Monthly Archives: March 2017

Purim–Persecution

White CrucifixionIllustration:  “White Crucifixion,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1938.

“The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti (Esther 2:17).

The warfare between Ahasuerus and Vashti does not end in harmony. Though God is grieved when His children hurt each other, He is able to use the evil for His purposes. Ahasuerus grows lonely and desires a new wife, and there in Persia lives a young Jewish woman named Esther. She is a victim of the exile, and is living there with her uncle Mordecai, who is caring for her in the place of her parents who have died. She is beautiful and Ahasuerus chooses her to be the new queen. On Mordecai’s advice, she does not tell Ahasuerus that she is Jewish. Perhaps Mordecai desires better for his charge than he can provide, and fears that if Ahasuerus learns of her ethnic identity, she will be discriminated against and persecuted.

Jewish people have lived for centuries with the fear of persecution because of their faith and ethnic identity.  Haman’s plot, Syrian conquest, Muslim invasion, Spanish Inquisition, English Crusades, Russian pogroms, and Hitler’s Final Solution. All efforts to destroy God’s people. But God has reigned over evil, and has preserved His people. The root of faith has been guarded zealously by God, who patiently waits for his people to realize  that He has sent the Messiah for them.

There are many who would persecute those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah as well. The Pharisees, the Romans, the Muslims, Stalinists, and “modern society.” Persecutors try to deny God’s people the faith that God has given them.  But God reigns over this evil, too. The root of faith nourishes all who believe in Jesus, gentile and Jewish. And in the face of persecution, the root sustains faith and gives strength.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, guard my faith in the presence of persecution. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  We have many opportunities today to deny our faith in the face of discrimination and derision. It has become politically correct to support activities that defy God’s Word. But politically correct is neither political, nor correct. It is spiritual and a denial of truth.

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Purim–Persecution

Lovers with Flowers, 1927Illustration:  “Lovers with flowers,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1927.

“But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. At this the king became enraged, and his anger burned within him” (Esther 1:12).

Purim is a story of conflict. It begins with a king, drunk on wine, who in a stubborn rage divorces his prideful wife and banishes her from the kingdom. This king, Ahasuerus, likes his wine. Having drunk more than enough of it, he decides to show off his beautiful wife to his drinking buddies. Queen Vashti refuses to be put on display, and denies the king’s request. While we sympathize with Vashti for standing up for herself, she knows it’s dangerous to mess with the king.  She is banished for her disobedience as a lesson to all the wives of the kingdom that their husbands are to be obeyed.

What a classic illustration of the curse placed on Adam and Eve as a result of their sin in the Garden of Eden! Because of our disobedience in the garden, the relationships between men and women are forever changed. There is now spiritual warfare between husband and wife, and Ahasuerus certainly plays that warfare out with his wie, Vashti. (Don’t feel too sorry for Vashti. She reasserts her power later as the Queen mother when her son Artaxerxes takes the throne.)

On our path there are  sometimes those who attack and accuse us. Spiritual warfare does not limit itself to enemies. Anger and resentment get between people who love each other, too. But Jesus came to banish the devil for us, so that as we walk, we can turn over those spirits to Him and we can forgive as we are forgiven. It isn’t easy, but God promises to lead us.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, You are the Victor over the curse. Thank You for forgiving me, and give me strength to seek forgiveness from those I have hurt. Change my heart and help me to forgive. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Is there a loved-one whom you have wronged and from whom you have not yet sought forgiveness? Don’t wait. And be prepared to forgive as well.

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Purim–Persecution

PurimIllustration:  “Purim,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1918.

“Mordecai recorded these things and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, obliging them to keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same, year by year,as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:20-22).

As we walk on our faith journey with Jesus, we have heard God’s call and responded to it in the Feast of Rosh HaShanah. We have seen the penalty Jesus paid for our sins foreshadowed at the Festival of Yom Kippur, and we have responded to God’s grace with thankfulness in the Feast of Sukkot. Chanukkah was a time to consider a renewed dedication to our Christian lives. Now it is time to face a harsh reality. People of God often face harsh persecution. The Festival of Purim is the story of persecution and how God prepares us for it.

The observance of Purim is recorded in the book of Esther, and its observance is decreed by the testimony of Scripture. The book of Esther is the story of a plan to systematically destroy the Jewish people, and how God preserves his people, even in the face of persecution. Though Scripture does not mention it, Jesus probably celebrated this festival as an observant Jew.

Purim is more than the story of persecution though. It is also a promise. A joke is going around in our congregation that says that many of the Jewish festivals could be summed up by “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”  That is so true. We are persecuted, but Jesus is our Deliverer. Because of our faith in His death and resurrection, we have won over death. This is the cause for celebration. Let the feast begin!

Prayer: Dear Lord, even when persecuted, I know that You have redeemed us from death, and that our time here is but a moment compared to the eternity that You have given us. Help me to be strong and courageous in the face of my enemies. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path: It is easy to fall prey to persecution and discouragement. Instead of being discouraged, focus on the empty cross and the victory that our Messiah has given you, and joyfully give thanks.

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Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

Resistance

Illustration:  “Resistance,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1937.

“‘ I and the Father are one.’ The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God'” (John 10:30-33).

Here is where “the rubber meets the road.” Jesus takes the opportunity of the Feast of Dedication to make an extraordinary claim. “I and the Father are one.” You see, to be the Messiah, He must be God. Judah, the one whom God used to deliver His people from the oppressive rule of the Syrians, was just a man. He did not claim to be God.  In the same way, God used Moses to deliver his people from the oppressive rule of the Egyptians. But Moses never claimed to be God, either.

Israel’s prophet Isaiah prophesied that Messiah must be both God and man. A child born of a virgin, a son who is called Immanuel, “God With Us.” Jesus is Messiah, God with us. Blasphemy? No, not if it is the truth. But the truth isn’t always easy to understand.  How can God be a man?  How could He die? Truth does not require understanding, and neither does faith.  Faith clings to what it knows is true, and clings to the One who claimed to be the Truth:  Jesus, True God and True Man.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, I long to teach Your truth to one who does not know yYou. Teach me through Your Word, and send someone with questions that I might answer. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  So many say that they are afraid to tell others about their walk with Jesus because they may not have the right words or answers to questions. Prepare well and pray. God will give what you need, and it’s OK to say, “I don’t know, let’s look into it.”

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Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

Consecration of Aaron and his sonIllustration:  “Consecration of Aaron and his son,” by Marc Chagall, crayon, gouache, and pastel on paper, 1965.

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

Chanukkah teaches us something about service. Tradition says that when the temple was rededicated, the lampstand was filled with oil and lit. But following the war, there was only enough oil to last one day, and it would take seven more days to press enough olives for oil to keep the lamp stand burning. Miraculously, the flame lasted for eight days, and so the festival lasts eight days to commemorate this miracle.

Each day of the festival a new light is added to the Chanukkah menorah until the eighth day, when the entire lamp stand is lit and the room is bright with light. Usually, beeswax candles are used today, and they are not extinguished, but are allowed to burn as long as they will. Although the festival lasts only eight days, the menorah has nine branches.  What is this ninth candle? Called the shammes, meaning “servant,” this candle lights the rest of the candles. Day after day, the shammes lights one more flame, until the entire room is lit.

There is no record or understanding of how this tradition was begun.  The miracle of the oil is not in the historical accounts of the war, and there is no record of it until around the 4th century.  But I believe it is God’s truth being deposited in the traditions of men. We have a servant King who brings us eternal life. Just as the shammes lights the candles of the menorah, our Shammes, Jesus, ignites the light of life in us. But unlike the candles at Chanukkah, which will eventually burn out, our lights will never perish.

Prayer:  Lord God, Heavenly Father, thank You for the light you have shined into my heart. Thank You for Your Son, who died so that I might live. Help me to understand how You desire to use me to serve You. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  To walk in darkness is never a pleasant experience. Even if the path is well worn and easy to follow, without light, you will inevitably  trip and fall. The Holy Spirit is the flame that lights your way and leads you to serve. Which gift of the Spirit have you received to use in service to the Body of Christ? (Read 1 Corinthians 12).

