They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

A Kingdom of Priests

kingdom-priests

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
–Exodus 19:4-6

When God made a covenant with his chosen people at Mt. Sinai, he told them that he wanted them to be a “kingdom of priests”. That phrase sounds very poetic and significant, but we tend to read right over the phrase because the words, “kingdom” and “priest” are so foreign to our modern thinking. In America we certainly don’t identify with Kings or Kingdoms and our Protestant faith contains little contact with priests. What was God saying? The answer comes out of the culture of that day and it is very revealing as to what our responsibilities are as partakers in that same covenental promise. Let’s look at the words, “kingdom” and “priest” to see what they meant in that ancient culture.

First, the word kingdom in English implies a territory or a piece of land. To the Hebrews, the word kingdom is much more encompassing. The kingdom was not only the territory, but it was also a place in time where the King of the kingdom was ruling or reigning. The kingdom was where the king was “kinging”, where his will was being done and people were obeying him and making him king. It was not just the boundary lines, it was what was happening withing the boundaries. The kingdom comes and is evident when the king’s will is being done. The kingdom can be any place that the king (God) is in charge (e.g. Luke 17:21).

Now that we’ve established what the kingdom is, then what does it mean to be a kingdom of priests? Priests during the time of the Hebrew Testament were representatives of the God they served. All the nations had priests that served their various deities. This was a concept that was very familiar to the Israelites because every god of wood and stone was represented by a priesthood. What was the function of these priests? First of all, they dressed very differently than the normal lay person. They were set apart for their service to their god and had very high standards of conduct. Their number one mission was to put their god on display. If you wanted to know what the god was like, you just looked at the priests. They were also the mediator between the god and the people. They were to meet the people’s needs on the god’s behalf and show them how compassionate he was and his concern for the poor. All welfare was done through the temple and the priests.

In light of these qualities and responsibilities, how are we as a community of believers to be a kingdom of priests? We must be noticeably different; set apart from the people around us that don’t know our King. We have to live under higher moral standards, live holy lives that are different and that set us apart. Our mission as priests is also to demonstrate what God is like. Think about the display God could have put together to show himself, but instead he picked us. “You want to see what I’m like , look at my priests that represent me”, God says. Will the people you meet this week know what God is like by the way your represent him?

Like the priests, we are also to be the mediator between God and the people that don’t know him. We are to be sensitive to the poor and disenfranchised and are to meet human need on God’s behalf. We can’t do that by just praying for people; it has to be a hands on process of meeting those needs.

If we go back to Exodus 19, we will see that God called the whole nation of Israel to be priests to represent him. Although He separately established the Aaronic priesthood, He wanted everyone to think of themselves as priests. To remind them to do this He gave them a command in Numbers 15:37-40:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.

The Israelites were to wear tassels with a blue cord on the corners of their garments. Why? When they looked at the tassels they would be reminded of their role and position and would remember to keep His commands. The tassels were a visual aid to them that they were set apart. There is much more to say about the tassels (see “Of Wool and Linen” and Jewish Dress and Custom) that reminded them that they were priests.

Was this command only for the Old Testament time period? Are we under a different set of rules? 1 Peter 2:9-12 says exactly what God was saying to the Israelites at Sinai. We are to be a kingdom of priests and are to live such good lives among out pagan neighbors that they will experience our good deeds and give glory to our God (also see Philippians 2:15-16). Revelation 1:5-6, speaking of Jesus, also says that He has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His Father. The Bible is all one story and the mission is the same from Genesis to Revelation – ”make my name known”.

In summary, the concept of being a kingdom of priests is a huge and daunting responsibility. He has sent us, His followers, to represent Him to the people that don’t know about Him and to tell them what the King and the kingdom is like. They will know what He is like by the way we act and the way we treat them. We represent the God of the universe! He is sending us out to a hurting and broken world that desperately needs to know about His love and His compassion towards them. Will we go? Will we live our lives in such a way that they will know without a shadow of a doubt how great and loving our God is?

