Friday, December 7, 2012

Two Christmas Carols part 2

The second Christmas song I want to speak about was written by one of American’s best-known poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His poem, “Christmas Bells”, was composed on December 25, 1864. The poem originally had 7 stanzas, two of them containing reference to the Civil War. We now sing five of the stanzas in the song, “I Heard the Bell on Christmas Day”, as rearranged in 1872 by John B. Calkin, who also wrote the memorable tune.
When Longfellow penned the words to his poem, American was still months away from the end of a bloody civil war. His words reflected the prior years of the war’s despair, while ending with a confident hope of triumphant peace.
As with any composition that touches the heart of the listener, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” flowed from Longfellow’s personal experiences.
Tragedy struck both the nation and the Longfellow family in 1861. The opening shots of the civil War were fired on April 12 and Frances – nicknamed Fanny – was fatally burned in an accident at home. The day before her accident on that hot July morning, Fanny Longfellow wrote in her journal: “We are all sighing for a good sea breeze instead of this stifling land breeze filled with dust. Poor Allegra is very droopy with heat and Edie has to get her hair in a net to free her neck from the weight.”
The next day, after trimming some of Edith’s beautiful thick curls, Fanny decided to preserve some of the clippings in an envelope sealed with wax. While melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few hot drops fell unnoticed on her dress. At that same moment, the greatly desired sea breeze gusted through the window, igniting Fanny’s dress and wrapping her in flames.
In her attempt to protect Edith and Allegra, she ran to Henry’s study in the next room where Henry frantically attempted to extinguish the flames with a nearby, but undersized throw rug. The lightweight of the dress fabric coupled with the hoops allowed ample oxygen to feed the flames.
Failing to stop the fire with the rug, Henry tried to smother the flames by throwing his arms around Frances—severely burning his face, arms and hands. Fanny Longfellow died the next morning. Too ill from burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral. After the death of his wife, Henry was left to raise five children and manage the affairs of his home as a single parent.
The first Christmas after her death, Longfellow wrote in his journal: “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year after the incident, he wrote,” I can make no record of these days. Better to leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” Longfellow’s journal entry of December 25, 1862, reads: " ‘A Merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”
Almost a year later after that entry just weeks before Christmas, Longfellow received word that his 17 year old son had been gravely injured while fighting a battle in Virginia. Charles had run away and joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father’s blessing or permission. A bullet had passed under his shoulder blades and damaged his spine.
That Christmas of 1863 received no mention in Longfellow’s journal—an eloquent silence during this anxious period.
The death of his wife and his son’s critical injuries were not the only tragedies in Mr. Longfellow’s life. Frances was his second wife and together they had a daughter also named Frances, who died when she was 17 months old. His first wife, Mary, died just a month after she miscarried during her sixth month of pregnancy.
This was a man who had every reason to pity himself and feel cranky about his condition. No wonder he wrote:
And in despair I bowed by head,
There is no peace on earth, I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.
Longfellow’s words were a heartfelt acknowledgement of painful personal and national circumstances. Fortunately, he was able to access a greater and deeper level of truth with these words:
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.
The wrong shall fail; the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.
“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is one of my favorite carols because it is so honest and yet in the end, so full of hope.
Longfellow’s dark cloud began to lift and his personal worldview revolved from night to day when he chose to focus on the truth that God lives and is ultimately in charge.
Because of misused agency and the hearts of men grown cold, we won’t ever have the type of “peace on earth” that so many long for. There will always be challenging and even unfair circumstances. We will get sick, lose loved ones, and have disappointments regarding our friends and our families. We may have trouble at work or school or live in areas where there are wars, rumors of wars, oppressive leaders and obnoxious drivers on the freeway.
Yet none of these conditions ultimately restrict our ability to feel peace. When we learn to put our trust and faith in our Heavenly Father, we can experience peace in our hearts—the kind of deep peace that does not depend on our outward circumstances.
Longfellow found a measure of peace even in his heartbreaking condition, as he acknowledged the truth that God’s loving will would ultimately triumph.
Sweet Mary knew the history of her people and had seen God’s hand in their deliverance from distressing events. She trusted that she could rely on similar help no matter what she might be called upon to experience.
Today, above all else, I am thankful for that little baby born in Bethlehem. Because of Him, we have a Savior who looks on us with compassion for our weakness. He learned through his own suffering how to comfort all those who come to him.
He is our true peace and an unfailing source of love and blessing. The words of Philippians 4:7 express it well:
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Two Christmas Carols part 1

This is a talk I gave last Christmas and I thought I'd pass it on.

In Section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord gave Emma Smith an important assignment:
And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church
For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.
At this season of sacred music and beautiful carols, what a wonderful gift we have from these verses—to know that we can delight the soul of the Lord with the songs of our hearts and that the result of that singing will be blessings on our heads.
Today, I’d like to talk about Christmas songs. One is by a young woman who spoke according to ancient traditions. The other is by an older man who lived in our dispensation.
The song of the young woman begins with praise, yet many distressing trials were to follow in her life. The song of the older man gives praise and testimony after a very long series of painful afflictions and deep heartache.
The young girl’s words have their roots in teachings handed down faithfully from generation to generation. It was only in 1994 with the translation of the first fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls that we learned the cultural context of Mary’s song found in Luke 1:46-55. Like the Magnificat—the name given to Mary’s song of praise—the song from the scrolls at Qumran also began with the words, “my soul doth magnify the Lord.” Scholars believe that Mary’s reflections ended up as a hymn in the early church.
Mary’s poem began in a manner traditional to her faith—she wanted to honor her Heavenly Father in the eyes of others. She wanted to magnify and bring glory and credit to God with her soul, her heart, and her life. It would be a very safe guess that from his earliest childhood, Jesus would have often heard his mother say, ‘Great is the Lord!” She probably sang it as a lullaby.
In the Gospel of Luke, this desire to honor God informed Mary’s thinking even before the baby was born. Her song included many insights gleaned from a long history with the God of Israel.
Today there are al least 1,200 versions of the Magnificat written in several languages—everything from an energetic clapping and foot stomping gospel music version performed by a Japanese group to Bach with his traditional style using a full orchestra and classical choir.
On YouTube, you can find over 22,600 performances of the Magnificat. There’s something for every possible musical preference. John Rutter’s arrangement is my favorite.
Mary’s words to her cousin Elizabeth honor that God who remembers the poor, the lowly and a young innocent teenage girl from an insignificant village, and it reminds us that the proud are finally humbled and made low.
The verses in Luke are the only evidences we have of Mary’s actual thinking and thoughts. We know about some of the things she said and did, but this is the only text that reveals to us something about her innermost ponderings. Mary’s song reflects a perspective that Biblical scholars call a “reversal of fortune” pattern. As an example of this, we could say that at times, the wicked prosper, but in the end, Satan does not support those who follow him. And while the righteous may suffer for a time, through faith, the Lord will eventually restore them to great blessings.
We can listen to Mary’s words and notice this pattern of reverses. But first her praise:
Luke 1:46
My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hat rejoiced in God, my Savior
V. 48 Low estate of handmaiden (no status in society)
All generations shall call me blessed (very high station)
v. 51 He hath scattered the proud (high then reversed)
v. 52 He hath put down (humbled) the mighty and exalted them of low degree.
v. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away. (Because they are rich, they think his gifts are not needed.)
v. 54 He hath holpen (helped) his servant Israel (very unexpected for a servant to be helped by his master. But God’s ways are different from man’s ways.)
The Lord esteems the humble and lowly and remembers them—taking action to bless them. People admired in human society are not necessarily great in the eyes of God. Of course, God loves and values all people, but the characteristics he prizes are very different from those held up as desirable in our culture today. His thoughts are definitely not our thoughts.
We can hear possible echoes of Mary’s words in some of Christ’s teachings. The Beatitudes taught by Jesus reflect the same pattern spoken of in Mary’s hymn.
Blessed are the _______ and Jesus chose to fill in the blank with illustrations of people who did NOT feel blessed or happy. Blessed, he said, are the poor in spirit, the meek, and the persecuted. Blessed are the spiritually hungry and those who thirst after righteousness. All who seek him will be helped and filled with good things. Our sadness will not last forever.
Joseph Smith bore a similar testimony to his cousin, George A. Smith, who was experiencing a time of great difficulty. George said,
 “He told me I should never get discouraged, whatever difficulties might surround me. If I was sunk in the lowest pit in Nova Scotia and all the Rocky Mountains piled on top of me, I ought not to be discouraged, but hang on, exercise faith, and keep up good courage and I should come out on the top of the heap at last.”
Christ had learned from his mother’s example and by his own experience that there was help and consolation for all of the sorrows found in this world, and that the source of our consolation is a knowledge of our Father in Heaven and his ways (which are not man’s ways!) Jesus was willing to descend below all things in order to ascend to the Father.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

One Tiny Voice

I heard this story years ago and have been looking for it ever since. There are a few different versions of the story, but I finally found the one I was looking for in a small book at the dollar store the other day:

This is the story of a man whom perhaps you have never heard about. He was Telemachus, a fourth-century Christian monk.

