Tag Archives: God

God’s People, part 234: Barnabas

Read Acts 4:36-37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting,”  (Acts 14:14, 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.

barnabasPart 234: Barnabas. When it comes to the New Testament, we think a few prominent figures. We think of Mary and Joseph. We think of Jesus Christ and his twelve disciples. Among them, we think of Peter, John and James. When it comes to Acts, we predominantly think of the Apostle Paul; however, barring those who have read the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles (aka letters), most would NOT know the name, “Barnabas”; yet, he was a very influential apostle in the early church.

Barnabas’ actual name was Joseph and he was nicknamed Barnabas which means, “son of encouragement”. While on the surface it may not be clear why he was given that nickname, a closer read of Scripture provides the clues as to how Joseph fit into his nickname. When Saul of Tarsus first became an apostle, he was taken under the wing of Barnabas, with whom he traveled the known world on mission trips to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles.

While the Scriptures do not explicitly say that Barnabas was Paul’s mentor, it can be ascertained by the order in which their names appear. In Acts 11:30; 12:25; 13:2, 7, they are always listed in the following order: Barnabas and Saul. From that point on, however, they were listed as Paul and Barnabas. That means that from that point on, Paul (who decided to use his Roman name) was the apostle in charge.

Yet, mentoring Paul was not the only place where we find Barnabas encouraging people. He was a mentor to many, no doubt, including his cousin John Mark, which may or may not have been the same Mark who wrote the Gospel. Not only did Barnabas encourage him, but he advocated for him when Paul no longer wanted John Mark to be a part their missionary journeys.

The reason behind this is that John Mark had been with Barnabas and Saul (before he was using his Roman name) on their first missionary journey together. At some point during that first journey, John Mark had “abandoned them” midway and returned to Jerusalem. I put the word “abandoned” in quotes because, while it is never mentioned why John Mark left them, Paul was upset by it and clearly viewed it as a sort of abandonment of duties.

Thus, when Paul invited his good friend Barnabas on his next journey, and Barnabas stated he wanted to bring John Mark along, Paul vehemently disagreed. That, sadly, ended up in the a division between Barnabas and Paul. They parted ways and Paul went on his next journey with Silas, while Barnabas went to Cyprus with his cousin. The two sadly never joined forces again.

It is impossible to know if the two kept in contact with each other from that point on, or if their split became a permanent end to their friendship, or if they’re going separate ways made it impossible for them to reunite; however, Barnabas stood up to Paul in defense of his cousin Mark. He believed his cousin should be shown grace and encouraged to grow. As a result, Mark went on to possibly author the Gospel (though that is disputed) and more than likely to be a bishop of Apollonia.

Thus, as Christians, we could use to be like Barnabas. We could use to be an encourager and an advocate for people who we see great potential. Some times we do need to be like Paul and move on from people who are consistently unreliable; however, in this case, Paul may have been too rash as John Mark only left them once.

We, too, can often write people off too quickly because it seems like the easier route; however, Christ (and, ironically, Paul too) encourages us to be encouragers and a people who build others up. We are not to write people off, but to extend grace and extra chances to them, until it becomes clear that they are unwilling to accept such grace and change. Let us be encouragers, like Barnabas, and nurture people into deeper commitment and discipleship.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”  – Paul of Tarsus, Apostle of Christ in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, NLT

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be an encourager of the church. Give me the grace to extend to those who may not be where I think they should be, for I know I am not where you think I should be. Thank you for your grace and your love. Amen.

God’s People, part 233: In Common

Read Acts 4:32-37

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.”  (2 Corinthians 8:14, 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.

EarlyChurch_LivingInCommonPart 233: In Common. The Scripture reading for today’s devotion is a powerful scripture that has, unfortunately, been vastly misunderstood and misused. It shows us the power that exists within the body of Christ when it is living out the kind of servant-love that Jesus taught and commanded his disciples to carry on following his ascension; however, it also is an example of how Scripture can be used and twisted to carry out the agendas of human beings, even if they do so with good intentions.

Let’s first get the humanist interpretations out of the way. Good people with good intentions can still find themselves paving the way to hell. This Scripture gives us a prime example of how that can happen. People like Karl Marx were largely against religion and, especially, deterministic materialism. The Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church but also including Protestantism, had become an institution that promoted deterministic materialism. It expanded like an empire, demanded that monks not marry in order to retain church property, and pushed to grow its authority on a global scale.

All the while, it taught that “slaves should obey their masters,” that God determined who should serve as rulers and that all people should respect and subject themselves to kings, political authorities, and the law (no matter how immoral it might be), and it held people in subjection to classes defined by wealth. Sadly, many of the religious leaders who held people in their economic places were themselves extremely wealthy (e.g. the Pope, the King of England, bishops and cardinals, etc.).

Thus people like Karl Marx saw religion in such a way: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”[i] Religion was something that needed to be rooted out from society in order for socialistic and systemic change. With that said, Marx was sympathetic to the non-supernatural elements of Christian teaching, especially when it came to everyone living in common as found in Acts 4:32-37.

Marx is not alone in that and many, including Christians, have pushed for social change. In fact, there are some Christians that would call themselves “Communists”. Still, it is not equitable to mention Communism (not to be confused with Socialism and/or Democratic Socialism) and not mention the failings of that political system. Any student of history knows that Communism led to the rise of dictators such as Joseph Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Fidel Castor, Hugo Chavez, etc., who used brutal measures to uphold their authority and Communistic ideals. Of course, those ideals led to the elite government leaders being rich and everyone else being poor.

That is not what we see happening in the early church; rather, what happened in that context was much more practical, organic and self-sustainable. As mounting pressure rose up against early Christ followers from Jewish and Roman authorities, the community came to rely on each other to survive. The early Jewish Christians took a vow to poverty, meaning that they would not own anything to themselves, but would share resources and rely on the charity (love-driven giving) of others to sustain their lives and ministry. That is a far cry from the top-down approach of Communism.

With that said, it was also a witness to the great faith of the the early Christian community in Jerusalem and, we see that even Paul encouraged his churches to contribute to the “poor” in Jerusalem in order to support their lives and ministry (Romans 15:31; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; Galatians 2:10). It must be noted; however, that this “living in common” was not something that was completely widespread throughout the church, but was specific to the Church in Jerusalem. Clearly, Paul’s churches did not all live in common, giving ownership of everything (e.g. money, property, resources) up to the Church as a whole; however, Paul’s churches still equitably shared their resources with others, including offering their homes up to be used as places of worship, tithing to support the ministries, and sharing in common meals.

What does this say for us? In our churches today, we see less and less giving. People see tithing as a “personal” matter and they get easily offended with pastors and/or church leaders talk about money. People want all of the “services” of a church (e.g. baptism, weddings, funerals, weekly services, Bible studies, Sunday School, counseling, and visitations); however, they don’t feel all that inclined to making their contributions a top priorty over other expenses. In fact, many view giving to the church (local, regional and global) as an obligatory expense.

This is not how the Church was intended to be. All of us make up the Church Universal, and investing in the Church is the same as investing in ourselves. That was the view of the earliest church, and that is how we should view it today. We are God’s and belong to the body of Christ; therefore, should we not prioritize supporting the body of Christ with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness? That should be our top priority, along with bringing the good news of Christ to all people. I pray that you will reflect on that, if you are not already, make that the top priority in your life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Generosity is as much showing your vulnerability as it is your passion for something.” – David Droga

PRAYER
Lord, help me to let go of my materialistic desires, so that I may generously supply the Church, of which I am a valuable part, its needs so that that it can carry on your ministry and advance the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

[i] Marx, Karl. “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” in Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. (Paris, 1844), https://marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm.

God’s People, part 232: The Council

Read Acts 4:1-2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, 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.

The_Sanhedrin_in_session_2013-12-25_00-59Part 232: The Council. When it came to matters of religious law, there was only one authority that decided whether someone was innocent or guilty for breaking it. That sole authority was the Sanhedrin, which was the council of the top Sadducees and Pharisees that stood as judges over the Jewish people. There was a lesser Sanhedrin made up of 23 people for each of the cities; however, there was one Great Sanhedrin, made up of 71 judges, which acted as the Supreme Court over all of the land. The court met every day except holy observances, including the Sabbath.

Within the Sanhedrin, there was the Nasi who was the president or head of the court, as well as the Av Beit Din, who was the chief judge. On top of them, there were 69 general members of the Sanhedrin. During Jesus and the Apostles’ time, this council/court met in the Hall of Hewn Stones within Temple. This was the council which tried Jesus in the middle of the night, against their own legal procedures, and this was the council which tried Peter and John for preaching about Jesus that we read about in today’s Scripture reading.

With that said, it would be a mistake that this group of people were all corrupt or that they somehow were being malicious in their decisions. No doubt, lots of different factors came into play in their decisions. First, they came to their decisions with the Torah in mind. Did the people in question go against the common understanding of the Torah? Were these people knowingly going against the Torah, or were they simply in error and in need of correction?

This council also had to consider things from a political point of view. How would their judgment effect the people as a whole in light of Roman rule? How would their decisions affect their own authority as the ruling religious body of Israel. It would be a mistake to think that this body was solely religious, just as it would be a mistake to think this body was solely political. In the first century CE, the worlds of religion and politics were intimately connected.

When Peter and John came before them, they were originally seen as ignorant fisherman who got caught up in believing the blasphemous teachings of Jesus Christ. It is clear that the Sanhedrin did not see these two as being intentional in going against their authority in or in blaspheming against God. They had them arrested and held them until the next day, when they could hear their case. In the end, they sent Peter and John away with a stern warning, “Do not continue teaching about this heretic and traitor named Jesus.”

As far as the Sanhedrin was concerned, justice was done but mercy was also shown (Micah 6:8). So, as was mentioned earlier, it would be wrong to read “villainy” into the council and its members. It’s easy to do that because we are invested in those people they were judging against; however, those members of the Sanhedrin thought they were on the right side of God and carrying out God’s justice.

This should challenge us. Most of us believe that we are on the right side of God and that we are living justly under God. We look at those who are like us to be people of God, but we also look at those who are NOT like us as being those who need God. We believe that we are measuring people on God’s standard; however, the real standard is that “those people are NOT like US.” Thus, we become the measure, not God.

Let us be a people who learn that, while it is important to protect the faith from false teachings and things that take people further away from Christ, it is also important to not do so judgmentally, but with humility. We are NOT saved by our right understanding of things, but by the grace and the love of Jesus Christ. Let us correct people when they are in error, but let us walk that fine line without falling into the pit of condemnation. This is the way to the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus Christ is leading us on!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” – Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

PRAYER
Lord, give me the discernment to know what the Gospel truth is; however, steer me clear of condemnation. Amen.

God’s People, part 231: Leaping Beggar

Read Acts 3:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the LORD’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.”  (Isaiah 61:1-2, 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.

peter-and-john-heal-a-man-crippled-since-birthPart 231: Leaping Beggar. So what? That is the skeptic might be asking in light of the Pentecost experience. So what that people could understand the disciples in their own languages? First off, many of those people were Jews, even if they didn’t live in Israel, so who is to say that they did not have some understanding of Hebrew? Or, perhaps there are other possible explanations that could explain that without thinking that Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead. Surely, ecstatic and emotional experiences lead to all sorts of things, so 3,000 converting is not an unlikely phenomenon. But does that mean that the disciples’ account of Jesus resurrection was literally, physically true?

Of course, the skeptic will never be fully satisfied because they see everything through their skepticism. What’s more, they are looking for physical, tangible, empirical truth that can be measured by the physical sciences. In today’s time, people have forgotten the other sciences and solely put their faith in the physical/natural sciences; however, that does not lead them to the truth in regard to things outside of the physical realm.

For instance, look at dreams. They can be measured scientifically to an extent. Brainwaves, electrical signals, pulse, REMs, sleep cycles, etc. are all observational ways in which scientists can study what physically happens when we believe one is dreaming; however, why one dreams and/or how the brain produces the specific dreams can only be speculated on. They are not physically measurable. Yet, none of us are skeptical that we dream.

That brings us to Peter and John who crossed paths with a beggar who could not walk. He had to be carried every single day to the place known as “The Beautiful Gate” in order to beg for money. No doubt, many people passed him by without giving, an act that really is a not so “beautiful” reality in human behavior. So, there this man sat every day, looking to raise anything he could to survive.

When Peter and John encountered him, the man eagerly asked them for money. Peter and John didn’t have money to give him; however, they said that what they did have to give came from Jesus Christ their Lord. I cannot imagine what this man thought of that; however, the two disciples left him little time to think. “In the name of Jesus Christ,” Peter exclaimed, “get up and walk!”

While the hubbub of Pentecost could be easily dismissed as ecstatic enthusiasm, there was no room for skepticism in the heart and mind of the disabled man. Instead, he got up and walked. In fact, he did not just walk but leapt and danced with joy all the way with the disciples into the Temple. The people who knew this beggar, and had passed him every day on the way through the Beautiful Gate, were astounded by what they saw! This man’s newfound ability was witness enough to them about the power of Jesus Christ!

Let this text challenge you. First, let us understand that signs and miracles happen so that people might see the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord and be transformed by witnessing such things. Second, let us put our skeptical minds behind us. If none of the miracles in the Bible speak to you, ask your self this: how did this little sect of Judaism become the main religion of the Roman Empire? Conspiracy theories aside (and there are many of them), history shows this to be one of the most remarkable achievements in all of history. Not only remarkable, but next to impossible. With that said, the historical record is clear…it HAPPENED.

Let us recognize that there is more to reality than what can be seen or physically/scientifically measured. Skepticism can be healthy; however, when we are blinded and paralyzed by it, and when we are able to be skeptical of this (e.g. religion), but put faith in that (e.g. physical sciences as the sole measure of reality), we find ourselves mired by an unhealthy skepticism. Let us avoid such a swamp and really soul search for the truth of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
What good is being skeptical when one is not skeptical of his or her own beliefs?

PRAYER
Lord, help me work through my skepticism and lead me to the path of faith. Amen.

God’s People, part 230: 3,000

Read Acts 2:14-47

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike.”  (Joel 2:28-29, 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.

Peters-first-sermonPart 230: 3,000. We now move from the Gospel accounts of Jesus and his disciples, to Luke’s account on the life of the church following Jesus’ ascension. This account is actually volume 2 in a 2 volume work that Luke wrote. The first is, of course, the Gospel According to Luke. The second is entitled, The Acts of the Apostles. This second volume follows the apostles, the early church, and the missionary trips of the Apostle Paul. It starts in Jerusalem and ends outside the walls of Rome.

As we move through Acts, we will be looking at some of the characters that the Apostles interact with and we will see that the Holy Spirit did remarkable things for the promotion and spreading of God’s Kingdom through the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Miraculously, this budding movement would go from illegal “cult”, banned and hunted by Roman authorities, to the official religion of the Roman Empire. All of this, happened without Christians lifting a sword against Rome.

In today’s reading, we enter into Luke’s account just after the Holy Spirit came to to them on the day of Pentecost in the upper room. Right after that, the disciples were ecstatic and filled with the power of God through the Holy Spirit. They were compelled to bring their enthusiasm and their Christian witness out into the streets. There was just one problem to that: Pentecost was a big ordeal in Judaism and many people from all over the world would be there.

Why? Because it was one of three pilgrimage holidays in Ancient Judaism and, thus, disapora (Jews living outside of Israel) Jews would travel to Jerusalem to observe Pentecost, a holiday marked the date that God gave Moses the Torah, or Jewish Laws. It is a date that is marked 50 days after Passover, when God freed the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt. With that fact established, how would these diaspora Jews, who spoke the languages of the countries from which they came from, ever be able to understand what Peter and the disciples were saying?

To the amazement of the disciples, the people were miraculously understanding what the disciples were saying in their own languages at the very same time that they were speaking. How incredible is that?!?! Some of the people mocked the disciples, claiming that they were drunk; however, Peter reminded them that it was merely 9 a.m. and that they were most certainly not drunk, but filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Peter then proceded to preach his first recorded sermon. In that he proceeded to tell them the Gospel message, first as it appeared in the Old Testament. He tied in the the Messianic prophecy of Joel and then he turned to King David, whom he also referred to as a prophet! He convincingly conveyed how King David saw the day in which God would raise up one of David’s own and place him on the throne. He saw that the death of this Messiah would not end in the tomb, but in this Messianic King being exalted at God’s right-hand, the place of honor.

Finally, he convicted them with the truth about “Jesus the Nazarene”. He was God’s chosen Messiah; however, even though the Jewish political and religious leaders had Jesus put to death, with the help of “lawless Gentiles” (aka the Romans), Jesus was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples so that they might bring the Good News about Jesus Christ to all the people of Israel!

Upon ending his sermon, the people were so moved that they ended up getting baptized. ALL 3,000 OF THEM! That is right, Peter convicted the hearts of 3,000 people and they turned their lives over to Jesus Christ! Can you imagine that scene and how amazing it must have been. Can you imagine how moving, how transformative and, honestly, how frightening this all must have been?

Here’s the challenge for each of us. We are called to carry on the work of the disciples. We, too, are also filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. That is a gift that the Bible tells us is bestowed on all believers. We have been given gifts of the Spirit as a result of that and should be using those gifts to bring more people into an intimate and transformative relationship with Christ. In what ways can you up your game in evangelism? How has God gifted you? In what ways, utilizing those gifts, do you see yourself passionately sharing your faith with others and guiding them into a relationship with Jesus Christ? I pray you will reflect on these questions and accept the challenge for the glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.’” – King David in Psalms 110:1

PRAYER
Lord, continue to guide me toward being an even more faithful and effective witness to your good news! Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Believed

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, observing Sabbath (aka rest) is an important spiritual discipline as well. So here is a 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 229: Pilate

Read John 18:28-40; 19:1-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!’”  (Matthew 27:24, 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.

Pontius_Pilate_BustPart 229: Pilate. For a man central in the capital punishment of Jesus of Nazareth, there isn’t a whole lot known about Pontius Pilate. As far as is known he was a part of the well-established Pontii family, who were originally of the plebeian class. Plebs were the general population of free Roman Citizens and were not a part of the ruling Patrician class. Thus, Pilate’s family genealogy was of humble origins during the Roman Republic; however, the Pontii family flourished in the Roman Empire, and the family eventually attained the consulship, which was, at the time of the Empire, a symbolic representative of Rome’s heritage.

Pilate, himself, was appointed as prefect of Jerusalem in 26 C.E. Nothing is really known of him prior to that date. A prefect was a military officer who was appointed by the Emperor as a governor of a less important province of the Empire. At the time, Judaea was a province that was an annex (or extension) of the province of Syria. They typical term length for prefect was 1-3 years, Pilate stayed in his position until 36 C.E., a whopping ten years.

The only primary historical sources we have to rely on in regard to Pontius Pilate are the first century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, the Alexandrian-Jewish Philosopher and Historian Philo, and the New Testament Gospel accounts. Both Josephus and Philo describe Pilate as a brutal prefect and details some events that are seemingly left out of the Gospel accounts. This has led some scholars to argue that the New Testament Gospel writers were trying to sterilize and soften Pilate’s role in Jesus’ death in order to (A) not upset the Romans too much by the writings or (B) to lay more of the blame on the Jewish groups that were kicking Christian Jews out of the synagogues.

With that said, not all scholars subscribe to that theory and a close reading of the Gospels actually lead one to dismiss it altogether. First, the Gospel’s main focus with Pilate is on his part in the trial of Jesus of Nazareth. Aside from that, they don’t really mention him at all because, until he comes face-to-face with the Roman Prefect, there is no real reason to talk about him. Second, a close reading of the Gospels uncovers Jesus talking about a time when Pilate was particularly brutal in his dealings with the Galileans (people from Jesus’ home region):

“At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
(Luke 13:1-3, NRSV)

It is clear that the Gospel writers were not trying to soften who Pilate was and, in my humble opinion, we get a fuller account of the man by reading both the Gospels and the works of Josephus and Philo. These works, when considered together, show a man who was both cunning and cruel. He was a politician who understood the need for diplomacy; however, he was also a military leader who knew how to crush any hint of a rebellion with a swift and brutal blow. The fact that he remained in his post for 10 years (9 to 7 years more than the average prefect) is an indication that he was able to balance cruelty with diplomacy.

In fact, Jesus’ trial is a good example of just how he did that. When Jesus was brought to him, he asked him questions and then found him to be “innocent of the charges.” Why? Because blasphemy against the Jewish God was not a concern of the Roman Empire. When his accusers claimed that he was a Galilean claiming to be king, he sent him to Herod who was Tetrarch (aka regional ruler) of Galilee. When Jesus was sent back to him, he then questioned him on charges of treason against Rome.

The end stunt of washing his hands clean of the blood was not a display that he considered Jesus innocent or that he even cared what happened to this Jewish rabble-rouser. Pilate would have seen Jesus as a threat, no doubt; however, it allowed him to pass the blame away from Rome and onto local Jewish officials. Why? So that he could avoid an uprising against Rome, of course.

Pilate wasn’t stupid and he knew that if he ordered the death of a Jewish Messiah figure during the busiest time of the year in Jerusalem, he’d potentially have a riot on his hands. What’s more, he couldn’t just let Jesus walk out alive either. So, he played some political theater. In the end, though, Pilate brutally put an end, or so he thought, to the Jesus movement.

What’s important for us to realize is that God’s people today, like the people in Jesus’ time, often look to the government as their savior and, in doing so, they sell out their true Savior in the process. Jesus was handed over to Pilate, not because the Jewish religious leaders liked Pilate, but because Jesus challenged the status quo and Pilate was the expedient way to avoid Jesus leading people further away from the authority of the religious establishment.

Pilate was a Roman who was known for his brutality and his sharp diplomatic wit. He represented the Roman Government, not God’s will. The same is true about our political leaders today, they represent the current government and national interests, not Jesus Christ who is the true and ONLY Savior of the world. Will we place our faith and hope in the government, selling out Christ in the process, or will we place our faith, hope and loyalty in Jesus Christ, at all costs? The choice is ours.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Who is your master? Jesus Christ taught us that we cannot serve two; therefore, we must choose only one.

PRAYER
Lord, you are my master, my Lord, my Savior, and my friend. Guide me away from looking toward anyone else for what can only come from you. Amen.

God’s People, part 228: Caiaphas

Read John 18:12-14, 19-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.’”  (John 11:49-50, 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.

Ossuary_of_the_high_priest_Joseph_Caiaphas_P1180839
Jospeh Ben Caiaphas’s Ossuary

Part 228: Caiaphas. It is easy for us to read the Gospels and to see the people who opposed Jesus as being the “bad guys” and as not being “God’s People.” With that said, that is a trap we really ought to not fall into. The people who were the religious leaders, for instance, were not “evil” people who were looking to destroy Jesus of Nazareth for completely malicious reasons.

The reality is that the times in which Jesus lived in were as complex and confusing as our own times. The religious leadership, just like the rest of Judaea, was living under the reality of Roman occupation and oppression. The Temple, and Caiaphas as the High Priest, is the greatest example of that complexity.

The primary sources we have on Caiaphas are the New Testament and the writings of the first century Jewish/Roman historian Flavius Josephus. Caiaphas’ full name was actually Joseph ben Caiaphas (meaning Joseph son of Caiaphas). So, properly speaking, Joseph was his name and Caiaphas was his father’s name. Beyond his name, we can gather a lot from Jospehus that creates an even broader picture when considered along with the New Testament account.

Here’s a basic summary of who Caiaphas was and what made him tick. First, he was in a line of High Priests who were connected to the Sadducee party. He was not directly in the line, but only through marriage to the High Priest Annas. The Sadducees were mostly the Jewish elite and of prominent wealth, and so Joseph ben Caiaphas married into an extremely wealthy and powerful family.

Joseph ben Caiaphas came to be High Priest during a very turbulent time in Jewish history. His father-in-law had been High Priest, but was deposed after the death of the Emperor Augustus. Still, Annas continued to have quite an amount of sway and power despite his being deposed. He was succeeded by his son Eleazar. Eleazar was succeeded by someone outside of the line of Annas, by the name of Simon ben Camithus, who was so unpopular that he only served a year. Simon was succeeded by Caiaphas.

The role of the High Priest was both spiritual role and a political role. The High Priest was the head officiant at the Temple and was the leader of the Jewish Sanhedrin, a council that weighed in on Jewish Law. With that said, High Priests were appointed by the Roman governor. At the time of Caiaphas’ ascent to the position, Valerius Gratus was the governor; therefore, Valerius Gratus was the governor.

What this means is that Caiaphas must have built a strong and good relationship, probably with the help of his father-in-law, with Gratus. As such, he was appointed and remained in the position at the pleasure of the governor and was in that position for a very long time. When Pontius Pilate became the governor, he chose to leave Caiaphas right where he was as High Priest. This shows that the Romans trusted Caiaphas to be politically good for them in that position.

Of course, being in good with the Romans made the High Priests subject to fierce criticism from different Jewish sects. The Essenes left Jerusalem and lived in the wilderness because of the disgust they had toward what they saw as the corruption of the Temple. The violent political Jewish party called the Zealots, were enraged by the Roman hands appointing Jewish leaders and priests, and they were constantly threatening the Jewish religious hierarchy and Roman rule.

These were very tense times that Jesus came onto the scene during. This Nazarene not only challenged the Pharisees and their understanding of the Torah, but he also overturned the tables in the Temple and called himself the Son of God and the Messiah. Caiaphas’ position depended on his being able to deal with any threat to Jewish order and Roman peace. To Caiaphas, this Jesus was a real threat who could inspire a rebellion. If that happened, many Jews would be slaughtered, he would lose his position as High Priest, and possibly even his own life. He could not let that happen.

But Caiaphas also could not just bring Jesus up on charges of blasphemy, for those charges would not concern Pontius Pilate in the slightest; rather, Caiaphas had to prove that Jesus was not only a threat to the religious order, but also to Roman rule. Caiaphas had no authority to kill Jesus, only the Romans could do that, so the only way to remove this threat was to make the case that Jesus was not just a blasphemer, but a traitor against Rome. Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God (a title reserved for the Roman Emperor: divi filius) and the messiah (or anointed King of Israel in the line of David) gave Caiaphas a strong case to present to Pilate.

Caiaphas did what he did for many reasons. He did it to maintain power, authority, and status. He also did it to maintain peace and keep many people from being slaughtered (John 11:49-50). He did it out of fear, but he also did it out of his sacred duty to be the shepherd of his people. He did it for political motivations and ambitions, but he no doubt believed he was doing what was the right thing to do.

The challenge for us is to realize that even though we are God’s people, we can still make decisions and carry out actions that are very, very wrong. Our pride and our need to maintain the status quo can lead us to actually turn our backs on the God we love and claim to follow. Caiaphas is not alone in doing that. He was was complex man, but we are all complex people. The challenge for us is to look at ourselves through the mirror of Scripture and be cautious in our own motivations in how we act and behave.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The way of sinners is paved with smooth stones, but at its end is the pit of Hades.” – Ben Sira of Jerusalem” (Sirach 21:10, NRSVA).

PRAYER
Lord, help me to be a person who looks past my own complexity to you, your grace, and your Word for guidance. Amen.