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Fourth Sunday in Lent: Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

I and the VillageIllustration:  “I and the Village,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1911.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

Jesus makes it clear what it takes to walk the path of Life. He uses a shepherd/sheep analogy to describe the relationship we have with Him. A shepherd teaches his sheep to distinguish his voice from anyone else’s, so as to protect them from following a false shepherd. His concern is for their safety. A shepherd will protect his sheep at even the risk of his own life.

To be called sheep is not necessarily a compliment. Sheep are fairly dumb animals who cannot accomplish anything for themselves. If a sheep falls, it cannot even stand up without the help of the shepherd. That is our situation exactly. There is nothing we can do to help ourselves. We must listen to our Shepherd’s voice and follow Him. His role as leader is not commander, but servant. He leads us through serving us, and because of His service, we are dedicated to Him.

The Feast of Dedication is  a time to remember the dedication of the temple, but also gives us an opportunity to examine our own dedication to God. If we listen to His voice and follow Him, we are sure to be led safely on the path of Life. But if we stray, we risk our lives. False shepherds will call us. But the Shepherd who served us with His life and death now serves us in His resurrected life and continues to calls us. Listen to His voice as He leads us in the path of Life.

Prayer:  Avinu, Malkenu, Our Father, Our King, thank You for sending Your Son to serve us as our Shepherd. Tune our hearts to His voice, and help us to listen always. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  False shepherds call us from the radio, television, movies, books, and friends. Are you listening to the true Shepherd who calls to you from God’s Word, and leads you through the Holy Spirit? He will never lead you astray.

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Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

The Russian VillageIllustration:  “Russian Village,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1929.

“Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:32–5:2).

While traditions can be good, there are some traditions in our cart that can be a distraction to the journey that we are taking.  It is a shame that Christmas has become a time when Santa Claus seems much more prominent than Jesus in our culture.

While I appreciate the mythos of Santa Claus as an imitation of St. Nicholas, (whose feast day is December 6), when we forget that St. Nicholas gave secret gifts to show forth the love of Christ and the grace of God, it can turn Santa Claus into a simple instrument of commercialism or discipline (“he knows when you’ve been bad or good!?”).

Jewish families have traditions at Chanukkah that imitate Santa Claus.  The pressure of our Christian friends, who have Christmas trees, Santa Claus and gifts have grown traditions for some Jewish homes that include gift giving for eight days, a Chanukkah bush (a silver foil tree with blue balls on it), and Hanukkah Harry, the little man who brings the gifts.

Our Christmas traditions are wonderful, even those of Christmas trees, Santa Claus and the giving of gifts, if they testify to the glory of God, the gift of the Messiah and the promise of eternal life.  Chanukkah traditions are just as wonderful, if they point to these same things. Unless we celebrate these things, others will simply imitate the traditions, with no opportunity to imitate God.

Prayer:  Abba, Father, thank You for traditions that help me teach Your truth, and bless us with joy.  May I never get distracted from the promise of salvation that You have given in Messiah, Y’shua.  In His name,  Amen.

Ponder the path:  The Lenten and Easter season have traditions that can also distract.  Look closely at the things you do, and explore how you can share the Gospel through those things and then tell the Story.

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Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

The RevolutionIllustration:  “The Revolution,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1937.

“Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me … ‘” (John 10:25).

God is in the miracle business. We have been given the miracle of life, the miracle of breath, and the faith we find in answer to yesterday’s questions is the greatest miracle of all.

Chanukkah is a time to remember miracles. It was certainly a miracle that the small army of Jewish soldiers were able to overcome the vast resources of the Syrian war machine, and it is a great miracle that Jewish people are still today seeking the Messiah in the miracle of Chanukkah.

For centuries, conquerors, kings and popes have sought to destroy the Jewish people. But God sustained them. During a dark time of the church, Spanish inquisitors tried hard to destroy the Jews in the name of God, forcing conversions at the point of a sword. But God’s miracles were remembered through a simple child’s game called Dreidle. The dreidle is a top inscribed with four Hebrew letters which are an acronym for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” “A Great Miracle Happened There.” Disallowed by the Church of that day  to celebrate their festivals, Jewish people remembered the miracle of God’s deliverance in this game.

Today, the Church remembers God’s grace and love, and prays that the Jewish people would again be delivered, not by the point of a sword, but by the work of the true Messiah–Jesus.

Prayer:  Dear God, remove from the Church those who would persecute Your people. Give us Your truth that Jesus is the Way for all people, including Your Jewish people. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Has God placed any Jewish people along your path? Share this study with them and tell them about the Messiah.

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Chanukkah–The Feast of Dedication

Return from the SynagogueIllustration:  “Return from the Synagogue,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1926.

“So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly'” (John 10:24).

As Jesus walked in the temple, a crowd gathered around Him. Some were walking the path with Him, many had witnessed his miracles, and all were longing for a Messiah. Now they asked him to be clear:  “Are you the Messiah or not?”

God’s people have waited a long time for the promised Messiah. This festival reminds them of the wait. Chanukkah commemorates the rededication of the temple in 167 B.C. The land of Israel had been conquered by Syria, and its king, Antiochus, declared himself to be god. He refused to allow the Jewish people to worship the true God, and he desecrated the temple. A man arose during this time who would help lead the Jews in a victory over the Syrians. His name was Judah (the name alone would evoke hope, because Jacob promised the Messiah would come through his son, Judah), and following a miraculous victory, many hailed him as the messiah.

But as Jesus walked in the temple, Judah has been dead for many generations, and another foreign power controlled Israel. Jesus, from the tribe of Judah, is being asked, “Are you the Messiah?” Some hope for deliverance from the Romans. Others hope for deliverance from persecution. Few hope for the deliverance that Jesus would effect. He would deliver them from death, and a new temple would be dedicated in the hearts of those who follow Him on His path to the cross.

Prayer:  My God, and my salvation, thank you for my faith. Renew and strengthen me today to answer with boldness, “Yes, Jesus is my Messiah.” In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  When you’re on a journey, it is OK to stop now and then to ask directions, even with GPS! “Are you the Messiah?” is an appropriate question to ask Jesus on this journey through Lent.  What answer to you hear?  Listen as Jesus tells you, “Yes, it is as you say”  (Matthew 26:64).

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Chanukkah–Feast of Dedication

The Green ViolinistIllustration:  “The Green Violinist,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1924.  [“Why do we stay up there if it so dangerous?–ed.]

“At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon” (John 10:22-23).

It’s a rather strange irony, isn’t it, that Jesus never celebrated Christmas?  His “winter holiday” was Chanukkah.  The long hot roads of summer are past, and it is winter in Judea. The rainy season has begun, and the path ahead is muddy, and striped with rivulets of running water. We see Jesus walking in the temple.  He is there for Chanukkah–The Feast of Dedication.

Though not a festival commanded by God in the Scripture, it is still a feast which Jesus attends. It is a time to remember God’s grace and protection of His people. A traditional holiday celebrated by Jewish people, it is interesting that the only mention of Chanukkah in Scripture is here in John 10. The events which Chanukkah remembers are recorded in 1 and 2 Maccabees, books of the apocrypha written during the 400 years between the ministry of the prophet Malachi and the birth of the Messiah.

Traditions are good opportunities to remember how God has shown His grace to us in the past. They are not the objects of worship, just carts we pull along on the path–carts which carry treasured memories that remind us that God forgives sins and gives us eternal life through our faith in the death and resurrection of His Son, our Messiah, Jesus.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, thank you for traditions and the value they have in remembering Your mercy for us. Help us to rededicate ourselves to You, especially today and during this season. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  What traditions do you take with you on your path through Lent?  Wednesday night worship during Lent is not commanded by Scripture, but has become a useful tradition by which we remember the grace that God has shown us. In your worship tonight, praise Him who has shown you every mercy.

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