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

Up on a Mountain to Pray – Mt. Arbel

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place where he prayed” – Mark 1:35

Mt. Arbel, Galilee, Israel – This high mountain, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, affords one of the most breathtaking views of the area that Jesus spent most of his public ministry in. Josephus tells us that there were over 200 towns and villages around the lake called the Sea of Galilee during Jesus’ day. Almost all the people living there earned their living by farming or fishing. From the top of Mt. Arbel, you have a panoramic view of the whole area where Jesus walked and lived. You can see Capernaum, Bethsaida (where the Jordan River empties into the lake), the Mt. of Beatitudes, Korazin, and the Decapolis (home of the demoniac). A lot of Jewish history is also in this mountain. Herod the Great came here and killed hundreds of Galilean Zealots that were hiding in the steep cliffs on Mt. Arbel to crush their rebellion against his authority. The mountain is a landmark in the area and can be seen from almost anywhere for miles in any direction.

Our group of disciples came to this mountain and climbed it to learn about all the geographical places and to also learn another fascinating lesson abut the relationship between a rabbi and his talmidim (disciples). At the base of the mountain is the small fishing village of Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene. We left early in the morning, at daybreak from Magdala, and made the arduous ascent through the cliffs, to the summit. It was very tough physically and at one point we had to climb vertically and cling to metal pegs that were driven into the cliffs. Once on top however, the view was breathtaking. We could imagine Jesus and his disciples as they moved from village to village around the lake. While we were on top, we heard the following story about the relationship that a Jewish Rabbi had with his talmidim:

Rabbis were passionately committed to the young men that they had chosen as their disciples. They felt totally responsible for their physical and spiritual growth and well being. It was a common practice for a rabbi to get up early in the morning, well before light and make a very strenuous climb to a place where they could overlook where their disciples were sleeping. The harder the climb for the rabbi, the more it emphasized his commitment to his flock. After reaching his observation point, the rabbi would look below and begin to earnestly pray to God on behalf of his disciples. He would pray large portions of the text out loud and ask God to make those scriptures come alive in the hearts of those young men under his tutelage. It was a very gratifying experience for the teacher as he pleaded to God on behalf of his unsuspecting students below.

After just making this tough climb ourselves, we could feel the commitment and the sacrifice that the rabbi had for his talmidim. He was willing to do the hard work it took to make sure that they became just like him and were instructed correctly. We then read the Mark Passage and saw that our Rabbi Jesus also got up early in the morning and went out to pray for his disciples.

Who are your disciples? According to Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus instructed us to go and make disciples and to teach them to do everything that He had taught us. Are you earnestly praying for them and their walk with Jesus? If we are to become like Jesus, we will have to have disciples and we will have to commit to praying for them. It will take a high level of commitment on our part. Mt. Arbel burned in my spirit the need to be a man that lives and prays the text and that is actively pursuing someone to train to walk in the footsteps of our Rabbi, Jesus.

Affecting our Culture: The Riot in Ephesus

Read Acts 19:23-41

Ephesus Theater

One of the most fascinating places to visit in the country of Turkey is the ancient port city of Ephesus. Although only one third of the city has been completely renovated and restored, its ruins are among the most magnificent of the ancient world. Ephesus during the time of Paul and John would have been equal to our New York City as far as importance and proportionate size. It was one of the three largest cities in the Roman Empire (250,000 est. pop.) and was the major seaport that served all of Asia Minor. Writers of that day referred to it as the “crown jewel” of the Roman Empire. Several biblical events took place here. Paul came here on his second missionary tour and left Priscilla and Aquila to start the church there (Acts 18:19). Paul then came back to Ephesus on his third missionary tour and stayed for almost three years (Acts 19). John, the youngest disciple of Jesus, also came here and was the bishop for all the churches in the area. He wrote to the church in Ephesus in the Book of Revelation, chapter 2. Church history also records that Timothy was here and later became a bishop in the Ephesian church. In addition, most scholars think that Paul wrote the epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and 1 Corinthians during his three year stay in Ephesus.

If you visit Ephesus you will be able to visit the huge theater that is mentioned in Acts 19. This is the same theater in which the riot described in Acts 19 occurred. This Roman masterpiece held 25,000 or more people and is in remarkable condition, even today. To hear the story of Acts re-read while you are sitting in the theater where it took place is a very moving experience. Let’s look at some history and background that will make this story in the Bible come alive.

Artemis

The city of Ephesus was the “neokoris” (temple warden, or for comparison purposes in English, the Vatican) for the worship of the Greek Goddess Artemis. The huge temple of Artemis was just outside the city and was one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. If you wanted to worship Artemis you needed to come to her temple in Ephesus. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto (an illegitimate relationship) and the twin sister of the male god Apollo. She was known as the goddess of the hunt and wild animals, and was a protector of young girls, virginity, and women in childbirth. In Ephesus, her image was portrayed as a many-breasted, mother goddess who took care of her children.

