to go over there and hang out with him. We were several years apart in age, but that didn’t matter at the time. Then, Gary met Johnnie, and they became engaged shortly thereafter. A few months later, they got married. Johnnie already had a couple of children, so Gary married into a ready-made family. Not long after they got married, I graduated from high school and went into the military. Long-story-short…I had gone my own way, and Gary had gone his own way, and even when I returned from the military, our friendship had gone by the wayside. That wasn’t what I wanted, but I finally had to tear up that “friendcard“. I haven’t heard from or seen Gary in MANY years.

A time to mend…
Do you have a strained relationship with someone, perhaps one of your parents? Regardless of who is at fault, many people DO have a strained relationship with one or both of their parents. My ex-wife had been sexually-abused by her father from her early-teens til her early-20’s, and she didn’t talk to him for many years. She finally found it in her heart to forgive him and work on mending that relationship. By the time we got together, she was on good terms with her father, so I was able to get to know my father-in-law. She notified me a few days ago that he had passed away.

I have had no relationship with any of my children for over 17 years, not because I have tried, but because they haven’t been willing to reconnect. I hope that some day they will come around and be willing to reconnect with me. We can’t help mend what the other person is unwilling to help mend also.

A time to be silent…
Sometimes there are no appropriate words to say, and our silence and a listening-ear are the best gift we can give someone. When someone goes through a personal-tragedy, such as the sudden-loss of a loved-one, we DON’T know what and how they are feeling, because we all process personal-tragedies differently. There are other times when we may not be able to add something intelligent to a conversation, and at those times, “It is better to be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”.

A time to speak…
There are times when it is appropriate to yell “FIRE“, but if one yells “FIRE” at the wrong time, the consequences can be disastrous.

A time to love…
Love should come naturally, but it doesn’t always. We are commanded to “Love your neighbor as yourself“, but sometimes that is easier said than done. Because I have written extensively about love in other posts, I would refer you to them for further study.

A time to hate…
What should we hate? Is it ever right to hate a person? I believe that there is a fine line between hating what a person does and hating them, particularly when what they do that we hate seems to define them, but does it? Boko Haram and ISIS do some horrible things, and abject-brutality define their movements, but should we hate those who belong to Boko Haram and ISIS, or just what they do? If one of those groups invaded my community, and was harming or threatening to harm my friends and neighbors, I would do everything in my power to stop them, including using deadly-force.

How about the doctor and staff of an abortion clinic? I abhor what they do because they are murdering unborn children, but in the US of A, they have the law on their side, thanks to Roe vs Wade. What we CAN do is lobby to get the laws changed, but killing abortion doctors and bombing abortion clinics is not going to help anything.

A time for war…
Is war ever justified? Yes, but fabricating a “reason” to go to war NEVER is. I believe in having a strong defense to protect our own immediate interests, but meddling in other country’s affairs is NOT justification for committing our military forces.

A time for peace…
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:8) Our responsibility is to live peacefully with those around us, particularly within our own family.

Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Seasons…
We all go through them, and how we respond to the challenges of each season can make the difference whether we struggle or thrive. I hope that you will be encouraged by this little study to do what it takes to thrive, regardless of which season you find yourself in. Between birth and death, there is a WHOLE LOT of living to do.

God bless!
Steve

Parables: The Pharisee and the Tax-Collector

As I read and contemplated this parable a few nights ago, I was struck by how Jesus addressed attitudes that were not only prevalent in His day, but are also common among religious people today. Whose attitude do you see in yourself?

9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Target audience…
Did you notice who He spoke this parable to? “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:” He spoke it to the self-righteous, probably the Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. Jesus butted heads with that group often, and they took the brunt of some of His worst barbs. Let’s break this down and look at their attitudes individually.

Self-righteous…
They were sure that they “had it made“. Observe: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’” WOW! They were “shining-examples” of exemplary behavior to all of those around them. They had a list of “do’s” and “don’t’s” way longer than my arms, and they kept them to the letter. If anyone was going to please God and get into heaven, it was going to be them. After all, since God had given quite a few rules already, wouldn’t more rules be even better? God should REALLY be impressed. There was only one “little” problem…they were doing it THEIR way.

