We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy [1 John 1:1-4 (NLT)]

hibiscus“The luckiest traitor ever,” are the words historian Mary Beard used to describe Flavius Josephus, a first-century Jewish general who ended up allying himself with the Romans—the very people who destroyed his homeland and demolished the Temple during the Great Revolt (66-70 AD). Born in 37 AD, Josephus grew up in Jerusalem and studied with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes before serving as a general during the Jewish rebellion against Rome. According to Josephus, when fleeing the Roman army, he led his troop of 40 men into a cave. Rather than surrender, they agreed to commit suicide and drew lots to determine the order in which they would die. Either Josephus was incredibly lucky or he’d fixed the lottery but, when only he and another man remained, he convinced him to join in surrender to the Romans. In support of his story, excavations at Jotapata in the 1990s revealed the remains of 30 to 40 men assumed to have been Josephus’ men.

As an enemy general, Josephus was taken to the Roman general Vespasian. Presenting himself as a prophet, he used Balaam’s Messianic prophecy [Numbers 24:17] to predict that Vespasian would become emperor (which he did two years later). Shrewdly, Josephus then allied himself with the Romans by advising and translating for Vespasian and his son Titus.

Following the Judean war, Josephus returned to Rome with the victorious Titus where he was provided with an apartment in Vespasian’s house, given an annual pension, and made a Roman citizen. Josephus volunteered to write a history of the war for the Romans, The Jewish War, that provides an eye-witness account of the Great Revolt and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. His second work was a twenty-volume Jewish history called Jewish Antiquities.

In his Antiquities, Josephus wrote of Herod’s fear of, “John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism.” [18:5] Josephus also made the earliest existing non-Christian referral to Christ. Since many scholars believe Christian copyists later may have added to Josephus’ words by calling Jesus the Messiah and mentioning his resurrection, I am only including what is believed by most to have been the ancient historian’s original account, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of wonders. He drew many after him. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” [18:63-64]

Josephus also reported the trial and death in 62 AD of James: “But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent … assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.” [20:9.1]

The Bible doesn’t require outside sources to prove its truth and, as followers of Christ, we don’t need an ancient Jewish historian to tell us that Jesus actually existed. Nevertheless, it’s good to know that it isn’t just believers like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, and Peter who attest to His existence. We have Josephus’s account along with the Greek historian Thallus who wrote of the darkness during Jesus’ crucifixion, Pliny the Younger who wrote of dealing with Christians who sang hymns “to Christ as if to a god,” Tacitus who wrote of the “pernicious superstition” (Christ’s resurrection) that broke out in Judea following Jesus’ crucifixion, and the Greek historian Mara bar Serapion, who referred to Jesus as the “wise king” of the Jews.

For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain. [2 Peter 1:16 (NLT)]

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Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)]

tri-colored heronSince 1890, a common teaching method in a surgical residency is to “see one, do one, teach one.” The med student learns the basics by watching an experienced physician do a procedure and then puts his knowledge into practice by doing the procedure himself. He hasn’t mastered the procedure, however, until he’s taught someone else to do it; it is only when we can teach something that we truly understand it.

While Jesus doesn’t call us all to be physicians, he does call us all to be disciples and discipleship follows much the same “see, do, and teach” philosophy of med school. Almost anyone, if they studied hard and observed enough of them, could learn how a coronary heart bypass is done, but that wouldn’t make them cardiovascular surgeons any more than just knowing about Jesus makes someone a disciple of Christ. The first disciples did more than just watch Jesus perform miracles and listen to His parables and, if we’re to be Christ’s disciples, we need to do more than just learn about our Lord.

For the budding heart surgeon, just knowing how a heart bypass is done isn’t enough; he actually has to do one. He actually has to do it by making an incision, opening the chest, touching the heart, and grafting blood vessels from other parts of the body to reroute the blood around the clogged arteries. For Christians, the equivalent of doing one is living like Jesus—applying the Lord’s teachings to our lives and becoming like Him. We put into practice all that we’ve learned about love, forgiveness, redemption and salvation. While few of us would be able to take that second step in medicine and perform bypass surgery, we can take that second step in our faith and put into practice what we’ve been taught by Jesus.