He lived in a remote village in Italy, tending his garden, sharing his goods, giving his produce to others, and spending much time in prayer. One day he thought that he had heard the voice of God, or at least a strong impression that he should go to the city of Rome. He immediately obeyed, made his preparations and set out on foot. Some weary weeks later he arrived in the city at the time of one of the great festivals. Telemachus, not knowing what to do, followed the ever-increasing crowd surging down the streets and converging at the Colosseum. He watched as the gladiators stood before the Emperor saying, "We who are about to die salute you." THEN he realized these men were about to fight to the death for the entertainment of the raucous crowd that day. Telemachus shouted, "In the name of Christ, STOP!"

Nobody heard, nor did the ones near him respond. The games began, the gladiators were locked in battle. The monk pushed his way through the shouting crowd, climbed over the wall, and dropped to the dusty floor of the arena. The crowd watched in fascination as this tiny figure ran toward the gladiators, shouting, "In the name of Christ, STOP!" The crowd thought it was part of the entertainment.

The little monk continued until he was right in the middle of the gladiators who had stopped to watch this interruption. Suddenly the crowd realized it wasn't part of the show and their laughter turned to anger and shouting. As Telemachus was pleading with the gladiators to stop, he turned to the emperor to plead for this carnage to end. One of the gladiators plunged a sword into his body. He dropped to the sand. As he lay bleeding and dying, his last words were: "In the name of Christ, STOP!" The crowd was hushed, they all heard his dying plea.

Then a strange thing happened. As the gladiators looked down at the tiny, bleeding figure in the sand, the crowd was gripped by the drama. Way up in one of the upper rows, one man stood and slowly began to make his way toward the exit. Others followed his lead. And soon, in hushed, deathly silence, everyone left the Colosseum.

That year was 391 B.C. and that was the last battle to the death ever fought in the Roman Colosseum. It changed the thinking of society.

It happened because of one small voice . . . barely heard above the clamour and shouting. Only one voice . . . one unknown, a nobody. . . one life who was willing to speak the truth in the name of God!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Four Kinds of Love Part 3

The fourth Greek word we need to understand is storge, which is the love and affection that naturally occurs between parents and children, can exist between siblings, and exists between husbands and wives in a good marriage. It occurs in Romans 12:10 in the word, philostorgos, which is a compound word made up of philos (the noun form of phileo) and storge. Romans 12:10 is a very important verse, directing us to be very loving and kind to each other.

Romans 12:10 (expanded translation)
As to your brotherly love, let there be deep friendship and family-affection toward one another.

If one is going to have a meaningful spiritual life, obedient to the  voice of God and have rich fellowship with others  who love the Lord, he or she will need to exercise all three kinds of love. We need agape love because some of the things that God requires of us are not fun or easy, but need to be done. We need to have phileo love because we need true friends to stand with us, people who are emotionally connected to us and with whom we can share our deepest thoughts and feelings. Lastly, we Christians need to have storge love between us, a deep family affection that comforts us and helps us feel connected to all our spiritual family. slightly edited

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Four Kinds of Love Part 2

The third word for “love” we need to examine is phileo, which means “to have a special interest in someone or something, frequently with focus on close association; have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.” It would probably be helpful if phileo were never translated “love” in the New Testament, because it refers to a strong liking or a strong friendship. Of course, we see how phileo gets translated “love,” because in modern culture we say we “love” things that we strongly like: “I love ice cream,” “I love my car,” “I love the way your hair looks,” etc. The word phileo implies a strong emotional connection, and thus is used of the “love,” or deep friendship, between friends. You can agape your enemies, but you cannot phileo them.

The difference between agape and phileo becomes very clear in John 21:15ff, but unfortunately it is obscured in almost all English translations. After being raised from the dead, Jesus met Peter. Here is the short version of what they said to each other.

Jesus: Simon…do you love (agape) me more than these [fish?].
Peter: Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you.
Jesus: Simon…do you…love (agape) me?
Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.
Jesus: Simon…do you love (phileo) me?
Peter: [Grieved] “Lord…you know that I love (phileo) you.”

Why the difference in words for “love” in this conversation? Why did Jesus use agape and Peter use phileo? Jesus was asking Peter if he loved him with the love of God, a love that may require sacrifice. After all, Jesus had just gone through horrendous torture for Peter’s sake (and ours), something he did not want to do but did anyway because of his agape love. In contrast, Peter avoided possible torture by denying that he knew Jesus.

Jesus twice asked Peter, “Do you agape me? [That is, are you willing to do things for my sake that you do not want to do?]” Peter, on the other hand, still felt the sting of having denied Jesus, and was hopeful that their friendship was intact. Did Jesus hold Peter’s denial against him? Would he still treat Peter as a close associate and companion? Peter was not sure where he stood with Jesus, so he was trying to let Jesus know that he was still a true friend, and had phileo love for Jesus.

The third time Jesus spoke to Peter, he came to Peter’s level and asked if Peter were indeed a true friend (phileo), which grieved Peter. Nevertheless, it was important, because Jesus knew what Peter did not know—that Jesus would ascend into heaven, and Peter and the others would be left to carry out his work on earth, which would require that they all be his good friends and do his will even when it meant hardship.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Four Kinds of Love Part 1

I found this article on different words in the Bible that are translated as "love." I thought the author made some very good points.

There are four Greek words for love that are important for us to understand. They are agape, phileo, storge, and eros. Three of them appear in the Bible.  If we are going to understand the Bible and the  biblical world, it is important that we understand what these words mean and how they differ.

The Greek word for sexual love or passionate love is eros, and we get English words such as “erotic.” When eros was used as a proper noun, it referred to the Greek god of love. The Greek word eros does not appear in the biblical text, but it has had such an impact on English and our view of sexual love that it is important to mention.

The Greek word that refers to the love of God, one of the kinds of love we are to have for people, is agape. Agape (ah-gah-pay) is the very nature of God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-12, 16b). The big key to understanding agape is to realize that it can be known from the action it prompts. In fact, we sometimes speak of the “action model” of agape love. People today are accustomed to thinking of love as a feeling, but that is not necessarily the case with agape love. Agape is love because of what it does, not because of how it feels.

God so “loved” (agape) that He gave His Son. It did not feel good to God to do that, but it was the loving thing to do. Christ so loved (agape) that he gave his life. He did not want to die, but he loved, so he did what God required. A mother who loves a sick baby will stay up all night long caring for it, which is not something she wants to do, but is a true act of agape love.

The point is that agape love is not simply an impulse generated from feelings. Rather, agape love is an exercise of the will, a deliberate choice. This is why God can command us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Exod. 23:1-5). He is not commanding us to “have a good feeling” for our enemies, but to act in a loving way toward them. Agape love is related to obedience and commitment, and not necessarily feeling and emotion. “Loving” someone is to obey God on another’s behalf, seeking his or her long-term blessing and benefit.

The way to know that we love (agape) God is that we keep His commandments. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me…(John 14:21a). There are Christians who say they love God, but their lifestyle is contrary to the will of God. These people mistake their feeling of affection for God for true agape love. Jesus made this clear: “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching… (John 14:24a).

Love is the distinctive character of the Christian life in relation to other Christians and to all humanity. The “loving” thing to do may not always be easy, and true love is not “mushy sentimentalism.” There is often a cost to genuine love. For example, punishing criminals to keep society safe is loving but not easy or pleasant, and asking someone to leave your Christian fellowship because he persists in flagrant sin is loving, but never easy (1 Cor. 5:1-5). That is not to say the agape love cannot have feelings attached to it, and the ideal situation occurs when the loving thing to do also is what we want to do. Christians are to be known for their love to one another (John 13:35).


Friday, August 31, 2012

A Biblical Look at "Hope" part 4

The Adversary has made a concerted attack on the subject of the Hope because of the value that it has to anchor people to godliness and truth. One of the reasons the Hope is an anchor for the Christian life is that hope energizes people and gives them strength to endure in a way that nothing else does. People without hope become defeated, broken, and unable to cope with adversity. Hopeless people give up. If Christians are going to stay energized and motivated to do the work of the Lord day in and day out, putting up with all the trouble that the Devil and people put them through, it is vital to have a hope that is real, alive, and vivid.

