JAEL’S TALE

Most blessed among women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. May she be blessed above all women who live in tents. [Judges 5:24 (NLT)]

red shouldered hawkYesterday, I made reference to the story of Jael. Her story takes place about 200 years after the Israelites entered Canaan in the time of the Judges—a time when “all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” [17:6] Because of Israel’s disobedience, the Lord allowed King Jabin of Hazor to subjugate the people of Israel. Sisera led Jabin’s army and, with their 900 iron chariots, the Canaanites had oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. Deborah, a prophetess, was judge at the time.

When the people cried to the Lord for help, Deborah called for Barak. Promising victory, she gave him God’s command to lead Israelite warriors to Mount Tabor where God would lure Sisera and his men into a trap. When Barak insisted that Deborah join him in the battle, she warned him that the Lord’s victory over Sisera would be at the hand of a woman. At this point in the story, we assume Deborah’s prophecy is about herself.

Seeing Barak leading his men down Mount Tabor, Sisera’s troops proceeded down to the Kishon River to meet them in battle. When God sent a sudden storm, the river’s banks overflowed, flooded the valley, and Sisera’s chariots were useless in the mud. Panicked, the Canaanite troops abandoned their chariots and fled. Barak’s troops gave chase and defeated them.

Sisera, however, escaped and found his way to the Kenite camp. The Kenites were nomads, descendants of Moses’ brother-in-law Hobab, and had a long history with the Israelites. The word “kenite” is related to an Aramaic word meaning “smith” and the Kenites are believed to have been blacksmiths. As nomads, their very survival depended on staying out of other people’s disputes but, as smiths, they probably had dealings with Sisera regarding his iron chariots and Heber’s family was on good terms with King Jabin. Thinking he’d found sanctuary in the Kenite camp, Sisera ran to Jael’s tent. She invited the exhausted man inside, covered him with a rug, and gave him milk to drink. Knowing no one would look for him there since men were never allowed inside a woman’s tent, Sisera was sure he’d found safe haven. Asking Jael to keep a lookout, the exhausted man slept. Jael then took a tent peg and drove it through the sleeping man’s temples into the ground. When Barak arrived in search of his foe, Jael showed him the dead man. As Deborah predicted, Sisera died at the hand of a woman but it was Jael’s name that was sung in Deborah and Barak’s victory song.

Jael breached etiquette and usurped her husband’s authority by offering hospitality to a man (something only another man could do). She further dishonored Heber by betraying his alliance with King Jabin. Finally, she violated the ancient Near East principle of hospitality that guaranteed the safety of one’s guests. Like Rahab, she makes an unlikely heroine but, unlike the Jericho prostitute, she never makes mention of the Lord.  

Was Jael a heroine who faithfully followed Israel’s God or simply an unscrupulous double-crosser who supported whatever side claimed victory? Seeing Sisera alone and fleeing for his life, Jael knew his troops had been defeated. After greeting him with a smile and a warm welcome, did she simply take the opportunity to curry favor with the Israelite victors? Or, because of her clan’s close ties with the Israelites, had she come to believe in the Israelite’s God? Knowing how ruthless Jabin and Sisera were, did she bravely refuse to remain neutral in the face of their evil? With Sisera’s death, King Jabin soon fell and Israel had peace for forty years. Deborah and Barak called Jael “blessed among women.” What do you think? Whatever her motives were—whether to serve Israel or herself—God used her to achieve His purpose.

Sisera asked for water, and she gave him milk. In a bowl fit for nobles, she brought him yogurt. Then with her left hand she reached for a tent peg, and with her right hand for the workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera with the hammer, crushing his head. With a shattering blow, she pierced his temples. He sank, he fell, he lay still at her feet. And where he sank, there he died. [Judges 5:25-27 (NLT)]

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SHE DIDN’T KNOW – GOOD FRIDAY

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end! [Luke 1:31-33 (NLT)]

Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” [Luke 2:34-35 (NLT)]

Golindrinas - 14 Station of the CrossSeveral years ago, my mother-in-law was despondent when my brother-in-law’s deteriorating health necessitated hospice care. Parkinson’s disease had taken a terrible toll on him and a mother’s heart breaks when she sees her child’s life disintegrating before him. Yet, that’s what happened to Mary.

