Saturday, November 4, 2017

“The Truth That Sets Us Free” (2017 West Coast Ladies Retreat Presentation)

The Truth That Sets Us Free:

Applying Paul’s Message to the Galatians to Our Lives[1]


“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).[2]


Imagine this:[3]

The year is 48, or maybe 49. The middle of the first century. In the backwater Roman Province of Judea, the Zealot movement is brewing. Picking up steam. Threatening to become a full-fledged storm. These Jews absolutely detest foreign rule. And to make it even worse, it’s pagan rule. They imagine themselves, in their fevered fanaticism, to be like the legendary – the heroic – Maccabees generations before, seeking to drive out the foreign overlords – out of their homeland, to the sea – by any means necessary.

These Zealots have a well-deserved reputation for violence. They are the terrorists of their day. Their nationalistic fervor, whipped into frenzy, would eventually culminate in what we call the First Jewish–Roman War, which began in the late 60s and resulted in the complete destruction of the city of Jerusalem and its temple, scattering Jews all over the known world.

But for now, in A.D. 48, an attempted revolt against the Romans has ended in failure. So the Zealots turn their focus inward: They want to purify the Jewish people. Root out any “Gentile” influence that has infiltrated their culture. Their first target: the Sadducees.

Of the Jewish sects that existed in the first century, the Sadducees were the most Hellenized, the most accepting of pagan Greek culture. And therefore, in the fevered minds of the Zealots, the most corrupt. The Sadducees were willing to collaborate, to help, to assist, to ally themselves with those hated pagan, foreign invaders and oppressors, the Romans. As the ruling elite, the Sadducees constituted a considerable threat to any independence movement as long as they controlled the temple system and the priesthood, and welded significant influence in the Great Sanhedrin (the Jews’ highest judicial court).

The Zealots also target a smaller and newer sect: the Christians.

Why the Christians? They did not have broad religious influence in society. They didn’t have easy access to political power. Nor were they even particularly politically minded – unlike many Christians today. Furthermore, their seemingly blasphemous beliefs – like “Jesus is God” – were of greater interest to other religious factions like the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Not so much to the political Zealots.

Yet they were a threat. These Christians saw the blessing of Abraham as a blessing for all people, not just the Jewish people. They took what most people saw as an “ethnic” religion, something one was born into, and turned it into a “universal” religion. A religion of inclusion. A religion built on proselytizing other nations.

So now these Christians are actively converting “Gentiles.” And unlike the other religious sects, they don’t require – nor even demand – that these foreign converts adopt Jewish customs. They have even begun rejecting some of these practices themselves. The solution? Purify the Christians, or kill them.

The Christians now have a serious problem on their hands. It’s bad enough to be persecuted for your fundamental beliefs. But being persecuted for conversing and eating with “Gentiles”? Let’s try to avoid that. Solution? Judaize the Hellenists. (Or the Latinists, as the case may be.)

It’s not as if they’re asking the foreign converts to follow all of the Mosaic Law or all of the Rabbinic Oral Law. Just enough to pacify the Zealots: Circumcision. Maybe the religious calendar of holidays. Some food prohibitions would be good too. That’s about it. It’s not like all of the ethnic Jews do any more than that anyway. (Unless they’re Pharisees spending every waking moment thinking about such things.) So they’ll tell the “Gentiles” to just act a little more like Jews, and everything will be fine.

Everything was not fine, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

So the Jewish Christians begin their Judaizing campaign. First, in Jerusalem. And further north, in Syrian Antioch, where “Gentile” converts were relatively few. And then they expand their efforts westward into southern Galatia, today’s Turkey. Into the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, where Saul of Tarsus and Joseph Barnabas of Cyprus had recently won converts.

The Judaizers’ message to the Galatians was straightforward: Barnabas and Saul (better known by his Greek name “Paul”) had presented the basics needed to become a Christian. They, the Judaizers, were here now, with apostolic support, to expand on those teachings and make sure that Jewish customs were being followed.