The strengthening and energizing value of hope shows up in many ways in everyday life. When a mother tells her hungry family that dinner will be ready in ten minutes, she gets a totally different response than if she says she does not know when it will be ready. The hope of eating soon gives the family the energy to hold on a little longer. Having hope is vital in the medical field. Modern medicine acknowledges the healing value of hope because hopeful people have more strength and endurance. A mother will tell a sick child that the medicine will make him feel better "soon" because that helps the child stay positive and endure the pain.

Having a hope in the form of a visible goal is also important in athletic performance. Every coach knows the value of yelling "Last lap!" to the runner or swimmer whose muscles are already screaming from fatigue. Hearing "One more lap!" causes the athlete to reach deep and find the energy to push through to the end. Runners, skiers, skaters, rowers, and other athletes know that muscles that seem to be just holding on somehow come to life and have extra strength when the finish line comes into sight. The Hope that the race will soon be over infuses the body with energy that seems to come from nowhere. There is no question that having hope anchors a person to his goal and gives him energy and strength to go on.

Just as hope energizes and strengthens, it is also true that being without hope drains one’s strength. The feeling of being "hopeless" is devastating. A person with no hope, with no expectation of good, often sinks into depression and despair and may even commit suicide. The effects of being hopeless are well documented. People who have no hope of everlasting life grieve over death in ways that Christians who are confident of everlasting life do not. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and told them that the dead Christians would be raised to life when Christ comes "
down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet call of God" (1 Thess. 4:16). Paul knew that when they really had hope in the raising of the dead, they would not "grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13)  condensed

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Biblical Look at "Hope" part 3

A biblical occurrence of "hope" as "an expectation of good" can be found in Acts 27:20. Paul was on a ship bound for Rome. A storm came up and raged for many days, such that "we gave up all hope of being saved." Another example is in 3 John 14 where the Apostle John wrote to his friend Gaius, and said, "I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face." These are examples of the Bible using the word "hope" in the way it is used in everyday language, such as when someone says, "I hope it rains this week," or "I hope you feel better." There are also many biblical examples of the word "hope" referring to everlasting life and the blessings associated with it. Colossians 1:23 mentions "the hope held out in the gospel," i.e., "the expectation of future good presented in the gospel."

It is unfortunate that the word "hope" has come to be used in common English as a synonym for "wish." In the sentence, "I hope it will rain this week," the word "hope," if properly used, implies a certainty or confidence that it will, in fact, rain. If there is no such confidence, then it would be more proper to say, "I wish it would rain this week.

As noted above, when the Bible uses the word "hope" in reference to events in the future, there is no doubt at all that the events will occur. The book of Titus contains a usage of "hope" referring to the believer’s expectation of eternal life:

Titus 1:1-2

(1) Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; 

(2) In hope of eternal life, which God, [who] cannot lie, promised before the world began;

This is a good example of the word "hope" referring to our expectation of everlasting life. In this case, it implies more than just a desire or a wish. It is an expectation of the future that will absolutely come to pass. God, who does not lie, made many promises about the future everlasting life of the believer. Although we may not know when He will fulfill those promises, we can be absolutely certain that He will fulfill them. 


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Biblical Look at "Hope" part 2

Because the Hope was referred to as an "anchor," the anchor was the earliest known Christian symbol. It was used to represent the Hope of resurrection unto everlasting life. At Pompeii, the Roman city buried by lava in 79 AD when Mt. Vesuvius erupted, a ring was discovered with a beautiful image of an anchor and the Greek word elpis, "hope," inscribed on it.  
 Some of the earliest Christian graves have an anchor carved into the rock next to them. 

Christians today use a cross as their common symbol, but there is no reference to the cross being a revered Christian image until after the Roman Empire became Christian. The cross was so abhorred as an instrument of torture that no early Christians venerated it. Historically, the first interest in the image of the cross came after Queen Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, reportedly found the "true cross" on her trip to Israel in 326 AD. 

Before that time, the anchor was the symbol that the early Christians used to show their hope of resurrection and a wonderful, everlasting future. 