Artemis Temple in Ephesus

A huge industry grew up around the Artemis cult and silversmiths and carvers made a large profit by making images and figurines of Artemis. Every year a huge festival was held in April to honor Artemis. Estimates of over one million people have been given that appeared from all over the world to attend the festival and ceremonial events each year. During the festival, an enormous procession of people, led by Artemis’ eunuch priests, went through the city with the statue of Artemis in the lead. Against this backdrop, let’s now look at the story of the riot that occurred in Ephesus.

God’s spirit had worked in such a remarkable way in Ephesus that large numbers of people were coming to believe in the Jewish God and His Son, Messiah Jesus. They were bringing their pagan articles and scrolls and burning them in front of the whole city. The Artemis craftsmen were losing all their business because no one was worshiping Artemis any more. The leader of the silversmiths guild, Demetrius, stirred up a riot and they drug some of Paul’s companions into the theater to work them over. The crowd was going wild, with some shouting one thing and some another. The Text says, for two hours they shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Finally, the mayor of the city was able to get the crowd under control and disassembled.

A couple of faith lessons jump out from this story. First, when was the last time that we got people so excited that they shouted something for two hours? By and large, we have little passion for Christ or spiritual things. Our church experience is usually ho hum; we go to Sunday School and church and then go home. We reserve our passion and excitement for sporting events! For the most part, we aren’t even bothering the devil’s crowd, we don’t want to stir the waters and cause a problem. Look at the chutzpah of Paul. He was willing to take on 25,000 Artemis worshipers! We need to be stirring the pot for Christ!

Another thought that jumps out at you is, “What business or activity of the devil is suffering because of our walk and testimony?” What industry (drug, pornography, etc.) are we shutting down because of our impact? What effect is is our personal influence having on the dark side? As Christian businessmen, what are we doing when evil comes to our city in the form of gay pride parades, etc? Can we even have an impact on our city and our state? All these are sobering thoughts that come out of this moving story of one man’s impact on a city and culture. May God give us the courage to be the kind of testimony that we need to be in a world that is dark and full of the same kinds of things that were going on in Ephesus.

Our Stuff: The Story of Acts 19

In Acts 19, Paul went to the huge seaport of Ephesus to further spread the good news of the gospel of the God of the Jews and His resurrected son, Jesus. Acts 19:10 tells us that Paul discipled there in Ephesus for over two years and during that time, all the Jews and Greeks who lived in Asia heard the gospel. Even if this is an editorial statement, it is an amazing one to think that virtually all the people in the area were reached by Paul’s preaching. In Acts 19:17-20, we see that Paul’s preaching had great effect. Many people openly confessed their sins and quit living their ungodly lifestyle. They changed their lives completely and began to follow the God of the Bible. In order to publicly show their change in lifestyle, they brought all their worldly stuff and burned it in front of their friends and neighbors. Acts 19:19 even records how much their “stuff” was worth, 50,000 drachmas. A drachma was one days wages, so if we put this in today’s monetary value, their stuff would have been worth approximately four million dollars! They would have spent 136 years collectively of their daily wages on just “stuff”! If each person had brought $400 of merchandise, then approximately ten thousand people would have participated in this event! Knowing these figures gives us a clearer idea of just how big this would have been in Ephesus. Paul’s preaching had a huge impact on the whole environment of the city. This is a fascinating story to us and we marvel at the affect the gospel had on this city and it’s citizens.

A question that comes out of this story for us as modern day Americans is, “How much would our stuff be worth if we brought it all publicly and piled it up for all to see?” As the wealthiest nation that has ever lived, we too are captivated by, “our stuff”. We are a nation of accumulators and we desperately hang on to our worldly things. When we think of God testing us, we always think of things like cancer, or bad things that happen to us and our families. But, God also tests us through prosperity. America is definitely being tested by God with the wealth that He has given us. Wealth is such a hard test to pass because when we have it all, we don’t really need God. Read the entire chapter of Deuteronomy 8. In verse 12 it says, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, when your build fine houses and settle down, and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold increase, and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, our of the land of slavery…You will say to yourselves, it is my power and the strength of my hands that has produced this wealth for me”.

As Americans, if we are honest, our “stuff” often holds us back from being an effective witness for the Lord. Think for a second, “What holds you back? What do you spend all your time doing? What keeps you from selling out?” We hang on to our retirement plans, our nest eggs, etc. and think that is where our security is. Wealth is a hard test to pass, but God warns us explicitly about clinging to our wealth and forgetting where our security really comes from. Like the crowd at Ephesus, we need to bring our stuff before God and tell him that we want to serve Him more than we want to cling to our stuff. He is where our happiness and security really lie.