My sister was distraught when her son was diagnosed with inoperable cancer; his promising future was cut short and she grieved as she saw him in pain. In the prime of his life, he wasn’t much older than was Jesus when He walked to Calvary. Any mother’s heart breaks when she sees her child suffer. Yet, that’s what happened to Mary.

At a funeral many years ago, I remember the mourning mother speak to me of her child’s death. “It’s not right!” she protested, “I’m the one who is supposed to go first. A mother isn’t supposed to bury her child.” No, a mother isn’t supposed to watch her child suffer and die nor should she witness him laid in his grave. Yet, that’s what happened to Mary.

Like any mother, Mary had high hopes for her special child. The angel’s words more than thirty years before led her to think He’d reign over Israel. That horrible Friday, as her beloved son hung on the cross, did she remember Simeon’s prophetic words and feel that sword pierce her soul?

Did Mary know that Isaiah’s prophecies were about her boy Jesus—that it was her son who would be beaten and whipped, unjustly condemned, “led like a lamb to the slaughter,” and have his life “cut short in midstream?” [Isaiah 53:5-8] Could she possibly have understood how this miraculously conceived son—the infant she nursed at her breast whose birth was heralded by angels, the babe given costly gifts and worshipped by magi from the East, the child Simeon said would be the glory of Israel, the boy smart enough to converse with rabbis, the young man who turned water into wine—would end up dying a criminal’s death?

Standing at the foot of the cross, her hopes for her boy were dashed as He was spat upon and mocked. As He struggled to take His last few breaths, Mary heard his anguished cries and she watched her baby boy die a tortuous death. Her mama’s heart broke as He was placed in a borrowed tomb. Mary didn’t know what Sunday would bring.

When the grief-stricken women went to the tomb that Sunday morning, they didn’t bring clean clothes for a resurrected man; they brought spices for the anointing of a dead body. They weren’t expecting an empty tomb. Like Mary, the mother of Jesus, they didn’t know.

He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. [Isaiah 53:9 (NLT)]

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BUT THERE’S A DRESS CODE! (Matthew 22:1-14 – part 2)

And he said to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren’t worthy of the honor. Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.” So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests. [Matthew 22:8-10 (NLT)]

mute swanIn Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Dinner, after the initial guests refused to come, the king’s servants invited everyone they could find. Since it was a royal wedding, you’d expect the new guests to be dignitaries but everyone was to be called—regardless of social standing, race, nationality, wealth, or even moral character.

What seems like a beautiful example of God’s grace takes a turn when we learn that the king seems to have set a condition—a wedding garment must be worn. When I’m going to a wedding, it takes days (and probably a shopping trip or two) to put together the proper apparel and this was a royal wedding! People came from all walks of life and, with little time to prepare or purchase fancy clothing, we’re surprised when the king notices a man not wearing wedding clothes. Confronting the guest, the king asks how he could be there without proper attire. When the man has no reply, the king has him bound and cast into “the outer darkness.”

It’s easy to think the host’s problem is that the man is poor and has only rags to wear but the host’s anger seems so unlike Jesus that I was troubled by this part of His story. Scripture, however, never says the man was poor or dressed in tattered clothing and the speechless man, by never explaining himself or even asking how to get such a garment, seems to know he doesn’t belong at the feast.

By eating with sinners, touching lepers, healing on the Sabbath, and talking theology with a Samaritan woman, Jesus never seemed overly concerned with propriety or etiquette so it’s hard to think He took much notice of clothing. Some commentators speculate that the king must have furnished all of his guests with suitable apparel and that the man slighted the king by refusing to wear it. While it makes for a convenient explanation, there is no evidence of this being a Jewish custom so I’m not sure Jesus’ listeners would have understood it that way. Then again, perhaps “proper clothes” shouldn’t be taken too literally!

Rather than fabric and jewelry, could the wedding garment be the righteousness of Christ? By accepting the invitation, the evicted guest professed his belief, but the absence of a wedding garment testified to the falseness of his profession. A wedding garment would be the evidence of salvation—a way of life showing rebirth, repentance, and the works of righteousness. If we want to enjoy the feast, lip service is not enough; we must be righteous in character!

Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” [22:14] God will not have an empty banquet hall and His invitation has been extended to all. He will, however, reject those who refuse His offer (as did the first invitees) along with those who are false in their acceptance (as was the man without the wedding garment.)

