Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote Sonnet 43 as a poem of love for the person she cherished. It was dedicated to her husband, poet Robert Browning.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death. (1850)
This is an impressive expression of love. The breadth and scope she describes are total commitment to her loved husband. It springs from a magnificent passion.
Over the last several centuries, romantic love has dominated among the “loves”, i.e. love of God, love of country, love of parents, love of friends. For the centuries before romantic love has only been in the background. Marriages were arranged by parents, who tended to consider romance a distraction. Fathers would seek a “profitable match” for each of his daughters. That meant a man of good prospects; which meant he would be able to support his wife and family.
In mostly agrarian societies, the prospective husband needed a grant of land from his father. Then He would build a dwelling for his wife. Often there was a bride price to pay; likely in the form of livestock.
Land, a dwelling and livestock were tokens of a responsible man, who could take care of the father’s daughter and ensuing grandchildren, providing for them well. Most importantly, the husband would provide the basic necessities for his family. Secondarily, that the groom was responsible and capable enough, so that the bride and the children did not have to come back to be an additional burden on her father.
Thus, marriage was, foremost, a practical matter. Romance was a luxury that agrarian societies could most often not afford. Survival was always tenuous, so a young man’s abilities were the singular concern and a girl’s romantic ideas were of no account.
We are no longer an agrarian society. Survival is not tenuous (in case you hadn’t noticed). We are by any reasonable measure a rich society. The vast majority of families may have working parents, so they have the income to provide the basic necessities. There are many luxuries that today are considered “necessities”, but they could be eliminated, saving the family a significant amount of money. The family would still be able to have the necessary (please note the word) food, clothing and shelter.
Because of our wealth we have the luxury of romantic love that seems to dominate all the kinds of love. In romance movies a young woman will be asked about her fiance. She responds, “Oh, he’s got a great job with opportunity for advancement. He really is good to me. He is good with children (all important qualifications).” The best friend presses, “Good, but do you love him?!” That is the single most important qualification. Forget the fact that he has never had a steady job, lives in a basement room of his parents’ home; mostly plays video games.
While I do no seek to toss away romantic love, I do insist that it is far overrated and needs to become the crust on a meat pie, good to have, tasty, but the important part is the healthy filling.
Love is not “hearts and flowers”. True love is commitment.
The traditional vows are a solid commitment and surrender through thick and thin, war and peace, ups and downs. “I, (Name), take thee, (Name), to be my wedded (husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance: and thereto I (give/plight) my troth.”
Can you see the length, width and depth of the commitment a couple affirms to one another, the community and to Almighty God?
One of the modern bastardizations of these solemn vows is to change “so long as we both shall live” into, “so long as we both shall love”. By that they define it as romantic love that is not permanent, but is emotional and flies away at a whim.
In any human relationship differences crop up; tares are sown among the wheat.
During the dating and engagement, a man and a woman are on their best behavior. They are displaying their attractive qualities. They either hide or explain away any negative characteristics. The attraction to the other puts pressure on one to avoid anything that would make the other think again about continuing in the relationship.
Once married, the security of the commitment allows greater freedom to be “yourself”. Time wears away the effort to project “sweetness and light”. Overlooked differences during courtship become sharp differences, that lead to serious arguments. If the commitment is not strong the marriage can be broken off as soon as the honeymoon period is over.
When the relationship is based on a firm commitment, true love will rise above sharp differences. The first several years are the “shakedown cruise”. Those are the times when the “gloves come off” and the “warts show”. “I am angry with you, now, but I love you and I will not leave you.” A couple in real love enjoy the making up, because of the contrast of the loving sweetness to the separation caused by the broken fellowship.
There is a deep joy in working together, each sharing strengths to accomplish an important goal. The mutual thanks for one another’s contribution invigorate their love and deepens and enhances their intimacy.
Loving intimacy in a secure marriage commitment make procreation a deep and exhilarating joy. The companionship of the birth of a child supercharges the mutual admiration of the one for the other. A man’s wife needs her husband’s strength, love and concern to weather the agony of the birth process. The husband’s deep concern for her struggle breaks forth into amazing gratitude to her, when he holds that baby, she suffered to present to him and to the world. They have been partners in creation and birthing. Their bond of love is not romantic, but transformational.
As the decades pass, children and care for them often interferes with the relationship of the wife and husband. Committed love, seeks ways in the midst of an overfull life to reconnect on a foundational level. Once the children are launched, the couple can recapture the interrupted relationship. They are able in a more mature way to build their intimacy. For many (but I fear too few) they become “Golden Years” of working together, recreating together, laughing together, planning together. Through it all, they have satisfaction in what they have accomplished together. They rejoice together in one another’s awards for the works each has done separately
Toward the end of life, the diminishing ability and the struggles with infirmity and sickness place a heavy burden on each. The extra care one must have for the other in a deeply committed love is not a burden on the soul. It is a joy to care for the treasured one. In ways far beyond words, the gift the needy one gives is to receive the ministrations of the healthier one. Even the knowing that it cannot be repaid in kind, is a gift. This is love that is pure, strong and to be treasured as something far more precious than “houses or lands”.
When I was a teen and contemplating marriage – off somewhere in the dim outer reaches of life, one of the things I was aware of was that a man needed to have a good-paying job to afford a wife. The “two can lie as cheaply as one” was a romantic fallacy. It is the reality of youth that most married couples do not have the income to be comfortable.
When I married Ruth, the ethos was that the man provided for the family. The wife was not expected to work. Thus, the pay of the Man set the standard of life for the beginning family. Newly married young couples generally struggled financially, during the early years, until the man worked his way up to a pay level that makes life more comfortable.
When Ruth and I got married, I was selling real estate. Laura was born shortly before our first anniversary. Susan came two years later. I was struggling financially. I could not make sales often enough. I was able to change jobs to obtain a regular salary that did provide adequately for our family.
Through the years, we have been both rich and poor. We have learned to live as the Apostle Paul,
I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. (Philippians 4:12).
Controversy over finances is one of the sources of acrimony in marriages. The increasing needs of a growing family often outstrips the ability of the parents to provide. The decisions over spending of scarce resources can lead to acrimony; and too often they become continuing tension, separating the couple.
On the other hand, riches can also be a separating influence in the life of the couple. A man in a high-powered job brings home an enormous paycheck and provides a large house with swimming pool and all the extras. But he is never home. The woman becomes engaged in a social circle and in her husband’s absence, looks for companionship elsewhere. Riches do strain the commitment.
We must submit to God’s plan for our lives. We must come back again and again to Paul’s affirmation of contentment, stated above.
Our Sovereign Lord God planned for Marriage to be the foundation of Civilization. He brought Eve to Adam, and they loved and worked together. They had children and they became a family. As family groups increased, that became the genesis of civilization. They built relationships among the various family groups and began the complexity of interrelationships.
