Luke 4 – Wilderness

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The theme of “wilderness” is something that is quite prevalent throughout Scripture.  From the very beginning, Scripture records people heading into the wilderness as a part of their journey.  One of the more famous of these is that of the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years between their captivity in Egypt and entering the promised land.  King David also spent time in the wilderness being chased by Saul before finally ascended to the throne.  The people of Israel also experienced a “wilderness” type event in the Babylonian Exile.

All of these events have something in common, though, as they are all intimately related to the shaping of identity.  Israel leaves Egypt as a group of slaves and enters Canaan as a nation, the people of God.  David enters into the wilderness as an anointed shepherd but emerges as Israel’s great king.  Jesus is baptized, given His identity by the voice of God Himself, and enters the wilderness for 40 days before emerging to begin His ministry here on earth.  Each of these Old Testament events points forward to Jesus and brings meaning to His identity as the Messiah.

We too are a part of this story.  We find our identity in Jesus Christ and that identity is continually shaped and molded through the work of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives.  Our lives too contain times of “wilderness” experience when God seems distant and life seems hard.  Yet these often serve much the same purpose as those of the Bible, to develop and establish our identity and to teach us dependence on God.

Have you ever experienced a time like this in your life?  Sometimes we spend that time asking “where is God?”  Perhaps a better question is “what is God teaching me in this time?”

**Many of the colored words here are Links to other posts related to this topic.  Feel free to click and explore other writings on this subject!



Mark 8 – Desolate Place

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We have all seen fads come and go many times in our lives.  Whether it’s a diet, a lifestyle, a game, or some technology, there are things in our life and culture that look like, and feel like they are leading us down a fulfilling and enjoyable path.  However, there will always come a point when we feel like we somehow stumbled into the middle of nowhere, and we find ourselves hungry and wondering when we will next be able to be nourished.

Everything in our life takes us places, whether we are aware of it or not.  We travel down the proverbial road, following it wherever it leads us.  Think about a marathon of watching your favorite show on Netflix, how you get wrapped up in the characters and begin feeling for them and with them.  But at some point, that show or series will end and you are left with a bit of an empty feeling, something this commercial calls the “show hole.”

Sure, you can start watching another show but they all lead to the same desolate place.

Jesus recognizes that there have been many people following Him all over the countryside, many have come from long distances.  For many of them, He isn’t the first teacher to come along and offer hope, yet He will not leave them, or us, in the wilderness with no nourishment.

Jesus’ call to take up our crosses daily is one in which we will find ourselves in desolate places, feeling alone and hungry, yet we are never abandoned.  Jesus is the only one who will truly give us the nourishment we need and not leave us stranded and hungry, left to fend for ourselves and find our own way home.  He always provides it for us.



Day 354: Hebrews 11-13; By Faith (Israel's Hall of Fame)

Keeping in mind that the whole of this book was written as an encouragement to those believers who were facing persecution, especially from the Jews, and to those who were believers but may have been backsliding into Judaism.  With that in mind, there isn’t much else to say that isn’t eloquently spoken about in chapters 11 and 12.  So, I encourage you to read them again and remember all that we have covered over the last year.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people of old received their commendation.  By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.  And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.  By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.  By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.  By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.  By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.  By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.  By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.  By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of GideonBarakSamsonJephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,  quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”



Day 320: Acts 7-8; Stephen, Persecution, and Scattering

Today’s post, at least as I write it, is going to be mostly not my voice.  I think that what Stephen says here is probably one of the most important speeches in the Bible with the exception of the teachings of Jesus Himself.  Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit rehashes the whole story of God’s faithfulness throughout the history of the Jewish people and how He has brought them to this point.  He lays out for them all the things that have happened, the things that are recorded in the Law and the Prophets, of which these folks are supposedly experts, and how they all lead up to Jesus.  I have marked a lot of the names and parts of the grand narrative of the Bible that Stephen really covers, linking them all of what we talked about in the first month of this journey through the Bible, and also some of the narratives of Joshua, David, and Solomon.  I encourage you to re-read this speech and as you do create some space for yourself to remember these stories, remember what we talked about, and remember all that God has indeed done to bring them to this point right now.  We have the opportunity right now to take a step back and, rather than reading individual portions of Scripture, to see if from a “bird’s eye view,” or perhaps more appropriately a “God’s eye view” of all that has taken place.

