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

Why Do We Bless Our Food?

As Western thinking Christians today, it is a common practice for us when praying before a meal to say, “Lord bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and our bodies to your service.” Where did this practice of blessing the food before the meal come from and can we find a biblical base for doing it? Some research into the history of this subject provided some interesting answers.

First of all, in the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus would have grown up on, there is not a single instance in which there is a command to bless the food before a meal. The only passage that would come close to indicating this would be Deuteronomy 8:10, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, bless (praise) the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.” In this verse however, it says to bless, “after the meal” and not before the meal. Also, this verse says to direct the blessing towards God and not the meal itself. Marvin Wilson says, “Unlike the practice of most Western Christians today, in Bible times, the Hebrew people did not see the need to bless food, drink, or other material things. In prayer, they focused only on blessing God, the Creator and Giver.” Why was this the case? Wilson continues, “The ancient Hebrews would have never thought of blessing what they ate. The idea would have been totally foreign to them; it would have been an insult of sorts, to God! If everything that God created was very good (Genesis 1:29-31, and Genesis 9:3-4), why should someone imply that it was unholy and profane and needed to be blessed again by God? The idea that you had to sanctify, cleanse, or purify what God had already said was good would have been foreign to the early Jewish people. To do this would have suggested that food and drink were unacceptable until they were blessed and made holy through prayer.” How then did our practice of blessing the food originate? In all likelihood, this practice has its origins in Greek thought. The Greeks and Gnostics shared the belief that material (physical) things were, by nature, unholy and unclean. Therefore, according to this belief, it was necessary to “make holy” the things that were of this world.

You could point out that there are several examples in the new Testament of Jesus giving a blessing at meal time. For example, in Matthew 14:19 it says, “He gave thanks and broke the loaves.” Also, in Matthew 26:26 it says, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it.” Almost every Bible scholar agrees that the “thanks” or “blessing” that Jesus would have given at these meals would have been the b’rakhah (blessing, benediction) that Jews have said for over two thousand years before meals. Jesus would have said, “Barukh attah, Adonai Eloheynu, melekh-ha’olam, haMotzi lecheem, minha’aretz”, or in English, “Blessed are you O lord, our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” In this age-old prayer that Jesus would have recited, again God is the one being blessed and not the food.

What does this short study tell us? Let’s not bless the food since food is already one of God’s blessings to us. Instead, let us bless God for providing our daily bread for us! We should express our gratitude and thanks to God who provides all our needs, including our need for food. By blessing God and thanking Him for our food, it will help us to focus on God and to thank Him in every area of our life. As Paul says in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Note: I gleaned this lesson from the following sources that you may want to look at further. They are:

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” — Mark 14:12

Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper is one of the most recognized paintings in the world. Painted as a mural on the wall of a church in Milan, Italy in the late fifteenth century, this work of art is renowned the world over for capturing one of the most significant events in the New Testament story of Jesus and His earthly ministry.

The setting for the painting is the evening of the Passover Meal that Jesus shared with His disciples, just before his arrest, trial and crucifixion. At this Passover Seder, Jesus told His followers that He was going to be the Passover Lamb for the whole world and that His life would be poured out as a ransom for the sins of many. He also told them that He would be betrayed by one of His own disciples.

This seminal event in Christianity is still celebrated every time Christians take the Communion Meal. Unfortunately, this wonderful painting of the event is inaccurate in almost every single historical detail! Huh? How is it misleading and inaccurate? Let’s look at the details and see.

  1. The thirteen men in the picture are definitely light skinned, fair haired Europeans dressed in fifteenth century Renaissance clothing. The Jewish Rabbi from the Galilee has been recast into a fifteenth century Renaissance man to fit the image of the prevailing culture!
  2. The building in which the meal is being held resembles an Italian Palace with tall walls and multiple corridors. Jesus took the Passover Meal in a small upper room in Jerusalem.
  3. The Passover Meal is always taken in the evening after sundown to replicate the Exodus Story. In Da Vinci’s painting, blue sky and clouds are visible through the windows, making it a midday meal.
  4. The meal for the Passover was always the same; roasted lamb and matza (unleavened bread). In the mural, fish and loaves of leavened bread are on the table! Also, there are crystal glasses of wine on the table. Glass was not used by the Jewish common people and the goblets would have been made of wood or clay.
  5. All the participants of the meal are sitting upright in chairs at a long table with Jesus in the center position. This reflects the fifteenth century custom of having the host or most honored guest in the center position. However, the Jewish custom of Jesus’ time period was to recline on the floor on your left elbow, with pillows for support and dine around a three sided low table called a triclinium. The guest of honor was always placed in the second position from the right end (see picture). A long table and chairs was not part of the seating arrangement during this time period.