This is where God’s laws of love modified frictions between groups. The learning process began in families, starting with the interrelationship between man and woman in marriage.
God purposed that “these two become one flesh”. His desire is that they unite in agreement over life’s direction, shared purposes, combined goals. He has revealed the truth of strength in numbers.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, and hath not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one be warm alone? And if a man prevail against him that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
The Wife and Husband are the basic church.
Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:19-20)
God’s will is for mutual submission, at the same time a wife is to defer to her husband.
… subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ. Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5: 21-24)
This submission of the wife seems to our culture very hard duty. Until we look at God’s directive for husbands,
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it; (Ephesians 5:25).
He is to sacrifice himself for her. He is to nourish and cherish” her. This is a mutual collaboration, a covenant relationship with strong demands laid on both husband and wife by our Righteous God.
It has been said that the woman has been given command to submit to her husband because she, being more spiritually attuned would tend to take over the spiritual leadership. Without the command to submit, forcing the man to be the spiritual leader, many men would and do drop out, spiritually.
On the other hand, husbands have been commanded to love their wives, sacrificially. Men tend to love their work most. Peter gives husbands further instruction,
Ye husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life; to the end that your prayers be not hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)
In this mutual relationship of loving commitment, couples grow into that “one flesh” relationship”– shared hopes, dreams, ideals, purposes. All are indications of the “one flesh” that a married wife and husband share. As they age together, they ripen in their love and understanding of one another. Their psyches are so attuned that they can finish one another’s sentences. They agree on all the major issues in their lives. They are synchronized in their absolute trust in God’s love and provision.
God becomes the glue that holds them together. As they each grow closer to Jesus through the decades of their lives together, they grow closer to one another. Jesus is the one who lives in both and is the buffer that smooths the rough edges of each to make them an increasingly better fit as life together prolongs.
There comes a time that each is aware of the approaching end of life. It is rare that both die at the same time. Therefore, there is a growing concern of one being left alone. The three-fold mutual love is so strong that the thought of separation can be devastating.
However, God steps in and gives the believing couple assurance that the separation will be brief. The rejoining in Paradise will be joyful beyond imagining. Further, the marriage that lasts a lifetime gives each and both a preview of the love that awaits around their loving God’s throne.
God promises the surviving spouse the comfort of the Holy Spirit. God fills the hole left by the departing spouse. He surrounds the grief and mutes the anguish. He gives the one left a new direction that steps off from the foundation laid by the married love. Our Father knows our need and has already put in place what is needed to compensate for the loss of a life-long love.
God gives us the Grace for each day and joy in the remaining life that buoys the spirit. Anticipation grows in the meantime; anticipation of being unshackled by the flesh; anticipation of being reunited not only with the spouse, but also with all the loved ones that have gone on before; and then the anticipation of the glorious, magnificent entry into the Presence of God!
This is a recurring feature. I pose a question in this issue. You have the opportunity to send me answers. I will publish the best ones in the next issue. Please cite Biblical authority, and keep you answer within 250 words.
ANSWER: Because he was afraid. He and Sarah (and household) fled famine in Canaan for the breadbasket of Egypt. Abraham looked at the reality of the situation. His household was powerless against the might of Pharaoh. Sarah was beautiful. Pharaoh was an absolute monarch. The ethos of the broader culture was against stealing a man’s wife, but not against killing him and then taking her. So, to protect himself, he sacrificed Sarah. The lie was a half-truth. He had married his half-sister.
But his action raises several issues. A man ought to protect his wife at the risk of his own. He could have slipped into the large nation of Egypt and remained unnoticed. He should have trusted Go to protect both Sarah and him.
First, we must not expect A.D. 21st Century mores out of 20th Century B.C. people. That culture put a lower value on women, so the sacrifice of one’s wife was the natural thing to do.
Second, Scripture does not say, and I can find nothing that requires, immigrants had to check in with the local constabulary, bringing one to the notice of Pharaoh.
Third, Abraham had experienced יהוה, Jehovah, for only a short time, so he may not have been aware of God’s intimate care of each individual.
Pharaoh did take Sarah into his Harim. God protected Sarah from being molested and he sent a plague on Pharaoh’s household. Some scholars think it was a plague of barrenness in both women and animals. We do not have a time frame, so perhaps the evidence was a rash of stillborn sheep and cattle.
Apparently, God had spoken the truth to Pharaoh, that he had usurped another man’s wife and that was the cause of the plague.
Pharaoh was furious. He had given Abraham sheep, oxen, he asses, menservants, maidservants, she asses and camels in exchange for Sarah. To get rid of Abraham and the plague, Pharaoh sent him away, demanding back none of his gifts to Abraham.
The moral of this story is NOT “Honesty is NOT the best policy.” We learn from Abraham’s mistake that we can trust God in even the most threatening situations. God not only takes care of us but rewards us.
Unhappily, Abraham did not learn to trust God. Ca. 23 years later (Ch. 20), the King of Gerar, Abimelech had eyes for Sarah. Abraham again lied. Again, Sarah was taken into a Harim, again the king was plagued, again, God punished the king and demanded Sarah’s return and insisted that gifts be given to Abraham. Some of us are slow learners.
Join me in bowing before our God in gratitude that we can speak directly and personally to Him. He is our loving Father, so we can embrace Him boldly, but respectfully.
Father, our nation and our world are in a serious state due to the corona virus. Is this Your judgment poured out on us for our rejecting You? You sent plagues as punishment among the Children of Israel. They were seriously afflicted, but You sent release each time. You sent a plague as judgment against Israel because of King David’s sin. Upon His repentance You stayed the plague.
Lord, our Righteous God we have sinned in thought, word and deed. We have sinned against Your divine Majesty. Have mercy upon us for rejecting You and putting our trust in man’s abilities. We have embraced materialism and rejected spirituality. We have legislated against praying to God publicly in government, in schools. Business for fear of law suits has proscribed prayer and even saying Your name, unless it is a swear word. We are stripping our nation of any reference to God. We have made our schools into indoctrination institutions against faith in You. We have presided over the slaughter of innocents, legislating ever broadening the legal aborting. We have legally codified the abomination of homosexuality. We have made divorce, which You hate, easy. We have legalized the “marriage” of homosexuals. We have embraced “recreational sex” and made fornication and adultery common as peanuts.
“There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine indignation; Neither is there any health in my bones because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over my head: As a heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds are loathsome and corrupt, Because of my foolishness.” (Psalms 38:3-5)
We, through our own fault, have wandered away from You, our One and only God. We have become altogether corrupt. We have no ability to make restitution for our flagrant sin.
