The Desert of Belief

Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org
Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org

 

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37

Joshua 3:7-17

1Thessalonians 2:9-13, 17-20

Matthew 23:1-12

 

God chose Joshua for the difficult job of replacing Moses.  Perhaps that is part of the reason God arranged for them to enter the Promised Land by duplicating the crossing of the Red Sea.  We can get some sense of what it must have been like for the people who went with Joshua.  None of them had known any leader except Moses.  Today, few can remember anyone except Elizabeth as monarch in England.

Change is never easy, yet change is what is asked of us.  Jesus brought us the Good News, but that News requires a turning away from what we know, turning from the Egypt of our lives to the desert where we must depend on God for everything.  The Chosen People of God could find neither food nor water so God caused water to gush from solid rock and food to drop from the skies.

Still the people grumbled; it was not what they were used to.  We who choose to follow Jesus must walk in the same desert of complete dependence on God.  If only God would take care of me this way or that way.  We too often become like the teachers of the law sitting in the seat of Moses.  We change the rules to suit our own ideas of how God should act.

Paul believed in complete loyalty to God.  He worked hard to avoid the pitfalls of the teachers of the law.  To the church at Thessalonica he wrote,  And so we are continually thankful that when you heard us preach the word of God you accepted it, not as a mere human message, but as it really is, God’s Word, a power in the lives of you who believe. Phillips

Belief, faith, the certainty of God does not come easily.  We like our free will.  We like our freedom.  We do not want to give that away to become a slave.  Like the people in Egypt, we fail to see ourselves as being slaves already.  We find it difficult to see slavery to God as the only true freedom .

Accept the life giving water from the Rock of the Messiah and the Manna from God.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

James 2—1 Peter 1

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Monday, November 3, James Chapter 2

This chapter is a restatement of Matthew 7, with the exception of Matthew 7:7-11.  It is not a copy but has the same ideas.  Does this mean that James had a copy of the Gospel of Matthew?  Not necessarily, in fact, not very likely.  I do not see James doing this if the Gospel was already in circulation.  It is more likely that he just had notes or a copy of the Sermon on the Mount by itself.  Most scholars believe the Synoptic writers used such notes for their own writing.

Stories about Jesus circulated while he was teaching.  Those stories continued to circulate after his resurrection.  As the years wore on, people began to write them down, bits here, bits there.  As Peter and the other Apostles preached, people noted what they had to say about Jesus.  Those were added to the growing collection of stories.

James did not follow Jesus until later and probably did not become a true believer until Jesus appeared to him after his resurrection.  So it is possible he had notes on the Sermon.  Something that is easy to overlook is the fact that James was living in Jerusalem, was the Bishop of all the Followers in and around the city.  Everyone who had seen and heard Jesus would have wanted to tell their story about James’ older brother.

Verses 1-4 are so important for us to take to heart.  We humans prefer people who are like us.  We too easily ignore or even dislike those who are “different.”  We must make a conscious effort to correct that failing.  Everyone is beautiful in God’s eyes.

James is not trying to tell us that there is a special glory in being poor.  He is telling us that there is also no special glory in being rich.  Where ever we are in society, we are all children of God and all equal in his eyes.

It is true that we are free from the Law, but we are also slaves of Jesus.  A slave can only do what his master directs.  Jesus expects every one of us to love without reservation in every situation.

James agrees with Paul that faith is the road to salvation.  We have known that since Abraham.  But if I have faith, I must put it into action or the faith dies.  James states it very clearly:  But someone will say that you have faith and I have actions. Show me this faith of yours without the actions, and I will show you my faith by my actions! CJB

Tuesday, November 4, James Chapter 3

Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. MSG  James was not talking about simple memory work.  Even teachers often confuse that with teaching.  Teaching the Word of God is not the same as teaching nonlinear partial differential equations, it is much more difficult.  In theory, anyone can learn the fine points of higher level math, given a very long life and real grit.  God is beyond even that remote possibility.

God does not hide from us, but we hide from God.  Think Garden of Eden.  But even though we no longer live in Paradise, God has given us two clear images of Himself:  the Holy Spirit and Jesus.  The Holy Spirit gives us what we need when we need it, we just have to be ready to recognize it and accept it.  God saves us with his power, not our own.  God gives us faith, we do not create it.  God gives us Grace, we do not earn it.

If I turn toward God, even if I cannot see Him, even if I am not sure what I am doing, even if I have doubts, God can do the rest.  That grain of faith can grow even in my rocky soil.  Even if that grain of faith is all I have when I die, it is enough.

