Is This Our Year?

I’ve been thinking for awhile about a story from the Bible and the warning Jesus gave to the people of his day. It was on my mind again this morning, then when I saw the Word of the Day ChallengeWARNING – well, this is the perfect prompt for sharing my thought!

In Luke Chapter 12 + 13 Jesus gives various signs of “the end,” and tells the disciples they need to be ready, watching, and doing the will of their heavenly Father when the Master of the house returns. Then he tells them this parable of the fig tree:

He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.”

Luke 13: 6-9

The owner of the vineyard took note of this tree that wasn’t bearing fruit in its season. In fact, it hadn’t given any fruit at all for three years. So he said, in effect, “This tree is taking moisture and minerals from the soil, plus the time we’ve already spent on it, and giving us nothing in return. Chop the thing down and let’s use the space for a tree that will be more profitable.”

However, the caretaker was loathe to do something that drastic. Perhaps he felt some pity for the tree, having tended it and fussed over it from its days as a promising sapling. “Let me try what I can with aeration and fertilizer for one more year. Then if it doesn’t bear fruit, okay, we’ll cut it down.”

When I read these verses recently, it occurred to me that “this year” Jesus talked about represented the time of his ministry on earth. The few years he spent teaching and preaching to the people, calling them to repent and come back to God. This was Israel’s “year.” This was the time for the Jewish nation to bear fruit. Would they received his message? Would they repent and turn back to God –the One who had delivered them so many times before. God was giving them this one last chance to bear the fruit He wanted to see.

The Apostle John writes that Jesus came to his own, the Jewish people, and “his own received him not.” History records that the Jewish leaders and the mob they stirred up finally had him put to death because they hated his message. And God rejected them; not very many years later He allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed and the Jews carried away as captives, ultimately scattered to the four winds.

Another fig tree scene happened not long before Jesus was crucified. Mark 11:13-21 tells of how Jesus passed by a fig tree, stopped to look for fruit, and there was no fruit on it. So he said to the tree, “Let no man get any figs off this tree ever again.”
The next day, as they passed this tree again, it was in sad shape. Peter, recalling what Jesus had said the day before, pointed out the shriveling tree. “Master, there’s the fig tree you cursed. It’s withered away.”
I doubt his disciples caught the symbolism of the fig tree to the nation of Israel until after the events of the crucifixion and the day of Pentecost. Then they would have understood.

Another comparison came to my mind. I’ll write it and hope that it speaks to you. I’ve been thinking about this last year when COVID has stalked the earth and menaced people all over the globe. A lot of us have had to leave our pursuits – jobs, schooling, arts and entertainment, sports events, even going to the polls – and return to our homes. We’ve written about 2020 as “A year we’re glad to see the end of.” We’re looking forward to a time when Covid-19 has been conquered. When most everyone’s been vaccinated, this giant has been laid low, and we can go back to our normal lives.

But what if this was our “year” to respond to the voice of God. What if this Covid “season” we’re in is that “one more year” God is giving our world, the time we should stop, think about him and his word, think about “the end” when the Master returns?

Think of the great issues of our day. Environmental, financial, political, justice, personal. How they fill our minds and cause us no end of worry. But what if this really was our last year? Not that we can just stop caring, drop every concern, let everything slide. But there’s a bigger picture here we need to consider: are we concerned about, and prepared to face, the most important event in the world?

“And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer.”

Revelation 10:5-6

Jesus tells us to prepare, to watch and be ready. Just in case this is our Year.

A Caravan to Bethlehem

Christmas season has come round again and again we’re hearing the story of Jesus’ birth. However, over the centuries since the Apostle Matthew and “Luke, the beloved physician” penned their accounts of the nativity, many bits and pieces have been added to the initial tale. A heartless innkeeper, sheep and cows, a cold winter’s night, a littlest angel, a drummer boy.

