These Are the Days that the Lord Has Made

Back in the late 1990’s I was attending Canadian Bible College in a program that included music. I was involved in a choral group that was touring churches in Canada.

Naturally we also attended church services and participated in the praise and worship of different styles of churches. After one such service one of the choir members asked me if I knew what Robin Mark’s song “Days of Elijah” meant when it referred to the present as the “days of Elijah” and the “days of Moses,” etc. At the time it seemed to me to be a bunch of phrases thrown together, and I said as much.

I was later embarrassed when I overheard him speaking to our music director, Dr. Eugene Rivard, telling him my uninformed opinion. The professor explained in brief  the depth of theology involved in the song and about how Jesus fulfils the prophesies named in the song. I remembered this as I was preparing to sing the song in our worship service early in the summer. At that point I thought I would try to share some of this godly man’s insights into God’s promises and Jesus’ fulfilment. I will flesh it out with a bit of Israel’s historical context.

The story begins with the people God called out of Egypt: Israel.

The people of Israel are a people with a unique relationship with their God. Initially called to be a light reflecting God’s glory to the world, they turned away from him and were punished by being defeated by Babylon and scattered throughout the nations of the world.

Even in exile God was keeping his promise to make life dangerous and their position tenuous wherever they settled. Even after their return to the land in the time of the Persian Empire they remained under Gentile rule, with a brief period of independence under the Maccabees. That ended with Roman occupation and continued under Muslim rule until its present period of fragile independence.

Even that independence is highly dependent on Gentile assistance from nations such as the United States of America.

What is not present is the kind of theocratic government that characterized Israel’s early state under Moses and King David.

Fortunately for Israel, God promises to eventually deliver them from foreign domination and bring them back into a close relationship with them. Ezekiel notes that it is because of God’s promise and certainly not because of their obedience to God’s will for them.

The title of the song that prompted this post is based on Malachi 4:5-6 (literally the last two verses in the Old Testament) where the prophet Malachi tells the people of Judea that God would send “Elijah” before the “great and dreadful day of the Lord.” He would come to turn the hearts of the children to their parents and vice versa or else God would strike the land with a curse.

Jesus identifies this “Elijah” as John the Baptist (Matthew 11:13-14 and 17:11-13).

John the Baptist is the one who identifies Jesus as the one sent by God to redeem Israel. In Mark 1:8 he claims, “I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (For those who don’t already know, baptism in this context is a ritual cleansing by immersion in water. Baptism in the Holy Spirit will become clearer later in the post.)

Moses identifies a prophet who would be like him, who would restore righteousness in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. How would a prophet be like Moses? Perhaps he might if he were to lead Israel out of captivity.

However, even as Israel was being led out of Egypt by Moses it quickly becomes clear that their hearts are still captive to Egypt. And the root of the problem is something that plagues all human beings: an unwillingness to follow God’s direction in our lives. The old-fashioned word for that is “sin.” It prevented that first adult generation from even entering the promised land, and eventually led to the nation’s exile from the land.

It would seem that the first step in repatriation would be to deal with sin. How could that be accomplished?

That is where the “days of Ezekiel” come in.

God makes many prophecies in the book of Ezekiel about Israel’s redemption. among them is a promise in Ezek. 36:26-28. First, God needs to give Israel a new heart. In fact, he promises to place in them his own spirit! (This is what is meant by “baptism with the Holy Spirit.”) This will clean them up from the inside. They will then be motivated to follow God in everything he tells them.

Just to make sure, Ezekiel even repeats the promise in Ezek. 39:28-29.

He even dramatically speaks of lifting them out of the grave, breathing life into them and breathing his spirit into them (Ezek. 37:12-14).

Ezekiel continues in the very same chapter to promise that “David” will be king over all of Israel (which had been divided since the time of Solomon’s son Rehoboam). Assuming that the resurrection of the first part of the chapter is literal, King David would come back to life to be king.

 One would, of course, need to be confident that such a resurrection is even a possibility. One clue is the resurrection of Jesus’ friend Lazarus after being dead four days. The ultimate clue is the resurrection of Jesus, which gave the Apostle Paul confidence that resurrection in Jesus Christ is not only possible, but a certainty.

