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Zechariah 7 Commentary

We are about to enter what is called the four messages. These messages came in the fourth year of Darius. This means it is 2 years after Zechariah 1:1.

A lot of times when we read these books, we think that they were written all at once, or over a relatively short time span. But this book took years to write.

It is at this point that the temple is halfway complete. These are questions to God about fasting. Two of the messages are answered negatively and two are answered positively. But in reality, the message to the people is to live righteous lives.

The chapters, just like the rest of them, begin with a some history and end with a future-forward look at the second coming of Christ.

Zechariah 7:1 – In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev.

This message comes two years after Zechariah 1:1 and two years before the completion of the temple. The month puts it in November or December.

Zechariah 7:2 – Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the Lord,

Bethel was about 12 miles north of Jerusalem. According to Ezra 2:28 and Nehemiah 7:32, the town was repopulated after the return from exile.

The two names given, Sharezer and Regem-melech are Babylonian names. These are most likely men who are were born in captivity and returned to their homeland.

They were called to “entreat the favor of the Lord.” This means that they are to pray to God. The fact that Bethel had sent these men, that means that they saw Jerusalem as the spiritual center of the culture.

Zechariah 7:3 – saying to the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts and the prophets, “Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”

It seems that the fifth month was set aside for many year to weep, pray and fast. The reason for this question is to determine if they should continue the practice since they are no longer in captivity.

The fall of Jerusalem is remembered by four separate fasts. They are in the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months. You find more on that in 2 Kings 25, Jeremiah 39, and Jeremiah 41.

The fast in the fifth month was the most important one because that was the month that the temple was burned.

They were questioning the continuation of this serious fast during a time of great joy and success.

Zechariah 7:4 – Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me:

Basically, Zechariah is saying that God is answering through him.

Zechariah 7:5 – “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted?

We know the fast of the fifth month was for the burning of the temple. The fast in the seventh month was mourning the death of Gedaliah.

God is pretty straightforward here. The fasts that the Jews did were to mourn the burning of the temple and to honor one of their governors. These fasts were for them, not for God.

When they fasted and prayed, they sought God’s favor by asking Him to remove them from captivity. God, however, wanted them to repent during those fasts. But the Jews didn’t fast to repent, they fasted to get God’s power.

Zechariah 7:6 – And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?

While in captivity, the Jews ate the foods that the Babylonians ate. They ate to be refreshed and to enjoy. They didn’t eat as unto the Lord.

In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul tells us that we should eat and drink to the glory of the Lord.

Zechariah 7:7 – Were not these the words that the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous, with her cities around her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?’”

This is a beginning of the second message. This message is about obeying God’s Word. God is asking the Jews to look back and see what their fathers did and to not repeat those sins.

The areas that are being discussed here are basically the coastal areas of the Mediterranean and the areas around Beersheba. The words that Zechariah is talking about here are the words of the prophets. These are words of obedience, not ceremony. All throughout the history of God’s people God has asked for obedience, not ritual.

Zechariah 7:8 – And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying,

And again, God is going to speak through Zechariah.

Zechariah 7:9 – “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another,

God starts this off by telling us that it is important because God is saying it. God wants the judges to be truthful in their judgments and for the His people to love their neighbors. Jesus repeats this idea in Matthew 22:39.

Zechariah 7:10 – do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

God Law is true and just when followed with a pure heart. It separates the rest of the world from God’s people. Again, we are called to love our neighbors.

God wants His people to have His heart for people. This is the same message Jesus shared during his time of earth.

Zechariah 7:11 – But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear.

Before the exile, the Jews refused to follow God’s Law. They “turned a stubborn shoulder.” This means they were rebellious to God. The people of God kept getting in trouble because they kept ignoring God’s Law. They didn’t want to let God lead them.

Zechariah 7:12 – They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts.

God sent His Spirit through the prophets to share God’s desire and the Jews turned their shoulders and hardened their hearts.

If the Jews would have softened their hearts to the Lord they would have been saved. But they didn’t. They hardened their hearts. This made the Lord angry.

Zechariah 7:13 – “As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the Lord of hosts,

God chose to ignore His people since they chose to ignore Him. How often as parents have we chosen to ignore our children because they choose to ignore us? We need our kids to learn from their mistakes and sometimes this comes from our silence, not our attention.

