Lenses: Part 3 – He Shall Be Called a “Nazarene”

Two Genealogies – Matthew 1 & Luke 3

For the Hebrew mind of Jesus’ day, knowing a person’s family line was of the utmost importance. Two different Gospel writers – Matthew and Luke – attempt to answer this question. But today, it would appear that these two accounts contradict each other.

Matthew tells of Jesus’ lineage going from Abraham to David, Solomon to the Babylonian captivity, and from the captivity to Jesus. He traces Jesus’ line through King Solomon, proclaiming that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of Israel.

On the other hand, Luke traces Jesus’ line backwards through King David’s son, Nathan. The contradictions begin to arise when we see that both writers claim that this line is that of Jesus’ supposed earthly father, Joseph. The lines are greatly different, and clearly can’t both be correct. How can this be resolved?

From Babylon to Christ, 14 Generations – Matthew 1:17

The challenges in Jesus’ genealogy are only multiplied by Matthew’s declaration in Matthew 1:17:

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. Matthew 1:17 ESV

The problem is that there are only 13 generations in the final series of Matthew’s account.

First Series Second Series Third Series
Abraham Solomon Shealtiel
Isaac Rehoboam Zerubbabel
Jacob Abijah Abiud
Judah Asaph Eliakim
Perez Jehoshaphat Azor
Hezron Joram Zadok
Ram Uzziah Achim
Amminadab Jotham Eliud
Nahshon Ahaz Eleazar
Salmon Hezekiah Matthan
Boaz Manasseh Jacob
Obed Amos Joseph
Jesse Josiah ?
David Jechoniah Jesus

This isn’t a small matter in the Hebrew mind of Matthew’s day. Numbers always mean something in Hebrew. When Matthew declares that there are 14 generations in each one of these segments, he’s doing this for a very specific reason. The number 14 is very symbolic in Hebrew. It is the numeric value of the name of King David. דוד are the 4th, 6th, and again the 4th numbers respectively in David’s name. If you add 4 + 6 + 4, you get the number 14. This number has tremendous Messianic implications.

When the number 3 is used in Scripture, the Hebrew mind always associates it with the supernatural or the divine (think “Holy! Holy! Holy!” in Isaiah 6). So Matthew’s decision to break up Jesus’ genealogy into 3 different segments of 14, is very telling. He is using a common Hebrew literary device to make a point. He’s declaring to his readers, “Messiah! Messiah! Messiah!” And he’s also declaring that this Messiah is Divine in nature.

But according to nearly all translations of the Gospel of Matthew, we have a real challenge with the final set of three. Matthew claims to have 14 generations listed, but only 13 are actually found. To the Hebrew mind, this would defeat Matthew’s very argument. He would be deliberately claiming that Jesus IS NOT the Messiah by leaving out a generation.

Solution: An Earlier Gospel of Matthew

Early Church fathers all told of a Hebrew Gospel of Matthew:

Irenaeus – disciple of Polycarp and two “generations” removed from the Apostle John:

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrew’s in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.(Against Heresies, 3.1.1)

Origen – Ancient Christian scholar and one of the few who was fluent in both Hebrew and Greek:

Concerning the four Gospels which alone are uncontroverted in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the Gospel according to Matthew, who was at one time a publican and afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, was written first; and that he composed it in the Hebrew tongue and published it for the coverts from Judaism. The second written was that according to Mark, who wrote it according to the instruction Peter, who, in his General Epistle, acknowledged him as a son, saying, “The church that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son.’ And third, was that according to Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, which he composted for the coverts from the Gentiles, Last of all, that according to John. (Commentary on Matthew 1.1)

Eusebius – Early Church historian:

For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples. Committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those who he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence. (Church History, 3.24.5-6)

Papias – Disciple of the Apostle John, and traditionally considered the scribe who recorded John’s visions from The Revelation

But concerning Matthew he writes as follows: ‘So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted (translated) them as he was able. (Eusebius 3.39.16)

First, we have to understand that most ancient language scholars agree that the “Hebrew” being referred to is a variant on ancient Hebrew, also called, “Aramaic.” And when we look at the Aramaic version of the Gospel of Matthew – the Peshitta – we see an interesting variation.

