Holy Week – Friday – Good Friday

Matthew 27:1-61; Mark 15:1-47; Luke 23:1-56; John 18:28-19:42

Good? This is the day we remember Jesus’ death on the cross. How can something so terrible be good? Well…. it was the terrible price that God paid so that we (sinners) could be in relationship with Him. We are better off and have been given forgiveness and new life as a result of His great loss. Jesus’ loss was our great gain. It wasn’t so “good” for Jesus, but it was more than “good” for us. Good Friday.

Here’s what happened:

Throughout the night on Thursday, the chief priests arrested Jesus and then rushed Him around to a few places trying to get permission to have Him killed. They see Caiaphas and then Pilate who then sent them to Herod so he wouldn’t have to deal with the situation. However, Herod didn’t have the authority to execute Jesus, so he sent him back to Pilate. In the end, Pilate reluctantly agreed to the demands of the crowd and sentenced Him to death.

The story becomes pretty gruesome at this point. Jesus is beaten with a flagrum (whip) that had shards of glass and bone at the end of several leather straps. He receives 39 lashings which would tear up His body. (often enough to kill someone or make them unconscious) They put a crown of thorns on His head and mock Him and then force Him to carry His own crossbar (easily 100 pounds) to the place of execution. Once there, spikes were driven through His hands and feet and He was hung on the cross. At that point, there was more mocking, and one of the other criminals being crucified defended Him. Jesus told him that he’d be with Him in paradise. Ultimately, Jesus died from suffocation.

A man named Joseph of Arimathea got permission to take Jesus’ body and with the help of some women who prepared spices, he buried Him in a tomb cut in stone.

As they buried Jesus’ body, the disciples and all of His followers were in disbelief. They had believed that He would be their salvation. They had believed that He would be a conquering King and would restore Israel to it’s rightful place among the nations. As Jesus breathed His last breath, their dreams died. All they had hoped for was destroyed. Their friend was gone. Their hearts were broken.

 

Great Good Friday Song: God Rested – Andrew Peterson

Holy Week – Sunday – Jerusalem Arrival

Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:9-19
Palm Sunday is the day that we celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem the week prior to His crucifixion and resurrection. Anyway, here’s what I learned about the culture of this whole:

During Jesus’ day, Pilate ruled over Jerusalem as a Roman governor. Pilate’s superior would have been Caesar.

Caesar believed that he literally had come from heaven to earth and that he was the son of God incarnate on earth. He wanted to show people his power by spreading propaganda. Some of the sayings of his day were: “Caesar is Lord! There is no other name under heaven by which people can be saved than that of Caesar.” He also had a 12-day celebration of his birth called the “Advent of Caesar.” You could even give him offerings so that your sins could be forgiven. He was “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

During Jesus’ day, there were a few times a year that all Jewish people were supposed to go to Jerusalem to celebrate specific holidays together. The Romans were in charge and ruled over Jerusalem, but during these celebrations, the Jews would certainly have outnumbered the Romans who were present in the city. Pilate (the Roman governor) would probably have felt pretty weary about these festivals. I mean, there was always a big mess to clean up, fights to break up, and simply more people to govern and take care of during these times. It would have been a stressful time in government and there was also the ever-present threat that if the Jews decided to all get together, they might be able to overtake him. Pilate lived in a mansion in Caesarea, but during these festivals and specifically this week (Festival of Unleavened Bread or Passover – this festival celebrated that God heard their cry during a time when they were oppressed by a foreign government.) Anyway, Pilate would march into Jerusalem to keep things in order during these festivals. His procession was designed to be authoritative and show his power. It was designed to scare the people so that they would never even dream of uprising against Rome. The procession began with the Roman emblem which was an eagle.

Sidenote: A teacher of the law, says Jesus I’ll follow you wherever you go, and Jesus responds “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) He was speaking about Rome as the “bird” and the word “fox” referred to the Herods who were corrupt kings who lived in palaces but didn’t care about the people. Jesus’ answer spoke saying “These other movements are about power, mine is different – I don’t even have a place to sleep.”

Behind the the eagle in the procession would have been the Roman soldiers carrying etchings of the Caesars with all kinds of things reminding the people of all the power they had and all the battles they had won. The etchings were all about power, strength, and domination. They also marched with metal shields which made sounds which would have brought about fear and terror to the people watching. Pilate would have entered next on a horse – a huge stallion – again a symbol of power, strength, and military conquests.

PILATE ENTERED JERUSALEM ON A HORSE FROM THE WEST!


