Tag Archives: Judea

God’s People, part 123: High Priest

Read John 11:45-57

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“‘Away with him,’ they yelled. ‘Away with him! Crucify him!’ ‘What? Crucify your king?’ Pilate asked. ‘We have no king but Caesar,’ the leading priests shouted back.”  (John 19:15, NLT)

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

bible-videos-caiaphas-jesus-trial-1426886-printPart 123: High Priest. When we think of the High Priest of the temple in Jerusalem, we think of someone who was from the Levites and was chosen by God to serve in the position of High Priest, fulfilling the duties of ordering the worship life of the Temple and leading the kingdom of Israel in an ongoing and faithful relationship with God. We think of someone divinely chosen and independent of politics.

Unfortunately, this is a mistake. First, the High Priest WAS a political position as much as it was a religious one. The ancient world did not make any sort of distinction between the political and the religious spheres. That distinction is, strictly speaking, a modern one. This is extremely important to realize. The high priest was not just in charge of religion, but also of law. The TORAH was not just religious law, but the LAW of the land.

Second, the High Priest in the time of the Roman occupation became more of a political role than it was religious. This may sound scandalous and, if you are thinking that, you are absolutely right. It was scandalous. By Jesus’ time, some groups such as the Essenes had left Jerusalem and went out into the wilderness to live. They believed that the corruption of the office of the High Priest, and the ultimate corruption of the Temple, were signs of the end times. Thus, they waited in the wilderness for the Messiah to come, ready to join the holy war when that time came.

The first high priest to be appointed under the newly formed Roman province of Iudaea (aka Judea, pronounced Yoo-dee-ah), was Annas in 6 CE. What’s more, Annas was appointed to that position by Quirinius, the Roman legate governor of Syria. You read that right! A Roman aristocrat and politician appointed Annas as the High Priest of Judea. I am sure you can now see why groups like the Essenes “got out of Dodge” and headed for the wilderness hills.

Annas’ was deposed as High Priest in 15 CE at the age of 36. With that said he held great influence of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Legal Council made up of priests) through his sons who succeeded him in the role of High Priest. First, his son Eleazar succeeded him and was High Priest for one year (16-17 CE). Following Eleazar was Annas’s son-in-law, Caiaphas. He was High Priest from 18-36 CE and was the High Priest who plotted to have Jesus handed over to the Romans to be crucified.

As you can see, there were major politics at play here in the first century. We Christians like to pretend that everything Jesus did was “spiritual” and not “political”; however, this simply was not true. By accusing the High Priest of hypocrisy and corruption, by violently overturning the tables in the Temple, Jesus was intentionally upsetting the political and the religious order simultaneously!

This should challenge us as Christians. We often choose to remain silent on issues because we don’t want to be “political”; however, our silence is just as political as speaking out. In fact, when we don’t speak out we stamp our seal of approval on whatever it is that is going on. We ought not be afraid of upsetting the political or the religious order. If what is going on is wrong, we ought to take a stand against it. Our Lord did no less. We ought to carefully steer away from the status quo, which the High Priests were holding fast to for their political gain and power, and draw close to Jesus who would have us interrupt the silence for the Kingdom of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Damning are the politics of silence.

PRAYER
Lord, give me courage to interrupt the silence. For I know you are with me and strengthen me. You are my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

The Christmas Story According to the Bible

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When the the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke sat down to record the birth story the Christ-Child, they saw a correlation between what the prophet Isaiah said and the birth of their Lord:

Isaiah 7:10-14

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Each Gospel writer saw the significance of Christ’s coming in different ways. For Mark, the first of the writers, Jesus’ birth was of no concern; rather, he started with Jesus’ baptism as the advent of the Christ. Matthew, on the other hand, did include the birth story of  Jesus who, for Matthew, was the KING of all kings, the new Moses, the One who came to teach and to fulfill the Law.

Matthew 1:18-2:1-23

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.

But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

For Luke, Jesus was not the KING of kings. After all, it was the kings who had been corrupted with power and greed. This Christ-child had to be more than just a KING of kings. Who did Jesus spend his time with? Who did Jesus do ministry with? Kings? Nope. Jesus’ ministry was with the poor, and when rich people came to Jesus…he advised them to sell all of their possessions, give the earnings to the poor and follow him! It was the kings of the world that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. It was the kings of the world, seeking to have power over their subjects that brought the KING to the town of his ancestor David. Jesus was a KING…indeed! He was the KING of the poor and the oppressed. He was the champion of all of those the world had shunned and turned away!

Luke 2:1-18

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.

He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

For the author of the Gospel of John, Jesus’ earthly birth and the details therein were unimportant. For this Jesus was indwelt by the very Word of God, the very Spark of all of Creation. Jesus preexisted his earthly form and preexisted all of Creation. For the author of John and his community, Jesus was so much more than a KING of kings, or than a KING of the poor. Jesus was KING and LORD of all Creation, who then took on flesh and made his dwelling place among us, full of grace and truth. Behold the true light of GOD as come into the world, and not even the darkness can snuff it out.

John 1:1-5, 14

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.

May you have blessed and profoundly meaningful

Christmas!

 

All Scripture passages are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

 

Ready, Get Set, Engage!

Read Matthew 7:7-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” (Proverbs 8:17)

KillingJesusThis year seems to be the year of the historical Jesus. In September, Bill O’Reilly’s book, “Killing Jesus,” was released. The book isn’t about Jesus the Christ, as found in the Gospel accounts; however, it is about Jesus of Nazareth, the historical person who lived and was brutally killed two thousand years ago. Whether one likes O’Reilly or not, the book is undoubtedly sparking an interest in the historical life and times of this peasant Jewish prophet from Galilee.

Another book, released around the same time, is Reza Aslan’s book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.” This book is a much more scholarly book than O’Reilly’s, though it is certainly accessible enough for the average reader. In his book, Reza also attempts to paint a picture of who the historical Jesus of Nazareth was, showing him to be a person who was filled with Zeal for his God and his people. This Jesus was another person, in a long line of people, who claimed to be the messiah that would deliver God’s people from the oppressive Roman empire and the corrupt Temple and religious authorities of the day.

As an academic, I love reading and engaging in such quests to find the historical Jesus; however, I would imagine that many might find such quests to be rather frustrating as well. After all, why would anyone question the Gospel accounts of Jesus? Do we need to look any further than the Bible to find evidence of who Jesus was as a person? Won’t books like this lead people further from who the Bible says Jesus is?

Many Christians tend to view such books as a threat against their faith, rather than seeing them as opportunities to actively engage people in dialogue about our faith. What if Christians actually read the books, with open minds and willing spirits, that are intriguing the people around us? What if we took the time to engage people in ways that are relevant and interesting to them? What if Christians moved from fear to faith and put their “faith” in God rather that placing their faith in their “understanding” of God?

The fact of the matter is that books such as the ones mentioned above are good news for us, as they show that this person from Galilee, this prophet from Nazareth, this miracle worker from Judea is still someone who is drawing people to him this very day. People are longing to find out who the real Jesus is? People are longing to investigate the life of the one we claim to follow!

Rather than resisting the interests of people searching for truth, we should be displaying the truth of Jesus in our lives. We should be embracing people who are seeking to find who the real Jesus is, all the while leading people to see the real, resurrected Jesus lived out in and through us. If we are truly Christian, if we truly have faith in Christ, than that faith will lead us to be active participants in bringing hope, healing and wholeness into the world.

Today’s challenge is to join in on the conversation of who Jesus Christ is. Be open to learning new things and be open to the people who desire to go on such a quest of learning. Recognize the opportunity to help guide people from searching to finding. This can only be done if you are open enough to understand what they are searching for and if you are willing to join them in the quest. We are called to walk with others in their journey in the same way that God has walked with us in ours. Ready, get set, engage!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Jesus is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.” – Rob Bell

PRAYER

Lord, help me to be open and engaging rather than closed and disengaged. Use me to reflect the reality of your presence. Amen.