Despised others…
They were SO sure that they had it “right“, that they believed that they had the RIGHT to look down their long, Jewish noses at anyone who didn’t meet their high standards. Observe: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.” Tax-collectors were particularly-despised, because they were often Jews who had sold out to the Romans, and they collected Roman taxes for a piece of the “action“. Matthew was a tax-collector before Jesus called him to be a disciple.

Two men…
Jesus introduced two men, a Pharisee, and a tax-collector. They both went to the temple, ostensibly for the same reason – to pray, and yet their demeanor, and the outcome of their prayers were very different. Notice the Pharisee’s demeanor: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself,…“, contrasted with the Tax-collector’s demeanor: “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast,…“.

The Pharisee stood there in arrogance and pride, while the Tax-collector approached God in genuine humility. The content of their prayers was also entirely-different.

Their prayers…
The Pharisee said: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’“, as if to remind God of how “good” he was.

The Tax-collector said: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” The Tax-collector knew that he was a sinner, and that he couldn’t do it on his own, so he threw himself on the mercy of God.

Their outcomes…
Both men prayed, but very different prayers, and two entirely-different outcomes. Jesus said: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

God heard the Tax-collector’s prayer, but the Pharisee’s prayer didn’t even get much more than out of his mouth before it fell flat.

Jesus’s commentary on their results is particularly-telling: “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Do we exalt ourselves, or do we humble ourselves?

Thoughts…
Jesus pointed out a much-needed “attitude-adjustment” that His audience needed to make, but as was typical of His other encounters with them, I doubt that it had much of an effect. We still need that “attitude-adjustment” just as badly as they did almost two-thousand years ago, because we can always find “worse-sinners” to look down on, or can we? Is their sin any “worse” than our own? If you think so, remember that God hates PRIDE…

The ROOT of those attitudes was PRIDE, pride in their ability to make God “happy” by their own efforts, and pride in the fact that they were “better” than that poor Tax-collector. PRIDE and me go WAY back, and at times, we have been best-friends, because I have always been accomplishment-oriented. My accomplishments have always been the basis for my self-esteem and the foundation of my self-worth, and the only way to give myself a “boost” was to pat myself on the back. This is nothing new to those of you who have been following this blog for a while, but for the newcomers, go back and read “Pride“.

Do you think that you are going to make it to heaven “your way“? Do you think that you are “better” than other people? If so, I pray that you will meditate on this parable and ask God to help you with that “attitude-adjustment“.

God bless!
Steve

Are You A “Samaritan”?

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

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

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

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

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

The Church…

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

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

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

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

In Christ, 

Steve

The Advents of Jesus Christ

As we enter this Advent season, when we joyfully anticipate celebrating our Lord’s first Advent, I thought it would be fitting to meditate for a few moments on not only the Babe in the manger, but also on those Advents or comings yet to come. I am sure that by now, you have already figured out that I think more than a little “outside-the-box” of conventional thought, so as always, sit back, relax and buckle-up, as we explore the glorious reality that Emmanuel, God with us, has not only come in human flesh, but that He has promised an even fuller presence to come.

Note: I had planned on finishing and posting this before Christmas 2014, but that didn’t happen. I got sidetracked by other projects, so this one didn’t get done as planned, however it is just as appropriate now as any time.

The Word became flesh…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The Word not only took on human form, as some would have us believe, the Word BECAME human and walked this sod as we do today. The truth of the Incarnation was so important to the apostle John, that he devoted significant portions of 1st John to reinforcing Christ’s full humanity. Let’s look at some of the passages of Scripture which describe His first Advent.

Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

The Birth of Jesus Christ

2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, tbecause he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

Act Two….

