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

A Seat at the Table: A 50th Wedding Anniversary Story

In the fall of 2019, we started planning a 2020 family event to celebrate our fifty years of marriage. We had two main challenges for all our family to be together at one time. The first was to find a place that we could fly or preferably drive to that would be feasible to accommodate eight adults and eight grandchildren. The second and bigger issue, however, was to find a 5-day window that all the families with their hectic schedules could agree to. After many phone sessions and calendar marking, we settled on a large ranch property in the northern part of our state that we could all drive to that could handle our big family group. Unbelievably, they had an open date for a time frame that would not interfere with travel ball, Little League, ballet, and summer camps already on the schedule. When we firmed up the plans and made our deposit in the middle of 2019, there was no way we could have foreseen the havoc that the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 would wreak on the lives of all our families. All the events that had once completely filled the summer schedule of our children’s families were now canceled. No air travel, no baseball, no summer camps, no ballet recitals, nothing was open or available. Also, because of travel concerns, had we chosen anywhere but the place we did, we would have had to cancel the whole celebration. In the midst of the crisis all around us, God had graciously decided in 2019, to orchestrate a place and a window of time in the summer of 2020 that we could all get to and leave all the scary things in the world behind us. After sheltering in place for most of the spring and summer, everyone was more than ready to embark on an adventure. Despite a few complications, the trip was still on!

We had rented a large lodge that had eight bedrooms that would exactly fit our family, which contained our three grown children and their spouses, and eight grandchildren ranging in age from 3-12. Five cars of us pulled into the lodge parking lot and everyone bailed out to survey the accommodations and the beautiful high country surroundings. We quickly made decisions as to which couples and which children would sleep in each bedroom. The view from the lodge was spectacular. A beautiful meadow with a high mountain lake could be seen from the large stone patio out the glass doors. An expansive great room had plenty of seating to accommodate our large group and plenty of tables to play board games. Thankfully, there was no TV or cell phone service to pull our attention away from the rest of the family.

Our favorite room, however, was the large dining room. The staff had put together four big tables to allow all sixteen of us to be seated around one huge table. I quickly counted the chairs, sixteen: exactly what we needed. For four straight days, we ate every breakfast and every dinner together with the whole family. Each day started off with a hearty breakfast of pancakes, waffles, or cinnamon rolls, eggs, bacon, sausage, all more than we could eat. Then we would be off to tackle various excursions, such as fishing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. The days were full of laughter and a constant buzz of activity. When evening came, we once again would gather together around the table for a marvelous dinner of local fare. During mealtime, we would noisily share the stories of the adventures of the day. We held hands and prayed before every meal and had a ”wave” love hand squeeze around the table after each prayer was finished.

What a wonderful week! It was all we could have ever hoped for and more. We made so many wonderful memories and loved every minute of it. Like our fifty years of marriage, it all went by way too quickly. Soon, it came time for the last evening meal and our final time to soak up the last of the wonderful memories. The table was so important to my wife and me because God gave us the realization that because of our love and commitment to each other over these past fifty years, every one of these sixteen people had a seat at our family table with us. What a blessing we had been given! What a heritage we had! Both our parents had also reached the fifty-year mark in their marriage, so we had some broad shoulders to stand on.

But, the picture of all our family at the table was the crowning moment for this special occasion. Tears flowed from all the adults as I explained to the grandchildren that because” Poppy” and “Gammy” had fallen in love and said, “I do” all those years ago, they were all here today. Our couple of two was now a family of sixteen, all sitting at the same table. My wife and I could plainly see in front of us that our family was the greatest testimony of our love. Through halting words I thanked God for how he had blessed, guided and sustained us through the good times and the difficult ones, to bring us to this place and to show us this wonderful picture of just what family looks like here on earth and also in heaven. If we are his children, we also will have a seat at His table with Him in heaven. What a memorable event and what a mental picture for us to take with us in these last years. God, we can’t thank you enough for the future generations that will come out of our act of love so many years ago. Thank you for showing us the wonderful picture of everyone having a seat at the table.