Luke 19 describes another event which happened the same week. Jesus went to Jerusalem and from the Mount of Olives (east of Jerusalem) he sent some people ahead of him to get a donkey. As you look west from the Mount of Olives you can see Jerusalem just past the Kiddron Valley. They brought the donkey to him and people spread their cloaks on the road as He passed them. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” This word “King” might not have been a good one to use in light of Pilate who had just come in himself. Some of the Pharisees ask Jesus to rebuke the disciples and to kind of “keep it down.” Jesus responds, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out!” Now, there were a bunch of stones/graves on the Mount of Olives, because the Jewish belief was that the Messiah would raise from the dead all the good Jews who had died. From there they believed He would lead them all into Jerusalem where there would be peace and prosperity. Therefore, they all wanted to be buried near Jerusalem. So anyway, the Pharisees told them to be quiet, but Jesus says basically, “I’m the Messiah who will raise these people from the dead!” The Pharisees’ lightbulbs came on ’cause they certainly knew what Jesus was talking about.

Jesus doesn’t walk into the city, but rides a donkey. (Matthew 21) Zechariah had said years ago that the King would come “gentle and riding on a donkey.” Jesus used the donkey to say, “Hey, I’m the guy you’ve been waiting for.” Now the way Matthew quoted this verse is called a “remez” – where Jews would quote the first part of a verse knowing that the other Jews would know the 2nd part of the verse. (Remember, they all had to memorize the Old Testament)

Here’s the whole verse: Zechariah 9:9-10 “See your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.(That’s the part Matthew quoted – next is the part the Jews would have known.) I will take away the chariots from Ephraim (Jews) and the war-horses from Jerusalem and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations.” Now check this out: Pilate came from the west proclaiming his war abilities, Jesus comes from the east and takes the peoples weapons away so he can proclaim peace. Jesus’ kingdom is totally different than the kingdom of Rome. His kingdom is about peace, not war. His parade is humble rather than proud.

JESUS ENTERED JERUSALEM FROM THE EAST ON A DONKEY!

Why did Jesus weep as He entered the city? In the year 70AD the Jews decided to do it all Pilates way and they took up arms against Rome – they got destroyed! The temple was also destroyed. Jesus knew that Jerusalem would fail to do things His way, even though they were quick to follow Him now. In the city of Rome today stands the “Titus Arch” in remembrance of the destruction of Jerusalem. Can you hear Jesus? “You guys don’t realize it, but you’re gonna end up falling into the trap of war too.”


OK – here’s the point for you and I: THERE ARE TWO WAYS TO ENTER A CITY – the way of Pilate or the way of Jesus. There are two ways to enter a conversation. There are two ways to treat your family. There are two ways to deal with conflict in a relationship. There are two ways to deal with pain. There are two ways to treat your friends. Which will it be for you? Horses or donkeys? From the West or from the East? The way of Pilate or the way of Jesus?

ME? I HOPE I CAN CHOOSE THE DONKEY.

Holy Week – Thursday – Last Supper

Matthew 26:17-75; Mark 14:12-72; Luke 22:7-71; John 13:1-18:27

On Thursday of Holy Week, Jesus celebrated a traditional Passover meal with His disciples. (well… maybe not so traditional) He sent John and Peter ahead to get the meal prepared. When they arrived the disciples thought it was just gonna be “business as usual.” They had celebrated the Passover meal every year for as long as they could remember. They knew how it worked, but Jesus was about the change it up.

At the beginning of the meal, the host (usually the father in a home) washed His hands to purify Himself to lead. However, Jesus didn’t need to purify Himself so He started changing things up from the very start of the evening.  Jesus took the basin and towel and used it instead to wash the feet of the disciples telling them that they should serve others as well. At this point, it probably become more clear that Jesus would be doing the Passover differently.

God had instituted the Passover meal to help Israel to remember what He had done during the time of Moses and the Exodus. They remembered the 10 plagues that God sent upon Egypt – including the lamb which each household sacrificed in order to put its blood on their doorways so the angel of death would passover them. The blood of the lamb had saved them. They ate bitter herbs to remember their lives as slaves in Egypt. They ate a sweet mixture of fruit, honey, and nuts, and recognized that God had been present with them even in those bitter times.  He brought a sweetness to their lives even in the midst of slavery. They dipped vegetables in salt water to remember how God had brought them through the Red Sea.

After the meal, they ate unleavened bread to remember how God had miraculously provided “bread from heaven” (manna) for them to eat in the desert. In those moments, they said a blessing over the bread, “Blessed art thou OH LORD, our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” In this blessing they remembered the manna, but it also pointed forward to the fact that Jesus himself (Bread of Life) was about to come “forth from the earth.” In just a few days, He would be resurrected and come out of the tomb!

Immediately following the bread, the traditional meal required them to drink a cup of wine called the “Cup of Redemption.” This cup and the color of the wine was intended to remind the Jewish people of the blood of the Passover lamb that had been sacrificed for their salvation. Jesus deviated from the usual way of doing this meal when He told them to drink it in remembrance of Him. It had always been in remembrance of the lamb slain in the original Passover. However, this would be something new. The new covenant which Jesus instituted that night would still celebrate the blood of the Lamb, but this lamb was Jesus Himself. There is Jerusalem, just that same week He was in the midst of choosing a path which would lead Him to the cross. There, he would die for the sins of the world, sacrificing Himself so we can be in relationship with God.

