The punctuation of the wilderness

The punctuation of the wilderness

Luke 3: 4 “As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”

Luke is quoting from Isaiah 40:3 “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Can you see a difference?

The punctuation makes all the difference doesn’t it?

In Luke the focus is of John who is Isaiah’s lone voice in the wilderness with a message to prepare the way.

In Isaiah where John quotes from there is a voice instructing us that in the wilderness we need to prepare the way.

The punctuation marks have most probably been added centuries later and at times though they don’t change the text they can change its focus.

I don’t think the point is that John is a voice in the wilderness calling those outside the wilderness to repent.

The point is that John was quoting Isaiah in telling people to prepare a way in the wilderness for the Lord to come.

In a dramatic turnaround for the Israelites who had journeyed through the wilderness to the Jordan River and into the Promised Land he now calls for them to return to the wilderness at the Jordan. Generations later they were celebrating in many rituals the wilderness years and yet John sees they need to return to once again engage with God.

It is difficult for us Christians to appreciate the enormous impact the wilderness plays in a Jewish mind. The Christian runs from it for it is an enemy. For the Jew it was where God fed the people with miraculous food, where He gave them the instructions for living, where their culture was refined, He led them day and night with a cloud and a pillar of fire, He defended them from their enemies, He supplied water from the Rock, it was here where they truly experienced His Presence, in the wilderness.

They didn’t come out of the wilderness because they sinned and died there. Now John is calling them to return through Isaiah’s eyes because the Lord is going to appear again. This time they must repent and be forgiven of their sins and live.

It is in the wilderness where we discover His Presence, His Protection and His Provision.

If you describe your situation or your soul as a wilderness today then clear out the rubbish, make way, get ready for the Lord will come. He never leaves His children alone in the wilderness for them who want Him.

The Mikveh

The Mikveh

Luke 3:3 “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

 

 

Israel’s freedom came because they left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, died in the wilderness, crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land.

They are now in slavery again and this was John’s re-enactment, a new Exodus, not a fleeing to a Promised Land but a return to God.

The Mikveh was common to the people and is still practiced by Jews today. The ritual baths outside the temples helped worshippers rid themselves of the inner dirt that they had become contaminated by prior to them worshipping Jehovah. It symbolised confession of sin with a hope of forgiveness. It also indicated that the person was walking from the old into the new. It was a common and regular practice. There was nothing unusual.

Except that is until John comes along.

Granted the river Jordan would be seen as an unusual Mikveh, but where is the temple? This was not for John about worship

John had brought the people back to the Jordan where they had gone through to their Promised Land to show them that they were still after all these years in need not of the Mosaic Law with all of its 613 commandments which they couldn’t keep, but in need of a Redeemer! They were still needing a Moses figure.

The Law cannot do it. The Redeemer can.

Stop trying to satisfy and fulfil and do in order to be acceptable rather come away from the old life, from your Egypt, through the Mikveh.

The importance of the wilderness

The importance of the wilderness

Luke 3: 2 “…the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”

John had positioned himself in the wilderness ready for God.

There is no better place than the wilderness.

The wilderness is a special place for us in the Bible because it teaches us many lessons from the story of the Israelites.

The wilderness years were not wandering years. Nearly 1 year was spent at Mount Sinai where Moses was up and down the mountain getting revelation and instruction for the building of the tabernacle. They then at the foot of Sinai built the tabernacle and then moved on. But for 38 years they were in Kadesh Barnea because spies had brought a bad report, they never moved on and a generation died. Their total travelling time took less than 2 years arriving at the Promised Land with a fresh generation of leaders. It was the wilderness where they died except for 2 men, Joshua and Caleb.

 

The goal of the Exodus was to take Egypt out of the Israelites. The people at the Exodus are a fearful and frightened people. By the time they get to the Jordan they are ready to fight as an army. It was the wilderness that changed them.

 

‘Wilderness’ in Hebrew is ‘Midbar’ and it means ‘word’. Where did the Torah (first 5 OT books) come from? It wasn’t from Egypt nor the Promised Land. Where did they encounter God? It was the wilderness where revelation was given and they experienced God.

 

We need the wilderness years.

The place where we die in order to live.

The place where we are changed.

The place where we hear from God and encounter Him.

He will be here soon!

He will be here soon!

Luke 3: 1-2

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas …”

Luke mentions a group of leaders and he does so to show that the world at that time was run by evil men. And we are later shown that this is to be expected because Luke believes very much that they were appointed by the devil. In the temptation of Jesus Luke records how the devil has been given all the kingdoms of the world and he can appoint and remove as he wants, so he thinks.

So let’s look at these men

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus, simply called Tiberius, was the Roman emperor during the life of Jesus.  A Roman author of the first century called Pliny the Elder wrote of Tiberius “the gloomiest of men” He certainly was the most evil of men.

Bi-sexual, paedophile, a dark horrible man.

According to Josephus, he “made death the penalty for the slightest offenses” and people would be killed for even speaking ill of him.