From a Jewish perspective, there isn’t anything unusual about this. The concept of “elementary” teachings being followed by more “developed” ones is common in the Talmudic, or rabbinic, approach to religious education.[4] Faith in Christ. That was the first step. But if one truly wanted to be justified before God, one must accept circumcision to be joined to the Abrahamic Covenant. One must fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic Law to live a righteous life.

The Galatians were, understandably, confused. Someone raises his hand and says, “But when Paul was here, he said the Law of Moses couldn’t justify us.[5] Why do we have to obey it?”

“Oh, Paul? He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Trust me. This is what the Lord’s apostles in Jerusalem expect you to do.”

The Galatians’ reactions were probably mixed. After all, some reasoned, they had to undergo the Jewish ritual of tevilah, or baptizo, full-body immersion into water, to convert to Christianity. Maybe their men needed to be circumcised as well.

This was no big deal for some of the Jews and “Gentiles” who had previously converted to Judaism. They’d already been circumcised. Already avoided pork in any form. Already made regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the feasts.

Others weren’t happy at all. They had been attracted to Christianity because it retained what they liked about Judaism, but left out all of the tiresome nitpicking about how many steps you took on a Sabbath day or what non-kosher insects might be hiding in your vegetables.[6] And circumcision. The mere thought made many of the uncircumcised “Gentiles” positively ill. “What loving God would make someone mutilate himself? I’m going back to the Temple of Mēn” (the indigenous lunar god).

Some of the Galatians must have been concerned enough because word quickly got back to Paul in Syrian Antioch. When it came to the “Gentile Question,” Paul was already frustrated with the hypocrisy he saw among the Jewish brethren.[7] And the apostle Peter himself had already experienced at least one confrontation with the “circumcision party” over eating with Gentile converts.[8] This had to stop.

So Paul writes a letter – a passionate, uncompromising letter – that defends his message of freedom. A message that he had been divinely commissioned to preach to the Galatians.[9] A message that had received apostolic blessing and support from James the Lord’s brother, Peter, and John.[10] And most importantly, a messaged sourced from Jesus Christ himself.[11]

Clearly, Paul wasn’t the problem. The Judaizers were the problem. The “false brothers” who spy on him.[12] Who lie about having apostolic approval.[13] Who pervert the “good news”[14] for the sake of their reputations and to avoid persecution.[15] Who try to drown out God’s truth about living in freedom with their lies of bondage.


What is the truth?

As Paul explicitly says in his letter: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”[16]

It is faith in Christ that brings freedom, through the grace – the generosity – of God.[17] The Judaizers would have us nullify – make void – this grace.[18] Declare Christ’s sacrifice meaningless. They would have us return to a system with a false hope that it will bring freedom. But the Law does not bring freedom. In fact, the Law was never meant to bring freedom.[19] Rather, the Law enslaves.[20] Holds us captive.[21] It binds everyone to a curse, and justifies no one.[22]

Why? Because the Law demanded absolute perfection. It demanded absolute obedience to God’s standards in a way that human will-power could never – was never meant to – achieve. It wasn’t that the desire to obey God was absent (although arguably that could have been the case for some). The desire to obey God was there. Human will was powerless to do so.

The Law could not give us life, but the “good news” for us is that our righteousness – our acceptance – does not come by the Law.[23] It is Christ, and Christ alone, who frees us.[24] The Cross is what makes us acceptable before God.

But the lies of the Judaizers – the “legalists” – create fear in our hearts and minds. Create checklists. Create a bondage that weighs heavily upon us, while we long to be free. These lies cause us to question whether we truly are God’s children. To question our adoption by faith.[25] To cause us to try to prove our own worth by noting how many good things we do. To prove that we are “good enough” for God.