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Biblical Look at "Hope" part 1

 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast,...               Hebrews 6:19

"Hope" means "a desire for, or an expectation of, good, especially when there is some confidence of fulfillment." It is used that way both in common English and in the Bible. However, the Bible often uses the word "hope" in another way-to refer to the special expectation of good that God has in store for each Christian in the future.

Today, the ordinary use of "hope" allows for the possibility that what is hoped for will not come to pass. However, when the Bible uses the word "hope" to refer to things that God has promised, the meaning of "hope" shifts from that which has a reasonable chance of coming to pass to that which will absolutely come to pass. To be a useful anchor, hope must hold fast.  

 God’s use of the anchor to represent the believer’s Hope is appropriate and poignant. An anchor keeps a boat from drifting away with the currents or being blown away in a storm. Thus, using an anchor to describe the purpose of the Christian hope makes perfect sense. When a Christian has a clear picture of what he is hoping for in the future, especially the rewards that the Lord will give to those who have earned them, it helps to keep him from "drifting away" from his commitment and becoming involved with the sinful pleasures and abundant temptations offered by the world. It also helps to prevent him from being "blown away" from God during the storms of life.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Altars of Stone

And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Exodus 20:25

Iron is one of the metals which rusts. And it was looked upon as a symbol of pollution. Gold, on the other hand, was the symbol of glory and purity.

The altar was to be built of unhewn whole stones, in Aramaic called shalmatha, "whole" or "perfect." Shalam means "peace." Iron instruments might cause injuries to the workers and pollute the altar with human blood. The stones were to be natural, symbolizing the purity, naturalness, and simplicity of the religion of Israel, as compared with man-made pagan religions.

The altars of the God of Israel were to be different from lavish pagan altars. That is to say, they were to be simple. Many of the ancient altars in the countryside were built of unhewn stones
[Deut. 27:5].

Lamsa, George M. 1964. Old Testament Light. San Francisco: Harper Collins., pg 142

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Beautiful Gate


These eight side gates, as we may call them, were all two-leaved, wide, high, with superstructures and chambers supported by two pillars, and covered with gold and silver plating. But far more magnificent than any of them was the ninth or eastern gate, which formed the principal entrance into the Temple. The ascent to it was from the terrace by twelve easy steps. The gate itself was made of dazzling Corinthian brass, most richly ornamented; and so massive were its double doors that it needed the united strength of twenty men to open and close them.

This was the ‘Beautiful Gate;’ and on its steps had they been wont these many years to lay the lame man, just as privileged beggars now lie at the entrance to Continental cathedrals. No wonder that all Jerusalem knew him; and when on that sunny afternoon Peter and John joined the worshippers in the Court of the Women, not alone, but in company of the well-known cripple, who, after his healing, was ‘walking and leaping and praising God,’ universal ‘wonder and amazement’ must have been aroused.

Then, when the lame man, still ‘holding by’ the apostles, again descended these steps, we can readily understand how all the people would crowd around in Solomon’s Porch, close by, till the sermon of Peter–so fruitful in its spiritual results–was interrupted by the Temple police, and the sudden imprisonment of the apostles.

(Edersheim, Alfred. 1994. The Temple: Its Ministry and Services. Updated edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers., pg 124

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The True Vine and Veil Symbolism

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. John 15:1

The quote below gives us a word picture that the Savior used when He called himself the "true vine." Josephus also shares the Jewish interpretation of the embroidered veil symbolism.

"As to the holy house itself, which was placed in the midst [of the inmost court] that most sacred part of the temple, it was ascended to by twelve steps; and in front its height and its breadth were equal, and each a hundred cubits, though it was behind thirty cubits narrower; for on its front it had what may be styled shoulders on each side, that passed twenty cubits farther.

Its first gate was seventy cubits high, and twenty-five cubits broad; but this gate had no doors; for it represented the universal visibility of heaven, and that it cannot be excluded from any place. Its front was covered with gold all over, and through it the first part of the house, that was more inward did all of it appear; which, as it was very large, so did all the parts about the more inward gate appear to shine to those who saw them; but then, as the entire house was divided into two parts within, it was only the first part of it that was open to our view.

Its height extended all along to ninety cubits in height, and its length was fifty cubits, and its breadth twenty; but that gate which was at this end of the first part of the house was, as we have already observed, all over covered with gold, as was its whole wall about it: it had also golden vines above it, from which clusters of grapes hung as tall as a man’s height; but then this house, as it was divided into two parts, the inner part was lower than the appearance of the outer, and had golden doors of twenty-five cubits altitude, and sixteen in breadth; but before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors.