Zechariah 7:14 – “and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.”

God sent them into exile. The land they left behind was destroyed. This was to teach them a lesson, that they needed God.

Jeremiah 9:16 – I will scatter them among the nations whom neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them.”

Zechariah 3 Commentary

This chapter in Zechariah is one of the most exciting ones! In the first two chapters we saw the focus be God the Father. In this third chapter, we see that God the Son is the focus. There are portions of this chapter that speaks directly to the reasons as to why Christ had to come to earth.

Zechariah 3:1 – Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.

This verse is filled with biblical characters! The first one we see is Zechariah himself. He is in this vision. As with the other visions, Zechariah’s role is to communicate the vision.

The next person in this verse is the angel who is showing Zechariah all these things. This character is simply there to communicate to Zechariah what is going on.

The third character we see is Joshua. This is not the same Joshua that was Moses’ second. That person was Son of Nun. This is Son of Jehozadak, the high priest at the time of Zechariah and Haggai. He is also only mentioned in those two books.

The next character is the angel of the Lord. This is Jesus Christ. Jesus is presiding over a heavenly courtroom of sorts. Joshua is standing before Jesus, the Judge, as defendant.

The final character here is Satan. Satan is taking the role of the prosecutor. His role is to accuse Joshua, which fits with Revelation 12:10 where he is the accuser. Interestingly enough, when you read this in Hebrew, you see that Satan is standing there to satan Joshua, which means to accuse him.

 Zechariah 3:2 – And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?”

Just like in the first verse, there is a lot to unpack in this one as well. We see the Lord placing judgment on Satan and telling him that He has chosen Israel. The covenant still stands. Deuteronomy 7:6-11 is still in play. Even more so, we see that the Lord has plucked them before they were destroyed. This is clearly seen in Amos 4:11.

Romans 8:33-34 tells us “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

There is a story about John Wesley that when he was a child that he was trapped in a housefire and that neighbors climbed on each other’s shoulders to reach him and pull him to safety. Someone drew a picture of that scene for Wesley, which he held onto until the day he died. On the bottom of that drawing, Wesley wrote Zechariah 3:2 to show him the real life example of this verse in his life.

This shows God’s plan of salvation.

Zechariah 3:3 – Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments.

In this verse we see Joshua standing before Christ in filthy garments, which is his sin. These particular filthy garments go back to the book of Isaiah chapter 64 and speak directly to the sin of the priesthood. But these sins could easily be our sins as well.

Zechariah 3:4 – And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”

If this doesn’t make you think of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, then I don’t know what will. Again, the filthy garments are our clothing of sin. But in Revelation 1:5 we see that Jesus washed us in His own blood and then, in Revelation 7:14, we see that our robes were washed in the blood of Christ and they are pure white.

The high priest is typically clothed in the best robes. That symbolizes the imputation of righteousness in Isaiah 61:10. Joshua is now being clothed in righteous robes.

Zechariah 3:5 – And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.

To understand the symbolism in this verse, we need to look at what life was like for the high priests in Zechariah’s day. The high priest would wear a turban that would have an engraved gold plate attached to it that would say “Holiness to the Lord.” This is from Exodus 28:36-38.

Interestingly enough, this is not being commanded by God, but by Zechariah! Zechariah desired to see Israel restored. This piece of symbolism would show that Israel was restored with God’s favor.

Zechariah 3:6 – And the angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua,

When one is “solemnly assured” it is a judicial term that was used among Jews and Jewish Christians. In Hebrews 6:17-18 it means an assurance of an oath. This means that Joshua needs to move forward with Christ’s salvation.

Zechariah 3:7 – “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here.

There is a lot here! God is telling Joshua to make sure that he is walking with Him. BY walking in God’s ways, it means all the ceremonial laws, the moral laws, and the ways of truth and faith.

By keeping God’s charge, we see that He wants Joshua to maintain the Levitical law

If Joshua, and God’s people can do this, then He would restore the honor and glory that was lost by going into captivity. The priestly office was not respected in captivity. It would be restored to a position of honor.