But that is a lie. The truth is we can’t bring about our own justification by our own goodness.[26] Rather, we called are to live in the Spirit, through whom we cry, “Abba, Father.”[27] The Spirit prompts us to follow God’s will. If we belong to Christ, then the Holy Spirit within us will – naturally – produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.[28] These do not come about through our own effort, but through the Spirit, who works in us to bring about holiness in our lives.


How does Paul’s message to the Galatians apply to us today?

As we live our lives of freedom we need to be alert. To be aware of the forces that seek to bring us back into bondage. To be aware of the lies that tell us we’re not good enough for God unless we follow some set of prescribed rules.

As we conclude this evening, I would like to leave you with three questions to ponder over:

First: Are you trying to live the Judaizer’s lie, relying on your own strength, your own power to become righteous before God? We often fall into the checklist trap, believing that, by just doing all the right things, we can reach perfection – live a righteous life – through efforts of our own, rather than allowing the Spirit inside of us to guide us.

This reliance upon our own strength only dooms us to failure. Repeat failure. God clearly wants us to live righteous lives, but as imperfect people, we continue to struggle with sin. Continue to fall short of that “benchmark” of perfection.

We might metaphorically beat ourselves over the head each time we fail. Reminding ourselves what a terrible person we are each time we disappoint ourselves and others. Each time we fall back into a nasty habit we’d like to quit. Each time we’re tempted to do something we know is wrong. We might even go so far as to physically harm ourselves, as a sort of “punishment” for our failure. As an incentive to get ourselves “back on track,” so to speak.

But what does “getting back on track” even mean? The phrase implies there’s something of our own effort – our own works – that will allow us to achieve that elusive goal of perfection.

Instead, we need to remember that it is not through our own efforts, but that of the Spirit within us that justifies us before God. Let the Spirit be the leader in your life, and let Him bring about perfection.

Second: Are there Judaizers in your life, pressuring you to give up your freedom in Christ to be enslaved by their rules? Sometimes other Christians appear to be nice and sweet, but don’t have our best interests in mind. They seek to impose their own rules on others. Bringing them into bondage. Forcing them to conform to their own ideas and preferences about how Christians should be in order to be justified before God.

Don’t dismiss this warning as exaggerated. There is a constant – ever-present – danger lurking. Christians, like everyone else, are predisposed towards controlling others. Some of you might remember the “discipling movements,” which first appeared in the 1950s and ‘60s, and were introduced among the independent Churches of Christ in the ‘70s.

One particular college campus program, begun by Crossroads Church of Christ in Florida, attracted swarms of converts and grew to an unprecedented size. The movement later became known as the Boston Church of Christ, and now is called the International Church of Christ.

What began as a commendable effort to provide potential and new converts with guidance and support – prayer and personalized Bible studies – a safe place to confess one’s sins – soon became an oppressive cult with leaders that used high-pressure tactics to intimidate, manipulate, and control those entrusted in their care. They demanded the right to determine when someone was sufficiently remorseful about their sin. To determine when someone was ready to be baptized. To determine when someone was ready to be saved.

The leaders proved themselves ill-qualified for the role of “shepherds,” when they used personal information to blackmail their members and demanded control over things like what to wear, whom to date, and what career to have. Non-conformists were “disfellowshipped.” Excommunicated. Declared separated from the love of Christ. Cut off from salvation from their sins.

But the leaders had no right to declare such things. It is faith in Christ – not adherence to your mentor’s capricious rules – that brings about justification before God. It is no wonder that when many college students or college graduates now hear the term “church of Christ,” their instinctive response is to run away. Realizing the fault of this system, the ICoC has tried to shed this bad reputation, but with little success. And other Restoration Movement churches have had to work overtime to distance themselves from it.

My purpose for mentioning the ICoC is to prove how easy it is for Christians to be caught up in the lust for power. To crave control over others. To limit the freedom of others. All in the name of Christ. So beware of the power-hungry Judaizers of today.

Third: Are there Zealots in your life, pressuring you to conform to their ideas of what a Christian should be? From time to time, there will be outsiders. Maybe those in connection with some other church. Maybe those who don’t identify as Christian at all. Who might try to dictate our lives. Tell us we should vote a certain way. Tell us that we should vote. That we support a particular law. View a particular movie. Share a particular meme.

