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Showing posts with label Advent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Advent. Show all posts

Monday, December 13, 2021

In Between, part 3

Introduction
This series examines what happened during the intertestamental period of Christian history.  The 400 year period of God’s silence between the completion of the Old Testament and the birth of Christ was a pause that punctuated the greatest Word God ever spoke:  Luke 2:10-11, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” 

Jesus came in peace, offering God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness.  However, many in Israel were hoping for and expecting a military leader who would violently conquer God’s enemies and drive them from the Holy Land.  What accounts for this dramatic difference between God's plan and the hopes of so many? 

Part of the reason they expected and hoped for a mighty conqueror instead of a suffering savior has much to do with the history of Israel during the 4 centuries between the Old and New Testaments.  I want to explore more of that history today.  In particular, I want to focus on the Maccabean Revolt, which is the inspiration for the modern Jewish holiday Hanukkah. 

Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, was written around 475 BC.  God spoke through the prophet. 

Malachi 3:1-5

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.

“At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

Briefly Explain Passage
Judgment is certainly a theme of this passage.  God says, the “Lord” the people were seeking would judge sinners (and this refers to Jesus, the Messiah).  God says, the Messiah will come to the Temple and purify like a refiner’s fire.  And God also says there will be a trial and judgment against evil doers—in particular against:  sorcerers, adulterers, liars, people who cheat their employees, people who oppress widows and orphans, and people who deprive foreigners of justice.  What many in Israel didn't understand, is that much of that judgment would be of the Israelites, for they continually failed to fulfill their role as God's people. 

What Happened Between the Old and New Testaments?
After Malachi spoke, no other prophet’s words were preserved in the Bible.  Israel was ruled by the Persian Empire.  Then, Alexander the Great of Greece conquered most of the known world—including Persia.  Israel was ruled by Greece for 13 years, and the Greek Empire changed the world.  Greek became the universal language almost everyone could speak.  But when Alexander the Great died unexpectedly, His empire broke into 4 smaller, less powerful Kingdoms—Macedonia, Ptolemaic Egypt, Seleucid Syria, and Pergamum. 

The first little Greek kingdom to rise to prominence and rule Israel for 125 years were the Greek Egyptians.  They allowed Israel a certain amount of autonomy, but they encouraged the Israelites to adopt many elements of Greek religion, culture, and language. 

Many Israelites among the upper crust of society accepted these new Greek ideas.  You had to “Hellenize” (become more Greek) if you wanted to succeed and move up the social ladder.  To resist or reject Greek influence was to be seen as backwards, outdated, ignorant, and irrelevant.  

To be sure, there were many positive elements of Greek culture—systems of reason and logic, mathematics, architecture.  If you enjoy using an umbrella or a map, you can thank the Greeks who brought these things to prominence.  However, along with many good things, also came expectations to worship Greek gods and demigods like Zeus, Hercules, Pan, and others.  A rift formed in Israelite society between those who accepted Greek culture in order to move up and those who remained “pure” and faithful only to Yahweh, the God of Israel. 

The second “little Greek” kingdom to rule over Israel were the Greek Syrians.  When they took over from the Egyptians in 198 BC, they started playing hardball with Israel. The Syrians were tired of the stubborn, rebellious Israelites clinging to their Jewish culture and religion.  All the other conquered peoples of the Greek world had welcomed Greek religion.  The Jews were the main hold outs.  The Syrians made it a goal to rid Israel of Judaism and replace it with Greek culture and religion. 

The Syrians tried to transformed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem into a temple to worship the Greek gods.  Jewish sacrifices, circumcision, observance of the Sabbath, and Jewish feasts were forbidden.  Jewish sacrifice in the Holy Temple were replaced with sacrifices to Zeus and included unclean animals, like pigs, that were offensive to Jews.  

One priest in Modiʿim, a small town outside Jerusalem, had had enough.  When a Syrian official tried to enforce heathen sacrifice in his town, Mattathias Maccabeus murdered the Syrian official. He and his sons, the Maccabees, fled into the Judean wilderness and began a 32-year revolt.  They fought against the Syrians and also raided Jewish towns and killed any Jews that sacrificed to Greek gods or who collaborated with the “Hellenists”.  

Little by little, the Maccabee’s guerrilla warfare wore down the Greek Syrian kingdom. The Maccabees recaptured and cleansed the Jerusalem Temple in 165 BC.  Many believed this was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy in Malachi 3:1, where it said, “The Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple…”

The Jews gained independence in 142 BC.  Jewish kings once again rule in Jerusalem. The Hasmoneans dynasty were ruthless kings who were not of the royal line of David.  In 128 BC, they raided the northern territory of Samaria and demanded the Samaritans convert to Judaism.  When the Samaritans refused, the Jews destroyed the Samaritan’s temple in Shechem. This and other events like it led to the bitter animosity between Jews and Samarians we read about in the New Testament. 

