Passion Week

Passion Week is now upon us.  During this week we will take time to remember the days that led up to the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord.  Of the many holy days (holidays) that we celebrate as Christians, there is no day more important than Easter Sunday.  Sure, you could say that without Christmas there would be no Easter.  However, Scripture and the history of Christianity shout out that Easter is the chief of special days on our calendar.

While the four Gospels only contain two infancy narratives, they each contain an account of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  Further, the shear amount of space devoted to the Passion Week in contrast to the nativity speaks to God’s (the author behind the authors) intent that we would place more emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus than on His birth.  If you read beyond the Gospels you will see that the New Testament continues to pay only scant attention to Jesus’ birth while repeatedly referring to His death and resurrection.

There is good reason why the Scriptures place so much emphasis on the events of that final week in Jesus’ earthly life.  Our salvation is undeniably connected to those events.  Jesus died for our sins.  He took the Father’s wrath upon Himself for us.  He rose from the dead conquering death so that we too could conquer death and have eternal life.  Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we would all still be lost in our sins and under condemnation.  But, thanks be to God, that He “…so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).

So, why is it that we seem to give Christmas so much more attention than Easter?  In response, I think it is important to point out that churches do still give proper respect to the Easter Holy Day.  Many churches will have special activities or worship services planned for the week and the worship services on Easter Sunday are typically the most beautiful of the year.

However, the same cannot be said about our culture in general.  While it is seemingly easy to capitalize on Christmas, this does not necessarily hold true with Easter.  At Christmas time there are pictures of a jolly Santa Claus and a cute baby in a manger along with sales advertisements and other enticements to lure consumers into spending money.  It seems easy for merchandisers to separate the Christmas holiday from its root in Jesus’ birth.  But, when it comes to Easter there are no cute pictures and jolly, chubby guys in red suits.  The imagery of Easter and the week leading up to that day is that of a crucified Savior dying for the sins of the world, being buried in a tomb, and rising from the dead.  And, as Paul told us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit centuries ago, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18 NIV), and “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23 NIV).

The Temple at the Time of Christ

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The picture you see above is of a model of the Temple Mount and part of the city of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus.  The model is found at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  On the upper right hand corner of the Temple Mount there is a another structure that has large towers in its four corners.  That is the Antonia Fortress.  It was built by Herod the Great and named for Mark Antony.  The covered area on the left hand side of the Temple Mount is the “Royal Portico.”  You will also notice that there are covered walkways along the inside of the wall that are lined with columns.  The covered walkway that is closest to you in this picture (you cannot see its columns) is Solomon’s Portico, also called Solomon’s Porch (see John 10:23).   The pinnacle of the temple is believed to be the top of the wall in the southeast corner (see Matthew 4:5; Luke 4:9).  As you view this picture you are viewing west (from where the Mount of Olives is, albeit you would not be this elevated).  So, as you follow along the top of the wall the pinnacle would be the platform area in the lower left hand corner.  The Large structure in the middle of the complex is the temple as it may have looked following its restoration by Herod the Great (see John 2:20).  The structure in the the middle of the Temple Mount is the temple complex.  Between the temple complex and the porticos was a small wall that you do not see in this picture.  This wall was called the Soreg and it separated the outer Court of the Gentiles from the areas that were considered sacred.  As you look at the front of the temple complex you will notice a small entryway in the wall.  If you were to walk through this entryway you would enter the Court of the Women.  If you continued walking straight ahead and up the set of stairs you would come to the Great Gate.  Once you went through the Great Gate you were in the Court of Israel.  The tall building is the temple proper, which is where the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies were located.   Between the Court of Israel and the temple is the Court of the Priests.  Between the Great Gate and the temple, and within the Court of the Priests, was the altar.  If you could see the temple from directly above it would look the letter “T” with the top part ofo the letter being the front of the building.  This front part of the temple was the Porch.  Once you passed the porch you would be in the Holy Place and if you continued walking you would go through a large curtain and enter the Most Holy Place (the Holy of Holies).

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Qumran: Home of the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls

This is a brief article that I wrote for a church newsletter a few years ago.  Still, the information is good and the pictures are beautiful.

You have probably all heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The first scrolls were discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea by an Arab shepherd boy in the late 1940’s and have been the source of much scholarly discussion ever since.  Numerous scrolls have been discovered since that original find.  While scrolls have been found in more than one location, they are primarily associated with a site known as Qumran.  This site has been extensively excavated by archaeologists and sheds a great deal of light on the Essenes, the sect that is believed to have occupied Qumran.  In this post I have included some photos from my trip to Qumran during my tour of Israel in 2009.

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In this first photo you can see several of the walls from the Qumran community.  You can also see hills in the upper right hand corner and in the distance of the upper left hand corner is the Dead Sea.

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In this second photo you get a better look at the steep hills that bordered the Qumran site.  You can also see more of the settlement’s walls.

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In the distance of this third picture you can see the Dead Sea.  You can also see that Qumran was built on a plateau.  While you can see some modern developments in the center left of the picture, you can also tell that this is a very dry and desolate area.  The Essenes lived here because they wanted to be apart from others.  They were separatists.  The extremely dry conditions, while because inhospitable to people, are what allowed the scrolls to last as long as they did without decay.

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In this final picture you can see one of the caves at Qumran where scrolls were found.  As you tell, the cave is not easily accessible.  The difficulty of reaching the caves is another reason why the manuscripts have lasted as long as they have – looters could not easily reach them.

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2017!  I hope this year goes well for everyone out there and that you are able to follow through on your resolutions (if you made any).

For some, the new year marks a point in time at which reading through the Bible in a year will start.  This is truly a remarkable goal, but many will not make it to the finish.  Why? The answers will vary, but one reason will be the lack of a reading plan.

So, if you are looking to read through the Bible in 2017, allow me to encourage you to adopt a reading plan.  My personal favorite: The M’Cheyne Reading Plan.  By following this plan, you will read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice over the course of a year.  If you would like to utilize this plan, use one of the following links.

For a website that follows the calender and provides the readings, using the ESV, in a convenient manner, click here.

For a printable version of the reading plan, click here.

There are several other plans out there as well, but this is one that I have found profitable for my study.  If you want to go it alone, keep in mind that there are 1,189 chapters in the Bible (unless you are reading a Bible with the Apocrypha/Deutero-Canonical Books, then there are more).  If you read 4 chapters a day, then you will read the Bible within a one-year time-frame with plenty of buffer space for those lazy days and occasional activity packed weekends.

Regardless of how you go about it, I wish you much success if you take on the challenge of reading through the Bible in a year.

Happy New Year!

 

Some Christmas Links

I thought I would toss out a couple of links today for your perusal.  The first is a link to an article that was published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society about a year ago or so.  It deals with the date of December 25 in relation to Jesus’ birth.  It is an interesting read that goes into great depth about the issue.  So, for that article, please click here.

The second link is to my favorite podcast, Unbelievabe?  The most recent show is a debate about the Star of Bethlehem.  The show airs on Saturday in England, but if you subscribe to the podcast, they will typically show up on your feed a day early.  To check out what they are doing at Unbelievable? and to listen to the Christmas show on Christmas Eve, then click here.

Enjoy, and have a very merry Christmas!

Shameless plug…

I know it has been a while since I posted something, but life has been somewhat hectic in recent months and the blog has had to take a backseat.  I will try to post more frequently, but my schedule is still pretty well packed for the next few months.  Nevertheless, I felt the need to say something about the books I have written, and just say with a grin that if you are still looking for that last minute gift… you could always purchase one of my books from Amazon.com

There’s:   rulestolivebykindle

Rules to  Live By: Sermons on the Ten Commandments

The contents of this first book are pretty self explanatory.

 

 

Starting Over: From Ruins to Rebirth   starting-over-kindle-cover

This second book I wrote for my teenage son while I was out of the country for an extended period of time.  The book deals with a range of topics from a Christian perspective.  The story follows two siblings traveling alone across what used to be the United States.  The world as we know it today had been ravished by war and only small pockets of people remained.  As this brother and sister pair travel along they run into various situations and have numerous conversations that lead to discussions of the Christian faith.  There is some violence in the book, but there is no foul language, and there is plenty of content to encourage further discussion about the intersection of Christianity and the world around us.

 

Traveler: One Girl’s Amazing Journey of Spiritual Discovery  Traveler Front

This final book was also written while I was out of the country.  It was written for my daughter and is aimed at the 10-12 year old age range.  The main character of the book travels to various places around the globe thanks to a very special playhouse in her room.   Along the way, she is exposed to Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.  In her conversations with people from other countries, her Sunday School teacher, and her parents, she learns something about culture, other world religions, and how Christianity stands apart.  The book is a great tool for conversation around the dinner table.  If you would like to read a review of the book, click here.

 

Until my next post, have a Merry Christmas!

Grape Juice at the Communion Table

From time to time I will have someone comment on the use of grape juice instead of wine as part of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  Often times, the comments are said in a mocking way to try and paint those of us who use grape juice as some sort of prude.  Still, there are others who are genuinely curious.  So, for those, here goes.

To begin, there is nothing wrong with using wine for the sacrament.  In fact, where I commonly worship nowadays, wine and grape juice are both available.  Now back to the point.

Wine is a stumbling block for recovering alcoholics.  A brother or sister in Christ who has left a life of alcoholism faces a horrid dilemma when coming to receive the sacrament if the only thing available is wine.  In a nutshell, they can choose to risk falling back into the grips of alcoholism after drinking wine, or suffer from a self-imposed excommunication.

Now, the vast majority of us are not alcoholics and will never be faced with such a dilemma.  However, it is a terrible thing to bar someone from sharing at the Lord’s Table because they refuse to return to a life of sin that Paul describes using  some rather harsh language – something about drunkards not inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9).

So, before making snide comments about those who choose to use grape juice for the Lord’s Supper, remember that there is a quite charitable reason for the choice.