Tonight I had the privilege to lead a group from our church through a teaching called “Christ in the Passover.” Here’s a link to the guide I created for the event as well as a link to pics for the video presentation.
This is a simple list of the things I learned from this book. (Some are quoted) Some things on the list are new to me and others are ideas that I was reminded of. I’d encourage everyone to pick up a copy and read it for yourself. I had a basic understanding of Jesus’ Jewishness, but this book taught me more. I’m sure it only scratches the surface of the depth of this topic, but it’s a great place to start.
When Jesus the disciples fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, it followed a very long day, with a large meal, and multiple glasses of wine. It’s no wonder they fell asleep. (p 7) I had never really noticed this.
“Women [in the first century] were encouraged to sit in on the advanced discussions at the synagogue if they were able. A few even acquired the high-level education required to contribute to rabbinic debates, and their words are still on record.” (p 12)
First century Jews were acquainted with this rabbinic saying: “Let your house be a meeting place for the rabbis, and cover yourself in the dust of their feet, and drink in their words thirstily.” They were expected to open their homes to these teachers and their disciples. This is why Jesus and the disciples spent so much time with Mary and Martha. (p 14)
Rabbis often sat on pillows or chairs when they taught and disciples sat at their feet on the ground or mats around them. “When Mary is described as ‘sitting at Jesus’ feet,’ she is being described as a disciple.” (p 14)
Disciples followed rabbis so closely, they became covered in the dust swirling up from the sandals of his feet. (p 14)
As opposed to the crowns/coronations of other kings, Hebrew kings were with anointed with expensive perfumed oil. (p 16)
The oil Mary anointed Jesus with would have probably lingered for days. “Everywhere Jesus went during the final days of His life he had the fragrance of royalty. ” In the Garden, the soldiers would have smelled it and wondered who stood before them. Even when he was on trial, mocked, whipped, and stripped naked, there may have been a fragrance of royalty in the air. (p 18)
When Jesus’ rode into Jerusalem on a mule, the people would have remembered Solomon doing the same thousands of years earlier. 1 Kings 1:38-40 (p 17)
Davening, the rocking motion used by Jews during prayer, is intended as “a way of expressing that one’s whole self, body and soul, is caught up with God. The old rabbi explained that the movement of the body mimics the flickering flame of a candle, calling to mind the saying that “the candlestick of God is the soul of a man.” (p 22)
Jesus probably began learning to read and memorize Scripture at the age of 5-6 yrs old. (p 24)
On Sabbath, a member of the congregation would read from the Scriptures and expound on the day’s passages. (p 25)
Study of the Torah was done at every opportunity. “When people assembled for a joyous occasion such as a circumcision or a wedding, a group might withdraw to engage in the study of the Law.” (p 26) If we did the same, we might have people studying Scripture during halftime at the football game.
Rabbis believed that study was the highest form of worship. “They pointed out that when we pray, we speak to God, but that when we study the Scriptures, God speaks to us.” (p 26)
Rabbis encouraged debate and believed the mark of a good student was his ability to argue well. Sparing with one another forced students to refine their thinking. (p 28)
Here’s a rabbinic parable (similar to Jesus’ parable of the soils in Luke 8:4-11):
“There are four types among those who sit in the presence of the rabbis: the sponge (soaks up everything), the funnel (takes in at one end and lets out at the other), the strainer (lets out the wine and retains the dregs) and the sieve (removes the chaff and retains the fine flour).” The best disciple is the sieve, not the sponge as one might expect. (p 31)
In American culture, movie stars are revered. In Jewish culture, life’s supreme achievement was to become a great scholar of the Scriptures. (p 33)
“The disciple sought to study the text, not only of Scripture but of the rabbi’s life, for it was there that he would learn how to live out the Torah. Even more than acquiring his master’s knowledge, he wanted to acquire his master’s character, his internal grasp of the God’s law.” This is why he traveled with the rabbi and followed him so closely. Imagine handing an instruction manual to a five-year-old who wants to learn how to ride a bike. (p 33-34)
Jesus didn’t come only to save us from sin, but also to raise us up as disciples who would be like Him. (p 34)
Here’s another blog I wrote about one of the concepts in the book: Remez (p 37)
Stringing pearls is the practice of bringing together passages from different places in order to explore their great truths. Jesus did this in the Beatitudes – referencing Isaiah and the Psalms. His Jewish audience would have picked up on these references and been reminded of God’s faithfulness in rescuing His people. (p 43)
“The usual method of learning was through hands-on experience.” (p 53)
“Learning wasn’t so much about retaining data as it was about gaining essential wisdom for living.” (p 53)
“discipleship has always been about a process.” (p 56)
“While the Gospels record many instances of Jesus instantly healing people’s illnesses, we know of not evenone instance in which he simply waved his hand to immediately fix an ugly habit for one of his disciples. Instead, he simply kept teaching and correcting them, giving them time to grow.” (p 56)
