Christ Our Passover

Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover also hath been sacrificed, even Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7).

When we think about Jesus’ death on the cross, we often think of His death in terms of atonement. The Hebrew author makes the parallel in Hebrews 7-10: the old covenant had high priests offering the blood of bulls and goats for sin, and the new covenant has the superior sacrifice based in better promises– Jesus, the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, who offered Himself up for our atonement.

While that is true, it is interesting to note that the Israelite Day of Atonement, also known as Yom Kippur, on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Israelite calendar (Leviticus 23:27). That was the day when the high priest would offer a bull, a ram, and two goats for his own sin and for the sin of the people (Leviticus 16:1-34). But Jesus does not die anywhere near the Day of Atonement. He also is not described as the “Bull of God” or the “Goat of God.” Instead, He dies and is raised again during Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Mark 14:1, Luke 22:1; cf. Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24). He is also known as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29). What’s going on here? Is there any symbolism in the timing of Jesus’ death and resurrection? And if bulls and goats were the standard sacrificial animals for atonement, why is Jesus known as the Lamb?

Paul makes it clear that there is symbolism in the timing of Jesus’ death, and he also shows us why Jesus is called the Lamb, when he describes Jesus as “Christ our Passover” in 1 Corinthians 5:7.

The Passover festival takes us back in time to Exodus 11-12 and to the deliverance of the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh. Pharaoh had been oppressing the Israelites and subjected them to hard, forced labor (Exodus 1). YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, called Moses to be His representative before Pharaoh to deliver Israel out of bondage to fulfill the promise He made to their forefathers (Exodus 2-6). Pharaoh resisted YHWH’s call for Israel’s release, and he and the Egyptians suffered under plagues of the Nile turning to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, death of livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness (Exodus 7-10). Pharaoh still refused to release the Israelites. And then God promised one final plague, and Pharaoh’s hand would then be forced.

The action in the story comes to a screeching halt as God explains what He is about to do and commissions Israel to observe the Passover. It was to be the beginning of the Israelite year– the first month (Exodus 12:1-2). They are to slaughter a male, unblemished lamb a year old on the fourteenth day of the first month, and place the blood on the side-posts and lintel of the doors (Exodus 12:3-7). They are to eat the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, dressed and ready to depart immediately (Exodus 12:7-11). That night YHWH would strike down the firstborn of all of the Egyptians, man and beast, but when His angel would see the blood on the doors of the Israelites, he would pass over those houses and those inside would be spared (Exodus 12:13). Israel would then eat unleavened bread for seven days (Exodus 12:15-20).

This would be a perpetual statute in Israel– they were to annually observe the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:14). The reason why would become evident: this was the time when YHWH delivered Israel out of bondage, bringing them out of Egypt, redeeming them from their captors (Exodus 12:26-27). The Passover and Feast of the Unleavened Bread served as the “Independence Day” of Israel for generations.

So how is it that Jesus is our Passover Lamb? While it is true that Jesus’ death leads to our atonement, that is not the only dimension to His death. Through His death believers are able to be delivered from the bondage of sin and death to become the people of God traveling toward the “promised land” of the resurrection and eternity with God (Romans 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 6:20, Philippians 3:12-14, Revelation 21:1-22:6). On account of the blood of the Lamb, God passes over the sin of believers, while those who are unbelievers risk suffering condemnation (Romans 5:6-11, 6:20-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, believers are able to celebrate their “independence day”!

Jesus’ death and resurrection represent the fulfillment of the story of Israel, taking place within the context of the liberation of Israel from bondage. Let us praise God for Christ our Passover Lamb and the redemption, Kingdom, and glory that come through Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Mary, Mother of Jesus

But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25).

One of the figures in early Christianity that has captivated many is Mary the mother of Jesus. Her legend has steadily grown throughout the past two thousand years to incredible heights. When we think about Mary, it is likely that much of what comes to mind is based on these later legends. We get a picture something akin to one of the ancient icons: a younger woman, holding Jesus as a baby, quiet, serene, seemingly confident.

Yet most of what is believed about Mary comes from pious legends that came far after the New Testament. What can be gained about Mary from Scripture is much more human, and much more compelling.

We meet Mary in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. She is a young Jewish girl living in Nazareth in Galilee, a teenager, betrothed to the local carpenter Joseph (Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:26-27). The angel Gabriel visits her with a most compelling story: with her consent, she will conceive a child through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Child will be Jesus, the Son of the Most High, the promised Branch of the house of David who will reign over Israel forever (Luke 1:28-35). Mary consents, exhibiting great faith in the God of Israel, and in so doing she proves to be the first person to suffer shame and indignity for the cause of the Lord’s Christ (Matthew 1:19-24, Luke 1:38). She was now the virgin who would bear the Immanuel child (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23)– a peasant girl from Nazareth! The irony is not lost on her, as is made plain by her song of praise often called the Magnificat– a declaration of how the humble are exalted and the exalted are humbled through the power of God (Luke 1:46-55).