Just seeing and doing, however, aren’t enough if we really want to comprehend something or master a skill. It’s when we try to help someone else understand a concept or technique that we learn in greater depth. In the third step, the training physician teaches someone else how to do the procedure. Because this new student sees things from another viewpoint and asks different questions, the teacher has to think harder and dig deeper to answer and explain his reasoning. It is when the new surgeon can clearly explain and demonstrate which arteries have the best results when grafted and how to remove and reattach them, that he has become a competent surgeon. It’s successfully taking that third step of teaching that eventually turns a med student into a skilled physician.

In Christianity, we often hold back when it comes to that third step: teaching, talking about, and demonstrating how our faith in Jesus works. The command to be disciples was given to us so the gospel message could spread far and wide but, perhaps, in His wisdom, God also knew that it is in sharing our faith that it becomes deeper and stronger. The faith of those early disciples intensified as they spread the gospel message and their knowledge expanded as they taught. When reading Acts and the Epistles, we see how the men who abandoned Jesus in the garden became mature disciples as they shared the gospel, clarified points, answered questions, and explained their belief. Most of us have no hope of ever becoming a surgeon and we’re probably not going to become theologians or even Sunday school teachers. Nevertheless, we have an opportunity to teach about Jesus whenever we open our mouths. Our faith will grow stronger and deeper not just by seeing Jesus in Scripture and doing as would He, but by sharing the gospel message with others.

To teach is to learn twice. [Joseph Joubert]

Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. [Ephesians 4:14-15 (NLT)]

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Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]


Although its origin is unclear, the term “kick the bucket” as a figure of speech for dying has been in use since 1785 when it appeared in the Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. The term “bucket list,” however, is far more recent. Meaning a list of things a person wants to do, learn or experience before he dies, it seems to have originated with the 2007 film, The Bucket List, written by Justin Zackham. His list of “Things to Do Before I Kick the Bucket” (later shortened to “Justin’s Bucket List”) included having a screenplay produced by a major Hollywood studio. Wondering what a bucket list would look like if someone had a brief time left in which to live, he wrote a screenplay about two terminally ill men who go on a road trip with a bucket list of activities to do before their deaths. The term “bucket list” was born and Zackham checked off an item on his own list!

“What’s on your bucket list? What would you do if you only had a short time left to live?” asked our neighbor over dinner the other night. I know one man whose immediate answer would be, “Start smoking again!” but I had no answer. In actuality, a Christian doesn’t need a bucket list because this is not the only life we’ll live. Someday, we’ll live in bodies made new in a world made new—one without suffering or sin. For a Christian, death doesn’t end our adventure—it begins it!

Nevertheless, I continued to ponder my neighbor’s question but failed to come up with a decisive list of adventures I must have. It’s not that I’ve lived a life full of fabulous travel and daring activities. There are many things I haven’t experienced but, if I had just a few months to live, I wouldn’t spend them visiting exotic locations or experiencing thrills. After spending an hour or so straightening my drawers and closets (so no one would know what a secret slob I am), I wouldn’t spend another minute cleaning, travelling, or looking for excitement. My remaining time would be spent doing pretty much the same things I do every day but with family and friends nearby instead of thousands of miles distant. We’d laugh, play silly games, bake cookies and brownies, hug, watch the men grill, eat way too much, watch sunsets, have water fights in the pool, play in the park, talk late into the night, and dance to Y.M.C.A.!

When facing imminent death, my regrets wouldn’t be about places unseen or thrills not experienced. They would be for time wasted being angry, hurt, critical, dissatisfied, argumentative, offended, resentful, pessimistic, grumpy, surfing the Internet, or being “too busy”—time that could (and should) have been invested in being forgiving, loving, compassionate, generous, positive, helpful, understanding, joyful, pleasant, peaceful, and present.

We all know we’re going to die and yet I wonder if we truly believe it. If we did, I suspect we’d spend less time dreaming about seeing the Great Wall of China, trekking to Machu Pichu, whale watching in Antarctica, or going skydiving and more time tending to what really is important—expressing thanks, making apologies, loving openly, giving generously, forgiving freely, laughing loudly, living the life we have right now with our loved ones, and being the person God wants us to be.

