Tag Archives: Jerusalem

God’s People, part 111: Zerubbabel

Read Ezra 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when this happens, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, I will honor you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, My servant. I will make you like a signet ring on My finger, says the LORD, for I have chosen you. I, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!” (Haggai 2:23 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.

ZerubbabelPart 111: Zerubbabel. By now, you are probably wondering who this “Zerubbabel” was, right? His name has come up here and there over the past several devotions, with little to no explanation as to who he was. Zerubbabel was a Jew born in Babylon during the Babylonian captivity. If the name has its origin in Hebrew, perhaps a contraction of the Hebrew word זְרוּעַ בָּבֶל (pronounced Zərua‘ Bāvel), it means “The one sown in Babylon”. Similarly, if it is Assyrian-Babylonian in origin, it means “seed of Babylon”. It could also come from the Hebrew זְרוּי בָּבֶל (pronounced Zərûy Bāvel), meaning “the winnowed of Babylon”. The latter would refer to the fact that, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the Jews were sifted through from exile in Babylon to freedom in their homeland.

Whatever the origin of his name might be, Zerubbabel was clearly born in exile in Babylon. Beyond that fact, he was also the grandson of the second to last king of Judah, Jehoiachin. This is the king, if you remember,  who was eighteen when he took the throne and who only reigned for a total three months and ten days before being dethroned and exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II. He was succeeded by his uncle, Zedekiah, who rebuffed Jeremiah’s warnings and  ultimately led all of Jerusalem down a path of destruction and exile.

Zerubbabel, quite ironically, was appointed to return lead the first wave of Jews back to their homeland by the Persian king Cyrus in the first year of his reign over Babylon. He was also appointed of governor of the Persian province of Judah. Thus, the grandson of the first king to be exiled to Babylon was appointed to be the governor of his people and to lead the first wave of his people home.

Zerubbabel was also the governor under whom the foundation for the second temple was laid. He was, if you remember, given the charge of rebuilding the Temple. With that said, he was also not successful in rebuilding that temple due to the opposition that he and the High Priest Jeshua (pronounced Yesh-oo-ah) faced. Instead of sticking with the plan, Zerubbabel became mired in endless diplomatic measures to get everyone involved on the same page. The result: NOTHING, NADA, ZILCH. The Temple was not rebuilt under his leadership and would not be rebuilt until Nehemiah, who did not make the same mistakes, took his place.

The challenge for us here is to realize how often we let the circumstances around us to pull us away from what God is asking us to do. For example, in churches we often weigh the “liability” of a ministry over and above the need for it. Are we supposed to NOT do something just because we could find ourselves liable? Is that how Jesus operated? Is that how the prophets operated? Then why do operate that way?

What’s more, we do the same thing individually. “Well,” one might muse, “I would be more involved in this or that ministry if I had more time…or money…or personal connection with those who are apart of it.” Another might allow politics or personal views to step in the way of their faithfulness to Christ. Let us be challeneged to resist such diversions and to be faithful to God’s plan to impact the world through RE-CREATION, rather than allowing the world to impact and recreate us in its own image.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Diversions from Christ’s mission are the devil’s playground, turf from which we should steer clear.

PRAYER
Lord, help us to remain focused on and faithful to you through Jesus Christ. Amen.

God’s People, part 106: Darius

Read Ezra 6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans‬ ‭8:28‬ ‭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.

 Part 106: Darius. King Darius I of Perisa (aka Darius the Great) is yet another example how history is weaved in and throughout the Bible. While the Bible does not offer too much background information on Darius, he is one fo the Persian kings mentioned in Ezra and was an ancient ruler of historical significance. Darius was an influential king during the rise of the Persian Empire, especially in regard to the Jews exiled in Babylon. In fact, he brought the empire to its peak.

While an entire volume could be written on Darius. In fact, several volumes have been written on Darius. If you are a history buff and you are interested in getting a more in depth view of Darius’ life, you can search for “Darius the Great” on Amazon.com and if you have an Amazon Kindle, or the Kindle App and are a Prime member, you can download one of the books, “Darius the Great: Makers of History”. Otherwise, there are plenty of options that come up in the search results.