Her wonder only grows as the Child is born. He is born during a visit to Bethlehem, and shepherds come to see the Child after Gabriel declares to them that the Savior, Christ the Lord, was born (Luke 2:6-19). While presenting Him in the Temple, she marveled as Simeon the prophet spoke of the Child as salvation, a Light for the Gentiles, and glory for Israel– and how He would be the cause of fall and rising for many, and will pierce through Mary’s own soul, so the thoughts of many would be revealed (Luke 2:22-35). Magi came from the east, bearing presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, fit for a king, and bowed down before the Child (Matthew 2:11-12). It was a very auspicious start. But what did it all mean?

Contrary to what many believe, Mary would go on to have some children with Joseph– James, Joseph (or Joses), Simon, Judas, and some girls (Matthew 1:25, 13:55-56, Mark 6:1-3). We see Mary again when Jesus is 12 at the Passover festival in Luke 2:41-51. The family left town but Jesus stayed behind, and they spent three days looking for Him, and finally found Him in the Temple, sitting with the teachers, asking them questions, and amazing all who saw Him. Mary cries out to Him in her distress: “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I sought thee sorrowing” (Luke 2:48). His response did not make sense to them: did you not know that I would be in my Father’s house (Luke 2:49-50)? Despite not understanding this, she treasured this– along with all the past events– in her heart (Luke 2:51).

For most of the rest of Jesus’ life and ministry, Mary His mother does not seem to be present often. She is confident of His divine power and prods Him a bit during the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-11). After that event He and His disciples stayed with her (John 2:12). A little later we see “those who were of Jesus,” understood to be His family, went out to seize Him because of all of His preaching activity, because they were convinced that “He [was] out of His mind” (Mark 3:21). We can be fairly certain that His brothers were involved, since they did not believe in Him at the time (John 7:2-5). Perhaps Mary was unaware of what they were doing and had no part in it; perhaps Mary was not only aware of it but went with them. There is also the episode where Mary and Jesus’ brothers were attempting to speak with Him, and He took the opportunity to teach how His true family are those who do the will of the Father (Matthew 12:46-49, Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21). The reason for the visit is entirely unexplained.

There seems to be a disconnect with all of this. Did Mary not receive all of these statements and signs about who her Son would be? How come she did not understand Jesus’ words in the Temple? Even if she had no part in the actions of her other sons, how could it be that they did not believe in Him? Didn’t she tell them about Gabriel, the promises, and everything else? How can all of this be?

Some have speculated that all of this shows that the birth story was a later “add-on” to the Gospel; we need not go to such extremes. Instead, let us again consider the expectations of His brothers, at least, and quite possibly His mother also. As good Jews, they were waiting for the Messiah. They would have imagined the Messiah, the King in the line of David, the One who would rule over Jacob, as doing so in a very physical and concrete way. They expected Jesus to be King in Jerusalem, conquering nations and restoring Israel to its glory. Everything Gabriel told Mary could be understood through this perspective. But Jesus was not doing these things. It was clear that God was with Him, and that He had divine power, but He was preaching and teaching about a very different sort of Kingdom. He made it fairly clear that He did not come to overthrow Rome as much as to overthrow the works of the Evil One and sin.

Perhaps this is why Mary did not expect to find Jesus in the Temple asking questions; she may have imagined Him to be destined for a throne in Jerusalem, and not among those teaching in the Temple. Having an overfilled house in Capernaum, preaching and teaching, seemed as madness. This was not the expected script!

The next time Mary is mentioned is at the crucifixion, when Jesus makes provision for her, commissioning John to care for her (John 19:25-27). We know that Mary is watching her Son die on the cross. It is quite likely that the full effect of Simeon’s words was crashing down upon her (Luke 2:35). As to her faith and confidence in her Son, in the purpose of God for Him, in whether or how the predictions God made were being fulfilled, we know nothing.

The next time we do know something is also the last time Mary is mentioned in Scripture. Mary and the brothers of Jesus were part of the 120 who were gathered in the upper room between Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:12-15). While she might have doubted before, and she most likely did not fully understand the sort of Messiah her Son would be, by now she fully believes and understands. Jesus her Son did not remove the Roman yoke to rule an empire from Jerusalem. He had done far better– He had defeated sin and death, removing the burdens that no man has ever been able to bear, and was crowned Lord of lords, and King of kings (Romans 5:6-11, 8:1-2, 10:4, Revelation 19:16).