Beware of teachers of God, they may have a poison tongue.  Always check what they say with what others say and with what you know already.  If it seems possible, remain skeptical until you can check some more.  God does not want us to follow Jim Jones to Guyana just to drink poison Kool-Aid.  No teacher is right all the time.  Billy Graham could tell you some sad stories about his mis-steps.

The wisdom that comes from God is first utterly pure, then peace-loving, gentle, approachable, full of tolerant thoughts and kindly actions, with no breath of favouritism or hint of hypocrisy. And the wise are peace-makers who go on quietly sowing for a harvest of righteousness—in other people and in themselves. Phillips

Wednesday, November 5, James Chapter 4

What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? RSV  War is the extreme end of hate.  Today is the day after an election in which candidates vilified their opponents.  While few of them would admit to hating their opponents, their language is the language of hate, one step removed from wanting to kill.

We are also marking the thirteenth year of constant war in the Middle East.  This might be a good time to review a sermon by Peter Marshall delivered May 3, 1942, just six months into our part of WWII.  The title is Why Does God Permit War?

Let me say at the outset that neither I nor anyone else can dogmatically answer the question.  We do not know the mind of God….

We must point out that in the Bible this question is neither raised, nor is it considered…. God never promised a war-less world….

Let us make no mistake about it, peace is a product of righteousness and justice and love….

There can be no peace while there is hate….

He quotes Matthew 24:7:  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. NIV

He paraphrases Galatians 6:7:  A nation reaps what it sows. NIV

I dare to ask the question:  what right have we to expect peace?  What did we do with peace when we had it?…

What if war has come because we were not fit for peace?…

We must not permit ourselves to identify the success of the Kingdom of God with the success of the allied nations in this present world conflict.  God will win even if we are defeated.

Verse 4 is a blunt statement, one we cannot squirm out of.  You are like unfaithful wives, flirting with the glamour of this world, and never realising that to be the world’s lover means becoming the enemy of God! Phillips  There is no in between.

Feed the hungry.  With a billion hungry people in the world we must do more to feed them.  Give to Action Against Hunger, Feeding America, Bread for the World Institute, Food Bank for New York City, Freedom from Hunger, the Hunger Project, Heifer International, Meals on Wheels, Share our Strength, or Food for the Hungry (the top ten rated charities for food).

Heal the sick.  Give to Doctors Without Borders, United States Fund for UNICEF, Save the Children, Lutheran World Relief, Samaritan’s Purse, or Oxfam America, all highly rated.

You get the idea.  We who live in wealth need to share that wealth and a highly rated charity is a good way to do it these days.

With verse 14, we return to Peter Marshall.  His son wrote as a preface the following:

There is a story connected to this sermon.  My father preached this message at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis on December 7, 1941—Pearl Harbor Day.  All during the week preceding this Sunday, and increasingly as he drove over to Annapolis from Washington, D.C. Dad had the peculiar feeling that he was not supposed to preach the sermon he had planned.  Dad ended up preaching … “Rendezvous in Samarra,” a sermon on death and how those who have a personal relationship with Christ need not fear it but can look forward to eternal life.

Even as he preached, the Japanese planes were about to attack.  Word did not reach the East Coast until after one pm.  The sermon included the following:

People whose vision of death is earthbound remind me of the caterpillar crawling along the warm earth, imagining that heaven for him would be endless rows of cabbage! 

Then one day a second caterpillar with a more philosophical turn of mind would say to his friend:  “You know, I have been thinking that some day you and I will no longer have to crawl along the ground, but might even fly over that fence.  And what is more, that then we would not be puncturing cabbage leaves with our neat little holes and stuffing ourselves full of green stuff, but we might be sipping dew and living on honey.”

His friend, an impressive, hairy length of green balloon tires and legs, would fasten on him with incredulous beady eyes, and wonder what could possibly be the matter.  He might say:  “I knew this night life would get you.”  Or, solicitously he might say:  “Poor old chap, you have been working too hard lately.  You are just cracking under the strain.”

And when the time comes for him to “die,” they gather round—his caterpillar friends—and, moaning, extol his virtues.  “He was a connoisseur of cabbage.  He was a good, old caterpillar—now he lies there, and this is the end.”  And he is buried in a shroud—a chrysalis shroud that spins upon the twig, a shriveled, dry grave.