Like the Zealots of the past, they are less concerned about promoting a religious message – in this case, the message of God’s grace – than they are interested in promoting a message that’s political. Social. Cultural. And they are quick to demonize Christians who prioritize Christ before politics. They assassinate the character of those who strive for unity among Christians rather than unity around a political candidate.

Remember that we can resist the Zealots of our day. Persecution may follow, but we can rest assured that it is God who defines righteousness, not the world around us. And it is God Who has declared us “freed to be free” indeed.

Thank you for your time.


[1] Presented on Saturday, October 14, 2017 at the 2017 West Coast Ladies Retreat “Free to Be Freed” held at Oak Glen Christian Conference Center, Yucaipa, California, hosted by Newland Street Church of Christ, Garden Grove, California. The session topics were based on Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free by Nancy Leigh DeMoss (Chicago: Moody, 2001).
[2] English Standard Version (ESV).
[3] The background information and interpretation choices presented here rely primarily on Galatians by Richard N. Longenecker, Volume 41 of Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015).
[4] The idea is also used in Hebrew 6:1.
[5] Acts 13:39.
[6] This statement is purposefully anachronistic.
[7] Galatians 2:11-14.
[8] Acts 11:1-18.
[9] Galatians 2:2; cf. Acts 13:2.
[10] Galatians 2:1-10; cf. Acts 11:19-30.
[11] Galatians 1:11-12.
[12] Galatians 2:4.
[13] Acts 15:24.
[14] Galatians 1:7.
[15] Galatians 6:12-13.
[16] Galatians 5:1 (ESV).
[17] Galatians 2:20-21.
[18] Galatians 2:21.
[19] Galatians 2:16.
[20] Galatians 4:21-5:1.
[21] Galatians 3:23.
[22] Galatians 3:10-11.
[23] Galatians 3:21.
[24] Galatians 3:13; 5:1.
[25] Galatians 4:1-5.
[26] Galatians 4:6; 6:8.
[27] Galatians 5:16, 18, 25.
[28] Galatians 5:22-24.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

My Complicity with Racism

It’s a church-related event. The title of the talk speaks to an issue of concern to me, so I’m eager to hear what the university professor has to say. I’m an engaged listener, taking down notes, thinking up questions to ask.

Then the professor does something unexpected. To illustrate a point, he verbally belittles a young woman. Then another one. Maybe three in total. Each time, the audience nervously laughs. We understand what he’s trying to do, even if it makes us a little uncomfortable.

In my mind, I excuse it. The women – “girls” really – look to be about twenty, give or take a year. One has her blond hair pulled up in a ponytail and is wearing a college sweatshirt. I think the professor addressed one of them by name. They’re probably his students. They probably expected this.

I continue to listen. Take notes. Rewrite my questions so they’ll sound more intelligent to everyone else in the room.

Then suddenly a hand grabs my arm. I look up startled. I stop writing in mid-sentence, and my pen drops to the floor. The professor pulls me up off the chair, but it’s one of those classroom desk-chair combos. When I stand, the desk-chair tips forward, and I frantically try to keep my handbag, notebook, Smart phone, and water bottle from falling to the floor. (A difficult task, when someone’s holding your arm.) Everyone nervously laughs again, but this time they’re laughing at me.

I feel my cheeks burning red. I am hurt – physically and emotionally. I am embarrassed. Humiliated. Underneath, I am fuming mad.

Of everyone in the room, why had the professor picked on me? I’m not one of his students. I’m old enough to be his students’ mother. Where’s his respect for age? Doesn’t he notice my wedding ring? Where’s his respect for a married woman?

Oh, but I’m not a thirty-something married woman, traditionally seen as someone deserving of more respect than a twenty-something college coed. I’m black. Not literally of course, but that’s definitely his perspective. I’m sexless. Ageless. Devoid of any indicators of status or education. Black.

