Mysteries of God

MysteriesIn recent weeks I’ve read a lot of offers to inform me of God’s mysterious will for 2015 – for a fee – from people young and old, male and female, some of whom I’d heard of before, others not.

Most of these folks are self-proclaimed prophets, some with unknown track records, some with quite questionable track records.

A few of these offers come with glowing testimonials that all their previous prophecies have come true. We’re supposed to take their word for that, of course.

I’m not taking any of these folks up on their offers.

Now, I do believe there are legitimate prophets in the world today. However, none of them are offering to sell me their revelations about 2015. If they believe God is asking them to tell the world a specific message, perhaps a warning, perhaps an urgent request to intercede, they just go ahead and do it, free of charge. Those I actually pay attention to.

And I do read articles by authors I trust who teach and expound on end-time scriptures. They are giving their interpretation of scriptures and never claim to be prophets with esoteric knowledge.

If you know me, you know I love spy novels, dramas and murder mysteries.* Science fiction, historical adventures, crime novels or contemporary espionage – as long as the plot is complex enough so that you can’t figure it out too soon, it appeals to me. A touch of humor never hurts, either.

Apparently God loves mysteries too. Secret things. Hidden treasures. And he is quite willing to reveal his mysteries to those he loves and who love him. “He revealeth the deep and secret things;” “There is a God in heaven who revealeth secrets.” Daniel 2:22, 28

Jesus carefully planted clues to the best mystery of all time, the whole reason he took on human flesh – to enable us to have a direct connection to God, by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Want to know one of God’s secrets for 2015 (or today, or next week)? You don’t need to go out a buy a prophecy. Just ask him.

Since the coming of the Holy Spirit, God will reveal his mysteries to any believer who wants to know, not just to a hand-picked few (as he had to do before that). See John chapters 14-16, especially 16:13: “He will show you things to come.”

He doesn’t want us to remain ignorant about those things. The reason he walked the roads and towns, talking to curious listeners, collecting followers as he went, has been explained by the Holy Spirit and recorded in the scriptures.

Revealing why he took the time to teach and train them, why he chose twelve of them to be apostles, Jesus told the disciples what was really going on. God’s mysteries were going to be unveiled to those who not only listened, not only followed, but believed what he was telling them.

Sometimes Jesus taught the principles of God’s kingdom in parables to the crowd, then explained the meaning privately to the disciples. They asked him one day why he was doing that. “He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” Matt. 13:11

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” Matt. 13:34-35  (Quoting Ps. 78:2.)

“And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.” Luke 8:10

Jesus wanted the disciples to understand God’s plan. But if the Pharisees understood what he was really saying, they would have tried to stop that plan much earlier than the Lord wanted. “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”  I Cor. 2:8

Jesus had a timetable to keep. He didn’t want any monkey-wrenches thrown by the enemy.  And so he carefully crafted clues to God’s mysteries, knowing that once the Holy Spirit came, the disciples would get it. And that is exactly what happened.

The Apostle Paul explained it in his letter to the Colossians, and described the various aspects of God’s mysteries in several other epistles:

“Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col. 1:25-27

“Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” I Cor. 4:1

“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” I Cor. 13:2

“For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” I Cor. 14:2

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” Rom. 11:25

“Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:” Rom. 16:25-26

“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” I Cor. 2:7-10

“Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:” Eph. 1:9-10

“How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:” Eph. 3:3-6

“And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” Eph. 3:9-10

“And (pray) for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.” Eph. 6:19

Paul prayed for believers he had not yet met, which certainly includes those living today: “That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Col 2:2-3

That’s my prayer for myself, my family and friends, and for the entire church these days.

* Originally titled, Why I Love Murder Mysteries: http://scfamilymemories.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/mimi-my-ordinary-grandmother-part-ii/

Zacchaeus, a poor rich man

JerichoToJerusalem“Joshua fit the battle of Jericho…” Remember that song? I learned it in Sunday School many years ago. This article isn’t about Joshua, though, it’s about someone who lived and worked in Jericho at the time of Christ, perhaps the richest man in town. Chief tax collector, Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus is an interesting character. Reading Luke 19:1-10, this short passage about Jesus meeting Zacchaeus struck me as worthy of more study. It looked to me like Jesus may have gone to Jericho just to meet this little man, sort of like he went to Samaria to meet the woman at the well. After all, he told Zacchaeus, “I must stay at your house today.” And when the crowd complained about that, Jesus commented “The son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

As I investigated Zacchaeus and Jericho a bit further, I had several questions. Here are some of the answers I found.