(Sidenote: The Cup of Redemption was also used in their culture as part of weddings. When a man chose a bride, He said “Will you marry me?” by offering her the cup. Drinking it was her way of saying, “Yes!!” – When we drink of the cup in communion, we are agreeing to live our lives married to Jesus and His ways. It’s an incredible offer – to become a part of the Family of God)

After the Passover meal, Jesus prays for His disciples (those present with Him and those who will become disciples later on)  and then He the disciples make their way to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spends some time praying. It’s not long before Jesus is officially betrayed by Judas and then is arrested.

Inner monologue: Am I prepared for a life with Jesus? In what ways do I need to prepare more? Do I recognize the sweetness of the Lord while I’m in the midst of struggle? This meal tells the story of God’s interaction with His people. What are some ways that I can tell the story of God’s interactions with me?

 

Download a Guide I wrote to the  Passover Meal here:  Passover Haggadah

Related Post:

Married Twice – An Ancient and Future Wedding

Holy Week – Wednesday – Quiet Strength

Matthew 26:6-16 –  Mark 14:3-11 – Luke 22:3-6

Wednesday is a quiet day for Jesus, but God is still at work – A quiet strength. After all that had been said on Tuesday, Jesus gave the Pharisees a little break from Him. They had already made up their minds about killing Him, but needed a little time work out a plan. Like a true gentleman, Jesus gave them some space. Scripture doesn’t record Him taking another trip into town or any interaction with the Pharisees.

Instead, Jesus stays in the home of Simon the Leper, where Mary (Lazarus’ sister) anointed Jesus with a very expensive perfume. According to one scholar,  hung flasks like this one around their neck. Mark 14:3,  says that the flask had to be broken for her to even open it. An article from Russ Ramsey explains that this act is like “popping the cork on a $20,000 bottle of champagne.” It was extravagant and the disciples (specifically Judas)  was upset (John 12:4-6) because that kind of money could have been used to “care for the poor.” (Code for: I can steal some) However, Jesus defends her saying that they would always have the poor, but that He would not always be there.

I think Jesus recognized something else too. The expensive perfume, was not just expensive perfume. It was a symbol of her heart. She gave all she had to Jesus. The perfume was simply the means by which she gave her life to Him.  There’s a quiet strength in her. When Jesus defended her, He valued her heart.  When He says this was a beautiful act that would always be remembered (Mt 26:13), He is telling us that she is a great example. We should respond to Him generously… extravagantly. All we have and all we are still doesn’t match the gift we’ve been given in Him.

Jesus didn’t stir the pot with the Pharisees on Wednesday, but Judas met with the chief priests, arranged to betray Him, and received 30 pieces of silver. Jesus’ quiet strength worked in the lives of those at Simon’s house, and the enemy was working in the shadows at the same time – plotting and scheming to destroy Him. Interestingly enough, Jesus’ efforts on Tuesday (pushing Pharisees into a corner) seem to be quietly whispering that Jesus’ plan is big enough to include a bunch of angry Pharisees. They thought they were working their plan, but ultimately, they were stepping into a script that the Lord had written before time itself.

My inner monologue: What’s keeping me from demonstrating my love for the Lord extravagantly? Are there people that I have judged for being too extravagant? What excuses do I tell myself for not being more generous?

Holy Week – Tuesday – Confrontation and Determination

Matthew 21:23-26:5; Mark 11:27-14:2; Luke 20:1-22:2; John 12:37-50

The Tuesday of Holy Week is full of confrontation. Jesus is determined.

After the events of Monday (running money changers out), the chief priests and scribes have seen enough and they are ready to kill Jesus. However, Jesus doesn’t do anything different. He could have smoothed things over a bit and de-escalated the situation, but He didn’t. Jesus chose to push forward in spite of the opposition.

When they question His authority, He trapped them. (Mt 21:27) Then he told them that tax collectors and prostitutes made better decisions than they did. (Mt 21:32)  In vs 21:43, Jesus tells the chief priests and scribes that the Kingdom of God will be taken from them.

These are not the kinds of things you say if you’re trying to de-escalate the situation.

Next, (Mt 22:10) Jesus tells them a story that compares them to wedding guests who make poor choices and aren’t worthy enough to attend. They end up losing their spots to random people from the streets.

Jesus just keeps pushing them.

They try to trap him with a question about paying taxes, but Jesus makes the slip and points out that they are putting trust in the wrong things. God is interested in hearts not money. (Mt 22:21)

Sidenote: Caesar minted coins with his face to help spread his name. When Rome conquered Jerusalem he also required a tribute in the form of a tax from that country. This is a huge deal to the Jews ’cause Caesar was claiming to be god. If they paid the tax, then they would be breaking the first two commandments – no other gods before me, and you shall have no graven image. (coin itself was an image) When the religious leaders try to trap Jesus with this issue he asks them for a coin – this means that Jesus didn’t have one (He wasn’t carrying a graven image) When the religious leaders pull one out, they have already broken the second commandment. Jesus is so cool!!!

