Holy Week – Sunday – Risen – Jesus is Better

Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-53; John 20:1-21:25

Early Sunday morning a group of women took anointing oil to Jesus’ grave. However, what they found was not what they expected. They would not be anointing His body that day. Instead, an angel rolled away the stone entrance to the grave and told them that Jesus had risen. He said that they should go and tell the disciples. Then, Jesus appeared to them Himself and they attempted to worship, but He told them to tell the disciples to go the Galilee and meet Him there.

Jesus was alive!! He was determined to confront all His enemies that week. He came up against the Pharisees, chief priests, scribes, Samaritans, Herod, Caiaphas, and Pilate. He had been betrayed by one of His own disciples and fought against sin even so far as being separated from His Father in death, BUT Jesus was alive! What does it mean for us if Jesus can do this?!?!?! HE IS GOD!

As we look back at the week, it seems clear that all along, Jesus was walking a very intentional path. He was choosing the cross and death with each decision. Jesus never wavered. In John 10:18, Jesus says, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” It was always about His Father. He asked Him to “take this cup from me” but chose to honor His Father anyway saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” (Matthew 26:39).  Jesus’ first allegiance was to His Father. This was His Father’s will. Jesus loved His Father so much that He was willing to give His life for Him and for us. God the Father loved us so much that He sent Jesus to be the bridge which would allow us (sinners) to be in His Holy presence. We can be in relationship with God  and are adopted into His family because Jesus’ sacrifice makes it possible. John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave….” He loved so He gave. Jesus chose to live, to do ministry and miracles, to die, and to rise again, because of His great love for His Father and His disciples.

In His resurrection, Jesus proves that He is better. He is better than all His enemies – Pharisees, Herod, Pilate, etc. He is better than the ways of life offered by the world – possessions, money, fame, glory, fun – temporary enjoyments. He is better than the sin that we so often choose. He is better than friends, and family, and popularity. He is better than having a good reputation. No matter where we find ourselves: in sorrow, in sickness, in loneliness, in victory, in joy, in comfort, in riches, in power…. Jesus is always better. Jesus is better than anything and everything. Why? Because He is beyond. He is something other. He is set apart. Jesus is Holy. Jesus is different. He is God.

He is alive! He is Risen!

Jesus is better!


Song: His Heart Beats – Andrew Peterson

Partial Lyrics:
He took one breath
And put death to death
Where is your sting, O grave?
How grave is your defeat
I know, I know His heart beats

Partial Lyrics:
In all my sorrows, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
In all my victories, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
Than any comfort, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
More than all riches, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
Our souls declaring, Jesus is better
make my heart believe
Our song eternal, Jesus is better
make my heart believe

Holy Week – Saturday – Empty

Matthew 27:62-66; Luke 23:54b

There is simply not much written about Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath day which followed Jesus’ death. It’s an empty day. The hearts of His disciples were empty too. They were hurting and mourning. They were fearful for what their own future held and overwhelmingly disappointed as their hopes and dreams had been destroyed. It appeared that Jesus had not been all that they had believed. They were wrong. he was much more than they imagined, but they didn’t see it yet. Saturday was as empty day for them. Rock bottom.

On the other hand, the chief priests were elated. They had accomplished their goal and rid themselves of Jesus. The only thing Scripture tells us about Saturday is that the chief priests went to Pilate to have him secure Jesus’ tomb. They tell Pilate that they remember Jesus saying that he would rise after 3 days  so they wanted a Roman seal and a Roman guard to make sure that the disciples didn’t steal His body and claim resurrection.

There are a few interesting points here:

1) Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to remember His promise about rising in 3 days, but His enemies were taking his words seriously.

2) The disciples have run away and are fearful of being arrested themselves. Are the chief priests really afraid of the disciples stealing the body or are they afraid that Jesus might actually rise from the dead?

3) David Guzik (in his commentary) makes this point. The power of Jesus’ resurrection overcomes physical obstacles (the stone), human authority (Roman seal), and human strength (Roman guard). Nothing stands in God’s way.

Luke 23:54b tells us that the disciples rested on the Sabbath day. I don’t believe it would have been quite so restful inwardly, but it seems as though they continued in the patterns and rhythms of life they had developed throughout their lives.

Inner monologue: In what ways do I live as though Jesus is dead? How often do I make decisions relying upon human strength or reason rather than on the power of God? Am I broken and empty when I imagine a world without Jesus or is it business as usual? Will the patterns and rhythms of life I’m choosing now be helpful when I go through tough times?

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 – 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?

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)  

rePost – Shepherds

shepherd-edit
A shepherd pic I took from our bus when I was in Israel.

OK – What are shepherds? Well, they’re the guys who watched the sheep. Many times in ancient Jewish culture they were young boys, but sometimes older guys did it too. They were responsible for moving the sheep from one field to the next so they could get plenty to eat and safe water to drink. They also protected the sheep from predators and would leave the group in order to search for a lost sheep. The sheep knew the shepherd’s voice. With a few shepherds and their sheep all intermingled, the shepherd could call his sheep and only those who were his would follow. Shepherds led a humble life – probably a bit of a lonely life too out in the fields with nothing but sheep (and God) to talk to all day. This sets the scene for what we’re about to read. A group of shepherds were out in a field near Bethlehem one night when according the Message paraphrase of Luke 2:8-20:

They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master.  This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.”

They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Now consider this: These particular shepherds are famous. Think about it: Shepherds were humble nobodys and social outcasts in their own culture, but here we are talking about them 2000 years later. What did they do that made them different?

1. They listened to God. (vs 15)

When the angel appeared that night in the field, there were lots of voices competing for their attention: 1) The voice of Doubt saying “You must be hallucinating. It was something you ate.” 2) The voice of Duty “You can’t go into Bethlehem. You’re responsible for these sheep.” 3) The voice of Laziness “You’re tired. It’s been a long day. Just stay here and rest.”

2. They ran to Jesus. (vs 16)

Once they decided they were going to listen to God, they had a sense of urgency. They didn’t waste time. They allowed their own Godly curiosity to dictate their pace. (When I’ve preached this message, I use the scene from “When Harry Met Sally” where Harry runs to the Christmas Party to talk to Sally. At one point he uses the line ” When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” I think that quote is appropriate for the shepherds too.)

3. They told everyone about Jesus. (vs 17-18)

When they had seen Jesus, they didn’t keep it to themselves. News spread quickly ’cause they were so excited. Matthew 12:34 says “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” The shepherds couldn’t contain themselves. Much like the news of a woman’s engagement. Sometimes she doesn’t even get to tell everyone, ’cause the news spreads so fast that people hear before she can get to them. Also, Remember, the angel had told them that this news was for “all people,” and so they were just doing their part.

4. They worshiped Jesus. (vs 20)

The shepherds worshiped with their mouths, but also with their lives as they told others and spread the news of Jesus.

I don’t know if it’s important to have people talking about us 2000 years later, but these shepherds stand out among all the other shepherds of the world because they reacted to Jesus in these ways. How would our lives be different if we did too? Would we stand out from the rest of the world if we truly listened to God, felt an urgency to be with Him, told others about Him, and worshiped Him? I think so and I pray that my life will reflect the attitudes and actions of these shepherd nobodys.

Other interesting Stuff:

It is very possible that these Bethlehem shepherds were watching over the temple flock – taking care of the sacrificial lambs. I think it’s cool that some of the first to see the true Lamb of God were the humble folks who took care of the sacrificial lambs from the temple.

Note that when angels appear, they aren’t greeted as if they are cute little flying cupids. They are feared. The first thing out of an angel’s mouth is almost always, “Do not be afraid.”

The fact that God chose to send the angel to the shepherds spoke volumes. Shepherds were regarded as unreliable and were not allowed to give testimony in courts (Morris), and so God chose to use them in spite of that reputation. Notice in verse 18 that when the people heard what they had to say, they were amazed. I think it’s interesting that they believed these unreliable shepherds enough to be amazed!

Notice the angelic glory in comparison the the humble Jesus who created the angels.

In ancient Jewish culture, when a boy was born, local musicians congregated at his home to greet him with music. (Daily Study Bible) Since Jesus was born in a stable, the angelic choir had to take the place of the local musicians.

The swaddling clothes was normal, but if the angel hadn’t told them to look for Jesus in a manger (feeding trough) they would never have believed it. Calvin said, “This was a revolting sight, and was sufficient of itself to produce an aversion to Christ. For what could be more improbable than to believe that he was the King of the whole people, who was deemed unworthy to be ranked with the lowest of the multitude?”

Check out what Calvin says about the shepherds “glorifying and praising God” in verse 20. “If the cradle of Christ had such an effect upon them, as to make them rise from the stable and the manger to heaven, how much more powerful ought the death and resurrection of Christ to be in raising us to God?”

 

Misconceptions:

Most scholars agree that the time of Jesus’ birth was probably not Dec 25th. In his commentary, Adam Clarke suggests a fall time frame due to the fact that the sheep were in the fields at night.

Shepherds fields in Israel are much more rocky than Most Americans imagine. Notice the shepherd and sheep in this pic.
Shepherds fields in Israel are much more rocky than Most Americans imagine. Notice the shepherd and sheep in this pic.

shepherds-field-with-shepherd
Shepherds fields in Israel are much more rocky than Most Americans imagine. Notice the shepherd and sheep in this pic.

A Manger was a stone feeding trough for animals, rather than the wood/hay centerpiece in most Nativity scenes.
A Manger was a stone feeding trough for animals, rather than the wood/hay centerpiece in most Nativity scenes.

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus – Draft written June 2009 – Never Finished

satforbThis 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)

Withness

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

Jewish Educational System

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 the Torah – the first five books of the Bible. These classes were called “Bet Sefer.” Anyway, most Jewish kids were pretty well finished with school (“WooHoo! Graduation!”) 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 or “in the dust” of the rabbi) with a limp.

My Thoughts

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.”