Three Days’ Wait

Nisan 14-15:

Do you hear that? It is the deafening sound of my own heart pounding in my ears? Do you feel that? It is the sickening feeling of fear that promises to drown me in its unrelenting waves of trepidation? Do you see that? It is the most grotesque pictures of the day’s events ever present before my eyes. It is all the sinking knowledge of my hand in the betrayal of my Friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Oh to hear His tender voice saying, “Blessed are you….” To feel the indescribable love, joy, peace, and contentment of being in His presence. Oh to see His gentle face laughing with the children, rejoicing with the healed and restored ones, smiling at me when I finally got what He was teaching!

How will I ever get through this night….

Shhh, what is that noise? It is only my own guilt rising up to condemn me; my own heartache that will not be consoled.

I witnessed Him beaten and tortured. He was barely alive as He carried that cross. I saw the nails driven in His hands and feet. I watched as that soldier lanced His side. Oh! the Blood! I’ve never witnessed so much blood. I helped hold His lifeless body. I helped lay Him in the tomb. My Teacher, my Master, my Friend, the One who loved me most is dead.

Oh, how will I ever get through this night….

Nisan 15-16:

Oh how this day has dragged on! It is Sabbath and a High Sabbath, at that. A day of rest to reflect upon G-d’s goodness and love towards us. How many times have we sung the passage from the Song of Songs upon this night? But after yesterday’s events….Oh surely, this could not have been His will for our Rabbi to die! Not the death of a criminal! What did He do to deserve such atrocity? He only did good wherever He went and taught us to do the same. Lepers were healed, the lame walked, the mute spoke, blinded eyes were opened, demons were driven out, and the dead were raised to new life! He wanted that for all of us, even for the ones who ridiculed Him. But He…He lies in a borrowed tomb!

How can I rest! Whenever I close my eyes I am plagued with the brutal imagery of yesterday. The grotesque sounds of horrific death mingled with the angry mockery of the people standing there is deafening in my ears. Oh, the distress written across His mother’s face. How did He even have the strength to place her into my care? Why would He? I could do nothing to help Him. Will I be able to protect her?

All I want to do is run to where we laid Him. But because of the Sabbaths we can’t even properly prepare His body. There is a deep craving within me to be doing something…but fear of those I am suppose to trust has kept me, all of us, hidden in this room. The urge to run to the ends of earth is nearly overwhelming.

How will I ever get through this night….

Nisan 16-17:

This is excruciating. Today is our weekly Sabbath, so yet another day of rest. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to rest again. I know my attention is supposed to be focused upon the LORD. but all I can think about is my Rabbi and all the brutality He endured at the hands of His own people and His friends. I’m trying so hard to remember the last 3 years of conversations, but all I hear is the jeers of the crowd. I desperately long to recall His gentle face, but all I see is the unrecognizable form struggling under the weight of that rugged cross. If I can just manage to go to sleep, when I wake in the morning I can go to the tomb and at least prepare His torn body for a proper burial. But how will I ever get through this night….

Nisan 17-18:

We all spent last night getting everything together we would need to prepare our Lord’s body for a proper burial. I’ve always looked forward to Sabbath, and especially the High Sabbaths. But the last 3 days have been filled with fear, anger, and inconsolable sadness. None of us has been able to talk about the events of that day with each other. We’ve tried, but we are overcome by the brutality of it all and are at a loss for words. So we fall silent once again.

But this morning there has been a buss here where we are staying. Fear of the authorities is prevalent; we just don’t know if they want us all dead. We’ll have to be careful as we make our way to the tomb. Surely, they are expecting us to go to the grave site today. We’re all agreed that it will be safer for the women to go. And we are more than happy to do so, if “happy” is the word we can use about such a thing. Our only concern is about the soldiers who’ve been assigned to guard the tomb because the officials were told that we would steal our Lord’s body in order to say He was resurrected. But maybe they will help us roll the stone away….

I truly dread to see my Lord’s body in that manner, but I do not want to leave Him as we had to do so quickly on Preparation Day.

…………………………

Oh my! Oh my! Oh my! This morning the women went to where we laid Jesus and He was not there! They came back in hysterics, beating on the door–we were afraid to open it because we thought the authorities were onto us all. When we did let them in, they began frantically talking about how they went to the tomb, the soldiers were in a stooper, the stone was rolled back and His body was not there! Then Mary Magdalene tells us how she saw someone she thought was the gardener and asked him where they took Him. She then said that Jesus called her by name and told her to come get us and meet Him in Galilee. Well, none of us believed the women! The events have been too much for them! But to quiet them and to inquire where they took His body, John and I took off to the tomb. When we got there everything was just as the women said. We even held the linen wrapper and His face napkin!

We’ve all gathered up and are now heading out to Galilee. Mary said that Jesus asked for His disciples and me specifically. I don’t know why He wants me, unless it is to punish me. And I understand. After all, I did deny Him 3 times. I know I can never be part of His disciples again, but just to see Him alive again! Oh, that will be joy enough for me! Can it really be true? After all we have witnessed, has He truly been raised from the dead? Oh, we must get there quickly!

…………………………..

Oh, oh! It is all TRUE! Jesus is ALIVE! And He is beautiful, although I can see the beating and nail scars He took in my place. The moment I saw Him, it was like a fire quickly starting and I began to remember and understand so much of what He had said to us in the days leading up to Passover. How could we be so dull? How could we not understand that He is God’s Son, our Messiah, the King who chose to be a Servant to all, our Passover Lamb?

He has spent the day going over the Law and the Prophets, showing us from Genesis to Malachi Who He is and God’s redemptive work throughout Scripture.

We kept trying to get Him to take control and rescue Israel. And all along He was and is in control, and His desire is to rescue people–from Israel and every tribe, tongue and nation. And He intends to use US. Can you believe that? He told us that we will be going into all the world preaching the Good News and making disciples.