The Hasmonean rulers of Jerusalem served as both kings and high priests.  They were not pure or holy or even good and they were not of the royal line of David.  A politically savvy group known as the Sadducees, said it didn’t matter.  The Sadducees preferred terrible Jewish rulers to good pagan rulers.  The Pharisees said a true king must be of the line of David and never accepted the Hasmonean royal line.  This became a bitter dispute that divided the Pharisees (who wanted a return to pure Judaism) and the Sadducees (who were willing to compromise for political expediency).  That division persisted into the New Testament where we read about Christian's interactions with both the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

The reconstituted, independent Israel was not a kingdom to be proud of.  There was no justice.  There was no peace.  Violence and chaos was the order of the day.  Leaders said they worshiped God, but their religion was a lie.  They embodied the sins Malachi 3:5 rebukes--people "who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me."

In 63 AD, a new and more powerful empire marched it's legions into Jerusalem and took over.  The Roman Empire’s rule of Jerusalem had begun and the people still yearned for a Messiah to come save them from oppression and finally bring God's Kingdom on earth.  Would this Messiah be like Mattathias Maccabeus—a priest who murdered oppressive officials, waged war on God’s enemies, and violently cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem?  

Many believed and hoped the Messiah would be like the Maccabees, but God had a much better plan.  He foretold the Messiah’s who would be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6).  The true Messiah’s plan is foretold in Isaiah 61:1, where it says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”

And Jesus came and read these very words from the scroll of Isaiah and said in Luke 4:18, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” 

Conclusion
As we wait for Christmas, we still don’t know how long we need to wait for Jesus to finally return to judge the living and the dead and right all the wrongs of our broken world.

Waiting is hard.

While we wait, it is tempting to skip ahead and put our hope in people we admire.  We might think, "Perhaps this religious leader is the one we can trust." Or we say, "Maybe that celebrity is someone we can truly admire."  Or we hope, "Maybe the next president will be the one who puts our country back on the right track."

Why do we think our help will come from one of these worldly solutions  and not from Jesus, the true Messiah?  

And while we wait, it is so easy to waiver back and forth between compromising important core values we should never compromise for the sake of practicality or being militant idealists who are incapable of any compromise at all.   

Perhaps the best course of action while we wait is to allow Jesus to fulfill Malachi’s words in us:
To allow Jesus to purify us,
refining us like gold and silver,
burning away all the impurities in us.  

Perhaps it is best, while we wait, that we truly live for God in Christ 
by not cheating employees of their wages,
by no oppressing widows and orphans,
by not depriving the foreigners living among us of justice. 

Perhaps, while we wait, we should be about fulfilling Jesus’ mission when he quoted Isaiah 61:1,
The Lord has anointed me to:
bring good news to the poor
comfort the brokenhearted and
proclaim that captives will be released,
and prisoners will be freed.

Waiting is hard.

But sometimes, God Himself is the One who tells us to wait and be faithful.
And while we wait, we should worship and serve God and God alone
by living out the principles and mission of Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 6, 2021

5 Tips On How To Wait Well

Introduction
Do you ever feel stuck in between, like you’re just waiting for something important to happen?  What’s the hardest part of waiting?  I asked that question in a Facebook post this week.  Here are some of the responses:

  • The number one response was “waiting” – haha – or being patient
  • Letting go of control
  • The anticipation
  • To keep doing your daily activities while you wait
  • Sacrificing pride
  • Not knowing how long you’ll need to wait
  • Worrying about what you’re missing
  • Worrying someone else is getting something at your expense
  • The unknown
  • Thoughts in your head
  • Trusting God
  • Knowing there is something you want or want to do but being frustrated because you have to wait to get it.

Forty years of Stanford research found that people able to wait patiently and delay their own gratification are more likely to succeed in life than those who don’t.[i] 

The Bible is filled with long periods of time when people had to wait and delay gratification while enduring hardship.  Abraham and Sarah had to wait until the were old to have their promised son, Isaac.  The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt 400 years before they entered the Promised Land.  David had to wait to become king of Israel.  And there was a 400 year period of waiting between the time the Old Testament was completed and New Testament began with the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.

That long period of silence in between the Old and New Testament leads many to think nothing important happened, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  Case and point: When the OT closes the Persians were in control and everyone was speaking Aramaic. When the NT opens the Romans are in control and everyone is speaking Greek. Apparently, a lot happened in those in between years. 

I want to recap the history of Israel from 475 BC to the time Jesus was born.  But first, I want to read a strange apocalyptic passage from Daniel chapter 8.  I want to read it, because it is a prophecy that God gave to Daniel while he was living as an exile in Babylonia.  And yet this prophecy foretold all the kingdoms that would rule over Israel before the Messiah was born.  Let's look at the passage and then review the actually history of the intertestamental period.