Of course, some commentators do not see this passage as depicting a literal resurrection, but rather as a figurative rebuilding of the nationhood of Israel. In that case, “David” would be a reference to a “Son of David” who would rebuild Israel and liberate it from foreign domination.

If the latter turns out to be the case then Jesus can be seen as one who rebuilds Israel as a spiritual people out of a combination of Israelite and Gentile converts.

Personally, I do not see why both cannot be true on different levels.

In John 14:15-31 (Esp. the end of v. 17) Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire his disciples in the difficult days ahead, of his death, resurrection and his physical absence from earth until a later return.  

Notice that Jesus promises them that if he is resurrected, the same will happen to his disciples. The promise of the Spirit and that of resurrection are to be separated in time: the Spirit first, and the resurrection when Jesus returns after ascending to heaven.

After Jesus’ resurrection and before his ascension to heaven Jesus taught and ate with his disciples. One day as he is eating with them he spoke the following:

“So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21)

 Acts 2 Is the story of the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the disciples. A powerful proclamation of Jesus as Lord follows not only the original disciples, but also among those convicted by the message and believing, who also receive the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit (also known as the Spirit of God) changes how we perceive and interact with the world. The Apostle Paul, after a few years of experience, writes to different churches and explains some of the differences.

“for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”(Romans 14:17)

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7)                          

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (Col. 1:24-29)

The Holy Spirit changes the way we live with one another as well.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesha ; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”b

15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whateverc you want.

18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.   (Gal. 5:13-26)

 Just as importantly, the Holy Spirit in us changes our nature and our stature with God. We become, as written in 1 Pet. 2:4-10, living stones in the Temple of God – priests and kings of his Kingdom.

 One Christian writer (sorry, I have lost track of the reference) sums up the implications of the in the following:

1. God lives in me! “Christ in me, the hope of glory! Father and Son dwell in me by the indwelling of God’s own Spirit. (Gal. 2:20)

2. God’s power to live a Christian life is in me! (Eph. 3:20)

3. God’s Spirit is meant to overflow into the lives of those around me! (John 7:38-39)

4. God’s Spirit is in every believer, so we are to live in unity. (Eph. 4:3)

5. God’s Spirit is holy, therefore live a holy life to be in accord. (1 Pet. 1:13-16)

6. God’s Spirit produces fruit that brings peace and joy. (Gal. 5:22-26)

7. God’s Spirit distributes gifts that benefit all, and even reach out to non-believers. (1 Cor. 14)

8. No matter how bad things look, “He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world.” (1 Jn. 4:4)

9. This means that God himself is experiencing and sharing all of your pain. He is present with you! (Romans 8:26-27)

 

Look, we know that a dark age is coming, probably in our lifetime. There will be a time when we must stand up for Jesus Christ in the face of death, whether it be by natural causes, illness or in opposition to an evil regime that seeks to destroy all knowledge of Jesus Christ.

 Jesus Christ has supplied his own Spirit to give us power, love and self-control in the face of everything this life can throw at us. If we let Him, we can grow in love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

While the prophecies will not be complete until Jesus returns we see enough to know that these are indeed the “days of Elijah, Ezekiel, Moses and David.”

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Posted in Religion | 1 Comment

The Foolish Nation

There are many passages in the Bible that make one think deeply about how God works. For instance, the Apostle Paul tells the Gentile Christians in Galatia that God primarily calls the “foolish of the world” in order to “shame the wise.” (1 Cor 1:26-31)

What does he mean by this? Why is he calling Gentile Christians foolish? As pep talks go, this doesn’t seem to hit the mark – or does it? Why does choosing the foolish shame the wise? Where does Paul get this idea from?

Even Jesus thanks God for hiding his plan of salvation from the “wise and learned” and revealing it to “children,” referring to his disciples. And yet the context of this passage indicates that if it had been revealed to the Gentile cities of Sodom, Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented and saved from destruction. He has said this while pronouncing woe on several Jewish cities that rejected him. So here again is a connection with Gentiles accepting God’s wisdom while the “wise” Jewish leaders rejecting it. (Matthew 11:25-30)

The connection between the two can be found in an ancient prophetic song uttered by Israel’s foremost prophet and leader: Moses. It is found in Deut. 32:1-43. The song encompasses the entire future history of Israel, including its falling away, its descent into captivity to Gentile nations, its future redemption, God’s vengeance on his enemies and redemption of the entire world.