The Sadducees question Him, and Jesus silences them too explaining that they don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God. (Mt 22:29)

If they were upset about Monday, Tuesday simply compounds their feelings about Him. They hate him even more now.

After all the confrontation, Jesus tells His disciples and the crowd not to act like the Pharisees. (Mt 23:3) I can just imagine them listening in on these words and fuming. Their blood is already boiling, and Jesus just keeps going. They’re already angry enough to be seeking a way to kill Him, but Jesus begins announcing a series of “Woes” on them. He calls them “whitewashed tombs.” He describes them as outwardly beautiful, but inwardly just dead bones and uncleanness.

This summary of Jesus’ words on Tuesday of Holy week only scratches the surface of all that He said, but in the end, the main point is that Jesus seems to be intent on walking a path which will lead Him to the cross. It seems obvious to me that He is deliberately choosing to upset and anger the Pharisees. He is God. He understands fully that He is poking the bear, and yet, He still chooses to do it. In Luke 9:51, we see that Jesus had “set his face on Jerusalem.” He understood His purpose and knew what must be done. Although it was going to be a tough road and difficult days were ahead, Jesus’ resolve was greater. His love for His Father compelled Him. His steps were deliberate.

My inner dialog: How Great is Our God? What kind of God/King chooses the kind of suffering that awaited Him for the benefit of His subjects? How can I be more deliberate in my choice to love others? In what ways do I need to stop trying to pacify others? Do I de-escalate situations too quickly? If I allowed confrontation to have its full effect, would it be beneficial? Would it push things forward and force stronger resolutions?

Prayer: Jesus, I am grateful for your example – for your confrontation of sin and for your determination to honor your Father in spite of the earthly consequences. I’m grateful for your resolve. It led to the cross which allows for my salvation. Thank you for your love. Thank you.

 

Holy Week – Monday – Moneychangers and Soreq Wall

Matthew 21:12-22; Mark 11:12-19; Luke 19:45-48

Most scholars believe that Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple on the Monday of Holy week so I thought I’d post about it today.

I have always wondered about the time Jesus got mad and threw the money changers out of the temple. (Matthew 21, Luke 19, Mark 11) I wondered why everybody thought it was OK in the first place? It seems to me like common sense would tell you that you shouldn’t sell stuff in church. Anyway, here’s what I discovered: They weren’t actually in the temple, but in an area outside the temple. There was the temple, and outside it was the temple court, and then outside that was a wall called the “Soreq.” This wall was the closest that a gentile could get to the temple court and it was just outside this wall where the moneychangers were. The wall was about 5 feet and was basically designed to keep the “unacceptable” non-Jewish people out of the temple court. Jesus was mad that they were selling stuff in church, but He was even more mad that they had such disregard for the (non-Jewish) gentiles who were there to worship. When He got mad He quoted a verse from Isaiah 56:7 which called the temple “a house of prayer for all the nations.” Notice the “all the nations” phrase. I always saw the “house of prayer” part, but. . . Anyway, He was mad that they were treating this particular group of people as outsiders when all along God had included them. Check out the verse before that one – Isaiah 56:6-7 “Foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, to love the name of the Lord. . . .these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. For my house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” Anyway, I just thought that explained the verse a bit more to me.

As I reflect on Holy Week, this story makes me ask myself, “Who are the people that I hinder from hearing the Gospel? What parts of my life would Jesus want to overturn?” This also makes me grateful for Jesus’ outright defense of the gentiles right to worship. (I am one of them.) I’m grateful that it is a House of Prayer for “All Nations.”

 


Bonus info:

Here’s a bit more about the “Soreq.” In Acts 21:27-32 Paul is accused of bringing a non-Jew past the Soreq and into the temple court. They’re actually so mad that they tried to kill him. Later on, in Ephesians 2:14 Paul is talking about gentiles and Jews being “one” in Christ and he says that Christ has “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Could it be that he was referring to this literal wall??

Cool stuff! I love finding things like this ’cause it helps me read the scriptures more like I think the Jewish people would have back when they were written.

Info source: www.followtherabbi.com

He died. I sighed.

(written in Dec 2014)

It’s a week before Christmas. There’s lots to do. I’ve been working all week and finally get to come home. I’m so ready for the holidays away from students – away from work. I’m tired. As I drive home, I start to get excited about being home, being with my kids, having good family time.

I walk through the door and notice the lights are off. My bride is asleep on the couch and my kids are snuggled up beside her watching Mr Bean. They start talking to me and it disrupts Miranda’s sleep. I “shhh” them, but it doesn’t last long. I can tell they’re going to be talkative now that I’m here, so I get up and gently help Miranda to her feet and walk her to bed so the kids can be themselves without disrupting her.

