Tag Archives: Jesus

Exodus, Jesus, and Wine

How much do you know about the story of Easter? Maybe less than you think. Read on!

Most of us are familiar with the ancient Easter story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, especially if we grew up in the Church. But the reality is that the Easter narrative began thousands of years before the death of Jesus. The dramatic lead-up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is quite elaborate and was set in place generations before Rome even existed.

If you turn to Exodus 11-12, you will read the story of Moses liberating the people of Israel from the heavy hand of slavery in Egypt. You may have heard this in Sunday school or on Prince of Egypt. Here how the story basically went: Israel was in slavery in Egypt, so God sent Moses to free them. Moses stood before Pharaoh, the king, and told him to free the slaves. The pharaoh refused until God sent ten plagues to the land. The final plague was the death of all the firstborn sons in Egypt. The only ones who were spared were those who obeyed God by killing a lamb and painting some of its blood on their doorposts. Finally, pharaoh relented and forced the people out of the land. They left while their bread was still without yeast and baked the flat cakes during the journey. God instituted Passover in remembrance of this event. I’ll give more details on the Passover feast below.

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Seder Plate for Passover. The horseradish sauce represents the bitterness of slavery, the lamb represents the lamb whose blood caused the Angel of Death to “pass over” the Israelite homes, the herbs dipped in salt water represent the Red Sea crossing, the honey represents the sweetness of freedom, and the egg represents the Temple sacrifice.

 

Fast-forward a thousand years to the account in Matthew 26:1-30. It’s the year 30 AD in Jerusalem, and crowds of Jews have gathered to their holy city to celebrate the Passover. They will be observing the Passover meal tonight, and tomorrow they will all bring a Passover lamb to sacrifice at the Temple to atone for their sins. The lamb must be perfect, with no broken bones or blemishes. The priest will slaughter the lambs for about six hours, and when the last lamb has been sacrificed, he will say, “It is finished.” It’s a gruesome sight– so much blood will be spilled and many innocent animals lives lost. It’s designed to be that way so that the people will see how awful their wrongdoings are and be thankful that God took the life of the animal in exchange for the life of the sinner.

On this night, Jesus celebrated Passover the same way that the rest of the nation did. He gathered with his closest friends to eat the symbolic flatbread and drink the symbolic wine. And then he taught them that the entire Passover was designed to point the way to himself. He was the final Passover lamb, the perfect one who would die in the place of the sinner. He would be the lamb who wiped away the wrongdoing– not just for a year, but forever.

Jesus and the disciples reclined at the table, first-century style. This Passover meal would come to be known as the Last Supper and be the foundation of the sacrament of Communion or Eucharist. Together, they drank the first cup of wine: the cup of holiness. This cup reminded them that God is holy and He desires holiness from His people. Next, the ceremonial washing of hands began. But Jesus did not simply wash the hands of himself and his friends. He washed their feet, a sign of servanthood. His friends were confused because he was their teacher and leader. Jesus told them that he was setting an example for them. He expected them to also serve one another.

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Washing hands

 

After the washing of hands comes the herbs dipped in salt water. The salt water dripping from the herbs reminds us of the tears of the Israelite slaves and the salty Red Sea that the people passed through to find freedom in a new land. For Christians, it is also reminder of baptism. In fact, the institution of baptism has to do with the story of the Red Sea. Christian baptism is a symbol of leaving the old life of bondage to wrongdoing and passing into a new life of freedom with Jesus.

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Parsley dipped in salt water

 

Next, Jesus took up the flatbread, which is called “Matza.” Traditionally, it is broken into three pieces, representing the Jewish patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But as Jesus broke it, He said, “This is my body, broken for you.” He had been telling them for days now that he would have to die, but they didn’t quite understand yet.

Next Jesus picked up the second cup of wine, the cup of judgement. “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” The old covenant had been dependent on the blood of animals, spilled to atone for wrongdoing. Soon, Jesus would spill his blood on the cross and initiate the new covenant. The new covenant is that Jesus blood, his death, is sufficient to make up for wrongdoing. You don’t need to kill and animal, and you don’t need to do anything to earn right standing with God and entry into Heaven. You only have to trust that Christ’s death is enough.

Jesus began to pass around the cup. Each person dipped their flatbread in the wine and ate. As they did so, Jesus dropped the bombshell: He really was going to die, and one of those at the table would betray him to the authorities and make it happen. They began to question who it was. Judas had already struck a deal to betray Jesus, so he got up and left to finish the job.

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The rest of them continued in conversation and Jesus taught the last of his lessons to them. After, they sang a hymn. I imagine that it was the song “Dayenu,” which is sung at every Passover meal. The song talks about how God continually does good things for His people: led them out of Egypt, gave them the Sabbath, gave them the Torah. We can add one more to the list: gave us Jesus.

After the song, Jesus and his disciples left to pray on the Mount of Olives. After an hour or so, Judas returned with a great mob to arrest Jesus. That night, he was tried before the governor and found guiltless. But the governor was pressured by the people to crucify him, so he turned Jesus over to them to die. Jesus was hung at 9:00 am, as soon as the lambs in the Temple began to be slaughtered. At 3:00 pm, when the last lamb was slaughtered, the High Priest said, “it is finished. A few miles away, Jesus felt himelf dying. He cried out, “It is finished!” and exhaled his last breath.

He was buried that night.

Three days later, the tomb was found empty. A few women claimed to have seen him. The governor tried everything he could to find the body. But it was nowhere to be found. More people began to claim to have seen him, and the days continued to go by. The governor gave up looking for the body.

The body was gone.

Jesus had risen from the dead.

He was who he said he was!

And we can have everlasting life because he is the perfect Passover lamb who took away the sins of the world.

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I Look to a Day When….

Few people have had as much impact on the racial element of American culture as Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember the first time I listened to his speech… not heard, but really listened. It sent shivers up and down my spine. Joy rose in my heart as I recognized the steps we’ve taken as a nation and longing tugged at my heart as I realized what a long way we still have to go.

If I’ve learned anything about race and culture, it is that valuing differences in culture and skin color is key to ethnic harmony. We sometimes try to pretend that there’s no differences among us. But that is not a solution, and it does nothing to facilitate relationships and understanding.

We’re different. Everybody, every culture, every color.

It’s beautiful.

Let’s start appreciating.

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Culture is the most beautiful and fascinating thing I have encountered in my life. It’s amazing to see the diversity among humankind. So many different faces, so many different foods, so many different ways to do life.

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I love what the Bible says about ethnic diversity. Historically, we know that many people have shamefully used the scriptures as an excuse for racism. Those people obviously never read the book. My favorite passage of the Bible is the the 21st and 22nd chapter of Revelation. In it, the author describes what the world will be like after the end of the world as we know it and the beginning of the new order. The Bible teaches that eventually, God will remake the earth and remove all the bad from it. Then, he will come and live on earth with us in a beautiful city. Here and elsewhere in the Bible, “nations” is a translation of the Greek word “ethne,” meaning people groups of ethnic groups.

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“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the Lamb [the Lamb is a name for Jesus]… and and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’…They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9-17

“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb . By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into in and its gates will never be shut by day– and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Revelation 21:22-27

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This is good news for all of us. First it tells us that God is a big fan of our diversity. Why would he have created it otherwise? Secondly, it tells us that our diversity will remain in Heaven and beyond. Third, it comforts us with the promise that all of God’s children who ever been abandoned, hurt, abused, or shunned based on race will be accepted, healed, cared for, and loved by God. What a promise; what a future to look forward to.

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“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I may not live to see a day when this is true for our world. But I hold to the promise that I will see that day in Heaven.

 

 

Tealights for Hanukkah

Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel. This phrase is perhaps the only thing many of us know about Hanukkah. Contrary to popular opinion, Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. In fact, Hanukkah’s roots are even older than Christmas is. Hanukkah is a beautiful celebration of God’s faithfulness and has a wonderful story behind it.

The story of Hanukkah can be found in 1 Maccabees. When Alexander the Great overtook the Middle East, he sent governors who oppressed the Jewish people. They desecrated the Temple by slaughtering pigs (unclean animals according to Jewish law) on the alter and dedicated it to Zeus.

