Here’s a series of links to help you follow Jesus’ footsteps each day of Holy Week.
Esther was Trafficked!
Esther is remembered for standing up to a foreign king on behalf of her people. She is regarded as a hero and rightfully so, but most of the time that her story is told, we skip over the fact that she was trafficked. Think about it. Originally, Esther was a humble little girl who was mistreated and forcefully placed into an environment where she would be trafficked for the pleasure of a powerful man, the king.
Let’s go back and consider this part of her story a little more. It actually starts with a decision by Queen Vashti.
Esther Chapter 1 describes a 180 day feast hosted by King Xerxes for all his nobles, governors, officials, and servants to display his greatness.
Does it really take 6 months of partying to demonstrate your power or is this guy a little self-centered? Or maybe he’s using this feast to compensate for some sort of insecurity?
Anyway, a 6 month party is pretty extravagant. After this party, he throws another 7 day party for all the people in the city. It’s a high-brow affair with very over-the-top food, drink, décor, golden vessels, couches, marble, and all the finery. The wine was being distributed freely without any restrictions on anyone. It was an open bar for everyone.
It most likely devolved into a drunken brawl rather quickly – a week long tailgate.
Queen Vashti (Xerxes’ wife) had a smaller feast for the women in the palace during this time too, but she was interrupted on the 7th day by a request from her husband. He was “merry with wine” and wanted her to come to his “feast” wearing her crown so all his drunken “friends” could see her “beauty.”
This sounds like an insecure man to me again – drunk and insecure so he had to bring her in so others could gawk at her and be “impressed” that he had such an incredible woman.
There’s something else you miss here if you don’t study the culture. You see, the custom of the day invited wives to these banquets too, until the time when the men began to get drunk, and at that time the “dancers” would come in to “entertain” them. Wives typically left the banquet when the “dancers” arrived. When Xerxes asked her to come to the banquet, it seems obvious that she had already left the party. Most likely the men were already drunk and the “dancers” were busy “entertaining.” Also, when Xerxes asks her to come wearing her “royal crown,” most Biblical scholars understand this to mean that he was asking her to appear before them all wearing ONLY her crown. Xerxes was asking her to appear naked in front of a bunch of drunk men who were in a party environment where they were free to touch and play with all the other women “dancers.” She knew her husband. He was insecure and was just trying to show her off in front of these other men. She understood the danger that she would be putting herself in. He is equating her with the “dancers.” At this point, he is no longer treating her as his “wife.”
Queen Vashti refuses his invitation. I mean, it’s no wonder she refused. What self-respecting woman would have appeared? Right? When she refuses to join him, she is actually risking her life. King Xerxes, of course, is angry and so he goes to his “yes” men to have his ears tickled and get the emotional support that he needed. Again, we see his insecurity playing out in these behaviors. They basically say, “Forget her. Let’s go find you ‘the most beautiful girl in the world.’” Queen Vashti is banished from the kingdom and Esther Chapter 2 begins with a description of the process of the search to find a replacement wife for King Xerxes.
Now, Esther was a young woman who lived with her older cousin Mordecai because she had lost both of her parents. He loved her “as his own daughter.” When Xerxes’ order was proclaimed, she “was taken” into the custody of the man in charge of the harem. She was forced out of her home. In time, Esther impressed him and won the favored position among the girls. During her preparation time in the palace, Mordecai walked around the courtyard so he could keep his eye on her. He truly thought of her as a daughter and was concerned for her safety and well-being. He had warned her not to let the king know about her lowly Jewish heritage.
It must have horrified him to imagine the things she would have endured and the abuse that awaited her as one of the girls in the king’s harem. As her adopted father, it must have pained him greatly knowing that there wasn’t really anything he could do to get her out of this awful situation. In spite of the way this is often taught, this was no beauty pageant with a scholarship and glamorous travel schedule awaiting. In reality, it was a series of events that started with a forced removal from their homes and ended in sexual assault. These girls were taken away from their families and homes, isolated from the relationships that rooted them, denied the practice of their faith/beliefs, pressured into changing their appearances and mannerisms, stripped of any self-expression so they could conform to the whims of another, and they were eventually sexually assaulted with no other intention than to pleasure the king until he had chosen a bride. Esther wasn’t a pageant girl. She was an innocent young woman who was forced into sexual submission by her circumstances and a king with an inferiority complex and low self-esteem. He was using her to fill his own emptiness and desires. Esther was trafficked. And there were countless others who not only allowed it to happen, but encouraged it and aided in the process.
After abusing Esther as well as many other young women, King Xerxes eventually chooses her to take the place of Vashti and be his wife. From our vantage point it may appear that there were some privileges and advantages to the title of Queen, but that’s what a trafficker does. He makes “the life” appear to be a great opportunity. The reality however, is that none of those things could give back her innocence. None of those things could heal the trauma or fill the void left by the abuse that she had endured. She may have had the title of Queen, but she was damaged, hurt, and broken by this forced relationship and the constant suffering of the continued abuse.
However, as the book continues and the story develops, we find Esther to be a wonderful example of a woman of faith. In the midst of her circumstances and her abuse, God was with her. She may have been damaged, but as one of God’s chosen people, she still found her identity in the Lord. When a plot to kill the Israelites (her people) is revealed, she risks her own life and goes before the King to save her people. There are at least 5 risks she took.
- Initiating a conversation with the King broke the law and could result in death.
- In order to make her request, she had to reveal that she was a Jew.
- Laws were irreversible in the Persian Empire.
- Haman was 2nd most powerful man on the earth.
- Esther had to be extremely gentle and careful with her speech because the King had so many insecurities. It’s difficult to get someone to change their mind without offending their pride.
In spite of her lowly heritage, Esther uses her position of influence and her relationship with the king, to stand up to him, and save her people. Rather than asserting power and making demands, Esther works behind the scenes relationally to influence and lead the people around her. It is her quiet strength that influences the evil king.
Esther and Vashti are both women to be admired. Both stood up to injustice.
Vashti represents one way of handling the evil requests of ungodly men. She starts from a position of power and stood for what she believed was right, but she also had to be willing to sacrifice her power/position to make her stance.
Esther represents another way. She starts in a humble position and plays along working behind the scenes to build an influential relationship. Out of this relationship, she stands up for what she believes is right as well.
Both women are guided by their conscience. Esther is empowered by her faith.
Now let’s be clear: In spite of how this passage is sometimes taught. God did NOT put Esther in this situation. It was NOT God’s intention for her to be trafficked. Human sin, and specifically King Xerxes and his men are the abusers/traffickers here. God however, is able to reach into any and every situation and rescue us or use us for His glory and His purposes. As Genesis 50:20 describes, “What man meant for evil, God meant for good.” When we experience evil, we must recognize that God can turn it around and make good of it. As a loving father and one who is all powerful, He is able, and He is willing.
What does this mean for us? How should we respond? I’d encourage you to ask yourself several questions:
Like Vashti, is there some evil that you need to stand up against or a wrong you could make right? Are you willing to pay the price of your own reputation, wealth, or social standing to do the right thing?
Like Esther, what kind of influence do you have with the people who surround you? Is there someone who could serve as a Mordecai for you who encourages and supports you through your difficult circumstance? Do the people around you notice your Godly demeanor? In what ways do you stand out from everyone else? Is Jesus’ name lifted up? Are people encouraged? Are people being treated well or even rescued/saved due to your influence? Is there a way God could use you in a difficult situation? Is He calling you to be involved in His work?
Esther was trafficked, but you and I have been too. God created you, but sin has coerced and convinced us that it has a better way. Its intent is to enslave us where we will be used and abused for the sake of its own glory and satisfaction. The world wants to use and abuse us for its own purposes. It seeks to isolate us from those who truly care for us so it can have us all to itself. Sin “crouches at the door and desires to have us.” (Gen 4:7) It will use us and destroy us just as Xerxes did to Esther. Like her, we have been trafficked.
There’s good news though. In the midst of her enslavement, God made a way for her people to be saved. Esther suffered through all kinds of abuse, but eventually God used her to save His people. In the midst of our enslavement, God has made a way for us to be saved too. Jesus’ blood on the cross is evidence of the suffering He endured, but through this suffering, God has provided a way for us to be rescued as well. Jesus is our rescuer. He is our Savior.
Esther was trafficked.
You have been trafficked.
Esther was used by God to save others.
Will you allow God to use you?
PS – If you’d like more information about Human Trafficking, check out Refuge for Women .
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!
And put death to death
Where is your sting, O grave?
How grave is your defeat
I know, I know His heart beats
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
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. An interesting note though is the traditional reading which would have been brought up the Sabbath (Saturday) following Passover and prior to the First Fruits Festival which started on Sunday. The reading was from Ezekiel 37 where the Lord instructs Ezekiel to declare to a valley of dry bones, “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” (vs 5) Even in their lowest moments, when they were in shock over Jesus death, God was speaking to them about resurrection. Scripture doesn’t tell us, but I wonder what went through their minds as they heard these words that day in the synagogue? Did they think “Oh man, this is ironic.” or was there some sort of hope still lingering within them?
The chief priests, on the other hand were elated that day. 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) Even with the Scripture reading reminder or resurrection that day, Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to believe 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 or upon His Word? 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? How can I prepare myself to notice His work in the tough times? How can I hear His voice when all the other voices are so loud and my emotional state is overwhelming me?
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
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?
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.
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.
Hebrew word for covenant = “beryth”
Here are the Hebrew letters
and here is what each letter means:
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)
Luke 2:8-20 says:
8 In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock.
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.
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.
9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid,
Angels are NOT little babies with wings.
for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
14 Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to people he favors!
In ancient Jewish culture, when a boy was born, local musicians congregated at his home to greet him with music. Since Jesus was born in a stable, the angelic choir had to take the place of the local musicians.
15 When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
16 They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. 17 After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard, which were just as they had been told.
Personal story: Depression – feeling like I wasn’t making a difference. I felt like a failure. The things I had dreamed about weren’t happening and I was beginning to feel like maybe they never would. I was coming to terms with my average Joe identity. Mid-life crisis? Covid?
Shepherds probably felt this way. It wasn’t the most glamorous job. Some of them were young, but the old guys who were there probably felt even more of this.
They did the same thing every day.
Moved sheep from field to field bringing them to food and water
Went after lost sheep and protected them from predators
They were lonely most of the time and probably talked to the sheep
The sheep knew the shepherds voice
To the sheep, the shepherd was important, (even life and death) but no one else thought much of them. It was a humble job.
This is how teachers feel. The world doesn’t think too highly of us (partly due to some bad teachers.) It’s not a glamorous job and certainly doesn’t pay very well. Definitely not highly regarded. However, our hope and prayer is that we can make a difference for our sheep, our students.
Anyway, the shepherds probably felt some of the same things I was feeling earlier this year – like they didn’t matter much. No one really noticed them or patted them on the back very often. They probably hadn’t dreamed about being shepherds and thought their lives could have been something more.
But think about it. No matter what they felt, this is more than 2000 years later and we’re still talking about them. This is the message I needed during my dark moments earlier this year. Why did God choose to reveal His Son first to these shepherds? What are they like? What is it about them that God makes this choice? What does He see in the lowly shepherds that no one else sees? What did they do? What made them stand out?
- They listened to God. (vs 15)
15 When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
When the angel appeared that night in the field, there were lots of voices
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.”
4) The voice of the angel. “The Messiah is here! He is a baby!”
Voice of Chad “I’ve got Covid. I need you to preach.”
Voice of fear “Tell him to come preach anyway and just stay away from people.”
Voice of Doubt “Tell him to take another test. He’s not really sick.”
Voice of Inadequacy “I’m not prepared for that.”
Voice of Laziness “You’ll be up all night trying to get something together.”
Voice of God (By the way, this one is more of a whisper) “I’m still in control. I know what I’m doing and I want you to do this. I’ve got your back. I’ll be with you.”
God’s voice later on “I’ve orchestrated this whole thing so someone can hear this message.”
I’m hanging on to that one and praying that is why I’m standing before you today. I believe God can use me in spite of my own insecurities and quirks. As His tool, my only goal is to be open and to remain in His hands so He can do with me whatever He chooses.
- They hurried to Jesus. (vs 16)
16 They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger.
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.
Lately, I’m the slow one in our family. I’m not sure when it happened. I was always the first person ready when the kids were younger, but now. . . I just don’t know what’s happened. Can I say I’m just getting old? I still hate being late, but
“When Harry Met Sally” Quote
“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.”
Miranda and I got engaged in September, and were married in January. We wanted to begin our life together as soon as possible.
A relationship with Jesus is even more sure than our love for one another. If you haven’t begun a relationship with Him, you should start it today!
- They told everyone about Jesus. (vs 17-18)
17 After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
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.
A woman’s engagement – You can’t contain the excitement. News spreads quickly.
People were “amazed” at what they heard. Shepherds in that culture were considered to be unreliable and weren’t even allowed to give testimony in court, so you see a picture of God’s sovereign hand when they believed them and were amazed. Shepherds may have been thought of as unreliable, but these were not just shepherds. They were shepherds who were following the Word of God
- They worshiped Jesus. (vs 20)
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard, which were just as they had been told.
The shepherds worshiped with their mouths, but also with their lives as they told others and spread the news of Jesus.
Calvin says “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?”
This is how we should respond. I wonder what our lives would look like if we truly listened to God and God alone, if we felt an urgency to be with Him, if we told others about Him, and if we worshipped Him with both our mouths and our lives?
Here’s the good news!
Jesus, the object of the shepherds worship, truly is the promised Messiah! He is savior! Ancient and strong! Holy and anointed one! He is light and He has come into our darkness! He is here among us! Although we celebrate Him as the baby, He is also the Healer of the brokenhearted, the living water, the bread of life, and the Lamb who died in our place! He is the One who has conquered death and sin! He rose from the grave and offers us new life in His name! He is worthy of our worship.
He is the one we can trust and should listen to.
He is the one who deserves our sense of urgency.
He is the one we should tell others about.
He is the one who is worthy of our worship.
He is Jesus.
He is Jesus.
He is Jesus.
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)