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?

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A Child in Need

Children are amazing.  When they smile, indifference isn’t an option; it changes you.

In America, children are conditioned to “say cheese” any time a camera is put in their face.  Their smiles are plastered all over Facebook and Twitter by the millions per minute.

But for many children around the world, they’ve never even seen a photo.  The idea of some person holding a mechanical box in front of them and snapping a button, the whole while telling them that their image will be placed on a piece of paper, is pretty confusing.

It’s hard to smile when you’re confused. 

But this isn’t the only reason why many of these children aren’t smiling.  You see, for most, these children have little to smile about.  Let me tell you about one of them.  His name is Sazzad Hossain.

Sazzad is 6 years old, and lives in Bangladesh with his father and mother.  Work is hard to find for his father, who tries to get day jobs performing general labor in his community.  Sazzad’s mother does her best to raise Sazzad and his two siblings in a safe and healthy environment.  It’s tough when they only have about $35 a month to live on.  Food is scarce.

It’s hard to smile when you’re hungry.

Sazzad loves to play soccer, which isn’t a surprise since that’s really the only sport he can play.  All it takes is a little bit of space and something that resembles a ball.  But he must be careful, as he lives in an area of the world where abuse and trafficking are always a threat.   That’s got to be pretty scary.

It’s hard to smile when you’re scared.

Today is Sazzad’s birthday.  In America, this is the happiest day of a child’s year.  But today, this day is a day that his life changed forever.

Today is the day my family sponsored Sazzad with Compassion International.

He will receive food, education, and clothing.  But more importantly, Sazzad will have people outside his family who will love him and tell him about the love of Jesus.

It’s $38 per month for my family to provide all of this.  That’s less than eating dinner at a restaurant.  It’s really not much for us to do this.

For Sazzad, it’s more than twice as much as his family earns monthly.

And I’m pretty sure when he finds out that we’ve chosen to help him like this, it will bring a smile to his face.

Happy birthday, Sazzad!

Do you want to change a child’s life?  Click here to learn more!

Lenses: Part 2 – Morning and Evening


Last post, we began “turning the lenses of Scripture” around again, as we seek to look at the familiar stories of the Bible in their original historic, geographical, cultural, and religious context.  We saw how the instruction found in the Torah – the Law of God – to wear tassels, or “tzitzit”, on the corners of their garments reminded Israel of the responsibility to keep God’s commandments.  We saw how David made a powerful statement in cutting off Saul’s tzitzit in the cave of Ein Gedi.  And we learned that the woman who grabbed the “hem” of Jesus’ robe was doing much more than seeking healing.  She was boldly declaring that Jesus was the promised “Sun of Righteousness” who had risen with “healing in His wings” – His tzitzit.  She was telling all, that she believed that Jesus was the Messiah.

 Part 2: Morning and Evening

 Abraham and the Covenant – Genesis 15

Would you have the “chutzpah” to question God, straight to His face?  That’s the way the story of Genesis 15 begins.  God shows up at Abraham’s tent to remind him of the promise made to him in Genesis 12.  God promises that He would protect Abraham and that he would be blessed beyond all imagination.  And Abraham basically tells God that it doesn’t matter all that much, because he has no heir to carry on the line anyway.  But rather than condemning Abraham, he lovingly understands Abraham’s doubts and asks him if they could go for a walk together.  God tells Abraham to count the stars spread above him – an impossible task.  And then God promises that Abraham’s descendents will be just as innumerable.  But that’s not enough for Abraham.  He boldly asks God to prove it to him.  And God does.

God tells Abraham to go get five animals: a cow, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon.  Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us that Abraham was given any further instructions, but he seems to know exactly what God was thinking.  Abraham cuts the animals in half and creates a “path of blood” between them.  In doing this, Abraham is preparing for an ancient covenant ceremony that is still practiced among the Bedouin culture of the Middle East today.