For all any of us know, we may have even less than a month in which to live. Will we waste it or wisely use whatever time is left?

Live so that when the final summons comes you will leave something more behind you than an epitaph on a tombstone or an obituary in a newspaper. [Billy Sunday]

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.  [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

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THE SANHEDRIN (Who’s Who – 4)

The chief priests, and all the Sanhedrin, looked for evidence for a capital charge against Jesus, but they didn’t find any. Several people invented fictitious charges against him, but their evidence didn’t agree. Then some stood up with this fabricated charge: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this Temple, which human hands have made, and in three days I’ll build another, made without human hands.’” But even so their evidence didn’t agree. [Mark 14:55-59 (NTE)]

The Great Sanhedrin was the Supreme council (high court) of the Jews. Formed around 200 BC and modeled after the 70 elders who helped Moses in governing the Israelites, its 71 members consisted of scribes, priests, and elders with the high priest acting as its presiding officer. Along with religious and ritualistic Temple matters, the Sanhedrin addressed secular criminal matters, proceedings in connection with the discovery of a corpse, trials of adulterous wives, tithes, the preparation of Torah Scrolls, and drew up the calendar. As long as the Sanhedrin maintained public order and the Jews kept paying their taxes to Rome, the Romans were content to leave most of the nation’s judicial matters to them. While the Sanhedrin were supposed to administer justice, in the case of Jesus, they were anything but just; in fact, they sought perjured testimony.

The Sanhedrin’s members had to be of pure Israelite descent. The leading Jews of Jerusalem, they probably were appointed to the position. In the New Testament, the Sanhedrin is also referred to as the “council,” the “chief priests and elders,” the “chief priests, elders, and scribes,” or simply as the “chief priests.” When Judas went to the “chief priests” and offered to betray Jesus, he went to the Sanhedrin. During Jesus’ first trial, the Sanhedrin charged Him with blasphemy but changed the charge to treason when they brought Him to Pilate. It was the Sanhedrin who encouraged the crowd to call for Barabbas to be freed rather than Jesus and they were the ones who bribed the soldiers to say that the body of Jesus had been stolen from the tomb.

While the majority of the Sanhedrin were Sadducees, its scribes were Pharisees and usually the most educated men in the community. Scribes wrote up legal documents, recorded deeds, acted as ancient notary publics and court recorders, and carefully made copies of the Torah. Men of influence, they were well respected and, as professional scholars, were expert teachers and interpreters of Mosaic law.

“Elders” was a general term describing the older leaders of the community. Aristocrats with Sadducee learnings, they probably were priests or lay readers. The priests of the Sanhedrin were high-ranking, wealthy, influential Sadducees. Descending from the tribe of Levi, they served in the Temple and ensured that Temple service was carried out correctly. Originally, the Sanhedrin had the right to appoint or confirm the high priest (who was supposed to be a descendant of Aaron) and the office was a life-long position. By the time of the Herods, however, civil authorities appointed the high priests based on their political and religious sentiments and the position was not permanent. Herod the Great, for example appointed six different high priests during his reign. Because this position should have been life-long, even though Annas was ousted by the Romans in 15 AD, many Jews still considered him the high priest, which is why Jesus was first taken to Annas following His arrest. After this pre-trial hearing, Jesus was then taken to Caiaphas (Annas’ son-in-law), a Sadducee who was the high priest.

For the Sanhedrin, Lazarus’ resurrection was the last straw—a miracle that could not be denied. Thinking that Jesus’ many miraculous deeds would cause everyone to believe He was the Messiah and lead to their wanting to make Him king, they were fearful that an insurrection would follow. They reasoned that, if Jesus were allowed to continue His preaching, the Romans would destroy the Temple, nation, and their secure positions and aristocratic lifestyle (which they eventually did in the Great Revolt of 66-70 AD). In spite of their religious differences, the members of the Sanhedrin agreed that Jesus had to be stopped.

