Thursday, 12 September 2013

Yom Kippur - Forgive!

‘Resentment is an acid that damages its container.’

The central concept of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of our year, is forgiveness:

1.      for God to forgive us and
2.      for us to forgive ourselves and others.

One of the great treasures in the Bible is the instruction to free ourselves of anger and resentment, especially in dealing with close relationships:

You shall not hate your brother in your heart…You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge.  Leviticus 19:17-19

The Talmud notes ‘anyone who foregoes revenge merits that God forgives all of his sins.’   Yoma 22b-23a

Pesachim 113b further advises that God loves a person ‘who does not get angry … and who does not insist on his due measure.’

Maimonides goes further, in Laws of De'ot 7:7, requiring a person to ‘wipe the wrong from his heart entirely, without remembering it at all.’

Does this mean that we should be passive victims in the face of abuse? Absolutely not! The very same Biblical portion cited above tells us that:

1. We must verbally confront someone who has wronged us, in order to avoid hating him in our heart.

2. We must do so directly and emphatically, but without hatred and without destroying the relationship.

3. Similarly, we have an obligation to protect ourselves and not put ourselves in a vulnerable position where the offence may be repeated.

4. At the same time, we need to do so without speaking hostilely, or taking an action that goes beyond self-protection, without vengeance, or withdrawing into a cold, judgmental contempt, or prolonged silence.

There is a well known recurring tragic family scenario:
Over the years, a man has maintained an angry distance from a relative (a parent, child or sibling). Suddenly, the relative dies, and the man's love, long masked by a veneer of anger, erupts into awareness and the man is racked by regret and guilt. ‘How could I have wasted these years, when I could have….?

Yom Kippur offers us protection from such tragedy:
1.  Do not believe that you cannot forgive…it is always your task to achieve forgiveness.

2.  Understand that anger and resentment are sustained by irrational thoughts…if you deeply examine your anger, you will identify and correct these distortions.

3.  There is a negative force in the world, HaSatan, that seeks to destroy closeness…that force is the source of those irrational thoughts.

4.  Underneath the anger in personal relationships there is hurt, fear and most importantly, a need to love and be loved.

Forgiveness means that after I make my apology, I'm off the hook. Atonement means that I am engaged in hard work to restore the relationship to its original state.

The word for atonement in Hebrew is kaparah, which also means ‘wiping up.’ If I spill my grape juice on your carpet, I can say sorry and be forgiven. But the stain is still there. Atonement only comes when I get the carpet cleaners to come clean your carpet.

Making amends means trying to remove the stain, making things right again, and eventually even restoring the relationship to how it originally was.

If an apology will make the person feel better, then we may include an apology in the amends. But the main thing is that we make it up to the person in a way that is significant to them. Our amends to God are not an apology, but rather a sincere attempt to restore the relationship on His terms; the way He likes it.

Genesis 37:24 describes the pit into which Joseph was thrown, and  it states that it was an ‘empty pit, with no water.’  The obvious question is: why the irrelevant comment? Is it not obvious that if the pit was empty, it had no water?

Rashi, in his commentary on the verse, cites the Talmud: ‘It was empty of water, but full of snakes and scorpions.’

The spiritual parallel of snake and scorpion venom is explained in the two attitudes that threaten our spiritual life:
1.      enthusiasm for that which is wrong.
2.      indifference to that which is right.

What can we do to get rid of our own personal snakes and scorpions? Battling them is not the best option, as they will soon be replaced by others…

The best method is to fill the pit with water. Water represents the study and knowledge of God expressed and explained in by Jesus in the Gospels. The best way to protect yourself against spiritual snakes and scorpions is by filling your mind with the Living Waters of Jesus, the Fountain of Living Waters, because whoever believes in Him, out of his heart will flow rivers of Living Water. John 7.37

The Livin Water of Jesus fills every crevice, leaving no room for harmful feelings of guilt and other such negative thoughts that only serve to destroy the one who harbours them.

The key is ultimately in our own hands. Please use this key to unlock your heart on Yom Kippur.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Why was Salvation ‘..for the Jew first’?

Why was Salvation ‘..for the Jew first’?

In today’s world we can be accused of:
Ageism if we appear to diminish older people.
Sexism if we appear to diminish women.
Can we accuse Paul of Semitism, or Favouritism, when he appears to diminish Gentiles in Romans 1.16?:

The Gospel of Christ…is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (Gentile).  Romans 1:16 

Is Paul, as a Jew, revealing his Semitism and his Favouritism…or is he explaining the historical process of how the LORD has acted?

