One Cup, One Loaf, One People

Please read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 in your Bible.

One Cup One Loaf One PeopleImage by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

There is more to the Lord’s Supper than a cup and some bread.

      It’s hard for us to appreciate the first Christians’ dilemma over idolatry.  We don’t live in a situation where the government overtly misuses its power to promote any kind of religion.  If we disagree with someone over a religious issue, there will very likely be no chance of getting thrown into jail for it.  It is not a life-or-death issue for us.  Our culture has so privatized religion that the “don’t ask – don’t tell rule” is nearly  universal.

All that to say this: we experience very little direct pressure to compromise our faith.  But the first Christians practiced a faith that was declared illegal.  At first, Rome considered them a sect of Judaism and thereby legal.  The Jews wasted little time in changing that opinion and the first Church lost the protection they’d had before.  The first Christians were disliked by both the Jews and the Romans, suffering persecution by both.

To do business of any kind, either as a worker or a consumer, they had to come into contact with people who were given to idol worship.  To buy meat at the market was to take a chance that it had previously been offered to an idol.  To go to someone’s home for a meal meant taking that same chance.  To be part of a trade guild you were expected to join in the worship of the guild’s favorite god.  People were required to publicly offer incense to honor Caesar, sometimes in a temple constructed for that purpose.  To refuse invited persecution and perhaps risked death.

Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says A return to the main argument in ch. 8. An idol is nothing, and meats offered to idols are nothing; but idolatry is a deadly sin, and so also is whatever tends to promote it.” (Retrieved from Biblehub.com.)

  1. Command #1: Flee from idolatry. (14-17)

How do we FLEE from idolatry? Verse fourteen provides both the command and the means to keep it. The word THEREFORE requires you to read the previous verses to see what it’s “there for.”  In this case, we don’t have to read any more than verse thirteen to find the reason for THEREFORE and the answer to our question.  Verse thirteen promises two things:

– One, God is faithful to avoid testing us beyond our limits.  Obviously, He knows our limits better than we do.

– Two, He will always provide us with A WAY OUT so that we can STAND UP UNDER the temptation; that is, resist it by escaping it.

We FLEE from idolatry in the same way we avoid all other temptations, by taking the WAY OUT God has provided us.  It is not a matter of gritting our teeth, it is having the faith and good sense to follow God’s lead.  The Greek visualizes a person turning around and running in the opposite direction.

The virtue of being SENSIBLE gives one the freedom to judge for one’s self (15).  Interestingly, on this occasion Paul did not base his teaching on a revelation from Jesus nor did he did not exercise his authority as an apostle.  Instead he appealed to their reason or common sense.

This fact alone helps us understand the priority of the issue of meat offered to idols.  There are three levels of issues when we apply the teaching of the Bible.

The first and greatest priority we might call “Law.”  These are direct commands from God.  They are the parts of doctrine that qualify a person for having a true, saving faith.  There can be no compromise on matters of Law.  An example would be Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection.  We have no salvation if we deny or dilute that doctrine.  In this case, Paul introduced the truth with “What I received from the Lord I also passed on to you…” (1 Corinthians 11:22).

The second priority we call “Principle.”  Derived from the Law, Principles are applications of the core teachings to our attitudes and actions.  As they are a mixture of God’s word and good sense, there is more room for discussion here, and legitimate differences may be allowed.  An example would be the Lord’s Supper.  We are commanded to observe it and so we do.  In this case, Paul introduced the truth with “This is our practice in our churches” (1 Corinthians 11:16).

The third priority we could call “Freedom.”  One step removed from Principle, these are issues where the Word of God provides little or no direction, so we rely on enlightened reason.  This is called “Freedom” because without specific Law or Principle, we are more free to make up our own minds.  Continuing with the previous example, we have no choice in whether or not to have the Lord’s Supper, but we have perfect Freedom to choose how often we have it and the way in which we observe it.  In fact, you find a lot of diversity in the various denominations as to the frequency and methods of Communion.  In this case, Paul introduced the truth as a matter of good sense, as he did here in 1 Corinthians 10:15.

Clearly, Paul has put the issue of whether or not to eat meat offered to idols in the third category.  It simply was not worth the level of controversy it had received in the Corinthian church.

FLEE to Jesus: participate in the BLOOD & BODY of Jesus (16-17).  Repentance requires turning our back on sin, but it also requires taking steps in the opposite direction, toward Jesus.  In verse sixteen Paul reaffirmed that the CUP OF THANKSGIVING is our PARTICIPATION in the BLOOD OF CHRIST and the BREAD our PARTICIPATION in the BODY OF CHRIST?  PARTICIPATION is koinonia, fellowship of the highest kind.  Some of our Christian brothers take these words literally and say that the communion elements supernaturally become the body and blood of Jesus.

We take this to be a purely symbolic or spiritual level of PARTICIPATION.  This makes more sense to me as Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on a night BEFORE His body was crucified and His blood spilled.  As He meant it then to be symbolic, there is no reason for us to take it literally now.  I would consider these differences to be a third level issue, allowing for a great deal of difference of opinion.

In verse seventeen Paul emphasized the unity that is to come through the sharing of the Lord’s Supper. As we observed recently, “breaking bread” is a figure of speech for fellowship and hospitality.  That’s why Paul refers to the ONE LOAF in this verse.  It’s a shame that the history of the Church shows division over the Lord’s Supper, not unity.

His repeated use of the number one emphasizes the unity that individual churches and the Church around the world is supposed to enjoy because of the Lord’s Supper.  ONE LOAF, in his mind, is symbolic of how diverse peoples in diverse places are actually ONE BODY.  It is one of the shameful facts of church history that we have allowed different methods and doctrines of Communion to divide us.

Here in 1 Corinthians, Paul is using the Lord’s Supper as not only a symbol of unity, but also a supernaturally powered means of maintaining unity.  He did not want the Corinthians to split over the issue of meat offered to idols, so he told them to flee from idolatry and to flee to Jesus.

We might say that idolatry being a sin in a first priority truth, a Law, but the issue of meat offered to idols was a third priority truth, a matter of freedom.  It was certainly not an issue that should cause a split in the church.

  1. Command #2: Consider the example set by the people of Israel. (18-22)

The Old Testament Law gave to the persons offering it a portion of a sacrifice for use as a family meal (verse eighteen, see also Leviticus 7:11-34.)  This is the third time Paul has asked a rhetorical question with the expected answer being “Yes.”  This was typically one of the few times in the year the majority of Israelites had meat to eat.  Both the act of worship and the meal helped create unity among the families of Israel and each individual family at their table.

Paul is setting up a contrast.  Persons who offered a sacrifice to God were participants in an act of worship.  They ate a portion of the animal sacrificed.

By contrast, the Corinthians did not participate in the sacrifice of an animal to an idol, they simply came in contact with the meat because pagan practices allowed the sale of the leftover meat.

Though meat was sacrificed to idols in a similar way, the two were, spiritually speaking, completely different (19-22).  Anyone in the Corinthian church who made a big deal of this issue might be considered to be giving more importance to idols and sacrifice to them (19).  This was a review; Paul answered this question in 8:4.  An idol has a physical reality as a hunk of wood, stone, or metal.  But it has no spiritual reality in itself.  It’s just a deaf and dumb thing.

Paul answered verse nineteen’s question a second time in verse twenty with a “NO.”  The people making an issue of meat were missing the point.  The issue was not the meat, but the act of worshiping an idol.  Idol worship is a Law level offense and is very serious.  Purchasing or eating the meat coming from such a sacrifice is only a matter of Freedom.

Paul’s advice was to let one’s conscience be one’s guide.  However, there were two principles to guide such a decision: we find them in vs. 31-33.

– One, do everything – including mealtime – to the GLORY OF GOD.

– Two, avoid causing a brother to STUMBLE.  Don’t cause offense on this trivial matter if you can avoid it.  Demonstrate its triviality by allowing concern for others to dictate your actions.

To reinforce his point on the Law forbidding idol worship, Paul pointed out a person is not permitted to worship God on one occasion and worship demons on another (21).  This identifies DEMONS as the true spiritual reality behind idols.  Idol worship is not a benign folly; it is a serious spiritual offense against God and it brings a person into fellowship with spiritual evil.  People who are truly God’s people will not compromise on this point.  The Lord and the devil are enemies.  No one who claims Jesus has any part to play with demons.

Verse 22 asks a pair of rhetorical questions that have an expected answer of “No.”  Here Paul adds emotional emphasis to the reasonable arguments he has just made.  He’s saying, “Do you think you can defy the Lord’s commands by messing around with idols?  Do you think you are strong enough to survive His wrath?”

It’s silly to think we could make Jesus love us more by being more vile sinners.  God has already declared he is jealous for us (Exodus 20:5), so why even attempt to arouse His JEALOUSY?  It is equal folly to think we are as strong as Christ, it is folly to think we can have one foot in the camp of demons and the other in the Church.

In his thorough examination of this issue of meat offered to idols, the Apostle Paul attempted to get the Corinthians to focus on the part that was really important and not on the part that was unimportant.  What was important was to avoid the worship of idols.  There is a demonic reality behind the falsehood of idols and it is also defiance of God’s command to worship Him only.

The unimportant part was what the pagans did with the leftover meat.  As human nature often compels us to do, some of the Corinthian church folk were trying to make meat the issue and it simply was not.  We too often make the trivial essential and then go to war over it.

Paul’s solution to that particular issue sets a principle we all need to follow as we live together: keep the first things first.  Don’t create mountains out of mole hills and then compound error by dividing from other believers over the molehills.  People have a habit of making complaints on the basis of some high-sounding principle, but in sensible terms the matter makes no practical difference!

That is one aspect of human nature that must be replaced with the divine nature of Jesus Christ.  We must be students of not allowing trivialities to cause friction or division.  We practice this Scripture by being reasonable people.

Under normal circumstances, we would be observing the Lord’s Supper today.  Sadly, as we are apart, we await another time when we can worship the Lord together. We await another time because…

There is more to the Lord’s Supper than a cup and some bread.

The sacrificial Death & Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are the spiritual realities that stand behind the bread and the cup.

We also refer to the Lord’s Supper as “Communion.”  The physical and emotional reality behind the bread and cup is that they deepen our relationships with one another, creating a Communion between believers.  The spiritual reality behind the bread and cup is that they deepen our Communion with God.  When we share these common items, they have the uncommon effect of drawing us closer to one another and closer to God.  That is something worth waiting for.  I look forward to the time when we can once again observe Communion together.

 

RESOURCES:

https://biblehub.com/commentaries

Unclean? Quarantine!

Please read Leviticus 13:1-4, 45-46; 14:1-9 in your Bible.

Unclean_ QuarantineImage by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

I want to begin with an abridged version of an article appearing on the website “The Hill” last Sunday, written by Justine Coleman.

“Maryville Baptist Church in Louisville and its pastor Jack Roberts filed a lawsuit against Kentucky[‘s governor] for allegedly targeting churchgoers with the enforcement of a stay-at-home order on Easter Sunday.

“The lawsuit asserts that [the governor] violated the residents’ religious freedom by instructing Kentucky State Police to give criminal sanctions to all vehicles in the church’s parking lot on the Christian holiday, including vehicles participating in drive-in services.

“The police recorded congregants’ license plates and provided notices for 14-day mandatory quarantines. The notices informed churchgoers that they were required to report their temperatures daily and avoid public places and transportation.

“Liberty Counsel criticized the governor’s alleged selective enforcement in a release, saying nearby Kroger, Wal-Mart, liquor stores and other parking lots were ‘packed with cars’ and ‘jammed with people,’ but they didn’t receive quarantine notices.

“The governor’s office warned that attending church gatherings on the holiday weekend would classify as a misdemeanor violation, in a press release two days before Easter.

“Churches across the country are challenging stay-at-home orders that ban them from meeting in-person. Some states have designated worship services as essential, while others have not.”

This is an example of the tension in our nation – probably around the world – between social distancing and personal freedom/economic necessity.  It is not my purpose to rehash those arguments.  Instead, I felt lead to see what the Bible had to say about the issue.  As usual, I asked God to reveal principles that are just as true in our situation even though our situation is different from the situation of the Bible writers.  Whenever we seek wisdom from the Bible we must first understand its words in light of the world as it was when the words were first written or spoken.  Then we express that truth in the form of eternal principles; revelation from God that is applicable in all times and places.  The third step is to apply those principles to our situation.  Today’s message is an exercise of that process.