As for the purpose of this devotion, I will focus on a brief summary of Darius and how he is significant in the history of God’s people. Darius was born in 550 CE, forty-eight years following the first deportation (which included Daniel and his friends), forty-seven years following the second deportation, thirty-seven years following the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and third wave of deportations, and thirty-three years following a possible fourth wave of deportations. What’s important to note here is that the Babylonian Exile happened in waves spanning a time period of 15 years. Think about the devastating effects that would have on a people and/or a nation.

Darius was born into a noble family, but not one of royal blood. His father was a governor and was given the title of “king” (a fancy title for governor) of one of the Persian Provinces, and served under Cyrus the Great, who was king of the entire Persian Achaemenid Empire. While governors got the title of “king”, Cyrus was THE KING and was also known as Great King and King of kings. It can also be said that Darius was not trusted by Cyrus who had a dream that Darius was king of the whole world. The dream was seen as an omen that Darius had treasonous plans. As such, Cyrus sent Darius’ father back to Persis, where Darius lived, to closely watch over his son.

While Darius did not end up trying to immediately usurp the heir to the throne, Cyrus’ dream did become a reality and Darius became king, under suspicious circumstances, at the age of 28. Because he became king suspiciously, a number of rebellions rose up against him throughout the empire and he successfully put an end to them within a year as his powerful army was loyal to him. Following that, he focused the beginning part of his reign on strengthening and expanding his empire and began a successful campaign to conquer and control Egypt. In 516 CE he also invaded the Indus Valley, and by 515 CE had conquered that land and expanded his empire going as far east as what is now known as Pakistan.

Following those campaigns he turned his sights on Babylon, which had been conquered early by the Persian King Cyrus the Great (at a later point) but were rebelling against the empire. It his here where Darius the Great enters in to the Biblical narrative. He, of course, quelled the Babylonian revolt and ruled over Babylon in the same way that Cyrus had. Though a devout follower of Zoarastrianism, Darius, and his successors, were extremely tolerant and allowed for others to have religious and cultural freedoms so long as they were submissive to his rule and peaceable. This historical fact is clearly reflected in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Like Cyrus before him, Darius gained the respect of the Jewish people under his rule. Cyrus had permitted Jews, if they wished, to return home to Jerusalem and to begin to rebuild the holy city and its temple. To ensure that happened, Darius gave funding to help the efforts of rebuilding of the Jewish Temple. While he was not a Jew, nor did he worship the Jewish God, he certainly showed respect for their people and their God, just as he did toward the Egyptians and to the Greeks who allied with him (though the Greeks eventually united and defeated him at the Battle of Marathon, which set up the events of the film 300 about the 300 Spartan warriors led into battle by King Leonidas at Thermopylae against Darius’ son (who’s believed to be Esther’s husband) Xerxes I.

This goes to show us that God can and does work through anyone. The Persian King Darius was no observer of the Jewish religion, and yet he had a respect for the Jews and their religion and, as such, became the vehicle through which God fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy that one day God would bring the Jewish people back home as shepherd leads his or her sheep (Jeremiah 31:10). The challenge for us is to remember that all the children of the earth are God’s people, whether they realize it or not, for God created them and loves and can work through them. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

There is no one, and nothing, that can separate us from the love that God has for us.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to be less judgmental and more open to see your handiwork in the world. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 3

Read Jeremiah 6:1-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let Me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.” (Matthew 23:37-38 NLT)

Destruction_of_JerusalemJeremiah looked at his beloved Judah, and his beloved Jerusalem, and all he could feel was his anger, his rage toward what it had become. Coming from the tribe of Benjamin, Jeremiah was born in a priestly family and was called by God to be a prophet. Though reluctant at first, Jeremiah soon found that he could not turn away God’s call, for it burned like a wildfire within him.

Jeremiah was called to be a prophet around a year after King Josiah reformed Jerusalem and banned any form of idol worship. The king had tried to bring Judah back to a true and pure worship of God and he established the Temple of Jerusalem as the ONLY temple that God could be worshipped in. Following his death in a battle at Megiddo against Egypt, Judah quickly returned to its wicked ways.

The people of Judah and Jerusalem fell back into idol worship as a result of weak and corrupt leadership. The leaders themselves were corrupt politicians, greedy, murderous, and totally lacking the moral and ethical compasses needed for true leadership. The desparity between the ruling class and the poor grew wider and wider and the shepherds (aka the leaders) of God’s people were more or less wolves in disguise. They weren’t caring for or protecting the people, they were milking and raping them of all they had. What’s worse, the priests and religious leaders were corrupt as well, and supported these elitist, tyrannical rulers with the authority of their religious office. By doing this, the priests were explicitly giving the rulers “God’s blessing” to continue in their corruption.

This incensed Jeremiah. He was furiously beside himself and could not contain the fire that was raging inside. “I’m filled with the Lord’s rage,” Jeremiah shouted, “and am tired of holding it in” (Jeremiah 6:11). In the suggested reading, one sees Jeremiah go through an entire rant about how angry God is and that God would not sit idly by and do nothing in regard to the wickedness of Judah. God was going to bring wrath upon their heads. Their cities would be leveled. Their people would be exiled. Smoke would be seen from miles to remind everyone of what happens when you stray and embrace wickedness. Jeremiah’s rant is harsh, and much of it is spoken as being the very words of God.

Outside of the context, it is very easy for us to read that and take the words literally. In fact, some Christians do believe that God is an angry God who punishes the wicked for their wrong doings. They even wrongfully use such words in judgment against groups of people they disagree with, labeling them as “wicked” and blaming catastrophic events on their wickedness.What’s more, anti-theists will often point to such verses as a reason that religion needs to go. And it is no wonder why, what kind of perfect God throws such temper-tantrums and wipes out entire peoples.

Yet, let us not lose sight that this is Jeremiah speaking. He may be doing so on behalf of God, but he is not God. Let us also not lose sight that Jeremiah is extremely angry, and rightfully so, at the corruption and injustice of Judah’s leaders. It’s not all that different from the anger many are feeling today at the corruption of our American leaders and the injustice that is spreading throughout our land. Jeremiah is, quite frankly, ticked off at this and, rightfully, is pointing out that God is really, really angry too. In fact, God’s anger is what is fueling his anger!

With that said, Jeremiah also provides us words that permit us to interpret this text more responsibly. He words it that way but also proclaims, “Listen, all the earth! I will bring disaster on My people. It is the fruit of their own schemes, because they refuse to listen to Me. They have rejected My word” (Jeremiah 6:19 NLT). In other words, God’s wrath is ultimately the natural and often unintended consequences of evil and wickedness having their effect upon a people who have brought such consequences upon themselves.

As we will see later on, God does not just display wrath but also mercy, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation. Yet, I do not want to put the cart before the horse. Today’s challenge, then, is for us to reflect on God’s wrath. Reflect on the wickedness in our own hearts, the wickedness in the world, and the evil that is carried out on a daily basis. Reflect on the natural consequences of such wickedness and evil. Read the suggested reading, feel God’s and Jeremiah’s pain, and reflect upon it. Allow it to pierce your heart and move you to change as well as turn you into an agent, a prophet, of change.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is the very worst wickedness, that we refuse to acknowledge the passionate evil that is in us. This makes us secret and rotten.” – D. H. Lawrence

PRAYER
Lord, help me to move away from wickedness and injustice and to speak out against it as well. Amen.

SON OF GOD: Holy Wednesday

Read Luke 20:41-21:4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening He returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. The crowds gathered at the Temple early each morning to hear Him. (Luke 21:37-38 NLT)

TempleWhen looking at Holy Week and trying to match what Jesus did according to the Gospels and trying to match it with each day of that week is a not as easy as one would think. We know that on Palm Sunday, a week before his resurrection, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on a donkey, surrounded by an energized crowd. We know that on that same day he went into the Temple. We know that the next day he went into the Temple as well. Depending on which Gospel you read, he either “cleansed the Temple” on Palm Sunday or on Holy Monday. We can guess that either Monday night or Tuesday night Jesus’ feet were anointed with expensive perfume.

We know that on Thursday night Jesus sat down with his disciples for the Passover Meal. We know that on that same very night he was betrayed and brought to the high priest’s house. We know that by Friday morning he had been found guilty of blasphemy and brought to Pontius Pilate to be tried for treason. It was on Friday that Jesus was eventually nailed to the cross and crucified. It was on Friday that Jesus died. From Friday afternoon to Saturday, Jesus was laid to rest in the tomb, and we all know what happens on Easter Sunday.

