Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Where's the Respect?

In moving us back to Texas my husband found a place in a small town just outside San Antonio. He was so excited about the find, that is, until he told me the name of the town. His side of the phone was met with instant silence. "There?" was all I could think. I was not thrilled but, I opted to give it a look-see.

To my surprise the town had spruced itself up and exposed its charming features. Within weeks we all fell in love with the area. It offered the small town life we had become accustomed to, with quick accessibility to the big city.

Nazareth had the same issues. It had a great location...on a hidden plain near the top of a hill not far from the international highway and there was work to be had in the building up of nearby Sephoris. The road up to Nazareth was a steep narrow winding climb, so strangers did not travel there much. On the far side of town was a cliff which, by the way, had a great view of the Jezreel Valley and Mt Tabor.

It too was thought to be insignificant in value as a town goes.

It sat in the lower region of the Galilee. The people of the area were known for having parties like the Romans; friendly dealings with strangers who crossed the region; not taking the rabbinical law seriously and neglecting traditions; having eight other gods worshiped there; poorly speaking Hebrew while attempting to add Greek to their vernacular. Overall, they were thought to be warm-hearted, impulsive, generous, conscientious, earnest, hot-blooded, hard working, brave, manly, and more concerned with honor than money. (Sketches of Jewish Social Life by Alfred Edersheim; Day of Discovery)

It is no wonder the thoughts and attitudes of the day were reflected in what Nathanael stated, "is there anything good that can come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46-50)

As Jesus began his ministry the people of Judea had to overcome the fact that he came from an insignificant town in the non-respected area of the nation.

The combination of this with the fact that he was speaking with authority, healing, forgiving, being recognized as being sent by God, and giving the pharisees what-for in his answers to their unanswerable questions would have peaked people's curiosities.

What did they find? He was something good. Yes, he continued to talk to and help gentiles, Romans, and (gasp) women. He rocked the boat in the lives of everyone who had contact with him.

But those who got to know him, really know him, found he was worthy of their time and attention even if he did come from Nazareth in the Galilee. He was worthy of dedicating their lives to. He still is.

Monday, November 21, 2011

From The River of Refreshment to The Sting of Temptation

So Jesus is baptized by John in the river Jordan. His Father speaks from heaven, proclaims him as His Son and acknowledges He is doing a great job. (Matt 3) You would think that things are going to be smooth sailing for him. After all he has the favor of God in heaven.

But nooo, he is taken into the wilderness. He has to go without food, water, or comfort for 40 days, just like his ancestors did for their 40 years. (Matt 4)

And just when you think he has suffered enough, the enemy of God comes in and tempts him...telling him to make his own food out of rocks; prodding him to test God's angels to protect him from injury; offering him all the power and control of the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship.

In each case Jesus spoke scripture and cut the enemy's argument down. He stood his ground. He remembered who he was and did not falter from that. He knew it was not going to be an easy road but he chose to ignore the draw of the human desires within him.

I need to remember this. I don't like it when things go awry, or temptations jump into my path. I like peace and stability. But I guess if Jesus had to face temptations and bumpy roads then it shouldn't be any surprise that it happens to believers. I just hope that the next time I have 'to deal' I will remember Jesus knows what it's like.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Guess Who's Here

For centuries the Hebrew nation waited for the Messiah to come. Finally the timing was right, men throughout the nation were claiming to be the Messiah while Jesus was walking the roads of Judea and the Galilee. Some were even named Jesus by their parents.

Remember, many times they called Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth.

So perhaps that's why even those around him didn't recognize who he was. They knew he healed people, sometimes in ways they had not seen before. This made him a prophet, a healer in their eyes. They knew he spoke with authority, opening up the law and the writings of the prophets in ways they had never known. This made him a teacher, Rabbi, in their eyes.

Even his own disciples had to be coaxed to know and state who he actually was. Not just a great speaker who could draw a huge crowd. (4000 is a huge crowd.) Not just a voice who could calm the elements. Not just a prophet who could read others' needs and thoughts. Not just a rebel who spoke to women, tossed the tables in the temple area, and told the pharisees how bad they were. (Matthew 16)

In the October newsletter from Jewish Jewels Neil and Jamie Lash wrote:
"It is recorded in Jewish sources that 40 years before the destruction of the Temple (approx. 30 AD, the year of Yeshua's death), the sacrifices lost their power, and the gates of the Holiest of Holies opened by themselves. There was a scarlet cord tied to the door of the Temple that would turn white if God accepted the death of the 'Scapegoat' as atonement for the sins of the nation of Israel. IT CEASED TURNING WHITE around the time of Yeshua's death. He had made the final atonement!"

All those signs were pointing to Jesus as the Son of Man, Son of God, the one and only Messiah. And, yet the people didn't get it. They missed the mark. They missed the peace. They missed the way into heaven's gates.

They were so busy with life the way it was and keeping it familiar that they missed the best gift of all, having Jesus walking around their town.

But, the good news is death could not hold him. Oh, it tried and the pharisees tried but death did not win. Jesus is still here. He lives in each us who accept his ticket through heaven's gate. He's here and he's here to stay.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Down At The River

The river Jordan runs through Israel with twists and turns and can easily be crossed during the dry season. However, I heard in a sermon once that some parts of the river could grow to be almost a mile wide when it did rain. The Rio Grande River that sits between Texas and Mexico has similar traits.

And like the Rio Grande, the Jordan River serves as a border. In fact, the border to the promise land. According to In The Footsteps of Jesus, by W.E. Pax, this is what made the Jordan River stand out in importance above other rivers in the land.

But in the book A Visual Guide To Bible Events, by Martin, Beck, and Hansen, the writers showed that there were three significant events in Israel's past that made the Jordan and the place known as 'Bethany on the other side of the Jordan' (located about four and a half miles north of the Dead Sea and east of the Jordan) a particularly special place to baptize.

The first one came before the nation crossed over to the Promise Land. Balaam (Numbers 24) who had been asked to speak curses over the Israelites ended up speaking blessings and prophetic words. He announced the coming of the one who would crush the enemies of Israel.

Which was followed by Moses turning over his leadership of the nation of Israel to Joshua. God commissioned Joshua through Moses in this very area. (Deut. 31:14, 34:9; Numbers 27:23)

Later in 2Kings 2 we read that Elisha followed Elijah across the Jordan River, watched him be carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire led by horses of fire via a whirlwind which caused Elijah's cloak to fall thus resulting in Elisha inheriting the cloak. His commission, so to speak.

This is important because it was later that Malachi spoke of a new Elijah coming before the Messiah's arrival. (Mal 4:5) Jesus pointed out that John the Baptizer was this new Elijah in Matthew 11 and 17.

So it was. God had a purpose for this spot. There was significance for the baptism of Jesus in this place. What a perfect location to begin His ministry, to receive His commission to do the work He was sent to do, of opening the eyes of His people to the truths of the Kingdom of Heaven and the God they serve, of laying down His life so that all of us could join Him in heaven one day.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Importance of a Father's Name

What's the big deal about a name? Should that detail be important to me?

Some details escape me. For some reason I decide a detail isn't important when in actuality it holds a key to understanding something more. I have always had a hard time reading through the list of names given in the old and new testaments. But over time I have come to realize they are there for a reason.

Have you ever read the family trees quoted in Matthew 1 and Luke 3? Did you ever notice one is different from the other?

One is the tree for Mary and the other is for Joseph.

I always wondered why it was important for the writers to have those in the gospels. According to In The Footsteps of Jesus, by W.E. Pax, it was the father's lineage not the mother's that determined a child's lineage. In fact, even if there wasn't a biological link, the legal father gave the child his ancestry, his name, his legacy.

Lineage and ancestors were a key part of life in those days. Those names were not picked out of a hat. They were important. Those names established the right for Jesus to claim to be the Root of David, the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Lion of Judah. The list goes on.

It was for the skeptics of the day that the names were listed. Similar, you could say, to the credentials listed after someone's name, or a bio given before a speaker takes the platform.

So, is that detail important? I say yes. It confirms the fulfillment of multiple prophecies regarding the Messiah.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wedding Blues

In the days of Jesus there was a traditional path taken when it came to getting married.

Your father chose your future husband. After the details were worked out, you became betrothed which meant that you were his wife. You may not live together under one roof, in fact you weren't even left alone with one another, but you were still his wife. Only a divorce could dissolve the arrangement.

The actual wedding ceremony didn't take place right away; you had to wait sometimes up to a year later. The groom would come to your house, pick you up, and either escort you by hand or have his friends carry you on a pallet to his house to start the party, which could last more than one day. Now, that's celebrating.

This had to be Mary's dream...her dream wedding so to speak.

But it all changed when the angel showed up. When she agreed to God's plan for her, she gave up her dream wedding plans. She didn't know if Joseph would send her away with a divorce paper, or worse, try to have her stoned for being pregnant. One thing she had to know...her wedding ceremony, if she had one, would not be the way she had always dreamed.

Her "what-did-I-agree-to" thoughts had to be filled with how to tell Joseph? What will he think? Will he still have me as his wife? Will he divorce me? Is this really happening to me?

Of course, we know how it all ended. But for a young girl named Mary, in the first days after she found out she would be the mother to the Messiah, she had no idea the blessings that would follow. All she knew was that her marriage to Joseph would be starting off on a different foot than one she had desired.

She was not only breaking dreams but tradition as well...that had to be a hard pill to swallow.