What does his name mean? It’s derived from a word meaning “pure,” which he certainly wasn’t before Jesus got hold of him. I wonder if people made jokes about his name…

What was his job? Chief tax collector; he probably supervised several other tax collectors and all of them worked for Rome. Their own income came from overcharging the people – they pocketed the difference. He may have been acquainted with Jesus’ disciple Matthew (Levi), who had the same job.

What was his position then in the community? Wealth, influence with Rome, reputation as an astute businessman, since he’d been elevated to “chief” tax collector, employees and servants, influence and/or friendship with other Jews who had a vested interest in seeing that Rome stayed happy. We aren’t told if he had a wife and children. He was despised by the ordinary citizens since he cooperated with their enemy and took advantage of his own people.

Ethics / morals? On a par with his job, no doubt. He knew the Jewish law but going by his own words he didn’t really keep it. He really couldn’t keep the law and his job, and we know which one he kept.

sycamore-tree-panoTraditional Tree of Zacchaeus in Jericho, said to be approximately 2000 years old.

Spiritual condition? Hungry for something more. Zacchaeus was aware that Jesus was in town. Perhaps he’d heard gossip from underlings or house servants, but somehow he’d heard about Jesus. His curiosity wasn’t the only thing that took him into the street. No businessman would climb a tree in public! What would people think? Of course, he didn’t really care what the ordinary people thought. He had everything any man could want and wasn’t happy with it. He wanted to see this Jesus person.

Being short, Zacchaeus couldn’t see over the people in front of him, but the crowd didn’t respect him enough to give him space. They wouldn’t let him get close enough to the street. I think Zacchaeus was desperate to see Jesus. What were people saying about Jesus? He raised the dead! He healed the sick! He turned water into wine!

Who wouldn’t want to see a man like that? But I don’t think many would climb a tree to do it, unless they were desperate.

What did it cost Zacchaeus? Everything he had. After his meeting with Jesus, he couldn’t be a tax collector any longer. And he himself promised to do more than the current religious leaders required, he promised restitution more in line with the actual law, even better than the actual law. He had to have counted the cost. If he meant it, he would have been giving back a great deal of money and cutting off his livelihood and his relationship with the Romans. But what he gained was worth it; eternal life, starting now.

Where and what kind of place was Jericho? For this, I went to the internet and did a little research. I knew some of the Old Testament stories about things that happened there, and Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan takes place near Jericho. It was a prominent city in the days of Joshua before the “walls came a-tumbling down,” put under a curse by God and deserted for all practical purposes.

JerichoHerodWinterPalace3By the time of Jesus the city had been rebuilt and was prominent again. Herod even had a palace there, overlooking the city. Thieves and robbers had a wonderful time of plying their criminal trade along the steep and dangerous route down from Jerusalem. Fascinating story about Zacchaeus, and a fascinating town he lived in.

If you’re interested in learning a little more about the place, keep reading. The following notes came from an internet Bible study site:

“Jericho is located near the southern end of the Jordan Valley about eight hundred twenty-five feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea and about two hundred feet above the surface of the Dead Sea. The area around it is watered by springs and small streams, and since 7000 B.C. Jericho has been an oasis and a population center in the otherwise mostly barren valley. Some scholars think Jericho is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, and it was called the city of palm trees in Judges 1.16. Intersecting there since historic times have been a major road that comes down the Jordan Valley, one that crosses the Jordan River (five miles east of Jericho), and one that leads up through the steep, barren hills to Jerusalem, which is fifteen miles to the southwest and more than two thousand feet higher than Jericho.

Jericho had high walls and protective towers in ancient times, as it did when Joshua led the people of Israel across the Jordan River on their way to occupy what became their land. But the city was built of sun-dried mud bricks, so it was often invaded and captured by enemies. These ancient bricks have mostly washed away, and so archaeologists are not sure which part of the city was standing when Joshua captured it (Josh 6).

Elijah went through Jericho and met fifty prophets, who followed him to the Jordan River just before he was taken up to heaven (2 Kgs 4.4–12). Elisha began his work as a prophet in Jericho (2 Kgs 4.13–22). When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586/587 B.C., King Zedekiah tried to run away, but the Babylonians caught him and put out his eyes on the plains near Jericho (Jer 52.1–11). After the Jews were allowed by the Persians to come back from Babylonia to their land, a number of those whose families were originally from Jericho returned (Ezra 2.34), and some of the workers who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem came from Jericho (Neh 3.2).