Peter was so afraid that the Lord would reject him after his denial. But Jesus seemed especially gentle with him. 3 times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, and Peter answered Him with a yes. Each time Jesus made it clear that He wanted Peter to teach His sheep. It has been very humbling for all of us.

There are no words to describe our joy right now! I only wish I could impart our realizations into you. For if that were possible, you would be elated too and you would be springing to your feet to tell someone that Jesus is alive. He is our Redeemer/Kinsman. He has paid it all, in full and it is finished, once and for all!

The Good Shepherd

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I am not plagiarizing. I picked up a copy of this beautiful story from the foyer of my church. I know it was put there for Thursday night’s VBS lesson about True Love, but I do not know who wrote it. I am rewriting it in its entirety because those of us who know need a poignant reminder, and those of us who do not know need to be told what God, through Christ Jesus, does for us each day. You may want a box of Kleenex handy. 

Shalom my friends. My name is Yeshua ben Yosef. I am from the ancient land of Palestine and I’m a shepherd by trade. It is an honor for a man of my occupation to be allowed to stand here and speak with you today. You see in my nation shepherding is not looked upon with favor. For most of my countrymen it is a job to be avoided rather than sought. The hours are long. The work is dirty and backbreaking. You should see the thick calluses on my feet. And the pay…well, let’s just say you’ll never get rich tending sheep for a living. I learned the trade from my father and I continue the family tradition.

Your pastor thought it would be helpful for me to come and speak with you today about my lowly occupation. I’m not really sure what a humble man such as I could teach you, but I’ll tell you everything that I know.

Did you know that in the Bible you read, God refers to His people, you and me, as sheep nearly two hundred times? You may have never considered the significance of that comparison but I have because I work with sheep day and night. Let me tell you it’s not a compliment to be called a sheep. Why not rather eagles — majestic, swift and beautiful? No, God calls us His sheep. Why not lions — strong, fearless, terrifying? No, instead, God calls us His sheep. Oh they’re unique, but to be compared to one is nearly an insult. A sheep is perhaps the stupidest animal on the face of the earth. Have you ever seen a trained sheep in the circus? You’ll see elephants, horses, bears, seals, even hippos, but not sheep. They’re too stupid to train. Sheep are also quite filthy. The wool that you see in clothing has been cleaned thoroughly. The fluffy white sheep that you view on your television sets didn’t get that way on their own. Sheep will not and cannot clean themselves. The shepherd or his hired hands must do it for them. Not only are they dumb and dirty, sheep are utterly defenseless. They have no claws, no fangs, no wings. They can’t run fast or scare an enemy off with a loud roar or spray a predator with a noxious scent. All they can do is bleat.

Sheep are completely reliant on their shepherds. Their lives and well-being depend on the person who oversees them each day. If God calls us His sheep I wonder just what He’s trying to say?

Maybe you would understand God a little better if you spent a day with me. Come with me on a journey shepherding sheep.

The day begins early, before dawn. It is my job to provide food and water for my sheep. This is not an easy task. you see in my country the land is parched and dry. We have nothing like the vast green pasture lands that your sheep and cattle enjoy here. You can just turn your animals loose and they have all the food they need. But not in my country. Oh no. Grass can be found only in narrow strips separated by long stretches of rock and dust. Except during the rainy season, water is provided by natural springs or wells spread out here and there. I sometimes have to lead my sheep miles just for a few yards of grass or a quick drink of water. It is for that reason that we arise early. It takes all day to find the nourishment my sheep need.

It is common, at various times, for shepherds to bring their flocks into community pens at night. Several flocks are housed together. Yet, when it comes time to separate the flocks all that is necessary is for the shepherd to call out to his sheep to lead them out of the pen.

I know the area like the back of my hand. I’ve walked every square foot of it many times. This is how I’m able to lead my sheep. You may have imagined that shepherding is like those old Westerns you’ve seen where the cowboys, riding their horses behind the herd, drive the cattle forward. Shepherding is somewhat different. I walk in front of the herd and they follow me. Wherever I go they go. If I were unfamiliar with the land or the sheep were left on their own they’d starve to death. But I lead them. I know where the grass is. I’ve been there beforehand.

We spend the entire morning traveling from pasture to pasture. By mid-day the sheep are exhausted and thirsty. They need refreshing or they will die. Along the route I know the location of several oasis. These places have shade and lush pasture for the sheep to rest. I make they lie down and drink. Speaking of which, did you know that sheep won’t drink from just any water source? Oh no. They will only drink from quiet, still pools. They have a natural fear of fast moving water and for good reason. If a sheep should slip into a river or stream its wool would soon soak up the water and become completely saturated. Sheep are poor swimmers anyway, but the weight of the water in their wool would cause them to sink and drown. That’s why the waters must be gentle and still. If I can’t find a pool I have to create one by diverting water from a stream. Now you’re beginning to understand what hard work shepherding is.

My sheep will be fine and have everything that they need as long as they follow me. I lead them along well-worn paths where I know we will find food and water. They need my guidance.

My sheep also need my protection. The land where we travel is fraught with dangers. Predators like lions and bears stalk the herds. There’s the occasional pack of wild dogs. Some harmless looking plants, though tasty, prove to be poisonous. A sheep might easily stumble over a cliff or fall into a ravine and die. But my sheep have no need to fear. I watch out for them. If they begin to wander off in the wrong direction I have my trusty shepherd’s staff to prod them back in the right direction. If they should fall into a pit or a ravine I use the other end of my staff to reach down and lift them to safety. I carry two sticks, though. One is a staff, but the other is a club. The staff is for my sheep, but the club is for predators. My sheep may be dumb, but I’m quite attached to them. I’ll fight tooth and nail for their lives. Some of the hirelings and others shepherds I’m acquainted with have seen me battle a few of those big carnivores. They laugh and joke and tell me that some day one of those lions or bears will have me for lunch. That may be true, but I can tell you that I won’t look the other way or run the other way like those cowards. No, that’s the difference  between a good and a bad shepherd. A good shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep.

