Tag Archives: Rome

God’s People, part 247: Cornelius

Read Acts 10

“When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, ‘Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?”’  (Galatians 2:14, NLT)

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

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Centurion_Le_Centurion_-_James_Tissot-Wikimedia-CC2Part 247: Cornelius. As Luke wrote, Cornelius was the captain of a Roman cohort called, “The Italian.” While, that may sound like the name of a sandwich to us, Roman cohorts were no joke. They were made up of 480 men and were roughly the equivalent of a modern military battalion. Thus, Cornelius was someone who had worked himself up the ranks in the Roman military.

While we don’t know much more about Cornelius than that, we can certainly ascertain that he was not a person to be trifled with. He, no doubt, would have been much like the centurion that Jesus engaged with. That centurion said the following to Jesus, “…I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.’”  (Matthew 8:9, NLT)

There’s something else we know about Cornelius: he and his entire household were God-fearing people. Perhaps you are questioning what it actually means to be a “God-fearing” person. In the ancient word, a God-fearer was a Gentile who was supportive of Hellenistic Judaism. He or she would observe certain Jewish religious traditions and rituals; however, they were not fully converted to Judaism. To traditional, non-Hellenistic Jews, they were still unclean and not a part fo God’s people because they didn’t follow all of the Jewish laws, including Kosher dietary laws.

Cornelius, despite being a Gentile, was someone who lived according to the heart of the law. It is quite clear that he loved God with his whole being and he was clearing loving his neighbor as he loved himself. Luke attested to the fact that Cornelius was very generous and compassionate toward the poor; however, that clearly didn’t seem to initially change the Apostles’ opinion of him.

That is why God gave Peter the vision prior to sending him to Caesarea to visit with Cornelius. In the vision, God told Peter to kill and eat an unclean animal and Peter objected. Was this some sort of gotcha test? After all, Peter had been a devout Jew is whole life. Still, God commanded him to kill the unclean animal and eat it. In fact, God scolded Peter for his reluctance and said, “Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean” (Acts 10:15, NLT).

It took Peter having this vision 3 times in a row for him to budge and agree. Sadly, the debate did not end there. Even after Peter did go in and eat in the household of Cornelius, the leaders in Jerusalem were not okay with it. Their reluctance caused Peter to live a double life, eating with Gentiles while James and the Jerusalem church leaders weren’t around, but avoiding such foods and table company when they were around. Eventually Paul called him out on his hypocrisy and Peter testified that God had declared the act of eating with Gentiles to be a clean and holy act.

Of course, while Peter’s reluctance to follow God did not end with his time with Cornelius, much good did come out of Peter’s engagement with Cornelius. He and his family were baptized, and they went from God-fearing people to being followers of Christ. What’s more, it wasn’t just Cornelius’ family that converted, but the Holy Spirit fell on many Gentiles during Peter’s time there.

This should challenge us. How do our ideas of God’s law keep us from seeing the working of the Holy Spirit in others? We look at different people as being “unclean” because of how we read Scripture and interpret God’s opinion. For instance, we look at people who are scantily dressed, or people who have tattoos all over them, or people who listen to certain music, or who have certain professions as being lost and foreign to God; however, today’s Scripture cautions us on our judgments and calls us to stop telling God what is unclean. That is for God to determine, not for us. Besides, even is something is unclean that does not mean it is outside of God’s ability to cleanse. Remember, we are not called to be judges but witnesses of God’s amazing Grace through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.” – John Newton

Lord, help me to see people through your eyes rather than through my own. Amen.

God’s People, part 123: High Priest

Read John 11:45-57

“‘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.

Damning are the politics of silence.

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.

God’s People, part 121: Rome

Read Luke 13:1-5

“This calls for a mind with understanding: The seven heads of the beast represent the seven hills where the woman rules.”  (Revelation 17:9a)

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.

crucifiedPart 121: Rome. If one dances with the devil, they are bound to get burned. Case in point: Judaea’s ill-fated alliance with Rome. If you recall from the last devotion, the Hasmoneans allied themselves with Rome in order to protect themselves from the oppression of the tyrannical Seleucid Empire. The Jews signed a treaty with Rome that stated that both parties would defend the other should anyone attack them.