When sinners come in repentance, trusting in Christ, then He clothes them with the garment of salvation, with the robe of righteousness. This is the wedding garment that makes one presentable at the marriage supper. [Harry Ironside]

Not everyone who calls out to me, “Lord! Lord!” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.  [Matthew 7:21 (NLT)]

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? …  Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works. [James 2:14,26 (NLT)]

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THE PARTY HAS STARTED (Matthew 22:1-14 – part 1) 

The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited. But they all refused to come! [Matthew 22:2-3 (NLT)]

canna - bandana of the evergladesIn explaining the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus told a parable about a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son. Weddings are notable events but this was a royal wedding of great significance! Perhaps the most famous royal wedding was that of Princess Diana and Prince Charles in 1981. Broadcast all over the world, the wedding was viewed by 750 million people and 3,500 people attended the royal nuptials. In spite of the honor it was to receive an invitation from the Queen, not everyone who got one attended the festivities. The Presidents of the Republic of Ireland and Greece along with King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain spurned the invitation for political reasons.

News of the royal wedding in Jesus’ parable would have spread all over the land and the guests already had received and accepted the first invitation (the 1st Century equivalent of a “save the date” card). When the feast was prepared, the king sent his servants to notify his guests that all was ready and the time had come. Unlike the few people who declined Queen Elizabeth’s invite, everyone invited by the king refused to attend: an inexcusable affront to the monarch. Nevertheless, in spite of his people’s deplorable behavior, the king was patient and sent out a third invitation.

A king’s invitation is more of a command than a request, but the people ignored his messengers; some were even abused or killed. When the people’s behavior went from insult to outright rebellion, the king reacted as would any king: by sending soldiers to kill the murderers and burn their town. With the wedding feast prepared but no guests, the king sent his messengers out to invite everyone they could find (both good and bad) until the banquet hall was filled.

Up to this point, the parable isn’t hard to understand. The marriage feast is the Messianic reign—the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God since the two terms were synonymous). The King (God) had sent his messengers (the prophets, including John the Baptist) to invite His people (the Jews) to the wedding feast for His son (the Messiah). Since the original guests rejected His invitation, God extended his invitation to everyone (both good and bad Gentiles). His servants (the Apostles) would bring them into the banquet hall. The punishment of those who abused and killed his messengers along with the promised destruction and burning of their town points to Jerusalem’s fall and the destruction and burning of the Temple (the center of Judaism) by the Romans in 70 AD.

Matthew placed this parable immediately after the Parable of the Evil Farmers in which Jesus warned, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.” [21:43] This parable expands on that theme. For centuries, the Jewish people had been invited to the Messianic feast, but they were showing contempt for God’s grace by their refusal to attend.

When Luke relates a somewhat similar parable about a feast, we shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus taught for three years and, like any good teacher, probably repeated Himself from time to time. Both versions made it clear that, even if the initial guests refused to come, God’s plan would not be stopped. His Son would have a people who would enjoy the benefits of the Kingdom! The parable in Matthew’s gospel, however, carries an unmistakable message with its description of the king’s punishment. The parable then takes an unexpected twist. Just when it seems that all were welcome at the King’s banquet, not everyone who came was allowed to stay. More about that tomorrow!

The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, “Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” After the servant had done this, he reported, “There is still room for more.” So his master said, “Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.” [Luke 14:21-25 (NLT)]

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THE KINGDOM

One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” Luke 17:20-21

holy name cathedralDepending on your Bible translation, the Kingdom of God is mentioned at least 68 times in the New Testament. Rather than “Kingdom of God,” Matthew usually used “Kingdom of Heaven.” All four gospels, however, are speaking of the same place. Matthew was a Jew and primarily writing for a Jewish audience. While we tend to interpret the third commandment about not misusing the Lord’s name to mean not using it irreverently, Jews have a much stricter interpretation. Believing God’s name too sacred to say aloud, by the 1st century, His name wasn’t even written or spoken in anything but prayer. Even today, many observant Jews substitute “G-d” rather than write the full name.

Because Jesus continually preached the Kingdom of God (or Heaven), the Pharisees asked Him when it would come. Like the rest of Judah, they were thinking of a materialistic kingdom—one with boundaries and a Jewish ruler—so they missed what was happening in front of them. Looking for a political rather than a spiritual fix, they couldn’t understand that the Kingdom had arrived and God was busy restoring it.

Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees sounds like He’s saying the Kingdom is present and yet He also told His disciples to pray for its coming. Rather than an involved theological explanation to explain a kingdom that was both here and pending, Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed that was planted in a field but hadn’t matured into its future glory. The Kingdom was “already” because believers were taking part in building it but it also was “not yet” because it wouldn’t reach its full expression until the future. To further explain the Kingdom, Jesus used a number of metaphors: a farmer scattering seed, yeast in dough, a fishing net, a merchant in search of fine pearls, treasure in a field, a king settling his accounts, a landowner hiring workers for his vineyard, a king’s wedding feast for his son, ten bridesmaids meeting the bridegroom, and a landowner with tenant farmers. Even then, His own disciples were still thinking of an earthly kingdom when they asked the resurrected Jesus, “has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” [Acts 1:6]

The Kingdom of God is not about going to heaven when we die; it’s about bringing God’s kingdom to earth. We pray, “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” [Matthew 6:10] God is king of everything and everyone and, when He reigns in our hearts and minds, His Kingdom is already here. At the same time, His Kingdom is not yet here until its full realization when paradise is re-created in the New Jerusalem.

The Messiah has accomplished the work of redemption, the Spirit has been poured out, yet evil has not been eradicated, the general resurrection is still future, and the final state of God’s kingdom has not been established. In other words, the new era has begun–has been inaugurated–but it has not yet replaced the old era. [Dr. Peter Cockrell]

Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” [John 18:36 (NLT)]

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HE WEPT – PALM SUNDAY

The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted, “Praise God!  Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hail to the King of Israel!” [John 12:12-13 (NLT)]

All glory, laud, and honor to you, Redeemer, King,
to whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.
You are the King of Israel and David’s royal Son,
now in the Lord’s name coming, the King and Blessed One.
[Theodulph of Orleans (820)]

palm - ncp7943awWe are people of physical signs and symbols and rituals help us connect with events. As a little girl, I loved Palm Sunday and not just because it meant my Lenten fasting would soon end and jelly beans would be in my Easter basket the following week. I loved the way our liturgical church observed it. The hymns of the day were filled with hosannas (a welcome relief from the more somber hymns of the Lenten season). Typically, the opening hymn was “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” and we children would follow the choir into the church while waving our palm branches. Even as a small child, I knew this day commemorated Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Like the people of Jerusalem, I was filled with joy on this day. Having sung that “the wee little” Zacchaeus had to climb a tree to see the Lord, I pictured people lining the streets and jostling one another for the best view as they might for a parade. I wondered if little children sat on their parents’ shoulders so they could see Jesus. Between the palms I waved and the day’s joyful music, I felt like I was there in Jerusalem and watching the promised Messiah approach on his donkey.

Today, in preparation for Palm Sunday, rather that thinking about those joyful cries of “Hosanna!” and the royal welcome given to our Lord, I thought about Jesus and what He must have been thinking. As Jesus neared the city, Luke tells us that He wept. Jesus, however, wasn’t just a little teary-eyed. Luke used the word eklausen which meant to sob or wail loudly, as one who mourns the dead! As He rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, Jesus was in tears!

Having already told his disciples He would suffer and die, we know Jesus saw what lay at the end of the parade and it’s easy to think His tears were because of the horror awaiting Him. Those sobs, however, weren’t for Him—they were for His people and the city of Jerusalem.

Jesus knew that, in spite of their hosannas, He would be rejected. The people didn’t want their Messiah to be a Prince of Peace—they wanted him to be a conquering king. As He rode into town, Jesus pronounced judgment on the city that was blind to the true nature of God’s kingdom and prophesized its siege and destruction. Thirty-seven years later, the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, the city was burned, the Temple destroyed, and over one million Jews were slaughtered. While palms waved and people cheered, the grief-stricken Jesus saw Jerusalem’s future and sobbed. It would be nearly 19 centuries before the Jews again had a homeland.

On that Sunday so long ago, the Prince of Peace arrived in the city whose name meant peace. The first part of Jerusalem’s name is yiroo, meaning “they will see” or “they will feel awe,” and core of the word is shalem, meaning completeness and wholeness. Shalem is the root of the Hebrew word for peace—shalom. Jerusalem’s name literally meant, “They will see wholeness” or “They will feel the awe of completeness.” That day they saw the wholeness of God but, sadly, they didn’t understand!

But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” [Luke 19:41-44 (NLT)]

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