He was considered borderline mad.

The term “old goat” meaning a lecherous old man preying on younger people was coined because of his sexual deviances.

Yet bizarrely, he was worshipped as a god, honoured by having the Sea of Galilee renamed after him and also Herod Antipas built a city in honour of him (John 6).

 

Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea and of nervous disposition in the north which wasn’t completely under Roman control, not like the south. The Jews hated him for his disgraceful behaviour towards their Temple. He brought in the Roman standards into their Holy City; put golden shields of names and images of Roman deities in the Temple and according to Luke in 13 he killed men in their Temple worship and mixed their blood with that of their animal sacrifice.

 

Herod the tetrarch of Galilee is the son of Herod the Great. Luke portrays Herod as a complete evil man. He arrests and beheads John and he seeks to kill Jesus, mocking him, dressing him up as a royal in one big humiliation of Jesus.

 

Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis has a ¼ of the Roman Empire to rule. He built Paneas, which became Ceasarea Philippi in honour of himself, this was a pagan shrine with every god and goddess you could imagine where the infamous rock of ages stood and where Jesus announced he would build his church (on that rock).

Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene ruled this tiny stretch of land.  It was a small but busy area without any defensive borders which had been competed over for many years.

Anna and Caiaphas both high priests. Anna was the father in law of Caiaphas. All his sons became high priests. It was a dynasty and a mafia. Caiaphas was responsible for the persecution of Christians.

So Luke begins:

At a time when

  • Evil was being honoured
  • The setting up idols and names to match the name of God.
  • The attempts to humiliate Jesus.
  • The worship of every false god imaginable.
  • There are battles over territory.
  • Religion was persecuting followers of Jesus.

 

It was tense and it was ruthless.

Their world was on a precipice.

It couldn’t go on any longer.

Something had to happen.

Someone had to come and sort it out.

The world was set for God to move.

Little did they realise at that time He had already come and positioned people where He wanted them. The preparation was nearly over.

He would soon burst onto centre stage.

He would be here soon.

It could be 2019.

Grow up!

Grow up!

Luke 2: 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

 

“So apart from Jesus, what kind of Pastor would you like?” That was my question to a Church leadership team this week.

We all want Jesus, because He is perfect in every way.

We all want the finished article and we want it now.

If you plant a Chinese bamboo seed, it will sit in the ground for five years and appear to not be making any changes. Then, over a six-week period, it will grow 90 feet.

There is a giant Himalayan lily which spends most of its life looking like nothing at all but then after 5-7 years it grows to 9-10 feet tall and produces the most amazing delicately shaped flowers.

The national tree of Sri Lanka is the talipot, it is a palm tree that grows to a height of 82 feet. It only flowers once but it happens some time when it is between 30 – 80 years old.

However, when it comes to human achievement and maybe even our own process of maturing, we are the most impatient.

Yet no human, not even Jesus moves from baby to man without the need to grow. This is done before God and man.

Within that growth comes many challenges and pains attached to the process. These are necessary for development.

The truth is one day you will stand before Him the finished article. Until then you are in the growing phase, being perfected for eternity.

Today is another day to grow. Embrace it

 

Maybe we should just do some more thinking

Maybe we should just do some more thinking

Luke 2: 50-51 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.

There are seasons and times for everything.

Today may not be the day of understanding. Joseph and Mary had not understood why Jesus had said he had to be in his Father’s house when they had been anxiously searching for him.

(It is difficult for us to understand why they didn’t understand!).

Luke tells us that they didn’t argue with Jesus, “What do you mean? What are you saying?”

They didn’t interpret what Jesus had said for themselves, “I think Jesus meant this …”

Neither did they choose to sweep it all under the carpet, “Let’s forget it!”

But at that time, Mary did what was the most important thing, she continually kept on thinking about it and other things that Jesus and others had said.

Perhaps there is a lesson here.

When God speaks to us in whatever way He chooses either as individuals or as a church then maybe we shouldn’t jump in immediately with our understanding, application and interpretation responses. Maybe we should consider a little pondering? Maybe we should treasure them, continually thinking them over, holding them dear, deep in our heart.

The day of the message is not necessarily the day of the revelation.

Perhaps we should get some more mystery back into our lives?

I think the message from God can influence and change our life if we receive it into our hearts for meditation like Mary did.

 

 

 

Revelation of Jesus is the greatest help to our lives on earth.

Revelation of Jesus is the greatest help to our lives on earth.

Luke 2: 48-49

When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’  ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?

 

  • They were offended that there was no communication on what his plans were.
  • They were embarrassed because it seemed the whole world knew they hadn’t any idea where he was.
  • They feared the worst.
  • They were distressed and tormented (amplified) which was quite the opposite of the teachers of the law who were impressed by him.
  • They wanted to know why.

His response was with the same question. Why?

There seems to be a division on this question.

Jesus wanted to know why they didn’t know where he would be before they had set out for home.

“Why don’t you know?”

All the above points can be said of us today.