And yet, by and by, on a summer morning, the grave bursts open, the chrysalis breaks, and out of it emerges a moist, trembling, lovely thing that hoists into the fragrant air delicate sails of beauty.  As it dries and gathers strength, the butterfly becomes aware of a new world.  And when the gossamer wings are dry and their colors are fast, the butterfly takes off, and fluttering, sails over the fence to kiss the roses.

In our superior wisdom, we know which caterpillar is right.  We know that he goes to sleep a caterpillar and wakes up a butterfly.

But do we know as much about our own beautiful destinies after the long sleep?

Thursday, November 6, James Chapter 5

According to the Federal Reserve, One percent of the US population owns 35% of the nation’s wealth (not income).  Much of that wealth is tied up in stocks and bonds which may or may not hold its value.  In addition, the next 9% of the population controls another 40% of the wealth.  That means that 90% of Americans have to share just 25% of the nation’s wealth.

Further, the income of the top 1% has increased by 275% since 1979 while that of the middle class has increased by just 40%.

The international picture is even worse.  Americans account for 74% of the world increase in wealth.  (And we think China is getting it.)  Two thirds of adults in the world have assets worth less than $10,000 and together account for just 3 percent of global wealth. One billion people in the world survive on less than $3 per day.

However, on average, the bottom 10% of Americans by wealth are better off than the same group in Switzerland, Britain, Germany, Japan, etc.  (Only the poor in Canada, Sweden and Australia do better than the US poor.)

In a report released today [reported in Forbes], the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that Americans who earned at least $200,000 gave nearly 5% less to charity in 2012 than in 2006.

Higher-income people tend to give proportionately less during tough economic times, says Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

“The downturn was a shock to so many of them, and they’ve been nervous and cautious,” she says.

The shift has likely meant less money flowing into universities, hospitals and cultural institutions, which the wealthy tend to patronize. Lower- and middle-income donors often give to social service organizations, Palmer says. In part because these groups have had fewer dollars to give, those organizations have still faced a squeeze.

Unlike their wealthier counterparts, low- and middle-income Americans — those who made less than $100,000 — gave 5% more in 2012 than in 2006, the Chronicle found. The poorest Americans — those who took home $25,000 or less — increased their giving by nearly 17%.

What does James have to say about all this?  And now, you rich people, listen to me! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming upon you! GNT

Do not think because you live among the bottom 90% or even among the bottom 20% that James is not speaking to you.  The poor and middle class are just as likely to be misers as the wealthy.

In chapter 4 we looked at war and conflicts between people.  Now James gets at one of the biggest sources of conflict; ‘you have it, I want it’.  Wealth is of this world.  We should not want it.  And it seems that the more we have the more we want.  Evil.

Part of what James is telling us is that this evil does exist; that people will do whatever they can to get what wealth we have.  We must learn to accept that greed exists and struggle to keep it well away from our lives.  Patience.  Stay the course.  Live with what you have in the sure knowledge that Heaven will be your reward.

It is good that James ends his letter with the virtues of prayer.

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Friday, November 7, 1 Peter Chapter 1

Peter has been accepted as the true author of this letter from the First Century on.  There are some dissenters, but not many.  The letter was written sometime between 60 and 68 AD, more likely in the middle of that time period.

We know from both the Gospels and Acts that Peter was called by both his Hebrew Shim’on and his Greek Petros, the Rock.  In this letter he is writing to people all over the Greek world, so uses Petros, Peter in English.

Verse 2 gives us another Trinity style statement and for some, a hint of predestination.  Foreknowledge seems to be the best translation of the Greek.  …who have been chosen in the foresight of God the Father, to be made holy by the Spirit, obedient to Jesus Christ and Sprinkled with his blood. NJB  The concept of the Trinity was not added three centuries later, it was only formalized then.

There is a growing interest in the old idea of predestination that leaves me wondering why?  The Bible makes it clear that while God chooses us, we have the free will to refuse him.  How does that fit predestination?

Anyway, the phrase, Sprinkled with his blood, does not refer to a literal sprinkling but rather to the figurative sprinkling through the Holy Spirit.  It is also part of the symbolism of being sprinkled in baptism, though we have no knowledge of how baptism was done by the 60’s.  The phrase was used in both the Temple and the synagogues to indicate the same idea of being blessed by the Holy Spirit.