M’Sharet: God’s Assistant

Moses & JoshuaOn our last trip to Israel we learned a very rich word in Hebrew, a new concept, that really impacted us and gave us a deeper understanding of what our mission as believers in Jesus should look like. The word in Hebrew is m’sharet (mesharet) and is translated in English as assistant or aide. However, this word, as it related to the Hebrew culture of that day, went much deeper than a single word in English could capture.

If you look up the word in the Hebrew concordance, (Strong’s 8334), it is defined as, “to minister, to serve as an attendant, to wait upon someone as a squire waits on a knight.”  It is used to describe someone who believes so passionately in their master’s mission that they would do any task or anything to assist in what their master was doing.  A m’sharet went everywhere with their master and did all the manual labor and the menial tasks in order to help their master through the day and served as an apprentice to him.

The word is used in the Hebrew Testament in Exodus 24:13 to describe this relationship between Moses and Joshua. In this set of verses, Moses takes his m’sharet, Joshua,and takes him up Mt. Sinai with him to meet God. Although the text doesn’t specifically say it, the implication is that Joshua was the porter for the trip up the mountain. Exodus 33:11 again calls Joshua Moses’ attendant and says that Moses used him to guard the tent of meeting. Previously, in Exodus 17:9 Moses orders Joshua, his right hand man, to fight the Amalekites. In Deuteronomy 1:38 God tells Moses to encourage his assistant Joshua and teach him what he knows, because Joshua will eventually become the new leader of all Israel. Numbers 11:28 says that Joshua had been Moses’ aide since his youth.

Later, in Joshua 1:3 and 3:7, after the death of Moses, the Lord speaks to Joshua and identifies him as Moses attendant (mesharet Moshe). Because of this relationship with Moses, God makes Joshua the new leader and charges him with taking the Israelites across the Jordan into the land that they had been promised. The sages from early times, in discussing this passage, noted that God called Joshua “m’sharet” instead of “talmid” (disciple), for a reason. Joshua wasn’t a great leader because he knew his Torah, but because he had been with Moses and had watched him in action for all those years. He learned from Moses experiences and had practiced the art of leadership before he had to use it. He had carried Moses pack, he had waited on him hand and foot, slept and ate in the same tent, and had even gone to battle for him. He had done his apprenticeship directly under the eyes of the master.

Elijah calls ElishaAs another example, 1 Kings 19:21 says,”Then he (Elisha) set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant (m’sharet).”  In this story in 1 Kings, Elisha said goodbye to his comfortable home and well off family to become Elijah’s personal servant. Again, the word m’sharet is used instead of talmid. He was his apprentice, his servant.  Later in 2 Kings 3:11, Elisha is identified as a prophet and someone worthy for King Jeshophat to talk to by describing him as “the one who used to pour water on Elijah’s hand“ (he waited on him). Again, the sages noted that what qualified Elisha was not that he was book smart but that he served (his master).

There are many other examples of m’sharet in scripture. Elsiha also had a mesharet (2 Kings 4:43 and 6:15). Samuel was Eli’s m’sharet (1 Samuel 2:11). The point is that certain educational experiences can only be learned through apprenticeship. Book knowledge is insufficient. It is necessary to learn by practicing, getting your hands dirty, and learning directly under the eyes of the master.

What about the New Testament? Did Jesus have m’sharet? If you will think about it, Jesus never rowed the boat, carried his pack, kept up with the money, prepared the upper room, went in to town to buy food, or took care of feeding his followers. The disciples did all the menial work! They believed so passionately in his mission that they were willing to do anything and go anywhere just to be in his company and in on the action. They were anxious to show him that they believed in his mission. They didn’t just sit around and discuss the scriptures as his peers, they were apprentices in every phase of life.

Should we be thinking more of ourselves as Jesus’ m’sharet than just his student or convert? Much of the emphasis in modern Christianity is focused on “me”; my walk, my happiness, my quiet time. We really buy into the cross and the fact that Jesus saved us, but we are not as anxious to buy into the mission and the hard work it requires.  It is definitely not our mission just to be saved and the mission is really not about us. Do you buy into the mission to do whatever it takes to model and please the rabbi? Are you willing to do the hard and sometimes menial work that is required to be an attendant?  The word mission implies a journey and every journey requires effort. Jesus is looking for some m’sharet to follow him and learn from him on the journey.  Are you willing to buy in as his attendant?

P.S. Another example of m’sharet in the New Testament would be Timothy to Paul.

P.S.S. Some scriptures to read to bring this point home are as follows:

  • Luke 22:24-27
  • Matthew 25:21
  • Matthew 20:26
  • John 14:1-17

Feast of Sukkot: Part 3

Note: Please read John 7:1-43 before reading this final post on the Feast of Sukkot

The background given in our previous two posts on the Jewish Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles) has set the stage for the story of Jesus that we now turn to in John 7. Remember that this feast, ordained by God in Leviticus, is in the fall and is one of the three that every Jewish male is required to attend. It celebrates not only God taking care of the Israelites during their forty year wandering, but also celebrates the fall harvest. A half a million people or more (Josephus says two million) crowded into Jerusalem for this important holiday. Every morning for seven days, starting at daybreak, people would try to secure their spot to watch the upcoming daily ceremonies in the Temple Courts. Well before the 9:00AM ceremonies would begin, the Temple grounds would be completely full of worshipers. At 9:00AM, the shofar blew to announce the beginning of the day’s ceremonies. The service began at the steps in the Women’s Courts, in front of the Nicanor Gates. The crowd would begin by chanting Psalm 113-118, called the Hallel. The Levitical choir would be up on top of the steps where everyone could see and hear their voices. There was no silence in Jewish Temple worship – they were loud and passionate! Rabbinic sources say you could hear the crowd from Bethlehem, several miles away. Spontaneously, the crowd would chant almost continuously from 9:00AM to 3:00PM, while various ceremonies were undertaken.

The Feast of TabernaclesEvery day for seven days there was a special ceremony performed just before the 3:00PM sacrifices, called the “Water Drawing Ceremony”. This ceremony had its origins in 1 Samuel 7:2-6 where Samuel poured out water on the ground and asked God to forgive and save the Jewish people. The ceremony also drew off Isaiah 12:2-6, where it says, “with joy, draw water from the well of salvation”, and Zechariah 14:8-11 that says, “on that day, living water will flow out from Jerusalem (which referred to the Messiah). Let’s take a look at what took place in the water drawing ceremony. Just before 3:00PM, a shofar would blow to announce the start of the ceremony and the crowd would begin chanting the Hallel. When they got to Psalm 118:25, they would chant it over and over. The high priest would come out of the Temple and go down the steps to the water gate. He would be carrying a large golden ceremonial pitcher. Fighting his way through the crowd, the priest would proceed to the Eastern Gate and exit the temple grounds. Then he would turn right, down the Kidron Valley, to the Pool of Siloam that contains water from the Spring of Gihon, Jerusalem’s water source. The priest would then dip the golden pitcher into the water and take the full pitcher back up the hill to the Temple.

When the crowd spotted the priest coming with the pitcher of water, they would begin to chant even louder and with more fervor. “Save us, Save us, Save us” they would say, over and over. As the priest approached the altar, the shofar again would sound. The priest would climb the ramp of the altar and pour the living water before the Lord. When the pitcher was empty, the priest would hold the empty pitcher high in the air to the roar of the crowd. The huge menorahs in the Temple were then lit and the worshipers filed out of the Temple and the services were over for the day.

