Monthly Archives: September 2013

Nothing New

NOTHING NEW

“The crowd asked him, ‘Then what are we supposed to do?’

“‘If you have two coats, give one away.’ he said.’Do the same with your food,’ Tax men also came to be baptised and said, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’

“He told them, ‘No more extortion — collect only what is required by law.’

“Soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’ He told them, ‘No shakedowns, no blackmail — and be content with your rations.'” Luke 3:10-14 (The Message).

So what was new about John’s message? Why all the excitement? Why did they come from far and near to hear him when everything he told them was written in their Law anyway? Had they slipped so far from the everyday requirements for living the best kind of life that they needed a revival campaign out in the wilderness to bring them back?

It doesn’t say much for their teachers either, does it? They were so busy preening themselves and devising new laws to “protect” their laws that the Law of God was obscured by rules so ridiculous that many of the ordinary people gave up trying. Like all the prophets before him, John’s message was no different, but the reason for his message was far more compelling.

“Repent!” he thundered, “for the kingdom of God is near.” What did that mean? Not the current “turn or burn” message! Not the “Be sorry for your sins and turn to God” insistence. That’s our interpretation of “repent”. “Teshuvah” meant “return” — come back to what you were — before Adam’s crazy, foolish choice — to what God made you to be in the beginning. What was that? Man made in His image to be one with Him.

“The Kingdom of God is near”? How can that be good news? I thought that the good news was that Jesus died for our sins that we can go to heaven when we die. How pathetic if that is the sum total of the good news! The really good news is that God is fixing everything that is broken and restoring everything to what it was before Adam blew it so that He can complete what He began.

Now that’s really good news! That means that we can play a part in restoring what Adam messed up. And Jesus got rid of all the obstacles that prevented us from taking part in the restoration process by paying our debt for us, releasing us from slavery to the destroyer so that we don’t have to be a part of the messing up side, ever again. We’ve changed allegiance and are now on God’s side, His restoration crew, doing things God’s way and in the process bringing heaven to earth like Jesus said.

John was showing them how that would be done. Give, share, be kind, be content, stop being greedy, selfish and self-centred. That would make Messiah’s task much easier if He came to people who were already prepared to receive Him by realising what He had come to do.

The trouble was that they misunderstood His real purpose. Restoration did not mean getting rid of the Romans so that He could rule over David’s kingdom. His plan went much farther back than that. Not get rid of the rule of the Romans — that was slavery on the outside, but get rid of the rule of sin — that was the core of the matter. Change the ruler on the inside. Get self off the throne and reinstall God’s king, Jesus, as rightful ruler of every heart.

When the old selfish, greedy disposition is changed from within, people will change, mothers and fathers will change, children will change, homes will change, families will change, communities will change, society will change, one life at a time. When Jesus returns to take His rightful place on the throne of earth, He will come to an earth where pockets of heaven are already here, practising what He came to complete.

That’s what it’s all about, really!

Israel’s “Billy Graham”!

ISRAEL’S “BILLY GRAHAM”

“When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: ‘Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskin is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as “father”. Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there — children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children of stones if He wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s dead wood, if goes on the fire.'” Luke 3:7-9 (The Message).

Talk about a fiery preacher! John wasn’t exactly “seeker-friendly” and he was seriously lacking in people skills!

Who were the people who made up the crowds? From the other gospels we learn that there were people from among the religious hierarchy; there were taxmen and there were even Roman soldiers among them; the good, the bad and the ugly. What attracted them to John? Did they enjoy getting a tongue-lashing? Was it his brutal honesty? Were they fascinated by this wild man from the wilderness? Was it his message?

Perhaps the angel’s prediction before his birth may give us a clue – he was filled with the Spirit from birth. The Holy Spirit must have played a big part in the response to his preaching. Obviously there was a high expectation that Messiah was coming. The presence of the Romans was intolerable; like the Gestapo in Nazi Germany, they were everywhere, it seemed, breathing down people’s necks.

On top of that, John’s message was riveting. Isaiah’s prophecy was actually happening! ‘A voice thundering in the desert,’ is what John called himself. But isn’t that what Isaiah said would happen? “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.'” Luke 3:4b (NKJV). ‘Messiah is on the way!’

Did John really understand the hearts of these people or was he just having a bad day? ‘Basket of snakes!’ he called them, ‘slithering down to the water.’ Was there a subtle reference to their origin – children of the devil, as Jesus called them? Whatever John meant, it was enough to get their attention. Were they being like sheep, following one another out of curiosity and John knew it? It was time for them to wake up and think for themselves.

What was the point of John’s baptism? Baptism, or ritual washing, was a common practice in Jewish culture. It was called “mikvah”, washing. It was the prescribed way of “cleansing” after any period of ritual uncleanness; it was a form of initiation into a new function or office, for example, the priesthood; and it was a form of initiation into a new movement (Gentiles who adopted Judaism were baptised into their new religion).  Archaeological digs have uncovered ritual baths in many places in Israel.

John was calling people to return to their original purpose in God. This demanded a change of heart and a change of lifestyle. It was to be something much deeper than just a symbolic washing. It was to be a change that affected every part of their lives. John’s challenge was: ‘Are you in this for the ride or do you really mean business with God?’

God called Israel to be His representatives in a world of people who were in rebellion against Him; who were creating and worshipping gods in the form of His creatures rather than the Creator, and who were, in turn, being created to be just like the evil gods they were worshipping.

Israel was to be different. Their lives were to reflect the kindness and generosity of their God. God prescribed a lifestyle in His Word that taught them what He was like so that they could mirror His way of doing things that worked, bringing peace and harmony to the community. But it had not worked because the Jews had followed the ways of their heathen neighbours instead of God’s ways.

John’s message was ‘Return!’ It was a simple as that!

Thunder In The Desert!

THUNDER IN THE DESERT!

“In the fifteenth year of the rule of Caesar Tiberius — it was while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea; Herod, ruler of Galilee; his brother Philip, ruler of Ituraea and Trachonitis; Lysania, ruler of Abilene; during the Chief-Priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, John, Zachariah’s son, out in the desert at the time, received a message from God. He went through all the country around Jordan River preaching a baptism of life-change leading to forgiveness of sins, as described in the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“Thunder in the desert!

‘Prepare God’s arrival!

Make the road smooth and straight!

Every ditch will be filled in,

Every bump smoothed out,

The detours straightened out,

All the ruts paved over,

Everyone will be there to see

The parade of God’s salvation.'” Luke 3:1-6 (The Message).

It was now some thirty years later. Luke was careful to pinpoint the exact time in history, all verifiable facts if one has the historical records to go by. After all, he did assure Theophilus that he had carefully researched his material before presenting it to him.

What was John doing during the formative years of childhood and youth? We have only a few clues to help us guess. In his prophetic outburst, Zachariah revealed that he had fully embraced his son’s destiny — prophet of the Highest. He no doubt schooled his little son in the Word and ways of God until John was old enough to attend the Beth Saphar, elementary school where he was taught the Torah – the Teachings of the Lord contained in the Books of Moses.

By the age of twelve, the time of his initiation into manhood, he could recite and knew the meaning of all the words of the Torah. Having passed that phase, he would have gone to Jerusalem for his tertiary education at the Beth Talmid – discipleship school. There he would have been instructed by an authoritative rabbi, probably Hillel who was also Paul’s teacher. Who knows but that John and Paul might have been in class together!

Tertiary education covered the entire Old Testament which John could recite by the age of thirty. He was now qualified to be a rabbi – a teacher – and one who was authorised to have his own band of disciples because his authority had been recognised and confirmed. We know that because only a rabbi with authority was permitted to have his own followers and John was making and baptising men who were his disciples (John 4:1). He was also addressed as “rabbi” by his followers (John 3:26).

It seems that, after he completed his education at rabbi school and before he began to prophesy, he spent time alone in the wilderness. So did Jesus! What was he doing? I think he was thinking deeply about everything he had learned at rabbi school. He needed to know where he fitted in to the scheme of things. He had heard from his dad often enough the story of his conception and what the angel had told his father about him. Where did he go from there?

Is there a lesson in that for us? How often a young person hears the call of the Lord to “full-time service” (as if being a follower of Jesus isn’t a full-time occupation!), and follows the prescribed ritual; Bible School, then apply to a missionary society; wait to be accepted; deputation work to announce yourself and garner financial support; oh! and prayer, and then off you go to the foreign field to teach the heathen about Jesus.