Have mercy upon us, Almighty God. Have pity on our weaknesses. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot even turn away from sin and turn to embrace You, for our own strength is leached away by our egregious sin,
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, And blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; And take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; And uphold me with a willing spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; And sinners shall be converted unto thee. (Psalms 51:7-12)
Have mercy on us. Deliver us from our unrighteousness. I worship You, o, most holy One. Unworthy as we are, honor us with deliverance, as we continue to praise Your holiness. Hallelujah!! Hallelujah! Amen!
Fill your mind with Scriptures; your mouth with prayers, and your hands with helps for those around you in need. When you do, you crowd out the negative thoughts.
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:1-9)
When I was in seminary, the class that teaches how to preach was called Homiletics. The Professor gave us a Scripture, and we each had to write and deliver a 15-minute sermon. Upon completion the student sat down. The class then critiqued his writing and his delivery. Next the Professor gave his critique. For our first sermon, Dr. Cook gave us Philippians 4:6-7 as the text.
As I opened to Paul’s letter to the Philippians and read the passage, I realized Ruth and I had lived it! Just months before I entered seminary, while our family was on vacation, one evening when Ruth and I were praying, the Holy Spirit told us that we were going to be involved in a ministry together. God gave us no idea what.
The day I went back to work after vacation, the boss called me into his office, “Ted, you are at liberty to seek other employment.” Our company was closing the Seattle office, but no one in the office was to be retained. I loved that job. The rug was pulled out from under me, but much to my surprise, nothing moved.
I went right home to tell Ruth. She was in the kitchen doing the dishes. “What are you doing home?”
I was smiling when I told her I had lost my job, so she didn’t believe me at first. When I convinced her it was true, she dried her hands, we went into the living room, and knelt down to pray. We affirmed our trust in Jesus, and then laid out all our financial needs. Just as verse 6 says,
… but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And He gave us that peace. It was not an attitude that was normal.
First the shock of painful reality. Then the grief at loss. Then the frantic preparation and search for another job. Tense days and worried sleeping (sort of) nights.
No! We knew that Jesus had something for us. We had peace that surpassed human understanding. I didn’t even look for another job. I was offered the same job with another company – same pay, benefits, company car, but I couldn’t take it. I had to call him back and say that I would not take the job, because Jesus had something else for us.
On my last day of work, I went into our denominational office here in Seattle to ask after a job as a camp counselor or old folks home host couple, any kind of lay person job with the church. Our Conference Minister asked me if I would consider the ministry, going to seminary. I told him no, but he pointed out a seminary that had a ministry to men who had been in business and then decided to pursue the ministry. When he said that the average student was 30 years-old and had a wife and two children, it described me to a T. I took the information and sent for their catalog. When the catalog came it was clear that it was a liberal, unbelieving seminary. That was a downer, but God made it clear that was where we were to go!
God put it all together! That was July 31st. We obtained tenants for our home, stored furniture, packed up and left just 5 weeks later. Just after Labor Day, we were on the road east 3,500 miles to Bangor, Maine.
My sermon in that class was a testimony sermon, emphasizing our trust in God and His provision for us. When it came time for the Professor’s critique, he asked, “Mr. Bradshaw, When you finish Seminary, do you think you will still believe as you do now?”
I was a bit nonplussed at the question, but God gave me the answer, “Well Dr., Cook, if I don’t, I will be wrong!”
Essentially, what I am saying to you is that God’s word is true. It is something you can found your life and decisions on. You can trust Jesus to be faithful to His Word.
There is a lot more I could tell you, but now let’s dig into this scripture to see what the Holy Spirit has for us.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
“Always” is an operative word. Paul’s standard is to rejoice in good times and in bad times; in sickness and in health; when rich and when poor. Paul and Silas were in a Philippian jail, their backs bruised, torn and bleeding, feet in stocks. He and Silas had to sit up all night, because the floor was too filthy to lay back on. They spent the night singing and praising God.
Rejoicing is a stance of life. Regardless of what occurs in your life, you can rejoice. Consider this: Jesus went through agony in the preparation for crucifixion, with beating, flogging, humiliation, and then crucifixion is an excruciating way to die. Should believers rejoice in Jesus’ horrific death?
Yes, it is not only appropriate to rejoice, it would be an affront to God if we were to lament.
Paul, who experienced many agonies for Jesus instructed us strongly – he repeated it “Rejoice and again I say “Rejoice!”
What agonies? It was in A.D. 53, Paul and Silas were beaten bloody and thrown into a Philippian prison and spent the night singing praises to Jesus. I suspect many of the Philippian believers, would remember that night, particularly Lydia; and the Jailor, specifically. He and his family accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior that night, because of Paul’s rejoicing in that terrible situation. In A.D. 60, Paul wrote a 2nd letter to the Corinthians citing…
Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as one beside himself) I more; in labors more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
This letter to the Philippians was written when Paul was in a Roman prison awaiting adjudication that would most likely (and did 2 years later) result in execution.
Paul had every reason to live in regret, lament, anxiety. All that was nothing to Him. Instead he wrote and underlined, “Rejoice!”
Life for many of us is uncomfortable, to say the least. And yet, those who are triumphant over the afflictions of this life are able to rejoice in the knowledge that Christ has overcome the world and all its sufferings.
“Do not be anxious about anything” – What! Are you crazy, Paul? Life without anxiety? You’ve got to be kidding, Paul! You must be talking to the dead. They’re the only ones without anxiety. Right?
Wrong! That is absolutely the way for Christian believers to live! Without anxiety! When we live in Christ, we are confident that…
“all things work together for good to those who are called according to His (God’s) purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Anxiety is a sign that a person is not depending upon Jesus. Paul is calling, and I am calling for a radical surrender of your life to Jesus.
Job had that attitude,
“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him:” (Job 13:15)
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Babylon had that attitude,
“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)
Jesus had that attitude,
“He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)
When we realize that we
“… are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
… then there is nothing anyone or anything can do to harm us. We belong to God and nothing can change that! No more anxiety!
“but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” – Our appeal is to God. Everything is in His hands. Actually, that is true whether we recognize it or not. God is Sovereign. He is in control. It is foolish to wrest control from Him. When, however, we surrender to that truth, and live according to His will, we will readily bring everything to Him in prayer. We will appeal to our loving Father for all our needs and let Him sort out our desires.
Then in appropriate politeness we thank him for His provision. Thanking in advance is an act of faith. We are saying to our Father that he is faithful to provide for us and we rely upon Him to do so.
“let your requests be made known to God.” – I liken this to tossing everything up to God and knowing that what is according to His plan for me, He will return. The rest I will right-off as unworthy human desires.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – This is where the anxiety is eliminated. Jesus’ gift of peace is that unworldly peace that when everyone around you has logical reasons to panic, you can be a spreader of peace. Everyone who sees your equanimity, your calm, your composure, your self-control, and your poise, will be drawn into your sphere of influence and experience your God-given peace, too.