The water drawing ceremony was done every day of the Feast, but on the last and greatest day called Hoshanah Rabbah, the ceremony was a little different. When the priest arrived with the golden pitcher and climbed the altar, the crowd would be ecstatic. Slowly, the priest would walk around the altar seven times, carrying the pitcher full of water (this was probably done to repeat what had happened at Jericho, with the promise of the Promised Land). Seven times the priest would hold up the pitcher and on the seventh time, the shofar would sound and the crowd would go deathly quiet in anticipation of him pouring out the pitcher of living water on the altar.

Now, let’s refer back to John 7. Jesus was in the crowd, on this last, greatest Feast Day, chanting and praising God and waving His lulav. When would he have shouted, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said (What scripture? See references above), streams of living water will come from within him.” His speech had to be during the water drawing ceremony and at the time the shofar blew to quiet the crowd before the priest raised the pitcher to pour out the living water! This would have been the only time that he could have been heard above the noise of the crowd! What did the people think? What would you have thought? Jesus was saying, “I am the fulfillment of Zechariah 14! I am the promised Messiah, the living water the scriptures have spoken of!”

Doesn’t knowing about the Sukkot Festival and the Water Drawing Ceremony make this passage of Scripture in John mean so much more? We can draw at least two faith lessons from this interesting story. First, we can learn something from the Jewish people about being able to celebrate and rejoice. We are so reserved, so stoic in our approach to God. There is a time and place to be ecstatic in our love for God! Secondly, the whole theme of the Feast of Sukkot was to petition God to ask Him to send the living water (rain) and to forgive us of our sins, so that we can prosper. After Pentecost, we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit and as the prophecy proclaims, living water will flow from us to other people. God give us a taste of Sukkot, so that we may be Sukkot to others in this dry and thirsty world!

Of Wool and Linen: Deuteronomy 22:11

Credit to Lois Tverberg for the original idea behind this post

TzitzithAs you read through the Book of Deuteronomy you quickly discover that God was very detailed in the laws for living that He gave the Israelites. Every subject under the sun is covered, from personal hygiene, dietary laws, marriage, sexual conduct, and even what type of animals to plow with. As you ponder these laws often they don’t seem to make much sense. For example, in Deuteronomy 22:11 it says, “Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.” Why would God prohibit something like this? On the surface it not only seems odd, but makes you think God was way too involved in the minute details of life. However, if you do some research, this law in its ancient Hebrew context had a very interesting and legitimate reason for being required of the people of Israel. Furthermore, when we discover the lesson that comes out of this unusual law it will even speak to us about our responsibility as Christians in today’s world. Let’s take a look and dig a little deeper into the Scriptures and see what God was requiring.

priestThe reason God prohibited the Israelites from mixing wool and linen together in their clothing had to do with the priesthood and tabernacle system that God had previously set up. The priestly garments and the tabernacle weavings were made of a combination of wool and linen. Also, the priest’s undergarment was made of linen and his brightly covered vestment was made of wool. God wanted His priests to be set apart and noticeably different in their looks than the lay person. By using this command against mixing wool and linen, God was forbidding them to dress and look like His priests.

This law takes on an even more interesting turn when you look at the command the God gave the Israelites concerning the wearing of tassels (tzitziot) on their clothing in Numbers 15:38 (See also Jewish Dress and Custom). These tassels that God instructed them to wear actually seem to violate the command to not mix wool and linen together. Several ancient sources, dating back to Biblical times, indicate that one cord in the tassel was to be royal blue or purple and was to be made of wool while the other white cords were made of linen. This was supposed to be a holy mixture reserved only for priests. What was God doing? The Hebrew people understood the significance of God allowing them to wear this forbidden mixture on the corners of their robes. They saw it as God’s attempt to encourage and remind all Israel to aspire to be holy like the priests. Leviticus 19:2 says, ”You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy.” Also, in Exodus 19:6, God told the Israelites, “You shall be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The fact that one cord was both woolen and royal purple makes it a symbol of both the priesthood and kingship in order to show that all Israel was supposed to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. The whole nation of Israel was to be a nation of priests, not just the leaders, rabbis or scholars. The robe of the priesthood was to be the uniform of all Israel. Even though they could not actually serve as a priest, they were to strive to be like the priests; holy and set apart for God’s service. These tassels served to remind and encourage the people of Israel to aspire to a degree of holiness comparable to that of the priests.

In summary, the seemingly small and odd command by God not to wear wool and linen mixed together has a deep and fascinating complexity hidden within its words. The picture portrayed in this obscure passage is a powerful one of His children being His priests to a world that doesn’t yet know the God of Israel. Christians today are also called to this same task. 1 Peter 2:5-9 repeats the same words and theme of Exodus 19:6. Then, in 1 Peter 2:12, we are told to live such holy lives among the pagans that they will be drawn to our God. We are to be to our world, what Israel was to theirs, a billboard to draw attention to their God. The next time you read one of these unexplainable portions of Scripture, do a little research. You may find a hidden gem!

God is Good? The Feeding of the Five Thousand

Note: I borrowed heavily and received the inspiration for this post from listening to a sermon from Andy Hein of the International Justice Mission.

feeding5000breadfishes400The phrase, “God is Good”, is a slogan that is frequently tossed around in Christian circles. It is a slogan you often see on bumper stickers and lapel buttons. As Christians in America we can certainly attest to this statement that God indeed is good. We live in the most plentiful country during the most plentiful time period in history. Advances in food, clothing, medicine, doctors, machines, equipment, and technology make life in America so much less strenuous than at any other time. Our tendency is to assume that everyone knows the obvious – God is Good! Everywhere we look it seems as though He has bountifully blessed His children.

However, if we look beyond our own little circle, problems arise. There are people in our own country and certainly all over the world that don’t have the things that we take for granted. Listen to just a few statistics:

  • 25,000 children under the age of five die every day because they can’t get medicine
  • Two billion people in the world have no access to any medical care. They are not discussing which doctor or which plan to be on, they just don’t have any doctors or care.
  • Most of the world’s population lives on less than three American dollars per day for everything they need.
  • Hundreds of thousands of teenagers are abandoned on the streets across the world to fend for themselves.

How do all these people know that God is Good? We know God is good, but do they? How will they ever experience God’s goodness? What is God’s plan to show these less fortunate people that He is indeed good? Our first thought is that the needs are so great and we are so unqualified that it seems utterly impossible to make any difference. How is this all supposed to work? The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand, found in all four gospels, sheds some light on how God wants us to approach these seemingly insurmountable odds. Let’s take a look at this age old story that is so familiar to us and see if we might have missed something that Jesus was saying.

In a summary of the gospels of this story, Jesus had been preaching to a crowd of five thousand for a long time and they had not had anything to eat all day. The disciples looked around at the great need and advised Jesus to send the people home so that they could get something to eat. Jesus told the disciples, “No, you feed them – give them something to eat”. The disciples immediately tried to throw it back in Jesus’ court by saying, “What? There are five thousand men here plus women and children. It would take eight months wages just to get enough bread for each person to have one bite! There is no way we could possibly fill this need” – back to you, Jesus! Then Jesus asked them, “What do you have?” The disciples could only round up five small loaves of bread and a couple of fish. “But what is this among so many”, they said. The disciples looked at the magnitude of the problem and saw the huge lack of resources to fill the need. Jesus didn’t ask the disciples what was needed to try to meet the problem, he just said, “What do you have?” Then Jesus took what they had in the way of food and had the people sit down to eat. With the paltry amount available, He fed everyone and had twelve baskets left over! What can we learn from how Jesus handled this situation with his disciples?

First of all, if the people were hungry, why didn’t Jesus just rain down manna from heaven and feed everyone at once? Why did he use a little boy’s lunch instead? Jesus told this story to show us that He doesn’t really need the stuff that we have, he just needs us to show up and be willing. He purposely had the disciples go through the process of coming to the conclusion that there was no way they could meet the need with their own resources. But Jesus used what they had to provide a lot! He doesn’t need us to do the providing, He just needs us to give what we have. We are just supposed to show up with our lunch and watch what He can do with it.

The answer to our question, “How do the hurting people of the world know that God is good?”, is that they will only know if we show them. If we will just show up with what we have and be available, God will take care of the solutions to the problems. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says,”Therefore you are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God was making His very appeal through us.” For the past two thousand years, since Jesus commissioned His disciples, His followers have been going out and trying to show the world that God is good. We are to be the agent that brings the food, medicine, and comfort to the people that don’t have it and they get to experience the body of Christ and understand firsthand the goodness of God. As God’s ambassadors, we have already tasted His goodness and we are the vessel that He will use to show that goodness to others. The next time you hear that well known phrase, “God is Good!”, remember that we are supposed to be the bearers of that great news to the people that don’t already know it.

Tapestry

Rug_weaver_250x364While we were in Turkey studying the Seven Churches of Revelation, we spent an evening touring a large Turkish factory that made exquisite hand woven rugs. Turkish rugs are generally thought of as the finest quality rugs in the world. The intricate and laborious process used to make these rugs was fascinating to learn about. It also revealed a wonderful life lesson in the process.

This factory made their rugs out of wool, cotton, and silk. However, the the silk process was by far the most costly and labor intensive. The first step in making a silk rug is to obtain the huge amount of silken thread that is required. The silk comes from the silkworm and this factory raised their own silkworms. The silkworm only eats mulberry leaves and uses that food to make a silk cocoon that contains a single thread of silk from one to three thousand feet long. It takes two to three thousand cocoons to make just one pound of silk! The single threads are entwined together to make a larger, stronger thread. Then the thread has to be died and dried for each color necessary in the pattern of the rug. It was amazing to see how much time and effort it took just to get enough silk for a single rug.

The rug itself was constructed on a loom, which was a large wooden frame standing upright with horizontal rails to push the threads down tight on the rug. The loom served as a framework for the threads that were woven in both horizontally and vertically to complete the design. The master weaver stands in front of the loom and carefully places each thread in the place for the design that he has envisioned. Each thread is carefully tied and wound into the next one in order to complete the overall pattern. Close attention is paid to every thread and every detail to make sure that every cord stays in its proper place. Weaving a silk rug can take months or even years, depending on the size and quality. The more knots and the more thread count, the more expensive the rug. No two rugs look alike; they are unique in their pattern and detail.

Now consider the image of our lives as the rug being woven by the master weaver, God himself. The weaver has a design in mind, even before he starts the rug (Psalm 139:14-16). He then carefully begins the tapestry pattern, weaving in both dark threads and light, tying them all together to form the desired pattern (Lamentations 3:37-38, Job 3:10, and Romans 8:28). Each individual thread has a predetermined length and place (Psalm 90:12). Each individual thread has value as it relates to the whole pattern and no one thread is more valuable than the others. All together they make up the pattern the master weaver has planned (Psalm 139:14). The rug must be stretched and pulled and each thread beaten down to make the rug tight and secure. Many knots are used to keep the threads in place (Hebrew 5:8). Paying careful attention to every detail, the weaver pours his heart into making the rug come out exactly as he had planned (Psalm 139:17-18, 1 Peter 1:6-7). Only when the tapestry is finally completed can the full pattern in all it’s beauty be seen and appreciated (1 Peter 2:9). Many more analogies can be made comparing our lives in God’s hands to these beautiful rugs, however the following poem written by an anonymous writer seems to say it perfectly. Corrie Ten Boom often used this poem when she spoke about her life during WWII and the trials that she had been through.

Tapestry
My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me,
I cannot choose the colors, He worketh steadily.

Ofttimes He weaveth sorrow, and I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper and I, the underside.

Not till the loom is silent and the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reasons why.
The dark threads are as needful in the Weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver in the Pattern He has planned.