The sixty-something white man sitting next to me helps me pick up my things. His eyes meet mine. I can see that he’s not blind to the real situation. I had an ally. Someone who would stand by me if I just spoke up. I just needed to speak up.

But I don’t. Why not? Because my big humiliating moment had passed, and I dread making a scene. The professor had not noticed anything amiss. He’d moved on to his next point.

I can no longer take notes. My oh-so-important questions are forgotten. I spend the rest of the hour inwardly kicking myself for not speaking up.

Then the professor decides to verbally belittle me. I get a second chance to speak up, but I don’t. Again, I don’t want to make a scene. I decide to wait until his talk is over.

When it’s over, I make another excuse. There are too many people around trying to talk to him. Again, I don’t want to make a scene. I leave.

A few days later, I’m brave enough to email the professor. I tell him how hurt I was, but I say nothing of the racist overtones in his actions.

He replies with a heartfelt apology, saying that he didn’t intend to hurt me. I believe him. I forgive him. He seems innocently unaware that anyone might consider his act racist. I could enlighten him, keep him from making the same mistake again.

But I don’t. I want to forget the whole incident, so I keep silent.

Friday, August 4, 2017

‘Jewish Memorials, Christian Revelations’ - Lesson 2 Draft

LESSON 2: Feast of Weeks

חג השבועות (Chag ha-Shavuot, Feast of Weeks)
CELEBRATED: Fifty days (seven weeks and a day) after First Fruits, in Sivan
PURPOSE: Commemorates God’s gift of the Torah, and is associated with the wheat harvest.
LEGISLATED: Lev. 23:15-21; Num. 28:26-31; Deut. 16:9-12 & 16-17
NOTE: The second holy convocation came in the summer. Seven weeks and a day after the Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, all the Israelite men congregated to sacrifice again. This was חג השבועות (Chag ha-Shavuot, Feast of Weeks) in Hebrew, and Πεντηκοστή (Pentēkostē, “fiftieth [day]”) in Greek. This time the bread was required to be baked with leaven, and the first fruits of the wheat harvest were offered to the Lord. As a feast, there were the same prohibitions associated with the seven-day spring feast.
          The festival had another name: חג מתן תורה (Chag Mattan Torah, Feast of the Giving of the Torah). It was known as the anniversary of when Yahweh gave His laws to the Israelite people. Their identity was closely linked to this religious code, which set them apart from all the other nations of the world (Leviticus 20:22-26). Even today, archeologists distinguish between Jewish and Canaanite sites based on whether or not they find pig remains, show how important following these laws were to the ancient Israelites.
          The association with the summer wheat harvest led to the Feast of Weeks coming to be known as the “Feast of First Fruit” (Exodus 34:22). As Passover’s popularity surpassed that of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the accompanying Feast of First Fruit, associated with the spring barley harvest, disappeared from the Jewish calendars. As a result, Christians are often unaware of the significance of the day on which Christ rose from the dead.

CITATION: Acts 1-2
OBSERVANCE: The resurrected Jesus appeared to His followers and promised they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit, through Whom He had commanded them. After Jesus’ ascension, His 120 disciples waited for the promise to be fulfilled. Mentioned are the twelve apostles, including Judas Iscariot’s replacement Matthias; Jesus’ brothers; Jesus’ mother Mary; and other female followers, probably including Mary Magdala, Mary of Bethany, her sister Martha, Joanna, Salome, and the four daughters of Philip “the evangelist.” By tradition, those present included all of the men sent out by Jesus earlier, later known as the “Seventy Elders” (Luke 10:1-20).
          Jesus’ disciples waited until the day of Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, when the Holy Spirit descended upon them and gave them the ability to speak in foreign languages. This caught the attention of the masses that had come to Jerusalem to celebrate. Simon bar-Jonah, called Peter, took the opportunity to enlighten them as to what had taken place. The prophecy of Joel was being fulfilled before their very eyes. They had rejected and killed their Messiah, the Christ. Now that He was made Lord, they needed to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. Many people were skeptical of his message, but many believed and were saved. As the assembly of new disciples grew, their works through the Holy Spirit continued with more miraculous signs and healings.
REINTERPRETATION: During the Feast of Weeks, the gift of the Torah was replaced with the gift of God’s Spirit, enabling those called “Christians” to transform the lives of others. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit clearly set Jesus Christ’s followers apart from those around them. This new identifying factor distinguished them from the followers of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-7), and it forced them to put racial prejudice behind them and accept non-Jewish persons into their assembly (Acts 10:44-48).