Ultimately, Mary’s story is mostly left up to our imagination. We know that she was full of faith in God, willing to bear the reproach of the Lord’s Christ, and was there for her Son from birth to death and even beyond. She certainly understands that He has power from God, but it seems doubtful that she really understood the plan that God established for her Son. Perhaps her confidence at times wavered; perhaps she persevered in belief, even when she did not understand everything and when her children did not believe. She watches her own beloved Son die on that cross, and we can only imagine the heartache she experienced in so doing, and all the more so if she did not fully understand God’s purpose for Him. Yet, in the end, she is numbered among the disciples of her own Son, and is praying with her now repentant children, no doubt that God’s will through Jesus be fully manifest as it would be on Pentecost.

We would like to know more about Mary, but we must remember that this is the story of Jesus, not His mother. Yet Mary still encourages us in our faith, for no matter how many internal trials and difficulties she experienced, she began with faith in whom her Son would be, and either maintained or returned to that faith by His death and resurrection. Her faith became better informed as He grew, taught God’s purposes, and then fulfilled them. She was, no doubt, not ashamed to be called His disciple, and neither should we. Let us be encouraged by Mary’s example and serve her Son!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Send Someone Else!

And [Moses] said, “Oh, Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send” (Exodus 4:13).

It is not every day that you come upon a burning bush that is not really burning.

Then again, it is not every day that the LORD commands you to deliver an intransigent nation from the clutches of the most powerful empire of the day, either.

Yet this is the situation in which Moses finds himself, at eighty years old, in the middle of the desert wilderness, almost 3500 years ago, according to Exodus 3:1-4:13.

He has left Egypt as a fugitive, having killed an Egyptian (cf. Exodus 2:11-15).  Now God has asked him to return to Egypt, for God is about to fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The Israelites will be redeemed from bondage and be given the land of the sojourning of their forefathers.  And Moses will be their leader.

Moses, however, is not so sure.  He professes humility (Exodus 3:11), wants to have the name of God revealed to him (Exodus 3:13), is confident that the Israelites will not believe him (Exodus 4:1), and declares that he is not eloquent of speech (Exodus 4:10).  Yet with every complaint and concern God more than abundantly provides reassurance for Moses.

And then we get to the heart of the matter in Exodus 4:13– Moses is resisting the call of God.  Moses would rather God send someone else.  For this Moses will gain the anger of God (Exodus 4:14), and Moses finally gets the hint.

This does not seem to be an auspicious beginning.  Nevertheless, as the narrative unfolds in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, we see that Moses grows into the position of leader, and God abundantly provides.  Through God’s power the impossible is achieved.  Through God’s power Moses is able to lead intransigent Israel out of Egypt, through the Wilderness, and to the Jordan River in triumph.

Yet we should be able to sympathize with Moses on Mount Horeb.  The proposition before him sounds extremely daunting.  He does not know the future and how it will all turn out.  Let’s be honest with ourselves: if we were in Moses’ position, would our answer really have been that much different?  Would it not be easy for us to resist God’s call?

We may not be called to lead a nation out of the hands of a powerful empire, but God calls all of us to participate in the greatest work of all time (Ephesians 1:3-11, 3:10-11).  God calls all of us to put our trust and confidence in Him and to do as He directs us– and promises that He is able to do more abundantly than we can ever begin to imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).  He calls us to holiness and godliness and to make disciples of all the nations (Romans 12:9, 2 Peter 3:11, Matthew 28:18-20)– daunting challenges indeed.

There will always be plenty of reasons that we can imagine for resisting the call, to ask God in some way or another to send someone else.  But if everyone asks God to send “someone else,” who will accomplish God’s purposes?  We must come to terms with the reality that we are the ones who have been entrusted with the Gospel to preach it and live it.  We must rise above the excuses based in a walk by sight and learn to trust that God is able to do what God has promised to do, and that if our work is in the Lord it is not in vain and it will bear fruit (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:58, Isaiah 55:11).

We must stand firm against the cosmic forces of darkness while seeking to exhort all men to faith and repentance.  The tasks are mighty and daunting.  Will we stand up for God or shrink back?  Will we answer the call or will we resist?  Let us learn from Moses’ example that God is faithful and we have no need to resist His call for His purposes.  Let us seek to serve God, trusting in Him, and we will be astounded at what God is able to accomplish!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Troubler of Israel

And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, “Is it thou, thou troubler of Israel?”
And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed the Baalim” (1 Kings 18:17-18).

There had been three difficult years in Israel. The rain had been withheld; crops died, and people throughout the land went hungry. The people and the land were in great distress.

