Category Archives: Purim

Passover–Deliverance

ExodusIllustration:  “Exodus,” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas.  This work was begun in 1952, and completed in 1966 .

“And if a stranger sojourns among you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its rule, so shall he do. You shall have one statute, both for the sojourner and for the native” (Numbers 9:14).

God’s Word never limits deliverance to the Jewish people. His works of grace bring salvation to all who believe–whether alien or native born; wild or natural olive branch.  God chose the Jewish people to be a blessing to the gentiles, bringing forth the One who would be sacrificed for all people.

It is clear from Scripture that there were aliens living among the Jews who celebrated the Passover.  This has led to another tradition in Jewish homes. As a child, my family often invited a non-Jewish friend to share the Passover Seder with us. It was our attempt to include the “alien among us.” Often this friend was a Christian. Many who ate with us said they were blessed by the meal and the remembrance. When we finished the meal saying, “next year in Jerusalem,” that was a prayer of hope for the coming of Messiah. And yet, not one of these believers ever shared with us that He had indeed already come.

The first evening of Passover falls on Good Friday this year.  But we will remember that meal Thursday night as we  remember Jesus’ “new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).  As we come closer in our walk to this festival meal, we come closer to the truth that the Passover story also foretells the truth of Jesus as the Messiah. He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  How much more could we love people than to share that truth with them?

Prayer:  Father in Heaven, as we prepare for the last Passover your Son will eat, prepare our hearts to come to the table and receive his gifts. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Are you perhaps the alien who has been invited to a friend’s Seder? If so, find ways to share the rest of the story. If not, how about inviting them to a Seder of your own.

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Purim–Persecution

Abraham and three AngelsIllustration:  “Abraham and three angels,” by Marc Chagall, sketch and study, 1964.

“In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them” (Esther 8:17).

The rest of the story, while a continuing story of persecution indeed, is also laced with wonderful ironic twists.  Human cast the pur, or “lots,” to determine a day to carry out his plan and he builds a gallows upon which to hang Mordecai.  He ends up leading Mordecai through town in a procession of honor ordered by the king.  Finally, Haman himself is hanged from the gallows he built in rage against Mordecai..  A prophecy spoken by Haman’s wife came to pass, and remains in the air for future generations:  “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him” (Esther 6:13b).

Someone should have told him that a lot earlier.  Perhaps Haman’s wife understood the covenant that God gave His people through Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

Even though Satan leads the persecution of God’s people, you can know that God’s promise still holds true.  Even though Jesus hung on the gallows built by the are of human sin and died, it was no victory for Satan.  It was his end.  Jesus rose from the dead.  Human and Satan both are destroyed through Jesus Christ, the blessing God promised to Abraham.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, thank You for Your blessing.  In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  How are you likely to react to those who curse you for your faith?  Rest in the assurance that God’s blessing is for you and those who curse you will be accountable to God.

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Purim–Persecution

Illustration to Nikolai Gogol's %22Dead Souls%22Illustration:  “Illustration to Nikolai Gogol’s ‘Dead Souls’,” by Marc Chagall, etching on paper, 1923.

“If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request” (Esther 7:3).

Esther gave heed to Mordecai’s request and his admonition that she must use her royal position on behalf of her people.  Esther chose the path of faithfulness to God’s people.

On any given path you walk, there are choices to make. Some choices are more difficult than others. For Esther, the path she chose is a harrowing one indeed. The easier, more traveled path beckons her to keep her secret. But the path less traveled calls her to reveal herself and place herself on the mercy of the king. She approached him with trepidation but nevertheless, interceded for her people to her king. The path she traveled has made all the difference. Her intercession is accepted and the king spared the lives of her people. She is favored and lived.

Esther may have been afraid, but she was also very smart.  She invited the king and Haman to a banquet she prepared especially for them.  At the banquet, after King Ahasuerus had drunk a little wine, Esther made her request.  First, she requested that the king spare her people.  Since he loved Esther, he readily agreed.  Than, Esther identified Haman as their persecutor, revealing herself as a Jewish woman.

The path you follow is the path that Jesus has walked. He also had to reveal Himself to people who threatened to kill Him.  He is the Messiah, the Son of God. He also approached the King, as He cried out in the garden of Gethsemane to be spared. We lived under a death sentence for our sins, but as Esther interceded for her people, so Jesus interceded for you and me. Our death sentence is not simply an agreement made between men and easily changed. Our sins are crimes against a just God, who demands a payment. And the One who intercedes says, “Father, take My life for them and may their penalty be forever paid.” Just as Ahasuerus was moved by love for Esther, so God is moved by love for His Son and all of His children. He allows Jesus to die, and in His mercy lifted our death sentence.  God raises His Son up from death as the first of His children to be resurrected, giving us a promise of life to come.

Prayer: Dear Lord, You know my struggles and the weakness of my flesh. Help me today to see Your choices for me, and to live according to them. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the Path:  What choices are you struggling over? Often the easier solution is not the better one. Pray that God would guide you today through your Intercessor, Jesus.

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Fifth Sunday in Lent: Purim–Persecution

DeathIllustration:  “The deceased (The Death),” by Marc Chagall, oil on canvas, 1908.

“All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law–to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days” (Esther 4:11).

Haman is certainly an evil man to devise such a plan to kill all the Jewish people in the Persian kingdom. It is traditional during Purim that as the book of Esther is read, when Haman’s name is mentioned, the people listening yell loudly, shake noisemakers and stamp their feet to cover the sound of the name. Often we will even put an H on the bottom of our shoes as we stamp our feet, symbolically stomping the memory of Haman away. While this makes the reading of the story more fun, it truly does nothing to combat the persecution that Haman plots, nor does it do much to remove his name from history. Action must be taken. Mordecai knows this too.

Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes and walked throughout the city mourning very loudly to draw Esther’s attention. When she noticed him, he was prepared. He laid the whole plot out for her, even to the point of having a copy of the king’s edict delivered to her with a request to intercede with the king. But to intercede put Esther’s life in danger. No one approached the king without being summoned–the penalty was death! Mordecai’s response to Esther’s fear was concise. “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).

Mordecai knew the promise of God:  the Deliverer will come regardless of our actions. But God desires to use us, and puts us in the right place to be used. Esther did intercede for the Jewish people and they were spared. But death will still claim them if they do not have faith in the Deliverer. Jesus came to deliver all people once and for all from the threat of death.

Prayer:  Dear God, thank you for placing me in the right place to share Your Truth.  Give me courage today to be your servant. In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:   Has God placed you in a position to share the truth of God’s deliverance with someone today? Please do not remain silent.

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Purim–Persecution

An angel painterIllustration: “An angel painter,” by Marc Chagall, gouache and watercolor on paper, 1928.

“Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king’s business, that they may put it into the king’s treasuries'” (Esther 3:8-9).

The road we walk is often shadowed in betrayal as well. Betrayal is expressed in many forms, but Purim is a festival that tells a story of betrayal that takes shape in a murderous plot to eliminate God’s people.  The plot begins with a plan to murder the king.

With Esther in the king’s court, Mordecai, with continuing concern for her well-being, is sitting at the king’s gate. It was likely his only opportunity to interact with his beloved niece. While sitting there, he overhears a plot to kill Ahasuerus, and alerts the king. Mordecai’s role in saving the king’s life is recorded.

Soon after, King Ahasuerus honors another man in his kingdom named Haman.  The king commands his subjects to bow down to Haman in honor. But Mordecai, as a Jewish man, refuses because only God is worthy of praise and worship. Haman is enraged and devises a plan to kill all the Jewish people in the land. The king, not knowing that his beloved Queen Esther is Jewish, signs the decree to kill the Jewish people.

It is unlikely that your life is endangered because of your faith, though in many places throughout the world Christians are being murdered for their faith in Christ. In Syria, Iraq, much of Africa and parts of Asia it is dangerous to be a Christian. But there the Church is growing faster than anywhere else. Your life is in danger too. If not your physical life, then your eternal life. In countries where it is “safe” to be a Christian, people are not in worship, and future generations are not raised in the Christian faith. Faith in Jesus prompts a desire to worship God and be an active witness to His glory.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, I confess that in my comfort, I sometimes forget the gifts You have given me. Quicken my heart to confess Your name and worship in Your holy house. Protect the faith of those who risk their lives by professing faith in You and deliver them from danger.  In Y’shua’s name, Amen.

Ponder the path:  Tomorrow is Sunday. Call a family member or a friend and encourage them to worship with you.

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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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Help Wanted!

volunteerThis month is a busy month for our ministry.  Here in St. Louis, we are preparing for Purim (our Purim party is March 10), St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, and in the midst of that I am traveling to Nebraska, Illinois and Colorado for Passover Seders and other presentations.  We are also planning and preparing for our Seder on Palm Sunday, April 9, where we usually have about 120 guests!  In addition, and fortunately I have nothing to do with it but to help advertise it,  there will be Purim parties and Passover Seders in our branches too!  Spring in Jewish ministry!

All of this activity is a blessing and affords us many opportunities to share the Gospel.  Just this morning a woman was reading our “bulletin board” outside our building and knocked on the door asking if we sold any Judaica.  Her granddaughter was having her naming ceremony (what would be a bris if the child were male), and she was looking for a pair of silver candlesticks to give to the baby.  Unfortunately, we don’t have much Judaica in stock at the building but we had a nice conversation.  (We actually tried to have a Judaica shop several years ago, but I just couldn’t get enough help!)

That is the challenge of being such a ministry with our focus.  There is so much we could do if we just had more help.  I have a volunteer ministry assistant to help with paperwork and stuff in the office, but she has had to spend much more time on her own business (she does have to eat, after all), and volunteers are few and far between.  As you may have noted from the newsletter, I am looking for volunteers in churches that I have visited to help as ministry advocates.  And we can always use help in St. Louis, Orlando, Atlanta, Detroit, Boca Raton and Sarasota!

One of our challenges here in St. Louis has been that we did not have many children, so we did not have much in the way of children’s ministry.  It is also hard to attract children if you don’t have children’s ministries.  It is a catch-22!  Praise God, that He has lifted up a volunteer for us in this area who has a lot of training in children and family ministry.  This month, our ministry has called Andrew Bolin to serve as our Family Life Minister.  He graduated from Concordia University in Ann Arbor and has served a couple of congregations.. Andrew is now a financial consultant with Thrivent, and he and his family, Rachel, Moriah and Gus are members of our congregation.  We are so thankful, to Andrew and his family, and to you who continue to sustain us with your gifts and prayers.

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Tradition!

fiddler-on-the-roof1520As I write this, I am thinking about our Purim celebration and our Passover Seder plans.  Of course, if Purim and Passover are coming up, then Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Holy Week are too.  And all of these are wonderful opportunities for worship, fellowship and growing in faith, and all are rich in tradition.

Tradition!  We are all probably familiar with Tevye’s take on tradition in The Fiddler on the Roof.  This month, for our Shabbat fellowship on the 17th, we are hosting a sing-a-long (and dance-a-long!) evening with Fiddler on the Roof.  And while I will laud the value of tradition along with Tevye, I will also grieve a little.

Tevye’s whole perspective is that living in this world is a tenuous proposition.  Life is hard, and you never know what the world is going to throw at you.  So you rely on tradition to keep your balance.  Because, “without our traditions, life would be as shaky as a fiddler on a roof.”

Traditions are good things. . .until they’re not.  We all know the joke, “How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb?”  The punch line is of course, (with a horrified look on one’s face), Change!?  I was with a group of guys the other night, and a few were Lutherans, and one of them added to that old joke with the addendum, “My grandfather paid for that lightbulb!”

There are traditions that strengthen our faith and grow us as a people of God.  I would argue that the celebration of biblically historic festivals and days fall into that category including all those that I mentioned above.  Liturgy can be in that category and unites us with the historic Church throughout the ages, even as ours unites us with the historic Church, even before the 3rd century!

But some traditions serve only to serve our flesh.  The old “we’ve never done it that way before” can stifle our growth in faith.  Lutherans are full of those kinds of traditions too.  So are the Jewish people.  And the worst tradition of all is that “Jews don’t believe in Jesus.”  I’ve heard that both from Lutherans and Jews, and that’s when I grieve.  Because, though our God is unchanging, for those of us who believe in Jesus,  “we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52) and raised imperishable.  Praise Him!

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