It was the high priest Caiaphas who suggested that, by eliminating Jesus, they would save the nation from Rome’s reprisal. Little did the priest know that his words were prophetic and he was playing right into God’s hand. Yes, one man, Jesus, had to die for the people but he was mistaken in thinking Jesus had to die to save the Jews from the Romans. That one man, Jesus,  had to die to save all mankind from sin and death.

“You haven’t worked it out! This is what’s best for you: let one man die for the people, rather than the whole nation being wiped out.” He [Caiaphas] didn’t say this of his own accord. Since he was high priest that year, it was a prophecy. It meant that Jesus would die for the nation; and not only for the nation, but to gather into one the scattered children of God. [John 11:5-52 (NTE)]

It was Caiaphas who had given advice to the Judaeans that the best thing would be for one man to die for the people. [John 18:14 (NTE)]

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Then he [Jesus] said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out – and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out right away and began to plot with the Herodians against Jesus, trying to find a way to destroy him. [Mark 3:5b-6 (NTE)]

Great Blue HeronRather than a religious sect, the Herodians were a political group who favored Herodian rule over direct Roman rule. Unlike previous kings of Israel, the Herodian kings were appointed by the Roman emperors. It’s been said that “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard,” and it seems that way with the various Herods we meet in the New Testament. It was Herod the Great, ruler of Judea from 37 to 4 BC, who enlarged the Temple Mount and began rebuilding the second Temple around 20 BC. This Herod was the “king of the Jews” who questioned the Magi and sought to kill the Messiah by slaughtering boys under the age of two. [Jesus was born between 6 and 4 BC.] After Herod’s death, his kingdom was divided among his sons and Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. This is the Herod who ruled Galilee throughout Jesus’ ministry—the one who married the wife of his brother (Herod Philip II), beheaded John the Baptist, and sent Jesus back to Pilate.

The next king of Judea was Herod the Great’s grandson and Herod Antipas’ nephew, Herod Agrippa I. Ruler from 41 to 44 AD, his story is found in Acts 12. He put the Apostle James to death, imprisoned Peter (who was miraculously rescued from prison by an angel of the Lord), and met a horrible end when he was consumed by worms. The last of the Herodian line to be king was his son, Herod Agrippa II. Mentioned in Acts 25 and 26, this was the Herod who, after allowing Paul to testify in court, said he’d done nothing to deserve imprisonment or death. The main job of all these Herods was to keep the peace in Judea. They had to maintain a delicate balance by bending to the people’s will just enough to avoid being overthrown and yet not allow the Jews so much independence that Rome would step in and take full control.

Seeing Herod and his family as Judea’s salvation, the Herodians submitted to Rome out of political expediency. Afraid that Jesus would cause an uprising, they saw Him as a threat to keeping Herod on the throne. As long as the land remained peaceful, Herod would rule and the status quo would remain. Knowing that any insurrection would cause the Romans to respond with overwhelming force, they wanted to make a pre-emptive strike against any disturbance by killing Jesus.

Even though the Pharisees wanted a descendant of David on the throne and the Herodians wanted to keep Herod there, politics makes for strange bedfellows. Jesus’ miracles caused people to look to Him for salvation—something not on either groups’ agenda. When Jesus healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees enlisted the Herodians to help in a plot to destroy Him. Although the Pharisees were popular with the people, they lacked the political clout to carry out their plans. As supporters of Herod Antipas, the Herodians held the political power and these rival forces came together to plot against their common enemy.

The Herodians were willing to settle for temporary salvation and peace but Jesus brought permanent salvation and peace. They looked to politics and people when they should have looked to faith in God!

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might trap him into saying the wrong thing. They sent their followers to him, with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said,…. “So tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar, or not?” [Matthew 22:15-17 (NTE)]

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They then entered the city (‘they’ here means Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the zealot, and Judas (the son of James) and went to the upstairs room where they were staying. [Acts 1:13 (NLT)]

hong kong orchidAlong with the Pharisees and Sadducees, the two other major sects or philosophies mentioned by the historian Flavius Josephus were the Zealots and Essenes. Religion and politics were one and the same in ancient Palestine and the Zealots movement originated with Judah/Judas of Galilee and Zadok the Pharisee. Their most basic belief was that any and all means were justified if it led to political and religious liberty for the Jews. When Judah was killed while leading a revolt around 6 AD, his followers fled to the desert and continued in guerilla warfare against the Romans.

