Behold, The Lamb Of God

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42
Psalm 40:1-12

David cries out, “For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.”  He also says, “I speak of your faithfulness and salvation.”

Even as David sank deep into the sins of adultery and murder, failing God on a grand scale, he never doubted God’s faithfulness to him.

Paul reminds the church at Corinth that God remains faithful even as we fail him.  He gives us gifts to use for good.  We must strive to do as He commands us.

We sin when we lose sight of God, of Jesus.  Sometimes we know we choose to sin and we do it anyway, but mostly we sin without realizing it.  I might say something encouraging to a friend, but he hears it as a criticism.  We live in sin.

There is no way to describe the Lamb of God without is sounding mystical.  It is not science, it cannot be proven.  I have to accept it on faith.  It is not, however, without evidence.  Millions of lives changed by accepting that faith.

When John spoke of Jesus as the Lamb of God, everyone who heard him knew that he was referring to the sacrificial lamb offered every morning and evening in the Temple as well as the Passover Lamb once a year to make them clean so they could approach God.

By accepting my sin as his own, Jesus died taking that sin to the grave.  He came out of the grave, but my sin stayed buried.  I believe that.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Matthew 6-10

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, January 13, Chapter 6

A good Jew in Jesus’ day preformed three acts of righteousness : charity, prayer, and fasting.  Pharisees and many others did all three like theatre, only with an audience present.  The message from Jesus is to do these things from the heart.  Giving money in our time is easy, but it separates us from those in need and most of the time does not help them.  Only ten percent of charity dollars in the US actually help those in need.

When we pray, we should be listening to God.  Jesus gave us a sample prayer encouraging us to pray only for the basics of life, after that, we listen.

Fasting is not very popular in the US, we prefer feasting.  There are many ways to fast, but it should always be built around prayer.  The whole purpose is to give up something so we can concentrate on God for at least a day.  For modern Americans a gadget/electronic fast would be a good choice.  Try going a Sunday without TV (after the Super Bowl) and read or go for a long walk to talk with God.

We also like to feast on money and the things money can buy.  We are always on the lookout for whatever we especially like, cars, clothes, toys, what-nots.  Storing up treasures is not the same as a 401k or passbook account.  We live in a society where we expect to live 85 years without any help from our families, so we need to prepare for that.  Storing treasures is collecting beyond our needs and focusing on that instead of God.  Anything standing between me and God is darkness.

Jesus ends this section with a kind of summary.  If we trust in God, all those possessions we think we need fall away.  Living in trust makes life simple.  The only day we can live is today.

Tuesday, January 14, Chapter 7

Judging others is another hard teaching from Jesus, for we Americans especially. We are number 1 with the best way of life possible; everyone should follow our example.  As a Christian, I look at non-Christians, and fellow Christians, as not being as close to God as I am; exactly like the Pharisees.

We need  open fellowship with everyone, just the way Jesus did it.  Fellowship, not proselytizing or converting, until they knock on that door.

God will answer our knock at the door.  He will answer our questions and help us find what we seek.  Always remember that what we seek is Heaven.

Consider this passage from The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship.  And it is hard to find.  On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn.  To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way.

Again from Bonhoeffer:  There is someone standing by my side, who looks just like a member of the Church.  He is a prophet and a preacher.  He looks like a Christian, he talks and acts like one.  But dark powers are mysteriously at work; it was these who sent him into our midst.

We must be ever watchful for false prophets, they are not just in ancient times.  They are members of every church.  They misuse the Word to get us to follow them, not God.  Watch.

Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by reminding us to build our Faith on the Solid Foundation of the Word of God.

Wednesday, January 15, Chapter 8

Now Matthew has Jesus move into a healing ministry, taking up all of chapter 8 and most of 9.  He begins with the healing of a leper, a task considered  as likely as raising the dead.  Note that the man knelt before Jesus, a word which often meant to worship.  The man knew that Jesus could heal him and Jesus did so.  The man’s faith was the important element.