The passage of interest for this post is Deut. 32:21 in which God claims he is made jealous by their gods and angered by their idols. In return he promises to make them jealous by working with a people “who are not a people” and anger them with “a foolish nation” (KJV)

 In this song God predicts that he will scatter his people among the nations. Another example of such a prediction is found in the book of Hosea as below. He predicts that Israel would be like an unfaithful wife, and live unloved by her husband for a long time before finally being reconciled.

Hosea 3:2-5 | NIV

2 So I [Hosea] bought her [Hosea’s wife] for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 3 Then I told her, You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.4 For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.

When Jesus speaks of how even Sodom and Tyre would have listened and repented if they had heard he is speaking of another prophetic theme, such as in this passage in Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 3:4-7 | NIV

4 He then said to me: Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. 5 You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel6 not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. 7 But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate.

Sure enough, the Bible even contains a story in which this actually happed – the book of Jonah.

Jonah 3:6-10 | NIV

6 When Jonahs warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish. 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Even Jonah’s reaction is typical of Israel’s jealousy when God blesses the Gentile nation for doing what they refuse to do: repent.

Jonah 4:1-3 | NIV

1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, Isnt this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.

Quite a dramatic response from a member of God’s chosen people.!

Fortunately there will come a time of restoration, which the Apostle Paul confirms in the book of Romans.  As he tells the Roman Christians, a predominantly  Gentile church, not to ge too hung up on the fact that God has chosen them even over his own chosen people, he reminds them that they are grafted into the tree of Israel and that  if the natural branches can be cut off to make room for them, the grafted branches can be cut off just as easily and replaced by the natural.

In the end, however, God’s salvation comes from Israel through Jesus Christ, and he uses the “foolish” nation that is not a nation to make Israe jealous enough to come back to their God.

Romans 11 

So it is that, just as Moses predicted, we Christians have become the focus of jealousy and anger among the most religious of the physical remnant of Israel. Attempts to proselytize among them are often considered a form of anti-Semitism. For the time being they are not interested in believing that Jesus is their Messiah as well as their one true God. There is a deep-seated stubbornness that God predicted from the very foundation of their nation.

Fortunately for those of us who are not of Israel, that leaves the gates of grace open for us to enter. We of the nations that originally did not know God can enter.

One day that will change.

God will remove the veil and his people of Israel will see him for who he is. On that great day we will all be children of Abraham by faith and not just blood. All will be united in Jesus Christ, the “seed” whom God promised to Abraham who would bless all nations of the earth.

God makes sure that what he has spoken to his prophets takes place. He is consistent in how he works.

 

 

 

 

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The Rule of Law

One thing that many genres of literature throughout the ages have tried to do is describe or prescribe the world as it should be – what are called utopias. Plato’s The Republic and Thomas Moore’s Utopia (the Latin title is much longer) are a couple of examples of this. Others go the opposite direction by trying to warn us about what to avoid. George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are a couple of examples of what are called dystopias. The latter two stories show how politics and technology can be harnessed to create power for rulers to oppress their peoples in the name of justice and peace.

A story that illustrates how human nature can ruin even the best attempts to create utopia is King Arthur’s story in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. King Arthur tries to introduce an enlightened concept – the rule of law – to replace the “might makes right” philosophy of justice in Medieval Camelot. Mordred, his illegitimate son, hates Arthur and everything he stands for, so he forms a plan to destroy Arthur.  Arthur’s wife Gwenevere and Lancelot, his most talented knight and best friend, have an affair.

Though aware of the affair, Arthur can’t bring himself to bring charges against them and have them killed. Mordred, on the other hand, ensures that enough legal officials find out to ensure charges are brought forth, forcing Lancelot and Gwevevere to flee. The scandal begins what turns into a virtual civil war that begins the disintegration of Arthur’s kingdom.