This is a very important verse. Walking with Christ is a daily choice. We choose each day to walk with Christ. We see that choice by the use of the sixth word in the verse, “if.” This means that Joshua has a choice to turn around.

And the result is shown for us as well in verses like Matthew 19:28 and Revelation 3:21.

Zechariah 3:8 – Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch.

Let’s begin with the last word in this verse, the “Branch.” This is a messianic term. When combined with the word before it, “servant,” we see a very strong allusion to Christ the Messiah. Being a branch, it starts from humble beginnings. The Hebrew word literally means “sprout.” It is used quite a bit in prophecy in both Isaiah and Jeremiah. It means that he is literally a descendant of David.

When combined with “servant,” we now understand the Branch’s function: to serve. We see a Messiah that is humble and obedient.

The Lord wants not only Joshua to hear this, but all the priests.

Zechariah 3:9 – For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.

The “stone” that Zechariah is mentioning here is, of course, messianic as well. We see the stone that was rejected, the stone of stumbling, the refuge, and the cornerstone. With seven eyes, this means that the stone is all seeing and omniscient.

We also see another reference to removing iniquity.

This is a future forward statement that shows the miraculous work that was done on the cross. Stones are used in both Old and New testaments as messianic in nature. And this stone is to be established through the Branch.

Zechariah 3:10 – In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”

This is the millennial reign of Christ. In that day there will be peace and every neighbor will be invited to enjoy the peace together.

The symbolism of the “vine” is, also, messianic. The Vine is Jesus.

John 15:5 says that Jesus is the vine and we are His branches.

Commentary of the Book of Zechariah – part 1

Every morning I read a chapter of the Bible and then go to God in prayer. One of the benefits to this is that I get to read a lot of the Bible over the course of a year. That said, it also gives me a lot of things that I take notes on to come back and study more in depth.

The book of Zechariah is one of those books that required I take a lot of notes to study at a later date. Over the next few months I will be studying Zechariah and creating my own commentary on what I study and read.

Each post will be another chapter and I will go verse by verse. One of the hopes that I have for this commentary is that it will move beyond the word by word commentary and add into it the timeless truths that are filled throughout the Bible.

Overview of the book:

Zechariah was the grandson of the priest Iddo. He prophesied to the people of Judah at some point after they had returned from their exile in Babylon. In Ezra 5, we are told that both Haggai and Zechariah were the ones pushing for the people to rebuild the temple. In Jeremiah we are told that the dates of the exile would be 70 years and that God would usher in a time of His kingdom at the end of it. Unfortunately, the time is almost up and life is still very difficult.

It is Zechariah that explains why this is so.

Zechariah returned with his grandfather after the Babylonian exile around 538 BC with the first group of exiles to return. His family lineage meant that he was both a priest and a prophet. Even though he never served in an official temple, he would still have an idea of what it would be like.

While Zechariah was young, he came alongside Haggai, who was much older, to prophecy. While Haggai was focused on the sin and selfism of the Jews at the time, Zechariah’s message was one of encouragement and hope.

The book itself is not from a single time period in Zechariah’s life. His messages begin at around the time of Haggai’s with the first vision being documented in the fall of 520 BC. During this message he is calling on Judah to repent of their sin.

Early in 519 BC he received 8 visions and then late in 518 BC he received 4 more.

Beginning in chapter 9 of the book, there is no more dating of his visions, but his mention of Greece means that this part of his book happened much later in his life, most likely somewhere around 480 BC. He would have been a couple decades before both Ezra and Nehemiah.

Overall, Zechariah’s book spans a total of about 40 years!

But that isn’t the only thing interesting about this book.

Zechariah also contains the most messianic passages throughout all the minor prophets.  He is like a mini-Isaiah. We see both the first and second comings of Christ in this book.

Zechariah’s name means “The Lord remembers.” This is very fitting as he writes from the perspective of hope that God will remember the promises He has made to His people. While it is easy to read this book and think that things should happen one right after the other, the truth of the matter is that there are generations between many of his prophecies. All of his prophecies point to the rebuilding of the temple and eventual reign of a future Messiah.

So why would one from the 21st century want to read the book of Zechariah?