CONTEXT: When reading through the Bible, the book of Leviticus can be tough sledding.  I only have two sermons in the Leviticus file in my office.  However, by faith we recognize that God’s law expressed God’s will.  Whether we have wisdom to see it or not every law of God is given for the benefit of His people.  Understanding is optional; obedience is mandatory.

God’s Law required separation from the community in the case of some illnesses.

  1. The Law.

Notes on Leviticus 13:1-4, 45-46 taught separation was required while suffering an infectious disease and when suspected of suffering an infectious disease. While this chapter deals with skin diseases, the important point (v. 2) is that the disease in question is an INFECTIOUS one.  (There is discussion among scholars whether or not the term “leprosy” is similar to our modern use of that term.  The Hebrew word is more general; describing different skin diseases that may have included leprosy as we know it today.

In verses three and four we read A PRIEST was the one to examine the patient.  This was their only medical function.  The priest’s examination was to conclude whether or not the disease was serious enough to PRONOUNCE the patient CEREMONIALLY UNCLEAN.  There were two possible outcomes: clean or unclean.

If the patient was declared CLEAN, then a week’s separation from the camp was required as a precaution (v. 4).  After the week had passed, the patient’s condition was re-evaluated (v. 5-8). Now there were three possible outcomes: another week might be required, or the person declared cured and clean, or declared UNCLEAN.  Might this be a biblical precedent for social distancing?

This was not a “shelter-in-place” order.  The patient could not stay with family, for that might expose them too; the patient was required to live outside the camp. This was the policy for all the conditions that made a person CEREMONIALLY UNCLEAN.

In verse 45 we read the steps the person suffering from the disease was to practice as an ancient form of social distancing.  They were commanded to wear torn clothing and keep an unkempt appearance.  These two thing might also denote grief or fasting, so the third item of a partially covered face were all visual cues of an unclean status.  This is like the masks we wear or see others wearing in public places.  Additionally, the person was to cry out a warning of “UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!” UNCLEAN status could be transmitted by touch, so the sick person was supposed to protect the healthy in these ways. The practice of separation was to last as long as the disease continued.

In Leviticus 14:1-32 we read that restoration was required after getting over the disease.  (We don’t have space to consider all 32 verses, so we’ll look at the first nine as an example.)

As verse two states, these instructions were for CEREMONIAL CLEANSING: “ceremonial” referring to the person’s status as part of the worshiping community.

The priest’s role was to verify that the person was actually healed of the infectious disease (v. 3).  Notice the priest was to GO OUTSIDE THE CAMP to make this determination; the safety of the camp was not put at risk by an unverified claim to healing.

If the claim is verified, a sacrifice is made for the person’s CEREMONIAL CLEASING (vs. 3-7).  For the sake of context, allow me to explain of the practice of sacrifices in the Old Testament Law.  Animal sacrifices were made to atone for sin; the deadly consequence of sin was cancelled by the life of the animal; by its blood, in particular.

Now an explanation of this particular sacrifice.  This offering closely resembles the sacrifice of a red heifer in Numbers 19:6 and the cleansing of a house here in Leviticus 14, verses 49-53.

TWO CLEAN BIRDS were needed. Deuteronomy 14:11-18 lists all the unclean birds (including bats). This is not a scientific list, so there’s no reason to expect all the birds to be of a single type.

CEDAR WOOD was regarded by the Jews as a symbol of pride.  This may imply that the person’s pride in themselves was restored with their health.

SCARLET YARN (“scarlet stuff of a worm”) was a Jewish symbol of humility.  Scarlet thread and rope are mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament.

HYSSOP is connected with cleansing in Psalm 51:7.  This may be in reference to the first Passover, when a hyssop branch was to be used to paint the doorposts with lamb’s blood.

The former patient was to be sprinkled SEVEN times with the blood and water solution.  In the Old Testament, blood was used to sanctify things and biblically the number seven is the symbol of completeness; divine perfection.

The surviving bird was released to symbolize the person’s new status as clean and a restored member of the community.  It is the similar to sending the scapegoat into the wilderness as directed on the Day of Atonement (16:21). This is a symbol of the person being forgiven of their sin.

Verses 8-9 detail the person’s own steps in demonstrating their CLEANSING on to the community.

They were to wear clean clothes.  Shaving all body hair emphasized their unblemished skin and being entirely shaved avoided concealing any other skin blemishes. The patient spent one week inside the camp but outside his home.

We must note that Jesus followed the Law of Moses in general and in this specific case.  When He healed ten lepers, he instructed them to go and show themselves to the priest (Luke 5:12-15).

  1. The principles behind the Law.

The practice of medicine and the practice of faith are inseparable.  I am not saying that our society should require doctors to be pastors or pastors to be doctors.  I am simply observing that for followers of Jesus, science and faith are not separate things: they are both perspectives on truth and as such, both must be founded upon God.  We don’t turn over part of our lives to science and another part to theology.  These are aspects of knowledge that should inform and shape one another as they did before natural science was separated from theology.

Personal separation serves the faith community in instances of disease and sin.  In times of disease we separate ourselves from others to avoid spreading the disease and to facilitate our recovery.  In times of rebellion against God, unrepentant sinners need to be separated from the community of faith to preserve the integrity and reputation of the community and to facilitate the repentance of the sinner.

Disease is a serious matter; sin is more serious.  Think back to all the ceremony that people were supposed to undergo when they recovered from an infectious disease, the passages we looked at earlier.  If nothing else, doesn’t that prove that God took all this seriously and that His people were to take it seriously too?

Look at the expense, effort, and good will that creative people have poured into coping with the coronavirus.  It is a serious matter and needs the attention it has been getting.  This kind of sacrifice is excellent and praiseworthy in the sight of all people when it is given voluntarily and not compelled by civil authorities.

But we are misusing this precious time if we fail to attend to our spiritual life and particularly the disease of sin.  I do not believe COVID-19 is God’s punishment of sin any more than familiar illnesses are.  But this situation has so disrupted the usual conduct of our lives, it is irresponsible for us to not spend more time in prayer, Scripture, and in service to God.

  1. Applying the principles to our situation.

Prioritize faith in God over faith in science or politics or any other worldly thing.  From my very amateur perspective, I believe the science of COVID-19 is still waiting to be discovered.  Claims to have figured out the coronavirus need to be met with healthy skepticism and vigorous testing.  Not every action that has been undertaken in the name of thwarting the virus has been scientifically necessary.  Even when the science of the coronavirus becomes more certain, what needs to have priority is faith.  Our trust is in God, not science.

We need to recognize the necessity of separation for our most vulnerable people and preserving the freedom of those not at risk.  What’s new here is not so much the virus itself, but the way we are reacting to it.  History holds examples of other infectious diseases that were not understood in their time.  What is unique historically is our practice of quarantining undiagnosed persons.

God’s Law required separation from the community in the case of some illnesses.

As we conclude, I want to remind you we did not come to God’s word searching for sanctions of any particular public health policy.  Instead, we came searching for some eternal principles that we might apply to our situation as followers of Jesus.

What we discovered along the way was God’s care for His people manifest in laws intended to promote both health and holiness.  Our modern culture is too prone to separate health from holiness; that is not a biblical model.

We discovered separation is a measure God sanctioned in the case of physical illness and unrepentant sin.  The individual must sometimes suffer separation for the good of the faith-community.  This is yet another example of how individual rights do not trump the good of the community but instead are subordinate to it.

The coronavirus has been called an “unprecedented situation,” but of course that’s not true; history is darkened with accounts of plagues.  For example, in the 14th century the bubonic plague killed about a quarter of Europe’s population.  At that time it was known that whole villages moved away, leaving those stricken behind.  What’s a little bit unique about this situation is the heavy hand government has taken to poor science turned into unlegislated laws.  History also makes clear that a crisis is construed as an opportunity to enlarge government at the loss of freedom.  Once governments gain power they never relinquish it willingly.

Each one of us needs to make careful decisions about our accommodations to the coronavirus, seeing the wisdom and truth in what we’re being told while avoiding overreactions and the overreaching some persons have perpetrated.  This is not an easy time because it is an unfamiliar problem compounded by an unfamiliar solution.  Trust in God first and foremost, seeking the spiritual cleansing He has provided us in Jesus Christ.

 

RESOURCES:

https://thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/493593-church-pastor-accuse-kentucky-governor-of-targeting-churchgoers-on

Zondervan Bible Commentary, “Leviticus,” Robert P. Gordon

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, “Leviticus,” R. Laird Harris

Missing the Point, Too

Please read Luke 24:13-35 in your Bible.

Emmaus (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

One Sunday after church the preacher had just one person left to greet as the congregation exited the sanctuary.  Pastor held out his hand to Bill, as they shook hands, they exchanged the usual pleasantries.  Then Bill surprised the pastor with this question, “Pastor, if you were stuck on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you?”

Without hesitation the pastor went with the obvious answer: “I’d like to have my Bible,” he said.  He went on; “That’s an interesting question, Bill.  What book would you like to have with you?”

Bill grinned and said, “Pastor, if I’m stuck on a deserted island, the book I want is “Ship Building for Dummies!”  Bill was joking with the pastor who had missed the point.  He didn’t have to stay on the island, so why not have a book to help him escape?

It’s typical for us to stare intently at what we expect to see that we miss new things entirely.  Last Sunday we saw ten of eleven of Jesus’ disciples miss the point of His resurrection.  Today we’ll get to know a pair who did get the point.

CONTEXT:

TIME – Late afternoon, Resurrection Day.

PERSONS – In v. 18, Luke named one of the travelers, a man named Cleopas.  The GK allows for the other person to be Cleopas’ wife.  In John 19:25, Mary is said to be the wife of a “Clopas.”  It’s a safe guess that the two travelers on the road are Mary and Cleopas.  Their child is Simeon who will be head of the church in Jerusalem.

PLACE – Emmaus was a village seven miles northwest of Jerusalem.  It’s likely Cleopas and Mary had a home in Emmaus.

PURPOSE – The reason for their journey is not stated, but we can assume they were simply going home before darkness set in.

Doubt is resolved when we learn together from God’s word

  1. You must win your struggle against doubt. (13-25)

Know God is with you in your struggle.  Sometimes when we struggle with doubt or are in any kind of trial, God can FEEL distant.  Of course He is not distant, but we can feel that way nonetheless.  This situation is a perfect illustration of that feeling.  Verses fifteen to sixteen tell us: JESUS WALKED WITH THEM BUT THEY WERE KEPT FROM RECOGNIZING HIM.  God the Son was with them but they didn’t recognize Him.  The man they were mourning walked beside them!  So it is with us; we mourn and feel lonely and we simply don’t recognize Him.

The question is, HOW were they kept from recognizing Him?  Their own grief might have kept them from it. Strong emotions can distract us, causing an inward focus to such a degree that they simply didn’t notice their companion was Jesus.  That would only account for a few minutes of conversation and is not the reason given in Scripture.

Luke says God’s power somehow disguised Jesus.  Verse 31 says THEIR EYES WERE OPENED AND THEY RECOGNIZED HIM.  My speculation is that the most important thing was that Jesus would have a chance to teach them the truth only if they didn’t recognize Him.  Once they were seated at table, the teaching was done and the disguise was no longer necessary.  Only people who are biased against the supernatural find it hard to believe that Jesus adopted some kind of spiritual disguise.

The pair walking to Emmaus had doubts; the text makes that plain.  In verse seventeen, THEY STOOD STILL, THEIR FACES DOWNCAST.  This body language is visual evidence they had given up.  While they walked they had been discussing the events of the past few days, part of which was the testimony of the women who came back from Jesus’ empty tomb (verse 22).  The pair doubted the testimony of the women.

In verse nineteen they said Jesus was a “PROPHET, POWERFUL IN WORD AND DEED.”  Note their use of past tense: “WAS.”  They were thinking of Jesus as dead and buried.  To call Him a prophet was a compliment, but…

– Prophets often met a violent death: they may have been making that association in their minds.

– The title “prophet” doesn’t really go far enough.  Jesus was more than that; He was God in the flesh.

In verse 21 they told Jesus, “WE HAD HOPED HE WAS GOING TO REDEEM ISRAEL.”  Again, this is expressed in the past tense.  This statement reads like grave disappointment and shattered hopes.

