Tag Archives: Church

God’s People, part 188: Bleeding Woman

Read Mark 5:25-34

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When the woman’s bleeding stops, she must count off seven days. Then she will be ceremonially clean. On the eighth day she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons and present them to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle. The priest will offer one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. Through this process, the priest will purify her before the LORD for the ceremonial impurity caused by her bleeding.”  (Leviticus 15:28-30, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

woman-touches-clothes-of-jesus-mediumPart 189: Bleeding Woman. When the accounts of Jesus’ healings are read, they are most likely read with a certain “wow” factor in place. Most people, I would imagine, are not aware of the social, economic, or spiritual implications of the afflicted in these accounts. At best, they are most likely looked at as unfortunates whose fortune changes for the good when they encounter Jesus.

In the account of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years we learn a number of things. First, we learn of what it must have been like in Jesus’ time. So many desperate people were trying to be in the right place at the right time in order to receive healing. Every where Jesus went, people were coming to him seeking to be healed.

We also learn that these people were the “untouchables” in society. While these were the people who NEEDED to see Jesus, the crowds gathered around Jesus completely unaware and apathetic to the plight of the afflicted. In one such story, a paralyzed man had to be lowered down through a roof by his friends in order to get to a place where Jesus could see and heal him.

In this account of the bleeding woman, she too was crowded out by the apathetic mob following Jesus. She had to fight through the to reach Jesus and she could only do so from behind. There was no chance she would have an opportunity to talk with him and explain her affliction. “She thought to herself, ‘If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.’” (Mark 5:28, NLT)

Before we can fully understand her plight, we need to truly understand the full weight of her condition. The Bible tells us that she was “bleeding” for twelve years. What this meant was that she basically had her menstrual cycle, non-stop, for twelve years. This condition would have rendered, and anyone who came in contact with her, ceremonially unclean.

In Leviticus, the law was laid out clearly. The bleeding from childbirth made a woman unclean for 33 days afterward (Leviticus 12:4). Any woman with her menstrual cycle was ceremonial unclean for two weeks, the week of her period and the week after (Leviticus 15:19). As for a woman experiencing bleeding unrelated to her menstrual cycle, which is exactly what this woman in Mark was experiencing, the law stated: “…she is ceremonially unclean. As during her menstrual period, the woman will be unclean as long as the discharge continues” (Leviticus 15:25).

That means that this poor woman had been ritually unclean for 12 long years, cut off from society and from spiritual nourishment and care. 12 years of isolation and rejection, not to mention the physical effects of it, including pain. Priests wouldn’t go near her, and the doctors were ineffective at curing her. In fact, her condition only worsened.

So, this woman was desperate and in her desperation she wasn’t going to be ignored, even if it mean that she would reach out and grab Jesus’ robe. She was going to do whatever it took to receive healing. Just her touching Jesus would have defiled him in the eyes of the religious leaders. But that didn’t stop Jesus from seeking her out when he felt her touch.

Ignoring the disciples jeering him for wondering who in the crowd touched him, and ignoring the crowd itself, Jesus turned his attention to this woman and, when she presented herself before him, he let her know that her faith had healed her. This woman became an example for us all in the power of faith.

The challenge for us is to have the faith of the bleeding woman and to separate ourselves from the judgmentalism of religious people and people in society. We all struggle with something and our faith can be a healing foundation for us. What’s more, we all have the Holy Spirit given power to be a healing presence in the lives of others; however, we have to take the time to be aware and notice the people who need healing. As God’s people, let us not get distracted by the mundane, but open our eyes to the REAL NEEDS around us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The smallest seed of faith is better than the largest fruit of happiness.” – Henry David Thoreau

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for the faith you have nurtured within me. May it grow to move this mountain into service of others. Amen.

God’s People, part 185: Paralytic

Read Matthew 9:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus told him, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!’”  (John 5:8, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

disabled-signPart 185, Paralytic. Accessibility has always been an issue for folks who have been traditionally seen as “disabled”. In fact, it still is an issue as not every place is accommodating of different needs. Still, overall, accessibility has come a long way and more places than not are taking into consideration the needs of others. In fact, the word disabled is even up for discussion as some people feel that is a denigrating label that devalues those with differing abilities.

For instance, while one might not be able to walk, that disability does not, nor should it, define the whole person and/or what they are or aren’t capable of. In fact, we all have “disabilities” one sense or another. For instance, I can sing. That is an ability I have. Others, however, are tone deaf and couldn’t even accidentally stumble onto a right note. That would be a “disability” for them; however, tone deaf people are not labeled and stigmatized by the term “disabled”. Yet, an opera singer who is paralyzed would be labeled “disabled”, which defines them by their disability, rather than their ability.

With all of that said, the fact that we’re even discussing the “labels” that folks in need of ability accommodations shows that we’ve come a long way from where people were in Jesus’ day. That just wasn’t a topic of discussion, nor was it in the social consciousness of people. Especially in Judaism, being born paralyzed or crippled was often seen as a result of sin.

We can see this is the case in the account of Jesus healing the man born blind. “‘Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins’” (John 9:2, NLT)? In that very question, we see the mindset of the people in Jesus’ day and age. The disciples assumed that someone who was born blind must have been paying the price of sin. Otherwise, why would God allow for that.

Jesus’ response was pastorally corrective. People are not paralyzed, blind, deaf mute, etc. because of their sin or the sin of their parents. God was not behind the man being born blind, he just was. God is not behind paralysis, or the loss of hearing, or any other “disability”; rather, those things happen because we live in a world that is broken and fallen. That brokenness is the result of sin broadly speaking; however, Jesus is clear that someone who is differently abled should not have their “disabilities” held over their heads in judgment.

In fact, the appropriate response to any person, regardless of ability, is to approach with dignity as children of the Most High God. To do otherwise is counter to God’s law and the teachings of Christ. The disciples were looking to find reasons to avoid the blind man and if they knew his sin, that would give them justification for their biases. Yet, Jesus raises their understanding to see the bigger picture: the child of God in front of them and God’s work within that person bringing about the glory of God!

We, as humans, too often fall into the trap of labeling people and judging them based off of the labels we assign them. We do this racially, we do this in terms of age, ability, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and a whole host of different categories we label people by. What’s more, as hypocrites, we do not like it when people label us. I don’t like it when someone labels me a “white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male”, but in what ways do I label others?

The challenge for us is to become more aware of how we refer to and treat other people. Are we aware of who they are as human beings, attentive to their needs, and respectful of their humanity and the divine image they’re created in? Or do we assign labels to them and objectify them in ways that take away their dignity and diminish (if not eliminate) their humanity. It is clear, which way is the Christian approach, and which way is not. Let us follow Christ and treat people with dignity regardless of differences.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to be recognized as the person that they are and not a stereotype or an image.” – Loretta Lynch

PRAYER
Lord, help me to avoid labeling others and help me to treat everyone with dignity, respect and love. Amen.

God’s People, part 183: Demons

Read Mathew 8:14-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”  (James 2:19, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Demons_SilhouettePart 183: Demons. If I took the time to write about every individual person healed by Jesus, then I think the concluding words to John’s Gospel would be especially fitting, “If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written”  (John 21:25, NLT). So, I have decided that I would group most of the healings together per the type of healing they were.

The first grouping of those healed are the demon possessed. In the Gospel of Mark, aside from preaching, exorcism was the very first act Jesus did at the beginning of his ministry. The Gospels state, in fact, that Jesus performed exorcisms on many people throughout his three year ministry. These acts tell us quite a bit about Jesus, about the demons themselves, and about those who were possessed by them. What’s more, it also tells us a lot about the society in which these miracles occurred.

First, that Jesus has the authority to command demons to leave people tells us who Jesus is. Only God has such authority purify the unclean. Each of these exorcisms are an exercise of God’s authority over sin, evil and death. Each of these miracles represent God’s power to forgive sins, to rid a person of evil, and to purify them, making them righteous before God. That Jesus had such a command over demons is a witness to the presence of God within Jesus.

The demons themselves all knew who Jesus was too. In each case, the demons would hiss out at Jesus, “We know who you are, Jesus, Son of God!” Each time, especially in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus commands them to be quiet and to no reveal who he is to the masses; however, the demons DID know who he was. In fact, in the Gospel of Mark they are the only ones who KNOW Jesus’ true identity, with the exception of the Roman Centurion, who figures it out right after Jesus dies.

Again, this all points us to Jesus’ divine identity. Jesus was not merely a nice prophet who taught really nice things before being wrongly put to death on a cross; rather, Jesus IS the Son of God, the embodiment of God in human flesh. The demons all knew that and they were terrified of Jesus because he was filled with the authority of God.

Those who were demon-possessed were truly on the margins of society. Thus, the people themselves were shunned. They were avoided like the plague by friends and community members who saw them as being “unclean”. That meant that they could not participate in community life, and they most definitely could not participate in religious life. Just stop and pause a moment, who needs to be embraced by the religious community more than someone who is possessed by demons. Yet, these folks were isolated away from spiritual nourishment.

The reason for this was the fact that demon-possession was viewed as being the result of sin. Thus, the demon-possessed were viewed by society as being unclean and were to be avoided. We see this most clearly with the demoniac, whom I will write about in more detail in a separate devotion; however, in that person we see someone who was outcast from his community, chained up and living among the caves and tombs.

It is to such people that Jesus came and brought the loving acceptance and healing of God. In fact, Jesus’ actions made it clear for all who witnessed, God doesn’t reject the folks people deem as unclean or unworthy; rather, God shows them favor, forgives them, and includes them in God’s Kingdom. Following their being healed, those who had been demon possessed all became witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ!

This should give us hope, for we too have our demons. We are possessed by things that tear us away from God. We also, like the religious community in Jesus’ day, fail to see our own demons are too quick to point out demons in another. One thing is for sure, Jesus Christ is the ONLY One who can exorcise our demons and free us for joyful obedience to God.

Let us open ourselves to Jesus who will save us from the spiritual warfare that rages on within us. What’s more, let us not fall in the judgmental trappings of the religious institution. Christ has empowered us to bear God’s forgiveness, mercy, healing and salvation to all who need it. Let us be demon hunters in Christ Jesus our Lord, as opposed to people judgers.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“If you pain, He’s a pain taker. If you feel lost, He’s a way maker. If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior. If you’ve got chains, He’s a chain breaker.” – Zach Williams in his song “Chain Breaker”

PRAYER
Lord, cleanse me from the demons at war within me, and guide me to be a presence of love and healing for those who are struggling with demons of their own. Amen.

God’s People, part 182: The Other Women

Read Luke 8:1-3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened.”  (Luke 24:10, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

bible-films-christ-followers-women-1128908-wallpaperPart 182: The Other Women. One of the truly remarkable aspects of the Gospels is Jesus’ interaction with women. His willingness to teach and engage, let alone permit, women followers distinguishes Jesus from all the rest of the sagely rabbis and philosophers of his day and age. Not only that, but he is honestly distinguishable from all of the teachers and philosophers of years gone by leading up to his age. It was truly unique to Jesus.

Even more remarkable is that the Gospel writers themselves were not scandalized by it; rather, they included that detail in their accounts. I love when people bring up the “inconsistencies” between the Gospel accounts as “proof” that the texts are not reliable historically. Of course, we don’t hold the same standard with differing biographies on JFK or Abraham Lincoln, all of which have discrepancies in them too; however, with the Gospels, modernists like to hold the Gospels to a “higher” standard.

Yet, what makes the Gospel accounts credible to me is that they include things that would be scandalous and even embarrassing for the people they are seeking to account for. For instance, Jesus hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors would have been a shame on him and an embarrassment to his family, yet that is included in the accounts. What’s more, Jesus having female followers would have been scandalous. Women knew their place in that society and their place was in the home, not learning and debating with sagely teachers. Only men were permitted to do that.

Yet, the Gospel writers include the fact that Jesus had faithful women followers and, even more importantly, that some of them were prominently supporting his ministry financially. On top of that, the Resurrected Christ is first seen and witnessed to by the women and, in a twist of epic proportions, those women become the apostles to the apostles. If the Gospel writers were making up fanciful stories to promote some sort of agenda (as cynical modernists like to imagine), why include those “embarrassing” moments? That makes absolutely no sense at all.

What’s more likely is that women were absolutely VITAL to the spreading of the Jesus movement following his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. Jesus had built a culture of inclusion among his disciples that carried on long after he’d gone to heaven, and the earliest Christian writers accounted for that. Some of those women I have already written about, others I will write about in future devotions; however, each of the women (named or unnamed) were vital parts of the Jesus movement. Jesus would have had it no other way.

Unfortunately, we live in a man’s world, and the church fell prey to ideologies that reflected the world’s view of women as opposed to Christ’s view of them. As such, things crept into the Christian tradition and even into the Bible that countered Christ’s acceptance and inclusion of women’s role in ministry. Even to this day there are “complimentarians” in Christianity who are staunchly opposed to the kind of radical inclusion of women in ministry that Jesus first initiated.

As a pastor, in every church I have served at I have had at least some people come up and tell me how happy they are that they now have a man serving as pastor. That always makes me feel uncomfortable and, honestly, offended. What about my anatomy and physiology makes me any better of a pastor than a woman? When one stops and thinks about it, the science is not there to back up any sort of superiority, nor is reason or logic! What’s more, Jesus is not there to back that up as Jesus valued women in ministry and he sent a woman, Mary Magdalene, to  preach the Good News to the Apostles who were hiding in fear of their lives.

The challenge for us is to begin to see things as Christ saw them. The challenge for us is to begin to become more and more inclusive of others. Men and women are equally called to serve Christ and who are we to stand in their way as their adversary? Let us begin to bring the church back to the place where it first started, a place of radical inclusivity and hospitality. In doing so, we will draw even closer to Christ than we already are.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No doubt [women of faith in the past] were reproached for His name’s sake, and accounted mad women; but they had a faith which enabled them at that time to overcome the world, and by which they climbed up to heaven.” – Rev. George Whitefield

PRAYER
Lord, I thank you for the women of faith in my life and for the women who boldly preach your Gospel so that others might turn and be saved. For such women in the past, now and in the future, I give you thanks. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Tourniquet

bflw-devotional-800x490Writing the Life-Giving Water devotionals is not only an important ministry, but is a deeply rewarding spiritual discipline for me as well. With that said, since I will am away at Annual Conference this week, I thought I would have us  LOOK BACK to a devotion I wrote in the past. Read it, reflect on it, be challenged by it. Who knows how God will speak to you through it and how it will bear relevance in your life today? May the Holy Spirit guide you as you read the suggested Scripture and subsequent devotion.

God’s People, part 180: Mary of Bethany

Read Luke 10:38-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”  (John 11:32, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

MaryAointingJesusPart 180: Mary of Bethany. I belong to a group of clergy who meet to preach and discuss preaching before each other. It is a small covenant group that was established to help us all better hone our preaching skills. Like any group of professionals, clergy are always seeking ways to grow in their effectiveness as preachers, teachers and communicators.

Today, as I sit down and write this devotion on Mary of Bethany, I must confess that I was blessed to hear a sermon from a good friend and colleague, Rev. Amanda Rohrs-Dodge, on Martha and Mary of Bethany. The sermon was around the subject of hospitality and that there are really many different forms that hospitality comes in.

As was discussed in the last devotion, Martha and Mary had Jesus over as their guest. In that culture, one that was built on honor, it was a sacred duty to show radical hospitality to one’s guests. Such hospitality included making them feel at home, tending to their every need, preparing a feast, and ensuring that the guest had a safe place to rest and be. That is why, in the Old Testament, people like Lot went to troubling extremes to defend his guests from the towns people who were wanting to have their way with them.

As such, Martha was busy busy being the host, tending to Jesus’ every need and making sure everything was in order, dishes prepared, food cooked, etc. What’s more, when she saw Mary sitting and listening to Jesus rather than helping her with what needed to be done, she complained to Jesus about how unfair it was that Mary wasn’t helping out. She did this to scold her sister and she asked Jesus to send her sister away to help her.

This is where Rev. Amanda’s sermon comes in, because she shed light on an important point that I had never even considered before. While Martha was showing Jesus hospitality through taking on the role of the host, Mary was also showing Jesus hospitality by simply sitting and listening to him. She was showing radical hospitality through being present for Jesus. In fact, the account does not tell us that any one else was doing that. I just mentions that Mary was there listening to him.

Whether there were others or not is beyond the point. We so often look for God to be present with us, we look for Jesus to be present in our lives, but do we ever stop to consider being present for God? After all, what more does God want that a relationship with us? What’s more, how can we have a relationship with God if we are not present for God to have said relationship? Healthy relationships are always a two-way street.

Mary was not perfect at this, by any means. In her moment of grief and despair at the death of her brother, she was angry at Jesus because he wasn’t present for her brother when he was gravely ill. In not being present for her brother, she felt he had abandoned her as well. She wouldn’t have had to grieve and experience the pain death and loss if Jesus had just showed up.

With that said, in her grief she also failed initially to realize that Jesus, too, was grieving the loss of Lazarus. Knowing there is a grander plan in place does not make the death of a loved one any easier. Who was present for Jesus in his pain and in his grief? Yet, relationships are a give and take and Jesus understood why Mary was upset and it grieved him all the more.

Still, when not consumed by grief and despair, Mary was a person who chose to be present for Jesus. She didn’t look for him to serve her, she served him and looked to learn from the One she loved so dearly. That is why, while all the other disciples were missing the point, Mary was the one who anointed Jesus’ feet, an act that symbolically prepared his body and spirit for the brutal death he was about to face. That is why Jesus said that whenever people talk about his death and suffering, they will remember the kindness, compassion, and presence of Mary.

Indeed, this ought to challenge each of us to grow in our hospitality. We ought to be hospitable to others, and we ought to play the part of the host, attending to the physical needs of others. But we also need to balance the inner-Martha with Mary as well. We ought not merely be busy, but take time to actually be present with those we are serving. What’s more, we ought to reflect on how we can show hospitality to ourselves and to God. Let this be our challenge, that we grow from distracted, busy hosts to radically hospitable people.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is important that we not only show hospitality to other people, but that we show it to the One who first showed it to us. All that requires is our sincere presence.

PRAYER
Lord, You are always present for me, to the point I need not even ask for that. Now, Lord, I want to be present for you as well. Thank you for being in relationship with me and create in me a more hospitable and present spirit. Amen.

God’s People, part 177: Matthias

Read Acts 1:12-26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place.”  (Act 2:1, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

MatthiasPart 177: Matthias. When looking to secure the future of a movement, one would hardly be inclined to leave it up to “chance”. One would, no doubt, do everything in his or her power to take all of the necessary steps to ensure that all things were in order. If a leader in the movement died, one would choose among the people a worthy replacement for that position. Nothing, if at all possible, would be left to chance.

Yet, when one pays close attention to what the Apostles did at the beginning of Acts, he or she will notice that the Apostles left the replacement of Judas up to the drawing of lots. Judas had killed himself due to the dishonor he felt in his betrayal of Jesus. Too guilty to continue on, Judas tragically took his own life. Need to replace him, the 11 remaining Apostles nominated two men out of 120 of Jesus’ disciples who had assembled to meet.

Yes, that is right, Jesus had far more than just 12 disciples. The 12 were Jesus’ inner circle whom he mentored to continue the movement on without him. From that can be gathered this fact: Jesus knew that he would not always be around to lead his disciples and, as a matter of fact, that was never his plan. From the time he called the 12 until the time he died and resurrected, Jesus had been preparing his disciples to be the Apostles who would carry his mission and ministry forward.

Out of those 2 men, Joseph Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias were nominated. Then to make the final decision, they drew lots. “Wait,” one might think, “they left the fate of Jesus’ mission and ministry up to chance?” The answer is, no. They did not; rather, they left the decision up to God. They trusted that whoever won out in the casting of lots was being selected by God. That was a sign of their faith and, clearly, something that Jesus must have conveyed to them along the way. It was not their decision, it was God’s.

As for Matthias, he was among those who had followed Jesus throughout his earthly ministry. He was, more than likely, among disciples who witnessed the resurrected Lord before he ascended. It is clear from Scripture that he did not witness the Lord ascend; however, he was among the 12 Apostles who received the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room in Jerusalem during Pentecost.

Not much more is known about him. Aside from that brief mention in the Acts of the Apostles, Matthias disappears off of the page without a trace and into legend. According to Greek tradition, Matthias planted the faith around Cappadocia and the region of the Caspian Sea. According to Nicephorus, he first preached the Gospel in Judaea and then in Aethiopia (modern-day Georgia) where he was stoned to death. According to Coptic tradition, Matthias brought to to The City of Cannibals in Aethiopia.

In another tradition, he traveled to the barbarians and “meat-eaters” in Ethiopia. Again, another tradition has Matthias being stoned to death in Jerusalem. Making a long and disjointed story short, no one really knows what became of Matthias following his being selected as Apostle. Chances are that, regardless of where he took the Good News to, he was likely martyred for doing so.

All of this should challenge us in the following ways. First, how goes it with your faith? Do you have faith in God enough to leave major decisions up to him? Sometimes you may, sometimes you may not? This was clearly the case with the Apostles as well. Sometimes they cast lots seeking God’s will, other times they vied for their own will and way of doing things.

Second, do you take the time to discern what God’s will is for you and/or those around you? Do you prayerfully consider God in your decisions and do you follow God regardless of the cost. Matthias and the other eleven Apostles came to understand Jesus Christ as the Lord and they followed him to the ends of the earth, forsaking all else for the sake of the Gospel. That is what we are all called to do. Reflect on this and challenge yourself to grow deeper in your faith and more faithful in your response to God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” ­— Saint Peter in The Act of the Apostles 2:36, New Living Translation

PRAYER
Lord, grow me deeper in my faith and more faithful in my response to you. Apart from you this is not possible, but with you all things are possible. Amen.

God’s People, part 176: Judas Iscariot

Read Matthew 27:3-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Judas had bought a field with the money he received for his treachery. Falling headfirst there, his body split open, spilling out all his intestines. The news of his death spread to all the people of Jerusalem, and they gave the place the Aramaic name Akeldama, which means ‘Field of Blood’” (Act 1:18-19, NLT).

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

JudasIscariotPart 176: Judas Iscariot. The greatest enigma in the whole of the Bible, apart from the mystery of God, is Judas Iscariot. Who was he? What was he like as a human being? What brought him into the fold as one of Jesus’ disciples? What made him someone Jesus trusted enough to be the treasurer of Jesus’ ministry? What was running through his heart and mind when began to turn away from Jesus’ teachings? What was the reason for Judas deciding to betray the one he had called teacher and Lord? What caused this Judas to go from a faithfully daring disciple to a tragic traitor?

So, what do we know about Judas? Let’s start with his name. The name Judas is Greek for Judah. Judah, of course, is the name of one of the 12 tribes of Israel and is where the name “Jews” comes from. As such, some people have tried to argue that Judas was a “made up” character constructed to blame the Jews for Jesus’ death; however, an overwhelming majority of scholars reject that claim.

Judah was an extremely popular name at that time. In fact, one of Jesus’ own half-brothers, had the same name. What’s more, there was more than one Judas among Jesus’ disciples. There was also Judas son of James, whom we discussed in the previous devotion. Thus, the majority of scholars believe Judas was a real person and that was his name.

The epithet which accompanies his first name, Iscariot, has also caused much debate among scholars. It was certainly used to distinguish him from the other disciples. The epithet has most commonly been understood as a Greek rendering of a Hebrew phrase (איש־קריות, Κ-Qrîyôtthat) meaning, “the man from Kerioth”, and seems to be supported by John 6:71.

Still, not everyone accepts this explanation. A popular explanation has been that Iscariot (Skaryota in Aramaic) is a play on the Latin word sicarius (or dagger man). If this were true, this would make Judas one of the Sicarii, a Jewish group of rebels known for committing acts of terrorism in the 40s and 50s AD. This interpretation has also found its way out of academia and into the world of film as well. In fact, the 1961 film, King of Kings (starring Jeffery Hunter as Jesus and Rip Torn as Judas Iscariot), utilizes this theory and portrays Judas as former sicarii (they incorrectly use the term zealot) who decided to betray Jesus to force his hand in striking down the Romans.

However, this view that Judas was a sicarii has no basis in Scripture, and there is no historical evidence that the sicarii ever existed during the 30s AD when Judas was alive. Thus, we don’t really know why Judas did what he did, or what he was before he was introduced in the Gospel accounts. We know that he was paid for his treachery, and the Gospel of John indicates that his motivation was greed; however, I would guess that there was more to it than just that. Still, we simply do not know why and we never will.

What we do know is that, at some point, Judas turned on Jesus and eventually betrayed him. We also know that Judas lived in a culture that took honor and shame very seriously. Once Jesus was arrested, convicted of treason, and crucified, Judas felt the weight of his actions crush him. The shame he had brought upon himself for betraying his teacher was unbearable. No doubt, you can see that shame played out in the Gospels.

The authors, and certainly those who conveyed the accounts to them, all looked upon Judas as a scourge for what he did. Every Gospel uses Iscariot to distinguish him from other Judases, and they always list him as Judas Iscariot (the one who betrayed Jesus). That shameful fact hung like an albatross around Judas’ neck and, sadly, he took his own life.

The challenge for us is to NOT read with judgment toward Judas. Yes, he betrayed Jesus; however, he was chosen by Jesus as one of his twelve and, no doubt, Jesus chose him for a reason. What’s more, Judas was not the only one to betray or abandon Jesus that night. Peter denied him 3 times, the other disciples ran (one of them ran away naked as his clothes were torn off of him) and hid away for fear of their own lives.

The challenge for us is for us to, instead of judging Judas, turn the mirror around at ourselves. How do we fall short of Jesus? How do we betray him? How do we turn our backs at him? What’s more, how do we come to a place of forgiveness for having betrayed him? How do we move beyond the guilt and shame of our sins and into the blessed assurance of God’s redemptive grace?

I believe that Jesus had already forgiven him when he uttered the words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He forgave Judas, the other disciples, the Jewish authorities, and the Romans. He also forgave you, and me, and us all. The choice is ours, just as it was Judas’, as to whether we choose to accept that forgiveness and move onward into serving the Risen Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” – Jesus Christ (Luke 23:34)

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your forgiveness and for freeing me for joyful service. Amen.