Paul makes it very clear in Acts 13 that he cannot be accused of either Semitism or Favouritism:
Paul … said, ‘It was necessary that the Word of God should be spoken to you (Jews) first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of Everlasting Life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. Acts 13:46 

In Exodus 6, The LORD promised the Jews, the Children of Israel, that He would save and redeem them from their bondage to the Egyptians:

The LORD said, I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will save you from their bondage, and I will redeem you Exodus 6:6 

We need to answer 5 questions:

1. What were the Jews saved from 3500 years ago?

2. What did Jesus save both Jews and Gentiles from 2000 years ago?

3. How did the LORD redeem the Jews 3500 years ago?

4. How did Jesus redeem both Jews and Gentiles 2000 years ago? 

5. What does Isaiah 53 explain about the Salvation and Redemption that Jews and Gentiles have through His blood?

Question 1. What were the Jews saved from 3500 years ago?

Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work.
Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, and deprived of the right to leave.  This was the situation that the Jews were suffering in Egypt. 

The LORD saved them from this bondage of slavery:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves; I have broken the bands of your yoke and made you walk upright.   Leviticus 26:13

The Psalmist is delighted at Salvation!:
Psalm 96:2  Sing to the LORD, bless His name; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Psalm 98:2  The LORD has made known His salvation; His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.

Question 2. What did Jesus save both Jews and Gentiles from 2000 years ago?

The Apostle John and Paul explain the spiritual problem of slavery that BOTH Jews and Gentiles have:
Jesus said, ‘Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin….’  John 8:34

Romans 6:6,12,23  Our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts….for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Happily, as Paul explains to Titus:
The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all menTitus 2:11 

And ‘the angel of the LORD’ makes clear to Joseph what Jesus will do:     
You shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.  Matthew 1:21

And John the Baptist explains that the prophecy of Isaiah is about to be fulfilled:
As it is written in the book of Isaiah the prophet, saying:
The voice of one crying,
’In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’   Luke 3.4-6  

So the Jews were saved from the slavery of bondage to the Egyptians 3500 years ago….and Jesus saved BOTH Jews and Gentiles from their spiritual slavery to the bondage of sin 2000 years ago.

Question 3. How did the LORD  redeem the Jews 3500 years ago?

At The Exodus…. You in Your mercy have led forth the people whom You have redeemed;  Exodus 15:13

The Psalmist and Job rejoice in their physical and spiritual Redemption:
Psalm 71:23  My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to You, and my soul, which You have redeemed.
Job 19:25  I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth;

Question 4. How did Jesus redeem both Jews and Gentiles 2000 years ago? 

Paul explains to the new Gentile believers how Jesus paid the redemption price with His life Blood:
Ephesians 1:7  In Him we have redemption through His blood,
1Corinthians 6:20  You were bought at a price;

When we compare what the LORD did at the Exodus and what He did at His Crucifixion we discover that He effected Redemption in 3 specific actions; in darkness, with blood, and by the death of the firstborn:

In darkness:

At The Exodus:
The LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.  Exodus 10.21

At His Crucifixion:
Matthew 27.45-48  Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.

With blood:

At The Exodus:
Every man shall take …a lamb for a household…..Your lamb shall be without blemish, …and..the whole congregation of Israel shall kill it…then take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it.…. When the LORD sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door …  Exodus 12.1-32

At His Crucifixion:        
We have redemption through His Blood,  Ephesians 1:7 

By the death of the firstborn:

At The Exodus:
At midnight the LORD struck all the firstborn in Egypt, ….Then Pharoah called for Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Go out from among my people….and be gone;…’     Exodus 12.29-31
At His Crucifixion:
I will make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. Psalm 89.27  
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in  Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:16  

Question 5. What does Isaiah 53 tell us about the Salvation and Redemption that Jews and Gentiles have through His Blood?:

Isaiah prophesies that, at His Crucifixion, He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. Our griefs and our sorrows are not sins which we have done.  They are those things in our lives that we have suffered from.

They are, perhaps:
Our grief at the loss of a parent when we were very young
The rejection that we experienced from our parents, at school, or at work
Our grief, sorrow, and guilt over the divorce that we experienced
Our grief over the early death of our spouse
Our sorrow and guilt over the loss of our relationship with our child
The rejection we experienced at failure to win promotion at work…..
and so on, and so on…..

For many of us, our reaction to these griefs and our sorrows has been bitterness, resentment, rejection, guilt, and lasting pain.

We have become like Job who cried out to God, ‘Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, who long for death, but it does not come….I loathe my life; … let me alone, for my days are but a breath.    Job 3.20-21,7.16

We are like the Psalmist who wrote: I am feeble and severely broken; I groan because of the turmoil of my heart. Psalm 38:8  

Isaiah 53 prophesies that, at His Crucifixion, by His stripes we are healed.  From what are we healed?  It was Jesus Himself who bore our griefs and sorrows on the Cross, when He prayed: 
My God, My God, … Why are You so far from …. the words of My groaning?  Psalm 22:1  

Here is a prayer that you might like to pray:
I come to You now, Jesus, because You are a Man of sorrows and acquainted with my grief that pierces my soul, the whole of my being. Therefore, I now give to You all my pain, my sorrow, and my grief, because on the Cross, You bore my griefs and carried my sorrows, and by Your stripes I am healed.
By a decision of my will, I forgive, unreservedly, all those who have ever sinned against me intentionally or unintentionally, in thought, word, or deed.  I turn from all bitterness, all resentment, all rejection, all guilt, and all hatred.  Guard, protect, and keep my soul; rescue me, for I put my trust in You.  Heal me, LORD, and I shall be healed. 
Accept my prayer from a willing heart, O LORD.  Amen

Rejoice in your Salvation and Redemption which was for the Jew first at The Exodus, and also for the Jews and Gentiles at His Crucifixion!!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Who are 'My two witnesses' Revelation 11.3

Who are ‘My two witnesses’ In Revelation 11?

There has been much speculation over the centuries about the identity of ‘My two witnesses’ in Revelation 11.3.  How can we discover their identity?

In my previous Blog I explained that there is a Bible Reading Plan in the Bible itself, and this Reading Plan is based on The Triennial Cycle used in Israel in Temple times.  The Triennial Cycle Readings consist of a weekly Torah ‘portion’, a Haftarah ‘portion’, and a Psalm.

The Haftarah ‘portion’, from the Prophets, was selected on its connection to the Torah ‘portion’. This connection was based on the Word and Phrase Associations between the portions will gave a simple indication, or hint, to the subject or theme. 

These Word and Phrase Associations are found by noting the same word used usually in the first two verses of the Torah and Haftarah portions. For example:

Genesis 12.1  - Torah portion:
Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.  

Joshua 24.3  - Haftarah portion:
Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, …..

The Word Association of ‘land’ in these verses indicates that the   subject or theme of the Torah portion is the Promised Land. 

Apart from providing a connecting link between the weekly Triennial Cycle ‘portions’, Word and Phrase Associations are the method by which the Bible commentates on itself.

For example, in Luke 19.10 Jesus said: The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost

There are clear Word and Phrase Associations with Ezekiel 34 in the          underlined words in verses 11 and 16:
34.11    I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.
34.16   I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven

But there is more to the commentary than the initial Word and Phrase          Association.  It was the custom in the first century to use these        Associations to point to the whole passage in which they occur, not just to the specific verses.

Whilst His comment in Luke 19.10 is very encouraging for  Zacchaeus, Jesus had a much wider point to make.  He is giving a hint to the whole of Ezekiel chapter 34 in which there are 3 Prophecies which describe the ‘bad’ shepherds, and what the LORD proposes to do about them:

1. 34.2-3 Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! …You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock.…..

2. 34.10-11 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the Word of the LORD:…Behold, I am against the shepherds, and … I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; … 

3. 34.20-23 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD to them: ‘Behold, I Myself will judge between the fat and the lean sheep. .. I will save My flock, and they shall no longer be a prey; ….I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them; … 

His listeners were aware of this custom of using a single verse Phrase to refer to a whole passage in the Old Testament….and they knew their Scriptures well.  They must have found His words to Zacchaeus very uncomfortable!

This process of Word and Phrase Association helps us to identify ‘My two witnesses’ . I have numbered, and highlighted in red, 8 Word and Phrase Associations in Revelation 11.2-13:

Revelation 11.3-12:  
I will give power to My two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days,
clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them,

1.  fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These

2. have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they

3. have power over waters to turn them to blood, and

4. to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.
When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will

5. make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.   And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our LORD was crucified.  Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three and a half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because

6. these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.  Now after the three and a half days 

7. the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.   And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ And they

8. ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.

We can match the above 8 highlighted Words and Phrases with the following references in  1 & 2 Kings:

1:  2Kings1.9-12: The king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty men. .. Elijah said to the captain of fifty, ‘If I am a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven and consume you …’ And fire came down from heaven.. Then the king sent another captain of fifty … and the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.

2:  1Kings 17.1: Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘The LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.’

3:   2Kings 3.16-25: Elisha said, ‘Thus says the LORD: ‘Make this valley full of ditches….Now it happened in the morning, … the land was filled with water. When … the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood.

4.  2Kings 8.1-6: Elisha spoke to the woman … saying, ‘Arise and go, you and your household, and stay wherever you can; for the LORD has called for a famine, … will come upon the land for seven years.’

5: 2Kings 6.8-14: Now the king of Syria was making war against Israel; So the king of Syria said, ‘Go and see where Elisha is, that I may send and get him.’Therefore he sent horses and chariots and a great army there

6: 1Kings 18:1,17:  The Word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth……When Ahab saw Elijah, he said to him, ‘Is that you, O tormentor of Israel?’

7: 2Kings 13.20-21: … they put the man in the tomb of Elisha; and when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.

8:  2Kings 2.11-12:  Suddenly a chariot of fire with horses of fire separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw and cried out, ‘My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!’

The evidence of the Word and Phrase Associations points to the identity of Elijah and Elisha as ‘My two witnesses’.