It is very easy to get discouraged when we listen to the daily news or read the Twitter feed of so-called Christian leaders. The book of Zechariah has its share of judgments on the people of Israel, but it focuses on a future hope. The people in Zechariah’s time had lost their perspective. They were hopeless.

Zechariah chose to speak the Word of God in hopes to correct that perspective.

God desires to give us a hope and a future. One that is focused on God’s kingdom and filled with a desire to see us serving Him joyfully and with a new perspective.

 

The Church Has Left the Building – Part 2

Back in 2013 I wrote an article called “The Church has left the Building.” It was a year and half after I had started blogging and I hadn’t yet acquired an audience. Looking back at it, theologically there was nothing wrong with the article, but as I have aged, I have come to realize that the phrase, “The Church has left the Building” is more than I wrote about in 2013.

Back in 2013 I was concerned with the state of tithing in the church and that if the church doesn’t follow the God-given request to test Him in our tithes, then as the greater church we cannot do many of the ministries we need to do in order to be a thriving church.

FYI…for the 2019 year my buzzword is going to be “thrive.” That is going to be a post for a different day, but suffice to say you will read that word a lot over the next 12 months.

Now I realize it has taken me 5 and half years to write a follow up to the original post, but I want to share the wisdom that God has been teaching me over the past 5 years as to what the phrase “The Church has left the Building” means to me.

Too many people think the church is the building and the people that are in the building. I recently changed churches from Chesapeake Christian Fellowship to Friendship Community Baptist. One is non-denominational, single-elder led while the other is mainline Baptist and congregationally led. Very different polity.

But the same church.

Both churches are amazing in various different aspects of ministry. There are things that CCF is strong at that FCBC is not. There are areas that FCBC is strong that CCF is not.

How we “play church” on Sundays is different.

But the goal is the same.

Plunder hell and populate heaven.

The writer of Hebrews knows this well (I also wrote an article about who this writer could be back in 2012, but, again, that is for another day as I realize that many people will disagree with my view on that as well).

The writer of Hebrews says,

“For we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of the lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” – 13:14-16

We have no lasting city.

When I started attending CCF back in 2002 I had no clue what Christianity was truly about. It was by the grace of God and His mercy alone that I came to find that faith. As time went on, I became comfortable at CCF, thinking that was my lasting city. I even wanted to eventually pastor there.

But God.

God had other plans.

He realized that I needed to become uncomfortable in order to continue growing.

I needed to leave the camp, so to speak.

Again, the writer of Hebrews explains this,

“For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.” – 13:11-12

The sacrificial offerings were burned up outside the camp. Jesus suffered and died outside the gate of the city.

In order for us to be used to our fullest for God, we need to go outside the gate of the city.

My city, for so long was CCF. And while I would occasionally go outside and talk to people (usually about how great my church was more than the power of the Holy Spirit), I maintained my comfort inside the building.

I couldn’t be burned up for the sacrifice when I grew comfortable.

God knew this. Honestly, I knew this. I just pushed against it for many years before truly acting upon it.

In order for me to grow, I needed to leave the walls of the city.

And my new church, Friendship Community Baptist, has been challenging yet good for my growth. I am learning how to work inside a different set of church polity. I am learning what it truly means to shepherd.

I am so thankful for my time at CCF. Without that time, I could not have grown from immaturity to maturity. But there comes a time in every believer’s life that he or she needs to step outside the walls of the city in order to be uncomfortable.  The entire eleventh chapter of Hebrews is an example of that,

“…Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain…Enoch was taken up…Noah constructed an ark…Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out…Moses was hidden for three month…Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter…(Moses) left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king…The people crossed the Red Sea…” – 11:4-30 (abridged)

He continues, saying,

“…through faith (others) conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” – 11:33-34

Every single one of those “by faith” comments in Hebrews 11 required going out.

The Church has Left the Building!!!

By no means am I telling people to leave their churches and go to a different church like I did. That was God’s vision for me and my family at this time in my life. That may not be the vision He has given you.

But you need to leave the comfort of the building and get out in your community. If you are not, by faith, stepping out and proclaiming the gospel to others and discipling others, you need to figure out what kind of faith you really have.

Did you simply accept Jesus to try and become a better person and get a “Get Out of Hell Free” card?