The Romans made Herod king of the Jews in 37 B.C., and he then built a winter palace for himself and a Roman-style city just northwest of ancient Jericho. Water was brought in from the Jordan River by an irrigation system. Herod’s new Jericho included a city center, a theater, and a stadium, and the city was surrounded by groves of evergreen and palm trees with flower gardens, fountains, and pools. It was the winter residence for Herod, his staff, and a large group of servants and supporters.

East of Jericho along the Jordan River was the place where John the Baptist stayed to baptize those who heard his message and were preparing themselves for the coming of God’s new kingdom. Jesus was also baptized there (Luke 3.1–22), and later he visited Jericho—apparently the old city, not the palace of Herod. In Jericho Jesus healed a blind man (Luke 18.35–43), and he met and stayed with Zacchaeus, the rich chief tax collector for the Romans (Luke 19.1–10). Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan tells a story that takes place on the steep and rocky road that led down from Jerusalem to Jericho (Luke 10.25–37).”

Also see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jericho
http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/05/Did-the-Israelites-Conquer-Jericho-A-New-Look-at-the-Archaeological-Evidence.aspx

Jesus asked odd questions…

Most of the time when Jesus healed somebody, he just did it. Different ways, of course. One time he spit on the ground, made mud and slathered a blind man’s eyes with it. Not exactly polite. Another time he just told a crippled man to do something he couldn’t do, like get up off your mat, pick it up and go home… on another occasion he wasn’t even in the same town with the sick person he healed, he just said a few words and it was done.

One thing he usually didn’t do was ask – what do you want? Only on two occasions did he ask such a strange question.

PoolBethesda14John 5 tells about the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda. Do you want to get well? Jesus asked him.

What an odd thing to ask. The crowd around the pool was there for one thing only, to get healed. Occasionally an angel would come and “trouble” the water, whatever that means, and whoever got into the pool first would get well. (Seems cruel to me. Only occasionally? And only one?)

The crippled man explained his situation to Jesus, as though this was an obscure, out of the way location and only a few lucky people knew about it.

But this was just outside the Sheep Gate of the Temple in Jerusalem, a prominent building surrounding an upper and lower pool with five colonnaded porches, quite well known to the city. (See http://www.generationword.com/jerusalem101/51-bethesda-pool.html)

Model of the Pool of BethesdaThe man had been crippled for 38 years, a long, long time. And for a long, long time he had been brought to the pool, hoping today would be his day. But for whatever reason, no-one there would help him get to the pool in time, so day after day he just watched as somebody else got healed.

How discouraging. How depressing. Why bother coming to the pool?

Then Jesus paid a visit to the pool, and asked one particular man a peculiar question. Do you want to get well? From his response, the answer was obviously YES.

So Jesus told the poor man to do something he couldn’t do. Get up, pick up your bed and walk. And he did. He didn’t lay there and wonder — Who is this crazy fellow, doesn’t he know I can’t walk? He just did it. Jesus really didn’t need to ask, he knew the man’s heart. He healed him even before he attempted to rise to his feet.

Jesus didn’t stick around and so the man couldn’t follow him, but his miraculous recovery caused quite a commotion around the Temple. It was the sabbath, after all!

It’s a wonderful story, but I’m curious. Why did Jesus ask him that question?

Here’s the only other person Jesus asked such a strange question… blind Bartimaeus, the beggar. All four gospels recount this event; Mark 10 gives us his name.

HealingBlindBartimaeusJesus, the disciples and a large number of other people were coming through Jericho. Now, obviously with this crowd there was a lot of commotion. What’s going on? Who is it? Bartimaeus no doubt asked somebody. When he heard it was Jesus, he knew who that was. He knew what that meant. Here’s my chance!

He yelled, Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me! He soon got the attention of the crowd, who tried to shut him up. He kept right on yelling until he got the attention of Jesus, who called for him to come. And he did.

I wonder how long it took him to get through that mass of people… When he finally got there, Jesus asked him that peculiar question:

What do you want me to do for you?

Now, I can think of many things Bartimaeus might have said. A big house, a lot of money, a beautiful wife, nice clothes, lots of things. What he did request was simple — to see again.

Jesus didn’t speak a command, didn’t touch him, didn’t make mud, didn’t tell him to do something impossible. He just said, Go your way, your faith has made you whole. Suddenly Bartimaeus could see again, and he did indeed go his way – Jesus’ way! Joining the noisy crowd, he became a follower of Jesus.

Think what having his vision restored meant to this man. Now he could work for a living. Now he could go to the Temple in Jerusalem and worship. He could do all the usual things men did, meet with friends, help out a neighbor, perhaps have a family. But first he followed Jesus. He could see in more ways than one, now.

I’m still curious. Why did Jesus ask him that question?

What do you think?