What did John do? Apparently something quite similar, really; rabbi school, no “missionary society”, only time alone with God. Wait, listen, follow, obey. John’s entire ministry of six months! was encapsulated in these four little words, “Thunder in the desert”. A huge flash of light and then he was gone. Was that what he expected? Probably not but it was God’s purpose for him to light the way for Messiah and he did it!

He earned from Jesus the title, ‘The greatest of all the prophets!” Six months? Yes!

A Strange Place To Be Lost!

A STRANGE PLACE TO BE LOST!

 “The next day they found Him in the Temple seated among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. The teachers were all quite taken with Him, impressed with the sharpness of His answers. But His parents were not impressed; they were upset and hurt.

“His mother said, ‘Young man, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been half out of our minds looking for you.’

“He said, ‘Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?’ But they had no idea what He was talking about.”

“So He went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them.” Luke2:46-51 (The Message).

Missing for three days! Then they found Him in the Temple; their son, twelve years old, sitting among the religious big shots, wowing them with His questions!

Many questions go through one’s mind. How did He connect with them? Who took care of Him? Where did He sleep? Who gave Him food? Unanswered questions because, to Luke at this moment, they didn’t matter.

It’s difficult to reconcile these two scenarios — Mary and Joseph, naturally frantic over their son’s disappearance and Jesus, blissfully unaware of the panic He had caused them because He already, at this tender age, had a dawning consciousness of His involvement in a much bigger realm. Strange too, that Jesus responded to Mary’s rebuke with His own rebuke. It’s almost as though He expected them to be in on His mind.

What did the religious boffins find so amazing and unusual about this child? He was like a little professor, a wise man in a child’s body. They were impressed with His questions. Why not His answers? Who was asking the questions? Not the religious know-it-all’s. Jesus was. What does that tell us? There is wisdom and humility in asking questions.

In Hebrew thought, intelligence was measured by the questions asked rather than by the answers given. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Questions reveal the level of our thought processes. Deep thinkers ask deep questions. Many people ask no questions at all because they believe anything and everything without applying intelligence or reason. It’s no wonder God calls us “sheep”! How else can human beings swallow the rubbish they believe?

What was Jesus thinking while the teachers were spouting their “knowledge” to Him? Was He taking it all in and weighing it up against His budding understanding of the true nature of His heavenly Father? In the days to come, that would be the point of departure from these religious leaders of Israel. Their God and His God were worlds apart. Their God ground their faces into His Law and held them at gunpoint to their allegiance to the Law at the expense of mercy. His God was compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness.

His response to His mother’s rebuke alerts us to the fact that He was already aware of God’s and His unusual relationship as Father and Son. He ignored Mary’s “your father” for a higher connection with “my Father”. That shut Mary up. She had nothing to say in response to that. She was gently put in her place, forced to remember that her Son, even at twelve years old, was the Son of God.

“His mother held these things dearly, deep within herself. And Jesus matured, growing up in both body and spirit, blessed by both God and people.” Luke 2:52 (The Message).

She tried, but He was way ahead of her. She added yet another of those unexpected gems to her treasure chest of memories for another time. One day, in the future, she would process all these things and they would finally make sense when she could see the big picture.

Growing Old

Growing old is part of life, and it comes sooner than you think. The only problem is that some of the younger generation adopt the idea that when one becomes a senior citizen that they are living on borrowed time. This is far from the truth, one needs to take into consideration that there was a time when some of the older folk were also young and serving the Lord, and many times took risks during the trial of their faith. I have learnt to take time to listen to what the elderly have to share of their experiences in life and have become more the wiser for it. The question that comes to mind is that when Christians enter the autumn years of their life, can God still use them? Why not? Let us refer to how God used some of His senior citizens. God waited until Noah was 600 years old before He called him to be the preserver of the human race; God made Abraham and Sarah wait until the age of 100 and 90, respectively, before the birth of Isaac was allowed.
Moses was not ready to deliver Israel from Egypt until the age of 80 when God appeared to him in the “burning bush”. In fact many servants of God were at their best in their old age. History has confirmed that many artists, inventors, composers, poets, writers and statesmen either began or were at the apex when they were in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s. Many preachers and elders are in their prime of service for the Lord and His church when they bear wrinkles and grey hairs of age! Dear older and wiser brother and sister, please do not “retire” from teaching, counselling, preaching, shepherding, helping, advising. Do not give in to the “rocking chair syndrome” and simply wait to breathe your last. In your old age you are a candidate for serving the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.