I spend the next hour with kids bouncing up and down on top of me while we watch more Mr Bean. I try to relax and read a little, but the kids keep interrupting. I know it’s important to listen to Kesleigh telling me which coloring book picture is her favorite, but I really just wanna rest. I need a little “cave” time. When Miranda gets up, she sighs and says she wishes I could have gotten Kasen a haircut before we go see Santa tonight. She hasn’t been very subtle with her hints at taking him for a haircut for the past 2 weeks. I even took him one night earlier this week, but the wait was too long. I also remember that she had asked me to go to Best Buy to check on getting a phone for my mom, so I decide to try and get these things done before the 5 o’clock crowd is off work. Kasen and I leave right away, but when we arrive, we’ve still got an hour wait. I go to Best Buy and get the information we needed and then return to Supercuts. We timed it well, ’cause they called Kasen’s name from the hour long list just a few minutes after we arrive.

By the time we’re done, it’s time to meet Miranda and Kesleigh at the mall for dinner and Santa pics. We have a great time and the wait for Santa wasn’t bad. After that, we go driving around town to look at Christmas lights and stop to get the kids a McDonalds shake and then head to BrewNBake for hot chocolate for Miranda and I. The kids are getting restless in the car. They were downright annoying in BrewNBake and continued to be that way once we arrived home. I try to watch a tv show to unwind a bit, but I find myself hitting pause on the remote ’cause I can’t hear. Arguments over who is gonna take a bath first and whining about not being able to find the toothpaste lid – these are normal activities in our house. I’m tired of it. Miranda is tired of these things. I love my kids, but it’s definitely time for bed.

Finally, the kids are down and we’ve both kissed them goodnight. Now I can watch……wait, I still gotta call my mom about the phone. Oh, and get those contacts out of my eyes. Well, I’ll watch for 10 minutes and then do those things. As soon as the 10min are up, I get the contacts out and call mom. The whole time I’m talking, Miranda is correcting me. I don’t have the details quite right, but the gist of my message was the same. If she wanted to be so involved, why did she want me to call in the first place? OK – I hand the phone to her and she handles the situation with mom, masterfully. She’s good.

Now I can finally settle and rest….huh? Oh, you want me to come look at the stuff you bought people for Christmas?? I say “OK,” but I must have said it with some sort of sigh or frustration. Miranda is now mad and explains that I’ve taken “all the fun” out of it for her. She’s right, I shouldn’t have responded with a frustrated tone. I hate that I made it “not fun” for her ’cause she really does enjoy shopping and finding deals. She loves when she gets to show off her purchases and is proud of her work. She does a great job and I love that she takes care of it, ’cause it’s so much easier for me. I shouldn’t have acted that way. I’m the husband who is supposed to “die” for his bride. In our marriage, I’m in the Jesus role and am called to love her as Christ loves the church. He died. I sighed…….I sighed. I know, you may say it’s not that big of a deal. You may say, “Steve, you did so many things right. You died to your own stuff lots of times throughout the day.” Maybe, but Christ died completely, and I didn’t. I’m called to love like He does, but I failed tonight.

LORD, please forgive me. Teach me to love like you. Teach me to be fully present with my children and not just listen half-heartedly to Kesleigh’s stories about coloring books or whatever topic she is currently ranting about. Help me to put down my devices and “do” with my kids – and with Miranda. Give me more patience or a higher tolerance for “annoying behaviors.” Show me how to train my kids away from those behaviors. Give me wisdom to recognize the subtle ways I react ’cause Miranda picks up on them all and I truly want to communicate my love for her in all my actions. LORD, make this season special and help us all to encounter You in each experience – with each family, with each other, in travel, in meals, in gift giving, and in all our interactions with each other. AMEN.

50 Things to do at Christmas (revised for 2018)

Everyone should experience these 50 things sometime in their lives during the Christmas season. I have already experienced some of these, but some are things I hope to experience.

50 Things to do during Christmas:

1. “A Christmas Story” marathon.

2. Sit in Santa’s lap for a picture. It still counts if you cry your way through it.

3. Adopt a child (or 2 or 3) from the “Angel Tree” at church, buy gifts for him/her, and deliver them.

4. Cut down your own Christmas tree.

5. Decorate a Christmas tree with ornaments that have memories attached to them. Never waste your time making the tree look pretty or having matching ornaments.

6. Sleep way more than you should.

7. Cut and decorate Christmas cookies with colored icing, sprinkles, red hots, etc. (Or just eat the ones your Aunt makes.)

8. Build a fire in the fireplace (yes, even if it’s 80 degrees outside) and read the Christmas story as a family.

9. Let the kids unwrap one gift on Christmas Eve, but make sure they get that same gift every year so there’s still no surprise.

10. Be intentional about spending some time reflecting on Emmanuel (God with Us) – Jesus. Here’s something I wrote about Him. Consistently Emmanuel

Miranda, Kasen, and I – 2007

11. Participate in a live nativity.

12. Spend at least 100 hours placing exactly 6 colored stars on tree cookies made of green tasteless dough which you will sell to the nearest Christmas Tree Farm to make $$ for Christmas gifts. (This was for you, Laurie.)