Daniel 8:18-22
18 
While he was speaking, I fainted and lay there with my face to the ground. But Gabriel roused me with a touch and helped me to my feet.

19 Then he said, “I am here to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath. What you have seen pertains to the very end of time. 20 The two-horned ram represents the kings of Media and Persia. 21 The shaggy male goat represents the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes represents the first king of the Greek Empire. 22 The four prominent horns that replaced the one large horn show that the Greek Empire will break into four kingdoms, but none as great as the first.

What a strange passage!  But it refers to actual event that happened between 475 BC and 4 BC when Jesus was born.  Let’s look at that history and listen to the parts of Daniel’s prophecy.

Daniel 8:19 says, “I am here to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath.”

Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC by Babylon and the Jews, including Daniel, were taken into captivity.  However, Babylon was destroyed by the Medes and Persia.  Daniel 8:20:  The two-horned ram represents the kings of Media and Persia.”

The King of Persia sent the Jews home to Jerusalem and they rebuilt their temple in 515 BC and then the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, was written about 475 BC. 

The Jews remained under Persian Rule until a guy from Greece named Alexander the Great tried to conquer the whole world.  The “whole world” included Israel and Jerusalem. 

So from 336-323 BC, Israel was part of the Greek Empire & they learned to speak Greek.  Greek became the universal language of the world (the way English is today), which is why the New Testament would eventually be written in Greek.  Daniel 8:21 says, “The shaggy male goat represents the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes represents the first king of the Greek Empire.”  The king of Greece was Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great died unexpectedly in 323 BC.  After his death, the Greek empire splintered into four smaller, less powerful kingdoms—the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, the Seleucid Empire in Syria, the Kingdom of Pergamon in Asia Minor, and the Macedonia Kingdom in Greece.  Daniel 8:22 says, “The four prominent horns that replaced the one large horn show that the Greek Empire will break into four kingdoms, but none as great as the first.”

After Alexander the Great’s death, the Israelites were ruled by the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt from 323-198 BC.  The Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, giving us the Septuagint.  It was also during this period that Jews began to separate themselves into two major schools of thought.  There were the Hellenist who wanted to welcome Greek culture and philosophy into the Jewish religion.  On the opposite side were the Hassidic Jews who wanted to keep Jewish culture and religion pure and undefiled.  These “pious ones” as they were called, eventually evolved to become the Pharisees of the New Testament.

We will look more at the other Kingdoms that ruled Israel in the coming weeks.  But very quickly, we see Syrian Kingdom conquered Israel from the Egyptians in 198 BC and ruled until 165 BC.

The Maccabean Revolt of 168 led to 100 years of independence (and is the event that inspired the modern Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which lasts eight days and ends this year on December 6th).

However, independence was short lived and tumultuous and never lived up to God’s standards for His Kingdom.  And the Romans conquered Israel in 63 BC and ruled for 400 years until 313 AD.

Waiting is Hard
Waiting can be hard—especially when you don’t know when the waiting will and you feel like you’ve lost control.  However, God is in control.  Daniel’s prophecy shows that God knew everything that was going to happen in Israel in between the Old and New Testaments.  And, God also knew how all these events would shape the world to get us ready to receive the Messiah.

Some will wonder, “Why didn’t God just send the Messiah? Why wait 400 years?”  Well, I don’t pretend to know the mind of God and all His purposes and plans.  I do know that there were huge differences between the world of 500 BC and the time Christ was born.

First of all, those 500 years of the Intertestamental period allowed time for the Greek language to spread so that people across the world could understand each other from one end to the other.  Also, new roads and international trade routes and diplomatic agreements made travel more possible.  In 500 BC, people were using scrolls and clay tablets.  The New Testament was written in books and letters in the first century AD.  Books and letters were a new technology that made sending written information about Christ easier.  Thus, the Good News about Jesus was able to spread across the world in the first century AD in ways that weren't possible in 500 BC.  Israel wasn’t ready for the Messiah in 500 BC. The world wasn’t ready either.  

Learn How to Wait Well
Studies show that people who know how to wait well are more successful and happy than those who need immediate gratification.  Whether or not you feel like you have the discipline to be patient, there are things you can do to improve your ability to wait well.  You can train your patience just like you can train your muscles in the gym. 

Here are a five tips that can help you practice being patient.

5 Tips To Improve Your Ability To Wait Well
First, don’t worry. Jesus said, “don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34)  He taught His disciples to simply seek God’s Kingdom and His righteousness and trust God to take care of the rest.  Stay focused on doing God’s will and everything will fall into it’s proper place and you won’t be letting your thought be dominated by worries about things you can’t control anyway.

Second, enjoy the moment.  When your thoughts are consumed by what might happen next, you can miss out on the beautiful life you have right now.  Learn to appreciate the many, many blessings God is giving you today.  Tomorrow will be here soon enough.  They say, "A watched pot never boils."  If you dwell on waiting for something to happen, it will seem to take forever.  However, "time flies when you're having fun."  If you focus on enjoying the blessings God has for you right now in this moment, those times will fly by and your waiting for whatever's coming next will soon be over.

Third, practice being uncomfortable.  There are going to be times in life when you experience pain, hurt, sickness, and many other uncomfortable circumstances.  You might well practice getting used to it.  Practice denying yourself.  Skip a meal (fasting).  Spend some time being bored (on purpose).  Exercise hard and make your body sore.  Learn to deal with the pain and discomfort in a controlled environment.  It will help you deal with being uncomfortable later.

Fourth, wait before you make a big purchase.  Rather than making an impulse buy, set a rule that you have to wait 24 hours before you buy something.  If you see it today and you want it today (and you can get it today), make yourself wait 24 hours.  It’ll still be there tomorrow.   So wait until tomorrow.  Two things may happen if you wait.  First, you may discover you really didn't need or want that thing you almost bought on impulse.  Second, you will train yourself to delay gratification.

Lastly, challenge yourself.  If you truly feel stuck, like you’re not going anywhere, then do something proactive to improve yourself.  Times when you’re waiting are great times to get training that will give you new skills.  Go back to school or take a course.  Read a book.  Listen to a podcast.  These things will give you new skills and insights and may also inspire you about the next steps you could take.

Jesus is With Us
The Good News is, we aren’t waiting alone.  Jesus is there with us in those in between times too.
Jesus is not dead.  He is risen.  And He is with us while we wait.  So Jesus helps us find new strength and courage.  He will nourishes your soul and fill you with hope as you wait patiently for His return and for whatever important changes you are may come.


[i] https://jamesclear.com/delayed-gratification?fbclid=IwAR2XpwUq2x6V4W0IUBKGgxJ78cB4I9D5GlguqC8g6C0fsfPiU8lXYHvzZVQ

Monday, November 29, 2021

Living In Between

Introduction
Today is the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent is a season of waiting and preparation.  We are preparing for Christmas—the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  But we are also waiting for the second coming of Christ, for it was promised Jesus would return to judge the living and the dead, and to right all that is wrong with the world.  Then God will recreate the heavens and the earth, and we will live with God forever in Paradise. 

But in the meantime, we are waiting.

Waiting is an important part of God’s plan for His people.  It can feel like nothing happens while you wait, but God is at work. This series will examine what happened to God’s people in the period in between the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament while they waited for the Messiah to be born.  This series is also design to help you in those times when you feel stuck in between, waiting.

Timeline of the Old Testament
The Bible is divided into two Testaments – the Old Testament & the New Testament.  The Old Testament primarily deals with God’s covenant with Israel.  The New Testament primarily deals with God’s new covenant with all people, made possible through God’s only begotten Son, Jesus, who was the Messiah the Jews longed for.

Here’s a quick review of the Bible.  
First there was Abraham (circa 1900s BC).  About 400 years later, one of Abraham's decedents, Joseph, went down to Egypt.  Then the Israelites became slaves in Egypt for 400 years.  Next, Moses delivered the Israelites (circa 1300s BC).  About 400 years later, David was annointed king of Israel followed by David's son King Solomon (900s BC).  After Solomon, there was a civil war between the northern and southern tribes of Israel.  Israel split into two kingdoms--Samaria in the North and Judea in the South (we get the name "Jews" from Judea).  In 586 BC, Judea was conquered by Babylon and all the inhabitants were taken away into captivity in Babylon.  about 70 years later, the captives were allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem & the Temple (515 BC).  Finally, the last book of the Old Testament was composed about 475 BC.

Nothing else was added to the Bible until the New Testament detailed the events from the first century AD after Christ was born.  What happened during the 400 or so years between the Old and New Testament?  We find a clue in the Book of Nehemiah, which was written close to the end of the OT.  In particular, Nehemiah 9:36-37 was written about events that happened about 515 BC.

Nehemiah 9:36-37
36 
“So now today we are slaves in the land of plenty that you gave our ancestors for their enjoyment! We are slaves here in this good land. 37 The lush produce of this land piles up in the hands of the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They have power over us and our livestock. We serve them at their pleasure, and we are in great misery.”

Nehemiah Rebuilds Jerusalem
Nehemiah was living as one of the conquered Jewish exiles in Persia when the king of Persia (Artaxerxes) decided to let the Jewish exiles return home to Jerusalem.  The king of Persia  commissioned Nehemiah to govern Jerusalem and help oversee the rebuilding of the city and the Temple.

It was a time of great hope for Jews.  They hoped that Jerusalem might return to the glory of Solomon’s days.  They hoped to achieve religious freedom, peace, and prosperity.  They longed to rebuild and worship in their own Temple once again.

Unfortunately their hopes were never fully realized.  The Temple was rebuilt, but it was a shadow of its former glory.  In fact, the Bible record that the people who had known the glory of Solomon's Temple wept because the new Temple was only a shadow of it's former glory.  The reality is the Jews were “slaves in the land” of Israel (Nehemiah 9:36). They remained vassels, subjugated to the more powerful Kingdoms around them.  Throughout the 400-500 year period between the Old and New Testaments, the Jews were passed around between the various empires that rose to power in the region.  They were not treated with dignity or respect. They were merely pawns in an international chess match. They were disposable, vulnerable, and a commodity to be used by more powerful people.  Nehemiah 9:37 says, “We serve them at their pleasure, and we are in great misery.” And that about sums up the Jewish people’s 400 year experience from the time they returned from exile until the time when Jesus was born—the entire period between the Old and New Testaments.

And while in former times, God had sent prophet's like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Hosea and Micah to speak His word to them--words so powerfully inspired people collected them in our Bible--no one spoke inspired words worthy of being included in the Bible for 400 years after the completion of Malachi.  It seems as if God was silent.

This was not the first time God was silent.  It also wasn’t the first time God’s people had to wait.
Remember, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 400 years before God sent Moses to deliver them.  At least during the intertestamental period they were slaves in their own land.

Still, it’s hard to patiently suffer and wait on God when it feels like He is being silent and doesn’t care.  God does care, but sometimes, He has to let us wait and ripen until the time is right to fulfill His plan.

In the meantime, we have to be patient and wait on the Lord.  Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”

And James 5:7 says, “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return.”

Even if you suffer while you wait, God can use it to bless you when you trust Him & are faithful.  God gives you time to think and grow while you wait for the right opportunities and pass on the wrong ones.  God helps you when you are really hungry and waiting for good food. He teaches you, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God."  Waiting for God gives you time to realize, He is Your only hope.  


Sometimes, people pause for effect before they say something really important.  After the Old Testament, God paused to let people know He was about to speak the most important Word He woudl ever give--the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.


The Israelites had to wait for 400 years before their Messiah came, but that 400 years was time for important work in the hearts of HIs people.

 

First, the pause between the Old and New Testaments gave Israelites time to exhaust all their own schemes and realize, they were hopeless without God.


Israel was a small, insignificant land stuck in between massively powerful empires.  They were never going to have enough resources or a powerful enough army to dominate others.
Their only hope was the Lord.  
Again and again the Jews tried to establish their own kingdom by their own hands, but again and again they failed.  By the time Jesus came, most people realized their only hope was the Lord.  It would only be by the direct intervention of God Almighty that they would find salvation.  The name “Messiah”, means the one chosen by God to save.  Jesus is the Messiah.

 

What about you?  Do you realize your only hope is the Lord?
Have you been trying to make your own plans work by your own hand?
Don’t you realize, any “kingdom” you build will not stand.  It will fail.
But the plans of the Lord will last forever.  Learn to wait on the Lord.

 

Second, the time of waiting in between the Old and New Testaments gave the Israelites time to discover their “line in the sand”.

Since Israel had to compromise on many things in order to survive in a hostile world surround by more powerful nations, they really had to learn their core values—the essentials of being faithful to God that they could not compromise.  Not everything is worth fighting about.  But some things are worth dying for.  It's critical to know the difference.

What about you?  Do you know who you really are? 
What are the core values you can’t compromise?  What are the deal breakers for you? 
How do you deal with people who cross the line?
Romans 12:18 says, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” 
How do you live that out?  How do you know if it’s time to compromise or take a stand?
How do you avoid sin and honor God when you take your stand?

Third, the time of waiting in between the Old and New Testaments helped many Israelites grow closer to God.

Waiting for something important can either drive you away from God or draw you closer.  Some Israelites tried to build their own kingdoms.  In the weeks ahead, we will learn about some of the different political and religious groups in Israel and how they tried to build their own kingdoms of Israel.  Thanksfully, there were also many people (like The Wisemen in the East, and Simeon and Anna in Luke 2) who grew closer to God by waiting on God, praying, worshiping, and patiently trusting God's plan.

How about you? 
How can you grow closer to God as you wait faithfully through prayer, study, fasting, and serving?

Closing Thoughts to Contemplate
Contemplate how
you can grow closer to the Lord as you prepare for Christmas?
What will it take for you to finally realize you are hopeless without God?
What are your core values?
What practical steps could you take this season to truly depend upon God, discover who you really are, and prepare for the coming of the Lord?

 

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Names of God - Yahweh-Sabaoth

Introduction
God has sent the Babylonian army to conquer Jerusalem in the 6th century BC because of Jerusalem's sin and idolatry.  While the city was under siege, God was telling Jeremiah to prophesy against Jerusalem  and tell them they would be conquered and they shouldn't resist the Babylonians, but needed to repent of their sin.  The leaders of Jerusalem were plotting to murder Jeremiah to silence him.  Jeremiah felt overwhelmed, outnumbered, and personally under siege.  His cry to God for help reveals one of God's names.

Jeremiah 11:20
20 Lord of Heaven’s Armies, you make righteous judgments,
 and you examine the deepest thoughts and secrets.
Let me see your vengeance against them,    for I have committed my cause to you.

Yahweh-Sabaoth
We are studying the names of God.  Every name reveals part of God infinite character.  God reveals the names His people need to hear.  It may not be a name people want to hear; but it is a name people need to hear.  Today, the name of God we consider is Yahweh-Sabaoth – the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

This past week, my nephew, Ben, graduated from Army Infantry School.  My little nephew has grown up and become a soldier.   I could definitely tell a difference in him.  There’s something about the way he carries himself.  He’s a young man now and a soldier.  I’m proud of him and glad there are well-trained soldiers like Ben Owens protecting our country.  It was neat to walk the infantry museum with him at Fort Benning and have him show me the weapons in the exhibit and have him talk to me about how he learned to use them.

Ben also talked about his infantry division and how it was organized.  There are 10 soldiers in his squad. 2 or more squads makes up a platoon.  3-5 platoons makes up a company.  4-6 companies makes a battalion.  2-5 Battalions makes a brigade.  3 or more brigades makes a Division.  Ben is in the 25th Infantry Division, which is somewhere between 10,000-15,000 soldiers.  Can you imagine how intimidating it would be to be in the presence of a 10-15 thousand soldiers?

One of God’s many names is Yahweh-Sabaoth—the Lord of Heaven’s armies.  If you would find 10-15 thousand human soldiers a overwhelming, imagine the hosts of Heaven’s armies.  Note: Yahweh is not just the Lord of Heaven’s Army (singular).  He is Lord of heaven’s Armies (plural).  Look up at the stars in the night sky.  Can you count them?  Neither can you can’t the hosts of Heaven’s armies at God’s disposal; and each soldier in God’s army is a mighty angel.

Now, with that in mind, let us consider the familiar passage we read at Christmas time. 

Luke 2:8-14
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

 

You Want To Be On The Winning Side
It’s no wonder the Angel had to reassure the shepherds saying, “Fear not!”  
If you saw the angelic armies of heaven appear in the skies with the radiance of God surrounding them, you would be afraid too.  Especially when you realize you are a sinner and the world all around you is full of sin and has rebelled against God.  These shepherds were probably thinking: “This is it—the day of reckoning where God finally comes to hold us all accountable! We're doomed!”  

So the angel had to reassure the shepherd (and us).  “Don’t be afraid!   I bring you Good News!”  In other words, “This is a good thing.  Jesus is coming to give you another chance.  He’s not coming to judge you or destroy you (though that’s what you deserve).  Jesus comes in peace.  He’s here to save you.  He’s here to give you another chance.”

And so Jesus came preaching: “Repent!  For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  It’s right here.  It’s about to break in and take over.  This is your last chance to get right with God and recognize Him as Yahweh—the true and eternal Lord of all!”  And some did accept Jesus message.  And some did not.  Those who rejected him, crucified him.  They figured, “If we kill God’s Son, we can take over this Kingdom and be our own lords and not have to answer to God anymore.”  Do you think that will work?  No.  Of course not. Yahweh is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!

 

As sweet as the Christmas story is, I don’t want you to miss a very important theme.  Heaven’s armies have us surrounded.  Think of this world as a walled city and Heaven’s Armies have us surrounded.  There’s no escape.  God sent His Son, Jesus, as a peaceful emissary.  Yahweh knows we’ve all been lied to.  The evil rulers of this world don’t want us to know the Truth.  They don’t want us to know God is Holy and Just and True.  They’ll tell you anything to get you to turn away from the King of kings and Lord of lords.  They want you to forget Him altogether so you only trust them. 

Even when the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is standing right outside the walls ready to knock them down and recapture this rebellious world, the rulers of this world will say, “There is no God!  That’s just a bunch of outdated, superstitious nonsense!  The Bible is full of lies and bigotry and racism and homophobia!”  And the evil rulers of this world would have you believe that by denying the God who made you and turning your back on His way of living that you will end up on the right side of history.

 

A lot of people say they want to be on the right side of history.  I’d rather be on the winning side that the right side of history.  My mission in life is to draw people closer to God with every breath and step I take.  Yahweh is my Lord.  I want to live out His values—even if they are values that current or future generations mock as stupid, outdated, or even evil.  The Truth is, wicked people will always call the pure, holy ways of a pure holy God evil or outdated.  I don’t mind if I’m on the wrong side of history if history is written by ungodly people.  What really matters to me is what God thinks.  Yahweh is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  He is going to defeat the forces of evil.  I want to be on God’s side—the winning side.