Deuteronomy 4:9

More Thoughts on Pentecost

Grain field

As we have written in our previous posts, the Jewish Feast of Shavuot or Pentecost was celebrated for two major reasons. The first was to acknowledge the fact that at this time of year, during the Exodus at Mt. Sinai, God gave his people the ten commandments and other instructions on how to live. The Torah was God’s contract with his people. Exodus 19:5 says, “If you will obey me fully, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession”. They celebrated to be reminded that they must closely observe all that God had commanded them to do. (Read, The Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost for more details).

The second reason that God said to set aside the Feast of Shavuot was an agricultural one. The timing of Shavuot was late May and early June which coincided with the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest. The Jewish nation was to thank him for his provision in the past and ask him to continue providing with this year’s crop. Deuteronomy 8: 10-18 tells the Israelites to not forget who brought them to this good land and has been providing for them all these years. During the celebration, you brought a portion of the first part of your wheat to give to God and ask Him to bless you with the rest as it ripens.

All during the time of the Feast, scriptures were read each day to remind the Israelites of the Exodus events and to be thankful and generous to the poor and alien. Exodus 19, Ezekiel 1, Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17, and the Book of Ruth were always read in full.

There was also another important concept that the Israelites were reminded to practice during the upcoming harvest. They were told In Leviticus 19:9-10 to not cut the corners of their field, but to leave some of the grain or grapes for the poor, alien, and widows. This was God’s way of taking care of the people that didn’t have as much or had been marginalized in some way. The post, “Don’t Cut the Corners of Your Field”, gives a lot more detail on this concept of how you showed how generous you were by the size of the corners of your field. This is such a wonderful practice and analogy of how generous we are supposed to be as we come into contact with people that don’t have as much as we do.

One New Testament story that was interesting to affirm this concept of leaving some of your harvest for others, was the story in the New Testament of Jesus gleaning the fields with his disciples. The story is found in Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28, and Luke 6:1-5. Did Jesus take advantage of this process during his earthly ministry? If you look at the King James Version of the Luke passage, it says, “And it came to pass on the second Sabbath after the first, Jesus was gleaning in the fields.” The KJV records and preserves the Jewish practice of allowing two Sabbaths for the poor and needy to go through the grain fields and get what they could to feed themselves. After the two week period, the farmer would be allowed to bring his animals in to finish cleaning everything up. Jesus and his disciples would have been taking advantage of that window of opportunity to get themselves something to eat.

To conclude, Shavuot (Pentecost) brought attention to some very important precepts that the Israelites were supposed to follow. They were to be thankful that God had chosen them as his special nation and was to be constantly mindful of his blessings. They were to be obedient to God’s laws and they were to be generous in their dealings with their own people and outsiders. Helping those less fortunate was always a big part of God’s message to the Israelites.

Pentecost: God Changed His Address

Note: In previous posts, we have discussed different aspects of the Bible event we call Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit came to the believers. The Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost, Where Heaven and Earth Meet Part 1 and Part 2, and Pentecost, Where were the Disciples, cover a lot of the background pieces that you will need to know to fully understand this final piece of the birth of Christianity, which took place during the time of the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2.

From the beginning, God has always wanted to dwell with his creation. In Genesis 3:8 it says that God walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Heaven and earth were one as God dwelt with his creation. Sadly, sin separated God from his creation and he was forced to banish Adam and Eve from the garden. (Genesis 3:23-24).

However, God did not give up on his desire to dwell with his creation. In Exodus, God chose a group of people to be his own(Exodus 19:5-6) and had their leader, Moses build a tent (tabernacle) that he could live alongside them (Exodus 25:8). With the tabernacle, God could be found again with his creation, living in a small space in the Holy of Holies, on top of the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:22).

The tabernacle was God’s dwelling place until the Israelites permanently conquered and settled the Promised Land. King David purchased the land to build God a permanent house and brought the tabernacle to Jerusalem. David’s son, Solomon, built the first Temple to give God a permanent place to live with his chosen people in the land that he had given them. After standing for several hundred years, this house was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the Israelites were led into captivity. This temple was later rebuilt in partial measure by the Israelites that returned from that captivity. Four hundred years later, Herod the Great then built a new, much larger and more magnificent temple over the site where Solomon’s temple had stood. This temple was still under construction during the time of Jesus.