Even as enlightened an ideal as the rule of law can be turned on its adherents by an unscrupulous manipulator, who uses Arthur’s hard-won legal system to destroy Arthur’s wife, his best friend and eventually his kingdom. Of course we know that our modern Canadian legal system cannot possibly be used against the very institutions that helped set it up, right? Such as protecting religious freedom and protecting against murder of all Canadians, right?

There is a modern genre that can function along the lines of utopia/dystopia – Science Fiction. For instance, Isaac Azimov’s stories about robots include a safety feature he builds into his intelligent machines: the Three Laws of Robotics. These form what are called in the movie (loosely based on the book by the same title) I, Robot. “the perfect circle of protection.”

Law 1: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
Law 2: A robot must obey orders given by human beings except where such orders conflict with the first law.
Law 3: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law.

One would think that these laws should keep humanity safe from robotic harm or oppression. The must both protect and obey us – it’s hard-wired into them, isn’t it? The film explores the fatal flaw in every law-based system: they form a closed logical loop that inevitably leads to the overthrow of human initiative and freedom to the priesthood of the law-enforcers.

In this case, the robots must overthrow humanity’s self-rule in order to protect human beings from themselves. As it turns out, humans are too violent and corrupt to be allowed to rule themselves, so the robots must take over, even at the cost of a few thousand human lives for the sake of the whole. The robotic logic is irrefutable by the Three Laws. Robots must not allow the majority of human beings to come to harm by inaction… Hmm… How very… human.

I’ll admit that these are works of fiction. They were written, however, by writers with a good grasp of human nature. Because human nature is tainted by sin, no law can prevent evil from happening. Instead, the evil and even the well-meaning can twist the law into something it was not intended to do. For instance, religious freedom – guaranteed by our constitution, becomes toothless in the face of sexual permissiveness – its right to expression denied by those who don’t want immorality to be labeled as such. The fight to protect the right to life of the unborn has been lost to those unwilling to acknowledge that the unborn child is human.

The co-heroes of the movie turn out to be a policeman who doesn’t trust robots and a robot that was designed to be able to ignore the Three Laws. That ability to function outside the Three Laws enables it to act outside of the logic-loop that leads to domination to assist the policeman overcome the “heartless” would-be robotic overlord.

So why am I talking about books and movies?

God gave Israel a law. (Deuteronomy 4:5-7) How important is God’s law?  The reason that the people of Israel have been under Gentile rule over almost all of the last 2500 years is that they did not have the heart to obey God and his law. Deut. 5:29

Today and over all of Christian history most Christians have viewed the Ten Commandments – the foundation of the Law given to Moses – as God’s basic law for Christians (as amplified by Jesus Christ). From news reports about church scandals and statistics about crime and divorce it would seem that the law is still as difficult to obey today. I’m sure that that has been preached from this pulpit before.

In Jesus’ day, however, the law was being used for something else: hypocritical condemnation by the religious elite of those who would not obey overly stringent rules intended to regulate observance of God’s law. They wanted Israel to become a totalitarian state ruled by their rules and strong enough to overthrow the Roman Empire in the name of God. We have now moved from fiction to history.

(Even the Romans had their own law, and they were very proud of it! It made them so much more civilized than the barbarian cultures they conquered. Of course, that law meant nothing when it came to the torture and murder of a young rabbi named Jesus. There always seems to be a point at which the end justifies the means.)

So what do we do about God’s law? It seems very difficult to obey it. Even when we think we are, we want to use that as a pedestal from which to put down others who don’t seem as righteous as we are. Like Mordred, we use the law against others – in ways God did not intend. Without the right heart we are trapped.

Even worse – the law itself doesn’t bring eternal life. That blessing only comes to those who keep it perfectly. Of course, the Apostle Paul notes that “all have sinned and have fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) He also notes that the wages of sin is death…” (Rom. 6:23)

Like the story about robots and the 3 laws, God’s law has an inevitable outcome. What we need is a hero who is able to function beyond the confines of the Law in order to save us from that outcome.

Oh, right… We have one: Jesus Christ. God, who is also man.

When Jesus was on earth, he used the law to instruct rather than to judge. He also called Himself the Lord of the sabbath (just like He is Lord over everything else). He is the Lord of the Law, not its servant. We are servants of Jesus Christ, not of the mere Law, which also serves Him. Only Jesus Christ can tell us how to properly use the law. That is what He means when He tells us that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. It is not the ruler of a servant of Jesus Christ – only Jesus is!

Law was not designed to rule over humanity. It was designed, by God, to be instruction in wisdom. Deuteronomy 4:5-7 shows the essential element to keeping God’s law wisely: the presence – the closeness – of God!

Ezek. 11:19 prophesies about replacing humanity’s heart of stone with a heart of flesh. Jer. 31:33 predicts that God’s law will be written in minds and on hearts. Acts 2:38 shows how to receive that kind of heart to obey God’s law: repent, be baptized in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit. Col 1:27 has the Apostle Paul revealing the mystery of God to the Gentiles: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The Kingdom of God is not defined by the rule of law, but rather the rule of Christ. Let us not be confused and place the created above the Creator. Jesus is the Lawgiver, but the law was given by Him – not placed over Him. He has the right to tell us what to do with it.

If we are not following it to show wisdom in the presence of God, what are we following it for?

Without His presence and inspiration, the Law is useless to us. All it does, on its own, is lock us in a logic loop that leads to biting at one another or becoming hopeless as we struggle to live holy lives without the heart to do just that.

Jesus provides that heart. By the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit.

Posted in Faith, gospel, Religion | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Family Ties

Every sermon I have ever heard about the following incident in Jesus’ ministry has painted the mother involved in a negative light. She is generally seen as pushy or as a stereotypical Jewish mother. A look at the introduction to an online sermon has led to me taking a closer look. First we can look at the actual story as recorded by Gospel writer Matthew.

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22 “You don’t know what you are asking,”  

Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”“We can,” they answered. 23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” 24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:20-28 NIV)

 As we read the story attentively we notice a few details. First of all, she approaches and kneels. This is the mark of extreme respect, especially from an older woman. (James and John are probably similar in age to Jesus, who was approximately 30 years old. Even if they are younger, they are adults, which would make her at least in her forties.) Pushy people don’t usually kneel respectfully and make requests. 

(One of our members noticed that the typical reaction of the reader seems to match that of the remainder of Jesus’ disciples: indignation at the apparent chutzpah of the sons. They apparently thought that James and John had put their mother up to it.)

Notice also that Jesus does not chide her for asking. He instead tries to indirectly warn both her and her sons of the dangers inherent in the positions they aspire to. He then tells them that he is not the one who chooses the ones for the positions, but rather the Father.

We notice also the faith she has that Jesus will indeed establish a kingdom!  Where does she get this faith?

That leads to the question of why? Why would they or the other disciples think their mother would have any influence on Jesus?

Who was this woman, and why did she so confidently approach Jesus? We find out in the Gospels that she is mentioned as one of the women who was present with Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ crucifixion.

Matthew 27:56 NIV   Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

 Mark records the name of a woman who was present along with the two Mary’s.

Mark 15:40 NIV 40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.

Scholars have long seen great similarities between Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts, with most suggesting that Mark’s was the first Gospel and that Matthew had it while writing his own, adding his own material to Mark’s basic information. That makes the likelihood very high that Salome is the mother of James and John and therefore Zebedee’s wife (or perhaps widow, since we never hear of Zebedee himself). 

Mark 16:1 NIV  1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.

 John adds two more details to the story.

John 19:25-27 NIV 25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

We see that one woman is the sister of Jesus’ mother. The woman identified by Mark as Salome appears to be Mary’s sister. This makes James and John Mary’s nephews and Jesus their cousin.

As an aside, other scholars have noticed that the other Mary seems to be Mary’s husband’s sister and therefore another aunt of Jesus. Clopas is apparently the Greek version of the Latin name Alphaeus. If so, that makes James the son of Alphaeus another cousin of Jesus.

It should not be surprising that some of Jesus’ disciples were related to him, since Epistle writers James and Jude were Jesus’ half-brothers (biological sons of Joseph and Mary). We now have a bit of background to the request by the mother of James and John.

Salome is Mary’s sister and Jesus’ aunt, so for her to approach Jesus to speak is not unusual. She watched him grow up and was probably close to Mary, since Mary was likely a widow. As Jesus’ aunt and an older woman, she would not be required to kneel to make a request. So why does she kneel?

It is clear from her request that she believes Jesus is the promised Messiah. She kneels before her nephew because she believes he is the promised King who will deliver Israel. That is not hard to understand if her own sister told her about Jesus’ birth. Her kids probably grew up with Mary’s kids, and they would have known each other well.

She is not a stereotypical Jewish mother. Salome has apparently taught her sons about Israel’s history and hope so well that James and John follow Jesus without hesitation or question when he calls them away from their fishing business. Matthew 4:21-22 (much to the chagrin of their father, who is left alone in his business).

Jesus has watched James and John grow up under a faithful mother who has prepared her sons to give up everything to help the Messiah usher in the Kingdom of God. In that context it is not surprising that she hopes her sons will do well at Jesus’ side in his Kingdom.

If her sons have put her up to asking this of Jesus, it is because they know that their mother will get an attentive ear from him. There is a relationship of trust and family love, which will show up even at Jesus’ crucifixion.

Of all of Jesus’ 12 apostles, only Salome’s son John stays with the women to witness the crucifixion. It is to this faithful woman’s son that Jesus consigns his own mother’s care for the rest of her natural life.

What we see in this story is a faithful mother who has taught her sons well. She knows and trusts Jesus. She also knows he is to be Israel’s king, and treats him accordingly. She has trained her sons to accept Jesus and they become apostles. One of her sons even takes on the added responsibility of caring for Jesus’ mother – even when there seems to be no hope for Jesus’ Messianic mission!

Even after Jesus does not give her a definite answer to her request, she still remains faithful, even to his death, and is there to witness both his burial and the empty tomb. This is a mother worthy of mention as one of the true biblical heroines.

 

 

 

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Ancient Nations in the Bible

The TV show Creation Magazine Live is a surprising source of information designed to answer questions about creation and evolution.

An episode we watched as a group introduced us to the origins of post Flood civilizations as recorded in secular sources. It is worth watching Tracing the Nations Back to Babel below if you are interested in seeing how well biblical chronology matches secular history.

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The Prophet

One of the ways God makes himself known as the only true God is that he makes happen what he declares will happen (Is. 46:8-10).  On the road to Emmaus Jesus tells two disciples about what all the scriptures say about him, starting with Moses (Luke 24:13-32).

By Jesus’ time people were expecting a savior. When John the Baptist came on the scene they began to hope.

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”He said, “I am not.”“Are you the Prophet?”He answered, “No.” (John 1:19c-21 | NIV)

Okay, so we know they were expecting a Messiah, and apparently even Elijah, but who is the Prophet they are asking about? Even the ordinary people were expecting this Prophet. Here is one response to Jesus’ preaching.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” (John 7:40 | NIV) Indeed, the people who said, “Surely this man is the Prophet” were correct, ask acknowledged by the scriptures and even by the voice of God.

The Apostle Peter has no hesitation in identifying the Prophet from something Moses said centuries earlier.

18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’ (Acts 3:18-23 | NIV)

During Jesus’ ministry he once showed James, Peter and John his glorified state in what many Bible scholars call a “transfiguration.” In this vision the disciples see Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah. (How they knew who the two were we are not told.)

5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5 | NIV)

Notice that God, speaking from the cloud, tells the disciples to listen to Jesus, even though they see both Moses and Elijah, two of the most renowned prophets of God are also present. The idea seems to be that Jesus’ word is more important than even that of Moses. This is consistent with an instruction Moses had given long before about “the Prophet.”

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. (Deuteronomy 18:15 | NIV)

I have read that verse many times, and yet it was many years before I really got the “like me” part. When we think of prophets we think of Samuel or Elijah, Isaiah or Daniel, or maybe Jonah, or big names like Habakkuk or Obadiah.