Or did you fall in love with the person of Jesus Christ and desire to serve Him. Are you worried less about looking like a Christian and more about looking like Christ? Are you following Christ by faith because you have  desperation to know the person of Jesus Christ?

I want you to move beyond thinking you have a saving faith and move into knowing you have a saving faith.

That will lead the church to leave the building.

It will become a message that simply too big to contain inside the church building that you need to take it to communities, the streets, the cities, the shanty towns, the neighborhoods, and the workplaces.

Know your faith, Christian.

It is time to leave the building.

Deidentified

2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

When I used to work in both the restaurant and grocery industries, there were times that you needed to close down stores. Sometimes it was good, like when you were closing a competitor’s brand down because you were converting it to your brand. Then there were the not-so-good times, such as when one of your stores failed and you had to close it or when a company claimed bankruptcy and they closed several stores over a timeline.

One thing was common in each of these situations, you had to deidentify the store.

This meant that any branding materials or operating manuals or confidential information must be removed from the location. The most notable point in the process is when the front sign comes down. That is when people driving by that location for years to come will say, “I remember when such and such used to be in that spot. I wonder whatever happened to them.”

Now that I am in ministry, I hope I will never have to deidentify a church.

But the interesting thing is that today I had to do just that.

You see, Christmas holiday is over. I went into the church this morning and started looking for the boxes to pack up anything that looked like Christmas.

When I was done, I texted my wife and told her that I just deidentified Christmas.

I had to stop and pause for a moment after I texted that.

I deidentified Christmas.

Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Now people driving by the church will say, “I remember when that church had a nativity scene outside and the cow was a little lopsided, it used to catch my attention every day that I drove to work.”

As a Christian, we should never think about deidentifying Christmas from our lives. Yes, the holiday itself is simply that, a day to commemorate the birth of Christ. Similar to baptism where it is an outward symbol of an inward decision. Christmas holiday itself has absolutely no power.

But the Holy Spirit does.

Now that I took that lopsided cow and put it into the shed, will that random person driving by think of Jesus? Or the church? Or even what happened on the day that we celebrate?

I hope that person will take their faith walk a little farther than just looking for a lopsided cow.

I hope they will realize the power of the God of the Christian faith. King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

But now I want to look at this another way.

Thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, if you are a member of the family of Christian faith, then you have been deidentified as well.

You see, Jesus stepped into your life, a life that was branded by the sins of your past, and deidentified you of them. He then gave you a new identity, saved.

Now when people drive by your life, they will say, “I remember that guy, he used to do such and such back in the day, but he’s changed. A totally different person!”

That’s what deidentification does.

It changes not just what is inside, but what people see on the outside as well.

So as we move into the new year, if you have spent this 2018 year being identified by your sins, then now is the time to deidentify. Reach out to the creator of identity and as for a new one. Bring about the change that will last for eternity, not just a new year’s resolution that will be gone in a few months.

If you want to know how to deidentify and get a new identity, I want to hear from you. Please email me at fred@fcbc.church. I would love to help you take this faith walk.

Ephesians 4:22-24 – To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Which Disciple are you Most Like, part 7: Matthew & Philip

After last week’s study on the two Judases, I am hoping this week is much easier study, but in doing my initial research, I am not thinking so. This week we will look at both Matthew and Philip.

Matthew:

Matthew, like all the rest of the apostles, has an interesting story to tell us. There is nothing written about Matthew prior to his decision to join Jesus other than he was a publican (some versions say he was a tax collector) and he was the son of Alpheus.

When Jesus sees Matthew, he was sitting in a tax collector’s booth along the main highway. Doing this job meant that he was collecting the duties on the imported goods brought by farmers and caravans. In the Roman system, Matthew would have paid all these taxes ahead of time and then collected the money from the people to reimburse himself. This is definitely a system filled with corruption. For example, using today’s money as a tool, if he would have paid $500 to the Roman government before collecting, he would have had to have made that $500 back plus whatever his financial needs for his family are. That means that the farmers and merchants were being overtaxed by the local collectors. Most tax collectors extorted extra money in order to profit off their time in the booth.