13. Go Christmas caroling.

14. Be surprised when someone kisses you under the mistletoe.

15. Attend a candlelight service with your family.

16. Incur some kind of injury Christmas afternoon as you play with your new toy. (“You’ll shoot your eye out kid.”)

17. Give a memory to someone. Experience something together.

18. Unwrap “the ball” with your family. (It’s a tape ball with small gifts wrapped inside. The ball gets passed around a circle and you get to keep what you unwrap. You keep unwrapping until the next person rolls a 6 with a pair of dice.)

19. Watch the greatest Christmas movie ever made: Die Hard

20. Leave cookies out for Santa. Eat cookies left for Santa.

That’s me with the beard!

21. Dress up as Santa Claus so that a child believes at least one more year.

22. Instead of buying gifts, give $$ to your favorite charity.

23. Go to the trouble (in spite of the traffic) to take the kids to see some spectacular Christmas lights.

24. Go on a hayride.

25. Obtain an injury and get frustrated as you ignore the instructions and attempt to assemble the things Santa left your kids.

26. Take family pictures.

27. Re-gift. Or use gift cards to buy gifts for others.

28. Watch the eyes of someone you love as they open a special gift.

My dad played football with us every year at Grandma’s house.

29. Play football in the yard with the whole family.

30. Put pumpkin pie on your shoe, pretend you came in from outside, and then when someone notices the “poop,” wipe it off with your finger and eat it. (My brother’s idea – and it was hilarious! My grandma is the one who noticed.)

31. Use an advent calendar where you get to do something (Ex: eat a chocolate, hang an ornament, etc.) each day leading up to Christmas.

32. Arrange for your children to play “Jesus” in some sort of local Christmas production. Bonus if you are Mary and Joseph.

“Behold the Lamb of God” 2018

33. See Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God” Christmas production (or at least listen to the recording each year.)

34. Wake up way too early as your kids anticipation gets the best of them.

35. Secretly open a gift, seal it back up, and then act surprised on Christmas morning.

36. Display a nativity scene in your house and teach your children about the characters. (One year, my 3-yr-old son Kasen, told the Christmas story with our nativity. http://stevecorn.com/2010/12/kasen-tells-the-christmas-story/ )


37. Watch the “Nativity Story” movie.

38. Use baby powder to leave footprints from the fireplace to the place where Santa left the gifts. (But make sure you make the footprints go back too – my parents missed that last part.)

39. Count the number of Jesus figurines you can find at grandma’s house.

40. Ask your grandma/grandpa about how they remember spending Christmas as kids.

41. Eat monkey bread.

42. Enjoy a “White Christmas” and do some sledding, have a snowball fight, or build a snowman.

My dad skied with leukemia! December 1996

43. Take the family skiing over the Christmas break.

44. Take the family to an old barn and read the Christmas story there among the animals and smells.

45. Bluebell Peppermint Ice Cream – it’s only made during the holidays.

46. Search the sky for Santa’s sleigh.

47. Get stranded due to icy/closed roads in some random west Texas town on the way to a ski trip. End up having to sleep with the animals ’cause there is “no room at the inn.” (It was Quanah, TX and the people of First Baptist Church were very gracious with their gym. They even let traveling pets sleep there.) Here’s a post about this experience: No Room at the Inn

48. Drive all over the country trying to see all your relatives and in-laws on Christmas Day.

49. Snack on Homemade Chex Mix, peppermint bark, and peanut clusters.

50. Celebrate Emmanuel!!! (Jesus = Emmanuel = “God with Us”)

Things not to do:

1. Get so busy trying to do the things on this list that you forget #50.

Loyalty, Treaties, Covenants, and Sinai

Ancient Treaties and 10 Commandments

Before we launch right in, I’ve got to lay some groundwork. There are two types of treaties that are common in early Biblical times: 

1) A parity treaty – an international agreement/covenant between two equals

2) A suzarain/vassel treaty – an international agreement/covenant between a greater (suzarain) and lesser (vassal) king

In a parity treaty, each king (similar in strength and size) commits to protect and help the other. A king of a city/state may have several parity treaties going at once.

A vassal bows to his suzarain.

The suzarain/vassal treaty is a bit more nuanced. The suzarain (greater king) commits to protect and look out for the interests of the vassal (lesser king), as long as the vassal pays tribute and looks out for the suzarain’s interests. Since the vassal has so little power in comparison, he is at the mercy of the vassal and must be careful to adhere to his commands precisely. In this treaty, the vassal must remain loyal to the suzarain and would be considered treasonous if he made any other treaties.

Now that we’ve laid that groundwork, let’s start (like Sandra Richter does in her video series Epic of Eden) with Joshua 9 – The Gibeonite Deception. God has been using Joshua to conquer the promised land. The people in the land are hearing stories about how God is empowering Joshua and they are fearful. Several kings have joined together to defend themselves against Joshua. (These would be parity treaties among similar lesser city/state kings.) Gibeon is one of the city-states involved with this group, but they have decided to try to work out a new deal.

