Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Insult Beyond Insult

When I read about Jesus telling the Pharisees they were offspring of vipers, I didn't realize the full impact of his words.  (Matthew 12:34; 23:33-35) I mean who wants to be compared to a snake? Slithering quietly they curl up under rocks or in crevices or in trees until they're ready to strike their victims. Who may not even know what hit them.

But Jesus didn't just call the pharisees snakes. No, he called the men thought to be the most religious people around a group of vipers. Vipers? They're poisonous snakes that often hunt at night, striking their victim then following it until it dies. Can you say, cruel?
On the surface a comparison to vipers may seem bad enough. But according to the Chronological Bible there was a prevalent ancient belief that held vipers to be the worst among snakes because they were parent killers. It went something like this: the female ate the male following impregnation; then the babies killed the mother by eating their way through her as they made their way out. Though the people understood the babies to be avenging their father's death, this gave the viper a bad rap.

To dishonor a parent was bad enough to most people, but to the Hebrew killing a parent was the worst thing ever.  No other crime could surpass that.

So, Jesus wasn't just calling the pharisees sneaky and ready to stop the unsuspecting.  He was insinuating that they didn't even honor their own parents and were ready to do unspeakable evil. I'm sure for those hearing this comparison an even greater dislike for the pharisees developed and any respect they had for their teaching was diminished.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Not Just a Place But a Time

Back in May I wrote about Capernaum being a great place for Jesus to set up a base camp for his ministry to the Galilee area.  And, recently I realized it was also a perfect time for Jesus to come.

The country was under the control of the Roman military.  Roman guard stations were everywhere.  Even though the actual military headquarters location was Caesarea (not Philippi) the people didn't have to go far before running into some kind of roman military place.  This was because Israel was a border province which meant there was a greater concentration of military posts.

While the roman military is known for being cruel and demanding (taking land, food, etc to serve their own needs) there is an interesting policy of the government that I had never heard of before doing my research.  The administrators of the roman government allowed the local authorities of conquered territories a certain amount of independence in running their place.  It was the job of the military to ensure the peace of Rome, so when they deemed it necessary they would intervene.   Previously, all the other nations that had captured Jerusalem and Israel either scattered the people to the four winds, or took them back to their home country to try to brainwash them.

While many may see the roman occupation as a hindrance that Jesus had to work around, I see it as a tool to get the word out.  Let's look at the positive side of this time period.  Jesus and the rest of the Jews got to keep their religious practices, rules and regulations as they had for centuries.  Roman guards desiring to ensure peace might have stood nearby the large crowds that gathered to hear Jesus speak.  Luke 7 let's us know there were some roman guards who understood what Jesus was about and understood what he was saying.  They could easily have spread the word when they got home.  And who's to say, they might even have spread the word to the people of the next territory to which they were sent. 

There's more than one way to get the word out.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Where Did It Go?

Perhaps I just wasn't thinking clearly.  Or I didn't connect all the dots.  But I thought when the curtain tore in two pieces at the death of Jesus, the ark of the covenant was now available for all to see.

Of course I forgot to take into account that it was inside the Holy of Holies, behind the Holy place and enclosed by the walls of the courtyard.  It was silly of me to think that the priests would suddenly allow everyone to come see for themselves.

Knowing the Ark is no longer around, I just assumed it disappeared when the Romans destroyed the temple and city.  But, I was wrong.  It wasn't even around in the days of Jesus.

Back when the city was under attack by the Babylonians, it disappeared.  It was around 586 B.C. that loyal priests, and possibly a son of King Solomon, removed it from the city.  There's an underground tunnel leading out of the city that would have taken them to safety.  Some say the Ark went into Egypt, others say to Ethiopia, still others say deeper into Africa.  But, no one has found it to this day.

My vote is on the place in Ethiopia, a Jewish settlement that became Christianized around 4AD.  A small church made of stone and green tile with blue barred windows supposedly holds the ark.  As Christian believers the people of the area have given the honor and responsibility to one man at a time to watch over the church holding the Ark, protecting it and praying by its side, allowing no one entrance to the building.

Never-the-less we currently have no physical reminder of God's presence and power.  But, we do have faith.  That was the focus of Jesus . . . to have faith in him, to believe without seeing the proof.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Little 'Ol Me

You've heard of Caesarea Philippi, right?  It was beautifully located by Mt Hermon, the highest snow-capped mountain around.  Water running down from the mountain into a creek below along a gigantic cliff lent to the tranquility of the area.

But it was the cliff that held significance for the people of the region.  It was very long and hundreds of feet high.  It became their worship center and a place where Roman met Greek.  Temples and shrines were erected to worship multiple deities.  And in the middle of this cliff was a massive cave opening, which was said to be the gate to Hades.

Can you imagine Jesus and his small entourage walking by all this when he asks, "...who do you say I am?"  There they are with the only son of the one true God, standing near the supposed gate to Sheol.  When Peter gives the right answer he's rewarded with a prophetic word.

Think about it.  There he stands at the foot of this gigantic rock cliff and he's told that his going to be 'the rock' that Jesus will build his church on.  To be compared to that rock cliff must have been a bit overwhelming.  Then Jesus tells him the gates of Hades will not prevail against this church.  That massive cave opening would not stop the church that would rest on Peter's shoulders.

Can you not picture Peter looking back to the cave behind him after the blessing is spoken and taking in the enormousness of that thought.  And thinking, Me? Whoa!

That had to be one mind-boggling concept to swallow and accept.