We hear about Joseph and Mary making their lonely trek into Jerusalem with Mary riding on their donkey. Picturesque, but unbelievable. There’s actually no donkey in the Christmas story, which doesn’t say Mary didn’t ride one, but basically the donkey is an add-on. But the story of the “Good Samaritan” illustrates the very real danger of people traveling alone, especially on a dark night. Thieves jumped the merchant, robbed him, beat him and left him to die. The Samaritan rescued him. Because of this danger, very likely Joseph and Mary were in a caravan together with many other travelers headed for Bethlehem that night, all obeying Caesar’s command.

At the Christmas season we often hear, in one form or another, the story of the three wise men who traveled from “the East” or the Orient, to see the Baby Jesus. Again, you get the idea of three men – and I’m not sure how the number three got into the story – starting out across the desert bearing precious gifts. Legend has even attached names to the three.

Again, picturesque, but… Assuming they left Babylon and took a familiar route across the desert, and assuming the locals knew something about their trek – and their treasures – how far would these three brave souls have gotten all alone before thieves attacked them? In all probability they were traveling in a large group for safety sake. In reality, any kind of nobility or ambassador, at any point in history, traveled with his retinue of servants, helpers, in this case camel drivers, and at least a few bodyguards.

Bible scholars have always felt that the wise men, maybe a dozen or two, plus their retinue, would have made up a significant caravan. One that would have discouraged robbers. And this caravan, arriving at Jerusalem and inquiring for “he that is born king of the Jews” would have made quite a splash. Not just three fellows showing up at the palace with a tale of following a star.

But wait! Here again, the Bible doesn’t say they followed the star. It says they saw his star in the East. They realized this star, according to old Jewish prophecy, indicated the birth of a ruler in Israel. So they headed for the capital city. Ambassadors do that. Nobility does that. They head for the capital and want to meet with the head of whatever state they’re visiting. Where would you look for an infant king but in the palace? But when King Herod found out from the Jewish wise men where the baby would be born, he told the foreign dignities and off they went in the direction of Bethlehem.

“When they had heard the king, they departed, and lo, the star which they saw in the east went before them till it came and stood over the place where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Matthew 2: 9-10

This brings me to a rather sad part of the Christmas story, something the Bible doesn’t say. When the wise men left Jerusalem they continued on alone. Even though they’d announced the fulfillment of an old prophecy, the birth of a king, and the Jewish scribes had told them where the child should be found, we see no caravan of Jewish leaders, scribes or priests on the road to Bethlehem. The ones who claimed to be eagerly awaiting the Messiah didn’t rush to Bethlehem to greet him. The caravan of wise men hadn’t impressed them enough; they were still going to wait and see.

Ragtag Daily Prompt: CARAVAN

(Image credit: No-Longer-Here at Pixabay)

A Christmas Prayer

Snow image: Gerd Altmann — Pixabay
A CHRISTMAS PRAYER
by Robert Louis Stevenson

 Loving Father,
 help us remember the birth of Jesus,
 that we may share in the song of the angels,
 the gladness of the shepherds,
 and worship of the wise men.
 
 Close the door of hate
 and open the door of love all over the world.
 Let kindness come with every gift
 and good desires with every greeting.
 Deliver us from evil by the blessing
 which Christ brings,
 and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

 May the Christmas morning
 make us happy to be thy children,
 and Christmas evening bring us to our beds
 with grateful thoughts,
 forgiving and forgiven,
 for Jesus’ sake.

The Small Joys in Our Lives

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is JOY, which is a very fitting word for the season. We’ve been hearing all about joy this past week, as we’ve been listening to Christmas programs put on by various of our parochial schools across North America. Two nights ago we heard the one from Buhl, Idaho; last night we listened to the school program from Lime Springs, Iowa – and after that, Christmas songs by our own school children here.

