Pharisees and Chief Priests

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I tried to obtain wikis and dictionary meaning or definitions on Pharisees and Chief Priests but with the varying versions, I prefer to stick to what the bible says about them. The mention of these characters or `authorities’ appeared many times in the New Testament and they were more often than not, the bad guys, the enemies that sought to destroy Jesus for shaking their `turf’. They were not gangsters or thugs but learned in the traditions and regulations of the holy temple of the Jews called the synagogue.

With the backdrop of the Roman Empire ruling that part of the world, the Pharisees and Chief Priests were authorised by the Romans to let the people carry on with their temple and traditions as long as they keep the peace and pay their dues. It seemed like a good idea to let these `authorities’ take care of their own people so they relieve themselves the job of looking after them and focus on conquering the rest of the world.

So these `authorities’ had for a long time, held privileged and high positions over the people and the arrival of Jesus and his works somehow threatened their status. This was because his teachings and deeds were different from what they had been instructing the people to do. They were very upset as not only were his teachings and deeds different, they were against, upside down or right side up from theirs.

One incident that really made them flip was when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was dead and in the tomb for four days and this was what Jesus did:

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” – John 11:43-44 ESV

This was one of the most amazing miracles that Jesus did and many people witnessed this as they had all gathered for the mourning of Lazarus. I can imagine that if I was there to witness it, I would have fainted but would have glorified God for his mercy if I was able to remain conscious. Anyway, how did the `authorities’ react to this?

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. – John 11:47-48 ESV

Many who witnessed or heard about the miracle came to believe in Jesus but I was baffled at the indifference of these `authorities’. However, some of the officials who were subordinate to these `authorities’ believed in Jesus but their reaction was also baffling:

Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. – John 12:42-43 ESV

They chose something less when something far greater was shown. The prospect of losing their power and wealth was too hard to bear if they were to stand for the truth. So f0r them, truth which is eternal was not worth the loss of power and wealth which eventually come to nothing. I think I will go in circles trying to make some sense of their decision and reaction.

Let’s examine the state of mind of people addicted to drugs or alcohol where they would do anything to feed their addiction even if the deed was despicable, detestable or criminal. We might say they were under the influence or control of the drug or alcohol. So do we say that these `authorities’ were under the control of their power and wealth? I think not. It was a decision over what they love versus what they know to be the truth. They know there was no such thing as having both as it was one or the other. Some of them went really out of the way to ensure that what they love will not be threatened further:

So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus. – John 12:10-11 ESV

Reflection

I examine myself in the light of how we can easily allow the powers of status, wealth and pride to blind us from the truth. How I may choose the fleeting pleasures of this world over what is eternal or that has an everlasting impact and purpose.

With this, I pray that the eyes of my heart will be open only to see God and walk in the light of his love and purpose.

The Will of God

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How do I know that I am doing the will of God?

Do I want to do the will of God?

These are simple yet the most difficult questions for me to answer.

Attempting to answer the first question, I began to look at verses that cited people who choose to do the will of God, for example;

In John 4:34 Jesus said, My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

In Galatians 2:20 Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The following are more verses that touch on the will of God:

1 Thessalonians 5:18 – give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Peter 2:15 – For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Romans 8:27 – And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

1 John 2:17 – And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Ephesians 6:6 – not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart

Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Here are some other verses that were implicit on what the will of God is:

Proverbs 2:5 – then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 22:37-40 – And he said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

It has to do with the heart of man first, to seek His kingdom, then the deeds should follow suit. Sounds rather straightforward and not something that requires much reasoning or discussion to understand.

The second question is much harder for me to answer. Do I want to do the will of God?

It is so easy to stand and put up your right hand to take an oath of allegiance or pledge loyalty to a country or cause you believe in. To stand and say I will do the will of God is about the same. It’s easy to say it but will it be true? Will it stand the test of time? Will I succeed and remain true to the call and not waver or falter? Seriously, I do not know and cannot guarantee that I will or will not succeed when put to the test. I can say I am willing and want to be true to God no matter what but when put to the test, will I be like Peter who denied Jesus, or like Thomas who doubted even when Jesus was right in front of him?

