One time as Jesus was speaking to a crowd, he called his listeners an “evil generation.” Curiously, the only evidence that Jesus cited for that generation’s guilt was their desire for “signs.” At first take, this is a paradox, because throughout Scripture, signs and wonders are an affirmation of God’s presence in the world and of His work among His people. To understand Jesus’ negativity toward “signs”, we must recall the context of that story.
Every Friday night, many Jewish families gather and welcome the Shabbat, or Sabbath. At this weekly traditional gathering, God is thanked for his provision, specifically with blessings related to two elements—the wine and the bread. This is, because the entire meal in biblical and Jewish tradition can be summed up by those two things—wine symbolizes drink and bread represents food.
It can be argued that the spread of Christianity was empowered by its universal message, making it highly compatible in many cultures and languages. Yet, that strength can also be a weakness, when the shifting winds of culture and language blow back on the original biblical meaning and context. To safeguard the gospel message, a robust relationship with Hebrew and Greek are essential for the future of the Evangelical church.
Today, Israel is in the midst of a five-year drought. As we are ending this year’s short window of the rainy season, consistently below average rainfalls threaten to dry up the legendary “Land of Milk and Honey.” Historically, drought births famine, as lack of rain destroys agriculture and instigates starvation.
This past week we ended the holiday of Hanukkah or “Dedication” that commemorates when Judah Maccabee restored the purity of Jerusalem’s temple after having been desecrated by Gentiles with their pagan sacrifices. Among other things, Judah’s forces tore down the altar that had borne the blood of pigs, and rebuilt a new one in its place. Having completed the remodeling, Judah celebrated this rededication for eight days at the end of 164 BC. At the heart of Hanukkah is restoration of pure sacrifice.
Today, Israelis and descendants of the Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps from the British Empire’s army during World War I), celebrated the 100th anniversary of Britain’s crucial victory at Beersheba which began the end of Ottoman rule in the Holy Land and helped birth the Balfour Declaration. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and New Zealand Governor-General Patsy Reddy were present at today’s ceremony.
There is only one story in the gospels where Jesus reads from the Scripture when he was in his hometown synagogue. At some point after the destruction of the First Temple in 587 B.C., Jews first began meeting in synagogues every Sabbath—or Shabbat—and reading from the five books of Moses. Those first books of Hebrew Scripture—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—also known as the Torah, formed the core scripture readings in the synagogue every Shabbat.
The writer of Lamentations sits astonished. The unbelievable has happened. It is the 6th century B.C. and the holy city of Jerusalem is no more, and its temple—the House of God—is razed. The city of the Judean kings is plundered and left bare. David’s descendants have been murdered, raped, and enslaved. Bodies of old and young lie in the road; like an apocalyptic nightmare, the famished survivors wander the ravaged streets like zombies, even eating their children.
Purim is in the air here in Israel, with its costumes and confections, and our attention turns again to reading the Esther scroll. There is an inherent irony in these celebrations—on the one hand, you have a carnival like celebration, which in many ways seems suited to this wild and crazy story, on the other hand you're dealing with serious issues like genocide.
We all know the story. A rich man dies and goes to an afterlife of suffering. He returns to warn his equally avaricious “brother” about the torment to come. These rich men have spent their lives worrying about “the bottom line” while ignoring the needs of those around them. They have grown wealthy by their tightfistedness to the detriment of others.
This week the UN held a first-ever summit on the 65.3 million refugees and migrants in the world. During this conference hosted in New York City, President Obama met with leaders of Jordan, Mexico, Sweden, Germany, Canada and Ethiopia, along with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in hopes of gaining $3 billion in pledges for the refugee work.
As the World Trade Center Towers in New York City fell on September 11th fifteen years ago as a result of Islamic extremist attacks, those of us still living then knew the world had suddenly entered a new era of fear. While the annals of history have always been scribbled in the blood of millions who have died in war, 9-11 has proven to be a portent of the 21st century’s slippery struggle with an elusive enemy.
My Dad has always been his own harshest critic. I can’t count the number of times Dad had delivered the sermon and then on a Saturday evening, the family would sit around the dinner table, often with guests present, and brutally pick apart the bits we liked and the parts we didn’t, like vultures over freshly fallen prey.
On September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush declared a "War on Terror" in the aftermath of the Islamic extremist group, Al-Qaeda’s, September 11th attacks on the United States. Interestingly, similar words were first used by the Reagan Administration in 1984 when it called for a “war against terrorism” in reaction to the bombing of the American and French barracks in Beirut which was linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In ancient Jewish tradition, you could have more than one father. Yes, you had your birth father, the one who raised you, but if you followed a sage, a rabbi, a teacher, he also became your father. He was the one who mentored you in ministry. He discipled you over 2,000 years ago. You left all and followed him.
Pharaoh said kill them all—every newborn Hebrew son. This was either an eventual genocidal plot or a temporary population control measure for Pharaoh’s Hebrew slaves. Either way, those that survived in that generation of Hebrew boys would be forever marked in their society as exceptional, their lives precious, and their future choices held to a higher standard.