Though we can’t visit these schools in person to hear the carols and stories told, thanks to the technology of streaming we can get in on the joyful celebration surrounding the birth of Jesus, the hope and light of all the world. We still get a thrill as we hear the children singing the old familiar carols and also enjoy the new ones being introduced each year.

And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for , behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

The angel’s message still circles the globe and floods this old world with hope. God has reached down to man in the form of Jesus Christ; we can be reconciled to our Creator. Also, we now have Jesus’ teachings and example of living in peace with our fellow humans.

Naturally speaking, joy may not be the first word that comes to mind. Because the incidence of COVID -19 has been on the rise in our province, restrictions are tightening up more and more. Families won’t be gathering if private homes are limited to five people at a time.

With more restrictions starting Dec 26th, or traditional Boxing Day sales will likely be rather a fizzle this year. According to space-per-person guidelines, only so many people will be allowed into stores at a time – and if it’s cold enough, folks aren’t apt to stand around outside waiting to get in. Most of us, if we’re honest, will admit that we have enough stuff now, but I hope our merchants can weather this storm. All this gives us a special joy to look forward to next year: the time when Covid-19 is a thing of the past.

For us right now, the kitten we found on our doorstep a month ago – such a lively little puffball – has brought many smiles and small joys into our lives. We’re so thankful we discovered him there before Angus could chase him away and/or something awful happened to him.

Tuffy looks quite much like this.
Image by Ben Scherjon at Pixabay

A Sheep, A Vine, A Candle

If you look in the top left corner of your blog, you’ll see the word Reader. You’ve likely explored this a time or two yourself. Well, I was MANAGING the BLOGS I FOLLOW in my Reader this morning and came across the word METAPHOR. At some point in the distant past, this is one of the TAGS I’ve typed in “To follow.” So I clicked on it now and discovered an interesting article I’d like to point you to.

In this post, titled Christian Metaphors, the writer points out that the Bible has a number of metaphors referring to a Christian, or to Christian life, and gives several illustrations.

For He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Psalm 95:7

Linda in her Bible Study blog writes about another metaphor Jesus used: I AM the True Vine. I think she explains this quite nicely. And here’s one example I found after a quick search:

And he (Jesus) said unto them, “Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed: and not to be set on a candlestick? For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was anything kept secret but that it should come (be told) abroad. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.”

Mark 4:21-22

Jesus chose to speak in parables and metaphors, knowing that only those who were serious about his message would take the time to ponder and get the idea. Thus he says, “If any man have ears to hear…” In other words, if some person is really listening, really wants to hear the truth, he’ll hear it.

Image: Briam-Cute — Pixabay

Of Prophecies and Theories

Sharing my thoughts on the Kingdom of God and how it now appears.
Here are the first parts, if you’d like to read them:
Part One: The Kingdom of Jesus Christ
Part Two: The Kingdom Foretold by Daniel
Part Three: Three Things God Needed
Part Four: Kingdoms and Dominions to Come
Part Five: We Have Seen His Star
Part Six: The Roles Jesus Refused

Today we read much about the climate, the environment, what’s ahead for Planet Earth. Data is collected, theories are presented, predictions made. At the current rate, how long will this Earth support human life? How long will there be potable water? How long before the seas are dead, polluted beyond redemption?

While scientists occupy themselves with these concerns, Christians are also engaged in much speculation about what will come to pass in the political realm. Examining Daniel’s prophecies, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the Apostle John’s visions, and doing some creative cut-and-paste, evangelicals have put together some very interesting theories about when Jesus will return and in what way. No one really knows for sure, but it’s intriguing to speculate.

Prophecy is an intense subject and scholars, historically and currently, have spent many years trying to decipher it. But when we think of all the scriptural knowledge the Scribes and Pharisees had at the time Jesus was born, we marvel at how they totally missed recognizing him. His arrival was no big secret, what with angels singing in the skies over Bethlehem and the shepherds going around telling everybody about the infant Savior-king.