Verse 22 quotes Cleopas as saying, “SOME OF OUR WOMEN AMAZED US.”  This is not a casual rejection of the testimony of the tomb-visitors.  The Greek word translated as AMAZED means to be surprised to the point of being stunned, speechless.  The women’s account was a puzzle to them.  Rather than believe, they doubted and sought a more typical explanation.

The words of Jesus in verse 25 are the most convincing evidence of doubt in the minds of Cleopas and Mary.  He called them FOOLISH and SLOW OF HEART to believe He had risen from the dead.  FOOLISH is a word used to describe people without understanding, those who fail to perceive the truth.

He said they were SLOW OF HEART because they were unwilling to give up their worldly, naturalistic notions to see the truth literally right before them!  Faith sometimes requires us to UNLEARN worldly opinions to see the supernatural.

  1. You can win your struggle against doubt by knowing God’s word. (25-27)

Jesus used the Old Testament to confront their foolishness and slowness.  He showed them how he fulfilled Old Testament predictions about the Messiah.

In verse 26 Jesus said, “DID NOT T CHRIST HAVE TO SUFFER THESE THINGS AND THEN ENTER HIS GLORY?”  The title CHRIST is the Greek version of the Hebrew title “messiah.”  It means “Anointed One” and refers to the person God had promised to send to His people Israel to save them.  The part that probably took them by surprise is that the CHRIST had to SUFFER before entering His glory.

As it states in verse 27, BEGINNING WITH MOSES AND ALL THE PROPHETS, HE EXPLAINED TO THEM WHAT WAS SAID IN ALL THE SCRIPTURES CONCERNING HIMSELF.  MOSES AND THE PROPHETS is another way of referring to the entire Old Testament.  Jesus is the “interpretive key” to understanding the Old Testament.  What was veiled in the Old Testament is unveiled in the New Testament.

The Old and New Testaments have one message for they have but one Author.  Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as the AUTHOR AND PERFECTER of our faith.  He is the AUTHOR of the Bible.  Though human minds found the words and human hands penned the words, it was Jesus, by means of the Holy Spirit, who inspired the Bible authors to write.  He is the PERFECTER of our faith in the sense that He set an example of perfect obedience.  Because God is the ultimate Author of the Bible, it is a trustworthy basis for daily living.

Doubts about God persist in situations of ignorance and isolation.  Doubts arise when we don’t know or don’t care what God said.  You may have noticed that people can come up with a lot of nutty ideas on their own.  When we don’t have or use our trusted faith family to test out our ideas, doubts & self-deception take root.

  1. You can win your struggle against doubt by knowing God’s people. (28-35)

Jesus chose to reveal Himself in response to their hospitality.  He could have revealed Himself at any point, but he waited until He broke the bread.  Why?

I believe it teaches this truth: we know Christ best when we know Him in fellowship with other believers.  This is one of the reasons God created the Church for us; He wants us to learn and apply His word together.  “Breaking bread” is an expression we use for fellowship.  By doing this the way He did, Jesus imparted an essential, supernatural priority to fellowship.

Those who want to remove the supernatural even from Scripture rob some of the significance of this moment.  Cleopas and Mary did have doubts, but divine power was the reason for their inability to recognize Jesus.

The timing is exact (verse 30: WHEN HE WAS AT THE TABLE WITH THEM, HE TOOK BREAD, GAVE THANKS, BROKE IT AND BEGAN TO GIVE IT TO THEM.)  This was a moment of fellowship.  Jesus sat at table with them and shared the bread with them.  It was also a moment of worship as Jesus GAVE THANKS for their meal.  God was invited to the table.

At that moment, three things happened.

– First, THEIR EYES WERE OPENED. This reminds me of Acts 9:18 where it says SOMETHING LIKE SCALES fell from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus and he could see again.  In both cases, this is something done FOR the people involved.  God had caused Saul’s blindness and restored it.  In a similar way, God caused Cleopas and Mary to not recognize Jesus and then He granted that they should see Him.

– Second, THEY RECOGNIZED HIM.  Whatever it was that disguised Jesus ceased at that moment and they were rewarded with the realization that they had been with Jesus the entire time (verse 32).

– Third, HE DISAPPEARED FROM THEIR SIGHT.  I’ve seen a video portrayal of this scene where Jesus just got up from the table, walked out the door, and disappeared into the night.  That was lazy story-telling or the product of worldly thinking.

The Greek word for DISAPPEARED means “invisible.”  This implies Jesus miraculously disappeared from their view.  This miracle encouraged and energized these two discouraged disciples.  Only something clearly supernatural explains the sudden transformation of Cleopas and Mary from being doubtful and defeated to exuberant witnesses.

Cleopas and Mary demonstrated a faithful response to Jesus’ resolution of their doubts.  In verse 32 with the benefit of this new insight, they understood why their hearts burned within them as Jesus had earlier spoken to them about the Scripture.  This was a good kind of “heartburn;” a recognition of how wonderful it felt to have Jesus teaching them.

Verses 33-35 show the fearless reaction of these followers.  In spite of the lateness of the hour and the darkness outdoors, they retraced their steps back to Jerusalem.  They were that eager to share what they’d experienced with Jesus’ disciples.  Once they’d arrived, Cleopas and Mary heard that joyous news that the Lord had also appeared to Simon.

It is important for us to note that it was in fellowship with Jesus that His true identity had been revealed to them and then later, they sought out fellowship with other believers to share the joyous news with them.  Fellowship is a powerful tool to overcome doubt.

Doubt is resolved when we learn together from God’s word

Scientists tell us when we miss the point it’s actually a sign of our brain working against our will.  For instance, you’re looking right at your car keys but you don’t see them.  There is an explanation for this familiar and annoying occurrence.

In order to eliminate distractions, our brains create what researchers call “brain bias.”  Your brain refuses to recognize things that your eyes can see because your brain has a bias against it.

I could go on, but the point is that we miss the point because we have a bias against it.  This is an illustration of how we must choose to look at ourselves and our world with different eyes – the eyes of faith – in order to see the truth.

Just as He helped Cleopas and Mary to see the truth, Jesus will open our eyes to see the truth too.  Let us not be numbered among those who have missed the point about Jesus.

 

 

RESOURCES:

Message #1288

https://motivateus.com/stories/missing_the_obvious.htm

https://www.techwell.com/techwell-insights/2012/08/miss-something-obvious-your-brain-might-be-working

Missing the Point

Please read Luke 24:1-12 in your Bible.

The Last Supper (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

There was a Christian lady who did a lot of traveling for work, requiring her to fly often.  Airplanes made her nervous, so she always took her Bible along to read and it would help relax her.

On one of these flights, she took her seat and took her Bible out of her purse.  A man seated next to her chuckled a bit at the sight of a Bible, and he asked, “You don’t really believe all the stuff in there do you?”

“Of course I do,” she replied, “this is the Bible.”

“Yeah, well what about that guy who was swallowed by a whale?”

She nodded.  “Jonah.  Yes, I believe that happened.  It is in the Bible.”

“OK,” the man said, “how do you suppose he survived all that time in a whale?  Why wasn’t he suffocated?  Digested?”

The woman looked the skeptic squarely in the eye and said, “I don’t really know.  I guess when I get to heaven I’ll ask Jonah.”

“What if he isn’t in heaven?” the man asked sarcastically.

“Then you can ask him,” she replied.

This lady got the point; I wonder if the guy did.  Easter is one of the two big occasions during the year where those of us who get it have special opportunity to share it with those who don’t.  The thing to which I am referring is the point of the whole Easter scene: life is available to all who receive Jesus Christ!  It is LIFE, abundant and free!

Don’t celebrate the Resurrection but miss its point: you are alive!

  1. The evidence proving the Resurrection.

Clue #1 = The stone had been rolled away.  By design, these stones were meant to be put in place and left there. They were heavy.  They were set in an angled track so you had to roll uphill to move it out of the way.  As grave robbing was a legitimate concern at that time, graves were made in such a way as to deter robbery.  This was a rich man’s grave, so it was of the highest quality.  Moving it in and out of place required the work of several men.

Clue #2 = They didn’t find Jesus’ body.  Though grave robbing was a problem, the robbers didn’t bother taking the corpse.  The women came to embalm Jesus’ body so they were surprised to find it missing.

In this situation, the only people with any motive for taking Jesus’ body had nothing to do with it.  The Jewish authorities might have done it to prevent the grave from becoming a shrine.  But no, they asked Pilate to seal it tight and he did.  The disciples might have done it to fake a resurrection.  But no, they were socially isolating in fear of the Romans.  Admittedly, it would have been hard to know what to make of this clue all by itself.

Clue #3 = The appearance of angels.  Though verses four through eight refer to them as MEN, the details make it clear the two messengers are angels.  Consider the three aspects of their description:

– They appeared SUDDENLY, as angels often do.

– Their clothing GLEAMED LIKE LIGHTNING.  (Biblically, that description is reserved for supernatural beings.)

– The reaction of the women was to be frightened and to bow before them, WITH FACES TO THE GROUND.  That’s how people in the Bible react to angels, never to persons.

In the Bible, angels are a separate race, but they sometimes take on human form.  The word translated as angel means “messenger,” and this duo had a five-part message for the women.

– “WHY DO YOU LOOK FOR THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD?”  They make it sound a little odd that the women expected Jesus to be there.

– “HE IS NOT HERE, HE IS RISEN!”  As He had already been resurrected, Jesus was not there at that moment.

– Not that any of this should have surprised them; they’d been warned “REMEMBER WHAT HE TOLD YOU.”

– “HE MUST BE DELIVERED INTO THE HANDS OF SINFUL MEN.”  In other words, it had always been the Father’s plan that Jesus should come briefly under the power of evil, so he would killed by them.

– “CRUCIFIED:” Jesus’ death was sacrificial, an effective remedy for the universal problem of sin.

– “ON THE THIRD DAY RISE AGAIN:” this part of Jesus’ teaching should have prepared them for this morning: they should have come to the garden ready to worship their Risen Savior, not to anoint His body for burial.

Clue #4 = They remembered Jesus’ words.  Well, sure.  Having a pair of dazzling angels remind you would be a great memory-refresher!  This is important because it meant that they had context for the angels’ message and therefore knew what it meant.

Clue #5 = Peter ran to the tomb.  What drove Peter to go to the tomb?  What made him so eager to get there?  It may have been simple curiosity or he may have been desperate to be forgiven.

Whatever mixture of thoughts and emotions drove Peter to run there, what he saw was a clue: Jesus was gone, but the strips of cloth that had covered His body were left behind.  Anyone stealing the body would surely have taken it cloths and all.

Additionally, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had prepared Jesus’ body for burial before the stone had been rolled in front of the tomb.  The spices were sticky and smeared on the body.  Removing the linen strips would have taken time and effort; there was no reason for a grave robber to do that.

Put all these clues together and the inescapable conclusion is that Jesus rose from the dead.  It is the only explanation that is supported by all the data.

  1. In spite of all these clues, the disciples still missed the point.

THEY DID NOT BELIEVE THE WOMEN; THEIR TESTIMONY SEEMED LIKE NONSENSE.  The women were eyewitnesses, but the menfolk did not believe them.  Why? Social bias certainly had a role to play; women were not allowed to offer testimony in court.  People often refuse to believe anything they haven’t seen for themselves.  Remember, they’ve been shut up and in hiding since Jesus’ arrest.

Worse, the women’s TESTIMONY SEEMED LIKE NONSENSE.  Given what they’ve just experienced, you could understand if the women were excited.  They were probably talking fast and over one another.  In their grief, these men would likely have even less patience with something that sounded to them – pardon this politically incorrect expression – hysterical females.

The Gk word translated as NONSENSE was a medical term for the ravings of a fevered insane person.  Not to be trusted.  The claims of the women were dismissed as emotional rather than rational.  Ironically, their slowness of heart to believe is one of the things that proves the Resurrection actually happened.  Think about it; this indicates skepticism, depression, and a paralyzing fear.

Nuts who put forth conspiracy theories about the disciples lying and creating a false resurrection are proved wrong; these men were in no shape to create any kind of conspiracy.  They had no vision, no desire to create a new faith, no plan at all.  They were utterly defeated and without faith on this occasion.

Peter socially isolated himself, WONDERING what had happened.  To his credit, Peter is alone among all the male disciples, in taking the women seriously.  In fact, Luke tells us that Peter RAN TO THE TOMB.

I can tell you from personal experience it takes a lot to get a fifty-something guy to run anywhere.  For Peter, however, this is typical behavior: to run off impetuously. When he got there, what he saw in the tomb – the strips of linen – did not immediately suggest a solution to Peter.  So he wandered and WONDERED, trying to find an explanation that fit the facts and suited his preconceived notions.  After all, dead is dead, right? Not in this case.

  1. How to prove you’ve got the point.

Believe it: Accept the evidence.  Let the liars and skeptics say what they will; the biblical evidence is clear.  The Resurrection did happen.

From there, we believe the following.  The Crucifixion was necessary because I have a horrible and recurring problem called sin.  I am powerless to fix this problem and it has the most serious outcome: separation from God in this life and in eternity.  The Resurrection establishes God’s solution to my sin: the sacrificial death of Jesus.  As I receive God’s solution I am forgiven and graciously gifted with life: abundant life in this world and in eternity.  Receiving God’s life changes everything: I will spend the remainder of my life unpacking its meaning, but it always starts with loving obedience to God.

Think it: Learn the evidence.  Study God’s word.  Let it change your heart and mind.  Understand how the truth about Jesus affects your priorities and shapes your world view.

Say it: Testify to the evidence.  Bring Jesus into every conversation.  Look for opportunities to speak His name. Be prepared to tell your personal story of faith.

Do it: Act upon the evidence.  Bring Jesus into everyday life by making the same choices He would make. Prioritize your spiritual life: give God the first and best of your time, money, and all other resources (they are His after all).  Fellowship with other believers; God created the Church for our good, not the other way around.  Mutual service, worship, and discipleship are essential resources for our spiritual maturity.

Don’t celebrate the Resurrection but miss its point: you are alive!

As the angels said, “WHY DO YOU LOOK FOR THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD?  HE IS NOT HERE, HE IS RISEN!”  All the evidence is before you.  Though the conclusion seems too good to be true, it is!  Life is ours because life is in Jesus!

Maybe for some, the Good News seems to good to be true.  They’re like a little boy from a long time ago who was a big fan of two children’s TV icons; Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers.

One day it was announce that Mr. Rogers would be paying a visit to Captain Kangaroo, appearing on his show!  The boy was ecstatic!  Both his heroes on at the same time!

When the day finally arrived, the whole family gathered with the little fellow around the TV.  There they were.  Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers.  Together.  At the same time!

The boy watched eagerly for a minute, then surprised everyone by getting up and leaving the room.

Puzzled, his father followed him and asked, “What is it son?  What’s wrong?”

“It’s too good,” the boy replied.  “It’s just too good.”

If Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers can bring about such a response, surely Jesus rising from the dead could too.  Maybe this is why the disciples were slow to believe the women.

After all, life had just dealt them a catastrophic disappointment.  Three years of life with Jesus had come to an abrupt end.  This is the kind of thing we’ve experienced about this world.  Disappointment abounds.  Hope gets crushed by tragedy.  Happy endings are fiction.

Observing Easter apart from our church family feels like one of those experiences.  Perhaps like me you’ve felt anger, grief, denial, bargaining and other emotions of loss.  It feels that COVID-19, like the Grinch, has stolen Easter.

But of course, that’s nonsense.  Easter is not about traditions and church and families gathered.  Easter is something much more.

Easter is life.  Don’t allow anything – good or bad – to distract you from that most important point.  Easter is your life.  Live it.

Purple is the Color of Royalty

“A pastor visiting the U.S. related what happened on Nov. 9, 1989 – the day the Berlin wall fell.  It was not a “planned” event.  There was a huge meeting taking place. It was a worship service. The order for service was scripture reading then sermon then a chance for anyone who wanted to come to the microphone and speak and then of course they closed with prayer.

“There were 2,000 people in the church, but there were another 5,000 outside, listening on speaker placed outside the building.  When it was time for people to come to the microphone, a woman came into the building. She was all excited. She couldn’t get to the mike, because of all the people. So she shouted from the door that she had come in. The wall had fallen. East Germany was now free.

“There was dead silence – but only for a moment. The people started to stomp their feet. That is what they do for applause. There was joy and shouting.

“Ten minutes later – when the sound subsided – the pastors realized that the 5,000 people outside the church hadn’t heard the announcement. The woman hadn’t gotten to the mike, and wasn’t heard outside. The announcement was repeated and there was 10 more minutes of foot stomping and shouting outside.

“People were going crazy. Freedom! When they heard it on the radio, even those with doubts no longer had doubts. This was like a Palm Sunday for them.”

From a sermon by Wally Seibel, The Three Praises of Holy Week, 3/23/2010, accessed at SermonCentral.com.

Like Palm Sunday, the fall of the Berlin Wall provoked a spontaneous celebration of good news, the joy of freedom finding expression in the lives of ordinary people.  Palm Sunday was also a parade given to honor Jesus as King – which He was – though not necessarily the kind of King everyone wanted.  Today we observe Palm Sunday with a celebration of our own, rejoicing in this fact:

Jesus is the King of Kings: He deserves our devotion and obedience.

  1. The signs of His sovereignty.

Witness #1 = His lineage and His birth.  The lineage of David is an aspect of the HUMAN side of His kingship.  The genealogies of Matthew 1 and Luke 3 trace the ancestry of Jesus back to King David and beyond.  This is important to establish Jesus as King of Israel.

The Fatherhood of God is an aspect of the DIVINE side of His kingship.  The Virgin Birth establishes Joseph is Jesus’ adoptive father, not His biological father.  Jesus was born King of Kings because God was His Father.

Witness #2 = Jesus’ own testimony.  Jesus’ trial before Pilate is the only occasion where Jesus is asked directly if He was a king.  Here, Jesus replied to Pilate’s question, “Are you a king?” in the affirmative: “Yes, it is as you say.”

Witness #3 = The testimony of friendly witnesses.  We can cite three friendly witnesses; the Old Testament prophets, Jesus’ disciples, and the gospel record of His Triumphal Entry.

The Old Testament prophets predicted an eternal king in David’s lineage.  In Isaiah 9:7 it is written: OF THE INCREASE OF HIS GOVERNMENT AND PEACE THERE WILL BE NO END.  HE WILL REIGN ON DAVID’S THRONE AND OVER HIS KINGDOM, ESTABLISHING AND UPHOLDING IT WITH JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS FROM THAT TIME ON AND FOREVER THE ZEAL OF THE LORD ALMIGHTY WILL ACCOMPLISH THIS.  In Jeremiah 23:5 we read, “THE DAYS ARE COMING,” DECLARES THE LORD, “WHEN I WILL RAISE UP TO DAVID A RIGHTEOUS BRANCH.”  In Daniel 7:13-14 we are introduced to the “Son of Man.”  “IN MY VISION AT NIGHT I LOOKED, AND THERE BEFORE ME WAS ONE LIKE A SON OF MAN, COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.  HE APPROACHED THE ANCIENT OF DAYS AND WAS LEAD INTO HIS PRESENCE.  HE WAS GIVEN AUTHORITY, GLORY AND SOVEREIGN POWER: ALL PEOPLE OF EVERY LANGUAGE WORSHIPED HIM.  HIS DOMINION IS AN EVERLASTING DOMINION THAT WILL NOT PASS AWAY, AND HIS KINGDOM IS ONE THAT WILL NEVER BE DESTROYED.”

Jesus’ disciples declared Jesus’ kingship on at least two occasions.  In John 1:49 NATHANAEL DECLARED, “RABBI, YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD, THE KING OF ISRAEL.”  Reading John 6:15, we see this incident; JESUS, KNOWING THEY INTENDED TO COME MAKE HIM KING BY FORCE, WITHDREW AGAIN INTO THE HILLS BY HIMSELF.

The most obvious testimony to Jesus’ kingship occurred at His Triumphal Entry.  In John 12:13 we read,

THEY TOOK PALM BRANCHES AND WENT OUT TO MEET HIM, SHOUTING, “HOSANNA!”  “BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!”  “BLESSED IS THE KING OF ISRAEL.”  That event fulfilled to prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, where it is written, REJOICE GREATLY, O DAUGHTER OF ZION!  SEE YOUR KING COMES TO YOU, RIGHTEOUS AND HAVING SALVATION, GENTLE AND RIDING ON A DONKEY, ON A COLT, ON THE FOAL OF A DONKEY.

Witness #4 is the testimony of “hostile witnesses.”

The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus while they tortured Him and while He hung on the cross.  In all four Gospels (Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20; Luke 23:36-37; John 19:1-5) they called Him “King of the Jews,” put a royal purple robe on Him, and jammed a crown of thorns on His head.

The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate also referred to Jesus as the King of the Jews.  In Mark 15:9+12 and John 19:14-15 he introduced Jesus to the mob as the King of the Jews.  Also, the sign above the cross identified Jesus as the King of the Jews.  When the Jewish clergy protested and asked the sign be removed, Pilate refused.

One of the thieves crucified with Him.  ONE OF THE CRIMINALS WHO HUNG THERE HURLED INSULTS AT HIM: “AREN’T YOU THE CHRIST?  SAVE YOURSELF AND US!” (Luke 23:39)

The Jewish clergy and other onlookers were also hostile witnesses.  Their testimony may be read in Matthew 27:41-42; Mark 15:31-32: IN THE SAME WAY THE CHIEF PRIESTS, THE TEACHERS OF THE LAW AND THE ELDERS MOCKED HIM.  “HE SAVED OTHERS,” THEY SAID, “BUT HE CAN’T SAVE HIMSELF! HE’S THE KING OF ISRAEL!  LET HIM COME DOWN NOW FROM T CROSS, AND WE WILL BELIEVE IN HIM.”

In modern practice of law, a “hostile witness” is someone whose opinion is contrary to one’s client but whose testimony will prove the client’s point.  All of these people we’ve cited did not believe Jesus was the King of the Jews, but by their referencing Jesus as the “King of the Jews” by their questions and mockery, prove the point that His kingship was the point under contention.

Witness #5 = the first generation Church.  Read 1 Corinthians 15:25: FOR [CHRIST] MUST REIGN UNTIL “HE HAS PUT ALL ENEMIES UNDER HIS FEET.”  This passage is a statement of the faith of the first generation Church.  It is the result of eyewitness testimony and is the core of our faith.  Here Paul affirmed that Jesus Christ reigns as King and will do so until all His enemies (the last of which is death; v. 26) are defeated.

In 1 Timothy 6:15 Paul wrote about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, which GOD WILL BRING ABOUT IN HIS OWN TIME – GOD, THE BLESSED AND ONLY RULER, THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.  Revelation 1:5 & 19:16 directly affirm the kingship of Jesus ON HIS ROBE AND ON THIS THIGH HE HAS THIS NAME WRITTEN: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

  1. The proper reaction to the King is to worship Him (Philippians 2:5-11).

This passage is a hymn of the first generation Church.  As hymns do, it expresses our faith.  It contrasts Jesus’ voluntary servitude with His exaltation.

It describes our worship.

– EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW in awe, wonder, admiration, and respect.

– EVERY TONGUE CONFESS the truth; which is…

– THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD.  He is King of all creation.  He reigns even over those who refuse to believe in Him, who refuse to bow or confess the truth.

– TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER.  This is the ultimate purpose of our lives and the greatest good we can do.  Worship is the pinnacle experience as we are directing attention to God, who is the greatest good.

  1. Why do we need a King?

Our King can forgive our sins.  Because He sacrificed Himself on the cross to make forgiveness possible, Jesus can exercise His divine authority to completely remove our guilt and shame.

Our King makes us rulers and priests.  In Revelation 1:6 & 5:10, we are promised that God will make us a KINGDOM AND PRIESTS who are in service to God.  Our King delegates His authority to us!

Our King makes laws for the citizens of His kingdom to obey.  In Mark 12:20-31, Jesus set forth the two greatest commandments, both of them having to do with love.

Our King commissions us for royal service.  Matthew 28:18-20 is called “The Great Commission.”  It is there Jesus tells us that our main job is making disciples.  Those two words take in both witnessing (making new disciple), and edifying (maturing existing disciples).  He offered teaching and baptism as two means of doing these.

Jesus is the King of Kings: He deserves our devotion and obedience.