Another interesting point about these Jewish publicans is that they were Jewish collaborators. The Jews did not like tax collectors. They were one of the most hated people in all of the empire. Jews felt that all their money should go to support the community and God and not be used to line the pockets of the Roman empire. This meant that not only was Matthew hated because he was a tax collector, but he was a JEWISH TAX COLLECTOR! This meant that one of their own was extorting money from other Jews for profit. He was a Jewish agent of Rome.

Matthew was hated among his own people!

There are accounts of Jews not allowing Jewish publicans to marry Jewish women or even worship in synagogue.

But God…

Jesus walked by and simply said, “Follow me” and that changed everything for Matthew.

Matthew 9:9 – As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

On that same day that he chose to follow Christ, Matthew held a huge party at his home and invited several other tax collectors so that they could meet Jesus as well. In one day, Matthew went from a hated tax collector to a loved soul collector.

While it might seem damaging to Jesus’ credibility to bring Matthew on board, Jesus was very intelligent in His decision. Publicans were known for the record keeping. They had to be. At any time the Roman government could come along and ask for the records of the day. They needed to capture all the details.

This is what made the gospel of Matthew so important. Matthew was able to answer questions about the Messiah in a way that only he could do, by presenting the little details about the stories.

Matthew left a very comfortable life for a life of uncertainty. He abandoned all the pleasures that he had amassed so that he could follow the true Messiah.

After Jesus’ ascension there is little written about Matthew. We know that he wrote the book of Matthew about 25-30 years after the crucifixion, but tradition holds that he went out, as the other apostles did, and spread the Good News of the gospel. At some point he went into Ethiopia and was martyred there.

The big thing we learn from Matthew is that God can use anyone. It doesn’t matter how sinful we are. It doesn’t matter how hated we are. It doesn’t matter how hard our heart is. God can call and use anyone.

Philip:

There are at least 3, and most likely 4, men named Philip in the Bible. The first two were Herod the Great’s two sons that he had through different wives. The other two were instrumental in Christ’s mission. Sometimes people say the other two are the same person, and for that I am not quite sold yet. I can understand both sides of the argument for or against, so I will write this as if they were two separate people. They go by different terms: Philip the Apostle and Philip the Evangelist.

Philip the Evangelist is assumed to have been one of the 72 that Jesus had sent out on missionary journey, although that is not mentioned in the Bible.

Luke 10:1 – After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

We know that Philip the Evangelist was one of the 7 deacons serving in Jerusalem

Acts 6:5 – This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.

When the great persecution came, Philip the Evangelist left Jerusalem and became an evangelist to Samaria.

Acts 8:5-12 – Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

After the church in Samaria was started, the Holy Spirit led Philip the Evangelist to the Ethiopian eunuch ad brought him to know Christ. Directly after baptizing the Ethiopian, God used Philip the Evangelist to preach in towns from Azotus to Caesarea.

Acts 8:40 – Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Twenty years later, Philip the Evangelist is mentioned again in Acts 21:8-9.

Acts 21:8-9 – Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

He is still in Caesarea where Paul and Luke stayed with him. Philip the Evangelist had 4 unmarried daughters who all had the gift of prophecy.

That is the final time we hear about Philip the Evangelist.

Philip the Apostle, on the other hand, has a little different trajectory. He was a Galilean and a disciple of John the Baptist’s. Philip is the one who told Nathanael about Jesus. There is little description about Philip the Apostle in the Bible, but there are a lot of interactions between Jesus and Philip.

Philip, after bringing Nathanael to Jesus next turned his sights on some Gentiles.

John 12:20-22 – Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

Philip was also the one who determined how much money it would take to feed the 5,000. Then Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. This is when Jesus replies,

John 14:9 – Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

We finally see Philip in Jerusalem to pray after Jesus’ ascension. Tradition goes on to state that Philip went to Turkey to become a missionary and was martyred in Hierapolis.

Award-Winning Nobody

It is amazing how pride works.

Humans love to have their ego stoked.

Why do you think Facebook is so popular? People love to have the spotlight on themselves, even if they say they don’t.

But, as the saying goes, being popular on Facebook is like being rich with Monopoly money.

The same can be said for being popular in real life or even at the top of your game.

It can all go away in an instant with a single choice or action.