Paul adds a final touch to his teaching on rejoicing anxiety-free. He encourages us to transform our thinking from the difficulties, hardships and evils of this life, instead fill our minds with upbuilding thoughts.
Nature abhors a vacuum. So, if your mind is not busy, it will dwell on the lowest common denominator – gossip, criticism, judgmental-ism and the like. Instead contemplate:
Fill your mind with Scriptures; your mouth with prayers, and your hands with helps for those around you in need. When you do, you crowd out the negative thoughts.
“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” – Look to Paul for the example to follow in living for Christ:
“I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” – This is a bold statement.
Paul was confident in Christ. He knew Who Jesus was – Son of God, very God, Himself – Almighty! Paul believed not only in Christ, but he believed Christ! Paul believed there was a transfer of authority to all believers, when Jesus said,
“And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit:” (Matthew 28:18-19)
That giving of authority included Paul, and it included us!
“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” – There are two points to make about this verse.
My brothers and sisters, you–each one of you–are precious in the sight of your Lord Jesus Christ.
You women are Princesses, each one of you, daughters of God Almighty the Creator of the cosmos. Do you believe that Your Father loves you? Therefore, you not only have His protection throughout life, but you have no reason to be anxious about any need in your life. So, rejoice always, and again I say rejoice!
You men are Princes of The King of Kings and the Lord of lords, the Sovereign of the universe. You have no excuse for anxiety about your future. It is secure in Christ. He knows your needs before you do. He has already made provision for you; therefore, rejoice now and for evermore, and again I say rejoice!
Now repeat with me:
I rejoice in You, my Lord Jesus. I rejoice in Your provision for me! Hallelujah!
Thank You, my Father. I rejoice that You have adopted me as Your child.
I love you My God, Holy Spirit. I rejoice that You have taught me about Jesus.
I rejoice in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
We are Yours, our God and King. We have given our lives to You. Now, my Lord reveal to us what peace You have for each one in the congregation. Reveal how You are taking the anxiety out of each one’s heart. Reveal the goodness that You are placing in that empty place, filling our minds with the good, the true, the beautiful, the worthy and with joy. Yes, Father give each one of us joy unspeakable and full of glory! To the honor of our Savior, Jesus. Amen
… grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19)
Joseph was a spiritually attuned man. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was apparently an adulteress. When he thought in his own generosity, instead of accusing her publicly, he chose to put her away quietly. Not muss, no fuss, no publicity. I’m sure her parents (Joachim and Anne, according to tradition) were relieved, since a public denouncement would have meant stoning.
But, when Joseph had a prophetic dream, everything changed for him. He was obedient. He embraced Mary in marriage. He embraced her pregnancy. He embraced the reality that he was to be the earthly father of a child of the Holy Spirit. It is clear that Joseph was a godly man. He was sensitive to God’s leading. He, unwillingly, but submissively took his late-stage pregnant wife on a 70-mile donkey ride to pay the required taxes. The ride precipitated Mary’s labor.
Upon their arrival in Bethlehem, he urgently sought a room where her baby could be born. Urgency forced Joseph to accept an otherwise unacceptable stable for animals. Cleanliness was a problem, but the body heat of the animals brought warmth to an otherwise chill night. Scripture doesn’t give us word of the birth, but I suspect with importance of the child, birth went according to nature and the mother and child did fine.
Mary and baby were somewhat recovered from the process, when Joseph was confronted with shepherds who rattled excitedly about an Angelic announcement about the baby. His first inclination was to drive those trespassers away. But Mary invited them in, so Joseph relented. Their joy was contagious, so by the time they left, the atmosphere in the stable was ebullient.
Mary and the Baby Jesus could not travel the 70 miles back to Nazareth for several weeks, while they grew stronger. They had to have a better place to stay and they had to eat. Joseph began searching for a home and work. Likely his carpentry skills were needed in the town so he was able to obtain work. His skills became known so his part-time soon became full-time. I suspect he was able to rent a small house for the three of them and rig an outdoor “shop”.
It was a year and a half later, while he was planing a door he was making, when he heard, “Carpenter!” Joseph turned to see several richly attired men on camels. A camel driver was speaking to him.
“The star,” he pointed up. Yes, there was that beautiful, magnificent star overhead. It had been there night and day for all these months. People had gotten used to it and stopped remarking about it.
“May I assist, you?” Joseph responded.
He began in a strange language, but switched to Greek which was the trade language. His accent and Joseph’s rudimentary knowledge of Greek were making communication difficult, but not impossible.
“Yes, we have a baby boy,… You want to see him?” People had long since stopped asking about the Baby, since he was just like all babies, except precocious and quite perceptive to human feelings.
“Please wait, while I speak with my wife.” Joseph placed the plane on the work bench, wiped his hands on a clean rag, brushed sawdust and chips off, before going into the house. “Mary, there are several rich strangers who want to see Jesus.”
The Baby began to dance around and chanted “Let me see!” Let me see!”
“Joseph, my beloved, it appears that we must bring them in,” Mary smiled in answer.
The personages crowded into the small room, and while they nodded and greeted Mary respectfully with long flowery (and somewhat indecipherable) phrases, their eyes kept darting to the Child that was their main interest. With a wave of her hand toward little Jesus, she gave permission for them to concentrate on the Child. They clustered around and volubly, but unintelligibly to Mary and Joseph, conversed. They nodded and fell to their knees and obvious prayer. Joseph couldn’t tell whether they were praying to Jesus or about Him to God.
Jesus stood calmly, excepting their adulation, smiling. As they quieted down, He reached out His tiny hand and touched each one on the cheek. Joseph could tell that each one felt resoundingly blessed. There were a few moments of silence then the Christ Child said laughingly, “Go home.”
It was as if they had awakened from a beatific dream. They reluctantly rose. One went to the door and called to the camel driver. In a few moments he came in with three containers. One of the personages took from the camel driver a cruse that appeared to contain about a log (ca. one pint) of oil. Another man took a pot (ca. 1 pint) of ointment. A third took a coin cask. They turned to Joseph, handing each gift in turn. They saluted Joseph and Mary, and did obeisance to the Christ Child, and then left.
After thanking the men Joseph had set the gifts aside and formally bowed in thanksgiving. With them gone it was time to examine the gifts they had left. He opened the log. “Mary this is frankincense! This much is worthy about 30 years labor!” Next, he reached for the pot. This one has myrrh!” This, too is a fortune!” Setting the pot down he picked up the cask, “This one is heavy.” As he tipped back the lid, his eyes got big. “There must be one hundred shekels of gold here!” He sat down on the floor, in a daze.
“What does it mean, Joseph?” Mary asked.
“It means I’ll never have to work again,” but he thought a minute. “I like working, making things with my hands.” He looked at his wife, “My dearest, I’ll never stop working. But one thing sure. We’ll never go hungry!”
It was several nights later that his peace was disturbed. Unaccountably even with his new-found riches, Joseph felt apprehension. He expected to feel satisfied, even complaisant, but instead it felt like a warning. He did not speak of his confusion to Mary. He fell into a deep sleep. He dreamed that the same angel that had assured Joseph to take Mary for his wife, came again. But this time with a warning. The angel warned that Herod was a severe threat to the Christ Child. Joseph must pack and immediately take his family to safety in Egypt.
When he awoke, shortly before dawn, Joseph began planning. It was 35 miles to the sea coast and to connect with the “Way of the Sea”, the shortest way to Egypt. Then it was nearly 200 miles to the in the Nile delta. By easy stages it would be nearly a month journey, traveling every day but the Sabbath. He had enough money to get to the coast and the city of Ashdod, where he could exchange one of the gold shekels for 15 silver shekels, much easier to use to pay and would raise fewer questions, thus drawing no attention. That would be enough ready money to get them to a home in Egypt. Thus, Joseph again listened to God and saved his family and the Messiah.
At the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew we have repetitions of the lesson to listen to and obey God. But first we must turn to Luke. There Zechariah, an old priest had a visit from the Archangel, Gabriel. Zechariah was not open to hear of a miraculous birth to his wife, without a sign. He had been a priest for many decades, so the vision of an angel should have opened his heart to listen, believe and obey. Instead, he questioned and asked for a sign. Much to his embarrassment, the sign he was given was to be mute for nine months, (Luke 1)
In contrast, Mary a teen-age virgin, in simple faith said to Gabriel, “I am God’s serving girl. He may do with me what He desires.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it happen to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:38)
Simple surrender to God’s will. Her heart belonged to God, so she was submissive and obedient.
“and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
The young have far fewer learned preconditions to faith.
Whereas, older more educated and experienced in the world have more baggage to overcome in seeking to be in relationship with Christ. They have learned to test everything to see if it is true. Too many bad experiences taint the simple faith of youth.
Joseph was a mature man, perhaps middle age (which in those years meant over 30). Nevertheless, his openness to listen to the angel made him obedient to strange, inconvenient, and uncomfortable commands of God. Joseph did not dither. He did not test the waters or tempt God, asking for “fleeces”. His simple faith led him to obey. As a result, he first saved Mary, and then he saved the Messiah.
“For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house will perish: and who knoweth whether thou art not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
God’s will be done! If His will is done by you in obedience, you will be blessed, as was Esther and Joseph. But if not by you, and God has to pass on to someone else, then, at least you will lose your blessing and, at worst, you will suffer for your disobedience.
Too many believers today are more afraid of what “people will think” than what God thinks. They are concerned that they may be taken as a fool, so they do not act on God’s promptings. When we turn a deaf ear, we train ourselves not to listen to The Holy Spirit’s promptings.
One of the understandings of habits is that reinforcement increases learning. If we say, “Yes,” to anything, it is easier to say, “Yes,” the next time and harder to say, “No”. If, after a string of yeses, a “No” breaks the string, it weakens the impetus to say, “Yes”, the next time. The reverse is also true. A string of not listening to the Lord, makes it harder to hear Him next time.
Remember, God is Omnipresent. He is here all the time! The Holy Spirit dwells in the spirits of believers. He is speaking to guide us all the time. Listen to His direction and follow it.
Sure, you will make some (many!) mistakes and feel a fool. But pour the salve of Christ’s forgiveness on your wounded ego and smile broadly and declare that you are a fool for Christ.
Keep trying to live under the immediate directions of your Master. In so doing you will soon learn to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd,
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
The Believer who hears, but does not obey, has not really heard God’s voice. God does not speak in, “If you, please?” or “When you have a mind to.” His word is LAW!
I once heard a missionary say, when he was a teen he was at a meeting when a visiting missionary gave an altar call, “If the Lord is calling you to the mission field, step down front. I want to pray for you.” The missionary I was listening to said, “I hid under the piano, hoping the Lord would not see me.” Obviously, since he was a missionary, the piano was an ineffective hiding place from God’s missionary call.
“Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, And thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall overwhelm me, And the light about me shall be night; Even the darkness hideth not from thee, But the night shineth as the day:” (Psalms 139:7-12)
God calls each believer to life-long holy work. God’s retirement is “outta sight!” “it’s Heavenly!”, but not in this world. He is a severe taskmaster,
“But who is there of you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from the field, Come straightway and sit down to meat; and will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded? Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:7-10)
We have been saved because God loves us. He has given us release from the burden of sin, robed us in Christ’s righteousness. Our war with God is at an end and we have peace with God. Nevertheless, while we are in this world, God has work for us to do. Jesus said
“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. It is as when a man, sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch. Watch therefore: for ye know not when the lord of the house cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” (Mark 13:33-37)
When we apply this Parable to all of us, we must generalize the application. Jesus used the porter as the example. He was to keep watch diligently, since the master likely would return unexpectedly and catch the porter slacking off. The application is that God has assigned us believers (each and every one) work to do, according to each one’s ability. Our job differs from one another, but we are our brother’s keepers.
As long as we have breath, we are to be attentive listeners to God’s directions and to do as God calls us. Our Lord knows our strengths and weaknesses. In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus stated the Master gave out Talents “according to his several ability”.
“And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to each according to his several ability; and he went on his journey.” (Matthew 25:15, cf.14-30)
Jesus knows what you are capable of doing. He will give you responsibilities to carry out that will stretch you, test you and give you great satisfaction in their accomplishments.
In fact, we are less confident of our capabilities than Jesus is. We are more apt to give in too quickly.
Life is hard. We live in a fallen world. We are strangers in a strange land. After being born again, we are remade for God’s Kingdom of love, kindness, mercy, generosity; whereas, we live in a material world that is broken and we live in a culture of, “Me first, and the devil take the hindmost!”
Thus, to walk with Jesus takes concentration and effort, because we are fighting upstream against the current of the world, the flesh and the devil. Everything around us tells us we are going the wrong way. It is hard to persevere, impossible on our own. Holding tight to Jesus’ hand we can carry on, if we keep holding on.
So, settle it in your heart and engage your will to listen carefully to Jesus. Learn to filter out all the static of the material and the negative spiritual world. Remember, “My sheep know My voice.” Focus on what your spirit knows. Then do it.
Basic ground rules are Love God & Love others!” Jesus wants you to acknowledge Him in all you do. Then He wants you to care for the needy, minister to the sick, and to proclaim the Good News that Jesus still saves, so all may come to Christ.
As you kneel to pray, give your heart wholly over to Jesus. Set aside all your activities and cares, while you humble yourself before Almighty God to worship our Great God and praise Him without reservation. Then arise from your knees equipped to minister in His name. Build up other believers by always praying for them and giving them what God requires of you. Always leave them with a blessing.
Look for opportunities to lend a helping hand, particularly with the aged and invalid. There are more opportunities around you than you will see in just living your life. In Christ “Lift up your eyes, for the fields are ripe unto harvest,” and you are the laborer the Master has sent into the fields to reap what He has sown. Hear and obey.
This is a recurring feature. I pose a question in this issue. You have the opportunity to send me answers. I will publish the best ones in the next issue. Please cite Biblical authority, and keep you answer within 250 words.
ANSWER: We have a confusion of terms because in the 10th Century, Ulrich, bishop of Augsburg was a great man of God. When he died in A.D. 973, John XV, Pope of the Catholic Church canonized him as an especially godly man.
That began the Roman Catholic Church policy of recognizing significantly holy men and women, declaring that they were credited with more merit than they needed to achieve heaven, thus, there was a bank of “Merit” that accumulated and that Roman Catholics could tap into it to seek for answers to prayer. Thus, began the practice of appealing to the “saints” for help in life.
In the Bible the term “saint” occurs often, 20 times in Psalms and 8 times elsewhere in the O.T.
In Romans 8 times, Ephesians 9 times and The Revelation 14 times, plus 29 times more in the N.T.
Hebrew language has two primary words for “saint” – 1st, “khaw-seed” = “kind, i.e. religiously, pious (a saint) a godly (man, good, holy (one), merciful, saint. 2nd, “kaw-doshe” = “sacred” (ceremonially or morally), “God” (by eminence), an “angel”, a “saint”, a “sanctuary”, “a holy” (one).
The Greek has only one word – “hagios” = “an awful thing”, sacred (physically) “pure’, blameless” or “religious”, “consecrated”, (most) “holy” (one, thing), “saint”.
Both languages treat the word “saint” as a general term, i.e. anyone can be a saint, whose life comports to godliness.
In the New Testament, the term pertains to all believers. Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice for all the sins for all of mankind. Everyone, regardless of race, sex national origin, or position in society, can come and surrender to Jesus as Lord. He washes their sins away in His blood. Further He justifies them and covers each one with His robe of Righteousness! Their surrender and His action transform each one into a saint., a sanctified one.
No special merit; the most heinous criminal in all the world, if at the moment of death repents and asks Jesus to save him, in the next moment is a saint.
Now, in human terms, that does not seem fair. “How come he or she gets rewarded after living a life of crime?”
God is not interested in what we have done, but where our hearts are. When our hearts turn to embrace Jesus, that is all God requires.
In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus told of a Master who paid workers the same amount, regardless of how long they labored. This was a picture of life. Everyone who comes to “work” with Jesus is rewarded by becoming a saint.
Join me in bowing before our God in gratitude that we can speak directly and personally to Him. He is our loving Father, so we can embrace Him boldly, but respectfully.
Lord Jesus, You are gracious beyond what I can understand. You, Who are the Son of God, You Who were instrumental in Creation, You Who will be the Judge of all men at the Last Day, have offered salvation to mankind. Fickle, ungrateful, rebellious, people disdain Your offer. Despite the affront, You continue to offer it.
As Sovereign Lord God You could force us to take Your offer of salvation. You could cut off everyone who refuses Your first offer. Either response for the rebuff, would be understandable and is Your prerogative. But Your love is not peevish. It is not vengeful. Your Love is unconditional, in that You continue to offer forgiveness and salvation as long as a person lives.
America is 243 year-old. In our advanced years we have to a large extent decided we do not need You any more. We have declared You, Lord Jesus as a persona non grata. We have made You the untouchable of our society
Your name cannot be mentioned in government, schools or in entertainment (unless it is used in blasphemy).
Despite our blindness, we desperately need You to govern us. We have made an effort to govern our nation without You for the last half century, or so. We have made a perfect mess of this nation. Our peoples that were a melting pot of cohesive nationalities and cultures have fragmented into national, racial, political cliques, vying for supremacy. We have thrown away Your morality of loving all people, preserving life, respecting others and others property. We have traded godly love for fleshly lust. We have rebranded what is true, and real and natural and made our own definitions, arrogantly declaring we are what we are not.
Have mercy on our stupidity. Have mercy on our delusions of grandeur. Forgive our usurpation of Your prerogatives. Forgive our displacing You in the temple of our lives with statues of ourselves. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts with the blood of Christ, strip us of our sin-filthed rags and reclothe us in Your righteousness.
Renew a right spirit, a godly attitude of seeking after You, “as the hart thirsteth after the water brooks”. Give us a spirit to acknowledge You, a heart to praise You and a will to glorify You in all we think, say and do. Help us our God! Help us God Almighty!
Hallelujah! You are worthy of all honor glory and praise!
Admiring the Christmas trees displayed in his neighbor’s windows, five year-old Nathan asked his father, “Daddy, can we have a Hanukkah Tree?”
His father replied “No, of course not.”
“Why not?” ask Nathan.
“Because, Nathan,” his father replied, “the last time we had dealings with a lighted bush we spent 40 years in the wilderness.”
Hanukkah began in another wilderness experience. The Maccabees were dodging Seleucid troops, like David when he sought to avoid king Saul. Except those Maccabean guerrillas, living in the wilderness, were keeping out of the clutches of the Seleucids.
Alexander the Great conquered the world from Greece to India and from Egypt to Armenia. He conquered that vast region in just 13 years. As he began consolidating His empire, unexpectedly, he died leaving no heir. The resulting confusion was eventually resolved as his four generals divided the empire into four kingdoms:
Initially the Holy Land fell under the control of the Ptolemies, who treated the Jews well. Alexandria in Egypt became a center of Jewish scholarship. The Jews there translated the Torah, Prophets and the Writings onto Greek. Their work is called the Septuagint. The Jews paid tribute to the Ptolemaic government, but were governed locally under the High Priest.
Antiochus III was a Hellenistic king of the Seleucid Empire. He defeated Egypt and seized the Holy Land. His son and successor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (meaning “God Manifest”) was king from 175 BC until his death in 164 BC. He was the eighth in succession to rule over the Seleucid Empire. Many if not most scholars identify him as the “Little Horn of Daniel”.
“And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with anger against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns; and there was no power in the ram to stand before him; but he cast him down to the ground, and trampled upon him; and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand. And the he-goat magnified himself exceedingly: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and instead of it there came up four notable horns toward the four winds of heaven.
