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One Last Lesson

Jesus, on the evening before his crucifixion, gave His disciples one last lesson to help explain His upcoming death. There is no more time left. He better make this a good one. The next few days would contain confusion, chaos, and doubt.

You might think that Jesus would teach another parable. And that would be a good option. They are powerful messages. But He didn’t. Or Jesus might give His disciples a set of new laws, a list of dos and don’ts. But what comfort would that be? He could have given them some new doctrine, but how would this explain the love poured out the next day.

Instead of giving His disciples a typical lesson He gave them, and us, a meal. In the ancient world of Jesus’ day, sharing a meal with someone implied a bond, like a family bond, a pledge of mutual aid and mutual protection. Jesus was giving the twelve His shalom. This is difficult for someone from the west to understand where we typically go to a restaurant and eat a meal with scores of strangers around us. In Jesus’ part of the word providing a meal to guests has deep meaning. So in this culture the meal is more than just refreshment for guests, it symbolized the host giving out acceptance, peace, protection, and enough sustenance for their next stop on their journey.

Amazingly, around this same table was someone from the far left and someone from the far right. One of the disciples was a Zealot and one was a tax collector for the conquering Roman Empire. That is, one was willing to go to battle against any and all Romans while the other was helping the Romans by collecting money to support their Roman legions. You can’t get further apart politically. And Jesus brought both together to the one table sitting under the umbrella of His shalom. They were all a part of this new family.

The unity of these men eating this last meal with Jesus was obviously of concern to Him. In John 17:9 and following, Jesus prays this prayer of unity: “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” This entire prayer is captured in John 17:1 – 26 and was spoken right before going to the garden where He was betrayed.

Also, just a few hours before His crucifixion, Jesus had these words for his disciples record in John 13:34:  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  

So, left or right, black or white, love one another. All of us who are in Christ can sit at the same King’s table, glorifying Jesus and our Holy Father. What better shalom can you get than from the King and Creator of the universe. For our peace is not in this world, but with the Jesus and the Father.

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It’s a Trap

 

Should you pay your taxes, yes or no? Most evangelical Christians would simply answer “Yes”. The question that Jesus is being asked in Matthew 22 is a bit more complicated than that. It’s a trap. How do I know it is a trap? There is a subtle hint in Matt. 22:15 when it says “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.” (NIV) This question is so politically explosive that the people who set the trap don’t want to be tainted by it. They don’t go to Jesus themselves, they send some young men to do their dirty work. These young men arranged for the Herodians to be present to witness Jesus’ answer. Now the Herodians were those Jews who were of pro-Roman rule and would report to the Romans anything Jesus would say that would be deemed rebellious. So if Jesus answers “No, don’t pay your taxes” then these Herodians would probably drag Jesus bodily to the Romans to be killed.

Now the Jews are God’s chosen people. And God’s chosen people are being oppressed by the Roman army. And the Roman army is financed by the paying taxes to Caesar. So by paying your taxes you are financing the oppression of God’s chosen people. The religious Jews believed this would be morally wrong. So if Jesus says “Yes, pay your taxes to Caesar.”, these Jews following him as a religious leader would cease following him. Jesus will be in a bind whether he answers yes or no.

This is a no win situation. So what does Jesus do? He asks to see one of these coins by which they pay taxes to Caesar and then asks whose image and inscription is on the coin. These young men answer “Caesar”. Jesus answers, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” These young men leave amazed at the answer Jesus gave and they asked no more questions. Jesus reframed the question so that we see that they are just giving back to Caesar what was already his.

By leaving early these young men showed that they were not interested in the amazing teachings of Jesus. And we lost out in hearing the obvious follow-up question that begged to be asked. That question would be: What should be given to God? I know there are many out there that would say we should tithe 10 percent. But I think Jesus again would answer with a question: Whose image is on you? We read in Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God expects all of us, not just a 10 percent tithe. We are all set on this earth to be God’s image.

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Champion Warfare

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There is an ancient practice in battle know as champion warfare. Instead of the armies engaging in battle with both sides suffering much bloodshed, the generals or kings put forth their champions to fight in single combat with the winner taking all. One of the earliest illustration of champion warfare was from the story of Sinuhe circa 2000 BC. Scholars think that this Egyptian story of Sinuhe was most likely a work of fiction. In literature, Homer’s Iliad contains champion warfare when Achilles battles Hector (circa 760 – 710 BC).

There is a genuine story of champion warfare found in 1 Samuel 17 with the combat between David and Goliath. Many people who have never opened a Bible have heard of this story. The Philistine champion is a giant of a man and seemingly undefeatable. David is a youth (1 Sam. 17:33) and probably under the age of 20, since fighting age in Israel is 20 or above (Numbers 1:20). He is delivering food to his brothers when he hears the war cry and Goliath’s challenge. None in the Israelite army has the courage to take on the challenge. So David volunteers to fight him in champion warfare.

David approaches Goliath with no weapon but a sling, 5 stones, and his staff. Goliath mocks him saying that Israel is sending a boy to fight with sticks. David replies (paraphrased): “You’re not just fighting me. You go up against God Almighty, the Lord of hosts.” David then runs toward Goliath and slings a stone at him. It does not appear that the stone kills Goliath, but it knocks him down on his face. David then runs to Goliath, takes his sword, and kills him. David displays amazing faith to run, not walk, towards the battle against overwhelming might.

We have an even  greater story of champion warfare. In this story , the enemy is more formidable and is undefeated in the history of all human kind. The enemy is sin and its consequence, death. Now my champion is Jesus of Nazareth, a direct descendant of David. He defeated sin and for that, man nailed him to a cross. And three days later He defeated death and rose from the grave.

Is Jesus your champion? He can be.

The Cursed Fig Tree

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree when it didn’t have fruit? And Mark even says it is not the season for for figs.

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In Mark 11: 12 – 25 we read the story about Jesus speaking a curse to a fig tree. It’s not like Jesus used a four letter word in Aramaic. He just said “May no one ever eat fruit from you again“. This story is often given as an example from the unbeliever that Jesus was not the kind and loving savior his disciples claim. For as it says in verse 13, it was not the season for figs. And yet Jesus cursed this tree for not having fruit when it was not the season for figs. And as backwards as this sounds just a little bit of research cleared up this confusing story. You just need to know a little bit of the horticulture of fig trees.

I have two references to help explain the arboricultural workings of a fig tree, and I’m sure you can find many more. The first reference comes from the Song of Solomon 2:10 – 13. It’s obvious from verses 11 and 12 that it is talking about the spring time: “for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth.” Then in verse 13 it says “The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.” So this passage reveals that the first figs can ripen in the spring time (as it was less than a week before Passover in Mark’s story).

The next reference comes from The Bible Almanac written by J.I. Packer, Merrill Tenney, and William White Jr. In the section titled “Plants and Herbs” (page 267) it says:

“Cultivated from very early times, figs grew on low trees with thick spreading branches. The pear-shaped fruit of the green fig appeared before the leaves. When the leaves obtained some size their interiors filled with small white flowers. If the leaves came out and no fruit appeared among them the tree would remain barren for that season.”

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In today’s lingo this early fig is called the breba and appears on last season’s branches. They may also be called the first fruits of the fig tree (Hosea 9:10). This early fruit that appeared before the leaves was smaller, less sweet, but still edible.

Since Jesus was a native of the area (not to mention that He is the creator of every tree), He would know that seeing a fig tree with leaves would mean it should have fruit even though it was not the time of harvest. There was a second and main crop of the fig tree that was typically harvested around August.

Side notes: I think it interesting that in Hosea 9, the same chapter that talks about the first fruits of the fig tree, verse 16 says “Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit.” Was this a prophecy fulfilled in Mark’s story? Maybe it had a double meaning? Also in my research I found that the Sycamore is a type of fig tree. Did Jesus see Zacchaeus as a potential fruit of his ministry? I think so.

So with this knowledge of fig trees, we see that Jesus was not demanding the impossible of this fig tree. He was expecting to see the first fruits of the tree that should be there since it had leaves. Some claim that the fig tree represents Israel. I don’t. I think instead it represents all disciples of Christ. If you are a disciple of Christ you should bear the fruit of the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22-23), otherwise expect the “curse of the fig tree”.

Another significance of cursing the fig tree has to do with death and resurrection. Of course Jesus’ ultimate reason for going to Jerusalem was to die for us all then rise from the dead. And any fruit bearing tree is a metaphor for this death and resurrection. The fruit falls to the ground; seeds are buried in the ground (death); and sprout again to make a new tree (resurrection). This barren fig tree was unable to fulfill the metaphor without fruit and seeds.

Perfection

What is perfection? I have heard that the numbers 7 and 12 are perfect numbers.

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What is perfection? I have heard from many teachers over the years that the numbers 7 and 12 represent perfection or completeness. Being a numbers and math nerd, this intrigued me. But none of these teachers cared to be so bold to speculate why God might pick these numbers to represent perfection. However, these teachers gave many examples from the Bible.  Here are a few examples.

There are 12 tribes of Israel, 12 months in a year, 12 apostles, 12 hours of daylight, and 12 spies sent to explore Canaan (Numbers 13:1-15). Many more examples of twelves can be found in the Book of Revelation.

There are seven days in a week (Genesis 2:2), seven branches of the Menorah lampstand in the tabernacle (Exodus 37:17-24), and seven colors in the rainbow (Genesis 9:13). Israel marched around Jericho seven times while seven priests blew seven horns before the walls came crashing down (Joshua 6:3-4). There are seven annual holy feast days observed under the Law of the Sinai Covenant (Leviticus 23) and Paul lists seven unity statements (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Jesus spoke seven utterances from the cross, concluding with “It is finished” (John 19:30). Since the number seven and the Hebrew word for “oath” are closely connected, Jesus could be interpreted as saying “It (the oath) is now complete“. God fulfilled His promise.

Still, why these two numbers? I have my own theory. I’ve never seen this written or heard it taught. So, if this is wrong, blame me. The connection between seven and twelve are the numbers three and four. Seven equals three plus four (3 + 4) and twelve equals three times four (3 x 4). Three, of course, represents God (The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). They are three in one. Four represents man and woman. Men and women have four limbs (two arms and two legs). We live on a planet with four corners (N, S, E, W). The Israelite camp was divided into four parts when camping around the Tabernacle (Numbers 2: 1-34). And the river coming out of Eden, the birth place of man and woman, divided into four rivers (Genesis 2:10).

Therefore, when God and any person come together it is perfection. That is to say, God and man or woman in relationship is perfection.  And when Jesus, our perfect savior, was sacrificed on the cross this relationship with God was made possible. Perfection!

The Rock in the Desert

He is my Rock and my Salvation.

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During Israel’s journey through the desert after fleeing Egypt they naturally became thirsty.  Instead of asking Moses for help, they grumbled and complained.  Moses helped anyway.  Moses went to the Lord and was told to strike “the Rock”.  You know the one, “the Rock”.

Moses struck “the Rock” with his staff; the Rock split and water spewed out. This was no little trickle from a faucet. This was a river of water. There had to be enough water for what is estimated to be between 1 million and 2 million men, women, and children. Plus there needed to be enough water for the cattle, goats, and sheep. There was probably enough water to form a lake in the desert.

Like some other Biblical events, this story was a foreshadowing of things to come. We learn in First Corinthians chapter 10 and verse 4 that this Rock is Christ. So in the same way that there was enough water flowing from the Rock to save an entire nation in the desert; on the cross Jesus was pierced and there was enough blood to flow forth to save all nations for all times.

There was a second incident in the desert where Israel was thirsty and grumbled and complained. This time the Lord told Moses to speak to the Rock for more water. We see in Hebrews 9:28 that the sacrifice of Jesus was once and for all. There was no need for Christ to be struck a second time. But Moses willfully disobeyed God and he struck the Rock instead of speaking to it.

No wonder Moses was prohibited from entering the promise land. Not only did he willfully disobey God, but he struck His Son, causing the story for succeeding generations to lose its point. So in Christ’s second coming there will be a cry or a shout (speak to Christ). First Thessalonians 4: 16 says “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” So speaking to the Rock was to be a foreshadowing of Christ’s second coming. The water flowing forth this time is the living water for all of us who are in Christ, to give us eternal life.

Update:
Here is another possibility on what was foreshadowed in the second incident with the rock. When a typical Jewish family observed the Sabbath, it was a quiet and solemn occasion (Nehemiah 8:11). The children wouldn’t run around and be boisterous; rather the entire family would talk in hushed tones and be very quiet and reserved. The natural subsequent response to a day of quiet would be to be louder the next day. Therefore, they might begin by speaking in normal tones, increase in volume, and possibly shout as a release from the forced quiet. This can be compared to the day that Jesus rose from the grave. In retrospect, talking or shouting at the rock in the second incident pointed to the first day of the week when Jesus would defeat death.

(If you have another idea on this topic please leave a comment below.)