But what about Holy Wednesday? What happened on that day? The Scripture isn’t real clear. According to Luke, Jesus went to the Temple every day during Holy Week, to worship, to pray, and to teach. Every day, Jesus came to the Temple in order that he could speak truth to power and stand up for the people that the power was crushing. Every day, Jesus brought truth to those who did not want to hear it, for it meant that they would have to change their ways and start living according to the plan of God rather than their own plan. They would not have it. Every day Jesus came to them temple, he met opposition, derision, and people trying to trap him at every turn.

While we cannot know exactly what the Son of God did on Holy Wednesday, we have every reason to believe that Jesus was in that Temple speaking truth to power. We Christians believe, in light of Christian Scripture, that our very bodies are Temples that are meant to be kept holy and pure. We are meant to act as living sanctuaries, bringing hope, healing, and wholeness to those in desperate need of it. The Son of God is within that Temple, this very Holy Wednesday, speaking truth to power. Will you listen to his cry for justice, mercy and humility? Will you align your plan with God’s plan? Or will you oppose, deride and ignore Jesus’ cry? Sit in silence and reflect on the Son of God’s call for change upon your life and allow Holy Wednesday be the day you begin to rebuild your Temple in God’s image.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.“ – The Apostle Paul of Tarsus (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, I realize that I am to be a pure and holy Temple, and that I am called to bear witness to the hope, healing and wholeness of God. Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

Journey with Jesus: Holy Wednesday

SCRIPTURE:

Matthew 26:6-16

30 Pieces of SilverAN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

Today I did something that I am not sure I should have done. I have been following Jesus for three long years, waiting for the time when he would step up and become the Messiah we are so longing for! With all of the miracles and signs, I just knew that this man must be the one God is sending to liberate our people from the foreign oppressors.

But I fear that these past three years have been in vain. On Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem and there was such a crowd! He could have easily inspired that crowd to rise up against the Romans! And who would stop this man who can control the winds and the seas? Who would be able to stop this man who can raise the dead to life and cause the paralyzed to walk again! Surely, Jesus has the power to crush Rome at the snap of his fingers, but instead he does nothing by causes division among our leaders and teaches about his coming death.

I fear that I have been mistaken these past few years. Today I went to the chief priests and spoke with them. They told me that this Jesus was dangerous and that he needed to be dealt with before Rome crushed us all. They said that all Jesus would offer me is Roman punishment and death; however, they said that if I brought them to Jesus, they would give me thirty pieces of silver. Though I am still uncertain as to whether I should or not, I agreed to lead them to Jesus tomorrow night. At least they are offering me something tangible.

REFLECTION

How long have you traveled with Jesus? How long have you listened to him and learned from his teachings? Are you sure you know him as well as you think you do? Are you sure that you understand all that he has been teaching you?

It is easy for us to look at Judas as being different than we are. It is easy to see him as the scapegoat, as the ONE who betrayed Jesus. Yet, are we free from that betrayal? Do we sacrifice our loyalty when Jesus doesn’t fit into our worldview? The truth is that Judas is not alone in the department of betrayal. When we preach the Good News, but don’t live it…are we not betraying Jesus? When we ignore the poor, avoid the sick, judge the “sinner”, and put our own theologies before the LOVE of God, are we not betraying Jesus

Hear the Good News: in whatever ways you have betrayed Jesus, he as forgiven you! Now, move on from the past and allow God to transform you. Embrace Jesus mission of hope, healing and wholeness (Luke 4:18-19) and go forth into the world bearing it!

PRAYER

Lord, Create in me a clean heart and renew a righteous spirit within me. Use me in a way that bears hope, healing and wholeness to those around me who need it. Amen.

Journey with Jesus: Holy Monday

SCRIPTURE

Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-48

AN EYE WITNESS ACCOUNT:

Second_TempleTalk about taking a turn for the worse! It was just yesterday that we were celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry! The palms were scattered around the road, and being waved ecstatically in our hands! “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” We shouted even louder, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna!”