Food for Thought
  • In what ways does the giving of the Holy Spirit mirror the giving of the Mosaic Law?
  • Is Christian identity linked to the Holy Spirit the way Jewish identity is linked to the Mosaic Law?
  • What distinguishes “gifts of the Spirit” from natural abilities Christians may have?
Further Study
The Book of Ruth is often read during Shavuot. The wheat harvest figures prominently in the story about the Moabitess who leaves her people to live with her mother-in-law among the tribe of Judah. Ruth has been interpreted by both Jews and Christians alike as an example of how racially inclusive God’s law could be. In addition, Jewish tradition dates the birth and death of King David, who descended from Boaz and Ruth, to the festival.

Note: This draft lesson was presented at the women’s Bible study meeting held on Saturday, July 1, 2017 at Alhambra Church of Christ (Alhambra, California).

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

‘Jewish Memorials, Christian Revelations’ - Lesson 1 Draft

LESSON 1: Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of First Fruit

פסח (Pesach, Passover)
CELEBRATED: 14th of Abib/Aviv (now Nisan)
PURPOSE: Commemorates God striking down the first born in Egypt, and is associated with the barley harvest.
LEGISLATED: Exodus 12, particularly vv.7-13; Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 28:16; Deuteronomy 16:1-8
NOTE: The meal was eaten at dusk. It consisted of פסח‎ קרבן (Korban Pesakh, “sacrifice of Passover”), also known as the Paschal Lamb, whose blood initially served as a substitute for that of the first born son of the household. The lamb was roasted on a spit. The feast included unleavened flatbread called מצה‎ (matzah); bitter herbs called מרור (maror), generally interpreted to be horseradish and romaine lettuce; and multiple cups of grape wine. It became a tradition to interpret each element of the feast in light of the Exodus story, infusing the dinner with memories of slavery and freedom.
NOTE: This is often called a “memorial” rather than a “feast” because of its purpose (e.g., commemorating suffering, rather than expressing joy) and because it does not carry the same prohibitions as feast days do (e.g., people can work, buying and selling are allowed, criminals can be executed, it can be kept among the Egyptians). The meal was eaten at dusk, and then the following morning, it served as the Day of Preparation for the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
NOTE: During the first century, and possibly as far back as the Babylonian exile, Passover and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread were often confused, especially among Jews of the diaspora (i.e., Hellenized Jews living outside of Judea). Under Rabbinic Judaism, the successor to ancient Pharisees, the two completely merged, creating a seven or eight-day Passover. More traditional branches of Judaism and Samaritanism (the religion of the descendants of the northern tribes) still keep the feasts in the old manner.

חג המצות (Chag ha-Matzot, Feast of Unleavened Bread)
CELEBRATED: 15th-21st of Abib/Aviv (now Nisan)
PURPOSE: Commemorates God’s relationship with the purified nation of Israel, and is associated with the barley harvest.
LEGISLATED: Exodus 12:14-20; Leviticus 23:6-8; Numbers 28:17-25; Deuteronomy 16:3-8 & 16-17
NOTE: This was a seven-day festival with prescribed Sabbaths (days of rest) that had to be observed in addition to the regular Sabbath on the seventh day of each week. The Israelites cleaned out all of the חמץ (chametz, “leavening,” i.e., yeast) in their homes, signifying their purification. The holy convocation, or gathering of the people, necessitated a pilgrimage to a common site, which later became Jerusalem and the temple. As a feast, there were prohibitions against engaging in normal work, buying and selling, and executing criminals.