 

In the meantime, for a while at least, we might feel a lot like the prophet Jeremiah.  Remember Jeremiah lived in Jerusalem.  God told Jeremiah God was sending the Babylonian army to capture Jerusalem because Jerusalem had turned their back on Yahweh, their Lord.  They had forsaken their vows to serve the Lord their God.  God was coming to destroy Jerusalem and take the people into captivity to punish them.  God sent Jeremiah to warn them and call them to repent, but the people didn’t want to hear it.  It put Jeremiah in a very bad position:  Speak God’s truth and live for God and have the people hate you and persecute you or go along with the people and be destroyed by God.

 

Today our choice is similar.  It may feel like the world around us has already won, because everyone seems to reject God and His holy ways.  That’s only because we live inside a besieged city.  Outside these walls, the hosts of heaven’s armies have gathered to surround us.  They are waiting for Yahweh-Sabaoth, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, to give them the word.  The moment He gives the signal, the trumpets will sound and the walls that separate our corrupt world from the glory of Heaven will come crashing down.  The Lord Jesus will come again just as He promised and this time Jesus won’t come as a baby in a manger.  He will come as a conquering King and those He finds who have been faithful will be rewarded.  Those who lived in rebellion will be punished.  The Bible tells us there will be a new heaven and a new earth.  There will be a new history written too—a history written in the Lamb’s Book of Life that records those who were faithful and followed Jesus as Lord.  Those who followed the ways of the evil world will be cast away into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

Invitation
Jesus's consistent message was Matthew 3:2 - Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”  So I want you to think and pray really hard and decided today: who's side are you on?  I pray you will repent of your sin and turn to Yahweh-Sabaoth through Jesus Christ His Son.

 

Monday, December 23, 2019

#5 Mary, Mother of the Messiah


Of the 40 generations of men in Jesus family tree listed in Matthew 1:1-16, only five women are named.  It’s amazing any women are named at all, since the patriarchal custom of the biblical writers was to omit women.  So, the fact that these five particular women are named is a clue there’s something very special about them and we need to pay close attention.  And yet, these five heroines of our faith are not famous for the things you would think.  Every one of their situations was scandalous in some way or another.

Tamar was impregnated by her father-in-law. Yet she was also wise and cunning. She sensed God’s hand at work in the family of Judah’s and was willing to do anything to be part of it.

Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute who grasped her chance to break free from sin and destruction by professing her faith in God and joining His holy people.

Ruth was a destitute foreign refugee who clung to God and His people and found redemption.

Bathsheba had an affair with the king and lost her child, but she became a queen who advocated for the oppressed and powerless.

Today, we will consider the best-known of the five women in Jesus genealogy—Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Matthew 1:16-25
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.
17 All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
    which means ‘God is with us.’”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
Joseph
Joseph is not Jesus' biological father.  However, the Gospel of Matthew spends 16 verses telling us Jesus' lineage through Joseph. What does that say?  One thing it says is Joseph adopted Jesus as his very own son.  Joseph treated Jesus as his flesh and blood and there was no distinction in his heart or mind that Jesus wasn't his actual son, even though the relationship wasn't biological.  How many have known this special adoptive love that treats one as a son and daughter by choice?  Think about it:  most people do not get to choose their parents.  You are born and your biological father and mother are who they are, like it or not.  And parents are compelled by the laws of nature to love their biological children.  On the other hand, adoption is an actual choice.  An adoptive parent chooses to accept and love their adopted child.  Nature does not require it.  And it is a very special kind of love when someone chooses to adopt a child who is not their biological son or daughter.  The same could be true for step parents who chose to love their step children as their very own.

It is worth noting here the situation into which Jesus was to be born.  Jesus, the most important man who ever lived, who is the Son of God, was born in need of adoption.  He grew up in the home of a father who was not related by blood.  Mary was his mother, but Joseph was under no obligation whatsoever to accept Jesus.  Yet Joseph chose to adopt God’s Only Begotten Son as his own.

But what of Mary? Who is she?

Mary, the Mother of Jesus
Mary has been famous to Christians for 2,000 years.  She is so integral to our faith she is named in the Apostles’ Creed, “We believe in Jesus Christ… who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary…” Some people admire Mary so much they treat her like a goddess, even praying to her. Who is this fascinating mother?

The Bible does not focus on Mary.  After the stories of Jesus’ conception and birth, Mary is only mentioned 12 more times.  Mary is there in the background throughout the story of the New Testament, but never as the focus.  The focus is always on Christ—the Son of God, the Savior of the world.  Even so, Mary is there at the birth, she is there in the midst of Jesus’ ministry (struggling to understand like the rest of us).  She is there at the cross as her son dies, at the tomb when he rose from the grave, and she continues to help lead the church with the Disciples in the Book of Acts after Christ ascended to heaven.