Also, a caravan of oriental magi arriving in Jerusalem and going right to the palace to ask, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East.” This made a big splash.
“When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes…together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written, And thou Bethlehem… art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.” Matthew 2: 1-8

This verse, Micah 5:2, is one of many Old Testament verses that foretold the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, the Governor, Shiloh. But the details didn’t all jive. Isaiah wrote:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
– Chapter 9: 6-7

But he also wrote:
“Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Chapter 53: 1-5

One lesson we can learn from the scholars of Jesus’ day: while they believed the Messiah would come, and though they had all the verses memorized about his coming, the prophecies varied enough that they didn’t recognize him. Even his own disciples were confused until Jesus came to them and talked with them after his resurrection.
“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” See Luke 24:13-35

Regarding the understanding of prophecy, I’ve lived long enough to see various changes of interpretation in what scholars said were “scriptures that show clearly such and such will happen.” I’ve also read enough to know that Christians of other ages have been just as convinced of a completely different interpretation.

Prophecies and Interpretations: A Quick Recap

AMILLENNIALISM

Amillennial teaching says that Jesus did come planning to suffer and die. When He rose again, he defeated Satan, the ruler of this world. He did set up his kingdom, but it’s not – and never will be – a visible nation or country on this present earth. The entrance into his kingdom is the New Birth. Jesus came to be the Door, to open the Way into the Kingdom of God. Ever since his resurrection, he has been reigning in the hearts of all people who choose him as their king. Someday he will come again to gather his own to be with him in heaven.

The citizens of God’s kingdom may live anywhere on earth, but are not “of the world” — which is why they pay taxes (render unto Caesar) and obey all laws, but may decline to vote or bear arms in defense of the country they live in. (The words of Jesus, such as “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, etc.” are taken literally.) Rather, as Paul explains, Christians act as official ambassadors of their King, entreating on Christ’s behalf, “Be ye reconciled to God.”

As I understand it, this has been the traditional belief of the Mennonites, Amish, and some groups of Brethren. Few, if any, Protestant Evangelical churches teach this.

POST-MILLENNIALISM

Back when we were learning about prophecies, the pre-millennial theory was so prevalent, that I was quite shocked when I read Douglas Frank’s book, Less Than Conquerors (c 1986, Wm B Eerdmans), and learned that in up until the US Civil War almost all evangelical Christians believed the POST-MILLENNIAL theory. Which is:
The world will get better and better and finally it will be so good that Jesus will come back to earth and set up his kingdom. American Christians who believed this theory threw their support behind abolition and the Civil War because they thought they could help things along by getting rid of “the blot of slavery.” With Christians improving society, making it more hospitable to Christ’s return, the world (or at least the USA) would get so good that Jesus would come and set up a kingdom on earth.

Alas for their dreams! The Civil War brought so much death and destruction, and generated so much animosity that the world — or at least America — was even farther from being ready for the kingdom of Jesus Christ. In the next twenty years evangelicals abandoned the theory en masse. In my lifetime I’ve never met anyone who advances, or has even mentioned, post-millennialism. I wonder how many Christians today have even heard of it?

In a different vein, it must have been one of the most bitter disappointments any group of people has experienced, when southern blacks, set free from the shackles of slavery, found that FREE didn’t mean EQUAL in the eyes of most whites. Not in the South for sure, but sadly, not in the North, either.

PRE-MILLENNIALISM

According to Frank’s book, evangelicals gave up on the post-millennial theory and switched to pre-millennialism. Because it’s such a complexity and so entwined with dispensationalism, I’m going to save it for another post. A bare-bones explanation would be:
Jesus is coming back to claim his children, and at some point establish his kingdom in Jerusalem. From there he and his followers will rule over the whole the earth for 1000 years, at the end of which humans who don’t accept his rule will stage a major revolt. Then he’ll call an end to time and the great Judgment Day will begin.

“And (Jesus) said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.” — Luke 24: 46-48