It was a Babylonian curtain , embroidered with blue and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet, there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax of the earth, by the blue of the air, and by the purple of the sea; two of them having their colors this foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures."

(Josephus, Jewish War 5.5.4 §§207-14 #118)

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Temple's Splendor

The Temple in Jerusalem at the time of Christ was an imposing sight. Josephus gives an impressive description:

Now the outward face of the temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men’s minds or their eyes: for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But this temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceedingly white.

(Josephus, Jewish wars 5.5.6 §§222-23 #117)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Calming Storms & Drowning Legions

Ancient Jewish sages believed that the future Messiah of Israel should display certain Moses-like characteristics—powerful spiritual leadership and astute Torah teaching. It is no secret that Moses and Jesus have much in common, sharing similar life experiences. In particular, both led a mission of deliverance from bondage. Therefore, it should not surprise us to find parallels of language and themes from the Exodus within the Gospels. For example, in Luke 11:20, Jesus says that if he drives out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon the people. This unique phrase, “finger of God” is a direct reference to Ex 8:19 and the plague of the lice/gnats, where the Egyptian magicians proclaim that “this is the finger of God.”[1]

The Gospel writers, with the possible exception of Luke, were biblically oriented Jews writing to other Jews and “God-fearing” Gentiles. When describing the life and teachings of Jesus, these writers would naturally want to communicate through shared biblical motifs understood in their Jewish framework. It is logical to suggest that their target audiences would be holding to certain expectations about their long-awaited Messiah.

Without understanding the life and work of Moses, the messianic reports about Jesus could potentially fall on deaf ears. Of the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), Mark is perhaps the heaviest-laden with thematic parallels and inter-textual connections to the Exodus. To fashion a message with such links would have fit well into the more respected styles of teaching and storytelling known in the ancient Jewish world, specifically midrash. Within the ancient Jewish teaching there was often a sub-world of midrash, a sophisticated system of biblical interpretation that connected different parts of Scripture by word plays or subtle allusion. It has been widely taught in Christian circles that Mark’s work was customized to fit the interests of a Gentile Roman audience. However, with a careful investigation of his style, it seems doubtful that Mark cast his pearls of midrashic teachings on those with no synagogue background or biblical literacy.

Keeping this in mind, several parallels to the Exodus come to light in Mark’s depiction of Jesus. Jesus under pressure from the crowds (Mk 3:9-10), calming the storm (Mk 4:35), and delivering the demoniac from a host of demons (Mk 5:1-30) has allusions to the Israelites flight from Egypt (Ex 12:34), Moses calming the children of Israel at the Reed Sea (Ex 14:13-14), and the subsequent destruction of Pharaoh’s army (Ex 14:27-28).

Under Pressure on the Shore

Both Mark and Luke relate that crowds pressed upon Jesus for healing and teaching while he was on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (Mk. 3:9, 10; Lk. 5:1).[2] At one point Jesus instructs his disciples to prepare a small boat so the crowds would not “press hard” upon him (Mk 3:9). Moments later, Mark tells us that Jesus is so rushed, he does not have time to eat a meal of bread (Mk 3:20). This seemingly insignificant detail about being “pressed” strikes a biblical chord and may be a clue to a larger story build-up connected to the Exodus account. With this phrase, “pressed hard”, Mark’s audience would be reminded that the children of Israel were under intense pressure and had little time to eat a meal with proper bread before their escape from Egypt (Ex 12:34).

In Exodus 14 we find Moses on the shore of the Reed Sea as the Israelite crowds press upon him for answers. The jubilation over their recent deliverance from slavery in Egypt has suddenly turned into the highest level of anxiety. As darkness falls, the Israelites are acutely aware that Pharaoh and his army are closing in behind them, while in front of them is the impassable Reed Sea. The Israelites cry out to Moses saying “did you bring us here to die in the wilderness?” (Ex 14:11).

Calming Words—“Peace, Be Still!”