Disciples were totally committed. They left their homes, jobs, and lives to follow a rabbi. It wasn’t like signing up for a Bible Study, or a class they could skip when they had a baseball game, etc. (p 57)
This goal of discipleship is not just self-discipline, but transformation into the likeness of Christ. Imagine if someone were to define parenting only as discipline. Of course children need discipline, but we would have great cause for worry if discipline was the only thing a parent focused on. (p 58)
Here are a few statements from Jesus’ time describing the relationship between rabbi and disciple:
“If a man’s father and his rabbi are both taken captive, a disciple should ransom his rabbi first.” (p 59)
“Your father brought you into this world, but your rabbi brings you into the life of the world to come!” (p 59)
“If a disciple is sent into exile, his rabbi should go with him.”(p 59)
Imagine Judas’ act of betrayal in light of the previous attitudes about this relationship. (p 59)
Another interesting saying:
“All acts a slave performs for his master, a disciple performs for his rabbi, except untying the sandal.” To untie someone’s sandal was considered demeaning, the task of a slave. Check out John 1:27 (p 60)
A rabbi was to model how to live by using examples from his own life. (p 61)
“An authoritarian style of leadership has little to do with Christ and everything to do with human ego.” (p 62)
“God’s goal isn’t simply to fill the world with people who believe the right things. It is to fill the world with people who shine with the brilliance of Christ.” (p 64)
An early rabbinical statement: “When two sit together and exchange words of Torah, then the Divine Presence dwells among them.” (p 67) Similar to Jesus’ in Matthew 18:20
“We tend to believe that the only way to deeply encounter God is through solitary prayer and study. But Jesus implies that his presence will be felt most often in the presence of a small group of haverim.” (p 67)
“Jesus never sent out his students alone, but always in pairs. He knew their critical need for haverim.” (p 73)
“In most societies, people don’t experience loneliness as acutely as Americans do. In other cultures, people are rarely alone, physically or emotionally.” (p 73)
“A haver is a fellow disciple who earnestly desires to grapple with others over issues of faith – someone who wants to delve into God’s Word, to be challenged and refined. A haver is like a spiritual jogging partner.” (p 74)
“Jesus was probably wearing small tefillin when he criticized those who were wearing large tefillin in order to advertise their own super piety. (Mt 23:5)” (p 79)
“An observant Jew recites at least a hundred blessings a day.” (p 82)
Christmas is the celebration of the “Withness” of God!! Jesus stepped out of heaven and off His throne to come to earth to be with us. (Philippians 2:5-8)
My friend Kris Lyle, who studies biblical languages, posted something recently about the word, with. He was researching with and discovered some interesting stuff about the way it was used in the Ancient Near East (ANE). Here’s what he wrote:
I’m quoting from the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, volume I, page 451; the author has just said that with doesn’t really occur in conjunction with people and God in the ANE. In other words, besides Israel, we don’t have much evidence that the surrounding nations thought of, spoke of or experienced their gods and goddesses in a way that they could say “God is with me,” as Israel does throughout their history. So here’s the quote:
“Even if additional examples are discovered, it is still remarkable that the formula of the presence of a deity with man is very rare in the ancient Near East, while it appears frequently in the OT, where it expresses a basic element in the Yahweh faith. Is it possible that the content of this formula expresses something typical (if not also equally “genuine”!) for the faith of Israel?”
I love it!!! The same God who we know as “Emmanuel” meaning “God with us,” had already revealed Himself to the ancient Israelites in a similar way. It was normal for them (Israel) to talk about God as with them, but all the other nations spoke of their gods differently – distant, impersonal. This scholar has accidentally hit upon the very thing that sets our faith apart. Our God is with us. He was with the ancient Israelites, but He also sent His son, Jesus to be with us in human form and then sent the Holy Spirit to remain with us until His return. He has always been with us and will remain with us until the end of time. Christmas is a celebration of this withness. Emmanuel = “God with us”
“I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20
If you liked this post, you should also check out: Consistently Emmanuel
I wanted to post something about how the Jewish Educational System worked. Once I knew this stuff, my understanding of Scripture seemed to be much stronger. Anyway, here’s a basic description. (Very basic)
Bet Sefer – House of the Book
In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day kids were taught the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) in the local Synagogue (church) beginning at the age of 6. They had classes 5 days a week just like we do today. By the time they were about 10 years old, they had memorized all of those first five books. These classes were called “Bet Sefer.” Anyway, most Jewish kids were pretty well finished with school after this and went home to learn the family trade – like fishing or carpentry or something like that.
Bet Talmud – House of Learning
Now, the kids who were really the best of the best among them were allowed to continue in school in something called “Bet Talmud.” Here, they studied all of the Hebrew Scriptures (Our Old Testament) and memorized all of them between the ages of 10-14. During this time, students also learned the Jewish art of questions an answers. Instead of answering with an answer, they were taught to answer with another question. In this way, students could demonstrate both their knowledge and their great regard for the Scriptures. They were taught to always be curious about the Scriptures. Look at how Jesus was described as a young boy in Luke 2:46-47 – “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
Bet Midrash – House of Study
Very few of these students ever made it this far. For the few who did there was still another set of classes called “Bet Midrash.” If you were smart enough and knew your scriptures well enough to make it this far, you were given the opportunity to go to a rabbi (teacher) to seek further education. The rabbi would grill you and ask you all kinds of questions, because he was trying to find out if you were good enough to be his student. He wanted to know if you knew enough, but even more importantly, if you could be like him in all areas of your life. If he decided that he didn’t think you could do it, then he would tell you to go back to the family business. It was very rare, but if he thought highly enough of you, he would become your teacher and it would be your goal to become like him in every way. You would agree to take on his “beliefs” and his interpretations of the scriptures. This was called his “yoke” and he would say to you, “come follow me.” This was a huge privilege that was offered to very few people. The disciple’s (also called “talmudim”) job was to become like the rabbi in every way. If the rabbi was hurt and had a limp, you might see his healthy disciples walking behind him (in his footsteps) with a limp.
Now, listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I used to always wonder why the disciples were so quick to drop their nets, their jobs, and their lives to follow Jesus. However, this understanding changes things. The disciples were normal guys who were out working in their family trades. This means they didn’t make the cut. They had already dropped out of school and had resigned themselves to the fact that they would probably never be able to follow a rabbi or become a disciple. When Jesus came along and made His offer, they jumped at the opportunity. They didn’t want to miss it, so they dropped what they were doing and went. This would be the equivalent of Michael Jordan saying to a Jr High student “Hey, I see a lot of potential in you. Would you want to come and do some training with me?”
In the end, Jesus is our rabbi. We are to become like him in every way. 1 Peter 2:21 – “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
I’ve been studying up on the Feast of Tabernacles lately ’cause I was leading a small group through John 7 and into chapter 8. It’s good stuff. You don’t really realize how dramatic Jesus was unless you understand the cultural practices of the Feast of Tabernacles. Let me explain:
The Feast of Tabernacles was a holiday which celebrated the time when God provided for the Israelites during their time in the desert. For the holiday they were required to travel to Jerusalem which meant that they weren’t going to sleep in their normal comfortable accommodations. The festival is also called the Feast of Booths ’cause they were required to build tents like the ones their ancestors would have used in the desert. This festival coincided with the end of the harvest and so it was truly a celebration. Not only were they celebrating the way God provided for them in the desert, but also how He provided for them that year. It is likely that tents were set up all over the countryside just outside of town during this festival.
Some even believe this may have been why there was no room at the inn for Jesus’ birth. The same word we translate “tabernacle” is also the word used for “stable.” It is also likely that Jesus’ birth happened during the time this festival took place (Fall: Oct-Nov) because there were shepherds in the fields just outside of Jerusalem. Based upon their normal travels from field to field throughout the year, they would not have been there very often, but certainly were during that time.
It is also notable to recognize a couple of other specific practices:
1.) On the last day of the festival the priests would pour water over the altar and the people would celebrate how God provided water for them in the desert. John 7 describes this very same scene on the last day of the festival as the very time that Jesus calls himself the “living water.” This would have been highly dramatic under these circumstances. While the people celebrate God’s provision in the past, Jesus stands before them as if to say, “I’m the new living water. I’m God’s provision. You should be celebrating me.”
2.) Huge lampstands were set up for the Feast of Tabernacles which required a ladder to light. The idea was that these lights could be seen throughout the city of Jerusalem. In John 8:12, Jesus refers to Himself as the “Light of the World” with these lampstands as a backdrop. As an answer to the priests questions about whether or not a prophet could come from Galilee (John 7:52), He recalls Isaiah 9
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-
Isa 9:2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death 
a light has dawned.
God makes it clear in this passage that a prophet will come from Galilee and even more importantly, he will come “for” Galilee. When Jesus calls Himself, “Light of the World” this seems to be His intention. There we see it all again – Drama.
Jesus is not just a guy who spouts words. He is not just a preacher. He is a master at the dramatic. He’s great at capturing attention and causing people to think. It’s no wonder that the Pharisees were so threatened by Him. He doesn’t miss any “teachable moment.” He takes advantage of every opportunity and even uses object lessons to reveal Himself to the people. Jesus could take any regular moment and turn it around so that it reflected something about His own character. And since He is the Creator of everything, it makes sense that this was possible – the Creator is always revealed in His creation.
Anyway, these were just some thoughts today.