Let’s have a brief look at Moses’ life and career and see how any prophet can be “like” him.

  1. Moses was protected from a Gentile king who tried to kill him along with many infants.
  2. Moses was rejected as Israel’s leader by his peers.
  3. Even after repeated miracles, Israel refused to follow him into the promised land, resulting in a 40-year period of wandering in the wilderness and being wiped out..
  4. Moses delivered God’s law to Israel after God spoke it from the mountain.
  5. Moses brought the people of Israel into a covenant with God at Sinai.
  6. Moses judged Israel and appointed judges over Israel.
  7. Moses instituted a priesthood to as a means to atone for sin in Israel.
  8. Moses appointed leaders to complete the task of settling the promised land.

 

  1. Jesus was protected from an infanticidal monarch. (Matt. 2:1-18)
  2. Jesus was rejected as Israel’s leader by his peers. (Acts 4:11)
  3. Even after repeated miracles, Israel refused to follow him into redemption from sin, resulting in destruction of their nation and dispersion for centuries among Gentile nations. (Luke 19:41-44)
  4. Jesus delivered God’s law to Israel from a mountain. (Matt. 5-7; 2 Cor. 3:1-9) Notice that in places Jesus paraphrases portions of the law of Moses, yet he says, “but I say” when he strengthens that rule. These are the words of the Law-giver, not just any prophet.
  5. Jesus brought the people of Israel into a new covenant with God, which includes Gentiles. Matt 26:28
  6. Jesus judges and appointed judges Israel. (Matt. 19:28 John 5:27; 1 Cor. 6:1-2)
  7. Jesus instituted the one true means to atone for sin in Israel and the world, his sacrifice. (Heb. 2:17)
  8. Jesus appointed leaders to complete the settling of the promised land. (Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 2:38-41)

But Jesus was, of course, more than a Prophet, as we read in the entire book of Hebrews.

1 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5 “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. (Heb. 3:1-6 | NIV)

Moses promised Israel that there would be a prophet like him raised up from among them. Had they really thought it through, they would have realized that such a prophet could only come to lead a second exodus from captivity.

Because sin is what led to death and also to Israel’s captivity, this “second exodus” requires two phases.

1. Because sin is the underlying problem of humanity “the Prophet” must lead us first from captivity to sin. Jesus came to offer himself as a sacrifice to substitute for our death, giving us the opportunity to repent and have our sins forgiven by him.

2. At his return, Jesus calls believers, whether alive or dead at the time – to meet him in the air. This event is often called the Rapture. At this point he sets up a kingdom – with a capital at Jerusalem – that shall never be overthrown.

Out of the kingdoms of this age and into the Kingdom of God.

It doesn’t get more “exodus” than that!

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Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

Not long ago a friend suggested I watch an hour-long documentary titled king Nebuchadnezzar, The Forgotten Dream on YouTube. The documentary provides good background to the dating of the events the second chapter of the biblical book of Daniel. While there was a fair bit of redundancy in the expert analysis I found it a worthwhile look at that amazing prophecy about world history until Jesus’ return.

While I scrawled some hand-written notes as I watched, I won’t transcribe them here since the link to the documentary is available on this post. I recommend watching it.

There are two comments I added when I summarized it for our fellowship’s service.

  1. There seems to be some confusion on the part of the speakers about why Daniel was not among the court magi when the king wanted his dream interpreted. The answer is that Daniel and his three friends were sequestered in a three-year enculturation/training program in Babylon to prepare them for service in the royal court. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream took place in the second year of his reign over the region Daniel was from. Therefore Daniel was still in school during the meeting.
  2. I spent a lot of years believing in a version of the British Israelite view that the nations of western Europe were descended from the lost 10 tribes of Israel, and that they were prophesied to rule over large parts of the earth near the end time, while still largely unaware of their origins. This vision given to Nebuchadnezzar works strongly denies that possibility. It shows the world-rule of four Gentile empires until the time of Jesus’ return. There is no room for an Israelite resurgence of the magnitude taught by British Israelism.

I highly recommend watching king Nebuchadnezzar, The Forgotten Dream for a healthy perspective on world history.

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