“And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the glorious land. And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and some of the host and of the stars it cast down to the ground, and trampled upon them. Yea, it magnified itself, even to the prince of the host; and it took away from him the continual burnt-offering, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down. And the host was given over to it together with the continual burnt-offering through transgression; and it cast down truth to the ground, and it did its pleasure and prospered. Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said unto that certain one who spake, How long shall be the vision concerning the continual burnt-offering, and the transgression that maketh desolate, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot? And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” (Daniel 8:7-14)
Antiochus IV Epiphanes’ kingdom included the Holy Land. He sought to consolidate the kingdom by insisting on the Hellenization of the whole region under his control. That meant a common language, coinage and culture, including religion. All the various local religions were to be suppressed and the Greek gods, including Antiochus IV were to be worshiped. Most people groups were amenable. It was no stretch for idolaters to add one or more idols to their pantheon. Antiochus was willing to accommodate the peoples that wanted to keep their local deities, so long as they worshiped the Greek idols and him first and foremost.
Most people, except the stiff-necked Jews. They insisted that Adonai Elohim was the One true God. They would not compromise!
Antiochus IV Epiphanes, would tolerate no resistance to his edict; therefore, he came down on the Jews with a hobnail boot. The King had allies in Judea among the Hellenized Jews. However, the High Priest was Onias III, a strictly orthodox Jew. He was replaced by Jason, who promised a larger tribute to Antiochus. Under Jason, Greek culture was encouraged. Hebrew orthodoxy was considered passé.
Menelaus, offered a larger bribe to the Seleucids, and bought the High Priest position. He was a Benjaminite with no claim to the Priesthood, let alone the High Priesthood. For orthodox Jews that was too much; they rebelled. Antiochus responded by a Sabbath attack, when the orthodox Jews would not fight. He seized the Temple, slaughtering a great many orthodox Jews.
To wipe out Judaism, Antiochus identified Adonai Elohim with Jupiter and the latter’s statue was placed in the temple and pigs were slaughtered on the altar. Under threat of capital punishment, Jews were forbidden to circumcise their boys, worship on the Sabbath and could not celebrate the Jewish feasts. Scriptures were ordered destroyed. Priests who refused to eat swine flesh were flogged to death. These outrages inspired zeal for the faith.
In a village ca. 15 miles west of Jerusalem Mattathias [muh-tath-I-as] was the priest. Antiochus’ troops entered the village and insisted that Mattathias offer a pagan sacrifice. When he refused, a more compliant priest started to offer the sacrifice. The aged Mattathias slew both the Jewish priest and the leader of the Seleucid contingent. Then, with his five sons, he destroyed the pagan altar. Knowing their fate, they fled to the hills. Living in primitive conditions and constantly changing locations, just as David did, they mostly evaded the Seleucids.
The Seleucids surrounded a rebel band on the Sabbath. The Jews refused to fight and were slaughtered. Mattathias, in response, ruled that fighting in self-defense was permissible on the Sabbath.
Mattathias was old and soon died. His Son Judas, the Maccabee (meaning “The Hammer”) became the heroic leader. His exploits drew an increasing army to his banner. Their guerrilla tactics were able to keep the also increasing Seleucid army at bay.
In a strategic move Judas’ army defeated a combined force of Seleucid troops and Hellenized Jews. Fresh from that victory, they marched on Jerusalem. The Maccabees beat the Seleucids back into their fortress, the Akra. Pinning them there, the Jews began cleansing the Temple. They cast out the statue of Jupiter, ground it to dust, eradicated all the signs of pagan worship, the altar dedicated to Jupiter was destroyed and they erected a new altar.
The Traditional story suggests that because the Temple had been corrupted all the supplies for a pure sacrifice were difficult to obtain. The Menorah needed sacred oil, but there was none available for the seven lamps. It would take days to assemble the ingredients and the blend them into the proper oil to be consecrated. But it was the 25th of Kislev (our December), the anniversary of the defiling of the Temple. It was appropriate to have a rededication that day.
Someone found a small cruse of consecrated oil, not even enough fill all seven lamps. They began filling the pottery lamps. They soon realized that the oil in the cruse was not being diminished as they filled each lamp. When the final lamp was filled, the small cruse was still full. That miracle continued for eight days, until a store of consecrated oil became available.
Celebrating the victory Adonai gave the Maccabees and the Jews, has become a tradition of joy for Jews and others whose choose to recognize our Lord’s faithful intervention to save God’s Chosen People.
We must be aware that this is not from Scripture. The Books of Maccabees are history, but not inspired. Nevertheless, they show that Adonai’s truths that are revealed in Scripture are not only valid for our lives, but they are active in the world if we but have the eyes to see.
While we have come to focus on the miracle of oil, that is a footnote to the real miracle: The continuous pouring of oil is Adonai’s blessing on His people and their zeal to worship Him.
But had the Almighty not given His people a far greater miracle, there would have been no one to restore the true worship of Adonai.
Let’s look in the pages of Scripture – in the Writings and the Prophets.
The Children of Israel sinned against Adonai, so he took his hand of protection from them. The Midianites persecuted the Children of Israel. Boldly stealing their crops and their cattle. Adonai’s people repented enough to gain Adonai’s attention. He called Gideon,
“And the angel of Jehovah appeared unto him, and said unto him, Jehovah is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.” (Judges 6:12)
Let’s see what kind of valor Gideon had.
The Combined army of the Midianites, Amalekites and other city states rose up and gathered to destroy the Children of Israel. The Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon and he sent word and called up an army of Israeli’s to oppose the enemy army. Did Gideon attack?
After Gideon sent word and mustered his army, Adonai said, “Gideon, you have too many men. Israel will say, ‘We won the battle!’” So, Adonai’s winnowing began. First, He dispensed with all who were fearful. Then He dismissed all but 300!
So, the 300 men, each armed with a pitcher, a torch, and a horn, moved out at night. In a co-ordinated attack, they broke the pitchers to reveal the torches, sounded their horns and cried, “The sword of the Lord and Gideon!” Awakened out of sleep, the Midianite soldiers were confused; it seemed Gideon’s soldiers were everywhere. The Midianites panicked. They thought the Israeli army was in their midst. They began killing every one that moved around them.
Miraculously, Adonai gave Israel the victory of 300 men over an overwhelming army of two nations and others!
Due to that great victory, Adonai gave Israel peace as long as Gideon lived.
Ammon, Moab and Edom combined forces to gather a huge army to attack and defeat Israel. King Jehoshaphat heard of the threat. He called the people together at the Temple. There the king prayed publicly and appealed to Adonai to save them. Adonai through the prophet Jahaziel, told Jehoshaphat that Israel did not have to fight the battle. They had to march out and see Adonai’s effect upon their enemies.
