Tag Archives: Sin

God’s People, part 191: Hometown

Read Mark 6:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff…” (Luke 4:28-29, 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.

Hometown_StorefrontPart 191: Hometown. There is something special about the town in which one grows up in. For me, I grew up in a fairly small town in Sussex County in the northwestern part of New Jersey. During the time I was in seventh and eight grade, my hometown had population of around 4,977. The town is geographically small, being nearly 4.6 square miles.

It was a sidewalk community meaning that one could walk from place to place on sidewalks and as I kid I used to walk from place to place with my friends. We’d hang out at the park, walk to the library, or go bowling at the Bowling Alley. Sometimes, we’d pop into the diner when it was still opened and have coffee and a bite to eat.

There is something special about one’s hometown and the nostalgic memories that surface when one reminisces about times gone by and all the experiences one had. Certainly, for those who didn’t move on a constant basis, people’s lives are rooted in the places they grew up. The good, the bad and the ugly. It is also true that those who moved around a lot as a child can feel like they don’t really have any roots. Hence the Alice Merton song Roots, in which she sings: “I build a home and wait for someone to tear it down. Then pack it up in boxes, head for the next town running. ‘Cause I’ve got memories and travel like gypsies in the night. I’ve got no roots but my home was never on the ground…”

I am sure that Jesus was very much rooted in his hometown of Nazareth. It is there that he grew up. It is there that he played, that learned his faith from his mother. It is there that he came of age and became a member of the local synagogue. It is there that he learned the carpentry trade and it is there that he experienced his call to become an itinerant rabbi.

Yet, there is a more dark and pernicious side to one’s hometown too. There is a side that is more hidden in the proverbial dark basement that doesn’t come out until the moment one begins to question the order of things. Jesus found this out in his hometown. Hometowns love their own, so long as they stay exactly in the place they’ve always been.

Had Jesus remained the carpenter from Nazareth, no one would have had qualms with him. But the Jesus that returned to Nazareth following his baptism and temptation in the desert was not the same Jesus that had left Nazareth seeking the will of God. The Jesus who returned was not the carpenter, but the Son of God focused to draw people unto himself so that they might be saved.

This Jesus healed. This Jesus taught. This Jesus drew a crowd and, in front of that crowd, called the religious, community and political establishment, as well as individuals, to account for their waywardness. This Jesus claimed that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy on the coming Day of the Lord, and this Jesus was claiming to be THE MESSIAH, the promised one who would deliver Israel!

The Nazarenes could not accept that precisely because they thought they knew Jesus. He was the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joseph, Simon, Judas, and his unnamed sisters. How could Jesus be the Messiah? How could he dare to come into the synagogue and preach us. Who died and gave him that authority?

It’s easy for us to point a finger at Nazareth and question them on their disbelief, but are we any better? How many of us think we KNOW Jesus? Yet, do we really KNOW Jesus? Would he walk into our homes and churches and feel at HOME? Or would he find us to be an unwelcoming place? Would we change our hearts at his guidance and direction? Or would we kick him out of our sanctuary and try to throw him over a cliff?

The challenge for us is to NOT be that kind of a hometown; however, in order to avoid that we need to expose the underbelly of our homes and places of worship. We need to stop seeing ourselves as sinless and in no need for improvement. We need to stop labeling little Joey and little Betty as being x, y, and z; rather we need to accept people for who they are in the moment, not who we think they are based off of who they once were.

Finally, we need to challenge ourselves to be open to critique and we need to be self-aware enough to admit when we’ve been called out for being in error. Yes, we need to be discerning and not all critique is true or honest; however, we need to at least hear the critique in a balanced and reflective way before we could ever be able to discern if it is from God or not. Be open to the correction of the spirit and be an exception to the rule that a prophet is not welcome in his/her hometown.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Be careful that you are not the one rejecting Jesus because He doesn’t meet up to your qualifications; rather, we need to open ourselves to Christ so that, by grace, we may be conformed to his expectations.

PRAYER
Lord, mold me and shape me into the disciple you’re calling me to be. Amen.

God’s People, part 181: Lazarus

Read John 11:1-44

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.”  (John 12:10-11, 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.

Bonnat01LazarusPart 181: Lazarus. The account of Lazarus is on that is familiar to many people. Not to be confused with the poor man named Lazarus in Jesus’ parable in Luke, Lazarus is the brother of Martha and Mary. Not too much is known about him other than the fact that he and his sisters were friends and followers of Jesus. There is much speculation as to his age, as the Bible mentions that he was “living with his sisters”, indicating that Lazarus might have even been a boy living in their care.

Regardless of his age, he was someone Jesus had loved, and when he died Jesus was deeply moved to the point of weeping. In fact, the Scripture says that Jesus grew angry (or greatly disturbed) at his death. Of course, anger is a natural part of the grieving process and Jesus, being human, was grieving the loss of Lazarus. The scene is very touching, a beautiful display of Jesus’ humanity and a testament to the love he had for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.

Lazarus’ death, and Jesus’ reaction to it, is a stark reminder of on very important fact regarding the world we live in: it is broken and evanescent. What’s more, life in this world is short, fragile and, eventually, everything in this world dies. What’s lamentable is that is not how God created the world; however, due to human sin, that is the very reality that the world fell into. If you think back to the wicked serpent’s words to Eve in the Garden of Eden, which was addressed in part 1 of this series, you will see the bigger picture.

The devil, through the serpent, told Eve that humans would not die if they disobeyed God and ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but that humans would instead become like God. Those words were true to an extent, and the first humans did not immediately die, but became like God in having the ability to discern good from evil. With that said, they instantly became separated from God, and while they knew good from evil, they lacked in the wisdom to discern what was ULTIMATELY GOOD and ULTIMATELY EVIL.

What’s more, death immediately entered into their reality, even if they didn’t realize it at first. They were cut off from the tree of life, they had to kill animals to cover their nakedness, their oldest son killed their youngest son thus giving birth to murder. From that point on, the beautiful world that God created was never the same. As much as it was still beautiful, it was also filled with sin, evil, greed, corruption, oppression, murder and, ultimately, death for everything that lived in it.

We see this reality in what follows Lazarus being miraculously raised from the dead. Scripture says that, following his resurrection and six days prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, Lazaurs is at a supper that Martha prepared for Jesus. Many people from all over surrounded the home they were in because they wanted to see Jesus and this man whom he had raised. This, of course, disturbed the religious leaders and it says that they even considered murdering Lazarus because so many people were believing in Jesus as a result of him being raised from the dead.

While, we don’t have a ton of information on Lazarus, and it is impossible to tell what his strengths and weaknesses were as a human being, what we can do is come to an understanding of the world in which we all live. This world is so mired in sin that it would rather snuff out the presence of God than celebrate at the salvific work of God in and through others.

This should challenge us to pause and reflect on how we participate in trying to snuff out God’s work. In what ways have we allowed sin to dominate and control our lives, and in what ways have we participated in the world’s rejection of Jesus Christ. I pray that, in honest reflection, you open your heart to the ways in which you resist God so that you may respond to God’s grace and move more toward God and who God is calling you to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The mystery of the Christian life is that Christ expects us to flee sin and the devil, but does not expect us to rid ourselves of either on this side of glory. Repentance is a way of life, and so is the pursuit of godliness. I wish every Christian could be reminded of these two things.” – Kevin DeYoung

PRAYER
Lord, expose my sin to me and cleanse me of it so that I might fully praise, worship and serve you. Amen.

God’s People, part 176: Judas Iscariot

Read Matthew 27:3-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Judas had bought a field with the money he received for his treachery. Falling headfirst there, his body split open, spilling out all his intestines. The news of his death spread to all the people of Jerusalem, and they gave the place the Aramaic name Akeldama, which means ‘Field of Blood’” (Act 1:18-19, 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.

JudasIscariotPart 176: Judas Iscariot. The greatest enigma in the whole of the Bible, apart from the mystery of God, is Judas Iscariot. Who was he? What was he like as a human being? What brought him into the fold as one of Jesus’ disciples? What made him someone Jesus trusted enough to be the treasurer of Jesus’ ministry? What was running through his heart and mind when began to turn away from Jesus’ teachings? What was the reason for Judas deciding to betray the one he had called teacher and Lord? What caused this Judas to go from a faithfully daring disciple to a tragic traitor?

So, what do we know about Judas? Let’s start with his name. The name Judas is Greek for Judah. Judah, of course, is the name of one of the 12 tribes of Israel and is where the name “Jews” comes from. As such, some people have tried to argue that Judas was a “made up” character constructed to blame the Jews for Jesus’ death; however, an overwhelming majority of scholars reject that claim.

Judah was an extremely popular name at that time. In fact, one of Jesus’ own half-brothers, had the same name. What’s more, there was more than one Judas among Jesus’ disciples. There was also Judas son of James, whom we discussed in the previous devotion. Thus, the majority of scholars believe Judas was a real person and that was his name.

The epithet which accompanies his first name, Iscariot, has also caused much debate among scholars. It was certainly used to distinguish him from the other disciples. The epithet has most commonly been understood as a Greek rendering of a Hebrew phrase (איש־קריות, Κ-Qrîyôtthat) meaning, “the man from Kerioth”, and seems to be supported by John 6:71.

Still, not everyone accepts this explanation. A popular explanation has been that Iscariot (Skaryota in Aramaic) is a play on the Latin word sicarius (or dagger man). If this were true, this would make Judas one of the Sicarii, a Jewish group of rebels known for committing acts of terrorism in the 40s and 50s AD. This interpretation has also found its way out of academia and into the world of film as well. In fact, the 1961 film, King of Kings (starring Jeffery Hunter as Jesus and Rip Torn as Judas Iscariot), utilizes this theory and portrays Judas as former sicarii (they incorrectly use the term zealot) who decided to betray Jesus to force his hand in striking down the Romans.

However, this view that Judas was a sicarii has no basis in Scripture, and there is no historical evidence that the sicarii ever existed during the 30s AD when Judas was alive. Thus, we don’t really know why Judas did what he did, or what he was before he was introduced in the Gospel accounts. We know that he was paid for his treachery, and the Gospel of John indicates that his motivation was greed; however, I would guess that there was more to it than just that. Still, we simply do not know why and we never will.

What we do know is that, at some point, Judas turned on Jesus and eventually betrayed him. We also know that Judas lived in a culture that took honor and shame very seriously. Once Jesus was arrested, convicted of treason, and crucified, Judas felt the weight of his actions crush him. The shame he had brought upon himself for betraying his teacher was unbearable. No doubt, you can see that shame played out in the Gospels.

The authors, and certainly those who conveyed the accounts to them, all looked upon Judas as a scourge for what he did. Every Gospel uses Iscariot to distinguish him from other Judases, and they always list him as Judas Iscariot (the one who betrayed Jesus). That shameful fact hung like an albatross around Judas’ neck and, sadly, he took his own life.

The challenge for us is to NOT read with judgment toward Judas. Yes, he betrayed Jesus; however, he was chosen by Jesus as one of his twelve and, no doubt, Jesus chose him for a reason. What’s more, Judas was not the only one to betray or abandon Jesus that night. Peter denied him 3 times, the other disciples ran (one of them ran away naked as his clothes were torn off of him) and hid away for fear of their own lives.

The challenge for us is for us to, instead of judging Judas, turn the mirror around at ourselves. How do we fall short of Jesus? How do we betray him? How do we turn our backs at him? What’s more, how do we come to a place of forgiveness for having betrayed him? How do we move beyond the guilt and shame of our sins and into the blessed assurance of God’s redemptive grace?

I believe that Jesus had already forgiven him when he uttered the words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He forgave Judas, the other disciples, the Jewish authorities, and the Romans. He also forgave you, and me, and us all. The choice is ours, just as it was Judas’, as to whether we choose to accept that forgiveness and move onward into serving the Risen Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” – Jesus Christ (Luke 23:34)

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your forgiveness and for freeing me for joyful service. Amen.

God’s People, part 158: Passion

Read John 18-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.”  (1 Corinthians 1:18, 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.

pg-18-passion-of-christ-apPart 158: Passion. I seems like yesterday that the film, The Passion of the Christ, came out in the movie theaters. With that said, it was not yesterday. The film was released on February 25, 2014 amid a ton of controversy over its content. It was, as is often the case when it comes to portrayals of Jesus Christ, being blamed for antisemitism and being way to violent. Critics wrote that the film felt like abuse, that it was a snuff film, where the spiritual/metaphysical aspect and the redemptive quality of Jesus was denied for the physical torture of the body.

Sadly, many critics (and even some mainstream theologians) missed the point entirely on the importance and significance of The Passion of the Christ. Now there may be some people scratching their head at this usage of the word “passion”, because when they think of passion they think of romance. Like all things, the modern English understanding of the word has somewhat lost its etymological or linguistic origins. “Passion” comes from the Latin word passionem, meaning suffering or enduring.

The passion of the Christ, is literally the suffering of Jesus Christ during the last week of his life. That week included the conspiracy of the Sanhedrin against Jesus, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and his cleansing of the Temple. It includes, Jesus’ anointing by the woman, his sharing in the Last Supper with his disciples, his journey to and prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his being arrested and put on trial in the high priests house, Peter’s denial of Jesus out in the courtyard, his being tried before Pilate, then Herod, then Pilate again, and his being violently scourged as preliminary punishment.

Finally, Christ’s passion  includes the crowds shouting for him to be crucified, the release of the prisoner Barabbas in exchange for Jesus, his slow painful journey to Golgotha, his crucifixion, death, and burial in the tomb. All of this encapsulates the passion of Jesus Christ and his endurance of such suffering is vital to the Gospel, to the Good News. In fact, there is NO GOOD NEWS without it.

This was evident to the author of Mark, who chose to show how the cross, how Jesus’ passion, revealed his true identity to the world. Matthew showed how his passion and crucifixion were the fulfillment of ancient prophecy on how the suffering servant Messiah would die for the sins of the world. Luke showed how the least of these and the outsiders were included into God’s covenant through Jesus’ passion. Finally, John’s Jesus exemplified how Christ willingly died on the cross and how the redemptive quality of his passion would carry on through the passion of his disciples who were to be given an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to help them carry out his mission.

The critics of Mel Gibson’s film failed to realize that Christ’ passion is vital to the story of the world’s redemption. In that, I believe, was a spiritual component. The world is blinded to the redemptive work of the passion…of the cross. In fact, Paul told us that the cross is actually foolishness to those who believe. The lost, the people who are still in the darkness, don’t want to be confronted with their sins and how those sins have woefully played out in this world. They don’t want to be confronted with the fact that Christ’s death is a reflection of the reality of sin and evil that we, as humans, all participate in.

Yet, it is the acknowledgment of that participation, and the humbling of oneself it takes to acknowledge it, that leads us to the foot of the cross with great joy and thanksgiving. It is the kneeling down before the foot our crucified Lord that cleanses us of our sins and opens our hearts to sanctifying power of Christ’s resurrection. It is only in acknowledgment of what Christ has done for us, and why it is so desperately needed, that we are able to find our true salvation and submit to Jesus Christ as Lord. Be challenged by this. As you begin to prepare for Lent, come face-to-face with your sins and, through Holy Week, journey with Christ to the foot of the cross. Don’t shy away from the passion, but embrace it and be embraced by your Lord, who was crucified, who died, and rose again for your sake.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Without Holy Week, without Christ’s passion, there would be no Easter or redemption.

PRAYER
Lord, prepare my heart for your passion that, through your suffering, I may come to everlasting salvation, joy, peace, and service. Amen.

God’s People, part 156: 2nd Adam.

Read Luke 3:23-38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.”  (Luke 9:31, 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.

Glory_of_the_New_born_Christ_-_Annakirche_ViennaPart 156: 2nd Adam. If you recall, in Matthew the focus was on explaining to Matthew’s Jewish Christian community that Jesus was not only the fulfillment of all the Torah (aka the Jewish Law), but that he was also the greater prophet that Moses prophesied would come after him some day down the line (see Deuteronomy 18:15). There were, in fact, many parallels between Moses and Jesus, and Matthew pointed them out to show that Jesus was the fulfillment, not only of the Torah but of that specific prophecy.

In Luke, the scope is much larger than the fulfillment of Jewish laws and prophesies, for Jesus was the Savior of the whole world. He did not just come for the insiders but, as in the Gospel of Mark, salvation came for the outsiders as well. In fact, Luke spends much of his book highlighting Jesus’ teachings on the poor, the widows, the orphans, the lepers and the social outcasts of society. In fact, Jesus’ first act (of which he near fatally upsets the Jewish crowd) is to preach a sermon on how God has often favored the Gentiles over his own people because, while the Jewish people know God and yet reject him, the Gentiles who are initially ignorant of God accept him with open hearts (Luke 4:18-30).

Right before that in Luke 3, Luke highlights Jesus’ baptism and then goes directly through his geneology in order to show how Jesus is not only a descendant of Abraham, as all Jews were, but that he was also a descendant of Adam. Luke, a student and colleague of the Apostle Paul’s, goes further than his teacher who felt it sufficient to show the promise of God to Abraham that his descendants will bless the nations (see Genesis 22:18).

Instead, Luke shows how Jesus was not just a descendant of Adam, but was a 2nd Adam. Unlike the 1st Adam who was duped by his own selfish desire to know more and be like God, Jesus selflessly stripped himself of his divine glory to be like a human and, in the process fulfilled God’s law. What’s more, while Adam chose mortal over eternal life, Jesus gave up his mortal life for eternal life.  Through the 1st Adam, we were given over to sin; however, through faith in the 2nd Adam, we are delivered from death in our sins to eternal life.

While the 1st Adam brought separation from God and eternal death to all of humanity, Jesus reunited us with God. He established a new Israel through his 12 disciples, and through them he began the process of ushering in a new Eden, which is heaven on Earth. This Kingdom will not just be for the prominent and wealthy. In fact, many who are wealthy will never find the kingdom of Heaven because they are so fixated on their worldly possessions; rather, this kingdom will be open to all who are humble and seek God over and above their worldly status.

This is why the poor are featured so prominently in Luke’s Gospel. Their poverty has already humbled them and they are receptive to God. Their hearts rejoice at the Gospel, which IS GOOD NEWS to them. The challenge for us is to allow our selves to be humbled enough by God to see that, due to our sins, we are impoverished and in need of God. We are no better or worse than anyone else in God’s eyes. God sees our sins and knows our hearts and only God, through Jesus Christ, can save us. Do you believe this? Search your heart and discover Christ who is waiting for you to let him in.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Jesus Christ alone is Lord of all Creation.

PRAYER
Lord, I humble myself before you. Purge my sins and cleanse my heart. Purify me and save me from myself and my sins. Amen.

God’s People, part 130: God’s Curse

Read John 9:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s People, part 115: Haman

Read Esther 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Harbona, one of the king’s eunuchs, said, ‘Haman has set up a sharpened pole that stands seventy-five feet tall in his own courtyard. He intended to use it to impale Mordecai, the man who saved the king from assassination.’ ‘Then impale Haman on it!’ the king ordered. So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai, and the king’s anger subsided.” (Esther‬ ‭7:9-10‬ ‭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 115: Haman. By now, I am sure, you are aware that Haman is the bad guy of the story in Esther. He was the one who plotted to have all the Jews killed and to have a special gallows built to hang Mordecai on. We also know, ultimately, that Haman’s plot backfired in the worst possible way, thanks to the faithfulness of Queen Esther to her people. She braved the possibility of being executed in order to do what was just and righteous.

With that said, let us take a look at Haman anyway. It is easy to demonize someone as the “bad guy”, because it makes them something different than “us”. It allows us to place all of the blame on the evil “straw man”, as it were, and to avoid reflecting on ourselves and how we too fall prey to such tendencies.

Haman, according to the Bible, was a descendent of Agag, who was king of the Amalekites. If you remember, the Amalekites were the people that King Saul and King David wiped out in certain areas. So, even in his family history, there is bad blood there. The Jews were the enemies of Haman’s ancestors.

What’s more, it is also important to note that being an Agagite (a descendant of Agag) meant that Haman was NOT a Persian. He was yet a person who belonged to a land that had been conquered by Babylon and were now being ruled by Persia. Thus, Haman is a foreigner too. He, like Mordecai, had been promoted up the ranks to become an official in Persia. Not only was he an official, but he was the kings top official. He was the King’s right-hand man.

So, given the history between the Jewish and the Amalekites, it is no wonder that Haman has a resentment against Mordecai and the other Jews. What’s more, when you add in the fact that Haman and Mordecai were both foreigners competing against each other for political positions, we get to understand the conflict.

Piecing it together that way, makes sense of why Mordecai refused to bow and why Haman took such offense to it. Pride and tribalism seem to be at the heart of this conflict. There are other possible extra-biblical reasons as to why Mordecai refused to bow to Haman; however, given what we have to go on in Scripture, the obstinance that Mordecai showed Haman and the hatred that Haman had for Mordecai and his people, really begin to make sense.

In our country today, we see such tribalism taking route in the form of hyper-nationalism. Dare I say this, the kind of nationalistic rhetoric I have heard thrown out there as of late sets America up as almost an idol to be worshiped. Beyond the national level, I have seen tribalism grow among the peoples within this nations. Republicans vs. Democrats, whites vs. blacks, citizens vs. undocumented immigrants, heterosexuals vs. LGTBQ, etc.

Let us reflecton that. These divisions, these dichotomies are false in the eyes of God and they all lead us down the road toward destruction. Haman is a great and stark example of the destructive path that pride and tribalism lead us down. Let us begin to repent of the ways in which we have been falsely proud and tribalistic. Let us turn from our sins and run back into the arms of the One who created us all in the divine image.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“They will know we are Christian by our love, by our love. They will know we are Christian by our love.” — Fr. Peter Scholtes

PRAYER

Lord, help me to steer clear of immoral and unholy tribalism and pride. Amen.

God’s People, part 114: Mordecai

Read Esther 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther‬ ‭4:13-14‬ ‭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.

  Part 114: Mordecai. Continuing on from the last devotion, we are going to explore some of the key characters in the book of Esther. To quickly refresh you, you will remember that Esther was a Jewish girl who was taken out of the custody of her cousin, Mordecai, and placed into the king of persia’s harem. A harem was a separate living quarter for three groups of women in the royal palace: legal wives, royal princesses, and concubines.

The first two are pretty obvious, but people today might not necessarily understand what concubines are. Some people view concubines as promiscuous women who are of low moral character because they sleep around with married men; however, this is a false understanding of the concubine’s situation. In Perisa, along with other Middle Eastern cultures, a concubine was a person who was legally bound to the king for sexual purposes, but had lower status than wives. They were not merely mistresses who threw themselves before the king; rather, they had no choice for they were chosen to be in sexual service to the king. They were, in essence, sex slaves.

Mordecai was Esther’s cousin; however, he was much older than her and he adopted her as his own daughter after her parents died. Anyone with a heart can imagine how hard it was for Mordecai to see his loved ones pass and how his heart must have broken for Esther. At the same time, we should not over-romanticize it either. Extended family members were obligated, as pure their cultural and religious customs, to take care of the children of their deceased family members.

With that said, the Scripture implies that the relationship between Mordecai was a close one. In Esther 2:7, it says he raised her as his own daughter. Mordecai was clearly someone Esther had a great deal of respect toward and someone she listened to. It was, after all, Mordecai who convinced Esther to risk her life and go before the king uninvited to petition for the lives of her people. It was Mordecai who bluntly laid the reality of the situation before her in Esther‬ ‭4:13-14‬.

Mordecai was no doubt petrified and in a panicked state his words, no doubt, came off forcefully. What he was asking her to do was to go on a possible suicide mission by breaking the courtly codes of conduct for a queen. The queen was not permitted to come uninvited before the king when he was conducting royal business in the court. To do so meant death unless the king favored his wife and accepted her reasoning. Esther believed that she had fallen out of favor with the king, that he was bored with her, and so to go before him most certainly meant death.

Mordecai, on the other hand, had just been informed of a royal decree, sent out under the authority of the king, permitting Persians to kill any and all Jews. This happened as a result of the King being tricked by his evil advisor, Haman. So, Mordecai didn’t have time to mince words and he let the queen know that saving her own life in this moment would most certainly mean death for them all in the next.