This covenant ceremony involves both a greater and lesser party.  The greater party makes a series of promises to the lesser, and the lesser party agrees to follow certain practices as a result.  Then, the greater party walks through the “path of blood” between the animal halves, stomping in the blood the whole way.  In doing this, he’s saying, “If I fail to honor my part of this covenant, you may slay me like these animals and stomp through my blood.”  Then, the lesser party repeats the act, making the same oath.

God’s promise to Abraham was that all who bless him and his descendents would be blessed; all who curse them would be cursed; and through Abraham’s line a descendent would come that would bless all of humanity.  Abraham’s part was simple: walk before God and be blameless; be perfect; no sin; no errors; no mistakes.

Genesis 15 says that Abraham is overcome with a “thick and dreadful darkness” (verse 12).  This phrase is an ancient Hebrew idiom for someone becoming completely overcome with terror.  And when Abraham hears of his responsibility in the covenant, this is the only response he could have.  He cannot fulfill his end.

It is after this that God manifests into a smoking fire pot – smoke being a common Biblical metaphor for God: the Pillar of Cloud (Exodus 13); at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19); in the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 40); above the Ark of the Covenant (Leviticus 16); in the Temple (I Kings 8; 1 Chronicles 5); Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6); in Heaven at the judgment of mankind (Revelation 15) – and as He declares the future of the descendents of Abraham, the smoking fire pot proceeds to pass between the pieces.

And now it is Abraham’s turn.

Every Morning and Every Evening – Exodus 29

It’s early in the day.  As has been the custom for centuries, a priest stands at the brazen altar with a knife pressed against the throat of a lamb.  Another priest is waiting at the pinnacle of the Temple, with a ram’s horn (shofar) pressed to his lips.  A third priest is waiting in the Temple courtyard watching a sun dial.  As the sun dial indicates the specified moment in time, he signals the priest on the pinnacle; the shofar is blown, and the lamb is slain.  The priest sprinkles the blood against the base of the altar, as the people plead with God to be faithful to the covenant promise made to Abraham.  And the day’s worship begins.

For the next six hours, animal after animal is sacrificed on that same altar.  Sin offerings; trespass offerings; burnt offerings; peace offerings; meal offerings are offered again and again.  Cows; rams; goats; turtledoves; pigeons; the same animals Abraham slaughtered to create the “path of blood” 1,800 years earlier, are slain in the Temple.

And again, at the close of the day’s worship, the sacrifice of the lamb is repeated.  This sacrifice had been made ever since the Hebrews left Egypt, as God commanded; in the Tabernacle while wandering in the wilderness; in Shiloh; in Jerusalem; in the glorious Temple constructed by Solomon; in the Temple rebuilt by Zerubabel; in the beautifully renovated Temple of Herod.  And every day, a river of blood flowed from the Temple, down into the Kidron Valley; reminding all of Israel of the “path of blood” that God passed through 1,800 years earlier; of God’s promise to them.

The Day of the Cross – Mark 15:25-39

And it was the third hour when they crucified him.  And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”  And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.   And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”  So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.  Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.  And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.”  And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”  And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

Six hours.  Jesus hung on the cross from morning till evening.  As the people prepared to offer up cows, rams, goats, turtledoves, and pigeons as sacrifices, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) was being nailed to a tree.  Mark wrote his gospel to those in Rome, so he uses the Roman reckoning of time.  “The third hour” would be 9:00am – and it was at this specific time for 1,200 years that the lamb was slain on the altar to begin the worship in God’s House.  The offerings commenced.  And as Jesus’ blood was being shed, the blood from the altar began to flow from the Temple Mount into the creek that ran through the Kidron Valley: water and blood.

A Flaming Torch – Genesis 15

Abraham realized immediately that his life was over.  There was absolutely no way he could honor his side of the covenant being made.  God’s promise was amazing, but God would be released from it the very first moment that Abraham sinned.  God had been clear: Abraham was to be perfect before God.  Abraham was 86 years old.  He’d learned early on that he couldn’t go a day being blameless.  The very second that he dipped his toe in the “path of blood,” his fate would be sealed.  It was only a matter of hours before he would be judged.

Genesis 15:12 says that Abraham fell into a deep sleep, but this misses the nuance of the language.  It really means that Abraham passed out in fear.  He had no chance.  God was standing before him, and Abraham understood immediately the gravity of the situation he was in.  Abraham knew he was expected to walk the “path of blood”.  He couldn’t do it and live.

We miss the point of the story.  We know that God passed through the animal halves, but there’s an important verse that reveals the beauty of the story:

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot AND a flaming torch passed between these pieces. – Genesis 15:17

We’ve already looked at the smoking fire pot, but this verse reveals a second manifestation of the presence of God.  In Hebraic religious writings, fire always symbolizes God: the Burning Bush (Exodus 3); the Pillar of Fire (Exodus 13); God descending in fire on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19); a Consuming Fire (Deuteronomy 4); the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7); the Eternal Messiah (Revelation 1; 19).

And the Fire of God crossed through the “path of blood” in Abraham’s place.  God broke the protocol of the covenant, and declared to Abraham and all who would read this story after, “If YOU fail to honor YOUR part of this covenant, you may slay ME like these animals and stomp through my blood.”

And Jesus fate – not Abraham’s – was sealed. 

Century after century thereafter, as the morning and evening sacrifices signaled God’s promise to keep the covenant, Jesus saw the blood flow.  He heard the animals cry.  He saw the fire on the altar and smelled the smoke rising to the Heavens.  And he thought about His future.  He saw the picture of His own death.

It Is Finished – Hebrews 10:5-14

That is what is meant by this prophecy, put in the mouth of Christ: 


You don’t want sacrifices and offerings year after year;
you’ve prepared a body for me for a sacrifice.
It’s not fragrance and smoke from the altar
that whet your appetite.
So I said, “I’m here to do it your way, O God,
      the way it’s described in your Book.”


When he said, “You don’t want sacrifices and offerings,” he was referring to practices according to the old plan. When he added, “I’m here to do it your way,” he set aside the first in order to enact the new plan—God’s way—by which we are made fit for God by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus.
 

 

Every priest goes to work at the altar each day, offers the same old sacrifices year in, year out, and never makes a dent in the sin problem. As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in. It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process. – Hebrews 10:5-14 (The Message)

At 9:00am on the “Day of the Cross”, Jesus was nailed to His execution stake – at the very moment that the morning sacrifice was taking place.  And again, at 3:00pm – as the final sacrifice of the day was slain in the Temple – Jesus cried out that once and for all, “It is FINISHED!” (John 19:30)

The Wondrous Cross

When I survey the Wondrous Cross, on which the Prince of Glory died;

My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my God;

All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet; sorrow and love flow mingled down;

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small.

Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!

 

Next Post: He Shall Be Called a “Nazarene”

We must have the intellectual integrity to understand that there are Scriptures regarding Jesus that have some problems.  If we press the Scriptures hard, will they still stand up under the scrutiny?  Matthew writes that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy that “He shall be called a ‘Nazarene’.”  But do the ancient Hebrew prophets ever predict this?  Why does Matthew 1 indicate that there are “14 generations from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian captivity, and from the captivity to Jesus?”  But there are only 13 generations listed from the captivity to Jesus in Matthew 1.  Why?  And for that matter, why are there two different genealogies of Jesus that both claim to be through his earthly father, Joseph, but come through two different sons of David?  Are there answers to these challenges?

Readings for the Week:

  • Matthew 2:21-23
  • Matthew 1:1-17
  • Luke 3:23-38
  • Isaiah 11

Previous Post: Lenses: Part 1 – Healing In His Wings

Lenses: Part 1 – Healing In His Wings

Have you ever looked through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars?  You can still make out the image, but just barely.  For the past 2,000 years, Christianity has been looking at the Scriptures the same way.  It’s time to turn the lenses around.  By looking at the Bible through the proper lenses – the historical, cultural, religious, and geographical context – the Word becomes more vivid, the personalities come to life, and the student becomes more and more connected to the story.  And ultimately, they fall more in love with Jesus.

Part 1 – Healing In His Wings 

Remembering the Commandments – Numbers 15:38-41

“Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.   And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”

The ancient Hebrews were commanded by God to place special tassels on the corners of their garments.  These tassles – called tzitzit – were a symbol of their commitment to obey the commandments of God, found in the Torah.

The tzitzit consists of a specific set of knots and threads.  Each one of these is symbolic.

  • 5 Knots – The first 5 books of the Bible (Torah)
  • 4 Spaces – The Name of God (YHWH)

Each Hebrew word has a numerical value – called gematria.  The numerical value of the word “tzitzit” is 600.  If you combine that value (600) with the 5 knots, made from the 8 threads of the tzitzit, you come to the number 613.  This is the most important number in the entire Hebrew world.  There are 613 commandments in the Torah.  So, the purpose of the tzitzit is to remind Israel that they are to honor the commandments of God, and the very numerical value of the word “tzitzit” equals 613 – the number of commandments they are to obey.

It’s also very important to understand where the tzitzit are attached.  The Hebrew word for corner is “kanaph”.  This word is used in various other ways throughout Scripture, as we will soon see.

Cutting Corners – 1 Samuel 24:1-15

David was anointed future king of Israel, after Saul ignored God’s specific commandment regarding the Amalekites.  After that, Saul became more and more angry and paranoid.  This resulted in his seeking to kill the one man who most clearly understood the unique anointing of God that the king had – David.

While Saul was pursuing David, he entered a cave in the oasis of Ein Gedi.  Unbeknownst to him, David and his followers were also hiding in the cave.  David’s men tried to encourage him to kill Saul, and be done with the whole problem.  But David understood that this would be using his own power and strength to deal with his trials, rather than allowing God to take care of it.  Instead, he snuck up to Saul and cut of the corner of his robe, removing the tzitzit from Saul.

In doing this, he was declaring for all to see that Saul was not honoring the commandments of God.

The Coming Son of David – The Prophets

It wasn’t long after Ein Gedi that David ascended to the throne.  He ruled in righteousness and honored the commandments of God.  And while his son, Solomon, started out well, eventually things deteriorated into pagan worship and the rejection of the commandments.  The nation became divided, the Temple of God was destroyed, and judgment came.

During the time of the captivity in Babylon, the prophets of God began to foretell of another “Son of David” who would come and restore the kingdom to Israel.  He would be the Messiah – the Anointed One – who would rule in true justice and righteousness.  He would properly teach the commandments of God to the people, and Israel would finally fulfill its calling to be a light to the nations.

  • He will bring the political and spiritual revival of Israel, returning them to the land and restoring Jerusalem. (Isaiah 11:1-2; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5)
  •  He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government – both for Jews and Gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1)
  • He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18; Ezekiel 40-50)
  • He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Torah as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15)

In essence, they prophesied that the Messiah would return Israel to obedience to the Torah; to keep the commandments that were symbolized by the wearing of the Tzitzit.

The Sun of Righteousness – Malachi 4:1-2

In the final writings of the period of the prophets, Malachi foretold of the “sun of righteousness” who would arise with “healing in His wings.”  This prophecy immediately became associated with the coming Son of David – the Messiah.

As we saw earlier, the Hebrew word for corner is “kanaph”.  Hebrew is considered a “poor language” – meaning that it has many fewer words than languages like Greek, Latin, or English.  That means that one word must be used to describe several different things.  Therefore, in addition to “kanaph” meaning corner, it also means wings.

The Hebrew sages taught that this meant that coming Messiah would have special healing powers in the tzitzit that were attached to the corner of his robe.

Many Pharisees who wanted to be considered candidates for the role of Messiah, would attach especially long tzitzit to their robes, suggesting that they had these special healing attributes.  (Matthew 23:5-7)

The Hem of His Garment – Matthew 9:18-21

One day when Jesus was making His way through the crowds to heal a young girl who was on the verge of death, a woman reached out and grabbed hold of his tzitzit.  In doing this, she was doing much more than believing that He could heal her.  The woman was declaring to all, that she believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah.

Later, many more would make this same declaration by seeking healing by reaching out and grabbing hold of Jesus’ tzitzit. (Matthew 14:34-36)

Why?

It’s time we see Jesus, and the culture He lived in, from a different perspective; to turn the lenses around.  By doing this, we can understand Jesus as His disciples did.  If we are to love someone more fully, it takes understanding them as they really are, rather than as we want them to be.  Jesus was a 1st Century Jew, living in Jewish culture and following many of the traditions of that culture.  When we understand that, we too can join in the Prayer of St. Richard:

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.  Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.  Amen.

 

Next Post: Morning and Evening

What was the symbolism of the morning and evening sacrifices that took place in both the Tabernacle and the First and Second Temples?  How did these sacrifices connect with the covenant made between God and Abraham?  And were these sacrifices fulfilled in the life of Jesus?

Readings for the Week:

  • Genesis 15
  • Exodus 29:38-42
  • Mark 15:21-39
  • Hebrews 10

Religion Reboot

The “blue screen of death.”

That’s what I sat there staring at.  I had started working for Promise Keepers a couple of months earlier, and due to a very tight ministry budget, I had agreed to use my own personal laptop for ministry work until they could afford to purchase another.  Lots of files, and programs, and documents were stored on it.  And now all I had was an overpriced paper weight.  I had lost everything.

That’s what happens when you try to push a computer beyond its capabilities.  This costly example taught me that I can’t just keep putting more and more on a computer, in hopes that it forces the computer to do things it just wasn’t designed to do.  The only result that can be expected is a crash.

Our spiritual lives are often much like this.  In our efforts to walk closer to Jesus, many times we feel like we’re coming up short.  We see our inadequacies and failures, and we determine that we must simply try harder.  So we add more to our spiritual hard drive.  We start teaching another Bible study.  We increase our giving.  We read more Christian books.  We memorize more verses.  And while all of these things are good, they don’t fix the problem.  That’s because the problem isn’t about activity.  The problem is much deeper.  The problem is in the heart.  Eventually, the result is always the spiritual “blue screen of death.”

Maybe as you read this, you’re already there.  You’ve done it all: served on the committees; attended all the services and meetings; gone on the mission trips; etc.  And you’ve reached the point of complete spiritual burn out.  You’ve been forced to step away from the grind of Christianity.  You’re on the sidelines waiting for enough energy to jump back in again.  But now you’re worried that this time the energy won’t return.

When a computer crashes, sometimes all you can do is reboot it.  That may mean you’ve lost everything on the hard drive, and that you have to start all over again.  And while that’s not a pleasant experience, it’s the only way to get the computer to work again.

It’s the same thing with a spiritual crash.  You have to start over again.  Forget all the extras that we’ve attached to religion; all of the things that 2,000 years of church tradition have convinced us we must be doing in order to be faithful.  It isn’t always a pleasant experience, but in the end, it’s the only way to get our hearts working again.

The religion of Jesus’ day wasn’t any different than it is today.  They had accumulated countless traditions and rituals and ideas that they believed helped them more faithfully walk with God.  They fasted every Monday and Thursday.  They performed a ritual washing ceremony before eating anything.  They developed specific rules and regulations designed to protect them from violating the Sabbath.  There wasn’t anything substantively wrong with these traditions.  The problem was, these traditions began to become what their faith was all about.  Does this sound familiar?

In Matthew 9, some of the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked why His disciples didn’t fast like they or the Pharisees did.  First, I love Jesus’ initial answer: He basically says that His disciples will fast when it’s the right time to fast, not out of religious ritual or because of pressure from others.  But then Jesus says this:

No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.  Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.  Matthew 9:16-17 ESV

What did Jesus mean with this analogy?  The key is in understanding that He was responding to questions regarding His disciples following man’s religious traditions.  Jesus is saying that the observance that He teaches, can’t fit into the religious traditions of others.  That following Him required a new understanding of faith.  Trying to mix being His disciple with the religious traditions of man only results in a ripped garment or a burst wineskin.  In today’s culture, we might very well say that trying to combine following Jesus with man’s system of religion can only result in the spiritual “blue screen of death.”

In the Hebrew culture that Jesus taught in, the way that a rabbi interpreted Scripture and how to obey it was called his “yoke.”  It’s a metaphor to describe the burden or the weight of a rabbi’s teaching.  Some added many rules and regulations; others many less.  When choosing to follow a rabbi, the disciple would carefully seek to understand that rabbi’s yoke, because they would be expected to live according to it from that point forward.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

We know these verses well.  You could probably quote them by memory.  But deep down in your heart, you probably wonder if they’re true.  For most of us, being Jesus disciple isn’t all that easy.  The burden we bear isn’t very light.  We rarely feel rested because of it.

And that means that we’ve added things to what Jesus expects His disciples to do.

So what was Jesus’ yoke?  If it’s what we are supposed to use as the guide for following Him; for interpreting Scripture; for walking with Him; what is it?

In Jesus day, a rabbi’s yoke was what that rabbi called the “greatest commandment.”  It didn’t mean that rest of the Scriptures failed to be important.  It just meant that all other commandments must be filtered through that “greatest commandment.”

A Pharisee came to Jesus seeking to learn what He taught as His greatest commandment.  Jesus answered:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.   On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.  Matthew 22:37-38 ESV

Jesus initial answer was common in His day.  Many rabbi’s taught that loving God will all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength – the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) – is the greatest commandment.  But as He often did, Jesus changed things up just enough that His disciples would have seen something very profound in His answer.  Jesus adds a second commandment to it, declaring that it held equal importance: love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Love God.  Love others.  That’s the heart of Scripture.

It doesn’t say study longer.  It doesn’t say memorize more verses.  It doesn’t say go on another mission trip.  It doesn’t say give more in the offering.  It doesn’t say fast.  It doesn’t say join the choir.

Love God.  Love others.

Don’t get me wrong.  When we love God, we’ll want to spend time learning what He teaches more.  It will lead to more time reading and memorizing the Word.  If we love others, we will end of doing more to help them; giving more; sharing the Gospel more.

But these things come out of our love; not out of duty or religious ritual.

Sadly, many can’t fully grasp how profound and liberating Jesus’ yoke is.  It seems too simple.  So they add more and more to their lives in an effort to find that fulfillment and peace that can only come when we surrender ourselves over to love.  Most of us have to crash before we can start over again.

Still, if you can allow yourself to step back, evaluate why you do what you do, you will find a freedom and peace that you truly long for.

Go ahead.  Reboot your “spiritual hard drive.”  Take off the programs and files, and just start again.

Just love God, and love others.

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5 Things I Miss From “Old School” Church

Our society is obsessed with “new”.  We are always looking for the latest gadget or item that we assume must be better because it’s the newest version.  When the original iPad came out in 2009, you couldn’t find one in the stores for months.  As soon as a shipment arrived in the store, there were people waiting to snatch them up.  They would sell out in minutes.

I purchased one within about a month after they came out.  And I loved it.  But around 9 months later, Apple did what Apple always does – they came out with iPad 2.  And millions of people cast aside their outdated, piece of junk iPads, and upgraded to the much more advanced iPad 2.

At first I was disappointed.  I had spent more money than I really should have on something that society was telling me I should get rid of in order to have something better.  But I didn’t.  It’s three years – and three versions of iPads later – and I’m still using my “Model T version” iPad.  And it still works great.  I still love it.  It doesn’t have a camera.  I can’t “Facetime” chat with others who have iPhone 4 or a newer iPad.  But everything I wanted my iPad to do when I purchased it, it still does.

We fall into this trap in church as well.  When I was in Israel four years ago, I stood with about 80 other Christians at Gordon’s Tomb – a site that many believe to be the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.  As we took communion, we could look to one side and see the place where Jesus may have died, and to the other side we could see where He arose.  My wife and I were moved deeply, and felt compelled to lead those with us in singing:

We are standing on holy ground

And I know that there are angels all around

Let us praise Jesus now

We are standing in His presence

On holy ground

We asked the pastor for permission to lead the song, and he agreed.  As we began to sing, we were surprised that very few – maybe a half a dozen or so – had ever heard the song before.  This was one of the most popular worship songs of the 1980’s and 1990’s, and now these Believers who had been singing all of the latest songs for two weeks, had no idea what we were singing.

This kind of thing happens all the time in church.  We get obsessed with the new to such an extent that we lose the power of the old.  As I’ve thought about this lately, I’ve come up with my own personal list of things that I miss about “old school” church.

 1.       Sunday Evening Service – I’ve recently taken a position as part-time worship leader at a very conservative Southern Baptist church.  At first, I was a little put off by the fact that they still had a traditional Sunday evening worship service.  Don’t they realize that this hasn’t been the “cool” thing to do for over a decade?  People are busy.  They don’t have the time to repeat the same thing on Sunday night that they did on Sunday morning.  But I was wrong.

What I have come to remember was that Sunday evening was when the family gets together.  We get to service early and share with each other.  We laugh.  We pray.  We worship together and hear from the Lord.  And no one wants it to end.  We stay after in the auditorium and the lobby talking for sometimes thirty to forty-five minutes.  We go to dinner together afterward and keep it going as long as we can.  Those that skip Sunday evening, miss out on good quality “family time.”

2.       Choir – In an era of praise bands and worship teams, I miss the traditional choir.  I miss giving as many people as possible the opportunity to be a part of the music in the service.  I miss the prayer time we have during rehearsal.  I miss the big choir numbers with the difficult hours of preparation.  I miss the Christmas and Resurrection Sunday cantatas.  Some of my fondest church memories took place in choir rehearsals.  There’s something special about a large group of Brothers and Sisters in Christ coming together regularly to prepare to lead in worship.

3.       Sunday School – Many churches still have Sunday School, they’ve just changed the name to be more contemporary.  They call it home group, fellowship group, cell group, life group, etc.  And a lot of the time, these churches try to pull these groups out of the church building into homes in an attempt to foster more of a relational dynamic.  This isn’t bad.

But I miss the traditional Bible study, entry into church life aspect of Sunday School.  My pastor recently reminded me that for a century, the Sunday School was the primary evangelistic tool of the church.  This was where children and teenagers and adults who were not familiar with the Scriptures came together to learn them.  I miss that.

4.       Hymns – I love the new contemporary worship choruses.  I find myself singing songs like “10,000 Reasons” and “Our God” often as I’m going about my day.  But I also miss singing songs like “There is Power in the Blood” and “There is a Fountain.”  There are such deep theological truths buried in these old hymns that we often can’t fit into the more modern worship styles.  But when I’m struggling and hurting and wondering where God is, I don’t think of songs like “I love you, Lord.  And I lift my voice.”  I remember lines like “Great is Thy Faithfulness, O God, my Father.  There is no shadow of turning with Thee.”  I’m afraid that in our attempt at staying relevant and modern, we’ve lost some of this.

5.       Dressing Up – I get why pastors and churches have gone to more casual attire in church.  I know that this is done in an effort to help visitors who may not have the “fancy church clothes” to feel comfortable when coming to church.  I don’t believe that those who wear a suit or a dress are more accepted by God on Sunday than those who are wearing jeans and flip-flops.  But I remember Sunday being a day of distinctions.  When I was a kid, my family got up early and had cinnamon rolls.  We got dressed in our “Sunday Best” and went to church.  We had a big family dinner afterwards.  Sunday was a different day than the rest of the week.  And what we wore to church was a part of that.  I wonder if our casual attire has contributed to us losing that distinction.

 

That’s my list so far.  I’m sure there are many other things you and I can add to it.  What is the biggest thing you miss from “Old School” church?

3 “Rather Thans” We Can Learn from Chick-fil-A Day

1. This is a Spiritual, Rather Than a Political, Issue

As I stood in line for an hour at Chick-fil-A in Colorado Springs (as most of you did all across the nation), I heard many people talking about “free speech” and “liberty”.  These are important secondary issues at stake in the controversy surrounding the comments by Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy.  But if the hundreds of thousands (and perhaps millions when we hear the final tally) of people who stood for hours in line to buy a chicken sandwich and waffle fries walk away from this moment only to feel like they exercised their personal right to speak their mind and support Cathy doing the same, we will miss the greater lesson.

Dan Cathy took a stand for a Biblical principle.  He wasn’t making a political statement, but a Spiritual one.  This company has done this since the day it was founded, by choosing to close its doors on Sunday.  Since Chick-fil-A got its start in mall food courts, this was a difficult and controversial position.  Malls wanted to require Chick-fil-A to follow the same standards that every other tenant was required to follow, and to be open during all mall hours.  But for Chick-fil-A, being closed on Sunday wasn’t just a “good idea” or something they “wanted” to do; this was a matter of Biblical faith and practice, and they refused to budge.  It’s been documented for decades that Chick-fil-A restaurants in mall food courts out produce every other fast food restaurant in these malls, even though they are open one day less per week.  This is God’s way of honoring the company’s choice to honor Him.  So while I’m sure that Cathy had no desire for the attention or controversy generated by his expression of his personal belief regarding Biblical marriage, I’m confident that this wasn’t a difficult decision for him to make.

This outpouring of support simply isn’t normal.  For countless thousands of people to stand for hours in line, some in plus-100 degree temperatures, in order to eat fast food is simply a supernatural moment.  There have been no stories of angry crowds or mean-spirited protests; just everyday Americans laughing and smiling and excited to be doing something that they believed could make a difference.  People were guided – I believe by the Spirit of God – to honor Chick-fil-A and its CEO, because that company and individual were willing to suffer whatever backlash they must in order to stand upon the Word of God.  To reduce this down to free speech misses the bigger truth here.

2. Our Impact is Exponentially Greater When We Stand FOR, Rather Than AGAINST, Something

For decades, Christian conservatives have been opposing abortion, homosexual marriage, and a slew of other social and political issues, and for the most part have made very little tangible impact.  They’ve looked like a bunch of angry fundamentalists who are stuck in the dark ages, refusing to evolve with society.  They’ve been unable to generate any kind of significant movement that could truly garner the attention of the rest of America.

But yesterday these same Christians made an impact.  People all over the country were forced to take notice of what happened at Chick-fil-A.  The news media couldn’t dispute it.  The radical left couldn’t dismiss it.  The apathetic couldn’t ignore it.  This one event made more of an impact culturally than all of the protests Christians have held in my lifetime.

Psychologists have been saying for years now that the human mind finds it very difficult to process the negative.  If I tell my son NOT to touch something, the human mind translates that into an image of doing the opposite; of touching the forbidden item.  The mind can’t visualize NOT doing something.

The world doesn’t want to hear what we’re against; they want to know what we are for.  Rather than shouting out to the world that as Christians we oppose homosexual marriage, we must give them the Biblical alternative.  We must tell them that we believe in the Biblical view of marriage; a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman.

This principle must carry over into all of these issues.  We can’t just oppose abortion; we must support life and adoption and all the alternatives.  We can’t just oppose sex and violence in media; we must support wholesome entertainment that presents a positive alternative

3. There is the Potential for Revival, Rather Than Judgment, in America’s Future

Too often we feel like Elijah after calling down fire from Heaven on Mt. Carmel: all alone.  But yesterday’s outpouring of support for Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A revealed that there are so many more people who stand for Biblical principles than the media and opposition would have us believe.  No one could have predicted the numbers that turned out yesterday.  And this can provide a ray of hope for the future of America.

If these people who stood in line yesterday continued to band together, not for a chicken sandwich but for prayer and repentance, how could that impact the future of America?