Telling the man to say nothing indicates that this event did occur early in Jesus ministry.  Jesus was still trying to avoid conflict with the Temple authorities.  He had much to carry out before that last fateful encounter leading to the cross.  None-the-less, Jesus sent the man to the Temple to asked for cleansing by the priests, showing us that Jesus was no enemy of the Temple of God, only of those who corrupted it.

The centurion’s servant is an unsual healing in several ways.  Capernaum was Jesus headquarters, but was also a Greek/Roman city.  This centurion commanded a cohort or century of about 80 men, one of six in a legion.  The legion stationed in Capernaum was not Roman.  It was working for Herod Antipas, though trained by the Romans.  A centurion would equal a captain in the US Army.

He had wealth and power, but he came to Jesus in much the way the leper had, in a state of faith.  While none of the men in the legion in Capernaum were Jewish, this centurion, a gentile, believed.

With the healing of Peter’s mother, we again see Jesus touching her, but nothing else. He spoke no words, made no reference to faith.  Three different types of healing: a man of faith healed with a touch, a gentile’s request for another healed from a great distance, and Mary simply touched.

In verses 18-22, Jesus is again telling us to keep our full attention on God.  We cannot use excuses when God asks us to do something for him.  We must always do God’s work first.

Jesus gives us a great example of how to live that last section of chapter 6.  He knew God was taking care of him, so he slept through the storm.  The storms in our own lives continue to upset us because we are not willing to put our complete trust in God.

The demonic men on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (really a lake) present a strange picture as the demons fly into pigs.  We can see that the story is more about the reaction than about the men being healed of possession.  The region of Gadarenes was not Jewish, so we wonder why Jesus went there.  In this account, Jesus spoke only the word, go.  He traveled some distance through a storm for that one brief encounter.

Mark and Luke include the story as well and show more about the men, but for Matthew, the reaction of the people was important.  They told Jesus to get out of Dodge, he had messed with their livelihoods.

Note that the disciples had just questioned among themselves who this Jesus was, but the demons knew at once and announced it loudly.

Finally, note that the death of the pigs did not mean the death of the demons, that comes at the end of time.  But we do see the power of Jesus the Messiah over them.

Thursday, January 16, Chapter 9

Jesus sails back to the western shore, to Capernaum, where he meets a paralyzed man.  It is reasonable to assume the man was well-known and since Capernaum was the hometown of Andrew, Peter, James, and John, it is reasonable to assume they knew him personally.  In other words, he was not a plant, he could not walk.  On this occasion, Jesus teaches a different lesson.  He tells the man his sins are forgiven.

Only God can forgive sins, so the learned rabbis and scribes were fuming.  Jesus cleared it up by healing the man.  Since only God could do that, Jesus is God.

Jewish society of the day had an informal ranking of occupations, with priests and rabbis at the top of respectability and tax collectors near the bottom; hide tanners were lower and shepherds were only a little above the tax men.  For Jesus to call such a sinful man to follow him was a sure way of getting kicked off the social A-list.

Jesus did fast and maybe the disciples did as well, but Jesus kept it private.  There is no sign that John himself questioned Jesus.  It was some of his followers.

The raising of the dead girl becomes more dramatic by having the woman stop Jesus’ progress to save her first.  Back with the girl, Jesus does not make any claim to raising the dead.  He insists that she is asleep.  The flute players and the noisy crowd tells us that the house was already in mourning for the girl.  They believed she was dead.

The woman,  bleeding for 12 years, healed by touching the tassel of Jesus’ prayer shawl.  Jews used the words for tassels and hem interchangeably in regard to the prayer shawl.  There were four tassels representing connection with the priest and with God.

None-the-less, it was her faith that healed her.

The blind, also by their faith.

Driving out demons was becoming so common that Matthew does not bother to describe the event.

With 7 billion people in the world, we followers of Jesus have much to do.

Friday, January 17. Chapter 10

In verse 1, the 12 are disciples, and in verse 2, they are apostles.  The Greek word apostolos means messenger.  Jesus chose 12 for special duties from a group of a hundred or more disciples.  Here, for the first time,  Matthew calls them apostles and has them sent into the harvest field and be  messengers of the Good News.

The rest of the chapter is a lengthy set of instructions.

Jesus’ ministry was always to Israel.  After his resurrection, the 12 would be commissioned to go to the rest of the world.

On this journey, depend on the people to support you. Do not even take a change of clothes.  If a town rejects you, move on.

Try to avoid trouble with the legal authorities.  For Jesus, having his apostles arrested could encourage the authorities to arrest him as well.

Remember that you are my students.  Do what I do, do not go your own way.  Do not be afraid.

Back in Matthew 5:9, we read, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.  Here, he says he has come to bring a sword.  It is a figure of speech.  Jesus is about Peace, but that gets people upset, so they think he and his followers are dangerous.  The stories in the New Testament tell us what happens; families are split, people attacked, beaten, jailed, killed.  Jesus does not wield a sword, but he has brought one into play.

Our families are important, but Jesus comes first. Nothing in this life is greater than Jesus.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Here Is My Servant

Isaiah 42:1-9
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17
Psalm 29

Key verses:

I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness.

God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

The Lord blesses his people with peace.

In the first century the difference between a servant and a slave hardly recognizable to 21st Century eyes.  True, a servant could quit, but that was seldom done because no one else would hire someone who quit.  Day-to-day, both did what their master said and both ate the same food, wore the same clothing, and worked the same long hours.

Isaiah records the words of God in speaking of the Messiah by starting with, “Here is my servant.”  Jesus lived the life of a slave.  He did nothing that God did not give to him to do.  He fulfilled all the prophecies about the Messiah, especially the one about bringing justice and righteousness to the world.

John was reluctant to baptize the Son of God, but Jesus insisted it was necessary.  He symbolically took on our sins with that act and carried them into death so that we would not have to do it ourselves.  That is not just important, it is essential.  You and I cannot go to the grave with our sins and expect to live with God.  Only if we are sin-free can we expect to see God.

Peter summed it up by preaching the same Good News that Jesus preached.  God loves all of us and Jesus made it possible for us to die and die sin free.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Matthew 1-5

Things to watch for as you read these chapters.

Monday, January 6, Chapter 1

There is no need to bog down on the genealogical list, but do note that he has three groups of fourteen names.  The number 7 is the number of perfection, representing God.  Fourteen is double perfect.  This tells us a couple of things about Matthew.  He is a bit OCD, wanting everything lined up neatly.  He also uses symbols in his writing.

Further, the list is technically incomplete, telling us that Matthew is not planning to write a slice of history.  He will place events in the order that best fits his overall goal, that is, to prove to Jewish readers that Jesus is the promised Messiah.  In that, he followed the writing style of the day.  Matthew wrote a First Century description of the Messiah, not a Twenty-first Century biography of a man named Yeshua bar Yosef.

The four women listed in the genealogy (before Mary) are of particular interest.  Look them up sometime.

Critics of Christianity attack the virgin birth like the Marines attacking a Pacific island.  Joseph himself had a tough time with it.  Women do not become pregnant spontaneously, nor did Mary.  God made it possible.  That, however, was the easy part for God.  The hard part was getting the Son of God to fit in that human body.

Tuesday, January 7, Chapter 2

The Magi probably visited close to a year after the birth.  The Magi were astrologers from what is now Iran or even India.  It was at the least a six month camel journey.  Also note that Jesus is called a child, not a baby, and that they are in a house.  The words give us valuable details.