Offended, embarrassed, fearful, distressed, tormented, are all feelings we can have towards God over the situation we find ourselves in. Why God?

And the response is something like this:

Why after 12 years (or whatever period of time you have been a Christian) have you so taken me for granted that you still do not know me? Why have you not grown in your learning? All those feelings are a result of not knowing who I am.

Our understanding of the revelation of who He is will impact our lives in the decisions we make.

We may sympathise with Joseph and Mary and yet all those feelings of despair they felt as parents was unnecessary if there had been a growing understanding and desire even to know Jesus more.

 

 

Grow in understanding

Grow in understanding

Luke 2: 46-47

“After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”

Everyone loves a child prodigy. They are cute. They are no threat. But when the child prodigy becomes an adult well that can be a whole different story. A child asking a provoking question is different to an adult asking the same.

At 12 years of age Jesus shows us what is of most importance.

He is with the teachers.

He is listening to them.

He is asking questions.

He is answering questions.

Jesus, at 12 years of age loves to learn.

May we never stop developing our understanding.

Today you have an opportunity to learn, to grow with wisdom in words and ability. Embrace your life. Read, listen, discuss, draw from every conversation and learn. Never stop learning.
You will not know what is ahead of you but prepare yourself in mind speech and ability. You will end up drawing on these moments that’s for sure.

The search

The search

Luke 2: 44-45

“Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.”

They assumed everything was the same as it had always been.

They were returning home as a family, Mary, Joseph and Jesus plus their extended family and friends. It was a coach full of people who all knew each other. It was probably a noisy crowd as they chatted along the way of the wonderful Festival of Passover they had just attended. This scenario had repeated itself for many years. This year was no different.

They travelled from Jerusalem back to Nazareth a fifth of the way and then the dawning realisation that this year was very much different because though they had thought Jesus was with them, he actually wasn’t.

I wonder if that was the first marital row! “He was with you”, “No, he was with you!” Perhaps!

So the search began amongst the relatives and then the friends, surely Jesus was there. They could not find him, so they did the smart thing and that was to take some steps back, all the way to Jerusalem, they were determined to find him.

Is it possible that we are in exactly the same position?

Is it possible that we have thought that Jesus was with us after all he had promised never to leave us?

If we have ever thought that a particular church had so lost its way that we described it as ‘dead’ then yes it is possible that even in our liveliness and flamboyancy of church that we too have lost the presence of Jesus.

If we have ever used the words ‘so-called Christian’ in a derogatory way then it is also possible that we as true disciples have lost the presence of Jesus.

If we have ever stood outside a building that used to be a church and is now derelict or apartments and judged it for losing its witness because Jesus said, “I will build my church” then it is also possible worshipping in a church that is in decline is an indicator that we think Jesus is with us but maybe we have lost him.

Is it possible that the problems in church life over division and strife, gossip and slander, jealousies and bitterness is simply due to the fact that we have lost his presence. We think Jesus is with us and even fighting for our opinion, but we have moved from him.

Yes. It is possible and it needs to be said.

The search must begin sooner rather than later.

Admission is so important. We have lost the ‘presence’.

We will try familiar places (the relatives and friends) to try and get the presence back (we will try worship, evangelism and good works). But he is not in those things.

We must retrace our steps. We must go back to where we were when Jesus was definitely with us.

The search must begin there.

 

 

UNAWARE

UNAWARE

 

Luke 2: 41-43

 

“Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.”

 

For 12 years the same thing, the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem took approximately 5 days, but it was worth it for the festival. The Passover, the celebration of the deliverance by God of the Children of Israel from their enemy is the most important Jewish festival.

Can you imagine what must have gone through Mary and Josephs mind each year as they carried and then as Jesus got older walked with him to the Passover. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world with them at the Passover. It must have been so special.

When you do the same thing in the same way for so many years then it is easy to become blinded to any changes that may happen, even major ones!

The attention you give to a child is different to the attention you give to a 12 year old. On a child your eyes are never far from them. With a 12 year old you are content with some distance.

I think the danger for Christians in the UK is that we have become content with distance that has developed between the presence of Christ and the practice of our Christianity. When the practices take our attention more than the presence then we can become blind. The practices will prove we still believe Jesus is who He is, we still love Him, we still go to worship Him, we still speak of Him and we still hold to the fact that He is with us. Yet we can be unaware because practices can blind us to the presence. If someone had asked Mary and Joseph if Jesus was with them their response would have been, “Yes totally.”

We lose the presence of Jesus because of routine, this is how we always do it. The festival is over, people leave Jerusalem and go home. It is what everyone is doing. The moment was amazing again but now we leave the moment and we get on with our lives. We exchange the moment for the mundane. We miss the fact that Jesus wants to stay in that moment longer.

Christians, unaware that there is an incredible and growing distance between ourselves and the presence of Christ.

Perhaps that is why Christians have become mute and Churches are in decline.

We have a vision of the journey but Christ is not with us.

We are unaware.