Apart from this speech, and the subsequent stoning of Stephen, we read of the scattering of the believers, the movement out of Jerusalem because of the great persecution that begins and takes place.  While this may see horrible, at least on the surface, for those of us that are reading it, this scattering actually facilitated the spreading of the early Church outside the city of Jerusalem into the areas of Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus says at the beginning of Acts.  Though their center still remains in Jerusalem, where the Apostles mostly stay, the outward movement that is precipitated by this persecution is really the beginning of the movement outward towards the “ends of the earth.”  Notice too that immediately we read that people are coming to faith outside of Jerusalem because of the preaching that is taking place.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well and very much at work in all that is going on here!

And Stephen said:

“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’  Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living.  Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.  And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years.  ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’  And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.  Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.  But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit.  And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh.  And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.  And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers,  and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

“But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people increased and multiplied in Egypt until there arose over Egypt another king who did not know Joseph.  He dealt shrewdly with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, so that they would not be kept alive.  At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.  And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

“When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’  But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying,‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?  Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’  At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush.  When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord:  ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and did not dare to look.  Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.  I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.’

“This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.  This man led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years.  This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’  This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.  Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make for us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’  And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.  But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:

“‘Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices,
    during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
You took up the tent of Moloch
    and the star of your god Rephan,
    the images that you made to worship;
and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’

“Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen.  Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked to find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob.  But it was Solomon who built a house for him.  Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says,

“‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
    or what is the place of my rest?
Did not my hand make all these things?’

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”



Day 297: Luke 4-5; Jesus' Ministry Begins

Yesterday we talked about Jesus’ birth and the preparation for ministry that took place before Jesus in the work of John the Baptist.  Today we look at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as He is baptized by John and then proceeds into the wilderness to be tempted.  As we talked about in Matthew, Jesus life in many ways parallels the journey that the people of Israel took to get to the promised land and to be the people that God called them to be.  While they never actually realized this calling, or at least never fully actualized it, they did follow this same path of “baptism,” wilderness wandering, and eventual entrance into ministry in the promised land.  We don’t often equate Israel’s presence in the promised land as being that of ministry.  They killed, or were supposed to kill all the inhabitants of Canaan and then occupy it as an inheritance.  However, remember that Israel was also called to be a light to the nations, a community that was to represent the world to God and God to the world.  Sadly, like I just said, this was never fully realized… at least not until Jesus came to earth.

I think its funny that most of the crown that has gathered to hear John’s teaching really have no idea what is transpiring before them.  Jesus shows up and John recognizes Him, yet it is the greater of the two who requests baptism from the lesser.  Upon protest though, which we see in the account of Matthew, John baptizes Jesus and we see heaven open.  The Spirit descends onto Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice speaks, affirming Jesus as the Son of God to all the people gathered.  This happening is one of the fundamental ways in which we understand baptism.  Baptism has to do with identity.  As a member of the Reformed Church in America, we practice infant baptism where we acknowledge God’s claim on the child’s life, that they are a member of God’s people and an heir to the covenant promises of God.  In this, we acknowledge the child’s true identity.  While John’s baptism was one for the forgiveness of sins, which in many ways is also a change in identity from sinner to forgiven, when Jesus was baptized, He too was given a specific identity.  Perhaps it would be more apt to say that Jesus’ baptism confirmed the identity that was already present… much like we believe infant baptism does to the child of believing parents.

From here Jesus is led by the Spirit that has just descended on to Him into the desert in which we learn that He both fasts and is tempted by the devil.  We don’t know much about the 40 days that Jesus spends in the wilderness apart from the fact that we are told He was tempted and didn’t eat.  It is at the end of this time that the Devil comes to Jesus and tempts Him directly.  There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between this experience and that of Moses at Mount Sinai while Israel in the wilderness.  He too was away for 40 days and there comes a point with the people are tempted as well.  Unlike the people of Israel though, Jesus doesn’t succumb to temptation but refutes the Devil not only with the Word of God, but with the heart of its true meaning.  In some ways I think Jesus is demonstrating the true and right use of the Scriptures as He is not just quoting random verses of the Bible to Satan but is speaking the true meaning of the Word, especially when the devil uses the words of Scripture against Jesus.

Finally, after Jesus returns from the wilderness, He goes to His hometown of Nazareth and teaches in the synagogue.  His first Scripture lesson comes from the prophet Isaiah, a teaching about the day of the Lord and the coming of the Messiah.  After reading it, Jesus tells them that the Scripture is fulfilled by His reading it.  Isaiah often talked about the joy and restoration that would come after the time of exile in Babylon saying that things would be different upon the return of God’s people to their land.  However, it wasn’t.  The people of Israel fell back into their old sins.  They were still not the light that they were called to be and still didn’t care for the least, last, and lost that they were called to.  Jesus’ coming signals the dramatic in-breaking of the Kingdom of Heaven on this earth.  He comes and the Spirit of God is on Him to be the true Israel, the true human in the face of evil.  Not only does Jesus proclaim these things, but He enacts them as well, fulfilling all that is written about Him throughout Scripture.



Day 290: Mark 1-3; Intro To The Gospel of Mark

Today we begin reading the second of the four Gospels, that which is said to be written by John Mark who was an associate of Peter, Paul, and Barnabus in the book of Acts.  Chronologically speaking, it is held that Mark was likely the first of the four gospels to be written and was directed towards Gentile Christians, possibly in Rome, who were facing persecution for their faith.  The book of Mark is very different from the book of Matthew in the way that it is set up.  Mark is focused primarily on the information about what happened in Jesus life, offering knowledge to those that might not know the story of Jesus.  He doesn’t spend a great deal of time linking Jesus to the Old Testament prophecies like Matthew, in an attempt to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, but rather makes a statement right at the beginning relating what is to come to what has already come to pass.  In this way, Mark has shown the reader that this is not something out of the blue but it is a continuation of the story of God from Israel through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  This would have been a major encouragement to those who were dealing with the difficulties and persecutions as they could relate to not only to Jesus suffering and death, but also to His resurrection and ultimately look forward to His return as well.

The Gospel of Mark has almost the feel of a news reporter, jumping from one event to the next seamlessly and immediately.  As a matter of fact, one way to know that you are reading the Gospel of Mark without looking at the reference is to look for the word “immediately” or “suddenly.”  Mark’s writing often takes the feel of ‘and then Jesus did this… and then Jesus said that… and then Jesus healed…”  There is very little temporal understanding of what happens in between because it is not entirely critical to the message of Jesus life.

What we do see from Mark is the setup of Jesus as a powerful healer, teacher, and servant who is spreading the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven wherever He goes.  This can be seen right away in chapter one of Mark.  Jesus waists no time after He is baptized and goes into the wilderness.  He immediately comes back and starts teaching and healing and calling people back to God.  What we see immediately too is that as soon as He does, the religious leaders of Israel are opposed to Him.  What I thought was interesting about this was the fact that the people saw Jesus’ teaching as one that had authority, more so than that of the ‘leaders’ of the time.  Mark contrasts Jesus’ authority with that of the religious leaders right away in the healing and exorcism that He performs.  The crowds are amazed not that there is a spirit in the man (for this would have been relatively commonplace for their worldview) but that the spirit listens to Jesus without question or hesitation.

Mark also works to set up Jesus as being the Messiah, the Savior of the world with authority above that of the Law.  Though Jesus wasn’t one to intentionally go out and break the Law, He is constantly and consistently explaining and showing the religious leaders the true nature of the Law rather than their foolish interpretations of it.  Jesus is setting Himself not as an alternate way to the Law but as the fulfillment of it in its truest form.  This will continue to be important as we move through Mark and the rest of the New Testament as well.  There is a growing movement of people in the Church that think that the New Testament is all we need and the Old Testament is simply defunct and out of date because of the coming of Jesus.  A careful reading of any of the Gospels and the New Testament will make it clear that, as Jesus says, He “has not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.”  May we keep this in mind as we continue our journey through God’s Word.



Day 279: Matthew 1-4; Intro to the New Testament, The Gospels, and Matthew

The New Testament Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

The New Testament
Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

And so we come to it at last, the New Testament, the fulfillment of God’s promises to send a Messiah, the fulfillment/expansion of the covenant that God made with His people.  In the New Testament, the term “God’s People” also takes on a new meaning as the promise of reconciliation and redemption extends outward from the people of Israel to encompass the whole world!  In addition to this, we see the culmination of God’s work throughout the whole of the Old Testament to bring about the coming of Jesus in the New Testament and the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies and covenantal promises that had been spoken of for over 1000 years, all coming to fruition in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

The Gospels are the first books of the Old Testament, four books that recount the life and work of Jesus Christ from His birth all the way to His ascension.  Each book is written by a different person, two Apostles, Mark who was an associate of Paul, and Luke (also the author of Acts) who was a doctor and one of the first gentile Christians.  Each of the Gospels is written to a different audience with a different purpose.  This will become apparent as we read through each of these books, however here is some basic information about each of the four Gospels, taken from both the NIV Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House Publishing, 1991) and Reading the New Testament Today by Robert E. VanVoorst (Wadsworth, 2005).

Wordle of the Gospels Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Wordle of the Gospels
Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Matthew: Written specifically to the Jews in an effort to prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah that the prophets foretold and was the eternal King in the line of David.

Mark: Written to Christians in Rome to encourage the Christians who were undergoing persecutions by relating the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Mark is said to be the first of the Gospels written.

Luke: Written to “Theophilus” which mean one who loves God, but also to Gentiles and people everywhere in an effort to present an accurate account of the life of Christ and also to present Christ as the perfect human and Savior.  Luke also makes an effort here and in Acts to challenge believers to be more devoted to the faith, especially its growth and defense.

John: Written to Christians and searching Non-Christians to prove that Jesus is the divine Son of God, the Word of God incarnate, and also to deepen faith in Jesus as Son of God and the giver of life, and to encourage readers to confess this faith  openly in the face of threats from synagogue authorities.

The Gospel of Matthew Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

The Gospel of Matthew
Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

As I said, the book of Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish audience, which is apparent right from the beginning of the book.  If you remember some of the culture we learned about the Hebrews, which are now referred to as “the Jews,” the orientation of their lives was towards God, which for them meant looking backward to creation and backing into the future.  This is a bit different than contemporary orientation of looking toward the future.  So naturally we being with a genealogy, a way of linking Jesus Christ with the ancestors of Israel, all the way back to Abraham and the original calling of the people of God by God Himself.  In effect, Matthew is proving right off the bat the Jesus is a decedent of Abraham and from the house and line of King David, two prerequisites for the coming Messiah which, as was said earlier, was one of the purposes of Matthew: to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the predicted King that was to come, in the line of David, to set up God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Saint Matthew Icon Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Saint Matthew Icon
Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Matthew does a great deal of linking the Old Testament Scriptures to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  There are multiple ways in which he does this.  The genealogy which we just talked about is just one way.  Matthew’s account of the angel visiting Joseph also signifies a divine happening, a message directly from God.  Matthew points to this as well, something he does throughout his book.  He writes, “All this took place to fulfill…” In this case, the happening of Mary’s conception took place to fulfill with Isaiah wrote about in Isaiah 7, “The virgin will be with child…”  Interestingly enough, the course of Jesus’ life in the book of Matthew actually mirrors that of the course of Israel’s life as well going to Egypt to escape death while he was very young, a wilderness experience which lasted for 40 days (a mirror of Israel’s wilderness wanderings), and a Baptism before he began His ministry (which is reminiscent of Israel crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan before entering the promised land).  This too, we see was “to fulfill all righteousness” as Jesus says.

Today we also see a taste of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as well.  The very route the Jesus took, Matthew says, was to fulfill what is written in Isaiah 9 about those being in darkness who have seen a great light.  From there he begins calling disciples, preaching and healing the sick.  For one reason of another, the work of Jesus as it has been preached in the Church is often boiled down to His work on the cross to die for our sins.  While this is a very major part of the work of Jesus, we also need to remember that His work was also with the sick, the poor, the homeless, and all those who were downtrodden.  As we will see in the coming chapters of books, Jesus work in the world is the very embodiment of what Israel was suppose to be, an assault on the powers of darkness in the world.   In many ways, Jesus too is an example of the outpouring of the wrath of God against sin, disease, and all forms of injustice.  He has come to bring healing, forgiveness, and restoration… the true nature of the Kingdom of heaven.



Day 273: Zephaniah 1-3; The Wilderness of Judgment and Exile

The prophet Zephaniah was another contemporary of Jeremiah, preaching the warning of the coming judgment and the message or the need for repentance for the people of Judah in much the same place and time that Jeremiah was.  Along with a couple of other prophets during this time, Zephaniah was part of what seemed like God’s last ditched effort to get the attention of His people before judgment was poured out on them.  While Zephaniah’s ministry actually ended well before the the people of Judah were conquered, the message that he delivered did take place starting about 15 years later.

As I was considering what to write about today, reflecting on this reading, I was wondering how to present the themes of the prophetic message in a way that would be somewhat different than before.  Being that roughly the same message is delivered time and again by the prophets, it seems that, as we near then end of our journey through the Old Testament, much of what is going to be said has been said.

Yet I was struck today by a theme that hasn’t been high on the conversational topic list in quite some time: wilderness.  Remember back with me to the stories of Abraham, JacobMoses, the Exodus, David, and then forward to the exile.  All of these narratives in Scripture depict some of the greater times of wilderness experiences in the Bible.  If you remember these discussions, the wilderness is a major theme, especially in the Old Testament (but also in the New Testament as well), which revolves around identity.  When Abraham was called by God, he was taken out of his homeland and wandered as an alien in Canaan.  In this time his identity as a person from UR of the Chaldeans, and re-identified as one called by God to be the father of God’s people.  This was done through a covenant, visions, and continuing faithfulness from God.

Jacob too has a wilderness experience where he is stripped of his identity as a cheating brother and re-identified as “Israel” in the culmination of his exile when He wrestled against God.  Moses too experienced the wilderness of life in his “exile” from Egypt.  Here he was stripped of his identity as an Egyptian Prince and re-identified as the leader of God’s people.  As a nation under that leadership, Israel is stripped of their identity as a group of Egyptian slaves and re-identified as a nation, the people of God in the wilderness of Sinai.  David too spends a great deal of time in the wilderness, on the run from Saul, and is transformed from a shepherd boy into the King of Israel.

The judgment and subsequent exile also serves this same function, a grand wilderness experience for all the nations of the world at that time.  It is clear that all of these nations have developed an identity that revolved around the idolatry that plagued Israel and those that surrounded them.  Zephaniah uses a variety of different ways to express this to the many nations upon which this judgment will fall.  Cities will be turned into pastures and lands on which animals both wild and domestic will lay.  Lands will become desolate and nations dismantled.  All that made them who they were will be stripped from them and they will be forced into the wilderness.

With all of this there is much talk about the coming day of the Lord.  In many ways, this is the ultimate goal of this wilderness experience.  Sure, the peoples would be punished, set away for their sins, but the point of judgment is not simply reproof, but correction.  God is not indiscriminately pouring our wrath without a goal,  He is showing His power and His might, alerting the nations to return back to Him.  While this will happen through judgment and exile, ultimately this will all culminate in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  This is the day of the Lord, the day when all people can truly find their identity a restored relationship with God.

At that time I will gather you;
    at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
    among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
    before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.



Day 251: Ezekiel 37-39; The Valley of Dry Bones

Today’s reading continues on from the transition that we made yesterday from judgment to restoration.  This happens by way of a very familiar vision that Ezekiel is given by God: the vision of the valley of dry bones.  As I read through this today, I was struck by the amount of detail that Ezekiel uses when he describes the bones that he is seeing.  These aren’t just random bones, or just a few bones, but what appears to be piles and piles of old, dry bones.  You certainly don’t have to know much about biology to know that these original owners of these bones have been dead for a long, long time.

Yet God asks Ezekiel a seemingly ridiculous question in the midst of these bones, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  Anyone who knows anything knows that these bones cannot live, but Ezekiel’s answer shows a massive amount of faith.  I’m sure he knows that, all things being equal, these bones surely cannot live… but Ezekiel is also in the presence of God and in the presence of God all things are not equal…

A command is issues and Ezekiel responds in faith, prophesying to the bones, and they begin to come together.  I’m imagining it happening like a movie scene: Ezekiel starts prophesying and at first there is nothing… He keeps speaking… and suddenly there’s a little rattle and a tiny little bone starts to move.  Emboldened, Ezekiel speaks louder and more passionately and more and more bones start moving, flesh starts appearing, and before he knows it Ezekiel is standing in the midst of hundreds of lifeless bodies standing at attention.

This is, in so many ways a vision of Israel’s story both past and future.  In the valley of Egypt, when all seems lost, after 400 years of forced slavery, Moses is sent by God to deliver a message.  At first it doesn’t seem like anything is going to happen; many people doubted, but Moses continued and God showed His strength to pharaoh.  With a glimmer of hope some people began to believe and the dry bones of Hebrew slaves began to come together.  The same will be true for the people of Israel, dejected and alone in exile.  Here Ezekiel prophecies to them… could they begin to start believing again?  Could they turn from their ways and live again?

Something is missing though.  Flesh alone does not make a person alive… and God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath, to the Spirit to bring life into these lifeless bodies, for God will indeed make these bodies live again.  And indeed they did, just as they did in the wilderness of Sinai and as they will when they return from Exile once again.

We see something of ourselves once again in these prophesies as well.  Paul writes in Ephesians that we to were dead in our transgressions and sins, nothing but dried up old bones.  But through the grace of Christ, and the Holy Spirit which was poured out to us, we have been given flesh and life!  The Spirit has been placed in our hearts as well, that we may live for God as He has called us to live.  What a beautiful picture of the reality of grace that we live in!



Day 245: Ezekiel 22-23; Abominations

There are some days in which I feel this blog is easy to write.  The content within the reading lends itself to particular topics and/or subjects that need to be addressed and I feel as though the Spirit is moving within me and I know what it is that I am supposed to say.  However, today is not one of those today.  In fact, I am completely at a loss as to what to say about the reading today.  Sometimes if I start writing things will come to me and the words will start flowing, but today that doesn’t seem to be the case either.

I was kind of struck by the opening section of chapter 22 as Ezekiel was asked to judge the city of Jerusalem for the abominations that they had committed.  It may seem rather obvious to some, but what struck me was that it was the things they did and the things they had that caused them to “become guilty.”  While I don’t think there is a direct connection here, I started to think about our materialistic culture and all the things that we have and all the other things we want to have.  The people became “defiled” by their idols.  I wonder if we walk that line sometimes, bordering on becoming defiled by some of the things that we have or work for.  Just recently I was reading an article about Internet Addiction and how it is a problem that is drastically on the increase in America.  Computers, Video Games, Facebook, and all the other things that I could name forever and ever are not in and of themselves a bad thing, but when they become the driving force behind our lives they become our idols and we become defiled by them, loosing focus on God and His purpose for us.

The other thing that struck me today, which I think is inextricably linked to what I just said, was the story of Oholah and Oholibah and their “prostitution” in chapter 23.  It starts by talking about who they were and how they got to where they are today.  While they were still “young,” as Ezekiel says in the analogy, they gave themselves up, prostituting themselves to the many different nations.  The Northern Kingdom did this first and was followed closely and ultimately surpassed by Jerusalem, which I can only assume means the whole of Judah.  What I found interesting in this whole narrative that Ezekiel is saying is that they did these awful things for a while and God sent them warnings and stuff, but eventually God gave them up to their idolatrous pursuits and it is clear that they backfired greatly.  Indeed instead of having all that they sought from the other nations, Judah became the laughing stock of everyone and looked down upon greatly by all the nations.

I don’t know that I can completely say that I understand this in its fullest sense, but when I was younger I was very heavily into online gaming.  For a long time there were friends that warned me not to get addicted and people that tried to get me to give it up so that I would be a “real life” friend to them.  After a while though, people stopped trying and I fell into the addiction.  In fact, a great many of my friends left me because of what I was doing thinking I was a crazy person and an addict, which I was.  Sadly this lasted for a long time.  It cost me my friends, my schooling, and, at least for the short term, my future.  Fortunately, God hadn’t given up on me and he used this time to bring me to my knees.  Eventually I wound up pursuing a career in ministry and eventually Seminary where I am now… but the “exile” or wilderness that I went through was not a fun one.