But what was behind the drought? Why did the rains cease? The reason is made evident in Scripture: Elijah the Tishbite, the great prophet, prayed to God, and it did not rain (1 Kings 17:1, James 5:17-18). The rain would not return until it was done by his word.

King Ahab is quite aware of this– it is precisely what Elijah had said to him. Therefore, in his mind, the matter is easily settled– Elijah is the culprit and the reason for the distress. Ahab sought Elijah in every surrounding nation (1 Kings 18:10). As the drought and thus the famine worsened the greater the blame was placed on Elijah. He became a very effective scapegoat. Therefore, when Elijah finally presents himself before Ahab, Ahab calls Elijah the “troubler of Israel.”

In all of this, however, the most important question is not asked. Why did Elijah pray to withhold rain in the first place? Is he some malevolent person who seeks the ruin of Israel? Hardly! Ahab and his wife Jezebel had led the people of Israel astray, inducing them to serve the Baals and to not give YHWH the LORD His honor (1 Kings 16:30-33). Elijah needed to make a grand demonstration of who was really the true God, and this demonstration begins with the withholding of rain. Baal, after all, was the Canaanite god of fertility. If Baal was really a divinity, and if Israel should really honor and serve him, would he not provide them rain when they rendered him the appropriate service? And yet for three and a half years there was no rain. The Power behind Elijah the Tishbite was far greater than the Baals.

1 Kings 18:19-40 will feature the public humiliation and then execution of the priests of Baal, and the Israelites will confess again that YHWH is God. And then in 1 Kings 18:41-45 Elijah will pray and rain will fall upon Israel again.

The real “troubler of Israel,” then, is Ahab, for he was found impious before God and led God’s people Israel astray. But that is not the answer Ahab wanted to hear, and it is certainly not the answer that Ahab (or Jezebel) wants Israel to hear and believe. Thus Elijah feels compelled to go on the run for his life, a justified scapegoat, but a scapegoat nonetheless (cf. 1 Kings 19:1ff).

Such scapegoating happens all too often. When problems arise, for whatever reason, people want to find someone to blame. No one ever wants to blame themselves– therefore, they find a scapegoat, someone upon whom the burden of blame and responsibility is placed. Elijah is seen as the reason for the drought here, even though the real reason is the idolatry of Israel. In the days of the Roman Empire, whenever a famine, earthquake, or plague ravaged the land, the Christians would be blamed. Assigning blame and scapegoating happens to this very day. Sometimes the people who are blamed deserve the blame. Many times the blame goes well beyond the original misdeed. And there are plenty of times when there is really no one to blame, but someone has to take the heat anyway.

But the most pernicious circumstances are those when the truly guilty parties work hard to shift the blame onto the innocent parties, as Ahab does with Elijah. Not a few times have the righteous found themselves in great persecution and distress as the ungodly work to absolve themselves of the responsibilities of their actions. It is quite unjust, but we can be sure that God will execute justice (cf. Romans 2:5-11, 2 Timothy 4:14)!

We will find ourselves in the mist of circumstances when two parties blame each other for the situation in which they find themselves. It is always easier to shift blame than to accept blame. That is why we must diligently make sure that we are not the “troublers” of the family, the church, the workplace, etc., and that we do not justify the “troublers” at the expense of those who are trying to do the right thing. Let us judge righteous judgment and act responsibly!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Rested on the Sabbath

And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. And on the sabbath they rested according to the commandment (Luke 23:56).

It was the day in the middle of the most important events in human history. We can only imagine how it must have been.

Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified and now lay in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:1-55). He was in Paradise as He had promised (Luke 23:43), and perhaps this is the time when He preached to spirits in prison, but there is no basis for being definitive here (1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6).

Those who had sought to put Jesus to death must have been content. They could now enjoy the high Sabbath of the Passover week in relative peace. Another “Messiah” had been executed, no longer to be a threat. They would not miss Jesus’ antagonism. Their vision of Judaism remained as it had been, and in their estimation, all was well.

Since it was still the Passover the Roman authorities would still be on high alert. Mass sedition and riot was avoided over the matter of Jesus of Nazareth, but there could be any number of reasons for a new uprising or threat to Roman power. It is possible that Pilate had some twinges of guilt– perhaps he meditated a little bit about his strange interaction with that interesting Man. But there’s no reason to believe that Pilate was overly disturbed about his conduct. As for Herod, well, there was one fewer antagonist stirring up the people in Galilee. Whereas he took the blame for killing John, Jesus’ death was at least off of his head.

The people who cried for Jesus’ death would rest as pious Jews, looking forward to continuing the Passover festivities. Despite the hype there would be no revolution during this Passover. Another “Messiah” had come and gone, and life continued as it always had.