Urim and Thummim; Knowing God’s Will – Part 2

In our first session, we looked at the fascinating subject of the two objects that the Israelites were to use to be able to determine God’s will in matters of great importance. Now, let’s see how this method of knowing God’s will might apply to us as twenty-first century believers. The obvious answer is that we would love to have this kind of guidance in our daily walk! “Just tell me , ‘Yes or No’, Lord and I will do it”! It is human nature to want to know the future and what is going to happen and what we ought to do in response. We all want to be able to say, “God told me to do such and such” and have the future fall into place accordingly. This is why psychics and fortune tellers are such a novelty, because they claim to have a window into the future.

However, God has not given us a direct means of divine guidance like the Urim and Thummim to make specific decisions. So, then how does He give guidance to his children today? The tool that God gives us for guidance is His Word. Although it does not have personal information about us, it does reveal God’s will for our lives. God’s word tells us what to do and what not to do; it has specific rules for our conduct. If we will read and obey the promises and commands that are contained in Scripture, we will know what God wants in every situation and we will be in His will. The Bible is not bashful in it’s discussion of life; it delves into every detail of the human experience. The better and deeper we know God’s word, the better and deeper we will know Him and what His will is for us. Guidance for life’s decisions comes through getting to know the guide!

The next ingredient to knowing God’s will is, His Spirit. The Spirit helps us understand God’s word and to know His will for us. His spirit dwells within us to help us to know and to do His will (John 14:26). When He comes to live in us He starts shaping our minds and hearts. The Spirit give us peace of mind and helps us to make good choices. Whenever we are uncertain as to what to do, we should pray that the Spirit would illuminate and show us in the Word what the correct way or decision is. God will answer our prayer (James 1:5).

The last thing that God uses to show us His will for us is circumstances, or just the way life unfolds. God uses the circumstances in our life to mold and shape us toward the goal He has in mind for us. What are our desires? What are we good at? What need can we meet? What do we have an interest in or compassion for? We look at the way the situation is unfolding and make the best choice we can. His leading is not often a direct revelation as much as it is His sovereign controlling of the circumstances of our lives, leading us in the direction we’re supposed to go. And, if we get to a point where His leading is not clear, we should wait on Him until it is.

There is no three step method to understanding God’s will for our lives. It involves a lifelong process of falling in love with His word and learning its precepts. The more we know God, the more our decisions will be in line with His will for us. We call and wait on Him daily in prayer, asking the Spirit within us to guide us. By the guidance of His hand, as He daily works out the circumstances of our lives, He leads us along the path of life, not allowing us to wander in the wrong direction. Life is a faith walk. God doesn’t write our future on the wall for us to read in advance, but calls for us to see it daily as we walk hand-in-hand with Him. We walk by faith, trusting Him for today and for our future. There is no better way to live! It would be nice to have a Urim and Thummim in one way, but we have a better and more intimate partner now. Hebrew 1:1-2 says it well, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son….”

Urim and Thummim; Knowing God’s Will – Part 1

Nothing gets our attention quicker than someone writing or speaking about, “knowing God’s will”. We all desperately want to know about the future and we want to be able to ask God for direction and have him plainly give it to us. If you study the Old Testament and in particular the book of Exodus, you will discover the method that the Israelites were told to use to determine God’s will in matters of great importance. It will give you some fresh insight on your quest to know God’s will for your life. Let’s take a look at what the Bible calls the, “Urim and Thummim”. In our first session we will attempt to describe these objects and how they were used by the Israelites. Then in our second session we will try to apply it to our own walk with God. Let’s, ”go and see” what is entailed in this fascinating subject in the Hebrew Bible.

In Exodus 28:1-15, God gave Moses specific and detailed instructions on how to make the priestly garment for his brother, Aaron, the High Priest. Verse 15 says, “fashion a breast piece for making decisions”. The breast piece was folded double to make a pocket or pouch around the heart. Inside this pocket or pouch were placed two objects, the Urim and Thummim (read Exodus 28:29-30). They were to be close to Aaron’s heart when he entered the Tabernacle in the presence of the Lord.

Apparently the Israelites knew what the Urim and Thummim were and how they were made and used, but the Bible doesn’t describe their appearance in any way, so we are left to guess as to what they were made of and looked like. They seem to have been some type of “holy dice” that were thrown to determine God’s will. Scholars speculate that they were made of stone, or bones, or some type of precious gems – similar to what was on the rest of Aaron’s breast piece – however, we just don’t know.