In all English translations of Matthew, verses 16 and 19 both have the word “husband”:

…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

The Greek translations are all the same. But the Aramaic has a difference that is very important. Verse 16 uses the Aramaic word “gavra”, and verse 19 uses the word “ba’la”. Both words can mean “husband.” But the most commonly used Aramaic term for “husband” is the word, “ba’la”. “Gavra” is most commonly used as “man”, but can also be translated “husband” or “father”. The context always determines the translation.

What is the context of Matthew 1:16: the physical lineage of Jesus. What is the context of Matthew 1:19: the marital relationship between Joseph and Mary.

Common Aramaic interpretation would seem to indicate that “gavra” in verse 16 refers to Mary’s father. But the challenge during the first several centuries after it was written was the unfamiliarity of the Aramaic, and the confusion caused by the reality that Mary’s father’s name was also Joseph. If the translation of the Aramaic Peshitta version of Matthew 1:16 takes this into account, it should read:

…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the father of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

This resolves ALL the previously discussed contradictions. Matthew 1 is Mary’s family line, which has the PHYSICAL descent of Jesus through King Solomon and the rest of the kingly line of David, giving him the right to the throne of Israel. Luke 3 is Joseph’s family line, providing that Jesus is considered a “son of David” by birthright in Jewish culture. The genealogies no longer contradict each other.

And now we again see 14 generations in the third series of Matthew 1 – from Babylon to Jesus. Matthew rightfully points out that Jesus’ lineage declares “Messiah! Messiah! Messiah!”

Can Anything Good Come From Nazareth?

Matthew continues to write, in the remainder of chapter 1 through chapter 2, of the story of the birth of Jesus. He writes of the coming of the Magi; Herod’s attempt to eliminate the Messiah by murdering every male child under the age of 2; and of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’ flight to Egypt. He culminates the story with this verse:

And He went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: He shall be called a Nazarene. – Matthew 2:23 ESV

This is the climax of the introduction of the life of Jesus. From here, Matthew goes directly into the story of John the Baptist, and Jesus’ ministry. There’s only one problem: it would appear that there is no verse in the entire Hebrew Scriptures that prophesies Jesus’ being called a “Nazarene.”

Nazareth wasn’t even settled during the time the prophets wrote to Israel. The village, located in the Galilee, wasn’t founded until around 200 B.C. It remained a very small village right up through the time of the New Testament Scriptures, never exceeding 500 in population. Which begs a question: how did descendants from two different sons of King David, come to live in such a small village nearly 100 miles from their ancestral home?

The story is one of intrigue and revolution. Around the year 200B.C., the Greeks had completely conquered the area formerly known as Israel. The Greeks were well known for attempts at integrating the people of these subdued nations into a Greek lifestyle. They built Greek schools and theaters, in the belief that the people would become more “Greek” and would be easier to control. But they weren’t prepared for what they encountered after conquering Israel.

After having seen their glorious Temple of Solomon destroyed, Jerusalem conquered, and the people taken into captivity in Babylon, the Israelites were more committed than ever to obeying the Torah and honoring the commandments of God. These commandments kept the people of Israel from being able to mix and adopt the Greek practices, and were a source of contention immediately. According to the Book of 1 Maccabees, Antiochus IV decided that this must stop, and ordered that circumcision of the Hebrew male children was to cease immediately. He authorized the Greek soldiers to inspect any male children, and if they were circumcised, they were to be run through with a sword.

After returning from Babylon, the descendants of King David settled again in Bethlehem, which is a short five miles due south of Jerusalem. They read of the prophecies of the coming Messiah, who they knew would come through them. This created a serious predicament for them. The Messiah would have to be obedient to the Torah, and if he wasn’t circumcised, this could not be true. So a decision was made.

They fled Bethlehem to an area less conspicuous to the Greeks. They journeyed north around 80 miles, and settled a village. And they named that village based upon a Messianic prophecy by Isaiah:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the YHWH shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the YHWH. And his delight shall be in the fear of the YHWH. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. – Isaiah 11:1-5 ESV

The Hebrew word used in Isaiah 11:1 for “branch” is the word, “nezer.” It refers to a specific type of branch. Often in Israel, an olive tree will appear to be dead. But decades later, and often dozens of feet away, a branch will spring from the ground, coming out of the extensive root system of the olive tree that appeared to be dead.