Herod was still alive at the time.  We know he died in 4 bc.  We believe Jesus was born in 5 or 6 bc.  If the Magi arrived in 5 bc and if Herod ordered all boys two and under to be murdered, that would fit the time frame neatly.  There are other possibilities about the timing.  As a historian, I like to play with the possibilities.

The visit to Egypt was no accident.  God wanted Jesus to come out of Egypt just as Moses did.  Moses was an early Messiah type, and the Exodus was The Great Event in Jewish History.  Jesus copied many aspects of that experience.

Verses 22-23 tell us that Mary and Joseph did not live in Nazareth before leaving Egypt.

Wednesday, January 8, Chapter 3

John seems to have been a Nazirite, someone dedicated to God.  We can only imagine that from his dress and diet.  A Nazirite would not cut his hair either, like Samson.

Not only does he preach repentance, he openly attacks the religious and Temple leadership, something Jesus did more judiciously.

At Jesus baptism, take note of the word righteousness, a key word in his ministry.  If it was crucial for Jesus, it should be for us as well.

Thursday, January 9, Chapter 4

The temptations came when Jesus was extremely weak.  He was a human.  The cells in his body were screaming for sucrose, without it he would die.  He did not have magical powers.  That is a common misunderstanding.  Sure, he walked on water and raised the dead; or did he?  No.  He walked on water because God supported him.  God raised the dead.  Jesus never took credit for what we call miracles, it was God coupled with Jesus’ faith in God.

Because that faith was so strong in the man, he was able to resist three common temptations that beat the rest of us all too often.  Only when the devil finished did the angels of God come to revive Jesus and prepare him for his ministry.

Repent.  Jesus preached the same message John preached. He started calling disciples and healing the sick, both signs that he is the Messiah.

Friday, January 10. Chapter 5

This is the beginning of the three chapters of the Sermon on the Mount.  I consider Chapter 5 one of the most powerful of the New Testament.  It is packed with messages that need years of study.  Do not neglect returning to these chapters again and again.  Use a study Bible and commentaries.  Ask questions.

Verse 3 as an example: we, as Americans, strive for strength, but the poor are blessed by God.  Why?  A blessing can only be given, never earned.  Those who are beaten down in this life, who suffer emotionally, who find life almost unbearable will be blessed by God.  Those who think they have earned the blessing will receive a shock.

Salt has two duties, to purify and to add zest.  And that is our job as Christians.

The rest of the chapter sets Jesus’ teaching apart from the Pharisees.  For them, it was all right to hate someone as long as he did not actually attack him.  Jesus comes along and says that our thoughts are just as destructive.  I have committed murder and all the other sins of the bible.  I cannot avoid going to Hell.  Nothing I do can change that.

That is why God blesses the poor in spirit.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Better A Day In Your Courts

Pharaoh

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
Psalm 84

 Key verses from each of today’s readings:

For the LORD will ransom Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

When churches do the Christmas pageant, we seldom include the run to Egypt.  We like the cozy pictures of the baby in the manger visited by shepherds and astrologers from the East.  We forget that those Easterners told Herod about the birth of the new King.  Herod was so determined to keep his position of power that he murdered several members of his own family, so killing a baby was a no-brainer.  Because the astrologers failed to tell him where the child was, Herod ordered all males two and under executed, believing the future King would be among them.

We cheer that God was able to save Jesus, but are sickened at the loss of so many lives.  If we stop to ask why God didn’t intervene and save all the boys, we miss the point.  The Messiah, Jesus, was the only way for those boys to be saved, and all the rest of us for that matter.

Our lives and deaths in this world will occur with or without God.  Being an adopted child of God gives us no special protection in this world.  It does protect us from death.  Not from dying, from death.  When these bodies surrender to all the bacteria, viruses, insects, animals, fellow humans, and aging, we get new bodies that will never be under attack or wear out.  We will be gathered in as the remnant to spend all of time praising God and living the lives God made us for.

A few verses ahead of the Jeremiah text is:

I have loved you with an everlasting love.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence