Tuesday, March 4, 2014

2014 Spring Study

Hello Everyone!

It has been ages since I have written on this blog but something is afoot that I felt the need to jump on and let you know about personally. 

There is an excitement that builds within me every time I start something new.   My heart sets to stirring, my spiritual appetite swells and my anticipation has no bounds.  I feel as if I am going to spiritually burst.  I just love the concept of new starts and if scripture is our authority, so does God.

See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”  Isaiah 42:9

New things bring new wonders, new perspectives, new growth and new hope especially when they are connected to God and His Word.  Every time I step out into the deep to delve into God’s Word in a new and fresh way, I am never disappointed and I mean never.  As I look back over the years, whenever I have leapt into the something new, and away from the mundane, God has met with me in beautiful and memorable ways.  That is why I love something new.  They mark me and spoil me from the ordinary. 

So what is our something new?  Starting April 1st we will begin a new DVD Bible Study by Priscilla Shirer on the life of Gideon.  You can watch the trailer here

There are three ways that you can participate:
1)    You can come out and view just the DVD’s each week or
2)    You can view the DVD’s each week and purchase and complete the companion workbook or
3)    You can view the DVD’s, purchase and complete the workbook and participate in a group discussion. 

It is your choice.  Whatever level you feel you would like to participate in is up to you.  I know that God will meet you wherever that level of participation happens to bring you.  If you wish to order the book, that needs to be purchased by March 18th.  You can contact us through our email at teamblog@gmail.com.

I hope that you are ready for something new.  I know I am.

Can’t wait to get started.  See you April 1st!

In His Grace

Friday, February 28, 2014

Messianic Musings ~ The Missing Matzah

In our study this week Jesus was celebrating Passover with those closest to Him, the 12 Apostles.  You might not know the very first Passover was celebrated on the eve of the Exodus and still continues today as commanded in scripture.  God tells His people in Exodus 12:14 "This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord - a lasting ordinance". 

I have had the blessing and privilege of attending a Passover Seder on several occasions.  Actually, 'attending' isn't really the correct word - 'participating' would be much more accurate.  The guests are not just observers but are heavily engaged as they take part in the beauty of the tradition.  I have heard my friend, who hosts this celebration, say many times why she loves this day.  So many of the holidays we celebrate, even 'Christian' holidays, can take on a secular twist.  Passover is about the Lord, plain and simple.

The celebration of Passover centers on the reading of the haggadah.  This means 'the telling' and is the fulfillment of the commandment found in Exodus 13:8 "You shall tell your son on that day, 'It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt'."  There is no way I could do justice to the richness of the Jewish traditions that surround the reading of the haggadah  in a short blog post so I am going to focus on just one aspect of the meal.

It says in Matthew 26:26 "Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it, broke it and gave it to His disciples".  According to the commentary I have been reading, the piece of bread Jesus took was a very specific piece of matzah.  (Matzah is the unleavened bread commanded by God to be used during Passover.)  The matzah would have been taken from a ceremonial container called the matzah tash.  What is special about the container is that it has three distinct compartments.  At the beginning of the Seder the matzah from the middle container is broken in half.  One half is put back in the matzah tosh and the other half is given a specific name, the afikoman.  The afikoman is wrapped in a napkin and hidden away for later in the meal.  At a specific point in the reading of the haggadah the children who are present are given the task of searching for the hidden afikoman.  The lucky finder is rewarded.  This piece of matzah  was the bread Jesus would have blessed and broken and distributed to the disciples.

Without doubt, the ceremony of the afikoman is ripe with symbolism, not just to the Jewish people who have celebrated the Passover for centuries, but to us as well.  Jewish scholars are not sure when this part of the ceremony was incorporated into the haggadah but the commentary I am using believes that the ceremony of the afikoman illustrates the full ministry of Jesus, the Messiah.  Jesus' appearance - when the matzah first appears in the meal.  Jesus' death - when the matzah is broken in half.  Jesus' resurrection - when the hidden matzah is found and revealed.

As we have seen before, God is very deliberate.  There are many things that He has ordained in the past that the meaning was not fully revealed until a later time.  Some of what God had ordained in the Old Testament has been revealed to us in New Testament times.  Some will not be revealed until the age to come!

"Praised are You, O LORD our God, King of the Universe, who sustains the world with goodness, with grace, and with infinite mercy.  You give food to every creature for your mercy endures forever."  (The Haggadah)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Messianic Musings ~ It's Not All About Me

As a child I was enthralled with optical illusions.  I would intently study theses pictures.  Initially I would see a certain image and then all of a sudden my perspective would change and an entirely different image would appear before my eyes.  It wasn't a magical transformation.  The image had been there all along - I just didn't see it.  This same thing has happened to me as I have been writing this series of posts on "Messianic Musings in Matthew".  God has been altering my biblical perspective.  I am a Gentile believer and I saw Scripture through those eyes.  Basically, it was all about me.

I have mentioned that I have been using Rabbi Barney Kazan's Messianic commentary called Matthew Presents Yeshiva, King Messiah.  I have been so blessed by what I have been studying. God has opened my eyes in a new way to the beauty of His love for His Chosen People, the Jews.  This has been especially evident as I have studied Matthew 24 and 25.

In these chapters, Jesus is on the Mount of Olives teaching His disciples about the End Times, also known as the Time of Jacob's Trouble or the Great Tribulation.  The commentary I have been reading, in addition to our Wiersbe study, both stress the Jewish context of these passages.  A few of the specific reasons why they believe this is the reference to the Sabbath (only a concern for the Jews) as well as the parable of the fig tree (a fig tree has always been a symbol of Israel).
This brings me to Matthew 25:31-45, the parable of the sheep and the goats. Much has been taught about this passage and respected biblical scholars hold different interpretations of its meaning.  The view presented by Rabbi Kasdan was different than I had ever heard taught. I ask you to think about it through fresh eyes - to consider, as I did, that it is not all about us.

Jesus was comparing the sheep to the goats as two different groups of people.  He said of the sheep, that they had met His needs by giving food, clothing, and helping in times of trouble.  On the other hand the goats did not do any of these things.  The sheep asked when did we do these things for You?  Jesus replied "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me" (Matt. 25:40).

It was my understanding that in this passage Jesus was reiterating the principle found throughout the Bible that we should help those in need - all those in need. While true, this is not what Rabbi Kasdan believes Jesus is saying here.  Jesus calls those in need "My brothers".  Kasdan goes on to say that this passage is not about Gentile believers helping other Gentiles but Gentile believers helping Jesus' brothers - the Jewish people. He goes on to say that this passage is about the important relationship between true Gentile believers and God's Chosen People. Putting this into the context of Jesus' teaching on the End Times, Rabbi Kasdan believes this is a strong warning to those who actually go through the Great Tribulation. The Bible prophesies that this will be a time of great suffering, especially for the nation of Israel. The Jewish people will be in great need. How Gentile believers act will be an accurate reflection of their authentic relationship with Jesus.

I leave you with a quote from Rabbi Kasdan: "The parable emphasizes that one of the best fruits for non-Jews will actually be their treatment of the Jewish people in their daily lives. Since the days of Abraham, God has given both a promise and a warning regarding how the nations treat Israel. Clearly, the fruit of one's salvation may be evident in many ways, but it is reasonable that the proper treatment of God's own people will be a direct manifestation of that fruit.  With respect to the parable of nations, are you a sheep or a goat?"  (Pp 325, 327).

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Messianic Musings ~ What is Jesus Really Saying?

Has anyone ever said to you, "I want you to hear what I am NOT saying."?  Sometimes we may have a preconceived idea of what someone is going to say to us. When this happens we can hear what we think they are going to say rather what they are really saying. This can happen when we read Scripture as well. 

I think many of us began our study of Matthew with the presupposition that Jesus and the religious leaders, meaning all of the religious leaders, were on two sides of a battle. We have seen in Matthew that Jesus was often accused of taking a stand against the law of Moses and Jewish tradition. We have learned this was far from the truth. Jesus Himself says in Matthew 5:17, "Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them".  

Reading through Matthew 23, it might seem that Jesus is speaking against the Law. He has some harsh things to say to the scribes and Pharisees who have been confronting Him. Jesus speaks about their words, their actions, and even their attire. What we may hear is what He is NOT saying.

Let's look at what Jesus is saying specifically about their attire: "For they make their phylacteries broad " (v.5). You may be wondering what a phylactery is. This is a small leather box that during times of prayer would be worn on the arm and the forehead. Inside the box was a small scroll that would have the words of the Sh'ma on it. The Sh'ma is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: "Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might".  Deuteronomy 6:8 goes on to say: "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes".

So is Jesus criticizing the Pharisees for wearing them? Quite the contrary. Jesus Himself was an observant Jew and would have worn phylacteries of His own. Wearing these prayer boxes would be a beautiful fulfillment of the law given in Deuteronomy 6:8. What Jesus was condemning was that some of the Pharisees would make their prayer boxes very large. It was not about what they were doing, rather, why they were doing it. If small is good, than large would be much more holy, right? They were doing this for man to see, not to honor God.

We have seen again and again that Jesus is after our hearts. We may not wear phylacteries on our heads but I am sure we could take this example and apply it to some of the religious actions in our own lives. Perhaps you could ask God to show you if there is something you are doing that is more about what others see than the joy of pleasing Him.

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Messianic Musings ~ Choosing the Passover Lamb

This coming week we are going to be reading a portion of scripture that may be very familiar. It details Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem prior to the celebration of Passover.  Growing up as a Christian, we celebrated this day as Palm Sunday. It was followed by Holy Week - a week set aside to remember Jesus' last days prior to His crucifixion.  Then the joyful celebration of Easter!

As I read the Messianic commentary on this passage my eyes were opened to something I never saw before.  Looking at the events of Holy Week from a Jewish perspective and the actual Passover preparation gave me a much deeper appreciation of God's timeline. One aspect of Passover really caught my attention.

The lamb was a focal point in the Passover celebration. Going all the way back to the night of the exodus from Egypt God gave very specific instructions how the lamb was to be prepared: "Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month (Nissan) each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household" (Ex. 12:3).  It also tells us in this passage that the lamb was to be without defect and was to be chosen four days prior to the celebration of Passover, which would be on the 14th of Nissan. During these four days the lamb would be inspected to insure it was free from defects, broken bones or other impurities. They wanted to ensure that it was the best of the kosher offerings.

As believers in Jesus as the Messiah we know that Jesus was the Lamb of God. John the apostle tells us: "The next day john saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"(John 1:29).  Now let's look at our passage in Matthew 21:6-11. These verses recount Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, on a road strewn with palm branches. This was very different from the times that He had come before this to visit the temple or teach His disciples. This was a public presentation. He was greeted with the words: "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna is the highest!" (Matt. 21:9). As my commentary pointed out this occurred four days prior to Passover, the 10th of Nissan! "On this day Jesus was presented publicly to Israel as if to say "See if I am the kosher Lamb of God, your Messiah!" (Matthew, presents Yesua, King Messiah, Kasdan, pg. 234).

Sometimes as Christians I think we can miss out on the wonders of God because we simply are not familiar with the Jewishness of the events that we read about in the Bible. In the big picture the timing of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem did not seem significant to me but as I studied it in light of Passover I was amazed by God. He is so purposeful in what He does. His plan is not arbitrary or random. The LORD gave Moses the Passover requirements in 1446 BC. Jesus entered Jerusalem in the donkey in 30 AD. That is almost a 1,500 year span!! God is so purposeful in what He does. His plan is not arbitrary or random. How thankful I am that I have committed my life to a God who knows the end form the begining, who is the Alpha and the Omega!!

"Open my eyes that I may behold wonderous things out of Your law." (Psalm 119:18, ESV)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Messianic Musings ~ Which Way is Up?

Let's say you were  taking a trip to our capital city, Washington D.C. and you lived in Florida. You might say something like  'I am going up to D.C.'   What about if you lived in NYC? Then, of course, you would say something like 'I am going down to D.C.'  Have you ever noticed in the Bible that whenever anyone was going to Jerusalem they would always be going up to Jerusalem? If you were to look at a map of Israel you would see that Jerusalem is very close to being in the middle of the county. Has this ever struck you as odd?

In Matthew 20:18 Jesus tells the apostles "We are going up to Jerusalem..". In this verse Jesus is using a common Hebrew idiom of making aliyah (pilgrimage) by going up to the Holy City.  In the Jewish calendar there were three great Holy Days. At these times, the Jews living outside of Jerusalem would make a pilgrimage up to the Holy City to worship the LORD.  They would not always be traveling physically north but they would be making a spiritual aliyah, of drawing close to God's presence. Prior to the time when believers were indwelt with God's Holy Spirit, the only way they could encounter Him was within the walls of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant resided.

In your Bible if you were to look at Psalm's 120 to 134 you would notice that these Psalm's are labeled 'Songs of Ascent'.  In Hebrew the word for ascent is ma'aloth. This word means 'to go up'.  These songs were sung as the pilgrims made their way to worship the Lord at the place where His presence dwelt in the Holy city of Jerusalem. Imagine what it would have been like for them, with each mile they walked they drew closer to the presence of the Lord!!  

Here are some of the words they would have worshiped with:

"I lift up my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1-2)

"I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go up to the house of the LORD."  That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, to praise the name of the LORD according to the statute given to Israel." (Psalm 122:1,4)

"Let us go to His dwelling place; let us worship at His footstool - arise O LORD, and come to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your might." (Psalm 132:7-8)

"Praise the LORD all you servants of the LORD who minister by night in the house of the LORD. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD." (Psalm 134:1-2)

As I read the words of these Psalms my heart filled with thankfulness and joy. We no longer need to make a physical aliyah to draw near to God. How very blessed we are that God is always present in our day.  Are we really aware how special this is? Each one of us is on a spiritual aliyah. There is truly nothing that can keep us from Him - the choice is ours.  I pray that you would take time away from the business of the day to purposely draw near to God and rejoice in His presence.

"Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage." Psalm 84:5

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Messianic Musings ~ A Matter of Perspective

The gospel of Matthew is peppered with accounts of the apostle Peter. When Jesus called him as an apostle he immediately left his fishing business and followed Jesus. He witnessed Jesus heal his mother and many others. At Jesus call, he walked on water. Like us, he sometimes blew it and sometimes he exhibited great faith. From what I have read and studied I think I could safely describe Peter as a man of action.

Chapter 17 of Matthew opens with one of the great wonders of Jesus' time of ministry on earth - the Transfiguration. In this passage, Peter, along with James and John, accompanied Jesus to a mountain top. "And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him" (Matt. 17:2-3). Peter's response was immediate, " Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" (Matt. 17:4).

I have often read this passage and confess that my underlying attitude toward Peter's actions has been a little judgmental. It seemed to me that Peter's words were spurred by his somewhat impulsive personality. After doing a little studying in the Jewish commentary I learned that there was more to this passage than my gentile mindset appreciated.

The Jewish scriptures (Tanakh), that Peter would have known well, are composed of the Law and the Prophets. According to Jewish tradition, The Law is represented by Moses and Elijah would represent The Prophets. The significance of these two men together is found in Deuteronomy/Devarim 3:17: "Moses, I swear to you, as you devoted your life to their service to the world, so too in the time to come when I bring Elijah, the prophet, unto them, the two of you shall come together".  Jewish tradition also believes that Elijah would one day appear to announce the coming of King Messiah and His kingdom.

Going back to Matthew 16:28,  Jesus had promised the apostles: "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom".  When both Elijah and Moses appeared with Jesus, this would have been a profound moment for Peter.

Let's bring another Jewish tradition into the mix. The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot),  is celebrated by the Jewish people every year. This feast celebrates the presence of God dwelling with His people. As a part of this celebration, temporary shelters would be built that the Jews would dwell in for the eight days of the festival.

Now let's put this all together and look at things through Peter's perspective. The appearance of Moses and Elijah was a sign that the Kingdom of God would soon be ushered in. Add to this Jesus' promise in Matthew 16:28. How natural would Peter's response have been? Peter's actions were not an impulsive response. He read the signs of the times and acted on what he knew based on Jewish tradition and teachings. This changed the whole context of how I viewed this passage of Scripture!

Reading through the rest of the passage, we do know that the Transfiguration was not the time that the Lord's kingdom would be fully established. That was still yet to come.  But it was a moment that the Lord's splendor was made known with a promise of things to come.

"Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness."  Psalm 29:2