The general Hebrew word for “Branch” is “tsemach,” and is recognized as a title for the Messiah. It is found capitalized four different times in the Hebrew Scriptures to reflect this:

The King (Jeremiah 23:5) – “Behold, the days are coming, declares the YHWH, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

The Judge (Jeremiah 33:15) – In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

The Servant (Zechariah 3:8) – Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch.

The Man (Zechariah 6:12) – And say to him, ‘Thus says the YHWH of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the YHWH.

When the children of David fled Bethlehem, they did so because of their commitment to remain faithful to the Torah; to honor the commandments; and to ensure that the Messiah would be able to come. They named their village “Nazareth” because they believed God’s promise in Isaiah 11:1 of a “nezer” who would come some time after they fled Bethlehem, and many miles away, but would fulfill the covenant made to their father, David.
They became known throughout Israel for this Messianic belief in their future destiny. In many cases, it was a joke among the rest of Israel. Yet they remained faithful.

And it is in this context that Nathanael makes the following comment after learning from Phillip that a new Messianic figure had arrived, this time coming from Nazareth:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” – John 1:43-46 ESV

And this is also why Matthew concludes his first series of arguments for Jesus’ qualifications to be the Messiah. The prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah – all foretold of a “Branch” who would become the Messiah. And all who read of Jesus coming from Nazareth would have remembered these specific promises.

So What?

When we change our “lenses” by looking at the original historical, cultural, religious, and geographical context of the Scriptures, apparent contradictions simply melt away. We find that the Word of God is true, and we find our faith grow.

Next Blog: The Son of Man

Traditional Biblical scholarship teaches that Jesus’ divinity is described by the term, “Son of God,” while His humanity is described by the term, “Son of Man.” Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man seventy times in the Scriptures. John uses the term to describe the resurrected Messiah in the Revelation. What would the Hebrew mind have understood this title to mean? What was Jesus claiming when He called Himself this?

Return to Eden: Part 9 – A New Heaven & and New Earth

A New Heaven and A New Earth

The idea is so foreign to us that we can’t really even envision it.

Eden restored.

Life as it was intended before we chose our own path and corrupted it. No pain. No death. No crying. No conflict. And if that were all, it would be amazing beyond comprehension, but that’s not even the best part.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” Revelation 21:4 ESV

And this is why we can call it Eden again. It is then that we will experience our existence as God originally created us; in perfect, intimate, unrestricted relationship with the One True God.

We spend so much of our time and energy focusing on the lives we have now; our Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 existence. Now there is pain. Now there is death. Now there is crying. Now there is conflict. And now our relationship with God is limited.

Now we live in the wilderness. We’re Israel after the Red Sea and before the Jordan River. We live as nomadic wanderers, never fully feeling like we fit. As soon as we get comfortable in one spot, it seems as if God says it’s time to pick up and move again. We wait daily for the provision of God. We wonder if this was all a mistake. Every moment of every days whispers to our soul that we’re not home yet. As the old gospel song says, “This world is not my home; I’m just’a passing through.”

Please remember this. We aren’t home yet. We struggle and hurt and fall and cry. But a day is coming when that will all be changed.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:5 ESV

And so, whether we realize it or not, our hearts are longing for the day when we hear our Messiah say these words:

It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. Revelation 21: 6-7 ESV

But for now, while we live in this broken world, we are called to live differently. We are called to be the light that guides others to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I’m reminded of the lyrics to this song:

I Then Shall Live

I then shall live as one who’s been forgiven.

I’ll walk with joy to know my debts are paid.

I know my name is clear before my Father;

I am His child and I am not afraid.

So, greatly pardoned, I’ll forgive my brother;

The law of love I gladly will obey.

I then shall live as one who’s learned compassion.

I’ve been so loved, that I’ll risk loving too.

I know how fear builds walls instead of bridges;

I’ll dare to see another’s point of view.