Verses 3-12 are believed by many to be a form used by the early church at the baptism of new Christians.  If it was not, it could have been.  Peter explains the basic Good News of Jesus and describes the benefits of the new life in Jesus.  There are three key words:  hope, inheritance and salvation.

Peter then explains that Christians will face many trials and that we must find joy in them, not easy when a loved one has just died.  Our sixth sense must be faith.

Peter next turns to the Old Testament as proof of Jesus, much like the letter of Hebrews.

Therefore, get your minds ready for work. CJB  Being a Christian is not about sitting in the pew, singing and feeling good.  That hour is only about refreshment to prepare us for the work of the week.  Not the work of earning a living, though that too, but the work of spreading the Word of God to those in need; the work of bringing justice into the world.

He had been chosen by God before the creation of the world and was revealed in these last days for your sake. GNT  The early church still expected Jesus at any moment, so they were living in the last days.  We have lost the importance of that way of thinking.  We need to forget 2,000 years and think in terms of yesterday, today, tomorrow.  Jesus came yesterday, I live today for him, he will come tomorrow.  We still need that immediacy.

We now have confidence in God and in that we gain the Truth.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Hebrews 10-James 1

"Wooden Crucifix" by franky242
“Wooden Crucifix” by franky242

Monday, October 27, Hebrews Chapter 10

 

Hebrews 10:5-7

It has not been your will
to have an animal sacrifice and a meal offering;
rather, you have prepared for me a body.
No, you have not been pleased
with burnt offerings and sin offerings.
Then I said, ‘Look!
In the scroll of the book
it is written about me.
I have come to do your will
.’” CJB

Psalm 40:6-8

I would proclaim them, I would speak about them;
but there’s too much to tell!

Sacrifices and grain offerings you don’t want;
burnt offerings and sin offerings you don’t demand.
Instead, you have given me open ears;
so then I said, “Here I am! I’m coming!
In the scroll of a book it is written about me
. CJB

 

The author of Hebrews quoted from Psalm 40, but he used the Septuagint, the Greek translation in common use in the First Century.  Even the difference above makes it clear that the quote is a little off.  Yet the meaning is the same.  It is a Psalm by David and about David, the Messianic forerunner.  For Jesus, the meaning is, you have given me a body and I come to do your will.

The theme of this section of Hebrews is sacrifice; the sacrifice of Jesus in particular.  We must not forget that God instituted blood sacrifice.  He did not hate blood sacrifice.  What he hated was sacrifice without love.  He wanted people to come to the altar with joy in their hearts that God would forgive their sins; with joy that the finest animal they owned would be given to God in exchange for that freedom from sin.  Without that loving relationship with God, the blood was wasted.

The author quotes Jeremiah 31:33, but it is good to read the preceding verses as well: “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord
. NIV

That is followed by a partial quote of Jeremiah 31:34.  The full verse reads:

No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.NIV

Because of all this we can enter the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest could go before, and then only once a year.  We in fact can follow Jesus into Heaven.

Verse 22:  let us draw near with true hearts and fullest confidence, knowing that our inmost souls have been purified by the sprinkling of his blood just as our bodies are cleansed by the washing of clean water. Phillips  We are baptized by both blood and water.

Verse 25 is all important.  We cannot give up meeting with follow believers.  We gain strength from them and they from us.  Christianity is a religion of community.

If we deliberately keep on sinning, NIV presents a show stopper.  To choose to sin leaves no hope.  We will sin.  That is a given.  We cannot choose to sin.  That is the road to death.

We must persevere.

Tuesday, October 28, Hebrews Chapter 11

Faith is the center of Christianity.  In faith I believe what I cannot see and cannot prove.  In 460 BC, a Greek philosopher, Democritus, first proposed the existence of atoms.  It was not until about 1800 AD that much scientific thought was given to the idea and it was not until almost 1900 that experiments began to prove their existence.  Until that time, faith was required to believe in atoms.

What that means is, for now, I cannot prove God exists.  I will be able to prove it sometime.  However, I am not without evidence, the most important of which is the known and provable life of Jesus of Nazareth.

What can I prove?  Jesus lived, taught about God, had disciples who believed his teaching, and died.  What I cannot prove is that he was both God and man; that he defeated death by coming out of the grave and appearing to hundreds of people; that his death and resurrection make it possible for me to also cheat death and go to live with God.  All that requires faith.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. KJV

Idea, theory, fact; what is the connection?  Someone developed the idea that man can fly.  Eventually, efforts were made that did not succeed but did prove it is possible, even probable.  That moved the idea to theory.  Then on December 17, 1903, two sons of a Bishop of the Church of United Brethren in Christ proved the theory to be true.  The theory became fact.

Another example might be gravity, but in that case nearly the reverse has happened.  Through observation humans accepted gravity as fact long before any serious thought was given to it.  Then Newton developed the idea that objects attract one another and that the moon is pulled toward the earth and the earth toward the sun.  With calculations and measurements that idea quickly became theory and later accepted as fact again.

But Einstein upset the notion by proposing in 1905 that gravity is really the result of bending both time and space.  That is now the current theory and so far all tests support the theory.  Men have even gone to the moon based on faith in that theory.

The author of Hebrews gives us a good list of people who stepped out in faith and became examples for all of us.  His stress on the faith of Abel is instructive.  We often say that he had a better attitude in giving.  Yes, it was an attitude of faith that God deserved the best and he acted on that faith.  Cain simply wanted to get by.

Abraham is THE example of faith.  God told him that he would have descendants as numerous as the stars and that Isaac would be the one to bring that about.  Then God told Abraham to prepare a sacrifice by taking Isaac to the mountain.  Not a goat or lamb, his one promised son.  Abraham had no idea what God intended.  It made no sense.  Abraham did it anyway.  Abraham reckoned that God was able to raise Isaac from death—and, so to speak, Abraham did receive Isaac back from death. GNT

The long list of faithful servants of God is a reminder to each of us of what it means to believe.  Only in faith can we find life.  What a record all of these have won by their faith! Yet they did not receive what God had promised, because God had decided on an even better plan for us. His purpose was that only in company with us would they be made perfect. GNT

Wednesday, October 29, Hebrews Chapter 12

Because of the great cloud of witnesses NIV we must focus on the things of God, using Jesus as our living example.  We cannot allow sin to divert us.  Focus.  Focus.

Endure hardship as discipline. NIV  Not something we want to hear, but hardship comes with life on this earth.  Christians are not immune.  The Greek word translated here as hardship really means correction, chastisement, instruction, nurture.  Whatever comes our way, we are meant to learn from it.  We take the good and bad and see God at work in our lives.

God does not mean us harm.  He does not want us to suffer.  He does not give us cancer as a punishment or paralyze us to force us to do His will.  God has allowed us to live here with our free will, taking our chances with all the nasty things that can happen.  In all that nastiness we must look to God, not as the cause of our burdens but as our salvation.

Parents the world over have to let their children go into the world and risk being maimed or killed.  We do it because the other choice is to make them captives.  God does not want prisoners, he wants us to freely choose Him, even in the midst of disaster.

Two mountains are visited by the author; Sinai and Zion.  In verses 18-21 we read of the giving of the Law on Sinai.  It is a place filled with danger, but No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. NLT

How little chance of escape is there for us if we refuse to hear the one who speaks from HeavenPhillips  When God spoke on Sinai, the earth shook.  When God speaks on Zion, even Heaven will shake.  All will change.  We who are mortal will join God in immortality.  We who are impure will become as white as snow.

Thursday, October 30, Hebrews Chapter 13

In closing, love, be kind, visit those in prisons of the mind or of physical ailments.  Live your marriage vows.  Respect the opposite sex as humans, not as objects of lust.  Do not treat money as a god.  Seek God, not money.  Remember to imitate Jesus.

In a time when sacrifices were still made at temples to dozens of gods, eating sacrificed food was thought to bring special benefits.  No.

Verses 11-14 are about the Red Heifer.  It was a rare sacrifice because it required a cow that was entirely red down to the last hair.  When one was found, the sacrifice was made on the Mount of Olives directly in line with the eastern entrance of the Temple.  Some of the blood was carried by the High Priest into the Holy of Holies even though it was not the Day of Atonement.  Jesus is identified with the Red Heifer, having been sacrificed outside the city.

Starting in verse 18, we get the idea that the people who first received the letter knew the author.  The closing does sound like Paul even as the rest of the letter does not.  Verses 23-24 are the strongest arguments in favor of Paul as the author.  We know that Timothy was nearly Paul’s son and we know that Paul was in Rome.

It is possible that Paul gave an outline to someone else who then wrote the letter in his own words.  It is possible that Paul did not include his name at the beginning because he did not dictate the latter as was his habit.  It is possible that the copies of the letter we have today all left off the introduction with his name.  And it is possible that someone else worked with Timothy.