Initially, Rome held up to its end of the bargain. The Senate sent the Seleucid a “cease and desist” letter, telling them that their would be severe reprocussions for  attacking and or bringing harm to the Jews. Good deal, right? That is exactly what the Jews were hoping to accomplish in that treaty. The problem is that Rome was on the rise to become the most powerful empire EVER and they were not going to ever give the Judaeans an opportunity to rise to the top.

Eventually, following conquering the Seleucid Empire, it sacked Jerusalem in 63 BCE under the general Pompey. Following Rome’s victory, it declared the Hasmonean prince, Hyrcanus II, as “Ethnarch”. An ethnarch is someone who is placed in charge of an ethnic group. What that means is, instead of being the next Hasmonean king, Hyrcanus became a puppet governor of the Jews, who obviously rebelled against the new regime. Rome also appointed Hyrcanus as the High Priest. One can easily imagine how well that went over.

Julius Caesar later went on to appoint Antipater the Idumaean (aka Antipas) as the first Roman Procurator. Antipater’s son, Herod the Great, was eventually designated as “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate. It is important to note that Herod was from Edom, and was an Edomite. The Edomited traced their lineagute through Esau and had, by this point in history, converted to Judaism. Thus, Herod was born and raised a Jew, contrary to some myths that are out there.

We’ll talk more about Herod in the next devotion; however, suffice it to say, one can easily see what happened as a result of the Hasmonean alliance with Rome. The Romans became even greater persecutors of the Jews than the Seleucids. While Rome did allow for the Jews to follow their religion and customs, something they learned was necessary to keep the peace, they ruled the Jews with an iron fist.

If any one so much as hinted at insurrection or rebellion, they ended up a part of an artificial forest of crosses that lined the roadways as a reminder to all who passed by of what happens to anyone who challenges Roman rule. The Romans took cruelty to an all-time low and had no problem eliminating anyone they felt was a threat to the Roman way.

The challenge for us is to see that when we sell out to save ourselves, we end up losing so much more than we could ever anticiapte. Human hindsight is always 20/20; however, our foresight is often clouded by fear and doubt, both of which lead to poor decision making. The challenge for us is to stop selling our souls for security and safety. We must place our complete faith and trust in God and not put other things, other ways, before Jesus Christ who IS THE WAY.

The devil always gets more than what one believes is being sold.

Lord, steer me clear of the wiles of the devil. If it requires selling out, it must not be of You, for you’ve already purchased me as I am through your Son Jesus Christ. In him I trust. Amen.

God’s People, part 120: Hasmoneans

Read 1 Maccabees 8

“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  (1 Peter 5:8 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.

judah-maccabee-leading-troops-to-warPart 120: Hasmoneans. Hello time travelers! Welcome to the first century CE (Common Era…aka A.D.), the world in which Jesus and the disciples lived and did ministry. Before we can truly understand the New Testament world, it is important for us to have some of the context. The next several devotions will hopefully provide some of the historical contexts that illuminate the world in which Jesus and his disciples lived.

Following the return from exile, the Persians continued to have a hold on Israel until the Greeks, under the reign of Alexander the Great, conquered the Persians. Over the period of thirteen years, Alexander went from being the King of Macedonia to uniting the Greek city-states into one kingdom and conquering the known world between Greece and India. Yes, you read that right. His empire expanded to India.

Once Alexander died, his death is somewhat of a controversial mystery, his unified empire split up into opposing factions led by commanders and officials. One of those commanders was Seleucus (pronounced sel-oo-kos), an infantry general in Alexander’s army. He went on to form and rule the Seleucid Empire, which was made up of Persia, Judea, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and what are now Cyprus, Israel/Judea, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Kuwait and parts of Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

Under the Seleucid Empire, particularly during the rule of Antiochus IV, the Jews suffered terrible oppression. The Temple was defiled by Antiochus who put statues of Greek gods in it to be worshipped and the practice of Judaism was outlawed. This was a part of a campaign to further Hellenize the Jews (e.g. to make them more Greek-like). There were “progressive” Jews that sided with Hellenization and thought that Judea needed to get more with the times. These Jews had much to gain from Greek culture. Others, who were much more conservative or “traditionalist”, rejected the push for Hellenization.

When Antiochus IV persecuted and the Jews and banned their religious practices, the Mattathias and his sons killed a Hellenized Jew who was about to make a sacrifice to an idol. A year later, his son Judah Maccabee led an army of Jewish insurgents in an uprising against the Seleucid occupiers. The ensuing revolt and/or war lasted seven years. Though Judah was killed, the Jews under the leadership of two of Judah’s brothes, were able to win independence.

With that said, the way they won independence was through a “deal with the devil” so to speak. They ended up signing a treaty and a (sort of) alliance with Rome, where Rome would attack anyone who waged an attack on Judea. This alliance allowed them their independence and the Maccabees went on to become the rulers of what became known as the Hasmonean Dynasty. While this alliance worked in their favor to begin with, eventually that same “ally” would conquer them and put Judea through an oppression it had never endured before. In fact, the effects of that oppression is still felt by Jews around the world today.

This ought to challenge us. In what ways do we bargain and deal with the devil in order to achieve an immediate victory? I ask this question both to individuals reading this as well as to the church collectively. In what ways do we sell a bit of ourselves here and a bit of ourselves there in order to have status, security, power, authority, influence and prosperity?

We all should be honestly reflective on this and also weigh the potential consquences that are mounting up against us as a result of such bargaining. Such reflection will hopefully bring us, individually and collectively, to repentance and back toward faithfulness to God. I pray that we all take this seriously and cut our ties with the devil.

The devil is always in the details, often times in the smallest print.

Lord, you know the right course for my life. I place my trust in you, and you alone, to guide me toward righteousness. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #10: Glorifying One’s Bosses

Read Romans 13

“But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” (Titus 3:9 NRSV)

GettyImages_71897390All I have to do is turn on cable news to remind myself that I simply DO NOT like politics. Actually, it reminds me of ancient Rome and all of the in-fighting, maneuvering, slandering, backstabbing, and power-grabbing reminds me of ancient Rome. Julius Caesar worked his way up the ranks and nearly claimed being KING…only to be assassinated by his friends who didn’t want to see him have that kind of power…who were in turn executed for treason by the great nephew of Julius (someone who never would have been named an “heir” by Julius himself)…who then makes himself Emperor for life. Of course, once that life is extinguished, a whole new slew of Emperors take power, are corrupted by the power, and are assassinated by people who then, in turn, take power and are corrupted by it. And this is just Rome we’re talking about. We now will turn our eyes to the church.

Ailment of the Church #10: Glorifying One’s Bosses. A lot of people will say that they do not like politics. In fact, I opened up this devotion with that very statement. When that is said, I think most people realize that politics are a vital part of how our society is held together. We all, everyday, live according to and are held accountable to the social contract that governs our society. Without that, one could argue that complete chaos would ensue because it would be each for his/her own. Whether or not that is true, and there others who would argue the other way, politics are a reality within the governance of a country, society or institution.

And that is just as true within the church as it is in any other organization. Along with the positives that we can find in being organized, comes all of the negatives as well. In churches, at the denominational level as well as at the local level, we find in-fighting, maneuvering, slandering, backstabbing, and power-grabbing that is commonplace in all organizations. We have people who think one way pitted against others who think another way. We have people who look up to positions and status within the church hierarchy in ways that bring glorification, value and power to those positions and statuses.

This issue of “politics” goes well beyond the walls of the church and into our everyday lives. Do you consider yourself a Christian? If so, have you ever sought a position of status or power? Have you taken measures to ensure getting into position. Have you competed against others for positions and/or statuses? Have you ever in used the phrase, “the end justifies the means?” I think when we all pause and think about this for a moment, we can all say, “Yes, I’ve done that.”

I am not trying to knock success, or structure, or healthy competition, or positions of responsibility, or even power. These things can, and have been, used for good; however, when we glorify those things above Christ, when we seek them out at all costs, when we neglect our call as Christians or, worse, when we allow positions, statuses, and power define us as Christians, we’ve abandoned Christ and failed to be Christ’s true followers. We have been called to make Christ our valuable treasure that we seek. We are called to make following Christ our life’s goal. We are called to seek out and invite others to join us, as equals, in embracing the status of “children of God.” So let us drop the politics and HONOR God by picking up that identity, embracing it, and sharing the GOOD NEWS of it to all the world…just as the CHURCH has been commissioned by Christ to do.

“We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a church becomes like this, it grows sick.” – Pope Francis I

Lord, help me to move beyond my own struggle for position, status and power so that may be solely focused on you and your will for me. Amen.

Journey with Jesus: Holy Wednesday


Matthew 26:6-16


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.


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!


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.


Read Genesis 3; John 11:47-53


“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

GoatHave you ever read or seen the play, “The Crucible”, by Arthur Miller? It tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials, which happened from February 1692 – April 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts.  In the story, while dancing and casting spells in the woods, a group of girls were caught by the village’s minister, Reverend Parris.  Parris’ daughter was one of the girls and, upon seeing her father, fainted and did not regain consciousness.  Knowing that much of the town was divided over the effectiveness his leadership and ministry, Parris was fearful of what might become of the girls behavior and proceeded to interrogate the girls.

The girls, in turn, blamed Tituba the slave out of fear for being scolded and beaten.  Parris then brought in the Reverend John Hale of Beverly to interrogate Tituba and to investigate whether or not the devil had indeed been raised in Salem. Tituba was harshly interrogated, and after she had been threatened with severe beatings and death, she confessed to being in league with Satan. But that confession wasn’t enough. Her accusers wanted her to give up any names who might have also joined her in signing Satan’s black book.  Afraid for her life, and just wanting the nightmare that had befallen her to come to an end, Tituba calls out the names of four people who lived within the community.

The stage had been set, the spark ignited, the fire kindled, and the blazing flames were about to engulf the entire village of Salem. Historically speaking, by April of 1693 over 160 people were accused of Witchcraft, most of whom were jailed and deprived of their property and legal rights.  Fifty of those people confessed to witchcraft in order to save themselves from immediate trial and certain death. In the end, twenty-five of the accused died: nineteen were executed by hanging, one was pressed to death by stones, and five died due to the horribly unsanitary conditions of their imprisonment.

It seems to be human nature to scapegoat people in order to save our own hides.  We see this reflected in the Adam and Eve story, where Adam points the finger at Eve, followed by Eve pointing the finger at the serpent who, unfortunately didn’t have any fingers left to point. And this pattern of playing the blame game can be seen throughout history. Early Christians in the mid-first century were scapegoated by Nero for the fire that burned down a large portion of Rome. And let’s not stop with Rome, for we need look no further than the Inquisition, the holocaust and some of the reactions to the attacks on 9/11 to see that Christians have certainly done their share in scapegoating too.

Let us, in the spirit of Lent, remember that Jesus was a scapegoat and was executed for crimes that he didn’t commit. In the spirit of Christ, let us repent of the times we have participated in scapegoating others, whether it be as small as scapegoating our siblings to avoid a spanking or as large as scapegoating minority groups in order to maintain the socio-economic and political status quo.

God is calling each of us to swallow our pride, repent of our sins, and accept responsibility for what we have done.  It is only then that we can rise out of the water of our baptism with Jesus and follow him into the wilderness of preparation. It is only then that we can truly be his disciples. It is only then that we will can bear the Good News of God’s hope, healing and wholeness to the people in our midst.  During this Lent God is calling us, not to be perpetually guilty, but to repent and move forward in the direction God is calling us…the direction of witnessing to God’s unconditional love of us all!


“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Jesus of Nazareth, in Luke 5:31-32


Lord, bring me to the point of true, and liberating, repentance so that I may truly serve you and represent your unconditional love. Amen.