As long as they follow me I guide and protect my sheep. It’s tough work, but I always make sure my sheep have food to eat. I always check out the fields before I allow them to graze. If there are poisonous plants in the area I go through and weed out every one by hand. I also check the ground for snake holes. I told you it’s dangerous in my land. We have tiny little vipers that live underground in some of the pasture lands. When they sense the sheep grazing, they pop their ugly heads out of the ground and bite the sheep on the nose. The infection or venom from the bite could kill them. But I have a remedy for those vicious little enemies. I walk off the entire area looking for snake holes. When I find them I pour a little olive oil into the entrance of the hole. Then I anoint the head and nose of each sheep with the same oil and allow them to graze. The oil prevents the slick bodies of the snakes from crawling out of their holes. They’re powerless to harm my sheep. It makes me laugh to watch my little lambs have a picnic in the very presence of their enemies.

By evening we return to the sheepfold. One by one I examine each of them. If I find any cuts or scraps on their bodies I apply healing ointment to their wounds. I make sure they have water to drink. If I find one nearly overcome with thirst I have a special cup-shaped bucket and let him drink by himself. Sometimes those sheep are so thirsty that they stick their heads in too fast and too far and the water overflows and wets their heads.

Before bedding down for the night I always count my flock. Occasionally one of the lambs will stray, and there’s nothing more vulnerable than a sheep without it’s shepherd. I go immediately to find it and bring it back to the sheepfold.

Every once in a while one of my lambs will develop a habit of straying. I remember one little fellow. I named him Jake. He came from a fine family. His grandfather was one of my very first sheep. I called him Old Abe. Jake’s father was Isaac. Both Old Abe and Isaac faithfully followed me and stayed on the path, but not that little rascal Jake. He turned up missing more times than I could count. Sometimes he was in search of greener pastures while at other times I found him chasing butterflies. He never realized the danger he was in, but I understood it clearly.

Something had to be done. We shepherds have developed a technique guaranteed to prevent straying. It is used only as a last resort–when a sheep refuses to stay with the flock. The last time I caught him straying I used it on little Jake. No doubt you will think that it’s cruel, but it saves the life of my sheep. At the end of the day I found little Jake wandering dangerously toward a steep gorge. I picked him up, put him on my shoulders and carried him back to the sheepfold. He didn’t struggle. Jake just looked at me with only trust in his eyes. I sat him down and quickly placed his right front leg across my staff. With one swift motion I pulled down on the long bone of his leg and broke it. Wild-eyed, Jake struggled to get away. He immediately fell to the ground in pain. He couldn’t understand. The one who provided for him and rescued him, the one who he trusted was inflicting the most excruciating suffering he’d ever endured. I didn’t want to, but I had to do it to save his life.

Over the next few days, little Jake could barely get up. As the flocks moved from pasture to pasture I carried him every step of the way. I held him close in those day. He was suffering with that broken leg, but all the while I carried him close to my heart. I sat him down to eat and drink. Gradually he was able to walk again, but the smallest hill looked like a mountain to him and shallowest stream like a mile-wide river. Whenever he encountered an obstacle all he could do was stop and look to me. Then I’d pick him up and help him over. Jake learned to trust and to follow me. I had to break him to save his life. It worked. Jake is still with me today and one of my most loyal sheep.

Well that’s a day in the life of a  shepherd. It’s not glamorous, but it’s a living. As undignified as my profession is it still amazes me that God compares Himself to a shepherd and His people to sheep. I can see the truth in it though. After all He meets our needs by providing the necessities of life, by guiding us each day and by protecting us. I guess we would be as content and at peace as my sheep if we’d just learn to trust and follow Him. Even if we don’t understand where He’s leading or what He’s doing in our lives, if we’d just trust Him and follow Him we’d be satisfied.

Thank you for listening. I’ve got to get back to work. This shepherding is a never-ending job, if you know what i mean.

Psalm 23, John 10:1-18, Matthew 18:12

The Rabbi, The Disciple, and the Yoke

A 2007 Tuesday night study on discipleship

Matthew 10:24, Matthew 11:28-30

Wrap your mind around the fact that Jesus was an Orthodox Jew living in an Orthodox Jewish region among Jewish people calling a chosen people back to The Way of the One and Only Jewish God, the LORD God Jehovah. He was not a “Christian” as we Westerners want to believe. Gentiles invented that term many years after Jesus’ death as a ridicule to those who dared to follow Him . Read Acts 11:26.

We know that Jesus was considered a Rabbi by His contemporaries according to John 1:38-40, John 3:2 and John 20:16. I say this so you will understand that Jesus was a Torah teaching, Torah observing full-heir to all the promises and birthrights that every Jew is entitled to according to Holy Scripture. Because we know these things we now need to understand who and what a Rabbi is and how one becomes the disciple of a Rabbi.

Now these Orthodox Jews believed that at a specific point in time, God intervened in the lives of the Hebrew race and led them out of 400 years of captivity by the hand of a leader named Moses. They believed that God spoke directly to Moses and that He gave Moses a copy of what He said while they were together on Mount Sinai. We know that copy as the first 5 books of our Old Testament (Gen., Ex., Lev., Num., and Duet.). But it also makes up the book that the Jews call Torah or Law. That word can also mean ‘teaching’ or ‘the way, the truth, and the life’  (does that phrase sound familiar to you?) of the Jews. Read John 14:6. They believed that the best way to live was like Torah taught. It was the central, if not corporate, passion of the people of Jesus’ day to teach, live, and obey the Way of Torah.

Here is crucial point for you to understand. Education was not considered a luxury or an option for the Jew. It was key to and essential to his survival. If you lost Torah–you lost EVERYTHING. That is how central to life it was for them. So around the age of 6 most Jewish boys went to school for the first time. It was probably held in their local synagogue and taught by their local Rabbi. This first level of education was called “Bet Sefer” and means “House of the Book”. The Rabbi would have his students taste honey and remind them that God’s Words are like honey on the lips. he wanted them to understand that nothing was more exquisite than God’s Law. Look at Psalm 119:103.

By age 10, these students would know all 5 books of the Law…all 5 books committed to memory by age 10! This should tell you how remarkable our children truly are when motivated properly, rather than dumbed down by a ‘give me, I deserve it’ system. Remember the importance these folks placed on Torah — central to life, so to lose IT, you lost EVERYTHING. Remember too that not everyone could own a copy of Torah. Usually a whole village owned a single copy and it was in the synagogue in a place called an ark. The ark was positioned on the wall that was closest to Jerusalem. That copy was only brought out once a week for public reading. So the children had no choice but to memorize it. Haven’t you ever wondered why when Jesus quoted a verse that everyone in the crowd knew the text of it? Now you know why. From an early age, the Words of God were in the heads and on the lips of His little children.

If you had proven yourself to have a natural ability with the Scriptures, you would continue your education to the 2nd level. “Bet Talmud”, or “House of Learning” began about age 11.  At this level you would be required to have memorized all 39 books that make up our Old Testament. You would also be required to study the art of asking questions and the oral traditions. For thousands of years the most brilliant minds had discussed the Words of God, what they meant and how to live them out. Students would learn the text and everything that every teacher ever said about that text, also.

A Rabbi would ask his students questions, but he rarely expected an answer as we are accustomed to. He wasn’t interested in whether the student could play back information on cue. He wanted to know if the student understood the text well enough to form his own questions concerning it. If the student could do that then the rabbi knew the student completely understood the text. Have you noticed how rarely Jesus answered a question, but how often He responded with His own? By the way, how old was Jesus when His parents found Him in the Temple at Jerusalem? Twelve? Notice that He was sitting among the teachers of the Law (rabbis) listening and asking questions. Everyone around Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers. Luke 2:41-52.

Please note that the children are called students at this point and not disciples. They are learning about the Law and the Prophets in general. They are not studying any one particular teaching over another, or as we have today, one doctrine over another. It should also be noted here that at age 10, if the child was not an excellent student about the first 5 books, he was sent home to learn the family business by being apprenticed to his father. The same was true about the second level. This was the case with most students by the time they were 14 or 15. They were sent home to work in the family business or to even begin families of their own.

But if a student did excel, this was the time he would apply to a well-known rabbi in hopes of becoming one of his disciples. You should understand that a disciple is not a glorified way of saying that someone is a particular teacher’s student. Being a disciple is far more than that! The goal of the disciple is not just to know what his rabbi knows; it is to BE what his rabbi is. Period. This level of education was called “Bet Midrash” or “House of Study”.

Okay, I have to step back here and tell you something that I hope will truly blow your mind! Read Matt. 11:28-30. Back in Jesus’ time, before it, after it and until today, a rabbi’s job was to interpret God’s written word. Not everyone could be a rabbi; you had to be the best of the best. But also, not every rabbi taught exactly the same thing on any given subject. Just like we have different interpretations of Scripture today so it is with the interpretations of the rabbis and what rules they hold on how to live out Torah. This is known as a rabbi’s ‘YOKE’ and how lenient or strict he is called his ‘BURDEN’. If you applied to a certain rabbi, you were telling him and the world that you believed his set of interpretations were the closest to what God intended through the Scriptures. It meant you were willing to take up his yoke and bear his burden. This ‘yoke’ wasn’t merely about interpreting the word, it was about living them out. Action was always the goal and it still is. Read Matt. 5:17. Now, if a rabbi believed a student had interpreted a certain text all wrong, he would say, “You have abolished Torah.” But if the rabbi believed the student had his interpretation correct he would say, “You have fulfilled Torah.” Essentially Jesus was telling those people that His interpretation was dead on the mark of what God intended for them to live out.

If a student had excelled in his study of Torah by age 14 or 15, he would choose a rabbi whose yoke he was WILLING to bear, gather his courage, and go tell this rabbi, “I want to follow you.” If he succeeded in becoming a rabbi himself on day he would be one of the most respected men in his region. But to be a rabbi, one must first be a rabbi’s disciple. So, this teacher pulled out all the stops! He drilled and questioned this young man about the Law and the Prophets, about tradition, sages, and oral law; about legislation, and interpretation, passages, phrases and even other rabbis’ teachings. His whole line of questioning was designed to tell him whether this young student could do what he did. Did the young student have what it took to spread the rabbi’s yoke? Could the student be exactly like the rabbi? The teacher didn’t have time to train someone who couldn’t do what he did. But if he believed the young man could do what he did, that rabbi would say to him, “Come, follow me.” And that newly formed disciple would leave father, mother, job apprenticeship, village, and friends. He would devote his entire life to learning how to do what his rabbi did–spread his yoke.  He gave up his entire life to be exactly like his rabbi. “Cover yourself with the dust of your rabbi’s feet” was a quote that denotes the kind of devotion it took to be a disciple. Being a disciple was exhilarating, terrifying, and demanding because you never knew what your rabbi was going to do next. They were passionate, funny, quirky, and unpredictable. They told stories and laughed, went to a lot of parties and never stopped asking questions or pushing their disciples and never stopped keeping them guessing. Rabbis devoted themselves completely to their disciples to help them learn to do what they did. Every opportunity was used to prepare the disciple. After all, the rabbi wouldn’t always be with them.

So around about the age of 30, when a Rabbi generally begins his public teaching and training of his own disciples, Jesus was at the Sea of Galilee. Read Matt. 4:18-22. Why were Andrew and Peter fishermen? Because they had not excelled in their studies enough to become a rabbi’s disciple. But Jesus saw them and said, “Come, follow me.” And at once they left their nets and followed him. Isn’t this strange behavior? NO! Can you image how joy-filled those 2 guys were! To have a rabbi (well-respected at that time, by the way) say, “Come, follow Me. You CAN be like Me. This Rabbi believes you can do what I do. I believe you can be like Me.” I tell you if you heard Jesus say this to you and you fully understood all that it meant, you’d drop you nets and follow Him too!

Then Jesus came upon James and John who are working with their dad in the family fishing business–they are apprentices. If they are still working with their father, how old do you suppose these boys to be? 14, 15, 16? Listen guys–Jesus took a bunch of kids who weren’t considered  good enough for any other rabbi, who probably didn’t make it past the second level of learning, and HE turned the world as they and we know it UPSIDE DOWN!

Read John 15:16. Do you remember the story of Jesus walking on the water? His disciples are all afraid He was a ghost–except one. Peter tells Jesus, “Lord, if it really is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And Jesus said, “Come!’ And Peter does walk on the water just like his Rabbi! So why does he begin to sink when he sees the wind and waves? Surely the wind was blowing before he stepped out of the boat. And the waves were still enormous once his feet were on the water. So why did Jesus have to say to him, “Oh you of little faith; why did you doubt?” Peter did not lose faith in his Rabbi–Jesus was walking on those waves just fine. Peter lost faith in himself. He stopped believing for a moment that he could do what his Rabbi was doing.

By the way, are you wondering why Peter was so anxious to go to his Rabbi “on the water” in the first place? It sounds a little strange until you realize that as a disciple, you want to do everything your rabbi does. You’ve committed your life to him. If your rabbi is able to walk on water and he’s teaching you to do what he does, then you should be able to water too!

So if the Rabbi called you to be a disciple, then He believed you could actually be just like Him. Jesus seemed to get frustrated with His disciples when they lost faith in themselves. At one point He finally said to them, “Remember you did not choose me, no, I have chosen you.” The entire rabbinical system was based on the rabbi having faith in his disciples. He would only choose a disciple who he thought could actually do what he was doing. Jesus realizes what  His disciples are capable of because He knows it is He who gives us strength. We are the ones who don’t realize and live up to our potential in Christ.

At His ascension into Heaven Jesus told His disciples to go to the ends of the earth and make more disciples–spread His yoke. He sent His Spirit to guide and empower them but He Himself left the future of “The Way” in their hands. He trusted that they could actually do it and He still trusts that we will continue to spread His yoke today. God has an incredibly high view of His people. He believes that we are capable of amazing things, and why not? We are, after all, made in His Image! And He sees us through the eyes of His precious Son.

So come on! Follow this Rabbi! His yoke is easy, His burden is light, and He believes that you can be just like Him!

Note: I found the information for this study in the book  “God’s Appointed Customs” written by Rabbi Barney Kasdan, a Messianic Jew with many degrees in both Judaism and Christian Theology.

The Jewish Wedding Ceremony — Part 2

The Jewish Wedding/The Marriage Supper of the Lamb

A 2007 Tuesday Night Study

How many of you know that it was Jewish men, inspired by the Spirit of God, who wrote nearly every word of our Bible? Are you aware that the stories we tell from the Word of God are mostly about Jewish people and that many of our traditions are based upon Jewish customs? Did you know that when God Himself gave Moses the “blueprints” for the Jewish Customs and the tabernacle, they were only prototypes of what Moses saw in Heaven? All the festivals that God established with His Chosen People point to deeper spiritual meanings for us as well. Like it or not, we Christians cannot even begin to understand our own faith without first understanding Judaism, because it is through it and them that God chose to bless the entire world with the Messiah — Savior — Yeshua — Jesus! Is it really so easy for us to forget that if we accept Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection from the dead that we are then by Grace GRAFTED into the family that God our Father chose for Himself–a covenant people that first began with the promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah by nothing short of a miracle of God? So tonight we are going to examine one festival, the Jewish Wedding, to discover what deeper spiritual meanings it holds, not only for the Jews but for all of us who declare, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” We are going to explore why Jews celebrate a wedding the way they do and we are going to understand that it is not celebrated very differently then it was in Bible times. We are going to realize that the Marriage Ceremony that the Jews celebrate is a prophetic statement to the Church who is awaiting the return of Jesus her Redeemer and most Holy Bridegroom.

Let’s begin our journey by looking at the historical/Biblical background of the Jewish Wedding. Turn to Jeremiah 33:10-11. While all wedding ceremonies seem to be joyous events, when you are witness to the covenant vows between a man and woman and then you add to that all the family and friends, food, music and dancing it is difficult to find a more exuberant celebration. However, there are some unique lessons to be learned from the Biblical Jewish Wedding Ceremony, in particular. The ancient rituals associated with this custom are rich in spiritual truths that remind Israel of their covenant with God and His love for them. This God-appointed custom can be examined through the three parts spoken of in Jewish tradition.

The Shiddukhin (the Arrangement)

The Arrangement is the first step in the marriage process and is a verbal agreement of sorts. Sometimes the father would delegate this responsibility to a representative if he was unable to attend to the matter himself. This representative is known as a shadkhan or a marriage broker or matchmaker. It was common in Biblical times for a father to select a bride for his son, sometimes as early as infancy. Love was usually a secondary issue as most often marriages were arranged for political alliances or were about family connections. Turn to Genesis 24:1-4.

Now turn to Genesis 24:52, 53. The next step in the Arrangement period is the ketubah or written agreement. It is the marriage contract or prenuptial. This includes the provisions and conditions proposed for the marriage. In this document, the groom promises to support his wife-to-be, while the bride stipulates the contents of her dowry (financial status), and there are other promises made on both sides. Apparently, even though the marriage was arranged, the bride-to-be could decline or consent to the proposal. Read Genesis 24:5. So it was possible for her to hear the terms of the arrangement and decide to turn down the prospect.

Before the betrothal ceremony it was common for both bride and groom to separately take a ritual immersion in water, called a mikveh, which has always been symbolic of a spiritual cleansing. Many of the elements of the Jewish wedding ceremony were meant to point to the goal of all the Scriptures, namely Jesus the Messiah or Christ. Read Galatians 3:24. This ceremony, as opposed to any other cultural expression, is a detailed illustration of Jesus’ relationship with His followers. Understanding this will allow us to understand why there are so many references in the New Testament to the Wedding Ceremony.

The Arrangement starts with the selection of the bride–so, too, believers in Jesus have been chosen as Messiah’s Bride (read Ephesians 1:4). It is the father of the groom or sometimes a matchmaker who does the selection. Read 2 Cor. 11:1-2. We know that God our Father has chosen us before the foundation of the world, but Paul also made reference to himself as being the spiritual “matchmaker” in presenting these believers to their prospective Husband by the preaching of the Good News. But like any prospective bride, after hearing the terms of the arrangement, she has the option of turning down the proposal.

During the Arrangement period, a price is specified through the contract. I stated that this contract lists the conditions and provisions for the upcoming wedding, for both the bride and the bridegroom. In Bible times, part of the bride’s dowry might include a headband of coins that was worn during the ceremony. Since it represented a part of the contract, the loss of any of these coins would be cause for great worry. Read Luke 15:8-10. In the spiritual world, our contract is none other than the New Covenant itself. The Groom, Jesus, promised to pay a proper price (His very own life) for His Beloved, while the Bride (the church of born-again believers) promises to pay her dowry with her own yielded life. Read 1 Cor. 6:20. The ritual immersion in water that symbolized spiritual cleansing is exactly the picture of our water baptism today that takes place as soon as we’ve agreed to enter into the agreement with our Bridegroom.

The Eyrusin (the Betrothal)

After the ritual immersion in water, the couple would appear under the huppah or canopy in a public ceremony to express their intention of becoming betrothed. While eyrusin means “betrothal”, a secondary word often associated with this period is kiddushin (sanctification or set-apart — Westerners use the word holy. This second term more specifically describes what the betrothal period is all about, that is, setting oneself aside for another for the covenant of marriage. Meeting under the huppah, exchanging items of value and sharing a cup of wine sealed the betrothal vows. After the ceremony, the couple was considered to be fully entered into the agreement of betrothal, which lasted for 1 year. During this time the couple is considered married in every sense of the word except they could not cohabit nor have sexual relations for the 1 year time period. Today we do not take the state of engagement as seriously as the Jews do the betrothal period. The betrothal was so binding that the couple would actually need a religious divorce or a get in order to annul the contract. Read Deut. 24:1-4. The option of a get was not available to the wife, only to the husband, as a wife had no say in any divorce proceeding. And a woman was still considered to be in adultery if she broke any one of her betrothal vows regardless of the fact that the couple had yet to physically consummate the marriage.

During this 1-year period both bride and groom had many responsibilities to attend to. The groom was to provide a new dwelling place for his wife. This usually meant that he would add onto his father’s house for his bride and hopefully for their children. The bride had her own tasks to attend such as sewing beautiful clothing for the occasion. She was also to consecrate herself in the true spirit of the betrothal time. Both parties were to use the year for introspection and contemplation, readying themselves for this most holy covenant of marriage.

One of the last acts of Jesus while still in His earthly body was to bless the cup that represented the New Covenant. He then stated that He would not taste another cup with His disciples until a later time in the Kingdom of God. Read Matt. 26.27-29. How beautiful is the symbolism here that Jesus shared with his disciples — knowing that at some point they would come to understand the meaning and how it related to them.

According to the lessons of the eyrusin  (the set apart or sanctification period), there should be no theological debate concerning eternal security of the believer. Since both parties have agreed to partake of the betrothal blessings under the huppah, they are as good as married. No they cannot live together but the promise is so sure that it would take a religious divorce , a get, to nullify the contract. In addition, the get is an option only available to the husband. The lesson is clear from the Jewish wedding: true believers are eternally secure in Messiah’s covenant, because we cannot break it and He says He never will. Read John 10:28. It is an incredible blessing to know that those who believe in Jesus as Messiah/Christ have entered with Him into the engagement period according to the Jewish understanding as defined by the “set apart” or “sanctified” period.

Since believers in Jesus have consented to the conditions of being “set apart”, they then enter fully into the betrothal period. This is the period of time between the solemn first cup of the sanctification ceremony and the full marriage as symbolized in the second cup. During this time both parties have a lot of things to do, the most pressing one being preparing a place for the bride to live. Read John 14:1-3. Jesus has taken His first vows with His New Covenant Bride; that is, Jew and Gentile who call upon His Name. And He is now fulfilling His responsibility of preparing a special home for His Wife-to-be.

Likewise, the bride has immersed herself in water (a symbol for moral cleansing); she is consecrating herself by her pure lifestyle and is preparing holy garments for the upcoming second cup of full marriage. Read Ephesians 5:25-27. So the last 2000 years have been the betrothal period between the Messiah and His Bride. As with any anxious bride, the wait has been difficult at times. But the Bridegroom is ready to return. Believers in Jesus the Messiah, the Christ need to ask themselves if they are keeping their garments clean and keeping their betrothal promises.

Nissuin

The  Marriage doesn’t begin when all the family and friends gather at the church with the happy couple. The Jewish Wedding Ceremony is know as Nissuim. This is based on the Hebrew verb nasa and literally means “to carry”. Nissuin was quite a graphic description, as the bride would be waiting for the groom to carry her away to their new home. There is a unique element to the biblical Jewish Wedding that no other culture has: a bride who took her betrothal period seriously, would be (with excited anticipation) expecting her groom, along with the whole wedding party, to come at the end of the one-year betrothal period. But the catch was that the time of the groom’s arrival was a surprise. No one knew the exact hour of his arrival because it was the father of the groom who would give the final approval for the marriage to begin. The bride and her bridal party would therefore be anxiously watching and waiting for the exact moment, even late into the evening. The bridal party was to keep their oil lamps burning just in case the wedding was to begin. There was a custom that allowed a member of the groom’s party to lead the way from the groom;s house to the home of the bride, and to shout, “Behold, the bridegroom comes!” and follow up the shout with a blast from the shofar. This ram’s horn was used to proclaim Jewish holy days and special events. At the sound of the shofar, the groom would lead a procession through the streets of the village to the house of the bride. The groomsmen would then carry (nissuin)  the bride back to the groom’s house where a huppah was once again set up. And again the couple would say a blessing over a cup of wine (a symbol of joy). This cup was clearly distinguished from the cup that was sipped the year before by a tradition called “seven blessings“. This second huppah ceremony served as the finalization of the earlier promises and vows. What was promised before in the betrothal period is now consummated in the marriage ceremony. The couple is now free for the first time to live together as husband and wife. Read Genesis 24:66-67.

The pinnacle of this joyful celebration was the Marriage Supper. This was seven full days of food, music, dance, and celebration for all the wedding guests. Afterward, the new husband was free to bring his wife to their home and to live together in the full covenant of marriage.

And so Nissuin or the Marriage Ceremony completes the spiritual picture for the believer in Christ Jesus. Read 1 Thess. 4:16-18. Remember I explained that the Groom could not go get his bride until his father said so? Jesus told His disciples that no man knew the day nor hour, but only the Father. Isn’t it wonderful how God chooses to show Himself to us in these lovely ways? Think about the word nissuin  (to carry) for a moment. Jesus, our Groom, will carry all of us who have accepted His New Covenant to our new home which He has prepared for us in His Father’s house! We Westerners call this “the Rapture of the Church”. As the Betrothed of Jesus we, His Church of blood-bought, born-again believers, are anxiously awaiting the blast of the shofar that signals the start of the second part of the huppah tradition.

When the Marriage Ceremony is complete, there will be the most jubilant Wedding Feast ever thrown! At the end of the Wedding Feast, the Messiah will return to Jerusalem with his Bride and establish His one-thousand year earthly reign. Read Rev. 20:4. The Wedding Party will continue in Jerusalem, as the rest of the resurrected believers from every age will join in the festivities. What a blessed reception that will be! Though there is much theological debate about the timing of the Marriage events, one thing is certain: everyone should choose to RSVP (soon) to the Father’s invitation. Let’s read what John had to say about the redeemed multitude in Rev. 19:7-9.

The Redeemed from all of history will dwell with our God for all eternity. The Jewish Wedding Ceremony is God’s appointed custom to remind believers in Jesus of the great things to come in Messiah’s kingdom. All people need to answer the question of whether or not they trust in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for their salvation. Only believers in Jesus have been invited to this Jewish Wedding Ceremony. May the Groom come soon to begin the celebration! Amen.

All the information found in this study are from “God’s Appointed Customs” by Rabbi Barney Kasdan–a Messianic Jew with many degrees in both Judaism and Christian Theology.

And on the Eighth Day…

January 1, 2013 

Luke 2: 21-38 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

21 On the eighth day, when it was time for his b’rit-milah, he was given the name Yeshua, which is what the angel had called him before his conception.

22 When the time came for their purification according to theTorah of Moshe, they took him up to Yerushalayim to present him to Adonai 23 (as it is written in the Torah of Adonai, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to Adonai”[a]) 24 and also to offer a sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons,[b] as required by the Torah of Adonai.

25 There was in Yerushalayim a man named Shim‘on. This man was a tzaddik, he was devout, he waited eagerly for God to comfort Isra’el, and the Ruach HaKodesh was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Ruach HaKodesh that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah of Adonai. 27 Prompted by the Spirit, he went into the Temple courts; and when the parents brought in the child Yeshua to do for him what the Torah required, 28 Shim‘on took him in his arms, made a b’rakhah to God, and said,

29 “Now, Adonai, according to your word,     your servant is at peace as you let him go; 30 for I have seen with my own eyes your yeshu‘ah,  31     which you prepared in the presence of all peoples — 32 a light that will bring revelation to the Goyim and glory to your people Isra’el.”

33 Yeshua’s father and mother were marvelling at the things Shim‘on was saying about him. 34 Shim‘on blessed them and said to the child’s mother, Miryam,

“This child will cause many in Isra’el to fall and to rise, he will become a sign whom people will speak against; 35 moreover, a sword will pierce your own heart too. All this will happen in order to reveal many people’s inmost thoughts.”

36 There was also a prophet named Hannah Bat-P’nu’el, of the tribe of Asher. She was a very old woman — she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage 37 and had remained a widow ever since; now she was eighty-four. She never left the Temple grounds but worshipped there night and day, fasting and praying. 38 She came by at that moment and began thanking God and speaking about the child to everyone who was waiting for Yerushalayim to be liberated.

While Jews perform the circumcisions of their sons on the eighth day because the Torah commands it, there are multiple reasons given for why the bris mila (circumcision ceremony) is performed on the eighth day.[2] None of these reasons are related to the baby becoming a person at eight days.

There is a particularly meaningful reason given for why the bris mila is on the eighth day. Rabbi Moshe Isserles[3] describes the custom of having a “welcoming” party (commonly known as a shalom zachor) for a newborn baby boy on the Friday night after the birth. Many commentaries ponder the question of why the party is held specifically on Friday night. Rabbi David HaLevi Segal, known as the Taz, brings a midrash[4] to explain the choice of day. The midrash comments on the command of the Torah[5] that a sacrifice not be brought before the newborn animal is eight days old:

“Rabbi Levi says that it is analogous to a king who decrees that anyone who wishes to see the face of the king must first see the face of the queen. Similarly says Hashem: do not bring a sacrifice before me until at least one Sabbath has passed for there are no seven days without a Sabbath and there is no mila (circumcision) without a Sabbath.”[6]

Why the importance of the Sabbath? Keeping the Sabbath is compared to keeping the whole Torah and breaking the Sabbath is considered tantamount to transgressing the entire Torah, since the Sabbath is a testimony that God made the world.[7] According to the Torah, the exact times of the Jewish holidays are determined empirically by observing the appearance of the new moon and are set by the Sanhedrin. However, the Sabbath occurs every seven days without the input of man. Therefore, we see that while the holiness of the Jewish holidays derives at least partially from man, the holiness of the Sabbath comes directly and exclusively from God.

Circumcision represents the completion of the human being.

In Judaism, circumcision is considered a symbol of the covenant between God and the Jewish people. In fact, bris literally means “covenant.” The bris is on the eighth day so that the newborn baby will by necessity live through a complete week which must include a Sabbath. Once the baby has experienced the “holiness” of the Shabbos, he may enter into the covenant of the Jewish people.

Why should circumcision be the sign of the covenant between the Jews and God? Circumcision represents the completion of the human being. According to Jewish tradition,[8] Adam, the first man, was born without a foreskin. Only when he sinned did he create a barrier between himself and God and at that point developed a foreskin.[9] The removal of the foreskin represents the physical act by which man attempts to come close to God again. The evil Roman ruler Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva why Jews perform circumcision. If God wanted men circumcised, would he have not created them that way? Rabbi Akiva answered that God provided circumcision as an act for man to improve himself, something that even God cannot do for him.[10]

Historically, Jews have undergone great sacrifice, sometimes even risking death, to perform circumcisions on their sons and bring them into the covenant of Abraham. More than once in Jewish history, during times of persecution from the Greeks and Romans to the Nazis, rulers have recognized that circumcision was at the core of Jewish identity, and have tried to ban it, often on pain of death.

It is important to recognize that while some medical studies have shown health benefits to circumcision, Jews do not circumcise their sons for that reason, but because of the covenant that it represents with God. While the American Academy of Pediatrics has changed its position several times, the Jewish people have always been steadfast in their commitment to bris mila.

Nevertheless, despite rare media reports and rabid blogs to the contrary, ritual circumcision is a very safe procedure. Dr. Avraham Steinberg, author of the Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics[11] (and a pediatric neurologist himself) reports that:

“. . . although ritual circumcision is usually performed by non-physicians, complications are extremely rare. A summary of several large studies comprising more than 24,000 newborn circumcisions found complications in only 0.06% to 0.25%. The medical literature between 1953 and 1980 contains only two instances of fatality as a result of circumcision. By contrast, in a report of 500,000 circumcisions in New York and 175,000 in the U.S. Armed Forces, not a single fatality occurred. These large studies are more reliable than reports of individual cases. The fact that isolated reports occur in the literature attests to the extreme rarity of death following circumcision.”

It should be apparent that the timing of bris mila is meaningful and profound. Circumcision has been an integral part of Jewish tradition for thousands of years and we reaffirm our unique connection to God with each bris that we perform.

 

Upon Closer Examination of Mark 5:1-20

December 2, 2013

Yeshua and his talmidim arrived at the other side of the lake, in the Gerasenes’ territory. 2 As soon as he disembarked, a man with an unclean spirit came out of the burial caves to meet him. 3 He lived in the burial caves; and no one could keep him tied up, not even with a chain. 4 He had often been chained hand and foot, but he would snap the chains and break the irons off his feet, and no one was strong enough to control him. 5 Night and day he wandered among the graves and through the hills, howling and gashing himself with stones.

Seeing Yeshua from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him 7 and screamed at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Yeshua, Son of God Ha‘Elyon? I implore you in God’s name! Don’t torture me!” 8 For Yeshua had already begun saying to him, “Unclean spirit, come out of this man!”9 Yeshua asked him, “What’s your name?” “My name is Legion,” he answered, “there are so many of us”; 10 and he kept begging Yeshua not to send them out of that region.

11 Now there was a large herd of pigs feeding near the hill,12 and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us to the pigs, so we can go into them.” 13 Yeshua gave them permission. They came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering around two thousand, rushed down the hillside into the lake and were drowned. 14 The swineherds fled and told it in the town and in the surrounding country, and the people went to see what had happened. 15 They came to Yeshua and saw the man who had had the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were frightened. 16 Those who had seen it told what had happened to the man controlled by demons and to the pigs; 17 and the people began begging Yeshua to leave their district.

18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been demonized begged him to be allowed to go with him. 19 But Yeshua would not permit it. Instead, he said to him, “Go home to your people, and tell them how much Adonai in his mercy has done for you.” 20 He went off and began proclaiming in the Ten Towns how much Yeshua had done for him, and everyone was amazed.

1. A man with an unclean spirit was unafraid to approach Jesus as soon as they saw Him. Yet, the towns people, hearing and seeing what He’d done for the man, were afraid.

2. When the man with the unclean spirit saw Jesus from a distance, he ran to Him and fell upon His knees in front of Him, screaming and begging for Jesus to hear his requests. The towns people came to Him, too, but they did not recognize Jesus’ authority or their sinful state, and they saw no reason to fall upon their knees and beg Him to have mercy upon them.

3. The demon called Legion begged Jesus not to send him out of the region. Yet the towns people begged Him to leave their district, even after they saw all He’d done for the man. Sad isn’t it that the people were willing to stay in a place with a legion of demons without the protection of the One who has authority over them?

4. Now the man who’d been set free begged Jesus to go with Him, but Jesus told him no. Instead, Jesus told him to go home to his people and tell them how much the LORD God had done for him in His mercy. And he did go, proclaiming what Jesus had done for him. And everyone was amazed.

So, who do you identify with in this event? Do you identify with the demons who recognize the authority of Jesus, bow to their knees and plead for His mercy, but refuse to surrender to Him? It wasn’t a faith/trust thing with Legion, he recognized Jesus and believed in his authority. Maybe you identify with the towns people. You’ve heard of Jesus’ good works and maybe even seen a thing or two that you can only attribute to a ‘miracle’. But instead of running to Him you run from Him in fear or pride. And now you’ve been running so long that you are afraid of what He’ll do to you. Or maybe you are the man who was set free, and you want nothing more than to follow Him on His great adventure, being with Him while He goes through all the towns working His wonders. But He stops you in your tracts and tells you that you may not go with Him, but that your assignment is to go back to the town and people you’ve been around your entire life and tell them what all the LORD God Almighty has done for you.