Just look at all of the celebrities who have fallen from the limelight. Brett Butler, Ed McMahon, Burt Reynolds, and many others going from riches to rags. How about politicians? Political leaders such as Anthony Weiner, Gary Hart, Jack Abramoff, the “Keating Five,” or Jim Traficant, to name a few, were all removed from their positions.

Pastors and people in the ministry have to be immune, right?

Nope.

The first big American religious scandal to bring about a downfall happened to Aimee Semple McPherson. Others included Mark Driscoll, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker, Henry Lyons, Peter Popoff, Thomas Wesley Weeks Jr., Ted Haggard, and Bob Coy.

A single decision can destroy a person’s credibility.

The same can happen to any of us.

I remember when I worked for Whole Foods Market and received an award. I was on top of my game. My team had shown significant increases in sales and profits. Unfortunately, through a simple, yet subtle, shift in becoming prideful, my numbers went down the following year.

Pride causes a lot of problems.

Anyone anywhere can be at the top and lose it when their pride takes over.

But pride is so easy to fall victim to.

So how do we biblically fight the sin of pride?

  • Get a right view of God.

Job 25:4-6 – How then can man be in the right before God? How can he who is born of woman be pure? Behold, even the moon is not bright, and the stars are not pure in his eyes; how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!”

God is both superior to us and has supreme authority over us. When our view of God is incorrect, we don’t give Him the reverence He is due. Pride comes from putting ourselves above God. Start by focusing on just how great God is. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you more and more.

Isaiah 29:16 – You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

  • Change your beliefs

1 Corinthians 4:7 – For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

God wants us to be an example of His love to others. When we are prideful, we find that our pride gets in the way of showing love. Think of some of the following questions:

  1. Do you believe you are better than everyone else?
  2. Do you think the world cannot be as good without you?
  3. Do you think that what you do or your role entitle you to special favors?

Romans 12:3 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

If you believe any of those questions pertain to you then you are self-serving. Having an identity in Christ is to be filled with self-denial, not self-appreciation. Scripture needs to be our guide to show us our views of ourselves.

Proverbs 25:27 – It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.

  • Repent

Pride is one of the hardest sins to repent of. Our pride will not allow us to see the need to do it. If you are ready to repent of it, then determine the type of pride you have (self-exaltation, self-proclamation, self-justification, etc…). Once you have determined the type of pride it is, pray specifically for forgiveness.

  • Defend against the enemy

After repenting, it is very easy to fall back into pride. It is even possible to become proud of your humility. This world will do everything it can to drag you back into the pit of pride. The world believes that pride is a good thing. Ask God to transform your thoughts so that you take a right view on humility.

As a human, our flesh craves the feelings we get when we seek attention from others. We need to constantly be reminded that our sinful nature is dead. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to provide us a view on God that would be aligned with what God deserves.

Put on the whole armor of God. The only way to be prepared for pitfalls of pride is to be ready for them. Ephesians 6:14 tells us to put on the belt of truth. This belt should remind us that God is the only on deserving of honor, not us.

Spiritual warfare will never end so be prepared. God is more powerful than any spiritual attacks we will ever go through. So ask the Holy Spirit to provide you the power to rebuff the attacks and place your armor on every day.

  • Flee temptation

It is going to be impossible for all the temptation to go away completely but it is possible to significantly reduce them. It is going to take specific steps:

  1. Focus on your relationship with God. Strengthen your devotional life. Prayer and meditation is extremely important. Focus on giving God glory and humble yourself before Him.
  2. Claim God’s promises. Go through Scripture and look for pride and humility and the truth that the Word has about them. Memorize the verses. When temptation come, repeat these verses to yourself. Here are a couple to start:

Matthew 18:4 – Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

1 Peter 5:6 – Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you

  1. Establish safeguards

Make changes in your life that will reduce the temptation. For example, if you look down on those who have a lower social class than yours, serve in a homeless shelter. If it is your looks that cause you pride, then get rid of the clothes and makeup that make you beautiful. If it is your car, trade in that car for something more modest.

Ask a friend to hold you accountable.

  1. Expect to beat the sin of pride

Don’t focus on the failures of the past but focus on God’s power over sin. Give God the praise He is due.