Most of you would suppose that I am going to dive into the glorious return of Christ in great power and great glory, and that is how the Second Coming is traditionally understood, but there is a coming of Christ which is far more personal in nature. Have you accepted Jesus into your heart? If you have, Jesus now inhabits YOU in a very personal way, and that is an Advent which is too important to ignore.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:18-24)

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Did you spot it? Jesus, in John 14:23 promised that He and the Father will come and make their home in us, and Paul, in 1 Corinthinans 6:19 speaks to the present reality of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t some “out-there” promise whose fulfillment will have to wait, rather it is a here-and-now indwelling by God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Yes, we all have a sense of “not-yet” fulfillment, because we are still in this world, which has been corrupted by Satan and his lies, but we need to be assured that God hasn’t left us to fend for ourselves. He is here IN our battles, not merely watching from the sidelines.

Act Three…

This is the Advent which we so eagerly await, because we are promised that Christ will return to finally destroy Satan and all his allies. This will certainly be a very glorious occasion, and it will be accompanied by taking the saints out of this corrupted place to the glory which awaits us in heaven. Much has been written by others about this grand event, so there is nothing I can really add to it.

Grand Finale…

How could it get any better than Heaven? According to Revelation 21, it indeed does get even better. You see, mankind wasn’t created for some kind of ethereal existance removed from our full humanity. God created mankind for life in a physical realm, for life on Earth, and the final destiny of this Earth is not to be done away with forever, but to be recreated in ever greater beauty and glory than the original. The ultimate and final fulfillment of the promise of Emmanuel, God with us, will be realized when Heaven comes to Earth, and God, in His fullness, makes His home with and among His people. The Apostle John describes it in the book of the Revelation:

The New Heaven and Earth

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

The New Jerusalem

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. 12 It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 The one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. 16 The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. 17 And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements. 18 The material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; 20 the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; 27 and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21)

In this scene, John the Apostle is shown what we all look forward to, the new heavens and the new Earth, and the new Jerusalem. The scene is certainly glorious, but did you spot His advent? In verses three and four, we are told: 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” This is the ultimate culmination of God’s redemptive plan, and the final and ultimate fulfilling of all of the prophesies in which God promised to come and be with and among His people.

We can’t imagine the enormity of the New Jerusalem because it is mind-bogglingly huge, but it speaks to the grandeur of the plans God has for His children when everything is restored to how it is supposed to be. Even without the grandeur, the experience will be beyond comprehension, because everything that has made this life less than what it should have been will be history. Everything that has caused you pain, physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual will be forgotten as God Himself will make everything right. He has seen all the tears that you have cried, even those that never made it to the surface, and He awaits, hankie in hand, to wipe them away personally. That is what I am excited about, being with Daddy forever.

Unlike His first Advent, which was of limited duration, just for approximately thirty-three years, and the other Advents, which are also of limited duration, this Advent is FOREVER. Unlike His first Advent, which ended with His ascension, God promises that He will never “go back home“, because His home will be with and among His people. That has been His desire all along.

Final thoughts…

I don’t know about you, but my concept of God has always been as Him being detached, distant, the scowling Judge and stern Father, but that is not how He reveals Himself in Scripture. In the first three chapters of Genesis, God reveals Himself as our personal Creator. He could have just spoken mankind into existence, as He did the animals and everything else, but instead, He personally created Adam and Eve. He could have spoken them into existence, given them the rules, and gone His merry way, but He didn’t. He delighted to visit them in the cool of the day as they went about their normal activities. It was an intimate relationship, Dad spending time with His kids. Had Adam and Eve not rebelled against God, we would all be enjoying the same kind of intimacy with God, but they did rebel. Their rebellion didn’t change God’s desire to have an intimate relationship with His kids, but it did require a plan of redemption to restore His children to their former estate.

Many Christians have a problem with the idea of a “return to Eden” concept of heaven, but the more I read and study Scripture, the more convinced I become that God’s desire for us IS a return to Eden, a return to God’s original plan for mankind. For those of us who had a “less-than-pleasant” childhood, who grew up way too quickly, I believe that we will get to experience the true joys of childhood with a loving Father who adores us far more than we can ever imagine. Yes, we will love and adore Him, and His love for us will make our love and adoration for Him as natural as breathing.

I pray that, particularly during this Advent season, but really year around, that we – you and I – will look with great expectation for the final coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, as the Children of Israel waited expectantly for the coming of the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us.

God bless!
Steve