חג הביכורים (Chag ha-Bikurim, Feast of First Fruit)
CELEBRATED: First day of the week following the Sabbath that follows Passover, in Abib/Aviv (now the 15th of Nisan)
PURPOSE: Part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, associated with the barley harvest.
LEGISLATED: Leviticus 23:9-14; Numbers 28:26-31
NOTE: The Israelites were instructed to present the priests with a special offering, the “first fruit” of the (barley) harvest, and make a special lamb sacrifice to God.

CITATIONS: Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-39, John 13:1-17:26, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
OBSERVANCE: Before His arrest, Jesus celebrated Passover in Jerusalem. However, rather than remembering the events of the Exodus, He told His disciples to remember Him. The bread broken symbolized Jesus’ soon-to-be lifeless body; the wine poured symbolized Jesus’ blood that would be spilled.
REINTERPRETATION: In light of His sacrifice in their stead, Christians soon saw Jesus as the ultimate Passover Lamb. (See John 1:29 & 36, Acts 8:32, 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19, Book of Revelation.)

CITATIONS: Matthew 17-18, Mark 15-16, Luke 23-24, John 19-20
OBSERVANCE: Jesus Christ was tried and crucified on the Day of Preparation and taken down from the cross to be buried before dusk, when the Feast of Unleavened Bread began. He remained in the tomb during the Sabbath. (The years 31 and 33 were unusual in that each had a “Double Sabbath,” where the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread fell on the regular seventh day of the week.) Then He rose on the day after the Sabbath, known as the Day or Feast of First Fruit.
REINTERPRETATION: In light of His resurrection, Christians soon saw Jesus as the new First Fruit offering to God. (See John 20:17, 1 Corinthians 15:20.)

Food for Thought
  • Did Jesus impose a new meaning on Passover, or did He reveal its true meaning?
  • Is there a contradiction between the Synoptic interpretation of the Passover meal (i.e., Christ as the bread and wine) and the Johannine/Pauline interpretation (i.e., Christ as the sacrificial lamb)?
Further Study
Song of Songs, or Canticle of Canticles, is often read during Passover or the Sabbath following it. A poem associated with the court of King Solomon of Israel, it celebrates the erotic relationship between two lovers. Jews have often interpreted it as an allegory: God in relationship with His people, the assembly of the nation of Israel. It is no surprise then that Christians have reinterpreted it in a similar manner: God in relationship with His people, the assembly of believers in Jesus Christ.

Note: This draft lesson was presented at the women’s Bible study meeting held on Saturday, June 3, 2017 at Alhambra Church of Christ (Alhambra, California).

Saturday, June 24, 2017

“Not Just Jane” (Book Review)

How many people – especially women – enjoy fame in their day, but are soon forgotten after their deaths? You only need to scan a list of Academy Award winners to realize that it doesn’t take long for fame to die out, even for many who are really gifted. So true for the authoresses featured in Shelley DeWees’ Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature (Harper Perennial, 2016).

Wanting to make the world aware that there’s more to the English literature than some Jane Austin mixed with a little Charlotte Bronte, DeWees introduces her readers to seven famous women almost no one has ever heard of: Charlotte Turner Smith, Helen Maria Williams, Mary Robinson, Catherine Crowe, Sara Coleridge, Dinah Mulock Craik, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. (Before reading the book, I was only vaguely familiar with two of them, and my husband a different two for different reasons.)

These authors had sad, often tragic, lives and struggled to make a living in what was truly a man’s world. More importantly, they once made strong contributions to Britain’s literary scene, yet won’t be found on today’s high school reading lists. DeWees might change that, however. She peeks into each woman’s backstory, showing how their work shaped their lives and vice versa. From poetry to short stories, from major works of fiction to political and social commentaries, these writers left a lasting impression, even if it generally goes unnoticed or unrecognized. DeWess is right. They deserve our consideration today.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Introduction to ‘Jewish Memorials, Christian Revelations’ (Bible Study)

The three pilgrimage feasts: There were other feasts celebrated by the Bronze and Iron Age Israelites of the Old Testament and the first century Jews of the New Testament, but these three held special significance. In the Torah, God commanded every Israelite male to congregate together and offer sacrifices in commemoration of important events in the nation’s early history. After King David conquered Jerusalem and King Solomon built the temple, millions of people journeyed to these sites three times a year to fulfill their religious obligations.

In the spring, it was the seven-day חג המצות (Chag ha-Matzot) or Feast of Unleavened Bread, linked with חג הפסח (Chag ha-Pesach) or Feast of Passover and חג הביכורים (Chag ha-Bikurim) or Feast of First Fruit. In the summer, it was the חג השבועות (Chag ha-Shavuot) or Feast of Weeks. In the autumn, it was the seven-day חג חסוכות (Chag ha-Sukkot) or Feast of Booths, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of the Ingathering, marking the conclusion of the Jewish calendar year.

Each feast had its rituals and its traditions, developing over time, that the people meticulously followed. Yet when an itinerant preacher called Jesus of Nazareth stood up in the temple during the Feast of Booths, He challenged their faithfulness, arguing that they did not obey, or even properly understand, the instructions that had been handed down to them.

Later, when celebrating Passover with His disciples, He challenged their understanding of the symbolism behind the dining table, infusing Himself where the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt had been. Then, after bring crucified right before the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, He rose from the dead on the day of First Fruit, breathing new meaning into the centuries-old festival.

Glorified by God the Father, Jesus, recognized by his followers as the promised Messiah, ascended into heaven. However, on earth there was one more festival waiting to be reinterpreted. During the Feast of Weeks, the gift of the Torah was replaced with the gift of God’s Spirit, enabling those called “Christians” to transform the lives of others.

When reading the Gospel accounts, it is important for Christians to understand allusions to the Old Testament found in the New Testament. Jewish Memorials, Christian Revelations: The Pilgrimage Feasts in the New Testament offers an opportunity to learn how the knowledge of Jesus Christ brought about different meanings to the Jewish pilgrimage festivals. This study was inspired by Songs for the Road: The Psalms of Ascent published by She Reads Truth, but all of the material is original, cultivated from various Jewish and Christian sources on the feasts. Each lesson includes discussions questions suitable for either group study or personal devotionals. Additional readings can be found in מגילות‎ חמש (Chamesh Megillot) or the Five Scrolls, which are each traditionally read during a feast.

After years of studying this subject, it is a joy for me to finally be able to share what I have learned. I hope that you find Jewish Memorials, Christian Revelations both informative and edifying. Thank you.

Jennifer Vaughn-Estrada

Note: This women’s Bible study will begin on Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 10 a.m. and meet monthly at Alhambra Church of Christ (Alhambra, California). Feel free to join us if you’re in the area.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Intro to ‘Songs for the Road: The Psalms of Ascent’ by She Reads Truth (Bible Study)

Recently I learned about She Reads Truth, a Christian organization that provides Bible studies online, through an Android app, and also in printed form from their online shop. What I found attractive was the apparent seriousness of their studies while still being devotional in focus and filled with feminine flair. (Of course, the He Reads Truth versions, while being similar in content, have a more masculine, no-frills look.)

While I like the accessibility and community of the online app, I found it difficult to read. So I decided to give a printed version a try. Over the next three weeks, I plan to follow the study Songs for the Road: The Psalms of Ascent by She Reads Truth and blog my thoughts on the lessons and activities. The readings are the set of Psalms 120-134, associated with the three pilgrimage feasts that God ordered the Israelites to observe. After completing the course, I will then give a critical review. I hope the study lives up to its beautiful appearance when it comes to content. We shall see.