Most of the Jews felt helpless in the face of the Greek juggernaut, but there was a group of men, called the Maccabees, who refused to stand for the atrocity. They attacked the Greek soldiers and regained control of the Temple. In order to purify it, they needed to burn purified oil on the Temple lampstand. Unfortunately, the preparation of  the special oil took eight days, and they only had one day’s worth of oil to burn. They decided to take a step of faith and burn the oil. The next morning, the lampstand was burning low– but the oil jar was full once more! Each day for eight days, the jar was miraculously full in the morning. On the last day, when the new oil was ready, the jar was empty.

This story is not wonderful simply because God worked a miracle by renewing the oil. It is wonderful because it reflects God’s heart for His people. By providing the oil and allowing the Temple to be purified, God made a way for His people to have a place to worship Him and connect with Him. He wants His children to have a relationship with Him.

I am not Jewish; I believe that Jesus Christ fulfills the Messianic prophesies of the Old Testament. I believe that He is the one who is called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” But I also think that any holiday that celebrates God’s goodness is worth observing, so I light eight candles on Hanukkah each year.

I made a menorah a few years ago, but I left it back in Phoenix. So, this year, I set up nine tea lights on a shelf and raised the center one using the cap of some glitter spray I used.  Unfortunately, tea lights don’t last nearly as long as miraculous Temple oil, so tapers would be a better choice in the future. Still, it looks pretty.

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It is traditional to eat food fried in oil during Hanukkah to commemorate the Temple oil. Latkes are especially popular during the holiday. So, I decided to make some!

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Ben and Matt helped me make latkes

 

Latkes are basically potato cakes. All you need to make them is chopped onion, shredded potato, and some salt, a little flour, egg, and oil. Heat the oil one inch deep in a pan. Mix all the other ingredients together, form into balls, and press into pan to create a pancake shape. Fry until golden-brown.

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From a Christian perspective, Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets, so every Jewish holiday points directly to Jesus Christ. Passover points to His death and resurrection, Day of Atonement points to His self-sacrifice for our sins, and Hanukkah points to the privilege of relationship with God that Jesus gives to us. During the Maccabean Revolt that instituted Hanukkah, God gave His people the ability to seek Him in the Temple. Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, God gave us something even greater. Matthew 27:51 says that “at that moment [that Jesus died on the cross] the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The temple curtain was an incredibly thick, heavy cloth that separated the Holy Place (where Jewish men could worship) from the Holy of Holies (the place where God allowed his presence to rest; the place where only priests could go. When the curtain was torn, the barrier between us and the  presence of God was removed. The removal was not just a physical one. The tearing of the curtain was a representation of the removal of the barrier between God and man. Jesus’ sacrifice broke the sin barrier between us and God. Now, we can have direct access to God. Just as God was willing to work a miracle to allow the Jews to connect with Him again in His Temple, He was willing to offer the unthinkable so that now everyone may connect with Him from anywhere.

Second Sunday of Advent: Forgiveness

Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Last week, I wrote the history, tradition, and significance of Advent season.  Today, I will be talking about what we did for the second week of Advent. If you like, you can gather your family and join in the timeless tradition of Advent devotions.

Tonight, we lit the second advent candle, the Forgiveness Candle. This candle reminds us that Jesus came to us in order to bring forgiveness of our wrongdoings.

The Bible tells us that the reason that Jesus came to us was to glorify God (John 17:1). The primary way He did this was by reconciling the world to God. From the very first, people alienated themselves from God by disobeying God. God commands that we do all things good and right, as is outlined in the Bible and written in our consciences. But each one of us has violated that command. Because even the smallest wrongdoing completely dirties us before God, we are unable to enter his presence as we are. God is so completely holy that He does not tolerate the filth of unholiness. Because He is just, He requires punishment for wrongdoing– physical death and eternal separation from His presence after death.  But because God loves us and desires to show His mercy to us, He decided to make a way for our relationship with Him to be repaired. He sent His Son, Jesus, to the world to take the punishment for our wrongdoing. Jesus was the only one who could take on every wrong ever committed and bear our punishment in our place, because He was the only man who ever lived a perfect life with no mistakes. When He died, God turned His back on him and let Him bear the pain of physical death and separation from His presence for a short time. But because Jesus is God, the power of evil and death had no hold over him. After a short time in the grave, Jesus rose again, this time with a body that would never be destroyed! If we repent of our wrongdoing and accept Jesus’ sacrifice, we too can live forever with God. Our wrongdoings– every single one of them– have already been paid for by Jesus. We can be forgiven.

Christmas is the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is the celebration of the first spark of hope for forgiveness entering the world.

For today’s Advent devotional reading, you can read the following verses:

Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Luke 1:68-79: “….for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of God…”

Because of the forgiveness of God, we no longer need to live with the burdens of guilt, of shame, or of fear. This freedom is the beautiful blessing of Christmas.

 

 

 

 

First Sunday of Advent

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

My family loves celebrations and traditions. Growing up, we had many wonderful traditions leading up to Christmas– little gifts for Christmas countdown, paper chains, setting out a new nativity scene every day for two weeks, picking out a live tree, decorating parties. Of all the traditions of my childhood, one stands out in my mind as a particular favorite. Every Sunday for the month leading up to Christmas, my mom would cook a special dinner and my dad would lead us in Christmas advent devotions. My memories of this annual event are so vivid. I can almost smell the scent of burning wax and hear my dad’s voice reading from the book of Luke in the Bible. This year, we’re thousands of miles away from my parents, but we’re carrying on the Advent tradition in our own home.

The Advent candle tradition has been observed for centuries by Catholics and protestants alike. Traditionally, a wreath is constructed from evergreen boughs, laid flat on the table, and four candles are arranged in a circle on the wreath. One tall, white candle is set in the center. Each of the four Sundays before Christmas, a new candle is lit. On the first Sunday, one candle is lit, on the second, two are lit, and so on. On Christmas, all four candles on the wreath are lit, and finally the white candle is lit, as well. This candle is the Christ candle and it honors the birth of Jesus.

The four candles in the circle have no set meaning, although there are many different names and symbolisms given to the candles. Some call them the peace, hope, love, and joy candles. In my home growing up, they each represented a different group that announced the coming of Jesus. The first candle was the prophet candle, representing Old Testament prophets; the second was the angel candle, representing the angels that appeared to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds; the third was the shepherd candle; and the fourth was the wise men candle.

Generally, the lighting of the candle is accompanied by devotional and scripture reading. My dad would always read from an Advent devotional book and then choose portions of Scripture to accompany it.

The lighting of the Advent candles is not a religious ritual. It is simply a way to prepare our hearts and minds for the Christmas season. Like many people observe Lent to help themselves remember and focus on the approach of Easter, Advent devotions help us to remember that Christmas is coming and also remember why we celebrate Christmas at all. It’s a time to take a break from the distractions and busyness of life and take a few minutes to think about the meaning of Christmas. It’s easy to get caught up in the endless Walmart isles of toys and the explosion of red and green in Hobby Lobby, Pinterest and our news feeds. But the true reason we even have Christmas at all is that 2000 years ago, a baby boy was born in a cave in the Middle East, and He changed the world.

Now that’s something to celebrate.

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In preparation for Advent Sunday, I bought some candles at the Chinese market next door– they didn’t have pink or purple candles, which are traditional, so I bought red, green, yellow and white instead. Oh, well. At least they look Christmassy! I went to a baby shower today and ended up with some bits of green ribbon, which look great tied around the candles. We don’t exactly have evergreen here, so my ribbon will suffice. Also, I think the circular formation of the candles must have some significance, but I don’t know what it is–anyway, it looked weird without a real wreath.  I set them up in a line and they looked beautiful.

Ben found an Advent devotional on his Logos app on his phone. We sat down to dinner with Matt, I lit the candle, and Ben began to read.

The devotional he chose called the first candle the Shepherd Candle. It signifies the Lord’s guidance in our life as a shepherd. In many places in Scripture, God is called our shepherd. It seems like a weird metaphor to a society without a whole lot of shepherds (or sheep for that matter), but it was a very tangible comparison for Middle Eastern ancients. A shepherd watches vigilantly and lovingly over his sheep, and he protects them from harm and cares for them.

Here are some Bible references that talk about Jesus as a shepherd:

If you don’t have Advent plans for this evening, why not take a few moments to read these scripture passages? Whether or not you have an Advent wreath, candles, or even a Bible in print, you can celebrate the Christmas season by celebrating Jesus.

 

What are your favorite Christmas traditions? Or how does your family observe Advent?