The Hebrew meaning for these words is interesting, also. The Hebrew word, “Urim” begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (alef) and Thummim begins with the last letter (tav), which is interesting in that it seems to indicate that it covers the whole spectrum from beginning to end. “Urim” means, “curses” and “Thummim” means, “perfections”. Scholars speculate about how they were read and actually used. One suggestion was that in a series of rolls, if “Urim” (curses) came up the most, then the answer was no. If “Thummim” (perfections) dominated, then the answer was yes. Also, it has been suggested that perhaps they were different colors such as black and white, with the same type of scenario for getting an answer. Or, possibly they could have been an object with two sides, like a coin, with “Yes or No” on them and they were tossed into the air to get an answer. We really just don’t know how exactly they were used. What is interesting though is that they were often used in time of crisis to determine the will of God. They trusted God to reveal his will to the High Priest through this decision making breast piece and objects. Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but it’s every decision is from the Lord”.

There are several stories in the Hebrew Bible where the Urim and Thummim were used. Joshua, in Numbers 27:21, was commissioned to succeed Moses and was instructed to go before Eleazar, the high priest and to obtain decisions from him by consulting the Urim. Joshua knew when to stay and when to go by consulting the Urim and Thummim. Saul also consulted the Urim and Thummim in 1 Samuel 28:6, but he didn’t get the answer he was looking for. Later, David received clear direction after consulting the ephod on attacking the Amalekites (1 Samuel 23:1-2,9-12 and 1 Samuel 30: 1-8). The Urim and Thummim are mentioned in Nehemiah when they were rebuilding the wall and returning to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity. A question arose as to who were eligible to become priests, since all family records had been lost (Nehemiah 7:65 and Ezra 2:63). In these verses the men were told to wait until the priest could use the Urim and Thummim. There are many other examples in the Bible where, although not specifically mentioned as the Urim and Thummim, lots were cast to make important decisions. It is very important to note here that only the high priest was allowed to consult the Urim and Thummim, and only in matters of great concern to the public good, and in instances where men could not possibly know the answer. The answer was not considered just a matter of chance, but God giving his judgment, his decision as to what to do. Now, that we have some basic knowledge of what the Urim and Thummim were and how they were used, let’s see if we can apply it to our walk and our desire to also know what God’s will for our life is.

Jesus Calms the Storm

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

— Mark 4:35-41

Although Matthew and Luke also record the miraculous story of Jesus calming the storm, Mark’s gospel gives more details and records Jesus’ words as he spoke to the storm. The story is familiar to us; Jesus tells his disciples that they are going to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. While they are crossing, a huge storm comes up and threatens to sink the boat. Amazingly, Jesus is asleep on a pillow in the bottom of the boat! The disciples awake Jesus and plead with him to do something. “Don’t you care if we drown?” they cry out. Jesus rebukes the storm and says to the wind and waves, “Quiet! Be Still!”. At once the storm dies down and it is completely calm. The disciples were terrified even after the sea was calm and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!” Admittedly, this was a great miracle, but they had already seen him heal people of various diseases including leprosy, make a paralyzed man walk, restore a man’s shriveled hand and even drive out demons. Why were they terrified enough in this case to say, “Who is this?” What about this act by Jesus to calm the storm convinced them that this rabbi that they were following was without a doubt the son of God? The answer, as usual, is in the Hebrew text! Jesus showed himself to be God by doing the same things that God did in their Hebrew Scriptures. Let’s take a look.

The first connection is from the Psalms, in 107:28. The psalmist, in describing God says, “They cried out to the Lord in their trouble and He stilled the storm to a whisper. They were glad when it grew calm and he guided them to their desired haven.” Then, in Psalm 65:7 it says, “Who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves?” Also, Proverbs 30:4 says, “Who has come down from heaven and gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands and wrapped up the waters in his cloak?” The disciples knew the Psalms and knew that this man who had calmed the sea must be God because this is what God does!

Another story that would have had a huge connection is the story of Jonah. Like Jesus, Jonah is asleep in the bottom of a boat, during a huge storm and the sailors wake him and ask him the same question as the disciples asked Jesus. “Don’t you care if we drown?” In the Jonah story, God also calms the storm. All these same details demand that the Jonah story be part of this God story that Mark records.

The third story from the Old Testament that the disciples would have no doubt thought back to, is the Exodus itself. When the Israelites were backed up against the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army was approaching, the were terrified and cried out to the Lord and to Moses. Moses told the people, “Be Still!” These were the exact words that Jesus used to calm the storm. The Messiah who was to come to Israel was supposed to be like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15). Because Jesus used the exact words that Moses had used as God’s messenger, the disciples must have made another connection and thought to themselves that Jesus was the second Moses! He is the one who is to come to us, the prophet!

To look back to the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus and his disciples would have known so well is like looking at the same room from a different window. Looking at the New Testament through the window of the Old Testament doesn’t change the story, but it makes it so much deeper and richer. The deeper you dive the deeper it gets. There is so much more in the text than we see on the surface. This story of Jesus calming the storm is just one of the many examples.