Tag Archives: Messiah

God’s People, part 145: Simeon

Read Luke 2:25-35

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.”  (Joel 2:28, 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.

SimeonPart 145: Simeon. In the Gospel of Luke we get a little more of Jesus’ back story than we do in the other three Gospels. In Luke and John, we really get no back story at all. In Matthew, we learn that Jesus and his family flee to Egypt to avoid being slaughtered by Herod. After some time, no one really knows how long, Jesus’ family take him back to Israel and settle in the town of Nazareth, which a backwater town that was inconspicuous and far enough away from King Herod’s sons reach.

In Luke, however, Joseph and Mary were originally from Nazareth, traveled to Bethlehem to participate in Caesar Augustus’ census, and gave birth to Jesus in a stable. Eight days later, as per Jewish Law, Jospeh and Mary brought their son to the Temple to be circumcised. Following that they return to Nazareth and raise their son there. From there we are told that Jesus’ family went to the temple annually to partake in Passover and, when Jesus’ was twelve years old, he gives his parents a heart attack when he decides to stay behind as they were traveling home in order to school the religious leaders in the Temple.

But that is getting ahead a bit. After Jesus was circumcised, his parents and him ran into an old man named Simeon. Like most observant and devout Jews, Simeon had spent his life wondering when the God would deliver God’s people from the oppression of foreign occupation. In fact, Simeon not only wondered but, at least as an old man, was lying in lament and wait for this event to happen.

We are told that Simeon was a righteous man, meaning that he lived in right relationship with God and with neighbor and that he was a just man. The Holy Spirit was upon him and revealed to him that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died. We are also told that on the day Jesus was circumcised, the Holy Spirit led him to the Temple.

Friends, this is an amazing account because it shows the powerful workings of the Holy Spirit. God’s guidance is given to those who seek God out and open themselves up to what God is doing. That is exactly what happened here to Simeon. As such, not only did Simeon get to see the Christ, but he also was the beginning of the fulfillment of what was prophesied in Joel: “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.” Joel was not yet fulfilled, that would happen later at Pentecost, but this was a sign of what was to come.

Upon seeing Jesus, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed him and praised God for fulfilling God’s promise to him. He then, again a sign of what was to be fulfilled on Pentecost, prophesied: “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35, NLT)

Sisters and brothers, the Holy Spirit IS REAL and works through those who seek out the LORD. The challenge for us is to open ourselves, as Simeon did, to the presence and the working of the Holy Spirit. The time for complacency is over. Christ came, Christ lived, Christ died, Christ rose again and ascended into heaven, and Christ will come again in final glory. We are here in advent of that coming and there is much more work to be done to prepare the way of the coming Lord. Let us be the ones who do not oppose him, but proclaim the Christ’s holy name. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Yea, amen! let all adore thee, high on thine eternal throne; Savior, take the power and glory, claim the kingdom as thine own: O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly! Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.” – Rev. Charles Wesley

PRAYER
Lord, spark your passionate fire within my soul and use me to prepare Your way in this broken world. Amen.

God’s People, part 108: Zechariah

Read Zecharaiah 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Because of the covenant I made with you, sealed with blood, I will free your prisoners from death in a waterless dungeon.” (Zechariah 9:11)

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 108: Zechariah. As with all of the prophets, we really know very little about who Zechariah was. The main purpose of the prophetic writings was to warn people of the dangers of their sins and to steer people back to God. That is never an easy task. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others have found out, people resist being told they are wrong; in fact, they often violently and vehemently resist it. We are seeing this unfold before our very eyes as people stand up for the justice of immigrants (and others) and the absolutely vitriolic reaction people are having to that. Don’t believe me? Here’s an experiment for you: post #blacklivesmatter or #allfamiliesmatter or #justiceforimmigrants as your Facebook status and see what reaction you get.

What we do know about about Zechariah is that he probably came from a priestly family. His father was the son of Berechiah, who was the son of Iddo. Iddo was a Levite and a priestly figure, mentioned in Ezra 8:17, and it is believed that he returned from exile with Zerubbabel. Berechiah, no doubt, would have carried those priestly duties on from his father; therefore, many scholars believe that Zechariah was a priest, in a lineage of priests, as well as a prophet.

Zechariah began his prophetical career during the second year of King Darius the Great’s reign and is the prophet that the Old Testament book of the same name is attributed to. It is in that book that we see the focus of Zechariah’s prophetic ministry and the kind of opposition he was up against.

In the first section of the book (Chapters 1-4), Zechariah lays out Israel’s history in order to present the returned exiles with a stern warning. They had, as was discussed in the last devotion, been returned to their homeland and commissioned by King Cyrus to rebuild the holy Temple. Yet, years had passed and a new king was ruling and the Temple had still not been built. This was because the the people were debating over whether or not to let the Samaritans build it, as they had offered. The debate seriously stalled the construction project.

Zechariah, therefore, was instrumental in getting the people back on track regarding the rebuilding of God’s Temple. At the same time, so was the high priest Yeshua. We will get into Yeshua’s story in more detail in a couple of weeks; however, suffice it to say that Yeshua was against stalling the rebuilding of the Temple and wanted to see it built without the help of the Samaritans. As such, he was up against a very divided people. Some of those people were in support of him and some were in support of further negotiations with Samaritans.

Zechariah denounced the opposition and firmly pronounced that God had appointed Zechariah and was on his side. Furthermore, the prophet exposed the real culprit behind the division: SATAN. Zechariah proclaimed, “And the LORD said to Satan, ‘I, the LORD, reject your accusations, Satan. Yes, the LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebukes you. This man is like a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire.’”

It is important to understand that throughout Old Testament and the New Testament, the word satan is not a name but a title. The Hebrew word, שָׂטָן(pronounced saw-tawn’) literally meant “the accuser” or “the adversary”. This role is played by different entities in different ways throughout the Old Testament (for instance, in the story about Balaam’s donkey, the Angel of the LORD stood in the road as an adversary, blocking Balaam’s way forward); however, there seems to have been a being that was an adversary to God and to God’s people.

This being, forever known as Satan, was a divider and conquerer. His role was to divide God’s people against themselves and keep them from obeying and following God. Thus, as we learn from Zechariah, Satan’s chief modus operendi division.

This is important for us to understand as God’s people in today’s time. Satan has not gone anywhere and this adversary of ours is still operating in the same way: THROUGH DIVISION. Think about that. Take a look around the United States of America and around this world. Look at social media and at our political climate.

 Most importantly, look at the church and look at our own relationships with the church, as well as with our families and friends. Let us be challenged to realize the truth behind Zechariah’s warning. Let us assess our own lives, our own attitudes and our own positions. Do we see the handy work of God, or do we see the foul play of the devil. Let us, like God, rebuke Satan and move toward peace and unity around Christ’ mission.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

In 9:9, Zechariah also prophesied that, sometime following the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple, the Messiah would come riding into the holy city on a donkey and it’s colt in holy victory This prophecy was clearly fulfilled a few hundred years later by Jesus of Nazareth.

PRAYER

Lord, like you I rebuke satan’s divisive meddling in my life in your name and turn my eyes firmly upon you. Give me the strength to continue to do so and keep me on your path of righteousness. Amen.

God’s People, part 105: Cyrus

Read Isaiah 45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the other leaders of Israel replied, ‘You may have no part in this work. We alone will build the Temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, just as King Cyrus of Persia commanded us.’” (Ezra 4:3 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.

Cyrus the GreatPart 105: Cyrus. If you are a student of ancient history (amateur or otherwise), you know that King Cyrus, or Cyrus the great was one of the greatest of the Persian kings. He and his successor, Darius the Great, were perhaps the two kings most responsible for the dramatic rise and expansion of the Persian Empire. Cyrus was known to have a policy of tolerance to the lands he conquered and their religious sensibility, so long as those lands submitted to his ultimate rule and authority. Darius, and subsequent kings, continued that policy onward.

Thus, Cyrus became not only known as the King of Persia, but also the King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon (which is most important for this devotion), King of Sumer, and King of Akkad. What’s more he was known as the Great King, as the King of kings, and as the King of the Four Corners of the World. Needless to say, King Cyrus’ name got around and those who were not under his rule, feared they might be next on his radar.

With that said, there is one more title that is missing from this list of titles that Cyrus readily claimed for himself. What title, you may be wondering? The Jewish title of Messiah, the anointed one of God and king of the Jews. It is here that you may be scratching your head and, provided you read the Scriptures for today (I suggest you do so if you haven’t), you are most certainly wondering where on earth one could possibly pull Messiah from the text.

In Isaiah 45:1, the New Living Translation of the Holy Bible reads as such, “This is what the LORD says to Cyrus, His anointed one, whose right hand He will empower. Before him, mighty kings will be paralyzed with fear. Their fortress gates will be opened, never to shut again” (emphasis added). The Hebrew word for “anointed one”, is מָשִׁיחַ (pronounced maw-shee’-akh). In English, מָשִׁיחַ translates to the word messiah. So, the author of Isaiah refers to Cyrus as the messiah, as the anointed one of God. Why, you may wonder?

It is because when King Cyrus invaded Babylon, or any kingdom for that matter, he had the policy of freeing all peoples who had been exiled to those lands. There are several reasons why, economic, diplomatic and otherwise; however, it was certainly good politics. It caused people who would otherwise be contentious and possibly rebellious to grow loyal to the new leader.

That, as is evidenced in the Bible, is exactly what happened. Cyrus came into Babylon and put an end to the exile of the Jews. As such, they saw Cyrus as a King anointed by God, sent to be their liberator and to return them to their rightful place as God’s people in the promised land. Cyrus, it must be noted, is one of the few foreign kings to be praised in the Bible and certainly the only foreign king to be given the title of messiah.

Of course, we Christians know that another Jewish person, later on, would come as THE MESSIAH. That person, named Jesus of Nazareth, would not only bring liberation to the Jewish people but, through his Apostles, he would extend that liberation to the world. The liberation that Messiah Jesus would bring was not just a liberation from earthly oppression, but from spiritual oppression as well. Messiah (aka Christ) Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension would mark the beginning of the end of sin, evil and death, as well as the adoption of all believers into kinship with God.

While Cyrus was not THE MESSIAH, he was worthy of being called one of God’s anointed for there is little doubt, whether he realized it or not, God worked the liberation of the Jews through him. Thus, Cyrus goes down as one of the only foreign rulers praised in the Bible by Jewish prophets and the Jewish people. This should be a reminder to us that God can, and often does, work through anyone who is open to the Spirit of God. While we judge, people based off their geographical location and their national affiliation, God does not. Let this challenge us to see all people, no matter their nationality or allegiance, as people created in God’s image. Let us recognize that all people of all places and races have the divine potential to be anointed by God for the glory of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“From [Babylon] to Aššur and (from) Susa, Agade, Ešnunna, Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der, as far as the region of Gutium, the sacred centers on the other side of the Tigris, whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time, I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there, to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings.” – King Cyrus the Great, take from the Cyrus Cylinder (written circa 538 BCE as translated at Livius.org).

PRAYER
Lord, help me to recognize your handiwork in all people, no matter how different they are from me. Amen.

Fulfilled: Good Friday

Read Isaiah 53

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“My God, my God, why have You abandoned me? Why are You so far away when I groan for help?” (Psalms 22:1)

When we read the Gospels, we get a sense that Jesus saw himself as a savior of his people. We can see how he he lived, how he taught, and how he ultimately took on the role of God’s suffering servant. We see that he claimed not only to be a teacher or a prophet, but that he was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. What’s more, Jesus claimed to be one with, and the same as, God Almighty, the great I AM.

His disciples not only believed, but were transformed by their relationship with Jesus and, in turn they helped tranform the world. Jesus’ views were not only his own, but ones steeped in his Jewish beliefs and his understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Each day this week, let us look at the prophetic connection between Jesus and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

 Good Friday. What is so good about Friday of Holy Week? Isn’t this the day that Jesus of Nazareth was put through a mock trial, was found guilty of blasphemy by the religious leaders, sent to Pontius Pilate to be publicly tried, was found guilty of treason against Rome, was whipped, beaten, and crucified? Why in the world would we ever consider this particular Friday good?

Indeed, in terms of what happened to Jesus on that Friday, it was NOT a good Friday. It was the worst of Fridays for him, for his disciples, for his family and for his friends. It was the worst of Fridays for those who put their hope in him as the Jewish messiah, the liberator of the Jews from Roman occupation.

A brief note on the term messiah. The term comes from the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (pronounced maw-shee’-ak), which in Greek is Χριστός (pronounced khris-tos’). This of course is the word that transliterates into Christ in English. The Jews had many different understandings of who the messiah would be, and what his role would be. With that said, the predominant understanding in Jesus’ day was that he would be a king that would rise up out of King David’s lineage, would come from Bethlehem, and would establish his kingdom and reign forever (through royal lineage). This king would overthrow the foreign occupiers, and re-establish Judah/Israel as a united sovereign kingdom.

Yet, that is NOT all the Bible had to say about who this messiah would be. In Daniel, the prophet foresees a divine “one like a son of man” coming on the clouds to overthrow the oppressive world order and establish God’s Kingdom.

Isaiah talked about a “suffering servant” through whom the sins of the world would be redeemed. Isaiah wrote that this was God’s plan for this appointed sufferer, and wrote of this person that “when he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.” (Isaiah‬ ‭53:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

That is what makes GOOD FRIDAY SO GOOD! Yes, Jesus suffered terribly for those who did not deserve it! Yes, it was not a good day for Jesus or his family or followers. But it WAS…AND IS…Good Friday. If this is still hard to understand, think of someone like Oscar Schindler Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who suffered tremendously (and died) in order to help Jews escape Nazi Germany and who worked tirelessly, and unsuccessfully, to bring down the Adolph Hitler. Or the suffering of Harriet Tubman and others to liberate slaves through the Underground Railroad. While their suffering was not good, it was necessary to liberate countless people. Their suffering was not good, but the moment of liberation was to celebrate!

Good Friday, which marks the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, also marks the fulfillment of God’s promise to liberate humanity from its sin and separation from God. Now, through Jesus Christ, all human beings were given the blessed opportunity to be forgiven for their sins and reunited with their Creator. This is not just good news, THIS IS GREAT NEWS! We do not celebrate the torturous capital punishment of our Lord; rather, we celebrate the good news of liberation from sin, evil and death as a result of his selfless sacrifice. This celebration begins on Good Friday, and culminates on Easter Sunday, when we are given the assurance that in Jesus Christ, sin and death ARE NO MORE!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. There can be no resurrection without death.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to die to my sins and liberate me from my old self. Redeem me and recreate me so that I may fully live into your image in which I was created. Amen.

God’s People, part 18: Judah

Read Genesis 38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Revelation‬ ‭5:5‬ ‭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 18: Judah. In the last devotion, I spent a bit of time talking about Tamar and how she was truly mistreated by Judah, the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. Prior to that, it was discussed that Judah was among the eleven brothers who ganged up on their younger brother Joseph out of jealousy and annoyance. We will be discussing more about Joseph in the next devotion; however, suffice it to say that we have not seen Judah in a very positive light up to this point.

As mentioned above, Judah was the fourth son between Jacob and Leah (who we also talked earlier in this series). While he did not live a perfect life and did not always treat people justly, it would be wrong to only speak of him as if he were some sort of epitome of evil. Judah was, for the most part, a product of his time; however, he was also someone who would go on to become very important in the founding of the Jewish people and he was someone whom God ultimately loved despite his shortcomings.

So let us look at this man named Judah and see exactly who he was and how he became the father of God’s anointed. It was Judah, along with the his ten other brothers, that ganged up on their little brother Joseph after he flaunted how favored he was one too many times; however, while his other brothers were going to kill him, it was Judah who convinced them that it would be better to sell him off to a caravan and make a profit off of him. While this act was not completely selfless, it also was not completely heartless either.

I would like to believe, and there is no reason not to, that Judah did not wish to see his brother killed no matter how annoying he was. Still, regardless, Judah led his other brothers in doing something that was both egregious and wrong. They sold Joseph to some caravan of nomadic strangers in order to make a profit off of him and rid themselves of him once and for all. Certainly, this is not the course of action that people of God ought to take, yet they took it.

Again, in the case of Tamar, Judah acted in a way that is truly unworthy of being one of God’s people. He arranged for his oldest son, Er, to marry Tamar; however, Er was a wicked person who met an untimely death due to his wickedness. So, as was customary in that culture, Tamar was married off to Er’s next of kin (his younger brother, Onan). When Onan died as a result of his wickedness, Tamar was left childless and at the mercy of Judah who sent her back home to her family to await being married to Judah’s youngest son, Shelah.

But Judah did not intend to marry his son off to Tamar, who he saw as being under God’s curse. Instead of honoring his promise, and his cultural duty as a father-in-law, he brought shame upon Tamar and, ultimately, upon God; yet, Tamar took matters into her own hands and ended up impregnated by Judah, who was tricked into thinking Tamar was a prostitute. When Judah found out she was pregnant with another person’s child, he was going to have her killed. Nice, right? Judah expected Tamar to remain celebrate for his youngest son whom he refused to allow to marry her. Real smooth.

However, when discovers that he was the father of the children she had conceived, he did something that made him truly one of God’s people. He realized that he was the one who was shameful, not Tamar, and he recanted and begged for forgiveness. What’s more, God blessed Tamar and her children, and it is through Tamar that the Jews can trace their ancestry to Judah and, ultimately, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even more than that, Judah became the tribe from which the kings would rise up out of.

So, while human sin is certainly messy and ugly, this story shows us how God’s plan of redemption carries on in spite of it. After all, it is from Judah that one day would come the Anointed One, the Messiah, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the Lion of the tribe of Judah. It is from this imperfect man, and his wife Tamar, that God would ultimately bring salvation from sin and death into the world in the form of a perfect, innocent baby boy. It is through the vindication of an oppressed woman and the children she bore a man named Judah, that would come Jesus the Christ, the Word made flesh, the light come into this dark world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

God is love and, as such, LOVE WINS. Nothing can stop the redemption plan of God.

PRAYER

Lord, I repent of my sins and seek your redemption. Humble me and transform me. Amen.

Honored

Read John 4:1-45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor.” (Proverbs 29:23 NLT)

a-woman-of-samaria-mediumIn the last devotion we talked about Nicodemus and how Jesus schooled him. What was not mentioned in that, but is important to note, is that ultimately Nicodemus did have an open and receptive heart to what Jesus was teaching him. As we find out later in John’s Gospel, this Pharisee goes on to be a supporter of Jesus’ and he, along with Joseph of Arimathea, end up pleading with Pilate to give them Jesus’ body so that he may receive a proper burial. Tradition has Nicodemus as one Jesus’ post-resurrection followers.

What I love about the Nicodemus story in John, a story about the humbling of a man of prominence, is that it is followed by the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. This woman’s status could not be any further apart from that of Nicodemus. While Nicodemus was a revered and respected teacher, a wealthy individual who was highly educated and powerful, this woman was not revered or respected, she was shunned by her own community and her community was shunned by Jews as being totally unclean and detestable.

What we have in the Samaritan woman is the pretty much the exact opposite to Nicodemus the chapter before. She was a woman who was traveling by herself to the well to get water at the hottest part of the day. If modern archaeology is correct, Sychar was about a mile or so away from “Jacob’s Well”, which is still in existence today. It would be highly unlikely that this Samaritan woman would travel to this place alone, let alone at the time the sun is the hottest.

What this tells us, if we read the text carefully in light of the social and historical context of that place and time, is that this woman was outcast from the other women in her village. Why? The text gives us the answer to that. This woman had been married five times and was currently with a sixth man to whom she was not married. She was, no doubt, a threat to the other women of her village. What’s more, to be divorced that many times was a shame upon the woman and her family. It mean that she was “less than adequate” as a wife, which was the highest station in life for a woman in that time period. On top of that, she was living outside the marital covenant with another man.

In other words, in the ancient near east context, this woman would have been considered an unclean scourge upon her community. Then add that to the fact that she was Samaritan, the fact that the Jews believed the Samaritans were “unclean” from birth and that for one to even cross the shadow of a Samaritan would defile him or her, and you can see that this woman would have been considered a scourge within a scourge. She was the lowest of the low.

So, knowing this, it should be QUITE SHOCKING that Jesus was having any sort of conversation with her, let alone that he was alone with her at a well (which was a common “hook up” place in the ancient world. E.g., Genesis 24:17; 29:10; Exodus 2:16-21). Jesus is breaking some major social taboos in order to engage this woman in conversation, including the fact that women were not considered to be “teachable” and worthy of being a “student” of a teacher. Yet, Jesus does engage her and treats her no differently than he would have his own disciples.

What can be said is this, Jesus models the economy of heaven here. This woman was the last and the least in her society. She was humble because she had nothing in her life to be “proud” of. Her station in life as a Samaritan woman was humble. As a sinner, she was also humble in that she knew that others judged her and that she was not welcome among the other women in her village. To say that this woman was “lowly” would be an understatement of the worst kind.

In Scripture, we are told that “pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor”. While Nicodemus, in all of his pride, was humiliated by how little he seemed to know in comparison to Jesus, who was a lowly teacher, this woman was honored by the Teacher who chose to engage her over any of the self-righteous  villagers who continually shunned her. As such, this woman not only came to see that Jesus was the Messiah, but she also became his witness to the rest of the villagers. “Come and see,” she exclaimed with joyous excitement, “the man who told me everything I have ever done!”

Today’s challenge is for us to evaluate ourselves. Are we humble or are we proud? In what ways are we proud? How can we let go of the pride we imprison ourselves with? Remember that God humbles the proud and exalts the humble. If there is any part of us that holds ourselves in higher regard than others, that is the part of ourselves we MUST die to. I pray that we all come to a place of humility so that we may be exalted for the glory of God!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is far less painful to be humble than it is to find ourselves in need of being humbled.

PRAYER
Lord, teach me the ways of humility so that I may be your humble servant. Amen.

The Sermon, part 4: Law or Prophets

Read Matthew 5:17-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“‘But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,’ says the LORD. ‘I will put My instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.’” (Jeremiah 31:33 NLT)

p1010002_edited-1Jesus prefaces his sermon with today’s passage and, in fact, the whole of Jesus’ message regarding the Law in the Sermon on the Mount is book-ended between Matthew 5:17 and 7:12. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” This text has often been glossed over, underwritten, and overstated by various different people trying to make sense about what Jesus is actually teaching.

It is important to note that Matthew’s Jesus sets up his teachings on the law with this statement. Historically speaking, Matthew’s community was following a much adjusted version of Judaism that, to many traditional Jews, didn’t seem a whole lot like Judaism. Even within the church, there was a major disagreement on what it meant to be a follower of Jesus, who was historically a Jewish rabbi. Can anyone follow Jesus and do they have to submit to and follow the Jewish law if they truly want to be one of Jesus’ followers?

Matthew’s community had to defend itself from claims that they were abandoning the ways and laws of Judaism. What’s more, Matthew and his community were mostly Greek-speaking diaspora Jewish Christians who lived in Syria, possibly in and around Antioch. With that historical context in mind, it makes perfect sense that Matthew includes Jesus beginning his Sermon in this Way. Jesus was Jewish and Jesus did not come to abolish or ignore the Law, the Torah, of God as given to Moses.

Yet, as mentioned above, this is only a preface to Jesus’ teaching on the law. Jesus neither denies or delegitimizes the Law, nor does he affirm the status quo. Instead, as we’ll see in upcoming devotions, Jesus shows that he is the fulfillment of the Law. He is not a fullfillment in the sense that Jesus did everything required by the Law without breaking it. It is quite clear in Matthew and the other Gospels that Jesus did break the Law (at least as it was understood by religious leaders his time period).
Jesus does not fulfill the Law in the sense that he provides a new interpretation of it, nor are his teachings a mere summary of the Laws in the Torah. Before I get into how Jesus claims he is the fulfillment of the Law, it is also important to note that Jesus says he not only fulfills the Laws but the prophets. Why the prophets? Because Jesus views both the Torah and the prophets (Joshua-2 Kings and Isaiah-Malachi) as being wholly prophetic and pointing to the end-time fulfillment of God’s reigning Kingdom.

In other words, the Torah (Law) and the prophets point to the coming of the Messiah who was to usher in the Kingdom of God. Jesus, in essence, prefaces his teachings on the Law with this claim: “I have come as a fulfillment of the eschatological promise found in the Law and the Prophets.” Another way that this could be expressed is, “The Law and the Prophets point to me!” Jesus’ use of the phrase, “I have come” (vs. 17) presumes that Jesus had come from and was sent by God.

Then, Matthew’s Jesus follows this up with a word to those Greek/Gentile Christians in his community who believed the Law was irrelevant and were lending credence to the argument of the Matthean community’s opponents that Christians disregarded the Torah. Jesus makes it clear, every commandment remains important. Witht that said, Matthew does not exclude those who hold this view from the Kingdom of Heaven; rather, they are “the least in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

While it is important to get the context behind these teachings, it is also equally important not to miss the overall point Jesus is making to all of his disciples, as well as to his opponents. God’s Law and the prophets both point to Jesus, the Christ, as. God’s eschatological (end-times) promise. Dismissing the Law, as well as upholding it as the end unto itself entirely misses the point. Both polar viewpoints are incorrect because they both completely ignore and pass by the very person the Law points to, namely Jesus Christ. To dismiss the Law as useless, is to do dismiss Jesus Christ. To render the Law to some sort of legalistic measure, is to render the fulfillment of that law as impossible. Today’s challenge is to let go of our biases and humble ourselves to place of student at the feet of the One who is God’s Law fulfilled.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It is not wisdom but Authority that make a law.” – Thomas Hobbes

PRAYER
Lord, humble me that I may learn all that it is you have to teach me. Amen.

Anointed

Read Isaiah 45:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NLT)

anointing_of_fresh_oilWhen you hear the word Messiah, who do you think of? When you hear the word Christ, what do you think of? Some of you may know that the words Christ and Messiah mean the same thing, that “messiah” is the English equivalent of a the Hebrew word “mâshı̂yach” (מָשִׁיחַ) and “christ” is the English equivalent of the Greek word “christos” (Χριστός). My guess is that when most people hear the phrase “messiah” or “christ”, whether they or Christian or not, they immediately think of the man who ended up becoming the figure head of the Christian religion, Jesus of Nazareth. Some may even mistakenly think that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name!

I am very certain that when most people hear the words “messiah” or “christ”, they do not think of Cyrus. In fact, if I were a betting person, I would bet that most people would not even know who Cyrus actually is. As it happens, Cyrus was the king of Persia. He ended up being the ruler who took over the kingdom of Babylon after it fell to the forces and the might of Persia. Within Babylon were the people of Judah who had been exiled there because of their trying to ally with Egypt against Babylon. When that happened, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon beseiged Jerusalem and, upon overtaking it, forced all of the leaders, the Temple priests, the scribes and people of import were exiled from Jerusalem and relocated in Babylon.

Once Babylon fell to Persia, King Cyrus (who was not a Jew and had no in depth knowledge of the Jewish religion) let the Jewish people return back to Jerusalem. What is even more striking than that, is that Cyrus seemingly had no agenda other than to just let them go home. He didn’t require them to send any money back to him, or pledge their loyalty to him in any way; rather, he simply let them go home to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. In response to that, the Jewish priests and scribes wrote of Cyrus that he was the LORD GOD’s “anointed one”, or Messiah (which is “Christ” in Greek). Let me reiterate that. Cyrus, the non-Jewish, polytheistic, war mongering Persian King was the Messiah…the Christ…the LORD’s anointed one.

I bet you didn’t see that one coming. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with such richness that really help point us to the nature of God. If we read Scripture carefully, there were many messiahs. Saul, David, Solomon, and every other King of Israel were all the LORD’s anointed ones. That’s different than being “the Messiah”, the one that some of the first century Jews were looking to come and rid them of their oppressors and reestablish the line of King David forever; however, there were many messiahs and each one of them were anointed by the LORD’s prophets. There really is nothing unusual about a king, or others, being called messiah. What is unusual is that this particular king does not even know, let alone worship, the God of Israel.

What does that say for us? It says that God constantly exceeds our expectations. It says that God will anoint anyone who is willing to have compassion, who seeks justice, who loves mercy, and who walks in the path of humility. Whether that person is a Jew or a Gentile, whether that person is a Christian or a Muslim, whether that person is a monotheist or a polytheist, whether that person is a male or a female, God will work in and through anyone who is willing to humble themselves and let LOVE rule the day. The fact is that God was calling Israel to live in that love, to be God’s chosen, and God worked through Cyrus to remind them of that. The fact is that God is calling us to live in that LOVE, to be God’s chosen, and once again is using Cyrus to remind us of that. Be reminded and live a life of LOVE that witnesses to the LOVE of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is not the time to shrink back in fear. This is the time to move forward in Faith. Get up every morning knowing you are anointed. You are equipped. You are empowered. You have everything you need to fulfill your destiny.” – Elton Sibiya

PRAYER
Lord, allow me to step out in faith, to see that you have anointed me to fulfill the work of love, compassionate justice, and mercy that you began at the outset of the world. Allow me to act upon that knowledge in service of others. Amen.

Journey with Jesus: Easter Sunday – The Resurrection of the Lord

SCRIPTURE

Mark 16; Matthew 28; Luke 24; John 20-21; 1 Kings 19:10-12

ResurrectionAN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

My friend and I were traveling back home after a long and terrible weekend. Our rabbi, our Lord, had been crucified like a common thief. What a sad and terrible event. What were we to do now that he was gone? Everything he taught, everything he called us to do, seemed to all be in vain.