Paralleling Mark 4:35-41, with darkness looming on the horizon Jesus and his disciples set sail. Later that night, they encounter a furious storm on the Sea of Galilee.[3] At this critical moment Jesus is found sleeping on a cushion and his disciples are in a state of terror as the waves begin to break over their boats. They awaken Jesus and cry out, “Teacher, don’t you care if we perish?” (Mk 4:36). There is harmony here in all the Synoptic narratives, but the next detail sets Mark apart from the others when he tells us specifically what Jesus said to the wind and waves, “Peace! Be still!” (Mk 4:39).

Returning to Exodus 14, Moses is pressed for answers as the tension mounts and the future of the children of Israel hangs in the balance. With the crowds pressing him, he exclaims, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Ex 14:13-14).[4]

With both Jesus calming the storm and Moses calming the Israelites, we have two nearly identical moments involving imminent doom that is tranquilized by the words “Quiet, be still” or “Peace be still.” For reasons we may never know Matthew, Luke and John chose to leave out this fascinating link.

Pharoah’s Legions and Pigs Drown

In Mark 5, Jesus and his disciples finally reach the other side of the Sea of Galilee in the early morning (conjectured time of day). They arrive in the Gerasene region of the Decapolis (possibly near modern day Kursi). There Jesus is confronted by a man who has been tortured for years by an unclean spirit. There is a dialogue between Jesus where the demons identify themselves by the military term “legion” and beg not to be sent out of the country (Mk 5:1-10). Jesus promptly exorcises these spirits out of the man and they enter a herd of pigs located on a nearby hillside, whereby the pigs rush into the sea and drown (5:13).

In Greek religious culture which was pervasive on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, pigs were often selected for sacrificial purposes. After Jesus casts the demons into the herd of swine that soon after drown, witnesses inform the local residents. Instead of expressing joy or gratitude for the miracle that had set the demoniac free, the residents request that Jesus “leave their region” (apelthein apo ton orion Mk 5:17). This angry reaction of the locals may provide a crucial hint at the religious offense of the pig drowning. Their Greek religious infrastructure had just taken a blow. After the Egyptians suffer from ten devastating plagues or divine strikes, we can hear a similar urgency in their words as they demand the Israelites be sent out of their region (ekbalein outous ek tais gais, Septuagint Ex. 12:33).

At the Reed Sea, Pharoah’s army is thrown into utter confusion (Ex. 14:24), and like the possessed pigs charging into the Sea of Galilee, Pharoah’s soldiers give chase to Israel. Yet, both hordes of legions meet a watery grave. Several commentators have suggested that Mark’s narrative about the drowning pigs was originally intended to be a satire about the Roman occupation of the Jews. The wild boar was the symbol of the Roman 10th Legion, and the drowning of swine would have been welcome news to a Jewish audience. Likewise, after years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites would have celebrated after the drowning of their oppressors.


The Gospel of Mark skillfully draws our eyes and ears back to one of the greatest rescue accounts of all time from one of the most popular Torah books, Exodus. Just as Moses represents God’s redemption from the bondage of Egyptian slavery, so too, Jesus is the redeemer of those trapped in spiritual bondage or suffering from demonic oppression. Deliverance is a driving force in Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus not only sets them free, restoring them to their right mind, but the enemy takes a “hit” from the “hand of God” (Deut. 28:59).

Mark’s linguistic links and thematic hints to the Exodus resonate with and solidify one of the central messianic expectations—that he should be like Moses. If Mark’s intended audience were indeed Roman, I would suggest that they were most likely Jewish Romans or ‘God-fearing’ Gentiles who attended synagogues and would have been familiar with the rich Exodus themes. Mark’s portrayal of Jesus as a liberator and redeemer like Moses would have convincingly communicated to these synagogue members Jesus’ messianic purpose and message.

[1] David Flusser, Judaism and the Origins of the Christianity (Magnes Press, Jerusalem 1988) p. 550 – the expression could also be understood as an eschatological sign.

[2] Known as sea or lake Kinneret (כנרת ים) in biblical Hebrew (Num 34:11 and Jos. 13:27)

[3] Luke never uses the term ‘sea’ instead he consistently calls it a ‘lake’ (lymnain) a description more authentic to the size and reality of the Kinneret which is indeed a fresh water source. Mark on the other hand, never uses any term but ‘sea’ (thalassa) when speaking about the Kinneret. Matthew uses both terms but ‘sea’ is less frequent. By definition a sea is typically a larger body of salt water.

[4] תחרישון Taharishun = hold your peace, be quiet or be still

By Jon “Yoni” Gerrish