The whole world knew that YHVH lived in his temple in Jerusalem. If you wanted to meet with God, you had to come to Jerusalem to his house. Jews from all over the world came at least three times a year to be in his presence. However, access to God was severely limited; only one man could be in His space and then, only once a year.

Finally, God sent his Son, Jesus to earth to complete his plan to fully dwell again with his people. (Jeremiah 31:31-34). While Jesus was on earth, God’s presence was among men; he was God in the flesh. Jesus called the Temple, “My Father’s House” (Luke 2:49 and John 2:16). Now, God’s presence was found not only at the Temple, but in his son, Jesus, and God’s presence was with Jesus everywhere he went. When Jesus completed his work on earth, he ascended back to heaven to be with his Father, at his right hand.

All this background is needed for what happened to the disciples during the Feast of Pentecost. They had waited ten days after the Ascension for the promise that Jesus had made to them of receiving the power of God’s Spirit. On the first day of the Feast of Pentecost, at 9:00 a.m., while they were at the Temple (God’s House), God spirit appeared as tongues of fire and came out of the old house into a new house, the hearts of the believers! He now dwells in a new temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). The corporate body of believers is now God’s house, the building where he dwells (Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2:5). Now, you don’t have to go to the Temple anymore to find God. The house now comes to the people; you bring the presence of God with you, wherever you go. If you want to know what God is like, just look at his house (us) where his spirit lives. At Pentecost, God changed his address and we are his new house. His purpose from the beginning was to intimately dwell with his people and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost accomplished that purpose, once and for all. We are the beneficiaries of his spirit, not just for our personal edification, but to show to a broken world what God is like and to bring those broken people back to a relationship with him. What an amazing plan and what an amazing God we serve!

At the Father’s Right Hand

We saw from our study of the Ascension, that when Jesus was taken up to heaven in a cloud (Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9), He fulfilled at least two prophesies about the Messiah from the Hebrew Bible. In the book of Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14), Daniel had a vision of one called ”son of man” who was enthroned as the ruler of all the Earth, and His dominion would be everlasting and never destroyed. This was the first use of the term, ”son of man”, to describe the coming Messiah that the Jews were expecting. Jesus frequently used this phrase to refer to Himself to show that he was the eschatological figure spoken of in Daniel (see also Mark 8:31). In fact, Jesus used this phrase eighty-one times in the Gospels, and that same term was not used by anyone else but Jesus (see the Ascension story for more details).

Mark 16:19 states that ”Jesus was taken up to heaven and sat at the right hand of God.” This also fulfilled a major prophecy from David in Psalms 110:1 (see study notes). In this passage, God said to the one who was to come (Messiah), “sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Jesus quoted this verse to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:41-46 to show them that it was He who was the one who would be seated at the Father’s right hand.

From this background, we can conclude that when the disciples saw Jesus ascending, they knew that He was going up to heaven to be seated at the right hand of God in the very throne room of God. This is supported by several later mentions by the New Testament authors and characters. For example, Stephen, as he was being stoned in Acts 7:55-56, saw a vision of the son of man (Jesus) in heaven, standing at the right hand of God. Paul, in Romans 8:34-35, declared that Jesus is now at the right hand of God, interceding for us. Paul repeats this claim in his letter to the Ephesian church in Ephesians 1:20 and also to the church in Colossae in Colossians 3:1. Peter says in 1 Peter 3:22, that Christ has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand. The book of Hebrews has many references to this idea of Jesus being at God’s right hand. Hebrews 1:3 says, “that after Jesus had finished providing purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” The footnote to this verse says that being seated at God’s right hand indicates that the work of redemption is complete. Hebrews 8:1 says, “we do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 10:12 echoes this theme: “when this priest had offered for all time the sacrifice of sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Hebrews 12:2 sums it up perfectly, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of God.”

What then is the concept and the cultural significance behind the idea of the “right hand” in the world during this time in history? Temple of Edfu, EgyptThe hand was very symbolic of the ancient world. The hand represented the authority of the individual and was the instrument that carried out a person’s intentions. From the earliest of times, the right hand was the symbol of authority. Most people were right-handed and the left hand was used for sanitary purposes and thus thought of as carrying a lower status. With the right hand, blessings, fellowship, and even vows were extended, and conversely, punishment and wrath were extracted on enemies. In Egypt, every Pharaoh was depicted on the walls of their temples with an extended right arm, often with some sort of weapon in hand. This extended right arm displayed their authority.

To be seated at the right hand of a ruler or host meant that you were occupying a place of high honor. If you sat at the King’s right hand, you acted as the principal agent of his authority and you were second in command only to the KIng himself. This is where we get the idea in English, ”right-hand man”. This was a well-known concept in the Roman world as well. Many of the statues of the Caesar’s have them posing with his right hand forward, upward and extended to show that he had supreme authority. At his death, Julius Caesar was claimed to have gone to heaven to sit at the right hand of Zeus, the supreme Roman god.

What then can we conclude from this cultural look at Jesus sitting at the right hand of God? What did the Ascension accomplish? Jesus has finished his redemption work and is now sitting in a place of rest in his Father’s throne room in heaven. Everything that he came to do, he accomplished. It is finished. All of His redeeming work was done. Nothing else was required on earth, so He went back to take his rightful place on His throne. He is there now interceding with God on our behalf (Romans 8:34). Because of His status at the Father’s right hand, He has full authority to carry out God’s will on the Earth. He is God’s right-hand man. The disciples, as they watched Him ascend to heaven, now knew that Jesus was indeed divine and would be in charge and with them wherever they went. And, boldly they did go to the ends of the Earth to spread the good news (gospel) that Jesus saves and that He is in on the throne and is reigning forever (read Isaiah 52:7 to see what the good news really is from the text).

Doubting Thomas

There are a few New Testament Bible stories that are so universally known that the main character takes on a life and meaning of his own. That character’s name and actions become synonymous with certain personality traits that supersede the story’s real intent. For example, the story that Jesus told in Luke 10:30-37 about a man being robbed, beaten and left for dead is not remembered as the answer to the questions that Jesus was asked, “who is the neighbor”, but is known as the story of the” Good Samaritan”. Now, anyone who helps out someone in need is called a Good Samaritan, even though that was not the point of Jesus’ story. A second example is a parable that Jesus told in Luke 15 to answer the question of why he would eat with sinners and tax collectors. The young man in the story who wanted his inheritance early and left the family has over time become known as the ”Prodigal Son”. If anyone has wandered from the faith and returned, he is called a prodigal son. Again, that was not the main meaning of the parable that answered the Pharisees question of why Jesus would be hanging out with sinners.

Another story that has this kind of handle attached to the character is the story of Thomas, one of the 12 apostles (disciples) of Jesus. Because of his questioning reaction to the news that his rabbi, whom he witnessed being crucified and then buried, had now come back to life and was seen by the rest of the disciples, he has been forever labeled as,” Doubting Thomas”. Today, if anyone has a tendency to be hesitant or skeptical of a situation, they are labeled as a “Doubting Thomas”. Is this a fair label to hang on this disciple of Jesus or should he be remembered in a different light? What do we really know about Thomas? A little digging will show that this little known member of the twelve was a fiercely loyal and faith-filled apostle that was willing to give his life and travel to the ends of the earth to share the good news that he had been witness to for the three years leading up to the incidents in Jerusalem. Yes, he had some misgivings and questions because of what he had seen, but in the end, we should all strive to be more like this devout follower of Jesus.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Thomas is only mentioned as one of the twelve. In Matthew 10:3 and Luke 6:12-16 he is listed as one of the ones that were given the special title,” apostle”. The book of John has by far the most information on Thomas. In John 11: 16, we learn that he was also called, “Didymus”, which means twin, but doesn’t tell us who his twin was. A verse that gives us a great insight into Thomas’ personality is found in the same chapter of John. Near the end of Jesus’ ministry, in John 11:1-3, Jewish leaders were plotting to kill him. The disciples received news that their friend, Lazarus, was near death. Fearing for their lives, they tried to talk Jesus out of going to Lazarus’ hometown of Bethany, because it was too close to Jerusalem. Jesus was determined to go and Thomas spoke to the rest of the disciples and said, “Let us also go that we may die with him”. This statement, in the face of death, showed extreme courage and loyalty.

Thomas also showed extreme loyalty in John 14:1-6, when Jesus told the disciples that he was going to leave them very soon to go to his Father’s house to prepare a place for them. This confused the disciples and Thomas was the first to speak up and say, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” This statement implies that Thomas wanted to figure it out and wanted desperately to go where his Rabbi was going.

Unfortunately, what Thomas is known for in the Gospels is a statement to the other disciples that he needed proof to believe that Jesus had actually risen from the grave. He wasn’t in the room when Jesus showed himself to the rest of the disciples (John 20:24-29). He was saying,” I want to see it as you guys did, so I can also believe”, which was an honest statement given the unbelievable thought that Jesus had somehow come back from the dead. Jesus lovingly gave Thomas proof and let him feel and touch his resurrected body. Thomas immediately confessed, “My Lord and my God”! He was not a doubter at all-like the others, he saw and believed!

What happened to Thomas after the resurrection? Acts 1:13 lists him among the disciples that witnessed the Ascension. From that miraculous event, we have to depend on church history to see what happened to ‘Doubting Thomas”. History records that he traveled east from Jerusalem to spread the gospel as Jesus had commanded them. He traveled to Parthia (modern-day Eastern Iran) and then on to the far reaches of the known world in India. Look at a map to see how far he went to spread the good news that he was a witness of. In 72 A.D. while preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, he was killed with a spear by the local pagan priests who were vehemently opposed to his teachings. Like all the other disciples but John, he was martyred for his faith.

Let’s remember Thomas, not as a doubter, but a fiercely loyal follower of his rabbi, and our Messiah Jesus Christ.

Is Jesus in the Old Testament, Too?

The Appearance to the Apostles (Maestà)

The Appearance to the Apostles by Duccio di Buoninsegna

We often hear the catchy phrase that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. As you read the New Testament gospels, you can catch a glimpse of how the New Testament stories of Jesus might be revealing the answer to some Old Testament verses (such as the Passover Lamb and riding into Jerusalem on a donkey). However, we have a harder time looking in our Old Testament and finding Jesus. If it is concealed, how do we find them? For the most part, we seemed to be satisfied just to have the accounts in the New Testament of His life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and don’t feel the need to see if it was prophesied somewhere long ago. Does the Old Testament really predict all of these events ahead of time and is Jesus really concealed in all its pages? Another fascinating story, on the heels of the Emmaus Road story in Luke 24:36-49 will shed some light on this question. Is Jesus really in the Old Testament?

The story in Luke has Jesus appearing to his disciples the evening of the day that he was resurrected. John 20:19 tells us that the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid that the Jewish leaders were after them. Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst and began conversing with them. As you can imagine, even though he was standing among them, they were having a hard time believing that He had actually come back from the grave. Jesus showed them His hands and feet and ate a piece of fish so they would see that He was indeed alive and not a ghost!

Then, in verse 44-49, it says, ”he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.” In verse 44, He made this amazing statement, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses (Torah), the Prophets (Neviim) and the Psalms (Ketuvim).” The Hebrew Bible is called the Tanakh because of these three divisions. (Read, A Lesson from the Tanakh for a complete description). Jesus was saying, “I have fulfilled every prophecy in every part of the Hebrew scriptures that you know so well. Every section of the text refers back to me.” What a lesson that must have been when He showed them everything that had just happened in the Hebrew Text!

What was the result of Jesus opening their minds to understanding the fact that they had actually been traveling with the ”Son of God”, the, promised, “Messiah” for three years? Jesus told them that because they were eyewitnesses to the fulfillment of all these prophecies, they were going to be responsible to now go out “and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem.” This sounds just like the parallel verse in Matthew 28:18-20, that we call the Great Commission. And, that is what they did, starting in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. The disciples ended up all over the known world, spreading the good news that their Rabbi and Messiah had taught and shown them while he was in their midst. What they had seen and been shown in the word convinced them to be completely sold out to their faith, even to the point of death, for all of them. This should give us more incentive to find Christ ourselves in the pages of the book and make his name known to a world that badly needs his promise of salvation.

P.S. An excellent place to start a study to find Christ in the Old Testament would be these two short articles:

  1. A Blueprint for the Messiah-Found in the Exodus
  2. Mining the Scriptures