Josephus reported that the Zealots agreed in most things with the Pharisees “but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord.” The two groups interpreted their suppression by Rome differently. Seeing their oppression as God’s punishment for the nation’s sins and His call to repentance, the Pharisees were confident that once the nation became committed to following the law, God would intervene and their nation would be restored (explaining their rigorous enforcement of the Law). The Zealots, however, believed that the Jews had to reject any ruler other than Jehovah and considered any cooperation with their Roman rulers as traitorous. Fiercely opposed to Rome’s occupation of Judea, they believed God would deliver them with the sword. Regarding the Greek language a symbol domination and paganism, Zealots were opposed its use. Wanting to incite rebellion, they refused to pay taxes, harassed and murdered government officials, and were known to violently attack Jews if they thought them to be collaborators or heretics. There probably were no other groups so diametrically opposed than Zealots and tax collectors and yet among Jesus’ disciples were Simon the Zealot and Levi/Matthew, the tax collector. What a beautiful demonstration of Jesus’ power that, rather than hate each other, these men loved Jesus and one another!

The Zealots, thinking Jesus would incite war against the Romans, initially may have welcomed Him as the Messiah. As His ministry continued and they realized the Kingdom of which Jesus spoke was not a political one and would not come about by military victory, they may have seen Him as a false Messiah. It is speculated that, like Simon, Judas was a Zealot and that his disappointment in a non-military kingdom is what led to his betrayal of the Lord. Barabbas, the criminal whose place Jesus took that day on Golgotha, was a Zealot who’d been sentenced to death because he’d committed murder during an uprising.

The Essenes are the fourth group cited by Josephus who reported they “shun the pleasures as vice, they consider self-control and not succumbing to the passions virtue.” Originating around 150 BC and disappearing after the Temple’s destruction, they’re not directly mentioned in Scripture. Rather than coexist with or fight Rome, the Essenes chose to withdraw from Rome entirely. Disgusted by both the Pharisees and Sadducees, they abandoned Jerusalem in protest against the worldliness of the city, the way the Temple was run, and Roman rule. A monastic Jewish community with strict membership requirements and the communal ownership of their possessions, the Essenes lived in the desert. Living austere lives of poverty, abstinence, and ritual purity, they didn’t sacrifice animals, own slaves, or make oaths. The Essenes believed God would send two messiahs from within their sect. Rather than resurrection, they believed in an immortal soul and, rather than man’s free will, they credited all things to God. When the Apostle Paul warned the Colossians about man-made philosophies, he may have been warning them about some of the Essenes’ unorthodox beliefs. Because of their ascetic lifestyle and their belief that ritual immersion in water (baptism) was an indication of spiritual change, it is speculated that John the Baptist was an Essene but that is merely speculation.

Fortunately, the Essenes were copyists who preserved the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is thought that the Dead Sea scrolls, found by shepherds in Qumran in 1946 or 47, were recorded and stored by an Essene community. Among the scrolls, we have a nearly all the Hebrew Bible along with Essene commentaries on many of them. Even though they are never specifically mentioned in Scripture, they played an essential role in preserving the Word for future generations.

While we tend to think of 1st century Judaism as a unified faith, we find that it was as divided as the Christian church is today.  And, just as Paul warned the Colossians about false philosophies, we must be cautious as well.

Watch out that nobody uses philosophy and hollow trickery to take you captive! These are in line with human tradition, and with the ‘elements of the world’ – not the king. In him, you see, all the full measure of divinity has taken up bodily residence … Don’t let anyone rule you out of order by trying to force you into a kind of fake humility, or into worshipping angels. Such people will go on and on about visions they’ve had; they get puffed up without good reason by merely human thinking, and they don’t keep hold of the Head. It’s from him that the whole body grows with the growth God gives it, as it’s nourished and held together by its various ligaments and joints. [Colossians 2: 8-9,18-19 (NTE)]

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