The observance of the Passover Meal celebrating God’s great deliverance of His children from the hands of the cruel Pharaoh is the landmark event in Jewish history. Fourteen hundred years after the Passover events took place, Jesus and His Jewish disciples were still celebrating this miraculous event by eating the Passover Meal together (And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. – Luke 22:15). It is regrettable that the Jewish Rabbi Jesus and his disciples have been changed and westernized to the point that we only able to picture them in our present day Gentile culture. Christianity has undeniably Jewish Roots. Jesus, His disciples, and almost all the early believers were Jewish. Today, we don’t even think of Jesus as a Jew – much less consider our faith in light of its rich Jewish heritage. The same mistakes that are in DaVinci’s painting are also mistakes that are being made in modern Christianity. We have westernized and “Gentilized” the Christian faith to the point that we have completely lost sight of its Jewish beginnings. Modern day Christians would do well to learn and know their Jewish roots and heritage and try to understand the Bible based on the culture of the time period in which it was written. The better we know the world of the Bible, the better we will understand the words of the Bible.

A Healing on the Sabbath

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

— Luke 13:10-17

The account of Jesus healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath is a Bible story that most of us are familiar with. However, a careful re-reading of this story with some cultural details added brings out some delightful surprises. Let’s take a look.

In Luke 13:10 it says that Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. A woman who had been crippled and bent over for eighteen years was there to listen to His teaching. Jesus spoke to her and called her forward and healed her. This evidently stirred up a firestorm of controversy because Jesus had healed or done work on the Sabbath. This was an area that Jesus had been constantly attacked over. A look back at Luke 6:1-12 as well as Luke 14:1-6 and John 5:1-18 shows several more examples of these confrontations. From our previous Rabbi studies (see Jesus, A Jewish Rabbi, Part 3 & Part 4) we learned that Jesus was a Rabbi with “s’mekah” or authority. This meant that He had the authority to overrule old laws and make new interpretations concerning the Jewish oral laws and traditions that the Pharisees were so rigid on. In Mark 2:27, Jesus gave one of these new interpretations in response to being criticized for misusing the Sabbath. He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

When Jesus healed the woman in Luke 13, The NIV says that He said to her, “Woman you are set free from your infirmity.” The literal Greek translated there is, “woman you are ‘untied’ from your infirmity.” Knowing this one word is a huge key to understanding the rest of the story and how He used it to make the Pharisees look bad. Jesus then calls the Pharisees hypocrites because that very Sabbath morning they had “untied” their livestock and had taken them out to eat and drink and relieve themselves, yet they were criticizing Him for “untying” this woman and releasing her from her infirmity! “Which is more important to do on the Sabbath?”, Jesus asked, “untying your livestock or this woman?” His opponents were humiliated and all the people listening were delighted at Jesus’ common sense new interpretation of the Sabbath laws.

A cultural detail that is interesting and important to this story is that in the Middle East, during this time in history, people kept some of their more important animals in the house with them at night. People slept in a raised area of the house and kept their animals in a step down area by the entrance (see diagram in the story of “No Room in the Inn”). Every morning when they began their day they would untie and let the animals out of the house to relieve themselves. The Sabbath would have been no exception; they had to be let out every day. Jesus was saying to the Pharisees, “Look how unreasonable and unbending you are. You have no problem untying your animals on the Sabbath, yet you won’t let me “untie” this woman from an infirmity that has plagued her for years!” What is the difference? His adversaries were put to shame! This story is a great example of why Jesus was well thought of and followed by such a huge crowd of people. They were amazed at His authority and His ability to make such brilliant and fresh new interpretations of the Laws of Moses.

Behold the Man


'Ecce Homo' - Antonio Ciseri

'Ecce Homo' - Antonio Ciseri

When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
John 19:5

This well recognized and famous painting of Jesus with Pontius Pilate was done by Italian artist Antonio Ciseri in the mid 1800’s. The title of the painting is, “Ecce Homo” in Latin, which means, “Behold the Man”. Those were the words of Pontius Pilate as he spoke to the crowd in John 19:5,  immediately before he sent Jesus to be crucified. With this wonderful painting and it’s title as a backdrop, here are some thoughts that may shed some light on the age old question of, “Who are we and what are we doing here?

