Zechariah, Elizabeth, Christmas, and the Law of God

It’s Christmas time!  (No, I don’t observe Christmas, but the telling of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) birth in the gospels is always fun to read!)

The gospel of Luke tells of the priest Zechariah, his wife Elizabeth, and how they became the parents of the one called “John the Baptist.”  (See Luke 1:5-24).  At the beginning of the story this comment is made about them.

“And they [Zechariah and Elizabeth] were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”  Luke 1:6 (ESV), [parenthetical comment mine].

I’ll admit that I had read this verse many times over the years before it hit me what it was saying.  ‘Blameless’ under “the law”???  That’s not possible, is it?  At least it isn’t possible according to most teachings.  But there isn’t any confusion about what the verse means.  They were walking blamelessly.

The confusion stems from a false idea that the law of God was given so that people could attain salvation.  But nowhere in the Bible is any such comment made or alluded to.  The law of God defines God’s standard of righteousness, and details His grace, mercy, loving kindness, and forgiveness.

Zechariah and Elizabeth could walk blamelessly because they walked according to how God said to live, and when they messed up, they sought His forgiveness and, if required, offered a sacrifice.

They were ‘blameless’ not because of perfection, but because they adhered to what God said in all aspects of life, including doing what He said when they did something intentionally or inadvertently wrong.

We need to get rid of this idea that the law of God can’t be followed.  That idea has been eroding the foundations of the church for long enough!

We can walk blamelessly, and Yeshua (Jesus) opened up that possibility to all people.  But to do so one has to first commit to completely following God and His ways.

I don’t mean that everyone has to suddenly learn and follow all the law of God upon “accepting Yeshua (Jesus) as Lord and savior.”  Paul addresses this in most of his letters, as does the council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15:1-35).

The walk in righteousness is a process.  Paul understood that to suddenly require someone to follow the entire law of God will lead to legalism every time.  (Legalism is the thought that one needs to follow God’s law to acquire salvation).

God’s law is perfect and is His unchanging standard of righteousness.  But there are really only 5 fundamental things required of new (gentile) believers.  Yes, I said ‘required.’  They are listed in the letter written to the gentiles by those at the council in Acts 15:1-35.  Well, they list 4 things, abstain from: blood; meat from animals strangled; from food offered to idols; and from fornication.  The fifth thing is assumed from the context: the regular hearing of God’s word.

So, walk can walk blamelessly.  And with joy knowing that Yeshua (Jesus) walks with.

Shalom!  – Yosef

 

Zaphenath-paneah and the Christmas Tree

If you recognize the name of Zaphenath-paneah (as spelled in the ESV Bible) as being the name of a very well known Biblical character who lived roughly 1500 years before Yeshua (Jesus), then you should enter Bible trivia contests!

Zaphenath-paneah is the name Pharaoh gave to Joseph (the son of Jacob and Rachel) when he elevated him to 2nd in command over Egypt.  What did Joseph have to do with a Christmas tree?  Well, nothing really, but the title leads into the topic of this blog post.

The teaching where Joseph is presented as a shadow of Yeshua is fairly well known.  If you haven’t heard of such an idea, google something such as “Joseph as a type of Jesus”.  You’ll get many hits, some from some very good sources.  One source I see there is from the group Jews for Jesus.

This post is about one aspect of that idea.  After the famine hits Egypt, Joseph’s brothers travel to Egypt to buy food.  They appear before Joseph but don’t recognize him, and bow before him.  (It’s a really fun story – read it in Genesis 41 through 44).  Why don’t they recognize him?  Well, he looked and talked Egyptian!

One of the reasons today that Jews do not accept Yeshua (Jesus) as the promised Messiah is that he has been made over to look like a gentile.

(By the way, ‘gentile’ is not a bad word.  It simply means ‘of the nations’.)  All manner of lifestyle and traditions have been painted over him; so much so that he is no longer recognizable as the pork avoiding, Sabbath observing, Jew that he is.

The difference between Yeshua and Joseph, though, is that Joseph was truly dressed up and talked as an Egyptian, whereas Yeshua never actually wore the costume that is over him.  But it has been taught as tradition for so long that only the made up Jesus (Yeshua) is visible.

For this Christmas, then, I challenge you, the reader, to peel back some of the trappings that have been put around Yeshua (Jesus) and see if you can’t find the real man.  The one born to Jewish parents (see the next blog for a neat fact about them), and raised in Jewish surroundings.  One who never violated any of God’s Torah, and even observed some Jewish traditions! 

All of this can be discovered simply by reading the gospels and paying attention to what is really being said – not what traditionally has been put in his mouth!

Shalom!    – Yosef

Islam vs. Christianity

There is quite a lot of hype out there about how good or how bad Islam is, depending on what you are looking for.  I’m not going to add to that, but want to give a slightly different perspective on the entire situation.  If you want information on the dangers of Islam, look at sites such as J-Ms History Corner (the most recent I’ve run across) where he reblogged an article from Leo Hohman, or any other site.  There are many sites out there about Islam.

So, what is this post about?

This post is about changing our perspective on how we view, and how we respond to Islam and its growing popularity.

First, one thing surprises me.  In all the rhetoric about how violent Islam can be, and how it kills people, I never hear people mention Christianity’s past.  Not even its recent past.  Christianity has a horrible, blood thirsty past.  Much of what radical Muslims do today, Christianity did in its past.  That doesn’t make it right, but deliberately forgetting that fact is, perhaps, a bit arrogant.

One hears much about how ‘peaceful’ Islam is.  Granted, there are many Muslims who are peaceful, and there is even one sect of Islam where all adhere to a peaceful lifestyle.  Yet, the two main sects, Sunni and Shia, both persecute the other sects of Islam.  No surprise there!

Why do I bring up Christianity’s past and peaceful Islamic sects?  Because I want to point something out.  The way to guard against Islam spreading is not in understanding Islam, it is in following Yehovah (the LORD).

One of the reasons that Islam is gaining so much popularity in this country (USA) and other countries, is that Christianity has thrown out its foundation.  It no longer has a solid foundation upon which to build faith in God.  And, oddly enough (sarcastically said), people like having a foundation that seems solid, thus Islam prospers.

So, if you want to stand against Islam, return to Yehovah (the LORD) and obey His Word.  Realize that He gave us a solid foundation to live upon.  With it gone or watered down, anything can move in and take its place.

Stand up for belief in what is written in God’s word!  Don’t be ashamed to stand firm against the culture’s attack against the Bible.  God’s word stands, and has stood, for thousands of years.

Stand firm on the gospel.  That Yeshua (Jesus) came to this earth in flesh, suffered for our sake, died, and then rose again!  Giving us all the hope of eternal life after death.  Stand on this!

Don’t compromise with His Word.  If our churches would return to God’s word, and away from the foundation-less traditions they have formed, then perhaps our society would stand against all the onslaughts against it!

And thank and praise Him each day!

– Yosef

Peter and the Floating Pig

Most Christians have heard the story (in Acts chapter 10) about Peter having a vision of a large sheet being lowered from heaven; it being full of all sorts of animals and birds; and he being told to ‘rise and eat.’  And most Christians have heard that the vision was given to show Peter that he could eat anything, including pork.  And that is the end of the discussion.

But is that what the vision is really about?  Let’s look at the whole story.  (By the way, the vision itself is in Acts 10:9-16).

First, note that the story of Peter’s vision is given in the middle of the story about the Roman centurion Cornelius, and his vision.   In Biblical literature, this is a clue that the two stories have something to do with one another.

Next, take a look at Peter’s initial reaction to the vision.  Peter exclaimed, “By no means, Lord: for I have never eaten anything this is common or unclean.” Acts 10:14 (ESV).   Apparently, Peter was either never told he could eat anything, or he never understood that he had been told.

And what was Peter’s immediate reaction after the vision was over.  It’s written, “Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision … might mean.” Acts 10:17 (ESV).  In other words, he wasn’t immediately thinking that the vision had anything to do with food.

The Biblical narrative then relates that the servants sent by Cornelius are at the door.  This is another hint that the two stories are interrelated.

Then Peter, in talking with Cornelius and the people with him, states,

“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”  Acts 10:28 (ESV)

When did God show Peter this?  The whole context of the story points to Peter’s vision.  Add to that the realization that the ‘law’ Peter is referring to is not one of God’s laws!

Lastly, take a look at Acts 11:1-18.  The other apostles and brothers in Christ had heard what had happened, that Peter had visited with, and even eaten with, Gentiles, and they asked Peter about it.  Peter then related the vision he had seen.

And what happens next?  Acts 11:18 states,

“When they heard these things they fell silent.  And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’ “

Not one of them thought the vision had anything to do with calling unclean animals now fit to be eaten.  It didn’t even occur to them that the vision had anything to do with food!

So why did God use all manner of unclean animals to show Peter that no person is to be called unclean?  I don’t know. Why does God so often compare people to sheep, or even sheep and goats?

Perhaps it is a subtle reminder that He is the one that has created all things, and He is the one who dictates which things are to be considered clean and which are to be considered unclean.

It is also a strong reminder to not put words in God’s mouth.   God said clearly,

“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it…” Deuteronomy 4:2 (ESV)

God gave Peter a very graphic reminder through this vision.   God never called gentiles (as a whole group) unclean!

Shalom.  – Yosef

 

Abraham and the Sanctity of Marriage; Genesis 12

Many of us know or have heard the stories of Abraham and Sarah coming to a new town, and Abraham having Sarah say that she is his sister, not his wife.  And there is a plethora of good teaching around these incidences.  However, I’d like to point something out that is coming from a different perspective, and has a rather interesting and deep commentary about our cultures today.

Abraham has Sarah say that she is his sister, not his wife.  Why?  Because he doesn’t want the people to kill him and then take Sarah to themselves.

Why would would they kill Abraham if Sarah were his wife?  Why was he safe if she were his sister?

Apparently, the ancient world held marriage so sacred that they wouldn’t even dream of taking another man’s wife!  [Now before you start thinking that this shows very high morals on the part of the ancients, remember that, though they wouldn’t break the sanctity of marriage, they apparently had no qualms about killing the husband and then taking the now unmarried woman!]

Most (or all) of the western cultures today hold marriage in such a low regard that it is considered a ‘normal’ part of life to break the sanctity of marriage.  Doing so is even considered entertainment!  The whole entertainment industry (movies and such) treats marriage with low regard and treats adultery as something good – and Christians don’t think twice about watching such stuff!  This should not be!

I had a good friend of mine point out to me that the story about Abraham and Sarah showed that holding up a marriage was (is) a cultural responsibility It takes more then just the husband and wife to keep a marriage going.  Ancient civilizations apparently knew and practiced this.  Well, to some extent.

Today, though we may hear sermons and have seminars about the importance of marriage, it is a sad fact that the culture supports the opposite.  Just look at how many (the majority) movies disregard the preciousness of marriage.  And when was the last time you heard a preacher call the people to quit watching such tripe; such stuff that is displeasing to Yehovah (the LORD)?

Why has watching sinful behavior become an acceptable form of entertainment?

Okay, so I’ll quit ranting.  In closing consider this:

“…hold fast to what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 (ESV)

It would be good if we (myself included) would take these words to heart, even to including the entertainment we watch.

Shalom!  – Yosef