And when relationships demand commitment,

Then I’ll be there to care and follow through.

Your Kingdom come around and through and in me;

Your power and glory, let them shine through me.

Your Hallowed Name, O may I bear with honor,

And may Your living Kingdom come in me.

The Bread of Life, O may I share with honor,

And may You feed a hungry world through me.

And let us also remember what awaits us:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God…

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Revelation 21 & 22 ESV

It sounds a whole lot like Eden to me. And so I join with John the Revelator in saying, “Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!”

Where is the Light? A Response to the Critics

All I was doing was putting my own, personal thoughts down in writing.  I never expected anybody to read them, let alone care what I said.

On Friday morning, after hearing of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the range of emotion I was feeling needed an outlet.  I’m a writer.  If I was a composer the feelings would have come out in song.  If I were an artist, I would have painted or sculpted.  But I’m a writer.  So naturally, I wrote.

I contacted Third Option Men, a Christian men’s website that I regularly contribute to, and they desired to publish what I wrote.  I put my thoughts down, posted them to Third Option Men, and went about my day.

To read my article: “The Dark NIGHT Rises: Where is the Light?” CLICK HERE

And then things got a little wild.  My article garnered more attention than I expected, both positive and negative.  In my experience of writing online, I’ve noticed a pretty common pattern: when someone agrees with what I write, they share it through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.  When they disagree with it, they comment.  This posting almost immediately starting seeing both of these responses on a greater level than ever expected.

But nothing prepared me for the phone call I received about two hours after the post went live.  A journalist for ChristianPost.com, Alex Murashko, called requesting to interview me regarding what I wrote.  He specifically wanted to know what I meant when I said that “The shooting in Denver yesterday is the fault of the Church.”

To read the interview: “Colorado Shooting: 13 Years  After Columbine, is the Church to Blame?” CLICK HERE

Again, I wasn’t trying to make a statement.  This was as much about me getting my thoughts out of my head as anything.  And frankly, I wasn’t prepared for the negative reaction that so many have had to that statement.

But I stand behind every word I wrote. 

Still I understand that for many, there needs to be a greater development of this claim.  To state that the Church could possibly have any culpability in a tragedy such as this shooting is not something that is easy to accept.  But just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Let’s clear up something right away: I never claimed that the shooter, James Holmes, is NOT responsible.  As a single incident, James Holmes is solely responsible for this heinous act.  He should be punished for what he’s done.  He will have to answer both to an earthly, and a Heavenly, court for his crime.

But as far as this crime reflects the society we live in, the Church IS responsible for this tragedy.  Let me explain.

James Holmes was acting out – in reality  – the fictional world of the movie playing at the time: The Dark Knight Rises.  He was moving the story from fiction to fact.  He became a real-world manifestation of the villains present in the story.

This isn’t much different than what happened thirteen years earlier at Columbine High School.  Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold mimicked scenes from The Basketball Diaries and The Matrix.  They took fantasy, and made it reality.

These shootings were life imitating art.

But as I said in the original article, the problem isn’t Hollywood, or video games; it isn’t the fact that the world is acting as should be expected.  The problem is the Church being less than it is called to be.

In His seminal message to His disciples, Jesus charges us with the following:

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the light of the word.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 5:13-16 ESV

Salt and Light.

That’s our calling as followers of Jesus.  There’s nothing new to this statement.  We all know that we are called to this.  But knowing something and doing something are very different.

And this isn’t just a suggestion; it’s a command.  We must understand that along with the call to be salt and light, comes a warning to those who are not.  Salt that fails to be useful is worthless and cast out.  Light can be hidden, and if it is, it fails to give light to those who need it.

After charging His disciples with this important mission, Jesus then continues to give examples of what the life of salt and light looks like.

Don’t hate; it’s the same thing as murder. (Matthew 5:21-26)

Don’t lust; it’s the same thing as adultery. (Matthew 5:27-30)

Don’t use oaths to manipulate situations.  Just stand by your word. (Matthew 5:33-37)

Don’t retaliate; instead, give more than what’s being demanded of you. (Matthew 5:38-42)

Love your enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Give to those in need, not because you have to or because it makes you look good, but because you love those in need and it glorifies your Father in Heaven.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  You get the point.

Jesus closes this sermon with a series of disturbing warnings:

Don’t look at the tree, but at the fruit.  If the tree isn’t bearing fruit, it’s diseased and should be thrown into the fire.  (Matthew 7:15-20)

Don’t think that everyone who says the right things, or even claims to have done amazing things in my Name, really knows me.  Many who make that claim won’t enter the Kingdom. (Matthew 7:21-23)

Build your “house” on the right foundation, if you don’t, it will be washed away with the storm. (Matthew 7:24-27)

So if Jesus gave us these benchmarks and warnings, is it wrong if we use them to measure the health of the Church today?

What is the fruit of the Church in America?  We’ve got a lot of amazing programs and buildings and ministries.  Dozens of books and videos are released daily that teach us how to become better people.  But what real, lasting, tangible impact are we having on American society?

At the turn of the 21st Century, Dr. Michael L. Brown produced a document entitled, The Jesus Manifesto: A Call to Revolution.  In it he shared these startling statistics:

The United States boasts the highest percentage of professing evangelicals in the industrialized world, with more than 36% of Americans – meaning more than 90 million people – classified as born-again. Yet America has:

  • The highest percentage of single-parent families in the industrialized world
  • The highest abortion rate in the industrialized world
  • The highest rate of sexually transmitted diseases in the industrialized world (the rates of syphilis and gonorrhea transmission are almost 500% higher than the highest rates in the other industrialized nations)
  • The highest teenage birth rate in the industrialized world (by far!)
  • The highest rate of teenage drug use in the industrialized world

Honestly, can you tell me that this is the fruit of a Church that is living out its calling to be salt and light?

Brown goes on to say:

Our society is deteriorating all around us and even non-believers sense that something is wrong. Why? It is because we, the people of God, the army of the Lord Jesus, the messengers of liberation, the ambassadors of reconciliation, have been sidetracked by the love of this world and distracted by the cares of this age. As a result, we have not changed this generation. This generation has changed us!

Rather than seasoning the world like salt and brightening the world like light, we now smell and taste like the world, and its darkness is snuffing out our lamps. Rather than setting captives free by the power of Jesus’ blood, many of us are being ensnared and enslaved, making a mockery of that sacred blood. Rather than making disciples of sinners and teaching them the ways of God, many of us are being discipled by them, learning their ways, imitating their lifestyles, and conforming to their values.

To read The Jesus Manifesto: A Call to Revolution, CLICK HERE

Here are a couple of examples of this taking place.  A few weeks ago social media was buzzing due to the premiere of the movie, Magic Mike.  This movie is about a male stripper and his lifestyle.  This is a movie that glorifies lust and sex.  And many Christian women not only attended this movie, but bragged about it on Facebook and Twitter as they attended with other ladies from their individual churches!

Another is the overwhelming popularity among Christian women of the book 50 Shades of Grey.  This book is commonly referred to as “mommy porn”.  It is disgusting filth that NO Christian should ever put before their eyes.  Yet there are “Christian women” who read this and celebrate it on social media sites!

Now, I hesitate even mentioning these two as examples, in fear that some will infer that I believe this problem is one that is isolated to women.  That is not the case.  If men were leading in the Church – being the men that God called them to be – we wouldn’t be seeing this spiritual degradation among Christian women.  The reality is, if this corruption has reached this level, it is because men have ceased to be men, and we are truly in serious trouble.

And one look at pastors in America today shows us how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Roger Charman of Focus on the Family’s Pastoral Ministries reports that approximately 20 percent of the calls received on their Pastoral Care Line are for help with issues such as pornography and compulsive sexual behavior. (To see the stat, CLICK HERE)

And the examples could go on and on.  Our nation is becoming darker and darker, and we in the Church are doing very little to change that.  Earlier in The Jesus Manifesto: A Call to Revolution, Dr. Brown describes Satan’s scheme for the Church in America:

Satan’s strategy is to institutionalize the Church, to turn the Body of Christ into a powerless religious system. If that tactic fails, he tries to desensitize us and lull us to sleep until we lose our convictions and our sense of outrage is gone. And he is always seeking to seduce us into sin until we become just like the world, enslaved by its passions and lusts. And when he thinks he has succeeded, when he no longer feels threatened by the people of God, then he gets aggressive and brazenly puts forth his agenda. He’s doing it today. We need a revolution!

I believe that Satan no longer fears the Church in America, but rather laughs at it.

Some have made the comment that the Church is doing fine, and that to suggest that the Church is at all responsible for the deterioration of American society, which has manifested itself in horrific acts such as Columbine and the “Batman Shooting” is not only incorrect, but heretical.  Some have suggested that such criticism of the Church is tantamount to being the mouthpiece of Satan – the Accuser of the Brethren.  To that charge I respond with these two passages:

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.  If they have called the master of the house “Beelzebul”, how much more will they malign those of his household.  Matthew 10:24-25 ESV

Making the accusation that someone who is pointing out sin within the Church, and calling it to repentance, revival, and awakening, is doing the work of Satan is not a reasonable justification for that person to cease what they are saying;  especially when we see that Jesus, Himself, has called His Church to repentance and revival.  Consider Jesus’ own words to the Church of Laodicea:

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.  For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,” not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.  Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.  The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  Revelation 3: 15-22 ESV

This passage by Jesus has been referred to so often over the past 50 years, that it has lost much of its power.  Stop and think about it.  It is a description of a church that thinks it has it all together, while Jesus isn’t even invited in!  This is the Church in America, TODAY!

And we wonder why we see evil prevailing in society.  We wonder why young men can so easily plan to murder people in cold blood.  We wonder why homosexuality is celebrated, while Biblical marriage and those that support it are labeled “bigots”.  We wonder why life isn’t valued on any level, while ten times more children have been murdered in this nation since 1972, than were Jews killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust!

I blame myself.  I have been passive and silent too long.  I have allowed this culture of darkness to grow and take over.  I have not lived as Jesus instructed in Matthew 5 through 7.  So if the world around me has become darker, IT IS MY FAULT.

And I’m not alone.  We are all responsible.  I’m not blaming Jesus and His power.  I’m blaming those of us – which constitutes the vast majority of Christians in the United States – who have sat back and pretended that things are not so bad, or that things are getting worse because “that’s just where society is heading and there’s nothing we can do about it”.   I’m blaming His Church for not being what we are called to be.  I can do this, because I’ve seen the fruit.

The Church of Acts was one that “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17).  The Church of America is one that has allowed the world to turn IT upside down.  This has to change.  Now.

And if you’re sitting here reading this saying, “Not me!” than maybe you should go back, ask for the Holy Spirit to reveal His Truth to you, and read this again.

The “Batman Shooting” is our fault.

Please return over the next several days, as I will begin to unpack SOLUTIONS to this spiritual crisis.

“Crazy Talk” from Religious Fanatics

Is the Messiah's coming imminent?

Now it sounds like some in Israel and Iran are agreeing with each other.  What is this world coming to?

Yesterday I posted an article from the Jerusalem Post where the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that sanctions are essentially pointless in deterring Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.  This isn’t any revelation to those who actually have a brain and attempt to use it regularly (as opposed to politicians in D.C. and the UN).  So from that perspective, I agree with the Ayatollah.  But today I read some things that are more startling.  

This past weekend, the blessed supreme leader of Iran told his people to prepare for the “war of the end times.”  This may not seem like anything more than a crazy dude talking “crazy-talk”, but it is important for a few reasons.  Open up Joel Rosenberg’s blog in another window, read it, and then come back for more:

IRAN LEADER: WE MUST PREP FOR THE “END TIMES” « Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog.

OK… so now that the Ayatollah is speaking up on this, and having the state-run media spread the message, it seems as if Iran and its brand of crazy Islamic fundamentalism is moving in a new, and even more disturbing direction.

Now, remember back to the article from Israel Today that I posted a couple of days ago, where a group of religious Jews is declaring that the end is near and that the war of Gog and Magog is imminent.  (Read here)  While these two groups are coming from different ends of the spectrum, they both are preparing for the same thing.

That means that radical Islam and radical Judaism are both preparing for the same thing – a worldwide religious war that results in each religion’s messianic figure arriving on the scene.

Christians also have prophecies that tell of two messianic figures coming on the scene: one a false messiah most commonly referred to as the “Anti-Christ” and another who will come to establish His Kingdom after years of war and tragedy, Jesus the Messiah.

So here’s the question:

Should Christians take these apocalyptic prophecies from other religions seriously, or should we simply brush them off as religious fanaticism?

Please share your thoughts below!

Agreeing with the Ayatollah

I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I agree with the Supreme Leader of Iran.

“Westerners are being sensational about sanctions but they don’t understand that they themselves vaccinated Iran through their sanctions imposed over the last 30 years,” Iranian supreme leader says.

If by being sensational, he’s meaning that we talk a big game about sanctions, trying to make people believe that they work, he’s spot on.

Please tell me one, single instance, where sanctions actually accomplished what was desired?  I can’t seem to think of one.

Read more here: http://www.jpost.com/IranianThreat/News/Article.aspx?id=277093

Return to Eden: Part 8 – The Presence of God among Men

What was it like for God to have His relationship with us cut off?  Have you ever taken the time to think about that?  We focus a lot on what sin meant for us, but what about God?

He created us out of a longing to be with beings that could choose to love Him.  He wanted, probably even more than we do, to be with us.  And sin broke that relationship.

So He tried to maintain it as best He could after Eden.  But it was never the same.  The sin that we hold on to so tightly kept Him from us.  At times He had relationships with individuals – Enoch, Noah, Abraham – but it wasn’t what He truly desired.

So in the wilderness of Sinai, He decided to change things up.  He commanded Moses to construct a place where He would dwell on Earth.  It was to be patterned exactly after Heaven (see Hebrews 8:5), and God promised that in it He would sit on the throne – the Ark of the Covenant.  That’s why Moses was told to be sure that Angels and gold, and silver, and precious woods were used in the Tabernacle.  It was His attempt at making Heaven on Earth.

But it still wasn’t the same as Eden.  God was there, but only one time per year would humanity be allowed to enter into the throne-room and come before God’s presence.  It was better than nothing, but not what God longed for.

King David longed for that same type of relationship.  He understood, as best as his limited mind could, that God desired to be present among us.  So he asked if he could build a permanent residence in Jerusalem for Him.    David’s history as a warrior and murderer prevented him from building it, but he was given the honor of preparing everything for his son, Solomon, to build it.  And the Temple was stunning.  It was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  It was absolutely glorious.  But it still wasn’t Eden.  And just as with the Tabernacle only one man was authorized to enter before God’s presence in the Temple, and then only once per year.  It was closer to Heaven on Earth, but still not what God desired.

So God again took a different approach.  If man couldn’t enter before His presence in the Temple, He would leave the Temple and come to them:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 ESV

That Greek word for “dwelt” is actually the same as the Hebrew word “tabernacle.”  That verse could just as accurately – maybe even more accurately –  be translated, “And the Word (Jesus) became flesh and tabernacled among us.”

That’s why we see Jesus refer to His body as the Temple of God over and over again.  The prophet Ezekiel wrote that he saw God’s presence leave Solomon’s Temple (Ezekiel 10:18).  God wasn’t in the Holy of Holies anymore.  The Temple was never a building.  It was the place that God chose to dwell on Earth.  That’s why Jesus so many times said that the “Temple” would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days.  He was the Temple.  God was dwelling among the people, and they finally had a relationship with him.  But as much as Jesus was God, He was still man.  He could only be in one place at a time.  His original desire was still not fulfilled.  It still wasn’t Eden.

And then He left.  Forty days after rising from the grave He returned to Heaven.  And God was no longer on the Earth.  But then on Shavuot, God came back.  He returned, this time as His very Breath filled the Believers on Shavuot.  And God was able to be with humanity wherever His people were.

The Temple became His people.  Paul tells us that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  Peter goes so far as to tell us that each one of us who receive Jesus have become a Living Stone being built up into God’s dwelling place on the Earth (1 Peter 2:5).  As His people, together we carry God’s presence on the Earth.  It’s closer to what He desires, but we know that it still isn’t Heaven on Earth.  We are broken.  We are weak.  And there are billions who still don’t have a relationship with Him.  It still isn’t Eden.

And a day will come soon, when Jesus will return.  Those of us who have yielded ourselves to Him will be resurrected to live forever in perfect bodies free from the sin that separates us from Him.  And Jesus will begin a thousand years of showing us what this life could have been like had we followed His Torah, and allowed Him to be our Ruler and Messiah.  But there will be those who have yet to receive His Spirit, or been resurrected to new life.  There will be those who will enter into Messiah’s Kingdom rule after the world nearly destroys itself trying to be its own god.  They will live under His rule and reign, but many will still seek to be separated from His presence.  While life during the Millennial Kingdom will be the most amazing experience since Eden, it still will not be Heaven on Earth.  It still won’t be Eden.

That’s why we will continue to observe the Feast of Sukkot.  Zechariah tells us that each year, there will be the command to go up to Jerusalem and remember that, while Jesus will be here ruling, things still won’t be as they were intended  (Zechariah 14:16-19).  And at the end of those thousand years, many will choose separation from God over relationship with Him.  There will be war again.  But when that is finished, God will finally return us to Eden.

Next Post: A New Heaven and a New Earth

Return to Eden: Part 7 – The Symbols of Sukkot

Pictures can unlock the Scriptures.  Truths are revealed when we can step back and see the common threads that tie it all together.

The lulav.  The etrog.  The sukkah.  The living water.  The Tabernacle in the midst of the people.  A week of celebration.  These aren’t  just details.  They are the images that God has chosen to use to reveal what His ultimate plan for humanity is.

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest.  And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. You shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths,  that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.  Leviticus 23:39-32 ESV

The lulav is actually a general term for a grouping of the different plants that God instructed Israel to decorate their dwellings with during the feast.  It specifically refers to the palm branches used, but also includes the etrog – a citrus fruit, the myrtle branch, and the willow branch.  In addition to each booth being constructed of these items, all four are combined into a single item that is left at the entrance of the booth, or sukkah.

The sukkah is the special booth that Israel was commanded to construct and dwell in during the feast.  It is important to understand that it became the tradition that continues today that the family should eat the evening meal inside the sukkah each night of the feast.  In the Eastern culture, eating a meal with someone was a picture of relationship.  Covenants were agreed upon this way.  That’s when Jesus renewed the covenant with His disciples.

Now, by the time of Jesus, further traditions had arisen around the Feast of Sukkot, none more important than the Water Libation Ceremony.  The Mishna (Jewish commentary on Scripture) describes it this way:

Whoever has not seen the celebration of the water libation has never experienced the feeling of true joy – great lamps of gold were hoisted, with four golden bowls at the top of each lamp. Four young priests-in-training would climb to the top, carrying immense oil jugs with which they would fill the bowls. Once lighted, there was not a courtyard in all of Jerusalem that did not glow with the light that emanated from the celebration in the Temple courtyard.

As the people sang, the righteous and pious men would dance before them while juggling flaming torches. The levites, standing on the fifteen steps that descend from the Court of Israel to the Women’s Court, played on lyres, harps, trumpets and many other instruments. Two priests who blew silver trumpets stood at the top of the stairs on either side of the entrance to the great gate of the Court.

All this was done to honor the commandment of the water libation.

(based on Mishna, Tractate Sukkah, Chapter 5)

Every morning during the feast, a priest would proceed from the Temple down to the Pool of Siloam where he would draw water from the pool with a special golden decanter.  He would be accompanied by thousands who were waiting for this moment each day.  After returning to the Temple, he would poor the water into a silver cup at the corner of the altar.

This was a ceremony that tied directly to the need for rainfall.  The fall of each year is the rainy season in Israel.  If the rains came, along with it came abundance and prosperity.  If it did not, then famine and death.

This ceremony was even more important on the final day of the feast, called the “Last Great Day.”  When the priest poured the water onto the altar, it was referred to as “living water.”

So as we turn to look at what these feast specifically symbolizes, these are the pictures that we must keep in the front of our minds:  greenery; fruit; the presence of God; living water; relationship.

Next Post: The Presence of God among Men