Already, I find myself wavering when uncertainty strikes over what lies ahead, be it career, finance, family or relationships. Fears and anxieties are not far when such times arise and I get all shaken up, often depressed and pessimistic in conversations or outlook on life. One thing good out of this is that I get to see the real side of me, my true colours. How I turn myself around by the decisions I make at that time will also reveal my heart’s desire or condition. If I am a coward or a fraud, it will show. If courageous or faithful, it will show too. It is not through the outcome of events but made known perhaps by conscience or when one choose to reflect on the true intent.

I realised that seeking God’s favour and pleasure do not come naturally to me and that is telling on my current heart condition. The song lyrics come to mind, “My heart is a stone and it’s chipping away, every piece that goes is making me OK.” but what really cheers me on is what God can do for and to me, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 NIV. Thank you Lord for your unfailing love and mercy upon me.

Reflection

I pray the following verses for my heart to be true:

Psalms 139:23-24 – Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Psalms 51:10-12 – Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

The Foolish Ones

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Two men were walking along the road to a village called Emmaus. A good 11 km walk from Jerusalem where they started. They were affected by the recent events that took place in Jerusalem and it was the crucifixion of Jesus and the subsequent disappearance of his body from the tomb. As they were discussing and walking, someone came by and asked them what they were talking about. One of them questioned the stranger that he must be the only one from Jerusalem who does not know what had happened, like in today’s context it would have been viral, all over the news and trending on social media.

When they related the incidents to him, they said Jesus was supposedly great and likely to be the one to redeem Israel but he was condemned to death and was crucified. They added that they were baffled by the latest report (breaking news) that just happened that day, which was the third day. They heard that the body was missing from the tomb and some women who went there witnessed that it was empty and saw visions of angels who told them that Jesus is alive.

Then the man said to the two, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

The above story was taken from Luke 24:13-26 and there are two key points that I am learning from the passage and it involved both the eyes and heart of man.

Reflection

It is so easy to read and see what has happened around us but yet our hearts may not be in tune or true to what we claim to believe. Some might say, `Seeing is believing’ but this story clearly disprove this. Many have seen and experienced first hand all that has happened but many also have chosen not to believe or to remain in a state of unbelief.

The statement made of the two men; “O foolish ones” revealed their thoughts but the cause was “slow of heart to believe”. I pray and hope for my heart to burn and be true to God, and my eyes to see only the glory of God.

The Guilty Ones

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Three men are on death row and today is the day of their execution. Two of them, Seau and Ican were hard-core criminals with a long history of violent crimes and the law finally caught up with them. They were not partners in crime but knew each other from past imprisonments and their notoriety. The third man on death row was not familiar to them, especially among the inmates as this man was never in prison before. They heard rumours about him as being quite prominent in that town and that he was powerful enough to help and influence many people. They also heard that he might be innocent and was blackmailed by some other powerful people who do not like him.

As they were about to be executed together, they were put in one place and chained side by side. Seau turned to face the third man and said, “Hey mister! What did you do to be here with us?” When he did not respond, Seau was annoyed and said, “I heard you had connections in very high places and helped many people, how come you can’t even help yourself? Such a shame to think that you could have helped us out of here.

Ican then raised his voice at Seau and said, “Why are you doing this to him? What has he done to you? If he is truly innocent, he does not deserve to be here like us! We actually deserve to die for what we had done. We are condemned to die and when we die, we are condemned! Can’t you even see that?”

Seau and Ican were two guilty criminals who were executed as punishment for their crimes. However, they were very different in character or attitude even at the point of death. Seau held himself up in a cocky way to chide and mock another person even though he was guilty as a rat for his crimes and was going to be executed. Ican was shocked at how Seau could still be `playing the fool’ at such a time. He saw how he was deserving of death for his deeds but pondered on what would become of him when he dies. He was both fearful and afraid.

This story was inspired by a passage from the bible as follows:

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:32-43 ESV.

Reflection

I realised that even when we are guilty of our wrong doings, we may still choose not to have the guilt.

Just like Seau who had the pride to speak his mind even to the point of death. It did not matter at all that he had committed those crimes or what would become of him when he dies. He was even capable of chiding others who may be innocent or able to help him.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 ESV

Ican saw his state and knows he was doomed. He was in distress and at the end of the road. The uncertainty was eating him up. The passage stated that the man who turned to Jesus to ask for help was given eternal hope. The other guy missed it when it was just there for him, and it was free.

I pray for humility and wisdom.

The Golden Calf

Golden Calf

Why a golden calf was chosen to be an object of worship?

That was the `million dollar’ question I asked myself when I read how the Israelites decided to find an object of worship when they could not wait for Moses to come down from the mountain. With the backdrop of how God had used Moses to bring Israel, a nation under slavery out of Egypt, witnessing mind blowing miracles like parting of the Red sea and many more, why would they want to worship another god?

I thought these people were more mind blowing in terms of how ridiculous their decisions were.

Here are the accounts of what happened:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” – Exodus 32vs1 ESV

Aaron who was Moses’ brother and assistant acceded to the people’s request and asked them to hand over their gold rings (must have been quite a lot):

And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” – Exodus 32vs8 ESV

(What happened after this will be left for another discussion. For now, the focus will be on the golden calf.)

Aaron was the one who fashioned the people’s gold (a precious commodity) into the image of a calf so it looked like he decided on the object at whim and the people accepted whatever that came out from their contribution. The calf could have been inspired by their time in Egypt where their gods had animal-like figures or it was just a harmless creature. However, I think they just wanted something else to worship. Yes, something else.

This habit was found repeatedly over the years in the people of Israel. For example, Jeroboam, one of the kings, decided to make two golden calves to put one in Bethel and the other in Dan within the kingdom so that the people will be distracted from going back to their old allegiance and remain with him (1 Kings 12:26-33). Some other kings also kept this form of idol in their kingdom among other objects of worship:

But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin—that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan. – 2 Kings 10vs29 ESV

Here is further evidenced that the people not only wanted something else, the golden calves have also become a form of distraction from God.

Reflection

The question I ask myself is, “What are the golden calves in my life?”

In other words, what is causing me to look away or be distracted from God?

The people in the biblical era were prone to their own ways and stubbornness but today, we are not spared from such distractions or attractions. The golden calves now comes in greater variety like digital and 3D and whatever that tickles the senses. However, I feel that the greatest distraction of all, especially in recent years will be our Golden Selves.

Wealth

Wealth

Numerous books on getting wealth and riches

Wealth is often associated with riches, in terms of monetary or material possessions which will usually be far more than what an average working adult could obtain. Some would have wealth through an inheritance like people from a royal family or families of business moguls or tycoons. Others, through a windfall from a lottery, winnings of a game or challenge, or being bought over for an app, software or property at an astronomical amount.

Generally, wealth is measured in monetary terms. The term money has been referred to as mammon in the bible and it has been regarded as a god or master. This explains the following verse:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” – Luke 16:13 ESV.

You may find it hard to accept that a clear line has been drawn. The following story may be even harder to accept:

A man went up to Jesus and asked him what he has to do to get eternal life and when Jesus said he has to keep the commandments to enter life. The man then asked which commandment and Jesus listed some from the Ten Commandments and the man said he has obeyed them all and he asked Jesus, “What do I still lack?” Then Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this juncture, the young man went away sad because he had great wealth – Matt 19:16-30.

Why is it that a man so sincere in wanting to have eternal life, could not give up what he has which was temporal, in order to gain what is eternal?

So the verse mentioned earlier stands true in that one cannot serve two masters. It showed that the values of this world is opposite of what God values. For example, Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees who loved money:

“You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” – Luke 16:15 NIV.

It is not money that is the problem here but the love of it. It is where the heart is, that is the point and answer all the time and all the while.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:21 NIV.