While traveling we ran into a person who happened to be traveling alone and wanted to join us for some company. We certainly were in no mood for conversation, but it seemed harmless to let him join us. We said very little, for what could really be said? After sometime, the man broke the silence by asking us why we looked so down in the dumps. We told him the whole story.

He told us we were foolish for being upset that the one we believed to be the Messiah had died. How could he say that? He then started giving us his interpretation of the Scriptures, about how the Messiah would be the suffering servant and that the prophets foretold that this would happen.

We were amazed at this man’s confidence that all was well despite the circumstances. As we approached our home we invited him in to share dinner with us. It was the least we could do and we were interested to hear more of what this stranger had to say. He was going to keep going, but after insisting he agreed to stay. We gave him the honors of blessing the food and breaking the bread. It was then that we realized who this man was…he was our Lord…he was Jesus the Christ…risen from the dead!

REFLECTION

Often times we are looking for the Lord to manifest in miraculous ways. We are looking for the clouds to open and to see the Son of Man descending like God from the sky. We are looking for the earth to shake and lightning to flash across the sky. We are looking for a major, earth shattering event!

Yet, as can be seen in the various accounts of the resurrection, each person experienced Jesus’ resurrection in different ways. In Luke, the men traveling to Emmaus saw Jesus in a stranger passing by. They carried conversations with him, talked with him, listened to him and DID NOT recognize him. Yet, through the act of breaking bread together, they realized who he was.

Reflect on all of the times you have felt the presence of the risen Lord. Perhaps you were lonely and someone was present for you in just the right time…or perhaps you were afraid only to find that the fear had been lifted. Perhaps you were helping someone out only to find out you were the one who was helped. Remember that Elijah did not see God in the fire, or the in the earthquake, or in the raging wind…rather, it was in the sound of a gentle whisper (or the sound of sheer silence as the NRSV translates it) that God’s presence was known. This Easter, open your heart to the subtlety of the Resurrection and be transformed by it. Know that Christ is with you always, and where you go…so too Christ follows. Perhaps in you, the risen Lord will be revealed to someone else.

PRAYER

Lord, be present in me, through me and in spite of me for the transformation of this world. Amen.

Journey with Jesus: Holy Tuesday

SCRIPTURE:

Matthew 21:23 – 24:51; Mark 11:27-13:37; Luke 20:1-21:36

Matthew 231322AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

Wow, and I thought yesterday was tense! I was shaking from head to toe when Jesus started to overturn those tables and was shouting like a madman! Part of me was scared that the Romans, perched in towers overlooking the Temple complex, would descend on us and crush us right then and right there. The other part of me was excited because Jesus was finally showing the zeal that we have been taught that the Messiah would have. I began to wonder if, perhaps Jesus was this Messiah…cleansing the House of God before purging Israel of her enemies.

But today Jesus started teaching really strange things! He spoke in parables that were set up to make the Pharisees look bad. He compared the Pharisees to a group of murderous farm tenants who refused to give the farm owner his due and killed anyone the farm owner sent them…including his own son! Jesus went on to flat-out curse the Pharisees and the scribes shouting, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”

You could just feel the tension in the air. The religious leaders looked beyond mad. If looks could kill…well you know how the phrase goes. Then, Jesus questioned their knowledge of the very scriptures they are well versed in. He asked them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?” I got the real sense that he was referring to himself! Was he saying that he was going to be rejected and die? How could he be the Messiah and die? How was that even possible if the Messiah was supposed to free Israel from oppression? Why would this “Messiah” curse our religious leaders? Wouldn’t the Messiah focus his energy on Rome?

REFLECTION

What are your expectations of Jesus? Who is Jesus to you? Do you find that your “Jesus” falls in line with what you think he should be? When you hear or read Jesus’ words of chastisement, who do you envision Jesus talking to? Is he talking about “them”, or is he talking about “us”? Is he talking about “you” or is he talking about “me”?

On this Holy Tuesday, let us remember Jesus’ warnings to the religious leaders of the day. Will we continue to cross land and sea to create converts to OUR way? Will we look like we are righteous on the outside, when in reality we are dead on the inside? Will we be the ones who reject the stone only to be crushed by it? Or will we lay down OUR way and make GOD’s way the cornerstone of our faith? What is God’s way, “No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

PRAYER

Lord, humble me and become the cornerstone of my faith. Let me drop my religion and pick up your love, compassion and mercy in its stead. Amen.