Time Out of Mind Remembering

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“You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.”  Leviticus 2:13

There’s an expression here in America that talks about throwing out the baby with the bath water.  Sometimes we do that with Your Word, Lord.  Sometimes, something is just difficult or we don’t even have a picture of what it’s really like, and we just toss it out with disregard as though it has no benefit for us.  I see that done with the Old Testament truths.  I see that done with the sacrifices, and the feasts and festivals.  Only there is this word, perpetual, that God says this will be among Israel.

If You established these sacrifices and festivals as perpetual, “olam,” then why do we discard them as uninteresting and unneccesary to understand?  If they were valuable to You and necessary for the Jews, then why are they so invaluable to us?  It’s funny but that word olam means “vanishing point, time out of mind, eternity.”  So maybe, just maybe, You intended these things to have value for us eternally somehow?

Now, I don’t want to get hung up on performance here.  I understand that we are saved by grace, not by works we do.  God, You save us because there is nothing we could ever do to make ourselves acceptable on our own.  But let me ask a question.  What about the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper?  Paul tells us, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.’  In the same way also He took the cup, after supper saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)  Now, does remembering through this ordinance save me?  No.  Absolutely not!  Is that why I do it?  No.  I obey this “tradition” because it does exactly what Jesus said it was for.  It reminds me.  I remember what it stands for.  It continually and repetitively points me back to You, Jesus.

I suppose it’s always a tendency of people to want to trust in their own good works, but that’s not what the sacrificial system and the feasts were about any more than the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper is about saving faith by eating bread and drinking wine.  Maybe we’d remember a lot more about You God and about Jesus and about ourselves if we took time to think about these “time out of mind” reminders.

Do you realize that Ezekiel was given a vision of a future temple and sacrificial “system” which most scholars believe is part of the millenial kingdom?  Here is a time when Jesus is on earth with us and the nation of Israel has returned to the Lord in Jesus Christ, and they are offering sacrifices!  And God says, “This is a perpetual statute.” (Ezekiel 46:14)  What if the sacrificial system and feasts of the Old Testament were pointing forward to Christ as daily reminders of what was to come and the sacrificial system and feasts in the Millenial Kingdom are pointing back to Christ as daily reminders of what You have done for us?  Since when don’t we need continual reminders lest we forget?

In desiring to understand this grain offering better, I did an internet search.  I wanted to find someone coming from a Jewish believer’s perspective.  Here’s what they started with, “The heart of the Good News is that Messiah Yeshua died for our sins. Dying to atone for sin sounds strange to many people today, including my Jewish people. The Good News would have greater impact if more people understood Temple worship, the sacrifices and the priests who offered them. They might be able to see how they are fulfilled in the Messiah and the New Covenant, which enables us to truly get close to the Three-In-One God of Israel!”  The point is, these statutes that You gave the Jews, Lord, were for the Jews and for us to be able to get close to You.  It was never about works but always about relationship.

The word most usually used for sacrifices and offerings is “korbanot.”  The root means “to get close.”  Why do we need to get close to God?  Because we’ve been estranged from You because of our sin.  Now to learn a little more about what You were doing God, by instituting sacrifices and feasts, let’s think about the sacrifices.  A sacrifice was not intended to be taken lightly or superficially.  It required giving something valuable.  Remember the statement “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required…” (Luke 12:48)  The rich brought bulls, the poor (like Mary and Joseph) brought pigeons or grain.  You came with the best You could give, not the least.  You were to come with a right heart attitude before the Lord.  Has that changed?  Doesn’t my heart attitude still matter?  Or can I approach You with an attitude of giving the least I can?  Would that attitude show I’ve really come to know and love You?