The next morning early, the king mustered the people. He set up the order of march for them to approach the enemy. In the vanguard, he placed the Levitical musicians, to sing loud praise to Adonai as they marched. Next came the Israeli army, followed by the people.
Jehoshaphat encouraged them all,
Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem: believe in Jehovah your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper. (2 Chronicles 20:20)
They approached the encampment to discover that the three armies had attacked one another and all had been slain. It took the people of God three days to transport all the spoil from the slain soldiers into Jerusalem.
Sennacharib, king of Assyria was battling Egypt. He did not want an ally of Egypt attacking his back. So he sent Rabshakeh, one of his ministers, to talk Jerusalem into surrendering to Assyria. He had an army of 185,000 at his beck and call. One of his arguments encouraging Israel to surrender was to point out that Assyria had destroyed numerous nations, whose gods were unable to protect them; therefore, the Israeli’s could not depend upon Adonai to protect them from Assyria’s irresistible force.
At this threat King Hezekiah fled to the Temple to pray. He sent messengers to the Prophet Isaiah to pray as well. Adonai spoke to His Prophet and Isaiah related to the king that he need not fear. The Lord would “send a blast” and Sennacharib would return to Nineveh and be murdered. Adonai sent a destroying angel into the Assyrian army camp and slew all of the 185,000 troops. Sennacherib did return home, and there, as he was praying to his nothingness, two of his own sons murdered their father.
Thus, the Maccabees were operating in the godly tradition of a small force under Adonai defeating the much larger anti-God force. What is the phrase that epitomizes this truth in our day? “One with God is a majority”.
Unhappily, the Maccabees did not hold Jerusalem long. The Seleucid army drove them out and recaptured Jerusalem. But because of trouble at home, the Seleucid General Lysias, negotiated a peace, which guaranteed the Jews the right to worship according to the Torah.
Lessons we can learn:
Our responsibility is to
We must first discover Adonai’s will and seize tightly to it. We must be flexible to change directions as our Lord commands
What that means for us is that Adonai’s will must be our will. We must diligently pray to discover His will. That means we must set aside our preconceptions – even our traditions – to be open to what Adonai is teaching us and calling us to do today. Jehoshaphat could have used Gideon’s technic of winnowing the Israeli forces. He probably would have been utterly defeated, because it was not God’s plan.
Hezekiah could have used Jehoshaphat’s plan of musicians leading troops into Battle. But most likely the musicians would have been massacred and the Israeli army defeated. Stay close to Jeshua. Listen for the Good Shepherd’s voice. And be obedient, while remaining open to God’s redirection.
Our blessed Lord, we praise You for Your might acts in the past. We magnify Your Name for Your mighty victory over the world, our flesh and the devil. We are deeply grateful that You have chosen us to be children of God, adopted into His glorious family.
Give us the will and the courage to share our knowledge of Jeshua with others in our circle of contacts. Give us Heavenly appointments where we can share with those whose hearts are open and interested to hear about our magnificent Lord and Savior. Send us into the world equipped be the Holy Spirit.
We live in the midst of complexities not only all around us, but also within us. Some of you have a scientific bent. You have an awareness of the complexities of our world. Those with a medical background are aware of the complexities of our bodies. Some who have struggled with health or finances or family or jobs have an understanding of the complexity of life.
There is a concept of “irreducible complexity”. That is, something that is complex has to have all the separate, individual parts working together or it doesn’t work.
Our eyes are a good example of irreducible complexity: the clear lens moves to focus on an object. Light passes through the lens and through the clear vitreous humor in the eye to play on the rods and cones of the cornea. The cornea transfers the light rays into electrical impulses that are sent along the optic nerve. The optic nerve delivers the electric impulses to the visual cortex of the occipital lobe. The visual cortex recognizes the image as your child, which makes you happy. All the parts are absolutely necessary. Any one missing and you cannot see.
Evolutionary scientists tell us that we were created by mutations that enhanced our survivability, thus they were, over time, embedded in our genes. All mutations that did not enhance survivability were sloughed off.
Now let’s examine this: Why would an optic nerve be embedded in our genes if it had no eye to receive light? What would cause the lens to be embedded in our genes if there were no cornea to receive the light rays? If there were no rods and cones to transform light into electrical impulses why would the visual cortex become embedded in our genes? In order for the eye to work, that is to add to our survivability, all the many individual parts had to be all together all at once. The chance of all those intricate and complex parts (and many I did not mention) to be a random mutation in place together at the same time in an individual, even in rudimentary form, is infinitesimally small even disappearing into impossibility. Further, should that impossible mutation occur, as soon as mating takes place the mutated characteristic would be corrupted by the dilution of the mate that did not have that characteristic.
The alternative is that our eyes and we ourselves were Created by an Omniscient and Omnipotent Being who engineered the eye and all of the body to bring us into being altogether, all at once. That Being is God. He designed us and He created us as intricate irreducible complexities.
So as we approach Thanksgiving, let us cast our eyes (Thank You Lord!) on the wonderful food (Thank You Lord!) and the family and friends (Thank You Lord!) in our lives, recognizing that we and everything around us has been fearfully and wonderfully made by the Lord God omnipotent! Let that recognition bring us to our knees in deep, heartfelt gratitude to Him.
As we pray this morning we’ll first pray for our concerns, each one praying loudly and clearly, and thank God for the answer as you conclude each prayer.
First, we will pray for our concerns and share our thanksgivings. Open your hearts to the Holy Spirit and allow him to lead you verbally or internally. Pray in your own words until your heart is lightened.
Next, let us pray together, lifting our hearts as one.
Jesus, You have given us so very much to be thankful for. Hear the depths of our hearts. Prompt us to be praying and living in praise of Your glory.
Therefore, we now join in praying as You taught us: Saying together…
Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.
A two year-old child begins to differentiate himself or herself as an independent being. She learns the power of “No!” He begins to exercise his and her will (or won’t) power. Father says, “How would you like to go to the store with me?” That is what his daughter loves to do, because Daddy always buys her something. Still, she must be independent, so she says, “No!” Mother says they are going to get an ice cream cone. Despite the fact it is exactly what he wants, he feels compelled to say, “No!” Two year-olds find that they are individuals and grow out of that phase.
Four year-olds have a different phase. They are discovering the world filled with things they do not know. They learn that they can acquire information by asking questions. The simple one word question, “Why?” is a powerful elicitor of information. Realizing that the world is complex the four year-old strings together “whys” to expand his or her knowledge.
Driving by a country field a four-year old asks, “Why are the cows in that field?”
“Because the farmer lets them eat grass there.”
Because when they eat grass they produce milk.”
Realizing that an endless stream of “whys” is coming, Daddy tries to cut them off with the ultimate answer, “Because God made them that way.”