Yet, it is only a day later and this same “messiah” does something beyond what any of us could have predicted. He enters into our sacred Temple and starts ranting and raving. He screams, “You have heard it said that, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” Can he really mean it?!? He is supposed to protect us against our enemies! He is supposed to overthrow the ones who are threatening us! He isn’t supposed to come into our very Temple and attack us! How dare he!

Then this Jesus starts violently overturning the tables of the bankers in the Temple market. Money is flying everywhere and he opens up the animal pens and lets them loose. It is utter chaos. This way man is going too far! Someone needs to stop him before he brings ruin upon us all. Doesn’t he know that there are certain rules that need to be followed? Doesn’t he realize that we do things a certain way here, that we are not the ones who need cleansing!

REFLECTION:

What in your life is sacred? What do you cherish the most? What is it that you cling to and refuse to let go of? What is your sacred Temple? Do these things stand in your way of God? Are these sacred things holy because you have deemed them so, or because God has called you to them?

Just as Jesus entered the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and cleansed it of the things that were distracting it from it’s true purpose, so too Jesus is entering into your life and driving out those things that distract you from serving your true purpose.  What is that purpose? To be a living Temple of the living God, to be the house of the living God, to be the bearer of the presence of the Living God to all of those who are around you.

This Holy Monday, recognize that God is calling you to cleanse your Temple so that it may be filled with the hope, the healing, and the wholeness that God is calling you to bring to others. Anything that gets in the way of that purpose has got to go.

PRAYER:

Lord, drive out the impurities that keep me from being your true, and living Temple. Amen.

Name It, Claim It, Live It!

Read Matthew 2; Luke 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.” (John 10:22-23)

MenorahIt’s no big secret to most people that I am not a huge fan of winter. I mean sure, I get the necessity of having the different seasons and I can certainly appreciate the symbolism the cycle of life, but I am not a fan of the bitter cold, the snow, the ice, the howling winds and commuting in those elements. The shortened days and distant sun can be make one feel hollow and depressed.

But with that said one of my favorite times of year happens to lead up to and directly follow the Winter Solstice. Of course I am referring to the season Advent and Christmas. Ironically, though this season commemorates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, it is almost universally accepted that Jesus was not born during the cold winter month of December but at some other time during the year where the weather would be more conducive to shepherds tending their flocks in the field.

Regardless, I believe this time of year is the perfect time to celebrate the coming of the Christ-child. Theologically speaking, the coming of Christ represents the coming of HOPE into the world. What better time for hope than when we are in the midst of the death. Winter has always represented death and dormancy, where the green of life gives way to the cold, hollow grip of death. Yet, it is in winter where we see the hope of Spring and the return, or resurrection, of life.

Aside from the symbolic nature of the Season itself, it is also around this time that those who are Jewish celebrate Hanukkah. That holiday commemorates the Jews being liberated from Greek-Syrian oppression and the rededication of the Jewish Temple to God. This was a festival that Jesus, who was himself Jewish, observed (John 10:22-23). Following a bloody war against their oppressors, the Jews took back Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple to God. Even though there was only enough oil to keep the candles burning for only one day, those candles kept burning bright for all eight days of the festival. Thus, Hanukkah (also known as the festival of lights) is forever a celebration of the arrival of Hope and the reminder that God is always present with God’s people.

‘Tis the season for HOPE. Whether we look to the natural cycle of the season, or to the celebration of Hanukkah or to the humble birth of a small, vulnerable baby in a cruel and murderous world, this time of year will forever point people to the fact that HOPE never dies! Like the menorah burning on the last drops of oil, HOPE can never be extinguished. Like the birth of JEsus reminds us, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem, HOPE does conquer all HOPELESSNESS!

The challenge today is for you to be a person of HOPE! Instead of getting caught up in the fears and the cynicism that the world produces, never give up HOPE. God is challenging us to place our faith in God, and to be filled with the HOPE that such a faith provides. There is HOPE for a brighter tomorrow, but more importantly, there is HOPE for a brighter NOW! Name it, claim it, and live it! Have the HOPE and allow that HOPE to transform you into an agent who bears HOPE for others!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.” – Dalai Lama

PRAYER

Lord, fill me and transform me with your hope so that I may be a beacon of that hope for others. Amen.