“Did you know the United States once had an emperor? Believe it or not, it’s true – at least, it was in the rather confused mind of Joshua A. Norton.

“Norton lived in San Francisco during the gold-rush days of the 1800’s. When speculation in the rice market brought him to financial ruin, something happened to Norton’s mind. He declared himself “Emperor of These United States.” It might have been a practical joke, or it might have been the result of a clouded mind. Whatever the initial reason, Norton’s pretending soon grew into a delusion. In 1859 he published a proclamation that he was emperor according to an act of the California legislature. He found a sword, stuck a plume in his hat, found a cape, and marched the streets in colorful costume.

“The citizens of San Francisco were amused by this ploy they played along. They gave him recognition with free tickets to special events. He was invited to gala opening nights. In fact, they allowed him to collect a small tax and issue his own currency. It was all done in the spirit of fun.

“When he died in 1880, more than ten thousand curious people attended Norton’s funeral service – one of the largest funerals ever to take place in California. He lived and died in his own delusion of grandeur. He didn’t hurt anyone; in fact, he brought a bit of a smile and a chuckle to people who came across his path.

“But make no mistake about it. Joshua A. Norton was never really the emperor. Had he really insisted on a confrontation with the United States government, he would have been disposed of rather quickly.

“Imagine the poor soul who enters eternity convinced that life was all about him, that she was the focus of the universe. What a shock to find that the Bible’s title for Jesus is accurate. He is King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and no pretend emperor will ever take his place.”

(From a sermon entitled “He is King of Kings” by Andy Cook , retrieved from LifeWay.com.)

Today we declare our allegiance to our King Jesus Christ and swear to Him our love and obedience.  Palm Sunday is about more than commemorating an historical event; it is about each of us picking up our palm branch and celebrating Jesus as OUR King.  During this Holy Week especially, let’s make it personal, folks.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #966

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/76289/heart-by-sermoncentral?ref=TextIllustrationSerps

https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/sermon-jesus-king-of-kings-palm-sunday-hebrews-3-12

The Only Lamb to Celebrate Passover

Please read Mark 14:12-26 in your Bible.

Starting Over_Jesus (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

       “Aatami Kuortti, a Lutheran pastor in Russia, was sentenced to ten years of hard labor in a concentration camp because of his refusal to become a spy for the government. A fellow prisoner received a package from home, a little bread and a few apples. He thought that it would be possible to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He proposed this to Pastor Kuortti.

“‘I have already crushed the apple juice in a mug and the crusts will serve as communion bread. We can have the holy ordinance in the corner where my brother and I have our place, and the Russians, if they see us, will think we are drinking tea.’

Pastor Kuortti wrote, “‘I gladly fell in with the proposal of the brethren. After repetition of Scripture, I blessed the bread and the mug of apple juice, and we ate the Lord’s Holy Communion. The altar was but a dirty plank, and the pastor, as well as his flock, was in rags, yet we realized the presence of Christ.’”  (Sunday School Times, as found at moreillustrations.com.)

The Lord’s Supper is one of the times of worship that is a special remembrance of Jesus.  We honor Jesus’ sacrifice and demonstrate our gratitude.  This morning we’ll look at the event at which Jesus instituted this practice.

Communion also addresses a problem we all share: sin.  Jesus’ last Passover was the occasion that led into the days of Jesus’ passion and the solution to that problem.

The question is what to do about sin.  The answer is Jesus.

  1. Passover preparations. (12-16)

The situation in Jesus time was unlike any we’ve known.  The Passover and the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed it were considered to be one thing.  So the FIRST DAY refers to the Passover.  The population of Jerusalem swelled to something like 3 million people at Passover.  Based on verse twelve, it appears Jesus and His disciples have procrastinated!  Who would wait until the last minute to try to find accommodations in an over-crowded city?

The preparations: were they miraculous or premeditated?  Let me be plain: the reason they had a Passover meal was Jesus made arrangements in advance.

There are 3 good reasons for Jesus making arrangements in secret and in advance.  One, He was in control of the events leading up to His crucifixion.  Jesus’ life was not taken from Him, He surrendered it (John 10:17-18).

Two, he acted in secrecy to avoid His arrest happening in front of a large group of His followers.  Jesus did not want to cause a mob scene that would result in violence.

Three, Jesus made these secret arrangements to keep Judas from knowing them.  Jesus wanted to control the time and place of Judas’ betrayal.

  1. Asking the right question. (17-21)

WHEN EVENING CAME: the meal was to be eaten between sunset and midnight (Exodus 12:8-14).  In this account, there is a keeping of tradition and a redeeming of traditions to give them new values.

Jesus broke tradition with a stunning announcement: “ONE OF YOU WILL BETRAY ME.”  It is hard to imagine how such a statement would have felt.  The phrase ONE WHO IS EATING WITH ME increased the emotional impact of Jesus’ words because to betray a friend after having shared a meal with him was the worst kind of treachery.  As this meal was the Passover, the betrayal would be the worst of all!

The stunned disciples, in their response, asked the right question: “SURELY NOT I?”  Eleven of these men had no plans to betray Jesus; they had never even considered such a thing; but ONE BY ONE, they asked Jesus the same question.  What’s clear in the Greek is that the question is asked with an expectation that the answer will be “No.”

Judas also said “SURELY NOT I?”  He was guilty of gross hypocrisy, history’s worst traitor.

Jesus didn’t answer directly, but offered a clue and a warning.  The clue came in this statement: “ONE OF THE TWELVE…WHO DIPS BREAD INTO THE BOWL WITH ME.”  This is in two parts; His betrayer was one of the Twelve and one who was very near to him.  Their customary way of eating  was to use a piece of bread to scoop food from shared bowls.

The warning was expressed as, “WOE TO THAT MAN [Jesus’ betrayer]!  IT WOULD BE BETTER FOR HIM IF HE HAD NOT BEEN BORN.”  These words were for Judas’ benefit.  Jesus gave him a warning and a last chance to repent.

  1. Receiving the right answer. (22-26)

A measure of the love of Jesus is that He included His betrayer in the Last Supper.  He could’ve easily called Judas out in public or in private and told him to shove off.  Instead, he kept him part of the group for the moment.

Jesus took parts of the Passover meal and gave them new meaning.  Jesus altered the Passover to become a new ritual centered on his death & resurrection.

For example, the Bread had been used to symbolize Israel’s hasty transition to freedom, but Jesus used it to symbolize His body, given as a sacrifice for our sins.

Also, the four Passover cups had been used to symbolize the four promises of God in Exodus 6:6-7, but Jesus used it to symbolize His blood, the basis for the new covenant between God and people.

The supper concluded on a solemn but hopeful note.  It was solemn because Jesus declared He would not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the day God’s kingdom came.  It was hopeful because there was a kingdom coming.

Singing is the traditional ending of a Passover meal. After that, they left the upper room and made their way to Gethsemane (32), the scene of Jesus’ arrest.

The question is what to do about

sin.  The answer is Jesus.

“Three times a month, Jermaine Washington and Michelle Stevens get together for what they call a ‘gratitude lunch.’ They met at work where they used to have lunch together. One day Michelle wept as she spoke about waiting on a kidney donor list for 11 months. She was being sustained by kidney dialysis, but suffered chronic fatigue and blackouts and was plagued by joint pain. Because Jermaine couldn’t stand the thought of watching his friend die, he gave her one of his kidneys.  He said, ‘When you’ve got something great to be thankful for, having a ‘gratitude lunch’ is a great way to celebrate.’”

(Today in the Word, November 14, 1993, found at bible.org.)

It’s good for us to think of the Lord’s Supper as a “gratitude lunch.”  In those moments we remember the great sacrifice of our Passover Lamb and celebrate the hopeful news that He is coming again.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #565

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, The Gospels, Mark, Joel F. Williams

One Perfect Life: The Complete Story of the Lord Jesus, John MacArthur

http://www.moreillustrations.com/Illustrations/lord’s%20supper%201.html

https://bible.org/illustration/gratitude-lunch

 

Starting the Passover Over

Please read 2 Chronicles 30:1-31:1 in your Bible.

Starting Over (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

“A story surfaced from Operation Desert Storm about a soldier who got a ‘Dear John’ letter from his girl; she wrote that they were through. Worse than that, she was getting married to someone else! Adding insult to injury, she wrote, ‘Will you please return my favorite photograph of myself? I need it for my engagement picture in the paper.’

“The poor guy was devastated but not defeated. From every corner of the camp, soldiers handed over extra photos of their girlfriends. There were hundreds of photos. The jilted soldier put all the photos in a shoe box and mailed it home with a note. ‘Please find your picture,’ he wrote, ‘For the life of me, I can’t remember exactly which one you were!!’”

How’s that for making the best of a bad situation?  When we think about the Passover, that’s a time when God turned evil into good. And as we’ve seen, at the center of the Passover is the lamb.  In the centuries that would follow the first Passover, lambs had died for the sins of the nation.

“Inside the walls of the Temple, two lambs died every day (Exodus 28:29-31), one at 9 a.m. and the other at 3 p.m. It had been a sacrifice marked by blood, for the literal meaning of ‘sacrifice’ in Hebrew is, ‘to slit the throat.’

In addition to the twice-a-day sacrifice of lambs, there would have been countless lambs dying on the major Jewish holidays.”  (Andy Cook, Lifeway.com)

So our identification of Jesus as the Passover Lamb is an important, even essential biblical image.

Rediscovering the Passover revived the devotion of God’s people.

  1. A quick history lesson.

Hezekiah served as king over Judah from 715-686 BC.  His reign ended 100 years before the Babylonians conquered Judah.  2 Chronicles 29:1-2 tells us he took the throne at age 20 and ruled for 29 years.  He had not been on the throne for a month when he reopened the temple (29:3).  He brought back the priests and their assistants, the Levites, whom he commanded to purify the temple.

The temple was closed because King Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father, was an idolater and a very bad king.  He had ordered the temple’s furnishings removed and its doors shuttered (2 Chronicles 28:24-25).

Finally, after purifications, consecrations, and preparations, worship in the temple was restored (29:35).  The Passover would be the first sacred day to be observed in the reopened temple

  1. What we can learn from it.

Worship is supposed to be a unifying act. (30:1, 5-11)  Hezekiah invited all the tribes of Israel, even though the northern 10 tribes had already been conquered by the Assyrians and dispersed. Hezekiah may have hoped the unification of the tribes in worship would have political benefits too.  Having a secondary motive in no way diminishes Hezekiah’s loyalty to God or what was accomplished in this Passover observance.

We should be eager to worship. (30:2-4)  God commanded the Passover be observed on the 14th day of the first month. However, they did not have things ready at that time (the priests were not ready and not enough people had returned to Jerusalem).  Rather than wait until next year, they agreed to hold the Passover in the second month.

God directed them to worship. (30:12)  THE HAND OF GOD gave them UNITY OF MIND, FOLLOWING THE WORD OF GOD.  Unity of mind is something to which all church folk should aspire, and it will only come as we jointly follow Jesus, the Word of God.

Worship required them to purify themselves according to the will of God. (30:13-17)  Offerings were made in accordance with the Law and almost everyone complied with ritual purity.  The response of the people was so enthusiastic, it made the priests and Levites feel ASHAMED at their relative apathy.

Worship brought healing. (30:18-20)  Not everyone kept the Law as they should.  Some of the Israelites from the north (30:11) came late and did not undergo the ritual purification. Hezekiah offered a wonderful prayer for their forgiveness and God HEALED THE PEOPLE.  This shows us that sometimes ritual needs to be set aside to meet people where they are.  After all, the ritual was made for the people, not the other way around.  A sincere heart is a more important qualification for worship than ritual purity.

Worship requires follow-through into daily living. (30:21-22, 31:1)  Those who came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover followed up with the week-long observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread too.  They worshiped the Lord every day of that week. When the time of worship ended and they returned home, they continued the program to get rid of idolatry.

Worship ought to be something we enjoy and want to do. (30:23-27)  THE WHOLE ASSEMBLY (23), THE ENTIRE ASSEMBLY (25) found such joy in their worship they wanted to continue it another week!  There was nothing in the Law to require or even advise this; their decision to stay together was entirely voluntary.  Part of their joy was the knowledge that God was pleased with their worship (27).  King Solomon is mentioned here, the builder of the temple.  Hezekiah, the temple rebuilder, is compared with Solomon.

Rediscovering the Passover revived the devotion of God’s people.

In 1998 Ray Boltz recorded a song entitled “Watch the Lamb.”  It recounts the story of Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross to Golgotha.  Here are the lyrics of the latter half of the song:

At first I tried to resist him then his hand reached for his sword.

So I knelt and took the cross from the Lord

I placed it on my shoulder and started down the street

The blood that he’d been shedding was running down my cheek.

 

They led us to Golgotha.  They drove nails deep in His feet and hands.

And yet upon the cross I heard Him pray, “Father, forgive them.”

Oh, never had I seen such love in any other eyes.

“Into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” He prayed, and then He died.

 

I stood for what seemed like years.  I’d lost all sense of time

Until I felt two tiny hands holding tight to mine.

My children stood there weeping.  I heard the oldest say

“Father, please forgive us.  The lamb ran away.”

 

“Daddy, Daddy, what did we see here?

There’s so much that we don’t understand.”

So I took them in my arms, and we turned and faced the cross

And then I said, “Dear children, Watch The Lamb.”

(Ray Boltz, 1998, Gaither Music)

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary,

1 & 2 Chronicles, J. Kier Howard

The Daily Study Bible Series,

I & II Chronicles, J. G. McConville.

Andy Cook at https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/sermon-easter-passover-lamb-jesus

http://www.higherpraise.com/lyrics/superduper/b/ray_boltz/watch_the_lamb.html

Honest Loafers

Please read 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 in your Bible.

Honest Loafers (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      As I prepared this week’s message, I was determined to avoid mentioning COVID-19 entirely.  I want our worship time to give all of us a respite from the wearying anxiety caused by talking heads intent on making it an apocalypse for some form of personal gain.

Obviously in the world in which the Apostle Paul lived there was no knowledge of viruses and how they spread.  He used a familiar symbol – yeast – to describe how sin can work its way through a church.  So rather that mention COVID-19 even once, we’re going to make use of Paul’s symbolism instead!

CONTEXT – Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth dealt with a number of issues on which the church members had been divided.  Ironically, chapter five focuses on an issue in which they were united, but in the wrong.  There was an act of gross immorality among members of the church (v. 1).  Instead of confronting and condemning those involved, they were inexplicably PROUD of the sin (v. 2).  Paul promised he would deal correctly with this problem when he arrived if they did not get to it themselves (v. 3).  In our passage, Paul explained why it was disastrous for the church to condone sin and coddle sinners.

The Passover Lamb died to save us from sin, not to salve sinners.

  1. Dishonest loaves are corrupted by yeast.

The prohibition of yeast goes back to the original Passover.  In Exodus 12:14-20 we read God’s instructions for an annual Feast of Unleavened Bread, to be held on the week following the Passover.  This was a commemorative event.

However, the prohibition of yeast began as a practical consideration, unique to the historical moment that the Hebrew slaves left Egypt.  In Exodus 12:33-34 it is written, THE EGYPTIANS URGED THE PEOPLE TO HURRY AND LEAVE THE COUNTRY, “FOR OTHERWISE,” THE SAID, “WE WILL ALL DIE!”  SO THE PEOPLE TOOK THEIR DOUGH BEFORE THE YEAST WAS ADDED, AND CARRIED IT ON THEIR SHOULDERS IN KNEADING TROUGHS WRAPPED IN CLOTHING. All of this happened DURING THE NIGHT (31).  None of the slaves wanted to wait until morning for the dough to rise, so they didn’t add any yeast, but left Egypt as soon as possible.  The Egyptians didn’t want the Hebrews to wait around either – they were afraid for their lives!

The Apostle Paul, like Jesus, used yeast as a symbol of unresolved sin.  Jesus used it in Matthew 16:1-12, where He warned His disciples to be wary of the influence of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Every baker knows that when mixing dough, the amount of yeast is a lot smaller than the amount of flour and other ingredients, yet that yeast multiplies and has an effect on the whole loaf.  Similarly, the falsehoods of these hypocrites seemed very religious but would had a corrupting influence on one’s spiritual life.

In our passage,Paul used the same symbolism in regard to their ill-advised pride over a conspicuous sin. He wrote, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT A LITTLE YEAST WORKS THROUGH THE WHOLE BATCH OF DOUGH? and GET RID OF THE OLD YEAST THAT YOU MAY BE A NEW BATCH WITHOUT YEAST – AS YOU REALLY ARE.

The OLD YEAST is a symbol of sin and worldliness, vices like MALICE and WICKEDNESS.  Bread made without the OLD YEAST is characterized as having SINCERITY and TRUTH.

  1. Honest loaves are saved by sacrifice.

The practice of sacrificing a lamb goes back to the original Passover.  God commanded a year-old male sheep or goat be sacrificed at TWILIGHT, the beginning of the feast day He called the PASSOVER (Exodus 12:3-6).

Only on the very first occasion, the original Passover, the blood of the sacrifice was to be collected and painted on the door frames of the houses (Exodus 12:7).  The blood was a SIGN for those within the house that they would be spared the plague of the death of the firstborn (Exodus 12:12-3).  On that night, the angel of death passed over the houses where the door frames were marked with blood.

Under the New Covenant, sin is resolved by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb.  Several New Testament passages, identify Jesus as a “lamb.”

In John 1:29, John the Baptist used this symbolism:

THE NEXT DAY JOHN SAW JESUS COMING TOWARD HIM AND SAID, “LOOK, THE LAMB OF GOD, WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD!”  In 1 Peter 1:9 Peter wrote about THE PRECIOUS BLOOD OF CHRIST, A LAMB WITHOUT BLEMISH OR DEFECT.  In Revelation, John used a LAMB as a symbol for Christ 31 times.

The New Testament confirms Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins, but only Paul specifically identifies Him as the “Passover Lamb.”  Paul’s purpose was to use the Feast of Unleavened Bread in a symbolic way to explain what Jesus has done for us.  The symbolism is fitting as there are similarities between the Passover lamb and Jesus.

The first is purity.  The lamb had to be WITHOUT BLEMISH – that is, having no physical defect.  Jesus was sinless, the human equivalent of being WITHOUT BLEMISH.

The second is function as a blood sacrifice.  Being under the lamb’s blood saved the firstborn of Israel.  By faith, we place ourselves under the blood of Jesus and are saved.

The third is having bones unbroken.  In His commands regarding the Passover meal, God made it clear that the bones of the lamb should not be broken.  In the John’s Gospel, it is clear Jesus’ bones were not broken after His death on the cross (John 19:33-36).  The significance of unbroken bones is not clear to me at the moment, but an educated guess would be respect for the sacrifice.

The Passover Lamb died to save us from sin, not to salve sinners.

When Paul wrote, LET US KEEP THE FESTIVAL he wasn’t thinking only of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Continuing his use of that FESTIVAL as a symbol, he referred to the entirety of our life in Christ.  The way we do that is having a similar attitude toward sin that the Israelites were to have toward yeast.  In Exodus, they were commanded to get the yeast entirely out of the house; to have a “zero tolerance policy” toward it.  That’s what our attitude toward sin should be.

Unfortunately, our first instinct is to look around for someone on whom this policy can be enforced.  This policy starts with self first.  Jesus made it clear we don’t complain about the speck in someone else’s eye while we look cross-eyed around the log in our own eye.  He used that silly image to put His followers on notice: clean the yeast out of your own house first.  Help others to do the same only as the Holy Spirit directs you and only in loving, positive ways.

 

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, #10, W. Harold Mare

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Pfeiffer and Harrison

 

Traveling Light

Pleas read Exodus 12:1-30 in your Bible.

Meals on Wheels (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

Study people at an airport or bus terminal and you can quickly recognize overpackers.  They have multiple bags, all of which are bulging.  We all have stories to tell about ourselves and family.

I learned this week the psychology behind overpacking.  The emotion that drives it is fear.  The overpacker is generally not an experienced traveler, so they have an understandable fear of being in an unfamiliar place and not having access to something they need.

Overpacking is a coping mechanism that attempts to deal with fear by over-preparing.   There are all kinds of people on the internet with packing advice, but it seems to me the place to start is managing that fear.

One way to pack appropriately is to deal with the facts and keep them at the forefront.  How long will you be gone?  Where are you going?  What will the weather be?

Then make a list of items that are absolutely necessary.  Set them out on your bed around your bag, and eliminate everything that is not obviously needed.  If it’s there because there’s a remote possibility it’ll be needed, you’re packing out of fear.

Have your bags packed the day before leaving.  Packing at the last minute increases your fear and makes you more likely to overpack.

As we make our way through life, we are confronted by similar decisions.  Fear will counsel us to take matters into our own hands, to trust to our own resources instead of trusting in God. Faith makes room for God in our plans, trusting Him to provide our needs.

The Passover teaches us to be ready to promptly follow God.

  1. God commanded them to observe the Passover (1-13).

The ritual was to have a hurried feeling to it.  Verse eleven  describes how it was to be eaten.

“THIS IS HOW YOU ARE TO EAT IT: WITH YOUR CLOAK TUCKED INTO YOUR BELT, YOUR SANDALS ON YOUR FEET AND YOUR STAFF IN YOUR HAND.  EAT IT IN HASTE; IT IS THE LORD’S PASSOVER.”

Why did God command this?  I can speculate two reasons.  First, to accurately re-create the Passover event.  As it happened in Exodus 12, the people of Israel were to be ready to leave Egypt.

Second, to create a feeling of urgency about our response to God.  Other Scripture support this interpretation.

Psalm 95:7-8 = TODAY, IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS…

2 Corinthians 6:2 = I TELL YOU, NOW IS THE TIME OF GOD’S FAVOR.  NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION.

An important symbol in the thing was the lamb.  From Genesis to Revelation, a lamb is a symbol of sacrifice that is necessary to make peace with God.  The Law of God states that sin causes death.  The only way to be restored to life is through the shedding of blood, the pouring out of a life given in exchange for ours.  In the Old Testament, a lamb served that substitutionary function, but the sacrifice had to be repeated year after year.  In the New Testament, Jesus death saved us – one act of sacrifice, effective for all time.

When Jesus comes again, a “pass-over” of greater magnitude will take place.  Those who have received Him by faith will pass over from death to life.

  1. God carried out the plague on the Firstborn (29-30).

This plague demonstrated God’s justice. The Egyptians tried to kill the sons of Israel (see Exodus 1:15-22).  Justice was served when they lost their firstborn and in Pharaoh’s case, a son (11:5).  The punishment matched the crime.

God acted justly in a second aspect: Egypt’s sins against God’s people were committed by their exercise of free will choosing sin.  With each of the preceding plagues, Pharaoh was given the choice of setting Israel free.  (As we read in Exodus 7:14-11:10, the preceding plagues included blood in the Nile, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness.

God Himself explained the purpose of the plagues: to bring glory to God.  In Exodus 11:9-10 we read, THE LORD HAD SAID TO MOSES, “Pharaoh WILL REFUSE TO LISTEN TO YOU – SO THAT MY WONDERS MAY BE MULTIPLIED IN EGYPT.”  MOSES AND AARON PERFORMED ALL THESE WONDERS BEFORE PHARAOH, BUT THE LORD HARDENED PHARAOH’S HEART, AND HE WOULD NOT LET GO OF HIS COUNTRY.  In Exodus  14:4 it is written, “AND I WILL HARDEN PHARAOH’S HEART, AND HE WILL PURSUE THEM.  BUT I WILL GAIN GLORY FOR MYSELF THROUGH PARAOH AND ALL HIS ARMY, AND THE EGYPTIANS WILL KNOW THAT I AM THE LORD.”

On the first Passover, only those under the lamb’s blood were saved.  Otherwise, all the firstborn children died, from the household of mighty Pharaoh to the child of the lowliest prisoner.  Even the firstborn among the livestock died.  This was a blow against Egypt’s livelihood. This plague finally broke the pride and arrogant disbelief of Pharaoh, and, as predicted, God’s people were free at last.

This account of the Passover is a warning against ignoring God until it is too late.  We have all seen people reject God until their life is broken down by adversity until nothing remains standing between them and God.

This is precisely what happened to Pharaoh through the whole process of these plagues.  Each new plague was designed to wear down his resistance, to strike down the false gods and the excuses he’d made.

We’re told repeatedly that God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart.  Why was this necessary?

One, as we noted earlier, God’s purpose is, as always, to make Himself known to people – for their good.  If the thing is over too quickly – people will not experience God’s power in a convincing way.

Two, as a demonstration of the lengths to which God is will go in order to save His people.

Three, at no time did God violate Pharaoh’s free will.  He chose stubbornness, pride and disbelief at the beginning and remained committed to them until the end.

The Passover teaches us to be ready to promptly follow God.

      One way to deal with an over-packer is to buy them a suitcase that is shaped like two slices of bread.  Then it will be OK if it is “jam-packed.”

A man stormed into his lawyer’s office with a suitcase.  “I want to sue!” he told his lawyer.

“What seems to be the problem?” the attorney asked.

“I bought this suitcase for my wife and even though she may have overpacked it, this wheel broke off!  The thing has got a lifetime guarantee, the company refuses to replace it!  I will sue!”

The lawyer looked the baggage over and shook his head and said, “I don’t think your case will stand up in court.”

There are important lessons to be learned here.  In both Old and New Testaments, the Passover Lamb is God’s way of bringing life out of death.  It was the cure for the penalty for sin, which is death.  Today is always God’s day.  Now is the time to be saved.  The present opportunity may be our last, so act NOW.

 

RESOURCES:

Message #934

Idol Smashers Number Thirteen

“Idol Smashers” is a work of fiction set in the biblical era of the Judges.  Apart from persons mentioned in the Bible, it is entirely fiction and presented here in serial form strictly for the entertainment of my readers.  “Idol Smashers” is an original work, copyright Brett Best, 2011.

tabernacle

(Previously in “Idol Smashers:” Judge Deborah’s operatives were rescued from imprisonment in the Philistine city of Joppa and race to Shiloh, where the Tabernacle, the meeting-place with God was erected.)

Day Seven – Shiloh

            The remainder of the journey went quickly enough, but when they arrived, the sun hung low in the sky.  The Sabbath was nearly over.  A sliver of doubt lodged in Caleb’s resolve.  Had they misunderstood the portents?  Had they misinterpreted the signs?  Had the Philistines lied or changed their plans?

They were met on the road by the captain of the guard, known to Jethro as Gershon.  He looked wearied.

“The day is nearly closed,” Gershon said.  The last day had apparently allowed him no rest and he was ready for the threat to be over.  “We’ve seen no Moabites, no cart as was reported to us.”  He gestured to the tailings of worshipers who were lined up on the road to the tabernacle hill.  At the close of the Sabbath, the evening sacrifices were beginning and the last of the day’s worshipers served.  All around the hillside, encampments were set up as the worshipers planned to spend the night before journeying home at dawn.  The familiar smells of the sacrifices burning on the altar offered some reassurance, a smell of normalcy.

In all, it was a scene that belied their panicked escape from Joppa and hurried journey here.  Ammihud looked around anxiously, concerned that all may have been for naught.

“Has there been no trouble at all, none coming to the tent that look suspicious?” Maaz asked Gershon.

“None,” came the wearied reply.  “It has been a Sabbath as all others.”

Members of the group reluctantly dismounted.  They looked at one another with puzzlement.  Perhaps their concern had been misplaced.  Could the enemy have been alerted somehow that their plans had been betrayed?

“I don’t…” Micah started to say but was interrupted by a disturbance in the line of worshipers near the tabernacle.  A donkey attached to a small wagon was braying loudly.  It made hoarse cries, as if in pain.  A man tried vainly to calm the animal, but somehow it broke free of its tack and began to jump and kick.  All around, people hurried to either get out of its way or help corral it.  The path was suddenly thick with people shouting and some cursing.  A fistfight broke out, and then others were shouting angrily at one another.  The ruckus seemed to spread like a sudden fire.

Gershon called to his men, “Come!  Let us put an end to this!  Call out the guard!”  He and the four tabernacle guardsmen ran from the adventurers and toward the growing melee.

“This must be the distraction they planned!” Samuel said excitedly, remounting and drawing the short sword he’d been given by Deborah.

A horn sounded.  Gershon had blown on it as he ran toward the sudden riot.

“Look!  The guards and Levites are pouring out of their tents!” Ruth yelled, pointing to the structures next to the Tabernacle.  In her excitement, she forgot to use her “man voice.”

Maaz squinted, following her gaze.  “Guards.  Guards?  They are not coming from within the tents, but from behind it!” he shouted.  “There is the enemy!”

“We ride!” Micah ordered.  He scrambled back on his horse and the rest quickly followed suit.  Spurring their mounts on, they left the road and skirted the melee, riding around the riot to the opposite side of the Tent of Meeting.  There they saw men dressed like tabernacle guardians slashing at the outer curtain of the tabernacle with curved swords in one hand and attempting to set it ablaze with torches in the other hand!

Caleb dismounted on the run as he distrusted his skill to shoot effectively from horseback.  Nocking an arrow, he prepared to fire.

At a corner of the tabernacle one of the false guardians set his torch at the bottom of one of the posts supporting the rods from which hung the curtains that boundaried the court of the Tent of Meeting.  Clearly, he hoped to set it on fire.

But Samuel attacked the nearest enemy.  From his mounted position he held the advantage.  The sword flashed true, striking the man’s left arm and the torch he carried.  The torch went flying and the man cried out as blood blossomed from the wound Samuel inflicted.

One of the would-be saboteurs swerved to go around to the north side of the tabernacle, out of sight from the oncoming horsemen who had suddenly appeared.  Jezreel rode north following the man, but he did not dismount.  Instead, to inspire and assist his mates, he raised himself as much as possible on the horse’s back and started to sing a psalm of victory.  Exerting himself to be heard about the din of the distraction and the battle, the psalmist’s voice nevertheless rang clear.

The north side of the tabernacle was opposite the opening at the other end of the rectangle.  There other treacherous enemies were already wielding their torches to set the curtain on fire.

Having had to resort to thievery on more than one occasion, Ruth preferred to meet an opponent from behind, or at least sideways.  Head-on combat was for persons more powerful and experienced than her.  Therefore, she rode to the west side of the tent to attack the enemies that she had seen turn to the north side of the sacred Tent.

Riding around to the west side of the Tent, Ruth surprised a pair of enemy combatants who were about to slash holes in the curtain of the Tabernacle.  They looked up at her, eyes wide with maniacal intent.  “HOLD!” she cried out in her most commanding voice.  The man closest to her advanced, holding sword and torch out before him.  His companion returned his attention to the curtain and used his torch to set it afire!

“How I wish I had a man’s voice!” Ruth muttered as she drew the sickle from her belt.  She pointed her horse at the oncoming attacker and slipped off the side of the animal opposite her opponent.  She let the beast come between them briefly, then struck out with the sickle as soon as the horse had passed her.  The sickle blow struck the distracted man on his helmeted head.  The blade did him no harm, but the impact stunned him a bit.  Ruth gave no quarter and followed her slash with a kick Joseph had taught her; he’d called it a “roundhouse.”  Her heel caught him in the neck and temporarily took his wind.  The man staggered backward and dropped his torch to clutch at his throat.

While he recovered from her kick to his throat, Ruth had her best chance to vanquish her opponent. She slashed hurriedly at him with her sickle just as soon as both her feet were under her.  The edge of her weapon caught his right forearm with sufficient force to create a deep and long wound, flinging his arm and his weapon away.  Out the corner of her eye, Ruth saw the other man go through the curtain and set it afire from within.  She stepped around her opponent to run after the other man, the one who was, for the moment, the greater threat to the Tabernacle.

Barek, Maaz and Micah spurred their mounts and rode around to confront the biggest group of the enemy, saboteurs in disguise who flowed between the barracks.  They were quick to put the false guards on the defensive.  Maaz rode straight at an enemy and the iron tip of the goad flashed, striking the enemy’s left hand.  A shout of surprise escaped the man’s lips as the torch he’d held there flew away from him.

Barek dipped low in his saddle to swing the two-handed axe with his powerful right hand only.  The blade turned a bit upon impact, but the handle still hit solidly on a man’s leg, staggering him.  His momentum carried him into Balek’s horse’s flank and the false guard bounced off the large animal and was thrown to the ground.

Riding around the melee involving his brothers, Micah achieved the north end of the tabernacle in time to see an enemy slash a hole in the curtain from the rod to the ground.  He disappeared through the slit, entering the sacred space inside.  Micah drew the horse in to a sudden stop and quickly dismounted, drawing his sword.  Without regard for his own safety, Micah stepped through the hole in the curtain created by his enemy, who was sprinting south, presumably to go to the open end of the Tent of Meeting.  Every footfall of this pagan infuriated Micah more and he ran after the man.  Upon reaching the corner, the man hesitated enough to turn.  That was the instant Micah overtook him.  Bull-rushing his hated enemy, Micah eschewed the weapon in his hand and slammed bodily into the man, driving him into the ground and knocking the air out of him.

Scarcely aware that he held a sword, not a club in his hand, Micah instinctively sought to bash his opponent’s head in with it, but the short stroke had too little power or leverage behind it, and the blow merely glanced off the man’s helmet, the blade burying angling off to bury itself in the turf.  For his part, the would-be destroyer of the Tabernacle pushed and turned to try to get Micah off him, to no avail.  Micah had an advantage of strength and mass to match his fury and he used it to keep his opponent pinned.

Letting go of his sword, Micah grabbed both sides of his opponent’s head with his hands and slammed it into the ground.  He did this repeatedly until his enemy was dazed.  When he felt his adversary’s strength slacken just a bit, Micah jerked the man’s head around suddenly until he heard his enemy’s neck snap.  It was a sickening noise, but Maaz had it heard before; when his brother-in-law had done something similar to dispatch a dying animal.

After taking a moment to catch his breath, Micah shambled to his feet and tugged his sword from the earth.  He carefully put the point underneath the layers of the prone man’s armor, just over his heart, and leaned on it to thrust it into the man’s chest.  Every remaining sign of life pooled with the blood collecting under the body.

Micah sighed as he pulled his sword from the body of his enemy.  He looked around and saw Ulla standing not too far off.

“That was disgusting,” the high priest commented, using both hands to hold up what was left of his ephod.

Letting out a long breath Micah replied, “There’s gratitude.”

Having wounded his opponent, Samuel chose to dismount and swung at him again.  This time, his momentum took him a bit too far away and the slash missed.  Though wounded, the man was a soldier and he kept his wits about him enough to lunge and strike at Samuel.  His aim was better than Samuel’s but the blow glanced off Samuel’s shield.

Caleb chose as his target an enemy who ran forward to flank Samuel.  His bow ready, Caleb let the arrow fly.  It flew true, an unseen hand directing its flight.  The arrow suddenly appeared in the middle of the running man’s chest.  He broke stride and fell forward, bowling over his mate who had been entirely occupied with Samuel.  The young fighter snapped off a kind of salute to Caleb in thanks for his timely assistance.   Samuel delivered a coup de grace, nearly separated the man’s head from his body.

Ammihud huffed as Caleb had shot the very man he’d intended to shoot.  Switching targets, his arrow also found its mark in the right shoulder another opponent.  The man cried out and dropped his sword.  Ammihud dropped his bow and drew a knife from his belt.  He intended to finish the man he’d shot, but as he stabbed at him, the enemy managed to roll away and Ammihud’s blade only grazed his right side.

Sensing the battle going the way of his Israelite companions, Jezreel sang more loudly and passionately.  He sang to the LORD, but fervently hoped the words of his psalm were inspiring his countrymen.

For his part, Caleb nocked another arrow and cautiously moved from the melee which Samuel and Ammihud seemed to have in hand.  His bowstring as taut as his nerves, he moved cautiously toward the south end of the Tabernacle.  There he saw men engaged in deadly battle, swinging weapons and limbs, grappling, fighting to attack or defend Israel’s most sacred object.  From within, he heard a cry of “NO!” that sounded like Ulla’s voice.  When he’d rounded the corner and saw into courtyard, Caleb beheld the high priest and an enemy fighting for possession of the ephod Ulla wore, the ceremonial breastplate that held twelve stones that symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel.  He raised his bow but had no shot that safely took the enemy and spared the priest.  Caleb hesitated.

Jumping off his horse looked deceptively slow because of the big man’s size, but Barek quickly crossed to his prone foe and with an overhead strike, buried the axe blade in his enemy’s chest.  In spite of the man’s armor, the blade went deep.  Blood gurgled out the man’s mouth instead of a scream.  Putting a foot on his foe’s chest, Barek tugged his axe free from the body of his mortally wounded enemy and looked around for other opponents.  To the north, he saw a youth holding a horse’s reins.

“Hold!” Balek roared, pointing his axe at the young man.  The youth was understandably startled by  the giant before him.  So much so, his eyes grew wide with fright and he turned to leap atop the horse!

“I wish I could command people like Sara,” Balek complained.  He whistled at his horse, with only a vain hope it would respond.  Balek reasoned that the youth might be a messenger, charged with delivering a report of the battle to someone.  The giant man of God resolved to capture the youth and find out what he knew.  The horse did not exactly come to Balek, but it came near enough he could gather up the reins and throw his long legs over its sides.  He heard someone call his name and wheeled the horse around to face them.

Ammihud and Samuel stood astride one another over a fallen enemy.  “Where do you think you’re going?” Samuel called.  “Yes,” Ammihud added, “there’s plenty of fight right here.”

Balek nodded in the direction of the young man who’d fled on horseback.  “One got away,” he said, and spurred his horse in that direction.

Maaz brought his horse around and adroitly leapt off its back, pointing the iron-shod tip of his goad at his opponent.  “You shall now die, defiler!” he said as he advanced on the enemy soldier.  The man looked from Maaz to the tabernacle and swinging his sword, pierced the veil and tumbled through it.  A sigh escaped Maaz’s lips then he shouted, “YOU CANNOT THAT EASILY ESCAPE JUSTICE!”

Stepping through the breach created by his enemy, Maaz saw his opponent desperately hacking at the hide-covered wall of the Holy Place.  AS the herdsman stepped through, the man turned suddenly and swung at Maaz instead!  The hurried attack missed Maaz but caused him to smash the iron tip of his short staff into the ground instead of his opponent.  The two men circled each other for a moment, then the saboteur swung his sword over his head and attempted to cleave Maaz in two, but the herdsman dodged the blow as easily as he might’ve avoided a butting ram.  Side-steppeding his adversary’s slash, Maaz brought the goad down hard, smashing both the swordsman’s arms.

A surprised look crossed the man’s face just before Maaz’s goad slammed into his abdomen on the upswing of a second blow.  He fell to his hands and knees, vomited, and fell face forward into it, groaning piteously.  Maaz had no pity for him however, and he brought his weapon down on the man’s head with a fury, splitting both helmet and skull.  Pausing for a moment to collect himself, Maaz smelled smoke and looked up to see a spit of flame atop the Tent itself!

As he could see no opponents at hand, Maaz’s lust for battle suddenly left him and the survival of the Tent took precedence.  Dropping his goad. he leapt to find purchase for both hands and hauled himself atop the tent, which swayed precariously under his weight.  He saw a torch in the midst of a section of the hide roof that was smoldering and threatening to burst into flame.  Heedless of any danger except to the Holy of Holies beneath his feet, Maaz snatched at the torch and threw it over his shoulder and far away from the Tabernacle.  With his own hands he beat at the coverings to the sacred space, putting out the embers by swatting away glowing embers.  In his single-minded devotion to the task of saving the structure, the big man did not see the place where the skins had parted until he fell through it.  With a thud, Maaz landed in the middle of the Most Holy Place!

Having made quick work of dispatching the two men at his feet, Samuel looked up in time to see another enemy hacking off the rods attached to the corner post of the Tabernacle enclosure.  One panel of curtain fluttered to the ground.  Samuel’s feet found purchase as he raced to prevent further blasphemous damage.

Somehow Samuel’s enemy sensed his coming and turned to throw his torch at the young Israelite.  Samuel swatted the flaming projectile aside and rushed his opponent.  Samuel’s sword stabbed out from behind his shield, but his enemy was ready and side-stepped the attack.  He delivered a blow of his own but the strike was not strong enough to part the hardened leather of the wristband Samuel wore on his sword hand; it merely parted some of the strings holding it on, and the wristband flopped about on Samuel’s sword arm.

Several more thrusts were made but parried or dodged.  Samuel had the advantage having both shield and sword, but the advantage of arms was negated by the youth’s comparative inexperience in martial arts.

The two stood apart a moment to catch their breath.  Seeing his opportunity, Ammihud, standing some paces away and with his bow readied, let the arrow fly.  The shaft buried itself in the swordsman’s middle, finding a mark just underneath his leather cuirass.  He dropped his sword, then dropped to his knees, attempting to break the shaft.  A heartbeat later, Samuel relieved him of all worldly concerns by plunging his blade through the stricken man’s neck.

Caleb made his decision.  He carefully aimed and shot his arrow.  The shaft struck with lethal effect, piercing his enemy’s chest.  His grip on the high priest relaxed instantly and he turned to face Caleb.  When he bent over to retrieve his sword and attack the archer, he fell to his knees, then to his face, where he laid still as breath and life abandoned him.

Ulla was furious.  He advanced on Caleb even as he held the damaged ephod to his chest.  “You FOOL!” he cried.  “How could you take such a shot?!  You might’ve hit ME!!”

Startled out of watching the man die, Caleb replied off-handedly, “Oh, I had that all figured out,” he said.  “I aimed at his legs.”  A confused, angry look crossed Ulla’s face.  “I figured if I missed, neither of you would be badly hurt.”

While his companion dealt with Ruth, a pagan soldier slashed through the outside curtain of the Tabernacle.  He paused only a moment to set the breach on fire and then turned to hurl his torch atop the Tent itself.  Steeling himself to stop anyone from extinguishing the fire he sought to start, he gripped his sword all the tighter and looked around, waiting for an Israelite to come.

He would not wait long.  Ruth launched her slight form through the slash in the curtain that formed the court around the Tabernacle.  She stumbled a bit as her foot caught on the torn curtain and she fell to one knee.  Ahead of her was the infidel who dared step through the veil.  He was a big man.  Too big, for Ruth’s taste.

With a sneer, he set the torch down where the flame licked at the fabric wall of the Tabernacle.  “Come save your sacred tent,” the dog growled.  “Sacrifice yourself, man of Israel!”

Inspired, Ruth stood slowly and removed her helmet, dropping it to the turf.  She loosed her hair and let the long tresses fall around her neck.  “In Israel, we sacrifice animals, not people” she said, taunting her enemy.  She shouted, “Know that today the LORD has strengthened a woman’s arm to spill your blood and defend His holy tent!!”

As she’d hoped, the enemy soldier was temporarily stunned by the sight of a combatant suddenly becoming a beautiful woman.  She charged the big man, swinging her sickle with both hands, throwing her entire person at him.  It was an attack of faith, what to an experienced soldier might seem a fool’s hope.  Her slashing scythe found it’s mark as the big man’s left arm came up too late to intercept blow.  The blade bit deeply into the base of his neck, the curve of the scythe completely disappearing in the place where throat and shoulder met.

Behind the blade was Ruth’s flying body; she had to leave her feet to even strike the blow.  The impact sent them both sprawling.  Scrambling to her feet, Ruth reached for the torch, the flames threatening to set the curtain afire.

Before she could reach it, a powerful hand grasped her ankle and hauled her away from the torch.  Though blood spouted from the wound Ruth had inflicted, the pagan’s massive hand held her ankle like an iron manacle.  Struggling to his knees, the man drug Ruth toward him as easily as anyone might tug a child.  Breath was knocked from Ruth’s lungs when she’d landed bodily on the ground, her feet yanked from beneath her.  Ruth’s attempts to get away seemed especially pitiful and she felt his hands virtually climb up her body.  He hauled her close and clasped her throat in one of his incredibly large hands.

Her airway closed, Ruth struggled vainly, failing with hands and feet.  Terror made her blows even less effective.  Every thought was focused on dying at this monster’s hands.

His breath reeked of some food or spice Ruth did not know.  “Molech take your soul!” the man rasped.  “I will not be killed by any mere woman!”  His blood flowed over Ruth as he muttered what must have been curses in a pagan tongue.

A long dark tunnel appeared before Ruth.  A wan light illuminated its end.  She wondered how this might be, what the vision might mean, but she was not prepared to die.

Suddenly, his eyes fluttered and his last breath escaped his lips.

Somebody shouted, “LET HER GO!”

The man’s hands went slack and with a violent twist, Ruth pushed herself away, falling down and gasping for air.

When she was able to get her wits about her again, Ruth looked to see Caleb running to get the torch away from the veil.  He quickly slashed at the curtain, cutting away the part that had caught fire during the melee.

Ruth’s body shook uncontrollably and part of her mind wondered why men loved war so much when it was so vile and brutal a thing.  After a bit, her vision cleared and so did her mind.  She looked up and saw Caleb above her.  He held her head on his lap, kneeling beside her.  Something nearby smelled like vomit and smoke.

He stroked the hair from her face tenderly, and said, “Here now.  We can’t have you running about with your hair down, can we?”

Samuel turned to Ammihud.  “Let’s go check the tents,” he said.  “In case there are reinforcements.”  Ammihud took a moment to ready his bow and said, “After you.”

Day Eight – Mount Gerazim

            The next day the heroes stood at the summit of Mount Gerazim.  A man of Israel had discovered that an Asherah pole had been recently erected and there were signs of a recent encampment.  He’d reported this offense against the land to the high priest.  He had passed the information along to the group.

“They made prayers and sacrifices here,” Maaz said, poking the remains of a fire pit with his goad.

Caleb’s eyes darted over the scene, an angry look upon his face.  “They no doubt sought a boon from their gods before infiltrating the camp and setting their scheme into motion.”

The youthful Samuel threw himself against the idolatrous pole, exclaiming, “This cannot be allowed to stand a moment longer.”  Righteous anger was not enough to augment his slight frame and he was unable to pull it out of the ground.

Balek made a theatrical sigh.  “You cannot use a twig to remove a log,” he said, and pushed Samuel aside.  Contrary to his verbal objections, Samuel stood aside.  The giant knelt and wrapped his big hands around the base of the Asherah.  Using his shoulders and legs to lift, he drew it out of the hole and dropped it to the ground.

Ruth, once again in her masculine garb, cleared her throat and spit on the carved pole.  Her friends watched for a moment, mild surprise on their faces.

Micah broke the silence when he clapped Ruth on the back, nearly knocking her off her feet.  “Well done, Joseph,” he said mirthfully.

“Here is the same craftsman’s mark we discovered under the idols of Heshonib,” Ammihud observed.  “It is the mark of Kanab, the Philistine idol-maker whose shop we visited in Joppa.”

The captain of the temple guard scratched a curse sign in the loose soil.  “It is an appalling desecration of the sacred site of Mount Gerazim,” he opined, “the place where the division of the Promised Land between the twelve tribes was accomplished by Joshua by casting lots.”

“We must destroy it with fire” Jezreel said slowly, his voice conveying a solemnity they had not heard from the young psalmist before.  “We must scatter the ashes and bury all the bones.  This mountain must be made holy again.”

“Yes,” Samuel agreed.  “As he said.”

A feast was arranged to celebrate the victory of the Lord and His people, with Deborah’s Eight (as the heroes of Shiloh had come to be known) the guests of honor.  A tent had been erected and savory smells infused the camp as several ovens were set to work.

Ruth had to be persuaded to remain.  On the road, she had learned attention and scrutiny were unwelcome as they threatened to expose her.  Her dread of being drug back to be stuck in a loveless marriage was so strong, she wanted to forsake her new companions and return to her vagabond ways.

Everyone was shocked when Micah offered an alternative.  “You could be my daughter.  For a night,” he suggested, his usual gruff appearance gone and a tender countenance in its place.  “Joseph may leave to reappear elsewhere.  Tonight you could be Dinah.”  As the gathering was a feast and not a “holy convocation” even Maaz gave his approval to this deception.

Some appropriately feminine festal robes were obtained and Ruth shed her disguise in private.  When she appeared again in clothes appropriate to her heaven-bestowed gender, Micah explained, “You look like a Dinah!”

Their tent fairly roared with laughter as “Dinah” was welcomed to their fellowship.  They roared again when Samuel offered to act as her husband.  Their laughter had barely died off when the tent flap was thrown aside and the high priest Ulla stormed inside.

“It’s Deborah” he cried in genuine panic, “she’s gone!”