Friday, October 31, James Chapter 1

This letter is actually one of the earliest we have in the Testament.  It was written by the brother of Jesus, though it could have been written by another James.  But we do not know of any James other than the disciple who would have had the status to write such a letter and he was long dead when the letter was penned, perhaps as early as 50 AD.

Like Hebrews, this letter is intended for Jewish followers of Jesus and seems to have been written when the church was still mostly Jewish.  James, as the head of the Jerusalem church, was considered by this time to be the head of all Christianity.

His acceptance of his older brother as the true Messiah came after the crucifixion, as far as we know.  Jesus did appear to him after the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7).

James almost picks up where Hebrews 12 left off; facing life’s adversities should be taken as opportunities for growth.  God wants us to grow closer to Him and facing difficulties is part of that process.

Starting in verse 9 James is telling us that being either rich or poor is not relevant.  Being rich in God is the only thing that matters.  Wealth is not anything to seek but having it does not keep a person from God.  Failing to use wealth for God’s Kingdom on earth will keep a person from God.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone. NIV  As often as not even the Devil does not need to tempt us, we seek to be tempted.

We have two ears but one mouth, yet we speak twice as much as we listen.  Controlling anger is not easy but it is easier if we keep our mouths shut.  Focus on God.  Most of us become angry when we feel wronged in some way, when we consider ourselves the center of whatever was said or happened.

Starting with verse 22 James gives us an important clue about Christianity; it is a doing religion.  Love is not a noun in Christianity, it is a verb.  Action is required; visit the sick, befriend the friendless, give to the needy, sing to those who have lost their song.

To look after orphans and widows NIV is a common Old Testament expression for how we are to act out the love of God.  In general it means we need to help people when they need help.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Greatest Prophet

Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org
Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org

 

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

1Thessalonians 2:1-8

Matthew 22:34-46

 

There has never been a prophet in Israel like Moses. GNT  To over simplify, the job of a prophet is to interpret God’s message for other people.  Moses went to the mountain, listened to God, then brought his message down the mountain to the people.  Just hearing God is not enough.  Charles J. Guiteau heard God telling him to kill President Garfield.  The message from God must match up with what we know about God, difficult for those who are insane.

Sadly, many of the true prophets of God were declared insane and often killed in ancient times.  Today we place them in institutions.

Notice when we read about Moses that his sanity was also questioned.  It took forty years but he was able to convince the people that his message was directly from God.

Was he the Greatest Prophet?  Yes, until David.  Moses led the people through the experience that created the nation of Israel as it existed in Jesus’ day.  Exodus is all about God leading people out of sin and into the Promised Land.

David led Israel onto Zion, the home-away-from-home of God.  David created an earthly kingdom modeled on the Heavenly Kingdom, including interpreting the Word of God.

Jesus is the Greatest Prophet of all time because he combined the faith of Abraham, the Exodus leadership of Moses, and the Kingliness of David, while fulfilling all the promises made about the Messiah.  He interpreted God in ways no one else ever good.

When asked what is the greatest commandment, in reply he simply quoted the words of God that his listeners already knew (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18), but added, The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments. GNT  Jesus made it clear that we do not need to memorize the 600+ laws.  If we love, we follow God.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Hebrews 5-9

photo credit:  via photopin
photo credit: via photopin

Monday, October 20, Hebrews Chapter 5

We learn first the role of the High Priest for the Hebrew people from Aaron on.  Often the position was filled by men of the caliber of Moses, sometimes not.  Since we are not sure when this letter was written, we do not know who was High Priest at the time.  All of their names are recorded with the last one being Phannias ben Samuel from 67 to 70 AD and the destruction of the Temple.

The description, however, is of the perfect High Priest, that is, Yeshua the Messiah.  This whole idea of the priesthood of Jesus has been criticized from several angles, the easiest being that he was a descendant of David, a king, not Aaron the priest.

The Old Testament contains hundreds of promises regarding the coming Messiah, but none of them mention the specific role of priesthood.  During the days of the Maccabees a couple of centuries before Jesus the roles of King and High Priest were united, but the idea did not linger in the thinking of the Jewish people and was not a common notion in Jesus’ day.

Yet, the author of Hebrews directly regards Jesus as the High Priest.  Why?  The High Priest was the only person who could enter the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God and only after a week of numerous cleansings and sacrifices.

But Jesus is the Son of God, therefore the perfect High Priest.  He can approach God on our behalf in a way that the priesthood never could.  He is our Perfect Mediator between our sinful selves and the sinless God.

The author also writes,  In another place God declares, “You’re a priest forever in the royal order of Melchizedek.” MSG  We first meet Melchizedek in Genesis 14:17-20.  After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and his allied kings, the king of Sodom came out to greet him in the Valley of Shaveh, the King’s Valley.  Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine—he was priest of The High God—and blessed him: Blessed be Abram by The High God, Creator of Heaven and Earth. And blessed be The High God, who handed your enemies over to you. MSG  For ever after, Melchizedek connected the King and the High Priest in Jewish thinking.  Psalm 110:4 says of the Messiah, God gave his word and he won’t take it back: you’re the permanent priest, the Melchizedek priestMSG

Tuesday, October 21, Hebrews Chapter 6

The author wants to turn to some more complex issues, starting with the problem of a follower of Jesus giving up and returning to the previous life.  In verse 4, the author says it is impossible for an apostate to return to Jesus.  This is one of the difficult passages.  Theories abound.  The two main camps are that once a person is saved through Jesus it is impossible to become an apostate.  Therefore, the author must have been talking about those who lied about being a follower.  The opposite position is that anyone can backslide into the old life and can never return to Jesus.  I have stated both sides in harsh terms and there are many variations on both.

The word impossible refers to repentance.  It is impossible to repent a second time is what he seems to be saying.  However, when the statement is taken in the context of the New Testament as a whole, it seems the author really meant it is difficult to repent a second time.  Jesus never gave up on Judas, even after the kiss in the garden.

On the other hand, there is a sliding scale to consider.  A person who sins is said to back slide.  We know that daily repentance for our sins in a necessary part of being a faithful follower.  Consider that sins can fit somewhere on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst possible.  If the sin is a white sin, we place it at 1 on the scale.  As I backslide farther and farther along the scale until we reach 10, I have become an apostate.  If I can repent from 5 or 7, why not 9 or 10?  God wants was to repent so why would He make it impossible beyond a certain point?

The real problem is expressed in verse 8:  But ground which produces nothing but thorns and thistles is of no value and is bound sooner or later to be condemned—the only thing to do is to burn it clean. Phillips  If I know the joy of Jesus and then turn my back on him, I will probably never repent, preferring the darkness of my sin.

The author goes on to assure his readers that God is fair and just.  He will not condemn us if we work to stay faithful, even as we backslide.  There is a caution included that we should not become lazy; we need to continue to run the good race.

The oath of God is in reference to the sacrifice made by Abraham of his son.  When God substituted a ram for the son, He also made a promise to Abraham.  He said, “I have sworn by myself — says Adonai that because you have done this, because you haven’t withheld your son, your only son, I will most certainly bless you; and I will most certainly increase your descendants to as many as there are stars in the sky or grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will possess the cities of their enemies. CJB

We should remember that in the days of Abraham people still made human sacrifices to placate the gods.  The God of Abraham instituted a substitute blood sacrifice until the time of His own Son’s sacrifice.  As Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, so God was willing to do the same.

Wednesday, October 22, Hebrews Chapter 7

As mentioned in chapter 5, Melchizadek was a king who acted as High Priest for Abraham setting the pattern for the two offices to be combined.  It is also important to remember that God made a covenant with Abraham, and therefore with Israel.  A covenant is a contract binding on both parties.  God promised to provide a number of things (security, food, shelter, etc.) in exchange for the people of Israel remaining faithful to God.

As we know, faithfulness to God is problematic, so God instituted a system of blood sacrifices to make restitution for our failures.  At the same time, He vested Aaron with the power to supervise the sacrifices and to represent all of Israel in the worship experience.  Aaron was the first High Priest, Moses the first King and Miriam the first prophet; it was a family affair.

To make sure the descendants of Aaron, Levites, were free to do the work of the Temple, God also set up the tithe.  Every male was required to pay 10% of their income to the Temple.

There are several hundred pages of details in the worship of the Temple, but that is the basic structure.  A person gave up a perfect animal as a sacrifice to ask God to pardon his sins.

The problem is easy to spot; after I make a sacrifice, I go out and sin again.  We humans do that, some more than others.  Why did God bother with a couple of thousand years of the Temple system when He knew it was ineffective?  Why did he not go right to the Sacrifice of the Messiah?

The people were not ready.  They had to rise up and fall down many times and be given lesson after lesson by Elisha, Isaiah, Micah, and a host of others.  They were hard lessons but God never deserted his people.  He continued to nourish and build up the tiny nation.

The times were not ready.  God waited for the Roman Empire to establish a unity of language and understanding that made the spread of the Good News a sure thing.

Part of the preparation was the development of the Temple worship.  It became so much a part of Judaism that understanding the Messiah was easier; it was not such a big step.  Even for the Greeks who worshiped many gods, God had led them to a point in their understanding that a man who was also God and who died but still lives was not difficult to understand.  Probably easier for them for than an American or European of today.

Melchizedek was another forerunner of the Messiah, both in being king and priest and in being timeless.  The Old Testament always described the origins of important people, their linage.  But nothing was said of Melchizedek so the understanding was that he was forever, at least in a figurative sense.  That is why verse 3 reads:  He had no father or mother and no family tree. He was not born nor did he die, but, being like the Son of God, is a perpetual priest. Phillips

Psalm 110, a Psalm of David, describes David as the forerunner of the Messiah.  In that description is the promise that the King will also be the High Priest.  You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. NIV

Thursday, October 23, Hebrews Chapter 8

This Jesus, this Messiah, is the Heavenly High Priest serving in the perfect Heavenly Temple.  There is no longer a need for daily sacrifices at the earthly Temple.  The wording here, by the way, tells us that the author was writing while the Temple still existed, that is, before 70 AD.

The old Temple worship system was given to Moses based on a copy of the Heavenly Temple.  But now that the Messiah is in the Heavenly Temple the old one is no longer needed.  The sacrifice made by the Messiah is perfect for all humans for all time.

The long quotation is from Jeremiah 31:31-34.  God gives us four promises:  (1) the Law will enter our beings, will become internal; (2) we will be able to be with God as children with their parents; (3) ignorance of sin will disappear as will sin itself; (4) all our sins will be forgiven.

The imperfect will be made perfect.

Friday, October 24, Hebrews Chapter 9

Each of the items listed in this account of the Temple had symbolism relating to the Messiah.  The lamp was the menorah, the seven-branched lamp (not the nine of Hanukkah) that God said represents the light to the nations.  Israel was not to conquer nations with force but with the Spirit of God.  Zechariah 4:6:  This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. NIV

The Bread of the Presence was also in the Holy Place.  It represents the Manna with which God fed his people during the 40 years of wandering in the desert.  It also stands for God being with us, being in our midst.

The third item in the Holy Place was the Altar of Incense.  The author of Hebrews placed this Altar in the inner room, but it was actually in the outer room right next to the curtain separating the two rooms.  The author was not giving a complete description of the Temple, but rather a listing of similarities with Jesus.

Incense served many purposes.  It was a reminder of the Judgment and Justice of God.  It was another element that brought the people closer to God.  It served as a carrier of prayers and of God’s answers.  It cleansed the Temple of the Evil One.  Jesus takes on all these roles.

The Holy Place was the outer room of the Temple.  The inner room was the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God.  In the Roman world there were many gods and each had idols made so that people could see what the gods looked like, except the God of Abraham.  He specifically prohibited idols, but did request a room be made for Him.

While we know that God is everywhere at once, the idea of the Holy of Holies was to remind his people that he was with them and would never leave them.  Inside that room was the Ark of the Covenant.  The one used in the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, is about as accurate as any we can imagine based on the description.  As the name suggests, the Ark was the physical representation of the binding agreement between God and His Chosen People.  Today, Jesus is the Ark.

The Ark itself was taken away sometime around 600 BC when Babylon captured and destroyed the Temple.  It has not been seen since then and the gold was probably melted down for Nebuchadnezzar’s treasury.  When the Temple was rebuilt a century later the Holy of Holies was left empty, trusting that God would dwell with them anyway.

Also in the Holy of Holies was the gold jar containing the man, Aharon’s rod that sprouted and the stone Tablets of the Covenant. CJB   These were also lost to Nebuchadnezzar.  Each represented the power of God and His actions to deliver His Chosen to the Promised Land.  All have been replaced in that sense by Jesus.

The daily business of the Temple was blood sacrifice to compensate for sins.  The blood sacrifice of Jesus replaces all that.

Because Jesus died, we have to “read his will”.  The new will changes things for the rest of us.  Jesus the Messiah replaces every aspect of the Temple.  Everything in, on and about the Temple still exists in the Heavenly Temple; it exists in the person of Jesus.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence