Tag Archives: Gospel

God’s People, part 131: Zealots

Read Acts 5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“‘Nazareth!’ exclaimed Nathanael. ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ ‘Come and see for yourself,’ Philip replied.”  (John 1:46 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.

great-revoltPart 131: Zealots. We have talked about the three main political movements in Judaea during the time of Jesus. There were the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes. According to Josephus, and we see much evidence for this in the Bible as well, there was a fourth political philosophy at the time: the Zealots.

The Zealots were a theocratic political movement founded by Judas the Galilean in 6 CE. To put the timing of this into perspective. If Jesus was born in 4 BCE (at the latest), he would have been about 10 years old (at least) when Judas started the Zealot movement. It is possible Jesus was 12 years old and considered an adult at the time that the Zealots were formed.

This is significant because the memory of what Judas the Galilean did would have been etched into Jesus’ memory at a formative time in his life. In 6 CE, he led a revolt against the Roman governor Quirinius when he came into Judaea to take a census of the Jews. The census was decreed for tax purposes and we have already discussed what the Jews felt about Roman taxes.

Judas encouraged people not to register and if anyone did his followers burned their houses down and stole their cattle. He and his followers preached that God, and God alone, was true king and sovereign over Israel. Judas was hailed as the messiah; however, like all revolts against Roman power, his was crushed. Eventually, Judas was likely caught and executed. His sons were also later crucified for carrying on the cause.

What’s more, another family member ended up fleeing to the Roman fortress at Masada with an extremely militant group of Zealots known as the Sicarii. They took the fortress over; however, to make a long story short, they eventually were besieged by the Romans and, when the Romans finally succeeded, they discovered that the entire community of Sicarii had committed mass suicide to avoid being captured. This happened during the Great Jewish Revolt (lead by the Zealots) in 70 CE which also resulted in all of Jerusalem and the Temple being burned to the ground. All that remained of the Second Temple is now known as the Wailing Wall.

Important to note, this group originated in Galilee, Jesus’ home region. Also, while Judas is credited as having formed the Zealots, there were rebels who came before him from that same region. One such rebel, also named Judas, rebelled in the city of Sepphoris (only 4 miles away from Nazareth) in the year 4 BCE. Herod crushed the revolt, executed all who participated in it, and reportedly burned the entire city to the ground. This happened the around the time, or a couple of years following, Jesus’ birth.

It goes without saying that times were extremely tense in Jesus’ world. In fact, his times make ours seem like Walt Disney World’s Fantasyland! Here’s what is extremely important for us to grasp. The world’s response to oppression and injustice has always a been tit-for-tat, eye for an eye approach. False messiahs such as Judas the Galilean come and go promising what they cannot give: PEACE. In our day and age, we have false messiahs claiming the same thing. PEACE through FORCE. Sisters and brothers, be not deceived. There is only one Messiah, Jesus, and His way is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE. I pray more begin to follow Him.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 24:4-5 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, I only look to you and you alone for my salvation. Amen.

God’s People, part 130: God’s Curse

Read John 9:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“’You were born a total sinner!’ they answered. ‘Are you trying to teach us?’ And they threw him out of the synagogue.”  John 9:34 (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.

Shame_God's CursePart 130: God’s Curse. You may be wondering why all of the lead up to the New Testament? Why am I not just diving in and not hitting the major characters like I did with the Old Testament? Good questions. I did not lead up to the Old Testament because that Scripture is inherently Jewish which is the foundation for Christianity. No one assumes otherwise when reading it. The texts give the context of ancient Judaism without me really having to do any sort of lead up to it.

With that said, I am leading up to the New Testament because people typically read that as inherently Christian and NOT Jewish at all. That is a huge mistake, and so the lead up is hopefully providing the very Jewish context as a backdrop for the Gospels, Epistles and Apocalypse that make up the New Testament. Believe it or not, the New Testament is a collection of mostly Jewish writings. A few of the authors were actually Greek; however, the majority of it was written by Paul who was formerly Saul, a Jewish Pharisee. Others New Testament authors, such as the authors of Matthew, Mark, and John were members of the Jewish Diaspora.

So, here’s some more context of the world in which Jesus and the early Jesus movement lived and ministered in. Jesus, and eventually his apostles, were known for the healings they performed. In the modern imagination, we see all sorts of awesome images dancing through our heads. Cute little children being raised from the dead. Paralyzed people walking again. The blind being able to see. Those sick with contagious diseases being cured of their ailments. And we envision Jesus kicking demon butt galore as he exorcised them from helpless people.

In reality, people who were ailing from paralysis, blindness, contagious diseases, premature death, or demon possession were considered to be suffering due to being under God’s curse. What does that mean? That means that they had done something to really tick God off. After all, God would not curse a person who is faithful to God, right? If one is suffering it has to be because they did something to deserve the suffering.

If it was not due to something they did, it was also thought to be possible that they were paying the price for their parents sins, or perhaps the sins of their grandparents, or great-grandparents. You get the picture. God rewards the good and punishes the bad. In order for healing to take place, if it ever could, one would have to repent and get right with God. Then God, and GOD ALONE, would heal the person. The healing would be a sign of God’s forgiveness and favor falling upon the healed person.

While this is a bit simplistic of an explanation, I believe it is helpful enough in giving us the wider, broader context of what is happening in Jesus’ miracles. It also gives the broader context as to why Jesus’ opponents reacted to his healings in the way that they did. The challenge for us is to reflect on our own view of suffering. Do we believe that people who are suffering somehow deserve to be? Do we view their faith as not strong enough, their prayers not exhaustive enough, and their lives not holy enough to be blessed by God? Or do we abstain from judgment and seek out the Christ who says, “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins, this happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”  (John 9:3 NLT)

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’?” – Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 5:23 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to not look with scorn or judgment at other people. Amen.

God’s People, part 129: Essenes

Read Titus 3:9-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He knew their thoughts, so he said, ‘Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A family splintered by feuding will fall apart.’”  Luke 11:17 (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.

Week 36b The Essenes_0Part 129: Essenes. Most people are familiar with, or at least have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls were found in a number of caves in Qumran, which is in the Judaean Desert of the West Bank. These caves, some natural and others made by humans, are in the Dead Sea region, hence the name Dead Sea Scrolls.

Discovered by Bedouin shepherds named Muhammed edh-Dhib, Jum’a Muhammed, and Kahlil Musa, these scrolls were an entire library of ancient Jewish Scripture. Some of the texts were the same books, or expanded books, we find in the Tanakh (or the Old Testament in the Christian Bible). Other scrolls were of texts not found in our Bible, such as The War Scroll.

This ancient library of Scripture belonged to a group of ancient Jews known as the Essenes. They were an ancient sect of Jews who, under the Hasmonean Dynasty, grew dissatisfied with the Temple and political leadership. They saw the Temple as having been corrupted and they believed most of Judaea had gone wayward from God and were awaiting final judgment.

The Roman occupation and the appointment of Herod the Great as King only solidified the Essenes belief that the political and religious system had become completely corrupt. This sect grew increasingly suspicious of the mainstream Jewish leadership, which they saw as being in bed with Satan and the world order. It is also important to note that the Essenes were no small sect, but numbered in the thousands.

Viewing other Jews as being “breakers of the covenant,” the Essenes took vows of celibacy, poverty and refused to eat or sacrifice meat. They were also forbidden from swearing oaths, were disciplined to control their anger, and they only carried weapons for self-defense against bandits and/or robbers. They practiced baptism as and entry ritual into their community; however, one could not be baptized unless they repented and turned from their sins first.

No one is sure of what exactly happened to the Essenes. When the Romans marched through Judaea and the surrounding areas in response to the Jewish uprising, the Essenes hid their library of Scripture and writings in a series of caves in the Dead Sea region and seemingly disappeared. No one knows exactly what became of them; however, their legacy lives on in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

All of these devotions so far should make it clear that Jesus’ time period was as divided of a time as ours currently is. Perhaps it was even more divided than ours. The divisions, by the way, ultimately led to the demise of Jewish sovereignty. The Romans were notorious for making use of the “divide and conquer” method and the Jews were no exception. The challenge for us is to reflect on what divisions exist in our lives and whether or not God would want those divisions to exist. Some may be necessary; bus most dividing lines are not. Christ came to unite us to God, not to divide us away from each other. So, let us seek Christ and, to do so, is to seek unity.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Not one of us can rest, be happy, be at home, be at peace with ourselves, until we end hatred and division.” – John Lewis

PRAYER
Lord,. Help me evaluate myself and remove those things that divide me from others. Amen.

God’s People, part 128: Taxes

Read Luke 19:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him.”  (Luke 5:27 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.

001-lumo-jesus-matthewPart 128: Taxes. Everybody’s favorite subject, right? Taxes are just a bowl of jiggly, cherry flavored joy (aka JELLO). Everybody loves paying taxes nowadays and so it is really hard for us to understand why anyone in the ancient world would hold a grudge against tax collectors, right? If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I will let you know that I am totally being sarcastic here.

In U.S. American history alone, there are ample examples of our bitter hatred of taxes. In fact, it is safe to say that taxes played a huge role in the British Colonies rebelling against England and forming the United States of America. They fought against major tariffs and/or taxes placed on things like stamps and tea, without any representation from the colonies. In other words, the crown decided to raise taxes, and did so without any consideration for the people in the colonies. They had no one appointed to represent their needs to the King.

In Jesus’ day, taxes were even more despised than they were in the days of the American Revolution. Why? Because of the system of taxation they wre forced into. Under Roman occupation, the Romans “employed” local people to collect the taxes that were due to them. These tax collectors were not actually paid by Rome; rather, they were expected to collect what was due Rome and it was completely acceptable and expected that they would raise what was owed to compensate themselves for their services. You heard me right. If someone owed $1,000 for the year in taxes, the tax collector might charge $2,000. They would give Rome its $1,000 and keep the other $1,000 for themselves.

Keep in mind, these tax collectors are locals. What that means is that the tax collectors in Judaea were other Jews making a killing off of the backs of their own people, for the benefit of themselves and the Roman government. Thus, tax collectors were not a popular group of people by any stretch of the imagination. That is what makes Jesus’ acceptance of Levi (aka Matthew) and Zacchaeus so shocking.

On top of Roman taxes, the people also had to pay a Temple tax, local government taxes, military tax (and drafts), customs taxes, import and export taxes, toll bridges, crop/harvest taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, as well as special taxes where there was a war, a building project or campaign to fund. For the common person, these taxes became burdensome and added to the oppression they were experiencing.

With all of this context, it is important for us to note that while the tax collector was hated by most people, Jesus chose to include them in his ministry. He invited them into a new service, a service of giving rather than collecting. His willingness to see the divine in them broke through. His willingness to love them and treat them with dignity, broke through their hearts and sparked in them transformative change.

This should challenge us. Who are the “rightfully despised” in our communities? Who are the people who have earned a bad name for themselves and how do we show them Jesus? How do we bring the Christ who loves them and calls them to experience transformative grace in their lives? Are we willing to see such people as Christ sees them, or will we let our disgust stand in our way? Let us not forget that, ultimately, we’re no more righteous than those people. In fact, we’re less righteous when we think we’re above or better than them. Christ calls us all to humility and to grace.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 5:32 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and help me to see all people through your eyes. Amen.

God’s People, part 127: Scribes

Read Matthew 23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’”  (Matthew 7:22-23, 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.

Scribes_at_Tomb_of_EzekielPart 127: Scribes. In today’s time, most of us are both keenly aware and yet ignorant of what a scribe is. It is language we simply do not use anymore, yet the function of the ancient scribe still carries on in our world. When we think of scribes, we probably imagine a monk passed out at his desk after countless hours of transferring the holy writ (the Bible) from old pages to new ones in order to preserve the holy Scriptures. Indeed, that would be on function of a scribe.

Yet the scribe was more than just a preserver of ancient texts. A scribe in the ancient Jewish world functioned as lawyers, journalists, government ministers, judges and/or financiers. While some scribes copied documents for sure, that was not necessarily a part of their job description. This, then, helps us to get a better understanding of the scribes in Jesus’ day and why he ended up confronting them so vehemently.

The scribes were professionals who were, no doubt, weighing in on the “legality” of what Jesus was teaching. Did it hold up to the first century Jewish understanding of the Torah and the prophets? Did Jesus have the authority to teach in ways that contradicted, and humiliated, the professionals? Just who is this Jesus anyway. Who died and left him the expert in such matters. THEY WERE THE EXPERTS!!!

Thus, the scribes were among the Jewish groups that pushed back against Jesus’ teachings, especially when it came to matters of the law, of taxes and money, and other such matters. This Jesus was stepping on their toes, stepping into their space, and assuming their role in authoritative ways. As a result, he and his teachings were a threat to their livelihoods and they, no doubt, took his resistance of their authority as a personal affront to them.

The challenge for us is to reflect on the ways we are the scribes of today. Do we hold up our interpretation of the law, of what is right and wrong, over and above what Jesus taught and commanded? Does Jesus threaten us and our way of thinking? Does he pose a threat to our political worldviews and agendas? Does he rudely burst in our lives, into our space and step on all of our toes?

If so, then we need to consider how much of a follower of Jesus we really are. We need to reflect on our loyalty, our faithfulness to Jesus. If we are not aligned with him, but are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will divinely strengthened and guided to make the adjustments needed so that we become more like Christ. To not do so not only separates us from Christ, but it most definitely brings others down along with us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The Holy Spirit works within us the changes that God sees necessary in our lives.

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from becoming like the scribes and seeing you as a threat, for you are my Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Haunted

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.

A LOOK BACK: Proving God?

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.

A LOOK BACK: Represent!

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 126: Herodians

Read Mark 3:1-6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said.”  (Mark 12:13, NRSV)

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.

www-St-Takla-org--008-The-priests-take-counsel-with-the-HerodiansPart 126: Herodians. One thing that I hope has been conveyed over the last several devotions is just how divided Israel was between the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE. We have, so far, been introduced to the Seleucid Empire and the Jews who supported the Hellenization of Israel, the Hasmonean Dynasty, the conquest of Rome, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees. In this devotion we will be looking at yet another sect in a very fragmented and divided land.

The Herodians were a political group (made up of various subgroups of people) who supported the rule of Herod and wanted to see the monarchy restored back to his descendents. In order for us to have this make sense to you, we are going to need to jump ahead to Jesus’ time and look backward. The Herodians rose to prominence following King Herod’s death and were one of the many factions that existed during that time.

Following the death of King Herod, Rome divided up his kingdom between his three sons and his sister. Archelaus became ethnarch (or ruler of a specific ethnic group…e.g. the Jews) of the Tetrarchy of Judaea, Herod Antipater (nicknamed Antipas) became tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, Philip became tetrarch of territories north and east of the Jordan River, and Herod’s sister Salome I (not to be confused with Antipas’ stepdaughter) was made the toparch (or regional governor) of the cities of Jabneh, Ashdod, Phasaelis.

A tetrarchy was a demotion for Herod’s sons. While Herod the Great was appointed King by the Romans and was sole ruler of Israel (answering only to Caesar), the Romans decided they wanted more control over that strategic region. Thus, when Herod died, they divided Israel up into four regions and appointed Herod’s sons as tetrarchs (or governors) of those regions. They were governors, but they were NOT kings. The tetrarchs fell under the command and leadership of the appointed governor of the newly formed province of Judaea (which was made up of the four regions that the tetrarchs governed).

The Herodians were a group who were supporters of the Herodian dynasty and advocated for the restoration of the Herodian monarchy. Like the Pharisees the Herodians wanted to see their people achieve political independence; however, unlike the Pharisees, they believed that the Hellenized Herodian dynasty was the way to go. They wanted to see one of Herod’s sons, such as Herod Antipas, take the throne as king.

Jesus of Nazareth, of course, was challenging the authority of the political elites and performing many miracles. Many saw him as possible being the anticipated king of the Jews who would liberate Judaea from foreign rulers. We also know that Jesus did, in fact, claim that title for himself. This would have set him odds with the Herodians who supported the Herodian Dynasty.

This should challenge us because, with the Herodians, we can see how political ideologies can over take where we ought to be spiritually. People often let their political worldviews and agendas block them from truly following the One who is Lord of all and Savior of the world. Let us reflect on how we have let our politics grow into idols that they get the very best of us, separating us from God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
If we place all of our hope and faith in human rulers, we will get human results; however, if we place all our hope and faith in God, the results will be divine.

PRAYER
Lord, steer me from making an idol of my political worldview. You, Christ, are all that matters. Amen.

God’s People, part 125: Pharisees

Read John 3:1-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:14, 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.

PhariseesPart 125: Pharisees. The Pharisees were a group of people who came into existence somewhere in between the 160s and the 150s BCE, though their roots go much deeper. Following the end of the Jewish exile, Persia had ordered the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple and the refortification of Jerusalem. Once the Second Temple was completed, the Sadducee party had been established. They were, as was discussed in the last devotion, a group of priests and elites who were in charge of the Temple and the worship life of Judah. They were also a very influential and powerful political party.

With that said, the Temple was rebuilt and the Sadducee’s authority established at the behest of a foreign government. Thus, there was much skepticism among people about the legitimacy of the Temple and its leadership. As a result of this skepticism, new sects and/or schools of thought arose.

On top of this, things had changed from they way they once were. No longer was the Temple the ONLY institution for Jewish religious life. This is because, during the period of the exile, there was NO TEMPLE. Thus, the Jews who were NOT exiled, formed local houses of prayer known as Synagogues. The Synagogue meetings carried on even despite the Second Temple being built. Even though most Jews could not regularly attend the Temple service, they would observe their Jewish faith in their Synagogues. The only thing they could not do was sacrifice to God, which could only happen at the Temple.

These Synagogue meetings were led by local scribes and and sages, who were later called “rabbis” or teachers/masters. They would meet on Mondays, Thursdays and Shabbats (aka Sabbaths) and read portions of the Torah, following the tradition established by Ezra. They also maintained the Oral Tradition which was passed down from Mount Sinai to their time.

When the Greeks took over and began to bring Greek influence and culture into Israel, a rift developed between the Sadducees and the sages/teachers over dealings with the Gentiles. This only heightened with the reign of the Seleucid King Antiochus IV, who banned Jewish observances and forced Jews to worship Greek gods. Following the defeat of the Seluecids by the Maccabees, the Sadducees went from being merely a religious group to being a political group as well.

Also around that time, the Pharisees rose up out of the sages/teachers to be a religious/political group in opposition to the Sadducees. The word Pharisee in Greek is Φαρισαῖος (pronounced far-is-ah’-yos) and was derived from the Hebrew word פָּרָשׁ (pronounced paw-rash’), which literally means “to separate”. Thus, the word Pharisee literally means “Separatist”. They’re whole point as a religious and political sect was to promote the separation from Greek culture. How did one do that, through taking the Bible seriously and obeying the LAWS of God.

So, as you can see, the Pharisees started off as a really good group in response to the corruption of other groups. They believed that absolutely loyalty to God was a must if Israel was going to be restored to her rightful place as a sovereign kingdom blessed by God. As with all good things, however, politics and power got in the way and the Pharisees soon forgot why they were Pharisees in the first place.

They became oppressive with the extra rules and regulations they created to ensure that people would follow the Law (e.g. how many steps you could take before it was considered “working on the Sabbath”). They burdened the people with taking things way too far in the other direction of the Sadducees. The Sadducees were on one end of the extremes, and the Pharisees became the other end of the extremes.

The challenge for us is to recognize the danger of extremes. Often times when there is push back against extremism, those pushing back become extremists themselves. We can easily see this in the world, and the political climate, around us. When the KKK amass to rally, so do the anti-fascists (Antifa). What ensues is pure chaos that counters anything God could possibly be calling us to.

Let us be a people who do not become extremists, but follow the heart and soul of what Jesus Christ taught and did. Let us not respond to extremism in extreme ways, but represent the balance as representatives of our LORD Jesus Christ who resisted the temptations of both the Sadducees and the Pharisees. That may not make us popular with either extreme, but it will keep us righteous and in line with God

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Following the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the Pharisees evolved into Rabbinic Judaism, which exists to this day.

PRAYER
Lord, keep me clear from the extremes and center me on you and your ways. Amen.