Jesus’ disciples and followers came to know Jesus the man; first as their Rabbi, Master, and Teacher and following His death and resurrection, as their Savior. They walked and studied the man day and night for over three years. They knew him intimately and absorbed His teachings and character into their own personalities. They did not understand that He was eventually going to die for them and be resurrected as their Savior. Their gift of salvation came at the end of their journey.  For every believer since the resurrection, that process has been reversed. Now, we first encounter Him by faith and take Him as our resurrected Savior and only later, if at all, do we come to know him as a man and our Rabbi, Master, and Teacher. Because of this reversal it is easy for the death and resurrection to overshadow our need to  learn from and about our Rabbi, Jesus. It requires only a simple faith to receive His salvation, but to know him as Rabbi and Teacher takes work. Salvation is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9), but discipleship is a walk (1 John 2;4-6). But, shouldn’t His rabbinical teaching ministry be as important to us as his death and resurrection? We cannot ignore or minimize either His death or His life. The Bible requires of us not only to have faith in Jesus, but also the faith (or faithfulness) of Jesus. We can’t just accept him as Savior, we must also learn to walk as Jesus walked.

Pilate said to the crowd, “Behold the Man”. What about the man, Jesus? What about His thirty three years on earth and the three and a half years of His public ministry before His death and resurrection? Shouldn’t we take the teachings of His life and the scriptures that He studied as seriously as we count on His redeeming death and resurrection? Dwight Pryor says concerning Jesus, “His mission as the ‘Son of Man’ was to be lifted up on a cross for the world. His mission as a ‘Man’ was to raise up many disciples”. We are supposed to become His disciples, His students. We all know the Great Commission that Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19-20, that we are to go and make disciples. But, the burning question is, “How can we make our own disciples if we have never been a student, ourselves?”

It is safe to say that Jesus wants to be our rabbi and mentor just as badly as He wants to be our Messiah and Savior. How do we “Behold the Man”? There is no way around the hard work and discipline of becoming a disciple. To get to know Him, we have to spend time in His Word. To study God’s Word is the highest form of worship. We learn the truth about the man, Jesus by studying his very words to us. John 8:31 says, “To those Jews who had believed in Him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to (continue in) my teachings, your really are my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’” It is our personal and corporate responsibility to know that truth, the truth that will set us free. Our churches are full each week of people who have taken Christ as their savior and have put their faith in Him as their resurrected Lord. But, they don’t know much about the man, Jesus and what He taught and how He lived. How can they imitate Him if they don’t know what He did and said? People must be challenged and exhorted to do the hard work of discipleship, to “Behold the Man!” Only then will they know the truth and have purpose and know who they are and what they are doing here!

The Second Moses Found in the Christmas Story

The Christmas Story is always portrayed and remembered as a wonderful and warm event with pleasant and happy feelings. The soft manger scene with Mary and child, the joyful angels, excited shepherds, and expectant and adoring wise men are the way the story is always told. We limit our story from the Text to the positive part that is full of heavenly promises and peace on earth and good will to men. However, there is a very disturbing part of the text that is never mentioned in the Christmas Story and that is the killing of the babies by Herod. This slaughter of innocent children vividly portrays the violent world into which Jesus was born. Only Matthew includes this hideous story in his events of the birth of Jesus. Why did Matthew include this part of the birth story in his gospel? We have to remember that Matthew was a Jew and his target audience was his fellow Jewish brethren. His main purpose was to prove to his Jewish readers that Jesus was the promised Messiah that had been expected for generations. He did this by showing how Jesus, in His life and ministry, fulfilled the Hebrew (Old) Testament Scriptures. Matthew uses more quotations from the Old Testament than any other New Testament author and uses a lot of Jewish terminology in his writings. What is the significance of the killing of the babies in the Christmas Story and what does it have to do with Jesus as the Messiah?

Why did Matthew and not Mark, Luke, or John, make sure that this part of the Christmas Story was known?

One possibility is that Matthew, because of his Jewish background, wanted to portray Jesus as the “new” or “second” Moses. In the book of Exodus, Moses was born into the same kind of circumstances. Pharaoh was having every male Jewish baby killed and the baby Moses only escaped through divine intervention and miraculous circumstances. Moses then grew up to be God’s chosen instrument to save the Jewish nation from bondage. Now, here is baby Jesus, hundreds of years later, also escaping death at the hand of an earthly king who was having every baby boy slaughtered. Again, God intervened in history and saved the baby Jesus, and then used Him as His chosen instrument to save the Jewish people from their bondage. Jesus, in this sense, was the “second Moses” to come to save the Jewish people. This fulfilled the prophecy given by God to Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, which says, “The Lord will raise up for you a prophet like me (Moses) from among your own brothers. You must listen to him…. I will put my words in his mouth”. (See also Are You the Prophet?)

This image of Jesus as the new or second Moses is found throughout the Gospels and the Epistles, but this is a place that I hadn’t seen it before. Matthew was making yet another connection from the Hebrew Testament to Jesus as He fulfilled one prophecy after another to show that He was the promised Messiah, sent by God. It makes for another fascinating piece of the puzzle that is, “God’s very words to us”, the Bible!