Yet there were many others who did not consent to Jesus’ death. They would still be smarting from the injustice that just took place. One day He was teaching in the Temple– the next, crucified as an insurrectionist, having been arrested and tried in most dishonest ways. Here was a great hope– a wonderful proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God– and yet again, the forces of darkness seemed to prevail.

And then there were the women who followed Jesus to the very end (cf. Luke 23:49, 55-56). So many hopes seemingly dashed– so much promise now gone. They had seen where He was entombed, and they awaited the morning to finish the preparations of His body that had been hastily begun before the previous sunset.

Finally we have His disciples. A cloud of suspicion was over them– what would they do? Yet they were not a threat. Instead, they were left to wonder what had happened. They had seen Jesus do so many amazing things. He said the words and did the things that the Messiah would say and do. They would remember that He said that He would die– but it still did not make any sense, for He also talked about the coming of His Kingdom. How could a dead Messiah rule over a Kingdom? There was this talk of Him rising from the dead, but the disciples knew that the dead remain dead, and that the resurrection would come on the final day for everyone (cf. Daniel 12:2-3, John 11:24). Now what would they do? How could this make any sense whatsoever?

We know what will take place the next morning, and that from then on, nothing would be the same. Yet, as we consider that high Sabbath day so long ago, perceiving the last day that things had been as they always had been, we understand all the more just how profound the resurrection of Jesus Christ really is.

It has become popular in many circles to believe that the disciples made up the resurrection of Jesus. Such seems almost laughable when we understand the attitudes and conduct of those disciples during Jesus’ final week. It is not as if all the disciples and women are counting down the hours and minutes of the Sabbath awaiting the resurrection. We greatly err if we think that they were so much more “ignorant” or “superstitious” than we are to just expect Jesus to rise again. They knew as well as we that the dead stay dead and that the end of not a few Messianic movements came when the “Messiah” was killed. Even though Jesus had predicted His resurrection (cf. John 2:19-22, Luke 9:22), the disciples were manifestly in no position to understand what He meant or to be prepared for it. It is little wonder that they all disbelieved at first when it happened (cf. Mark 16:11-13)!

We do well, at times, to place ourselves back on that high Sabbath of rest– the moment of pause during the most momentous events in human history. It increases our wonder and awe all the more of the resurrection that will come the next day. Let us praise God that we can have the victory through Jesus’ death and resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Watch and Pray

“But of that day or that hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. It is as when a man, sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch. Watch therefore: for ye know not when the lord of the house cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch” (Mark 13:32-37).

Humans have a preoccupation with the prospect of the end of the world– or, if nothing else, the end of their particular world.  People who would not otherwise consider religious messages eagerly watch shows speculating on the end of the world based upon all kinds of different “predictions” and the like.  There always seems to be some cause or another for such speculation.  Not long ago it was the turn of the millennium.  Presently many are focused on the end of 2012.  After that there will most assuredly be some other time.

This type of speculation is not foreign to Christianity, and it is certainly not foreign to interpretations of the so-called “Olivet Discourse,” presented in Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, and Luke 21.  All kinds of postulates are made about exactly when the world will end and how based, at least in part, on Jesus’ words in this discussion.

If there is ever a time when it is good for us to be good Bible students, it is certainly when so much speculation is at hand.  Mark’s version makes the context very clear: Jesus has declared that all the stones of the Temple will be toppled (Mark 13:2).  Some of His disciples utter the same questions that haunt people to this very day–  “when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign when these things are all about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:4).

In context, “these things” represent the Temple and its destruction.  And here we have the ultimate irony of this whole discussion: Jesus’ answer to the questions is not really what the disciples wanted to know.  And it goes a long way to show us that the questions that people most often ask today cannot be answered to their satisfaction!

Jesus goes on to say that there will be false Christs deceiving the people, wars and rumors of wars, nations and kingdoms rising up against one another, earthquakes, and famines (Mark 13:6-8).  Our immediate impulse is to look into the history books and find the precise events concerning which Jesus speaks, and, no doubt, we can find such things.  And that, of course, is Jesus’ point– at what point in human history have there not been false teachers, wars and rumors of wars, nations and kingdoms rising up against each other, earthquakes, and famines?  They are always happening somewhere!

Later Jesus will provide some specific conditions that will be met, and to “get out of Dodge” when the Roman army comes to town (cf. Mark 13:9-23), and predicts the establishment of the Kingdom and the end of the covenant between God and Israel (Mark 13:24-31).

But when?  We have the classic statement: only the Father knows (Mark 13:32).  Much has been made of this statement in terms of Christology, but that is quite separate from the point.  Jesus tells the disciples, point blank, that they will not know exactly when these things will take place (Mark 13:33).  There is no watering down of this idea, no concept that at the last minute a revelation will be given to them.  They simply will not know.