Reflection

“I guess it all comes down to where your heart is. It’s where your thoughts and feelings all begin, but if you never give your heart to Jesus, you’ll never really have a part in him.” This was the first stanza of an old song I used to sing in youth meetings and it was an all-time favourite. At that time, I believe I liked it more because it had a pleasant tune and was a nice song to sing along to.

I am happy to find this song on Youtube so you can hear it here as well:

Now that the words had come to me again, I ask myself these questions:

Where is my heart today?

What matters to me as I go about each day and what occupies my thoughts and feelings?

I pray that my heart be true for God and be changed if it is not. Amen.

Of Kings and Chronicles – Asa, king of Judah

This is the second post on Of Kings and Chronicles where the first was about king Abijah of Judah. This is about his son Asa who took over as king of Judah when he died. You can see from the left of the chart (which is the beginning of the era of the divided kingdom), he was the first king positioned in the `Good’ area.

In contrast with his father, Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD (2 Chronicles 14:2 ESV). Abijah had foreign idols and altars but Asa set out to have them removed and destroyed. He even had his mother removed from her position as Queen due to her idolatry.

When Asa was faced with the threat of the Ethiopian army of over a million soldiers going to attack Judah, he called upon God to save them. God heard Asa and routed the Ethiopians and Asa and his men pursued the fleeing Ethiopians slaying every one of them.

Asa also began to reform Judah by making the people follow the laws and commandments of God and his heart was wholly true to God all his days (2 Chronicles 15:17 ESV). God gave Asa rest, peace and prosperity during his reign. Everything sounded hunky-dory for Asa until the thirty-sixth year of his reign. What happened?

There was a threat from Israel, so Asa sought the help of the king of Syria. A messenger of God then asked Asa why he had sought the Syrian king’s help since God had delivered him from a million Ethiopian forces before. Instead of repenting, Asa was enraged and imprisoned the messenger. Three years later, “Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but sought help from physicians.” (2 Chronicles 16:12 ESV). He died two years later.

I have 3 main questions:

  1. Asa’s heart was wholly true to God but as time passed, he decided to rely on others for help instead of God. God had delivered him from major battles before but why did he seek a foreign king’s help this time?
  2. When he was reprimanded by the messenger of God about his reliance on a foreign king, Asa was enraged and threw the messenger in prison and took out his anger on some people. Given a revelation of where he was going wrong, why did Asa choose to be angry instead of making good of it?
  3. When he was stricken with a severe disease on his feet, why did he turn to his physicians instead of calling upon God for help?

This was the man who called upon God for the battle against a million Ethiopians and witnessed how God gave every one of them into his hand.

This was also the man who brought reforms to the idolatrous nation of Judah by removing all idols and altars of other gods and turned them back to follow God’s law.

What happened to Asa?

I wonder whether it was the period of rest, peace and prosperity, when all the wars and threats were over and reforms have been completed, that Asa began to forget God.

I believe that when we forget God, we become reliant on ourselves, other people or things. In other words, we become independent and self-sufficient. In the context of society today, being independent or self-sufficient is a good thing isn’t it? Especially when it’s all about progress and productivity, we should be self-reliant and self-made. However, in the matter of the soul and creation, who can lift a finger at the birth and death of life or the turning of the earth around the sun?

Reflection

This is where the heart before God has to be in the right place constantly. The moment we shift or look to the left or right, we have misplaced God in our lives. Perhaps that was why these words were repeated many times as part of the laws:

“You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.”- Deuteronomy 5:32-33 ESV.

There is a book `Half Time’ by Bob Buford meant to help people in their mid-life and a few years later, he wrote the book `Finishing Well’. If I have to choose between the two books, I will give Asa the latter as it was really, really so important for him.

We need to endure in order to grow and finish well in our lives and God, through our Lord Jesus has given us much more than we need to do that (way, way more than in the Old Testament times).

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” – Hebrews 2:1-3a ESV.

My prayer

Is that we will “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”- Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV.

Thank you Lord that we can take courage and have full confidence in you because you began a good work in us and “will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6 ESV.