With that said, it is also important to note that Mordecai was directly responsible for egging on Haman and causing him to lash out in such a wretched and evil way. Haman worked in the king’s court as an official and all the officials were expected to bow and show respect to Haman, who was the king’s chief official. Mordecai refused to do so. Not just once, or twice, but time and time again, day after day. His reasoning for not bowing in respect to the chief official, evidently, was that he was Jewish. Of course, there’s no law against showing respect to a king or an official, so long as you are not “worshiping” the official as a god, but Mordecai refused to budge and, consequently, so did Haman who was as proud as he was arrogant. The end result was that Haman, who was evil, plotted to have all Jews killed in spite of Mordecai’s defiance.

Perhaps Mordecai had good reason for not bowing, or perhaps he simply did it pridefully because he wasn’t going to be seen as inferior to Haman. It’s hard to say because the author leaves the explicit reason out. Mordecai’s defiance, however, begs us to question our own motivations when we are being defiant. Not all defiance is good, not all defiance is bad; however, defiance does lead to unintended consequences and because of Mordecai’s unwillingness to compromise and follow protocol, the very lives of his people were put into unnecessary jeopardy. Thankfully, Esther was able to expose Haman’s evil and justice one out in the end; still, let us reflect on our own pride (whether Mordecai was prideful or not) and how our unwillingness to budge can be harmful to others.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.” —Mahatma Gandhi

PRAYER

Lord, help me to evaluate myself honestly and humble myself sincerely so as to not bring harm, if possible, to those around me. In Christ, all things are possible. Amen.

God’s People, part 109: Ezra.

Read Ezra 9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So on October 8 Ezra the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand.” (Nehemiah 8:2 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 109: Ezra. What’s important to understand is that the people we have been discussing the past several devotions are connected to each other in personal relationship and/or in historical circumstance. In the case of today’s subject, Ezra was personally connected to Nehemiah. Born in Babylon during the Babylonian Captivity, Ezra had never been to Jerusalem, nor did he ever lay eyes on Solomon’s Temple before it was destroyed. In other words, Babylon was all Ezra knew.

So we can imagine the excitement, as well as the fear, that ran through Ezra as he returned back Jerusalem. What’s more, he could not have possibly realized what challenges would have been awating him in Jerusalem. It is imporant to note that Ezra was not among the first to arrive in Jerusalem, nor was he among those who dealt with the struggles of rebuilding the Temple or the wall; rather, he was a part of the second wave of Jews who returned.

It is important to note that Ezra-Nehemiah were originally one book that ended up getting split up. Though we have yet to discuss Nehemiah, by the time Ezra returned to Jerusalem Nehemiah had already built the wall and Ezra wrote, “[God] revived us so that we could rebuild the Temple of our God and repair its ruins. He has given us a protective wall in Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 9:9). Thus Nehemiah was among the first wave to return and Ezra returned following him and his leadership on the wall construction project.

Ezra, on the other hand, played another important role in this historic moment for the people of Judah. When he returned, he noticed people were not living as God had commanded them. Some of the Jewish people who originally returned had married into non-Jewish families and were beginning to be led astray. That and the struggles of rebuilding the Temple and reclaiming Jerusalem had proven to set back progress of reestablishing God’s people in their homeland.l

Ezra, ever mindful of the cost of sin having spent his whole life up to that point in a foreign land, called the people to strictly observe the Torah and its laws. Obedience to God’s law, Ezra argued, would keep Judah from falling back into sin and into the threat of destruction. Being lax and not obeying God was not an option. He read to them the Torah and enforced the observance of the law. Ezra’s focus on strict observance of the Jewish Law would eventually become the focus of another group of Jews called the Pharisees.

As Christians, we may feel the temptation to ask how this is all relevant to us. We are not longer bound by the law, right? It is true that through Jesus we have been freed from the letter of the Law; however, in and through Jesus we begin to live into the fulfillment of the law. In other words, Jesus works the heart of the Law (LOVE) in us and calls us to put that LOVE on display toward others. Are we open to the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit? Do we remain faithful to him and the LOVE that he has called us to? Ezra, if nothing else, challenges us to reflect on our loyalty and faithfulness to Jesus Christ who is the fulfillment of God’s Law.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“By faithfulness we are collected and wound up into unity within ourselves, whereas we had been scattered abroad in multiplicity.” Saint Augustine

PRAYER

Lord, I submit myself to you. Forgive me my trespasses and give me the strength to be faithful. Amen.