#TheGraveIsEmpty

I am writing this on Easter evening, or, as Christians like to call it, Resurrection Sunday.

Today we had a plan in place. I planned on waking up, going to a sunrise service of a new church in my area and then gathering the entire family together and heading up to PA to spend the day with my parents. If you read a previous blog post of mine, you will know that my mom has stage IV cancer and we don’t really have a lot of time with her.

Well, this morning the call came.

“Fred, get up here. Leave the kids home, come to PA. Your mom doesn’t have long left.”

My heart sank. I immediately changed all the plans and started driving north.

The plan was to move her to a hospice facility where she could finish up her final hours without pain. She was breathing very shallow and, in between each breath, was moaning in pain. When I got here, I was told by my dad that the ambulance to transport her was about an hour out.

I sat down at mum’s bedside and prayed with her. I told her to simply let God have control and stop trying to take that control away from Him. Let Him heal her, whether that be through a miraculous healing of the cancer or through ending her pain through taking her home.

I went to the place we were ordering Easter meal from to pay for it and have them donate it to a local church. After I returned I went back in to check on mum. I told her I loved her.

When I walked in the door I heard the moaning and breaths, but a few moments after walking out of the room, I didn’t hear it anymore. I asked pap and he said that she occasionally does that. This time I went back in and noticed her eyes partially opened. She wasn’t breathing.

I called to pap and he checked her. We were pretty sure she had gone home to her Creator.

We called the hospice nurse. She cancelled the ambulance and came right over and pronounced her dead at 11:45 AM.

My mom knew. She didn’t want to end her days in the hospice facility. She told us that a few weeks ago when she was in the hospital. She wanted to end her days surrounded by me and pap in her own home.

And that is how she died.

The rest of the day has been a blur. We spent time with the funeral home getting her moved and planning the viewing. We went to eat a local diner that was open today (that was such a blessing!). Then back home to go through all the old pictures and reminisce about mum and how much she meant to us.

We are having a viewing on Wednesday and then immediate cremation.

Why no funeral?

Because the grave is empty!

When mum passed through the wildwood into the place where dreams come true, she ceased to be mum and simply became a body. The essence of mum is found in the Spirit that inhabited her.

Mum loved God and people. She had a servant’s heart. As a matter of fact, she had the Servant’s heart. She had the heart of God.

So now it is Easter eve. Pap finally fell asleep. The house is quiet. The only noise I hear is the droning of the ceiling fan above and the tapping of the keys on my keyboard.

I am sitting her thanking God for taking her so quickly so she didn’t suffer too long. I am thanking Him for the opportunity to tell her I loved her before she passed from somewhere into elsewhere.

The truth about Easter is just what happened today.

The grave is empty.

Mum will not be in a grave because there is no reason for it.

Christ burst from the grave. He proclaimed to the world His return.

He gave the disciples a mission to accomplish.

Jesus’ final 40 days on earth, after exiting the grave, dealt with sharing the Kingdom of God with everyone.

There is a reason to celebrate Resurrection Sunday. Just like there is a reason to celebrate my mum’s life with my pap through the old pictures.

The reason is simple.

Power.

The power of the Holy Spirit is freely given after bursting from the grave. The power for my mum to live on through my actions and words is amplified after her death. How much more will I look at how I deal with people after seeing my mom live it.

How much more do I want to proclaim the Kingdom of God now that Christ has given us this mandate after leaving the grave.

So, what will I proclaim on the day after Easter?

I will proclaim the Servant’s heart of my mom. She embedded that in me through her gracious living. And I will take that lesson and translate it to my Christian theology and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God places Jesus on the throne. Entrance to the kingdom requires new birth (John 3:5), repentance (Matthew 3:2), and the divine call (1 Thessalonians 2:12). Jesus calls us to seek the Kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:33) and pray for it to come (Matthew 6:10). It is joy in the Holy Spirit, righteousness, and peace (Romans 14:7).

So again, I sit here in the quiet of the night.

Thinking about how to live out my mom’s servant heart and how to proclaim the Kingdom of God through all I do.

Tomorrow is a new day. A new day to celebrate the two people I love dearly who have burst from the grave, Jesus and my mom.

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