In Joshua 9, they venture off on their own with a plan to deceive Joshua and make a suzarain/vassal treaty (vs 9:6) with him. In vs 11, we read that they  tell Joshua, they will be His servants. (This tips us off that they are seeking a suzarain/vassal treaty.) Unfortunately, Joshua doesn’t consult God and he ends of falling for their trick. (He wasn’t supposed to make any covenants with people in the promised land.) Believing that they were from another country a long way off, Joshua makes a covenant with them in vs 15. When He realizes that he had been tricked, he was upset, but since he had made the covenant before God, he had to honor it. Now, when the other city-states discover what Gibeon had done and realize that they will no longer be able to fulfill their parity treaty commitment/covenant with them, they are rightfully angry. Gibeon had committed treason against them. Joshua 10:1-4 explains that  this alliance of kings decide to attack Gibeon. This puts Joshua in a precarious position. As the suzarain, he must defend and protect his vassal (Gibeon) even though they had tricked him into the treaty. In the end, this is how God continues the campaign to conquer the promised land. These kings are defeated and Israel advances forward in the conquest of the promised land. 

This is a great story on its own, but pay attention to the role that the treaties played and how they influence the lives of the ancients. A covenant was serious. It meant risking your life to defend those with whom you had committed. In the suzarain/vassal treaty, it also meant complete and total loyalty to the suzarain.  

Here’s the format of an ancient treaty: 

1) Preamble/Title – Suzarain is introduced. No one cares about the vassal.

2) Historical prologue – Suzarain records all the things he has already done for his vassal.

3) Stipulations/Obligations imposed – this is where the responsibilities of the vassal are spelled out – sending tribute, sending armies for support, and absolute loyalty (more than one suzarain and you have committed treason

4) Deposition and provision for reading of the treaty before the people. – This section determined how often the treaty would be read so that the people would be be reminded of the agreement  – so they would be reminded of their obligation to remain loyal. 

5) List of witnesses – most of the time, these lists were gods and since most were polytheistic, there were many pages of witnesses.

6) Curses and Blessings – Listed the benefits of keeping the treaty and the consequences of breaking it. A suzarain used this section to threaten the vassal if they ever rebelled.  

There were always two copies of the treaty drawn up – one for each party. They would then be placed in their respective temples because these oaths were made before their gods.  (those listed as witnesses in the treaty)

Now, with this structure in mind, let’s look at Moses, Israel, and Mt Sinai. 

Moses is on top of the mountain and that’s the story, but for a moment, let’s also consider the Israelites at the bottom of the mountain. All they have ever known (and their grandparents for generations) is slavery and the polytheism of Egypt. They are considering monotheism, but are probably skeptical and tentative about it. They have most likely heard of Yahweh and Abraham, but probably couldn’t explain this faith to anyone. They are God’s chosen people, but their choice to leave Egypt was quite possibly more about getting out of slavery than it was about becoming God’s people. God chooses Sinai as the place to try to explain who He is to them. They’ve seen Him deliver them through many miracles, but in this place God will describe His expectations of them. How can He do that to this secular ungodly rabble of a people? What can He say that will make sense to them? 

He will use this form and a model which they would have already understood – the suzarain/vassal treaty. God speaks to them and reveals Himself in a way that would have made sense. The context of this model, helped them to see the implications of His words and allowed the message to be more clearly communicated/understood. 

1 Peter 2:10 – “…..for once you were not my people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  

God chooses Sinai to make a treaty with Israel. He will be their suzarain. He is great and mighty and will work on their behalf against their enemies even though they have little to offer. They are just a crowd of people with no home, no land, with very few possessions. They are wondering the desert. They are vulnerable and exposed, easy prey for attackers. They are spiritually confused and are swaying between worship of Yahweh and worship of the Egyptian gods they had known all their lives. However, God chooses them.  He acts, before He requires anything. At Sinai, we see the grace of Yahweh. Many think Yahweh is different in the OT from what we see in the NT, but we see grace throughout the whole of the Scriptures. The Law itself is grace. It will set them apart and keep them healthy. It will lay a foundation for their future and set boundaries that will lead to success. The Law is an expression of love as it offers these homeless, broken down spiritually confused slaves an opportunity to become a people, and not just a people, but THE people – the people of God. He calls them into a relationship before the rules are made . . . . much like we are wooed and courted into relationship before the rules get changed when we can’t have any other boyfriends/girlfriends. By that time, your desire is to make those changes, you want to change, because your relationship is so important. The relationship outweighs the responsibilities. It doesn’t feel like a requirement as much as an opportunity. A child is loved first and then disciplined for the same reason. Sinai doesn’t happen until after the people have been delivered from slavery.  

Compare the format of a Suarain/Vassal treaty to that of the Covenant at Sinai. It’s clear that God was speaking to them in the language of treaty. 

 

Once the treaty was drawn up, the people had a ratification ceremony or covenant ceremony to bind the oath. This is the way they signed the document in front of their witnesses. Since this oath was made before their gods, animal sacrifice was always a part of the covenant ceremony.    

Exodus 24:3-8 – Moses sprinkles blood from the sacrifice on the people. 

New Covenant – Matthew 26:27-28 – Jesus reminded the disciples of Moses and the old covenant during the Last Supper which celebrated the Passover.  

 

Covenant

Hebrew word for covenant = “beryth”

Here are the Hebrew letters

 

and here is what each letter means:

shelter representing God’s family
head – nothing is more important than God’s family
God’s hand reaching down – God has the will, authority, and ability to grow relationship
Pole to expand tent – expand God’s family

I posted this ’cause I’m amazed by the variety of ways that God has chosen to speak to us. He spoke to Israel in a way that they would understand, and He does the same for each of us. How is He speaking to you today? 

 


Ideas from Sandra Richter’s “Epic of Eden” book and video series. (5th week lesson)  

Be a Hero

Personal Story:

This is really more of an anti-hero story. This is one of those times in my life that I wish I could have a “do-over.” I was in 9th grade. I was insecure and overly concerned about what my “friends” thought of me. There was a kid who started school in the middle of the year and he didn’t “fit” with the rest of the people in our school. He smelled funny and wore the same clothes to school almost every day. He sat alone at a lunch table near us every day and my friends made fun of him. I didn’t take part and say anything, but I laughed at the things they were saying and I didn’t have the courage to stand up against them. I was too scared that my “friends” would turn on me and make fun of me if I had tried taking up for him.

I don’t know what ever happened to that kid ’cause I moved away at the end of that year, but I do know that I wish I had done something to defend him. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I know now that if I had stood up for him, some of my friends probably would have turned on me and started making fun of me. I also know that in spite of the words they might say, each and every one of them would have thought about it the next time they had the chance to make fun of him. My courage would have created another hurdle that each one of them would have been forced to jump if they wanted to say something about him again. If I had stood up for him, each of my friends would have gained a little more respect for me too. They may not have ever said anything about it, but they would have seen me making the right choice and they would have probably in some small way wished that they themselves would have had that kind of courage.

As I look back, I have the knowledge of life experiences to help me see that if I had done the right thing, everything would have worked out even better for me. The problem is that in the moment, I didn’t know all that. I believed that my “friends” temporary approval of me was more important than the long lasting respect I could have gained. My prayer is that you’ll learn from my experiences and do the right thing in those moments. Be the hero. Do the right thing.

By the way, I can’t remember the last time I talked to any of those “friends.” I honestly can’t even remember most of their names. Although they were important to me at the time, I wouldn’t say that they are now. Friends come and go in life and that’s okay. Sometimes we need to let ’em go ’cause they’re keeping us from being who we’re called to be.

Dad’s Word:

A hero is someone who does the right thing. No matter what. He is courageous and self-sacrificing. If it costs him something, he still does the right thing. This is sacrifice. If it is scary, he faces the fear and still does the right thing. This is courage. Some people are called “heroes” because of one brave act that saved a life, but this is not a real hero. They did something heroic, but a true hero is consistent. A hero is who you are, not something you do just one time. I pray you will “become” heroes. I pray you will choose to do the right thing in every circumstance regardless of any fear or sacrifice you might have to make.

Another important distinction here is between an actual fear/sacrifice and a perceived fear/sacrifice. They all “feel” like real fears/sacrifices, but sometimes we let our imaginations get the best of us. We should try to concentrate and focus on what we “know,” rather than what we “feel.” It may be our perception that our friends would look down on us for sitting with that weird kid during lunch at school, but would it really happen? Probably not, but maybe so. That’s what makes it heroic. There is a possibility of sacrifice, but in the end it’s the right thing to do, so you just do it. You might even have friends who would make fun of you for making that decision, but inwardly, I believe you would actually gain their respect. Even if they never admit it, you have shown them the kind of person that you are – the kind of person who can be counted on to do the right thing. They will have seen a hero.

Oh…..by the way, just ’cause nobody ever calls you a hero or even notices your efforts, does not mean that you aren’t a hero. If you do the right thing consistently, even when it’s scary or it costs you something, you ARE a HERO!

God’s Word:

Galatians 6:9 – Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Colossians 3:17 – Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

1 Thessalonians 5:15 – See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

Famous Words:

“I used to think courage was about not being afraid; but now I think it’s about being present even when we are.” – Bob Goff

“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.” – Robert Collier

“Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” – Jim Rohn

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” – Mister Rogers

“The drops of rain make a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling.” #perserverance – Lucretius 95BC

“That’s how we’re gonna win – not fighting what we hate, [but] saving what we love.” – Rose in “The Last Jedi”

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” – Ambrose Redmoon

“Courage is fear that has said it’s prayers.” – Karle Wilson Baker

“My heroes are and were my parents. I can’t see having anyone else as my heroes.” – Michael Jordan