Moses struggled. God said My Presence will go with youNIV, but Moses immediately asked, If your Presence does not go with us….NIV You talk only to me. No one can see you. We cannot make an image of you. How will anyone believe you are real?
But Moses also said, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. NIV
Jesus reminded the authorities of the truth of Moses’ words with, pay to God what belongs to God. GNT Little things like the government are only a nuisance to the people of God. Too many Christians pledge allegiance to the United States with greater fervor than when they pledge allegiance to God.
God did teach Moses and he went even farther and allowed Moses to see just a bit of God. Even that small exposure caused Moses to give a visible glow. Learning the ways of God changes us. As Paul wrote, when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true. NLT
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Monday, October 13, Philemon Chapter 1
This small letter from Paul is unique in that it deals with one person and one issue. The letter was most likely written about 60 AD while Paul was in Rome the first time. He seems to have written the letter at the same time that he wrote Colossians and had them delivered by the same people.
On the surface, the issue is a runaway slave who wants to return to his master and owner. The undercurrent is the proper way for a Christian to deal with people, including slaves, especially Christian slaves.
Onesimus ran away from Philemon. In Rome, he met Paul and became a believer. He proved so useful that he became another Timothy. Paul wanted to send him on his own missionary journeys, but Onesimus was not a free man.
Paul understood that Onesimus had to deal with his past before he could begin his future, an important lesson for us all. For most of us that can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but for Onesimus, it was life threatening because running called for the death penalty.
Paul appealed to Philemon’s spirit of brotherly love, even in his opening sentence, Paul, prisoner for the sake of Jesus Christ, and brother Timothy to Philemon our much-loved fellow-worker, Apphia our sister and Archippus who is with us in the fight; to the church that meets in your house—grace and peace be to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Phillips By addressing the letter to other church leaders and to the church in general, Paul was inviting all of them to support Philemon in his decision.
Paul then praises Philemon for all his work for the church, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people. NIV How could Philemon ignore all that praise?
But understand that Paul was not playing tricks on Philemon. He always contended that slave and free were equal, free in the Holy Spirit.
What Paul is really asking, between the lines, was to free Onesimus to become another worker for Paul.
One last point, Paul in verse 24 sends greetings from his follower workers, including Demas, who you may remember, deserted Paul shortly after this (2 Tim 4:10).
Tuesday, October 14, Hebrews Chapter 1
After the short Philemon, we return to the last long letter, 13 chapters. The author of this letter was everyone’s favorite, Anonymous. The early Christian Tertullian wrote about 200 AD that Barnabas was the author, the first reference we have on record. Around 400 AD the Roman Church decided to put Paul’s name on it, mostly to give it more prestige.
It is hard to believe that Paul would have spent considerable time composing such a letter without including his standard salutation. We just read in Philemon such an introduction. But what really places the letter outside Paul’s corpus is the style of writing; the words chosen, the word groupings, and the use of images. It has almost nothing in common with any of his known letters.
Whoever it was, he was Jewish, probably of the priestly tribe, knowledgeable of the Old Testament, and easily accepted as an authority. For whatever reason, his name has been lost on all our old copies of the original. We are sure that the letter was written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
The letter is clearly intended for Jewish followers of the Messiah and for Jews interested in Yeshua. The whole letter is an examination of the scriptures that point to the promised Messiah and an explanation of how Yeshua fulfills the promise.
The first four verses make a nice summary of the role of the Son of God; Creator, Sustainer, Savior. In a way we do not understand, God works in our universe through His Son, through the Word of the Son. We cannot see God but we can see the Son. We cannot know God but we can know the Son.
The Son is not an angel, he is Lord over the angels who do his bidding. God created the angels but not his Son. The Son is God.
Wednesday, October 15, Hebrews Chapter 2
The first four verses tell us something of the reason for writing and when it was written. The readers were second and third generation Christians. They did not hear the Gospel from the Apostles nor did they read the Gospel, so that would fit 60 AD or later. It seems clear from the rest of Hebrews that the Temple still existed, so it came before 70 AD.
After thirty years of growing up as followers of the Messiah, many Jews were slipping away. Gentiles did not accept them and Jews also rejected them. They were caught in-between cultures. Their parents were stronger because they heard directly from Peter, John, Thomas, Paul, etc.
Based on Deuteronomy 33:2, it was commonly held among Jews that God delivered the Law at Sinai through his angels (see Acts 7:53 and Gal. 3:19). So, if we believe the Law given by angels we should believe the Gospel given by the Son of God.
The idea in verse 9 that Jesus was made lower than the angels presents a problem. We are told in other scriptures that people are better than the angels, so is Yeshua less than we are? No way. What the author means by using the word lower is Yeshua was no longer in Heaven but on earth, thus lower in relation to Heaven.
Because Yeshua became human to identify with us, we must identify with him to share in the fullness of the Blessing of God. We call that Blessing the Grace of God.
Verse 11 has a reference that most gentiles and even modern Jews might miss. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. NIV In the Temple, the one who makes people holy was the High Priest. On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) the High Priest spent the whole day making sacrifices, the most important of which were those to purify himself and to purify the entire nation. That is a powerful image for Christians when we consider the Yeshua became our High Priest and made a sacrifice to purify all of us.
There is another important idea in this connection. Salvation comes in unity with others. We join with Yeshua just as Israel joined with Moses. Only in unity can we know God.
Verse 15 gives us the central point of why Yeshua came to be human, to free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. NIV As Paul Tillich wrote, Man’s knowledge that he has to die is also man’s knowledge that he is above death. It is man’s destiny to be mortal and immortal at the same time. And now we know what the sting of death is, and why the devil has the power of death: we have lost our immortality. It is not that we are mortal which creates the ultimate fear of death, but rather that we have lost our eternity beyond our natural and inescapable mortality; that we have lost it by sinful separation from the Eternal; and that we are guilty of this separation. That is the sting of death.
Thursday, October 16, Hebrews Chapter 3
I do not know which section heading I like best: Jesus Greater Than MosesNIV, Moses was a faithful servant: Christ a faithful sonPhillips, or The Centerpiece of All We BelieveMSG. Each describes an important element of Jesus Christ, Yeshua the Messiah. He is our Moses in that he leads us to the ultimate Promised Land. He is our High Priest in that he made the sacrifice for all of Israel, all who will follow him.
Moses helped build the house of Israel but the Messiah is the Lord of the house. Israel is the house and we are Israel, we who accept the Messiah’s gift. We cannot be like those who wondered in the wilderness with Moses. We must not turn away from the Messiah.
To turn away is death. We talk about sin, forgetting that it equals death. The only way to Life is the Messiah.
Psalm 95 is used here and in chapter 4. Here it reminds us to stay close to God, not to wander off as did the Israelites in the desert. Here it connects the Messiah with God and Jesus with the Messiah; therefore, it connects Jesus with God as the Son of God.
Friday, October 15, Hebrews Chapter 4
Now Psalm 95 moves us into the question of Shabbat, the Sabbath. As the sun sets on Friday, Jews around the world recite Psalm 95 as a part of their prayer for the meal. The practice started in the Temple long before Jesus. Every Shabbat service centered around the Psalm. As the synagogue became important and eventually replaced the Temple, the Psalm became part of every Shabbat service on Saturdays.
The last verse is critical: So I declared on oath in my anger, They shall never enter my rest. NIV What is the rest? It is much more than taking off one day a week. Relaxing on Saturday or Sunday, the Sabbath, is only a pale reminder of the Promise of eternal rest.
Genesis 2:3 reads: And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. KJV In the remainder of chapter 2 we learn that God placed Adam and Eve in a special Garden in the East where the sun is always found. They lived there in perfect rest with God, we know not for how long.
Psalm 90:4 reads: A thousand years in your sightare like a day that has just gone by. NIV
When we lost that perfect rest, God gave us reminders of it. Resting on the seventh day is observed but we ignore this command in Leviticus 25:8-11:
Count off seven sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpetsounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month;on the Day of Atonementsound the trumpet throughout your land.Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim libertythroughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubileefor you; each of you is to return to your family propertyand to your own clan.The fiftieth year shall be a jubileefor you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. NIV
For God, rest involves freeing slaves, erasing debts, ceasing to crave more, more, more.
Jesus preached a Gospel of the Jubilee. He said we should not wait for the fiftieth year. For the Messiah the Jubilee Year is every year.
The people chosen by God were far from being the Chosen People. In this reading, Moses is busy on the mountain, lost in the smoke. We know he received the Ten Words written in stone by the hand of God and we know God gave him detailed instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle, but the people do not know, even Aaron and Miriam thought he was gone for good.
Aaron helped the people turn away from God, all the time believing they were doing something to keep them close to God. They had not yet heard the Word Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. KJV But they did have the promise that God would lead them and be with them always. They could not even wait forty days.
God intended for the people to have a visible reminder of the presence of God, so he detailed the Tabernacle. The people had a calf built to remind them of the presence of God. Their mistake was in doing it themselves. We must wait for God. God is the source of our salvation, we cannot do it ourselves.
God invited His chosen ones to leave the slavery of Egypt to join Him in a wedding feast, but they decided they did not want to attend. We are invited to that same feast. Jesus and his Bride, married in Heaven and we are invited. When will it be? We do not know. We must be ready. With Paul we should, Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!MSG
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. KJV It is very close to the Greek, but it does mislead somewhat. We need to remember that Paul and all First Century Christians considered their days to be the last days. Since then, we have come to realize that the last days may be thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years. In that case, this is a better reading: There are difficult times ahead. MSG
Paul gives us an extensive list of people and actions to watch for and to avoid. Men will become utterly self-centred. Phillips The list that follows fits that theme, even in verse 5: They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. MSG Paul tells both Timothy and us that any mark of selfishness must be avoided, both in others and ourselves.
We should take the phrase, weak-willed women, in the generic sense of anyone who is weak in his or her relationship with God. Without a strong connection with God, we will be easily pulled away from Him. In verse 8 Paul mentions Jannes and Jambres as opposing Moses. They are not mentioned in the Bible but were familiar to all Jews through the Oral Tradition, the accounts handed down to help explain the Bible.
Paul reminds us all to remember our lessons and to continue to strengthen them. All scripture is given by inspiration of God. KJV Yet we must be sure of what God intended, as Jesus reminded us time and again. God said, Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. NIV Jesus reminds us that this is the phrase we must stress, not the one about not working. (By the way, Shabbat, the Sabbath, begins at sundown on our Friday and ends at sundown on our Saturday. That is the day we are to keep holy.)
Tuesday, October 7, 2 Timothy Chapter 4
Timothy is charged to do his Kingdom work by God through Jesus and Paul. Jesus has come and is coming again. Always keep that in mind.
Paul encourages Timothy to always be ready to preach the Gospel, whether it is convenient or not. Remember the different gifts we all have; Timothy was to preach, others serve, others teach. Each of us must be ready to do our part for the Kingdom on Earth.
Paul further charges Timothy, and us, to stay to the Truth. There are now thousands of competing notions of what God meant, of what Jesus meant, of what the Bible says. It is not easy to stay the course. Hard work is required to stay in touch with the Truth. It cannot be done in one hour each week. We want to be able to say with Paul, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. NIV
In chapter 2:17, Paul mentions Hymenaeus and Philetus as having deserted the Truth, also Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:20. Now he adds Demas to the list as well as Alexander. The lure of the world is always present and we have to learn to hold firm against that lure.
Crescens is named only here as a worker with Paul, along with Titus. Luke is still with Paul, but Paul wants his favorite co-worker to visit and bring a few things.
We do not know of Timothy’s work after this point, but tradition has it that he served as Bishop of Ephesus until, when he was over eighty years of age, he was mortally beaten by the pagans. True or not, it seems to fit what we know of the man.
The overall message of Paul to Timothy in his two letters is to remain Faithful.
Wednesday, October 8, Titus Chapter 1
Recall that Paul took Titus with him to Jerusalem as an example of a Greek Christian who had not first become Jewish, that is, not circumcised. Paul mentions him several times in his letters (6 before this letter) and now writes to him in Crete, the large island south of Greece (not Cyprus nearer modern Lebanon). Tradition has it that he died a natural death in his nineties as Bishop of Crete.
It is easy to think of this letter as a companion with the two to Timothy for they have much in common and were written about the same time.
It is clear from the beginning that Paul left Titus in Crete to continue their work on the island. It is also clear that Crete was no easy field to work.
The first job that had been given to Titus was to find men to be elders of the various congregations. While Paul had already taught Titus the details of selecting such men, he none-the-less included a summary in this letter. He did so because he intended for all the congregations on Crete to read the letter and understand the process. He also expected the letter to circulate more widely and to be used as an outline for other Bishops.
Remember that Titus was selecting leaders a mere 30-plus years after the Resurrection. What we call the Church today did not exist at that time. The meetings were generally held in private homes, were informal, were held Friday night, involved eating together as Communion, were mostly prayer meetings otherwise, and generally followed the pattern of the Jewish synagogue.
All scripture was what we now call the Old Testament, but letters, and later the Gospels, were treated as important and always read to the whole group, generally several times. Every assembly that could afford it made copies before sending them on. Still, it was at least another century before the Four Gospels were widely accepted as the inspired Word of God, that is, Scripture, and some time before any of Paul’s letters were next accepted. There were several centuries of argumentation regarding the inspiration of what is now the New Testament.
So, Paul was trying to help as many early followers of Christ as possible to build a structure that could survive in a hostile world. He consciously built on the existing patterns wherever he went. People need to know that God’s Kingdom on earth is an open and inviting place.
Paul warned again of the Judaizers, though Titus knew them well. There is an important phrase in verse 11: for the sake of dishonest gain. NIV Anyone preaching a message that gives the preacher control over people is dishonest. Most of the time it is not about money, at least not directly. Power is more often the goal. Power has three sources: muscle (person, police, military), money, and information.
The Gospel is information and is often misused by the power hungry.
Verse 16: They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. KJVThey claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. NIVThey say they know God, but their actions speak louder than their words. They’re real creeps, disobedient good-for-nothings. MSGThey profess to know God, but their actual behaviour denies their profession, for they are obviously vile and rebellious and when it comes to doing any real good they are palpable frauds. Phillips Actions speak louder than words with the Gospel too.
Thursday, October 9, Titus Chapter 2
Paul begins his list with the older men because they were already accepted in Greek culture as natural leaders to be respected. If we are to show respect, they must earn that respect. The same is true of the older women. Each, men and women, is expected to teach the younger ones the same lessons of Godliness.
Married women should defer to their husbands in the way that Paul had already described in other letters. That was the culture and that culture accepted slavery as well. If Paul were to write a letter to an American church, he would steep it in the modern American culture.
Marriage would still involve a couple treating each other as if the other was Jesus. If he mentioned slavery at all, it might be to admonish employers not to treat their employees as slaves. But he would certainly expect employees to understand it is their duty as Christians to obey their masters and to give them satisfactory service in every way. Phillips
Verse 11: You see, God’s grace has been revealed to save the whole human race. NJB That is why we must give up the worldly ways and live the Heavenly way, so that others may see what a blessing it is and seek it for themselves.
Friday, October 10, Titus Chapter 3
Paul begins this closing chapter with Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates. KJV This is one of many passages cited by opponents of the sit-ins of the 50’s and 60’s in the US. In fact, many clergy wrote to Dr. King to encourage him to be more docile. It was the same message given the anti-slavery movement of the pre-Civil War period.
The problem in such an approach ignores the end of the first verse: be ready to do whatever is good. NIV Jesus stood up for righteousness. Every prophet stood for righteousness, and often died for it. None of them formed armies; they spoke the Word of God.
That means we must be in touch with the Word. Not to memorize a few verses to use as proofs that what we are doing is right, but to know what is Right. Jesus said, You have heard that it was said to the people in the old days, ‘You shall not murder’, and anyone who does must stand his trial. But I say to you that anyone who is angry with his brother must stand his trial; anyone who contemptuously calls his brother a fool must face the supreme court; and anyone who looks on his brother as a lost soul is himself heading straight for the fire of destruction. Phillips
Jesus did not add to the Torah, the Bible. What he said was already in the given Word of God, but we overlook it. To look down on another human is to violate the Word of Righteousness. We willingly demonize people we do not understand. God does not. God understands them. If I cannot understand someone, I need to withhold my judgment; to let God take care of it.
It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. MSG Now that we know the joy of God’s Grace, how can we be that way again?
I personally believe that Christianity suffered by becoming the official state religion of Rome. We have the same problem in the US today. There is no demand on me to be a Christian. No one will look down on me or beat me up. I do not have to prove myself, I just am a Christian. For most Americans, being a member of a Christian congregation is a social club experience. I go through the initiation ceremony and I can come and go as I want. There are no membership dues, though there is some nagging about money.
When Jesus looked at the most devout members of the state religion—the Pharisees who never ate shrimp, gave to the poor, fasted twice a week, studied Torah every day—he called the vipors.
The Christians of Paul’s time had to struggle. They had to seek to understand the Word. They had to be able to explain to their doubting family and friends just what it was all about.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. NIV This opening of the Ten Words of God is too often overlooked. Everyone who follows Jesus goes through an exodus from slavery. We shake off the life of selfishness and follow the Law of Love. We understand David when he said TheTorahof Adonaiis perfect, restoring the inner person. CJB We seek only to honor God in all ways.
But far too often we become the tenant farmers. We think we know what is best. We find God’s Word inconvenient. We thirst for profit over compassion. We become blind to the needs of others.
That escape from slavery comes with a price. For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ. Phillips It is hard to give up our old ways. We like to be the center of attention, to gossip about others making them seem less than we are. We are not willing to give up our old notions of what it means to love God.
We fail. But with Paul we must say, It is not that I have already obtained it or already reached the goal — no, I keep pursuing it in the hope of taking hold of that for which the Messiah Yeshua took hold of me. CJB