Because Your character is holy, my sacrifice was and is to be holy or perfect, without blemish.  If I don’t care about that, if I would give You a defective sacrifice, then I don’t really recognize You in my heart.  I show I despise You.  And it reminds me that holiness and righteousness is only attained by living to Your statutes.  Which reminds me of my impurity and unholiness and sinfulness and imperfection and points me to Jesus, my Necessary Perfector.  It wasn’t myself that I offered.  I had to offer an unblemished sacrifice in my place.  No imperfect animal could do that once and for all.  But You, Jesus, were and are our Ultimate Sacrifice.  What a beautiful connection to remember.  What a beautiful connection for someone to look forward to.  It was what Simeon and the widow at the Temple got so excited over when they saw this Jesus, even as a baby, that they had been looking forward to.  “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

All these things were substitutes and examples.  These things were burnt so the offerer wouldn’t have to be.  They got what the person deserved to get.  We transfer our guilt, our shame, our imperfection to that which we offer.  The offering experiences it for us and we should understand that.  I should be receiving that punishment.  I should be the one burning.  But the Ultimate Sacrifice takes my place.  He became my Substitute.  He was the Substitute even back then.  Simeon understood that.  We all must because we are called to identify with Him and identifying with Him means really starting to understand the depth of what You have done for us.

The order of the offerings mattered, that’s why the sin offering was first.  Before we can walk in faith, we must deal with the things that separate us from You, God.  My sin is a problem that must be dealt with.  It must be atoned for before I can ever dedicate myself to You or serve You, before true fellowship and intimacy with You can ever be experienced.

It was never about going through the motions.  The Korbanot was about having genuine faith.  Going through the motions never draws us closer to God.  Our hearts and minds and actions need to be engaged with You, God.  I must truly respect You for who You are.  Yes, You God, care how I come to You.  You care about the attitude of my heart and mind.  “‘What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?’ says the Lord; ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.  When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?  Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.  New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations–I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.  Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.”  (Isaiah 1:10-14)  Pretty strong stuff, huh?  Well, God, You weren’t burdened by and sick of these things because You set them in motion.  You were burdened by and sick of the emptiness of men’s hearts, the lack of love for You, the going through motion mentality, and the burden it was for them to serve You.  What heart attitude do I surrender to You with?  Am I serving in faith and in love and in delighting in You?  Or is it a chore, a chore to read Your word, a chore to fellowship in a church with other believers, a chore to talk about You, a chore to obey?

The offerings remind us that we don’t just commit intentional sins.  Sin can be unintentional.  I can be careless with my word or actions.  It’s interesting that some of the offerings were burnt as a sweet fragrance to You, but a portion was given as food to the priests.  I wonder if that was a picture of how we are both effected by others sins and how we have a responsibility to help others in their struggle with sin?  I wonder if You are telling us that You will take care of our sin and keep us in relationship with You and with each other?

Back to the sin offering.  It forced one to identify with the offering and realize it as a substitute.  There was an exchange-of-life, this animal’s life given for mine.  Not a fair exchange, especially when transferred to You Jesus, but no other exchange could give us life!  The offerer had to kill the animal.  It’s my sin that leads to death.  It’s my sin that causes pain.  I am the problem and the minute I realize that, God can begin a work in me.  The priest offered the blood by sprinkling it.  I can’t offer the blood.  Someone holy has to.  That’s where Jesus, You come in.  The blood is a symbol of life.  My life was sprinkled before God.  Is my life sprinkled out before God?

Do I see the visual of Jesus here and how I must respond and how He responded for me?  Is it just a sacrifice?  Or is it about relationship?  Is it about seeing and understanding the depths of what God needs to do for me and what He has done or what He wants to do?  It’s still all by faith.  If I understand and act upon that understanding, I’m living out faith.  You redeem me, You save me, and You forgive my sins.  Then You lead me in You.  You grow me in You.  I delight more and more in You.  Everything becomes a reminder and a picture.  I see You everywhere around me, in other people, in nature, in traditions, in statutes, and even in balloon creations!  And I keep acting on that seeing and that knowing.

There was even a guilt offering.  Asham, the Hebrew root, means “to fail in one’s duty” or “to be negligent”, or “to become guilty.)  That’s anytime we don’t do the holy things that You require.  Jesus was the Righteous, Guiltless one who paid the price for us, for my failing in my duty to God and man.  Yeah, I know I’m guilty at that.  Sometimes it happens in the midst of trying do what’s right but I miss what someone else really needs.  Yeah, living in relationship is hard.  That’s why I need Jesus.  I can’t do it right on my own.  Offerings tell me that.

The burnt offering declares that my life is not my own.  It’s about submission to God’s will.  Everything is given, everything is consumed and goes up to God.   It’s tied in with gratitude over being forgiven and atoned for.  Jesus was that perfect burnt offering.  “I must be about my Father’s business.”  He was wholly given over to the will of God, dedicated, delighted in Him.  He was flawless, never sinned.  Then He gave His very life as the final sacrifice for our sin.  That’s a high price to pay, the highest.  We’ve been bought with a very expensive price.  That means that my life is no longer my own.  So what’s the least service I ought to give back?  What can I give when there is no price of the same that I could ever match?  A life, holy and dedicated to His service is the least that I can give for the immense gift of Jesus’ life that God gave for me.

The grain offering took a lot of work on man’s part and was very valuable.  Grain was a staple of the diet.  You had to break the ground, sow the wheat, wait on God for the rains, weed the crop, harvest the crop, separate the grain from the chaff, mill it into flour, and then take it to Jerusalem to offer.  Some was burned and some was eaten by the priests.  But here’s the thing, even our energy, our strength, our labor, our skills, come from the Lord.  He blesses us with them. He enables us to do work.  Remember, He gives us our daily bread?  What if the rains never came?

The grain offering would have some oil poured over it by the worshiper.  Oil carries a symbolic meaning.  It’s all about the presence of God.  Is God involved in our work?  He needs to be.  He deserves to be.  Frankincense was also added for it’s aroma.  It’s symbolic of the prayers of God’s people.  Maybe even our work and the attitude we offer it with is like a prayer.  Maybe that’s why no leaven could be used, since leaven symbolizes sin.  Our attitude of work, our appreciation for God’s hand over all we do and acquire shows our true relationship with God.  Honey was the same kind of symbol.  That’s funny, honey tastes sweet and so do our own efforts sometimes.  But it’s not acceptable unless we acknowledge God His way and not ours and not by our own efforts.

This grain offering was seasoned with salt.  It symbolized nullifying sin.  It seasoned the sacrifice.  It symbolized God’s holiness, His purity, and the permanance of His covenant.  Salt was essential to life.  People sealed their word by it in ancient times.  It’s what made covenants binding.  It wasn’t just a spice or condiment.

The Peace offering makes us whole or complete.  It thanks God for restoring us, the worshiper, to a state of wholeness with Him.  We thank Him for allowing us to be at peace with Him, for allowing us fellowship with Him.  This one is offered to God, eaten by the priest, and eaten by the offerer and his family.  Jesus has always been in a perfect peace with God and brings us into that perfect relationship.  He restores us to that state of well-being.

I don’t want be hung up over the sacrifices and feasts.  I think we need to understand them, and if we choose to celebrate the feasts, well, what better way to understand and enjoy.  After all, when Jesus returns we’ll be celebrating them again then.  I might as well try to gain some understanding now.  I don’t have to do a sacrifice now.  I don’t have to celebrate the God-ordained feasts.  But I am the salt of the earth as a believer.  “[I]f salt has lost it’s taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13)  If You told us these things then I think they matter more than ritual.  I think the salt of the covenant still means something.  I think Jesus thinks so too or He wouldn’t have mentioned it.

Lord, I pray that as we spend time together in Your word and in prayer, You would just help me to get so excited over what You share with us, over how You reveal Yourself, over how You change lives, that I’m a wonderful salty flavor to others and a wonderful aroma to You.  I don’t want to disregard things I don’t understand.  I want to keep digging and keep seeking so I can understand and be changed by what You show me and do in me.  When it comes to offering my life to You, I don’t ever want it to be about ritual or duty even if duty is required.  I want my life to be offered to You in delight of who You are and in awe of what You have done for me.  Continually place reminders before me that I may never forget.

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A Little Bird Named Zipporah

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Photo credit to Dr. Richard Elsea.

“Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, ‘Surely a bloody husband are you to me.'” Exodus 4:25

I’ve just read a commentary on Zipporah and this account.  And the commentary felt very strongly that Zipporah was “the woman who strongly opposed her husband.”  It declares “Zipporah is far from being an inspiring character.”  But I’m just not so sure about that.  And I wonder if we looked at the whole situation from the perspective of the time period and culture that it took place in, if that would shed a different light on both Moses and on Zipporah.

Unfortunately, I think that there is this idea that has been passed on from somewhere that women are guiltier than men when it comes to sin and that men were created and necessary for the salvation of women.  Are those really Biblical ideas or truths?  I find it refreshing that God holds Adam responsible for the sin in the garden and just says of Eve that she was decieved.  Not so Adam.  His decision was deliberate.  And it seems to me that Scripture says that the serpent’s head will be crushed by the seed of the woman.  And certainly, women are not more valuable than men.  We both are as valuable and we are both different.  But what if we are misreading culture versus Scripture?  What if that is the case with Zipporah?

Here we have a story of Moses, a Jewish baby, rescued from death by Pharoah’s daughter, raised until weaned by his own Jewish mother, and then taken under Pharoah’s daughter as a son of Pharoah.  Now maybe while his own mother was caring for him or before he was placed in the basket, he had been circumcised, or maybe not.  But I’m thinking that tradition carried over.  I’m sure he had a lot more knowledge of Pharoah’s ways then he did the ways of his own people.  But he had enough knowledge of his people to feel a strong connection to them despite his upbringing.

There came this point when Moses’ connection was so strong that he was forced to run from Egypt because of taking things into his own hands.  And as he ran, he stumbled upon Zipporah’s family.  Now Zipporah’s family was from Midian and not Israelites.  Her father was Jethro who was known as “the priest of Midian”.  Now, I’m not exactly sure who Jethro promoted as god in his priesthood but I do know that he would have had knowledge of the God of Israel.  I know that because the Midianites are decendents of Abraham.  Midian was actually one of his sons.  But what I don’t know is exactly where his heart was or toward which god he worshipped during or before the time period that Moses was with him.  But I do know that God was influencing Moses greatly during that stay and building Moses’ character in humility and trust.

After that, all I know of Jethro is that his heart was open to truth.  And when God delivered Israel from Egypt, he met Moses, bringing Zipporah and the two boys, and “rejoiced for all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians.”  Then he made this declaration, “Blessed be the LORD, Who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, Who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.  Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly He was above them.”  To seal his belief, he offered burnt offering and sacrifice to God.  So here’s the heart of the man who raised Zipporah.  I wonder if she, too, had that knowledge and an open heart?   I wonder if she could have known the true God’s expectations for his people?  I wonder if she was aware of what God had commanded Abraham concerning circumcision?  So maybe I should be open to just thinking about these thoughts and keeping them in mind, just in case they could be true.

Now here’s the strange thing.  God tells Moses it’s time to go deliver His people.  He tells Moses His plan down to the details of what he will say to Pharoah when he arrives.  So Moses does the obedient thing and starts on the way.  Only while on the way, while at his encampment, the Lord came to him and sought to kill him.  Just by the words used, I’m thinking that this was happening in the middle of Moses meditating or praying or communing with the Lord.  And it implies some striving going on.  What if Moses knew he should be doing something, but he just wouldn’t listen?  What if God was gently trying to nudge him to prepare his sons so he could prepare the people to follow the ways of God again, and he just wasn’t hearing?  And what if Zipporah was hearing?   What if Zipporah was the one who understood?  And what if Zipporah, instead of Moses, was the one who responded to God?

Obviously Zipporah knows why the LORD wants to kill Moses.  Why wouldn’t Moses know?  So Zipporah jumps in for her husband and her son, because her husband isn’t.  She takes a sharp stone and cuts off the foreskin of her son.  And then she does something that seems really obstinate.  She throws the foreskin at his feet and says, “Surely a bloody husband are you to me.”  What is that?

Have you ever been in another culture?  Sometimes there are different gestures or facial expressions or traditions that seem strange to a foreigner and we just don’t get it.  Is that happening here?  See, this phrase, “cast at his feet”  is often used as an idiom and what it means isn’t what it seems to mean.  It is not talking about feet at all, but talking about something I have trouble saying, the penis.  It’s the same expression when Ruth uncovers Boaz’s feet.  Oh my, how risque.  But not really when you think of the prodgeny of the male in establishing family and community, which is a direct command of God from the beginning of creation.  The family was everything and keeping it going through the heirs was everything.  Just as Ruth was asking Boaz to continue the line of her deceased husband by marrying her, maybe, just maybe, Zipporah was reminding Moses of his responsibility as a leader under God.  Maybe she was upset because he didn’t do what he should have known to.  Maybe she was upset because he didn’t take the stand.  Or maybe she was just stating the truth.  “Moses, even you are a guilty man.  You’re a bloody husband because You need to obey God and accept His righteousness for your sake and your family’s.  You too are a sinner.  This is what God is trying to show us.”  This is what the circumcision shows.  Just as God needs to give us a new heart, he needed to remove the foreskin as a symbol of God’s removal of Israel’s sin.

Now how can I fault Zipporah for her actions?  God, You would have killed Moses.  Obviously, he wasn’t getting Your point, Lord.  But Zipporah did.  And I know that Zipporah was not perfect, because none of us are.  But I don’t see You condemning her.  I just hear other people condemning her.  And I think it’s based on circumstantial evidence.  Why wasn’t she in Egypt with Moses?  Would you take your wife and children into Egypt under those circumstances?  How many soldiers take their wives and children with them to the battlefield?  Really?  What kind of expectations do we really have for Zipporah?  Maybe they have been different than yours, God.  I don’t know, but it’s something to think about, Lord.

But here’s something I came upon today.  Let’s start with Zipporah’s name.  It comes from the word Tsipporah.  So what?  Well, that means bird.  And in Exodus 18:2, Scripture talks about Moses having sent his wife back.  That could mean divorce.  If she had been nasty in her response, he could have divorced her and sent her back to her father.  But what if that isn’t what happened.  What if this is tied in with Deuteronomy 22:6?  Listen.  “If a bird’s nest (tsippor- see the connection) chance to be before you in the way in any tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, you shall not take the dam with the young.  But you shall in any wise let the dam go, and take the young to you; that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days.”  Does that last part sound familiar?  It’s what follows the command to honor your father and mother.  Could this all relate and tell us something about Moses and Zipporah?

What if respect for the woman was another way to ensure your community survived?  Like with the mother bird, if one ate her and the young, who would make more eggs?  So send off the mother bird and then get the eggs and eat them.  But just don’t disrespect the mother bird.  Wow!  That much respect just for a bird.  But then not one sparrow shall fall to the ground without You knowing, Lord.  And how much more important is the woman.  So maybe Moses was honoring Zipporah by sending her away home.  And of course, her name is an allegory.  No one is going to eat her boys.  They belong with the mother who will care for them.  The trip into Egypt wasn’t for them.  It might have killed them all.  Maybe Moses needed to send away the “mother bird” out of respect.  Maybe he had to send her away to insure that his family survived and multiplied and carried on his heritage.

I’m not saying that Moses was privy to these words from You, Lord, yet.  The words of Deuteronomy came after the exodus from Egypt.  But just maybe Moses was starting to think like You on these things.  I had no idea I’d come to this place in Scripture, but if we continue with Deuteronomy 22, we see rules for building your house and putting a battlement or fence around the roof so that noone falls off and is killed, so that no “blood” was upon your house.  Who wants to be guilty for causing someone’s death.  Doesn’t that seem to relate too?  Maybe Moses was thinking ahead now.  Maybe Moses was finally standing up in his responsibility to his wife and boys.  Maybe he was starting to get it now.  Maybe when Zipporah stood up for him and her son, maybe when his wife saved his life, he started honoring her by acting like the man who wanted to keep her and his boys safe.  Maybe he was just finally beginning to stand up and get it.

I really don’t know for sure.  But I’m thinking, Lord, that since you never condemned her in Scripture, that I shouldn’t either.  If you ask me, Zipporah was a brave woman.  She was a good wife and a good mother.  She did what she had to in order to stand in the gap before God on behalf of her family.  What about me?  Am I doing that?  And what about the men?  Are women having to stand in for them, or are they standing up for their wives and children?  Lord, it’s funny how Zipporah’s God story is helping me see Deuteronomy in a new light.  I mean, why worry about sowing the vineyard with divers seeds?  Maybe you want us to be faithful to our partners.   Maybe, those words are a picture through nature of how our family life should be conducted.  Maybe it’s all about multiplying Your seed and caring for the fruit we bear in You.  Maybe You are just trying to protect the relationship between man and wife so that You can protect Your image.  That’s a lot to think about, Lord, all because of a little bird named Zipporah.  That’s inspiring.

This Is Reality

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“But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.'”  Matthew 1:20

Jesus was conceived into a world that was filled with doubt, distrust, betrayal, skepticism, hopes belayed by fear, shame, and so much more.  Here You are, Lord, telling Mary and even Zechariah and Elizabeth that You are sending Your Son and how.  And Joseph hears from Mary and doesn’t believe this far-fetched story.  So not only was the world filled with those attitudes I mentioned above, but Joseph shows us how full of “tradition” it was too.

The tradition would have been to stone Mary.  Now, I was just thinking.  Wouldn’t it be blasphemy to call yourself the mother of the Son of God?  Just wondering.  I mean, if you weren’t the mother of the Son of God?  I wonder if she could have been stoned for that?  Seems like a lose, lose situation for her.

So this is the kind of world that You, Jesus, were sent into.  “Peace be unto you: as My Father has sent Me, even so send I you.”  (John 20:21)  Here I am, thinking about how You were sent into the world and it’s bearing on me and how I am sent into this world.  I’ve learned earlier that You were sent to be a sacrifice, therefore, I am sent as a living sacrifice.  I’ve learned that You were born into this world in order to become fully man yet still God, therefore, I must be born again to become like You spiritually.    And today I see that I am living in the same kind of world that You entered life into.  Here I am, sent to a world full of doubt, distrust, betrayal, skepticism, hopes belayed by fear, shame, and so much more, just like You.  And I will be effected by those things just as You were.  But I also learn that You, Lord, are bigger than those things, and every one of those things must succumb to Your will because You are the one in control.

I am truly sent into a world filled with hurtfull, damaging, sinfull, saddening ideas and traditions that want to hold me and others back from You, the Truth.  But listen to this again.  “Peace be unto you: as My Father has sent Me, even so send I you.”  Notice what Jesus introduces His sending with.  “Peace be unto you.”  If He could have peace in the midst of everything that He was born into, in the midst of everything He lived among and in, and amidst the pain and suffering and torment of the cross, then surely there is a peace that He is promising us that is equal to His peace.

Is that true?  Do I have peace no matter what is going on around me?  Even in the midst of all the trash of the world?  Because just by Your words alone, they tell me that You have already given me peace and that it is part and parcel with my sending.  This is a package deal.

Now, I want to know.  Was Jesus speaking Greek to the disciples when He said this?  Because the Greek word for “peace” is “eirene.”  It means “prosperity, -one, peace, quietness, rest, set at one again.”  And that’s good.  But what if I go back to the Hebrew idea of peace?  Do I find something more.  Because Jesus was Jewish, not Greek.  The Jewish word for peace that Jesus would have known and used is “shalom.”  Shalom is “the Hebrew equivalent of continuous well-being with God and men.”  Oh, but it’s so much more!

The Refiner’s Fire tells us “Hebrew words go beyond their spoken pronunciation. Each Hebrew word conveys feeling, intent and emotion. Shalom is more then just simply peace; it is a complete peace. It is a feeling of contentment, completeness, wholeness, well being and harmony.”  Strong’s Concordance tells us “Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord. Shalom comes from the root verb shalom meaning to be complete, perfect and full.”  Isaiah 9:6 tells us who this shalom, this peace, comes from.  Listen, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Sar Shalom).” (Isaiah 9:6)

So You, Jesus, were sent into this troubled world as, and to be, the Prince of Peace, and not just any peace, but absolute, true, complete, full, whole peace found only in You.  And only in You can I obtain and experience this shalom, this true peace.  And this is what You are sending me into this troubled world with, to share with others that they might come to know and experience the shalom, the peace that is only found in You.

Now, I am forced to ask myself a question?  What is controlling me?  Am I controlled by the attitudes of this world?  Or am I controlled by Your perfect peace which surrounds me, inhabits me, empowers me, and remains no matter what the world looks like around me?  Because I’ve been sent into the world just like You.  I’ve been sent into a world that throws worse things than rotten tomatoes at us.  And whatever they threw at You, Jesus, I can expect them to throw at me.  But You have prepared me and each of Your children for Your sending.  You gave us Your shalom, Your peace, straight from You.  It’s in us.  It’s over us.  It’s all around us.  It flows from us.  And it reaches out to others if only we desperately rely on it.  Lord, I want to live in Your shalom.  I want to believe and walk in that belief every moment of every day.  And when I get caught up in the hurtful stuff, remind me that Your shalom is there to rule my day if only I will let it.

Let me end with Paul’s words from Ephesians 4:1-8, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to me.'”  So let us live in the immeasurable gift that God has given each of His children, the peace of Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace.  This is reality.

Where Peace Is Found

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And they said unto her, ‘There is none of your kindred that is called by this name.”  Luke 1:62

What a strange way to start today’s devotion.  But Lord, there is something special about Your “strange” ways.  I think about the song lyrics where the chorus sings, “But this is such a strange way to save the world.”  And we haven’t even come but to the start of the saving part that we can see.  This is just the birth of the “announcer.”  But even his birth is not according to popular religious tradition.

Popular tradition would have this baby named after his father.  Yet, Elisabeth says his name will be John.  Maybe the others know nothing about the angel Gabriel’s words.  Maybe they know nothing about God having a name for this baby before he was even conceived.  Maybe Elisabeth told them, maybe she didn’t.  But she knew.  But they appear to doubt her decision making abilities.  So they go to Zacharias who is still without speach from the angel’s verdict.  He writes down the name.  He breaks tradition too for something better.  “His name is John,” he writes.  And immediately, his mouth was opened and he spoke and praised God prophetically.  Funny what obedience despite tradition can do, isn’t it?

Now, I read about fear coming on Zacharias when Gabriel spoke to him.  And I read about fear coming upon Mary when Gabriel spoke to her.  Well, there is no angel here but these people have been eyewitness to some nontraditional stuff going on in Zacharias, Elisabeth, and John’s lives.  And all of a sudden this Zacharias is speaking again and prophesying wonderful things and fear came over the people and they spread the news abroad.  And they stored in their hearts wonder about what God’s plans for this child were going to be.

And God gave Zacharias the words to share a preview of what was coming.  God didn’t tell Zacharias to say He was going to come.  The words Zecharias used were that God has visited and redeemed his people.  See, He had already started redemption.  He had at that prior moment raised up a horn of salvation.  What in the world is a horn of salvation?  What does that mean?  David sings about a horn of salvation in Psalm 18:2 when God delivered him from his enemies and from the hand of Saul.  “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock , in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”  David had experienced You, Lord, as every one of these, personally.  They weren’t abstract, philosophical ideas.  This was the reality of Your intervention.

Where once Zacharias doubted God’s word through Gabriel, his silence and contemplation over these nine months has so increased his faith in Your word that You aren’t just going to do something, You are already bringing Your word to pass!  But I want to still look at this horn of salvation.  Is it a horn announcing salvation?  Or is it a horn that brings salvation?  If I look back at Psalm 18:2, I see it’s image is equalled with that of a rock, a fortress, a deliverer, a refuge, a shield, and a stronghold.  I don’t think it’s a musical instrument here.  I think it’s something stronger.

John Piper wanted to find out about this horn of salvation mentioned here too.  He also stopped to meditate on the events this day in Zacharias’ life.  Because even though Zacharias’ son, John has been born, most of this song he sings is about Jesus.  And this horn of salvation is all about Jesus.  And it’s a strong phrase.  It’s a deadly weapon known as the wild ox.  And in the eyes of a middle eastern viewer, there was not much more formidable than an angry wild ox.  In Psalm 32:17  there is another reference, “There I will make a horn to sprout for David. I have prepared a lamp for my anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame.”   That iron-like horn on the ox’s head was worthy of fear in everyone.  But God is the only one who is able to fight for His people, who is strong enough to gain victory over their enemies.  And this horn of salvation is only referred to twice in the Old Testament in 2 Samuel 22.3 and Psalm 18:2 above.   God, You are the shield and the defense (horn) of Your people.  “He is a horn of salvation because he uses his power to secure and protect his people.” (John Piper)

It looks like Zacharias is actually breaking tradition here again.  Who sings praises about another’s son when your own has just been born?  Yet that’s what he is doing.  John wasn’t the redemption of the people.  John wasn’t the horn of salvation and he wasn’t from the line of David.  John couldn’t save the people from their enemies and the hand of those who hate them.  John wasn’t the one to show mercy and bring the covenant to fruition.  John couldn’t deliver the poeople and enable them to serve in holiness and righteousness.  But John would play a part.  He would be called the prophet of the Most High.  He will get to prepare the way for Jesus, to let people know what Jesus was preparing for,  to get their hearts ready for a Savior, for Salvation.  John got to prepare them to be ready for forgiveness, to understand their sin problem.  But it was Jesus who would really give them understanding.  Even John couldn’t shed that kind of light in the darkness.  John couldn’t bring life in the shadow of death, but Jesus does.  John can point but Jesus guides us into the way of peace.

Did Zacharias really get it all?  Did he really understand the fullness of all he said?  Did he really understand how Jesus wasn’t coming to deliver Israel from Rome and their physical oppressors but from a worse oppressor- sin?  Did he really understand how Jesus wasn’t just coming to deliver the people of Israel but that He would even be a light unto the Gentiles?  And did John, as he grew older, fully understand?  When he sat in the prison, at the end of his life, and he sent this message to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3)  did he get it?

But remember, Zacharias told us that Jesus had come to show us mercy and to visit us, “to give us light as we sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Maybe we need deliverance from Rome.  But maybe what we need more is to be delivered from disbelief.  Maybe we need most to be delivered into trusting You in the middle of everything, even the shadow of death.  Maybe even John, the prophet of the Most High, had to break with tradition and learn what true salvation was, and that true salvation was standing in His midst.  Sometimes it’s one thing to say, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” and it’s another thing altogether to let Him handle my own sin.

“And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  (Matthew 11:4-6)  Here’s a thing that strikes me today.  Zacharias’ doubts, John’s doubts, didn’t hold You back, Lord.  Neither did You condemn them.  You didn’t give up on them.  You taught them more.  And I don’t know if John ever knew, but after You sent that message back to him, You commended this man who doubted before the multitudes gathered around.  Even though this John the Baptist, was doubting at this moment, You talked about his greatness.  You said he was the Elijah who was to come.  Now, how is that for understanding and mercy when we flounder!

See, this is the Christmas story.  There’s no traditional trees or decorations or other traditonal stuff here.  There’s more like failure and victory and doubt and mercy.  It’s not very traditional looking.  But it’s more beautiful than anything I know.  I mean, here is this mighty ox who is Jesus, with these horns that can wreak havoc and terror and hooves that could crush and destroy.  But he comes in like a lamb.  And instead of venting Your anger, You show mercy.  You show mercy to a man named Zacharias and his wife Ellisabeth.  You could have wiped Zacharias off the face of the earth for doubting, but You just gave him time to meditate and grow in You instead.  You could have shouted at John in his doubts and said, “What in the world are you thinking, man?  You’re supposed to be leading my people!  Oh, you make me soooooo angry!”  But You didn’t.  You sent back gentle words of affirmation and even confirmed him as Your chosen and appointed prophet before the people.  And me, what about me?

How many times have I doubted?  How many times do I not really hear what You are trying to tell me?  How many times have I needed to break free from tradition and really listen and really hear and really obey what You are really trying to tell me?  And how have You responded every time I fell, every time I refused, every time I was so hard-headed, every time I think I know how it’s supposed to be?  You respond with the same great mercy.  You sweep down and set my feet back on the path.  You put things in my life to refocus me.  You guard and protect me with the horn of Your salvation.  You haven’t changed.  And I am so grateful.

It’s funny.  My Christmas doesn’t really look very traditional this year.  It doesn’t feel traditional.  I have to admit that I’m having trouble celebrating this particular “season” of Christmas.  And maybe it’s because my Christmas is every day, just like my Easter.  And my Christmas isn’t always wrapped up in pretty packages and colors and with rosy bows.  Sometimes my Christmas comes wrapped around the horn of a Warrior Ox, and sometimes it comes wrapped around the wool of a tender Lamb.  And actually, it comes with both.  And in all honesty, I don’t always understand it all and I don’t always get it all.  But I know that if You understood and had mercy on Zacharias and John, and still loved them and used them, then I know You feel the same about me.  Because this is why You came.  You came to teach us Your ways, to give us the ability to know Your salvation and to know Your forgiveness, to receive Your tender mercy, to visit us, and give us Your light, to take us out of our darkness and out of the shadow of death, and to set us at one with You again, because that’s the only place peace is found.