Attempting to ascertain the precise set of conditions and circumstances that will lead to Jesus’ return, therefore, is utterly futile.  If the disciples were not going to know precisely when Jerusalem would be destroyed, why should we believe that anyone is going to know precisely when Jesus will return?

It may seem unbelievable to many, but Jesus’ main point in the “Olivet Discourse” is not to lay out a road map to the apocalypse.  As Peter will say, all things will continue as “normal” until the moment comes (cf. 2 Peter 3:2-12).  True, Jesus does give His disciples some things concerning which they need to be considering and for which they must prepare.  And that, in the end, is the real message.

In declaring that no one will know precisely when these things will take place, He exhorts the disciples to take heed, watch, and pray (Mark 13:33).  He presents the image of the master leaving the house and instructing the doorkeeper to remain awake, since the master’s return may be at any time (Mark 13:34-36).  And Jesus’ universal message, to first century disciples awaiting the judgment on Jerusalem to twenty-first disciples anxious for His return, is to “stay awake” (Mark 13:37)!

This is the thread that runs throughout the whole discourse (Mark 13:5, 9, 13, 23, 33-37).  In the extended version that Matthew provides, the theme is just as evident (Matthew 24:36-25:30).  This is, in fact, the theme that runs throughout all of New Testament eschatology (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10, 1 Peter 4:7-11, 2 Peter 3:11-12, Revelation 2-3, 22:7, 11-12).

As long as God shows patience toward mankind there will be people who will speculate regarding the times and conditions of the Lord’s return.  Do not be deceived into believing any of them.  The “Olivet Discourse” does pave the way, but not in the expected sense.  It is not for us to know when the Lord will return, but the Lord has made many things evident.  He will return.  There will be judgment.  It will happen in God’s good time.  It is not for us to doubt these things or to speculate regarding them.  Instead, we need to be ready.  We must stay awake.  We must live our lives serving God, ready if the Lord returns tomorrow or after another two thousand years.  We must always be ready for the challenges that come with our walk with God, and to stand firm and endure despite them.  Let us avoid the frenzy of folly, and always be on guard for the Lord’s return!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jephthah’s Vow

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, “If thou wilt indeed deliver the children of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering” (Judges 11:30-31).

The vow certainly seemed to be a good idea at the time.

The Israelites were suffering under the oppression of the Ammonites. Jephthah was certainly not the first choice– the son of a prostitute (Judges 11:1), and now a gang leader (Judges 11:3)– but he’s the one that the Gileadites beg to help them defeat Ammon. If he is victorious, he will rule over Gilead. If he is defeated, he will bear ignominy and shame if not death! Thus he makes his vow, in all seriousness, to God. If he is granted victory, whatever comes out to greet him will become a burnt offering to God– a princely sacrifice indeed!

Yet Jephthah’s vow is a tragic one. He was, no doubt, expecting an ox, a sheep, or a goat to meet him first. The LORD grants him a mighty victory (Judges 11:32-33). But, as Jephthah comes home, his daughter– his only child– comes out to meet him (Judges 11:34). The text then indicates that she mourns for her virginity for two months and that Jephthah then “did with her according to his vow which he had vowed” (Judges 11:35-39). He had paid his vow. He offered up his daughter as a burnt offering.

People today recoil at this story. How gruesome! How terrible! Many wish to soften the story by declaring that Jephthah really didn’t sacrifice her, pointing out that God condemned human sacrifice, and saying that she was just left a virgin. While it is true that God does not demand human sacrifice and would not have commanded Jephthah to offer such a sacrifice, the text is pretty clear. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for his daughter to mourn her virginity for two months if she will be mourning it the rest of her life beyond that. And the text does say that he did to her according to his vow– and his vow was to offer up whatever met him as a burnt offering. The Judges author is describing the events that took place in the days of the Judges– he’s not necessarily condoning them.

Nevertheless, we rightly recoil at the horror of this story. The tragedy is that it was all very avoidable. The problem was not with Jephthah making a vow, or the victory the LORD gave him, or with his daughter coming to meet him. The problem was with the specific vow that Jephthah made. He was operating under a certain set of assumptions and did not factor other circumstances into those assumptions. Had the thought crossed his mind that it would be his only child that would come to meet him first, he would never have made that vow the way that he did!

Jephthah’s vow should be a great reminder for us about the power of words. As it is written,

Death and life are in the power of the tongue; And they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof (Proverbs 18:21).

And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37).

We have all, at some point or another, spoken casually, not really thinking about the whole range of consequences of what we have said. We may feel blindsided when the unintended consequences of our words come back to us and we realize that we have “put our foot in our mouths,” so to speak. Hopefully our words will not cause the same type of devastation as Jephthah’s did– but we will be called into account for everything we say.

Vows to God were serious business, serious enough that Jephthah considered it worse to break his vow than to offer his daughter as a burnt offering. Words, despite how easily they may flow off our tongue, are serious business, and life and death may even hang in the balance. Let us learn from the tragic story of Jephthah and his daughter, and be circumspect about how we speak!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Rendering to Caesar and God

And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, that they might catch him in talk.
And when they were come, they say unto him, “Teacher, we know that thou art true, and carest not for any one; for thou regardest not the person of men, but of a truth teachest the way of God: Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give?”
But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, “Why make ye trial of me? Bring me a denarius, that I may see it.”
And they brought it.
And he saith unto them, “Whose is this image and superscription?”
And they said unto him, “Caesar’s.”
And Jesus said unto them, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
And they marvelled greatly at him (Mark 12:13-17).

It was not every day that you saw the Pharisees and the Herodians coming together to visit someone. It is a downright strange event when the Pharisees and Herodians are being sent by the chief priests, scribes, and elders (cf. Mark 11:27)! Yet this was the power of Jesus– all the various sects of the Jews may disagree with each other, but they agree that Jesus is a threat!

In fact, Jesus was becoming intolerable. He had cleansed the Temple, striking at the heart of the power of the chief priests (Mark 11:15-18). He would not reveal the source of His authority (Mark 11:27-33), and incited the people with His parable of the Vineyard (Mark 12:1-11). They needed to dispose of Jesus– and yet they feared the crowds (Mark 12:12). They had to do something to get Jesus in trouble.

And so they hatched the perfect plan– the question that would lead to His demise. The tax question was ideal. If Jesus said that the Jews should pay the tax, then the Pharisees were right there to proclaim to the people how Jesus was a compromiser and an appeaser of the hated oppressor. If Jesus declared that the Jews did not need to pay taxes, the Herodians were there to hear it and to inform Pilate and the Roman authorities that Jesus was stirring up sedition. It was the perfect plan– or so it seemed.

Yet Jesus’ answer entirely flummoxes them. He does not align with one of the two “main” positions. Instead, He advocates a transcendental, middle-of-the-road approach.

Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. For years this has been the foundational principle of the Christian attitude toward government. Though many may seek a political message in what Jesus is saying, in reality, Jesus remains above that particular fray. Jesus’ quarrel, after all, is not with Caesar (cf. Ephesians 6:12). Earthly government has its reason for existence and such should be respected. Taxes should be paid; authorities deserve the honor due them (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-17).

Yet Jesus’ real point is much deeper than this. It has less to do with Caesar and much more to do with God.

The denarius that Jesus held in His hand belonged to Caesar because upon it was struck the image and inscription of Caesar. But where do we find the image and inscription of God? Jesus knew that it was written:

And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”
And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (Genesis 1:26a, 27).

We humans have been made in God’s own image, after His likeness. Yes, we must render to Caesar his money– but to God we must give ourselves (cf. Romans 12:1)! All of our energy and existence must be expended toward the advancement of God’s righteousness and Kingdom (cf. Matthew 6:33).

To the earthly authorities we owe proper respect and taxes so that they may accomplish their necessary functions. Yet we do not owe ourselves to Caesar or his purposes. Instead, we owe ourselves to God, and it is right for us to render to God what is His. Let us serve God fully, truly reflecting His image!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Asaph and the Wicked

“For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: Thou hast destroyed all them that play the harlot, departing from thee. But it is good for me to draw near unto God: I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all thy works” (Psalm 73:27-28).

Psalm 73 describes Asaph’s meditations on one of the more challenging realities of this world: the wicked oftentimes prosper while the righteous do not.

At first, Asaph is led to envy and distress. He sees the condition of the wicked: they are strong, without trouble or plague, proud, violent, fat, with abundance of possessions, scoffers, blasphemers, and at ease (Psalm 73:1-12). Asaph begins to envy them and wonders why he bothers living a righteous life, trying to do the right thing, while all these others who cut corners and do wickedness prosper (Psalm 73:13-14)!

Asaph understands that such thoughts are treachery against himself and against his descendants, and he recognizes that dwelling on the whole matter causes pain (Psalm 73:15-16). And then he enters the sanctuary of God and receives comfort (Psalm 73:17).

Yes, the wicked may prosper now, but the day is coming when they will get caught in their wickedness. It may be during this life, or it may be in the life to come, but desolation comes upon them all (Psalm 73:18-20, Romans 2:5-10).

Asaph then recognizes how brutish he was, and foolish in his thinking (Psalm 73:21-22). He recognizes that his trust is in the LORD, and that God will guide him with His counsel (Psalm 73:23-25). Even though the flesh fails, God will be strong (Psalm 73:26). And, in conclusion, Asaph sets forth the two paths: the one that is far from God, and those therein will perish, and the one drawing near to God, where there is true strength and value (Psalm 73:27-28).

Three thousand years later things have not changed significantly. There are still plenty of people who make a very good living through sinful behaviors. It seems that those people who are trying to be responsible and who do the right thing are the ones being punished, and many wonder if it is worth it to do what is right and to follow God.

We can learn much from Asaph and his meditations. Yes, the wicked prosper. But their prosperity will not last forever. Times of distress will come upon them and there will be no Refuge in which they can trust. They may mock and deride God in their words and deeds, but all of that will come upon them one day (cf. Romans 2:5-10, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)!

Those who attempt to serve God and do His will may look at the wicked and get envious at how “well” they are doing, but they must never forget what they have. As believers in God they are able to call upon God as their trust and refuge. Believers in God are guided by His counsel and enjoy the opportunity to be in the presence of God (cf. Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 4:16). And, ultimately, God will redeem those who are His and they will spend eternity with Him in glory (cf. Psalm 73:24, 2 Thessalonians 1:10-11, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

Why do the wicked prosper? We do not know, cannot know, and it would be too painful to really know. But let us not envy the temporal prosperity of the wicked when we have the opportunity to have the true riches indeed– to call upon the One True God, to be guided and sustained by Him, and, ultimately, to receive glory from Him. Let us draw near to God and make Him our refuge!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Do Not Fear; Only Believe

While he yet spake, they come from the ruler of the synagogue’s house saying, “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Teacher any further?”
But Jesus, not heeding the word spoken, saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, “Fear not, only believe” (Mark 5:35-36).

The dreaded news had arrived.

Jairus knew that the time was short; he hastened to Jesus and implored Him to heal his daughter, sick near death (cf. Mark 5:22-23). Jairus knew that if Jesus got to her before she died she could be delivered from the illness. But the crowd pressed firmly upon Jesus, and He took time out to hear the confession of faith of the woman healed from the issue of blood (cf. Mark 5:24-34).

Too much time had been taken. The girl was dead.

This news is brought to Jairus; according to those who came from his house, there was no more need to bother Jesus the Teacher. And yet, in the midst of this despair and distress, Jesus provides a compelling message for Jairus: do not fear– only believe.

What would Jairus do?

It would be entirely understandable if he went with conventional wisdom and no longer bothered the Teacher. His daughter was dead. One of the few guarantees in life is that once you are dead, you are dead and finished. Sure, Jesus had healed all kinds of sick people and cast out many demons– but He had not yet raised anyone from the dead. It was a great hope while it lasted– but now all hope was gone. The girl was no more.

Yet, on the other hand, why is Jesus so nonchalant about the matter? Did Jesus not know how close she was to death? Why did Jesus delay? Why does He not pay any attention to the terrible news? Jesus is being hailed as the Prophet, the Son of God, with great authority. And now He says to not fear but only believe.

How many times do we find ourselves in a position similar to that of Jairus? There are many times in our lives when our situation seems bleak and hopeless. According to all appearances and conventional wisdom, there is nothing left to do but lose hope and be afraid. Distress encompasses us. Trials beset us. We have all kinds of reasons to no longer trouble the Teacher and to go on our own way.

And yet the voice of Jesus may still call to us to not fear and only believe.

This message should not be distorted or improperly expanded to indicate that all we ever need to do is just believe. Trust and confidence in God and Christ demand that we do what they say to do– if we do not do the Lord’s commandments, we prove that we are not trusting in Him (cf. Romans 6:16-23, James 2:14-26, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 2:3-6).

But there are many times in life when, if we were walking by sight/appearance, we would lose hope. It is in those times that we must walk by faith– trusting that the Lord is there, that the Lord is good, and that God is willing to do far more than even what we desire (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7, Ephesians 3:20-21). God can do the mighty actions; it is our place to trust in Him.

But there have always been and always will be reason to laugh at that trust. There are always reasons to lose all hope and to be afraid. There is never a lack of political uncertainty, economic uncertainty, medical uncertainty, and even environmental uncertainty. There are always various reasons to doubt God, to be afraid of what is happening to us or what we fear is about to happen to us, and to decide to no longer bother the Teacher.

We can read about Jairus’ choice: he believed and Jesus raised his daughter from the dead and restored her to full health (Mark 5:37-43). God was able to do more for him than he could have imagined. And so it is with us. Whenever we are assailed by doubt, fear, uncertainty, and hopelessness, let us remember the words of our Lord.

Do not fear. Only believe.

Ethan R. Longhenry