There is absolutely no description in the Bible of what Mary looked like or how she dressed.  In our world today, we are very focused on how women look, what clothes and makeup they wear, hairstyles, body image, etc.  However, the Bible mentions nothing about Mary’s appearance.  That tells us these physical things were not important.  Maybe they shouldn’t be as important to us either.  From God’s perspective (the perspective that really matters) true beauty has nothing to do with physical appearance or fashion.  The true beauty of a woman comes from the way she responds to God. 

Mary would have been a young girl when the angel Gabriel came to her (probably only about 12 or 13 years old) .  That was the age most first century girls were offered for marriage in Galilee.  Mary was engaged, so we know she was of age.  What do you think of when you think of Mary?  You might think of a young woman just out of college between the ages of 20-30 years old because that’s the typical age women get married in our culture.  Let me blow your mind a bit.  My daughter, Abigail turns 13 in one month.  Right now, Abigail is the age Mary would have been when she became pregnant with the Son of God.

Mary was engaged to Joseph. She was an ordinary girl looking forward to marriage and a normal life, but the angel’s visit changed her life forever.  Mary was afraid and troubled by Gabriel. She never expected the incredible news she would have a child or that her son would be the Messiah. Although she couldn’t comprehend how she would conceive the Savior, she responded to God with belief and obedience.

Although it was a huge honor to be chosen by God, her calling would demand great suffering.  Just as there is pain in childbirth and motherhood, there would be much pain in the privilege of being the mother of the Messiah.  Mary was a willing servant. She trusted God and she obeyed His call.

The angel told Mary in Luke 1:28 that she was highly favored by God. This means Mary was given a large portion of grace or "undeserved favor" from God. Even with God's favor, Mary would still suffer much. Though she has come to be  highly honored as the mother of the Savior, she would first know disgrace as an unwed mother.  She almost lost her fiancé.  Risked being stoned to death (the penalty for pregnancy out of wedlock in her time).  Her precious child would grow up to be rejected and cruelly murdered.  Mary's submission to God's plan would cost her dearly, but she was willing to be God's servant.  Mary was a woman of rare faith and obedience.

Misunderstandings
We are deeply in debt to Mary.  Her willing obedience to God brought the Savior into our world.  It's no wonder that people for thousands of years have sought to honor Mary, the mother of the Messiah.  Unfortunately, there is something in human nature that leads people to idolize and worship those we especially admire. 

Some venerate Mary as divine.  They even say Mary—like Jesus—never sinned (a doctrine known as The Immaculate Conception).  The Bible never says Mary was without sin.  To the contrary, the Bible tells us in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.”  Every person who ever lived has sinned at some point—including Mary.  Furthermore, we see that Mary struggled to understand Jesus’ ministry just like his Disciples.  At one point in the Gospels, Mary shows up along with her other sons and attempts to take Jesus home with her because they thought he was crazy (Mark 3:21, 31).  She didn't understand.  You seen, Mary was not perfect.  She was a sinner in need of God’s grace and salvation just like you and me.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”  It is through Jesus Christ that Mary is saved—just like you and me.

Conclusion
What do you see when you think of Mary?  You may be tempted to picture the perfect women portrayed in the porcelain nativity scene sculpted by an artist.  Is that the real Mary?  Is that who you think you need to emulate?

I urge you not to turn Mary into some mythical figure.  Let her be the real girl she was in the Gospel.  The real story is much more compelling than the myth.  Mary was young, poor, and female in a time when women were not highly regarded.  She was a real mother who faced real challenges.  She had no special powers or abilities that you don’t have.  All she had was a willing and obedient heart.  God saw her faith and obedience and He helped her succeed.  You don’t have to be perfect for God to choose you or help you—you just need to be willing and obey.

Mary was like so many mothers.  She was there in the background the whole time nurturing, supporting, and encouraging.  She had too much to do and never enough time to do it.  She wasn't a super mom; she was just a regular person depending on God to help her through.  She was not the central character in the story, but that’s OK.  She never needed the focus to be on her.  To the contrary, she must have recognized as she came to understand more fully who her son was that the focus should always be on him instead of her.  Jesus is Lord, not Mary.  Jesus is the Savior, not Mary.  Jesus is the one who takes away our sins, who answers our prayers, who directs our path. 

I think it would disturb Mary if we spent too much time honoring her.  She would say, “Why are you giving me all this attention?  Don’t look to me!  Don’t worship me! I’m just a person like you.  Please! Please, look at my Son over there!  Isn’t he wonderful?”  Oh that we all had that attitude.  This life is not about us!  It is about Christ! “Turn your eyes upon Jesus!  Look full in his wonderful face and the ting of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace!”

And Mary’s life encourages us to be the best we can be—not because she was perfect, but—because she was just an ordinary girl.  You don’t have to be perfect or even special to make a difference.  Mary was just an ordinary young girl who was willing to be the mother God wanted her to be.  Are you willing to obey God’s plan for your life?  Do you trust God to take what you have to offer and use it for the glory of His Kingdom?  That’s the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus.