Looking for Jesus in All the Right Places

When Jesus was 12 years old, he and His “parents went to Jerusalem … for the Feast of the Passover,” as they did every year in obedience to the instructions in God’s law (Luke 2:41-42). After the Passover and the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag haMatzot), his parents went a whole day’s journey home before realizing Jesus wasn’t with the traveling group and they’d lost the Son of God in Jerusalem. They went back, and searched for three days before finding Him in the temple. When Mary chided Him for making them so anxious, Jesus said they should have been able to figure out where He was.

But he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:49, NET

I wonder how many times when we’re running around anxiously wondering, “Where’s God when I need Him?” that we’re also looking in the wrong places. The “right place” isn’t a physical location, though; there isn’t an easy-to-find landmark spot for us to start our search like the temple in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph found Jesus. For us, the task of looking for Jesus is both much simpler (because He is available anywhere) and also in some ways more challenging (since it’s not just about going to a certain place and doing a certain thing).

Seeking the Father and Son

A more literal translation of Jesus’s words to His parents would be, “Didn’t you know that I must be about the things of my Father?” (TLV). The “verse involves an idiom that probably refers to the necessity of Jesus being involved in the instruction about God” (NET footnote), which I suspect is why the Complete Jewish Bible opts for the translation, “Why did you have to look for me? Didn’t you know that I had to be concerning myself with my Father’s affairs?” The reason that so many modern translations say, “in my Father’s house” is because “the most widely held view today takes” the idiom used here “as a reference to the temple as the Father’s house” (NET footnote).

Whichever translation we think is correct, the basic meaning is the same. Jesus could be found associated with the things God was doing in the location where people who follow God gather. Even today, it is true that if we want to connect with God that is often easiest to do when associating ourselves with other believers. That’s not the only thing that’s involved in searching for Jesus or the Father, though.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

John 6:44, NET

Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6, NET

We need the Father to open our eyes and invite us into the family if we want to get to Jesus, and then it’s through Jesus that we’re given access to God the Father at a level of intimacy that people who lived before Christ came in the flesh never had and relatively few people have today. Jesus and the Father are welcoming us into their oneness (John 17) and when we faithfully follow the Son, we have a relationship with the Father as well (1 John 2:22-24). We must seek Them both together.

The Temple of God Today

Back when 12-year-old Jesus went missing, He could be found at the temple. However, “the God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands” (Acts 17:24, NET), especially now that the veil separating the holy places of God and regular people is done away through Christ (Matt. 27:50-51; Eph. 2:13-19). Now, we are the temple of God.

For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, “I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

2 Corinthians 6:16, NET quoting Lev.26:11-12

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?

1 Corinthians 3:16, NET

These verses tell us two things. One: if we are called by God to be part of His church and we’ve accepted that invitation, we are part of God’s temple and His spirit lives in each of us. Two: all the believers together make up God’s temple today (“you” is plural in Greek; “temple” is singular). If we’re seeking Jesus, we need to seek Him on both an individual and a cooperative level. The Lord wants to live in the midst of His people (Zec. 2:10-13), and being able to build each other up as we seek the Lord together is one of the most important reasons for God’s people to gather as a community of faith (Heb. 10:19-25). That community could be just “two or three assembled” in the Lord’s name (Matt. 18:20), or it could be a church group of hundreds.

Invited to be with the Lord

When Jesus was here on earth, He issued invitations to come to Him, seek Him, and become His friends. They’re not the first invitations from the Lord either; Jesus was making God more widely accessible, but God has always wanted relationships. Those same invitations are still open today, echoing down through thousands of years.

Pay attention and come to me.
Listen, so you can live.
Then I will make [an eternal covenant with] you,
just like the reliable covenantal promises I made to David.

Seek the Lord while he makes himself available;
call to him while he is nearby!

Isaiah 55:3, 6, NET (with footnote translation for v. 3)
Looking for Jesus in All the Right Places | LikeAnAnchor.com
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Most of the Lord’s instructions for seeking Him involve “how” not “where.” We’re told to seek “diligently” (Prov. 8:17), with “prayer and worship” (Jer. 29:13), and “with all your heart and soul” (Deut. 4:29; 1 Chr. 28:9). And we ought to do this persistently and repeatedly, too–ask, and keep on asking; seek, and keep on seeking; knock, and keep on knocking (Matt. 7:7-8; Luke 11:9-10). But no matter how persistent you are, you’re also going to have trouble finding Him if you’re not looking in the right places.

We learn about God primarily through His word and His spirit, so it’s important to seek Him in the pages of the Bible and ask for understanding. There’s no substitute for reading God’s words (or listening ; I know several people who learn best from audio Bibles). We also learn about Him, and how to be like Him, though interactions with other believers. We are each part of God’s temple, but we’re not the only part and if at all possible it’s vital that we stay in contact with other Christians. So the next time you feel yourself wondering, “Where is God?” try looking in His word, seeking Him in prayer, and/or talking with a fellow believer. It may feel like it takes a while before He responds, but if we seek Him the way He tells us to in the places where He says He can be found, God will not fail to let us find Him.

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Drawn To God

My new favorite Bible Study tool is the New English Translation with its 60,000+ translator’s notes. As I was perusing the pages (you can get a print version or access the whole thing for free online), I noticed the translation notes on Song of Songs take up more space than the actual text. Apparently, not only is this text’s interpretation widely debated, but it is also notoriously difficult to translate. As you might know if you’ve read some of my other posts or my short book God’s Love Story, I favor the interpretation that the Song is both a celebration of human love and an allegory of Christ’s love for the church. With that in mind, here’s one of the verses with a footnote that I found intriguing:

Draw me[a] after you; let us hurry!
May the king bring me into his bedroom chambers!

[note a] The verb מָשַׁךְ (mashakh, “draw”) is a figurative expression (hypocatastasis) which draws an implied comparison between the physical acting of leading a person with the romantic action of leading a person in love. Elsewhere it is used figuratively of a master gently leading an animal with leather cords (Hos 11:4) and of a military victor leading his captives (Jer 31:3). The point of comparison might be that the woman wants to be the willing captive of the love of her beloved, that is, a willing prisoner of his love.

Song of Songs 1:4, NET

Another translation for mawshak in this verse is “Take me away with you” (NIV, WEB). There are nuances of meaning for this Hebrew word (as the NET footnote points out), but the basic one is “to draw, drag, seize” (Brown–Driver–Briggs; Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament). Here in Song, and in a few other places as well, it can be understood as “entice, allure, woo” (TWOT). In those verses, it is connected with one of the many pictures God gives us for relating to Him–as a lover alluring, wooing, and drawing His bride to Himself.

Alluring us with Love, Kindness and Grace

Hosea is one of the books that makes the analogy of God as bridegroom and husband most clearly. God instructs the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute because ancient Israel “continually commits spiritual prostitution by turning away form the Lord” (Hos 1:2, NET). God used Hosea’s marriage and his writings to teach that, even though Israel was unfaithful, God still promised “in the future I will allure her,” and then “you will call, ‘My husband’; you will never again call me, ‘My master'” (Hos. 2:14, 16, NET).

Later in Hosea, God talks about how He “drew” (mawshak) Israel out of Egypt “with leather cords” (NET), “with cords of a man” (KJV), or “cords of human kindness” (NIV). Though the NET presents a compelling case for the “leather” translation, I favor “human kindness” because it connects more strongly to the overall theme of God wooing His people that is found so often in Hosea. It would also echo the language God uses in Jeremiah 31:3.

Yahweh appeared of old to me, saying, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love. Therefore I have drawn you with loving kindness.”

Jeremiah 31:3, WEB

Alternate translations for this passage include “That is why I have continued to be faithful to you” (NET), “That is why I have drawn you to myself through my unfailing kindness” (NET footnote), and “This is why in my grace I draw you to me” (CJB). God’s drawing of us to Himself is prompted by His everlasting love, and it is done with faithfulness and kindness.

Longing for God to Satisfy Us

The time Jeremiah speaks of when God draws His people to Him is followed by a time “when watchmen will call out … ‘Come! Let us go to Zion to worship the Lord our God!’” (31:6, NET). Those who claim the Lord as their God are eager to be drawn, rescued, and gathered by Him (Jer. 31:7-9). Their response here is much like the Beloved in Song of Songs–take me away! draw me after you!–and like that of David in this psalm.

How precious is your loving kindness, God!
The children of men take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
They shall be abundantly satisfied with the abundance of your house.
You will make them drink of the river of your pleasures.
For with you is the spring of life.
In your light we will see light.
Oh continue (mawshak) your loving kindness to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.

Psalm 36:7-10, WEB

We can find all we need to satisfy us in the great One who loves us, the Lord our God. We can call on Him to draw us closer, and He will faithfully respond to our longing for Him.

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The Beatitudes, Part Four: Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst For Righteousness

I’m trying to remember the last time I heard someone use the word “righteous” in a positive way, outside of a sermon or a Bible-study discussion. Most of the time in the modern world, this word is paired with “self-righteous” and used as an insult. Righteousness, like many other character traits that are closely associated with God, is not really seen as a good thing in today’s society.

As with many of the traits Jesus talked about in the Beatitudes, though, God has a different view on this than the world does. he says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6, all quotes from WEB translation). As we talked about in the second post of this series, “blessed” means fully satisfied by God, which is a very concrete image when we talk about feeding someone who’s hungry. 

Filled With More Than Food

This fourth Beatitude is not the only time God uses imagery of filling His people’s hunger to make a larger point about what we desire and how we relate to Him.

“Hey! Come, everyone who thirsts, to the waters! Come, he who has no money, buy, and eat! Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which doesn’t satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in richness.” (Is. 55:1-2)

God is committed to filling our needs with good things. The same word used in “they shall be filled” is used for the people who ate loaves and fishes after Jesus multiplied food for the multitudes (Matt. 14:20; 15:37). It means filled to satisfaction, even gorged, on abundant food (G5526, chortazo). But, as we have seen, He doesn’t stop at physical food and drink.

Jesus answered her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

The satisfaction that Jesus and the Father offer for our hunger and thirst goes far deeper than one meal. They are filling us with their holy spirit; with their power and presence.

Craving Righteousness

The people spoken of in this beatitude are hungry and thirsty for a specific thing: righteousness. Though its importance is overlooked or scorned at by the world, righteousness is a pivotal concept for the people of God. Later in this same sermon, Jesus says, “seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). There is a blessing in this seeking, for God promises to fill us with more than “just” righteousness.

and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth. (Eph. 4:23-24)

When we seek for God to fill us, He responds by sharing all His character traits with us. He’s making us part of His family, and growing in righteousness is a key part of that.

If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1 John 2:29)

We all know that having a close relationship with God is a central part of our Christian faith, and becoming like Him is a core part of that. He does not expect us to get things right all the time, but He does expect us to keep growing and learning and trying to be like Him. To do that, we need to actively practice His character traits, including righteousness, which is defined as having integrity, virtue, and “correctness of thinking,” all while living in a way that is “acceptable to God” (G1343, dikaiosune, Thayer’s dictionary).

Hunger For God

Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is essentially a hunger and thirst for God. One of His Hebrew names is Yahweh Tsidquenu — Yahweh our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6; 33:16). Along these same lines, Paul wrote that Jesus “was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). It is in Him that we can “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:11)

Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.” When He fills our hunger and thirst for righteousness — for Him — He makes us capable of producing righteousness as well. Our Father is glorified when we bear much fruit (John 15:18), and that includes the fruits of His righteous character. As we commit to seeking Him and His righteousness, He will fill our desire to draw nearer to Him.

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The Beatitudes, Part Three: Blessed Are The Gentle

Gentleness is not seen as a strength in today’s world. The meek and mild aren’t the ones who do well; they’re the ones other people walk all over. You gotta toughen up if you want to stay alive. To quote Mordred from the musical Camelot, “It’s not the earth the meek inherit, it’s the dirt.”

God doesn’t think like that, though. Gentleness is a trait He commends as godly, useful, and blessed. And it’s not, “blessed are the gentle, for I’ll protect them from their own weakness” or “blessed are the gentle for they’ll do no harm.” Nope. It’s a promise that those who use their power gently will receive an incredible inheritance.

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5, all quotes from WEB version)

Using Power Gently

The Greek word translated “gentle” here and “meek” in the King James Version is praus (G4239). Of this and the closely related word prautes (G4239), Spiros Zodhiates says that it’s an “attitude of spirit in which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and do not dispute nor resist.” He also references Aristotle as saying the word represents a balance between two extremes: “getting angry without reason” and “never getting angry at all.” Praus is hard to translate because English doesn’t really have a word for gentleness expressed in power, not weakness, but that’s what this word means (Key Word Study Bible). Read more

The Beatitudes, Part Two: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

“Beatitude” means “a state of blessedness,” and it’s used to describe the type of people Jesus spoke about in the beginning of His famous sermon on the mount. We talked about the first one last week, so today we move on to the second.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4, all quotes from WEB translation)

The Greek word translated “blessed” is makarios (G3107), which means blessed and happy (Thayer’s dictionary) and is a state of being “fully satisfied” (Zodhiates’ dictionary). Seems like an odd word to pair with mourning, doesn’t it? I’m not sure about you, but “happy” and “satisfied” aren’t usually what I think of when I think of grief and lament, even if it comes with a promise of comfort. What is Jesus talking about here?

A Time to Weep, A Time To Mourn

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecc. 3:1, 4)

Mourning is right and proper in its time. While joy is a fruit of God’s spirit, He does not demand unrelenting cheerfulness from us. There is a time for mourning, weeping, grief, and lament. It can even be good for us to experience those feelings. “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,” it says in Ecclesiastes, because death reminds us of what really matters in life (Ecc. 7:1-4).

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament, mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:8-10)

Mourning is a proper response to realizing that we have personally sinned, and that the world is twisted by humanity’s sins and the devil’s influence. This type of mourning is often connected with a realization of our spiritual helplessness (which is covered in the first Beatitude) and it can lead to the sort of humility that it’s good for us to have in relation to God.

To Comfort All Who Mourn

Of course, not all mourning is a good thing. In many cases, it’s prompted by the sorts of unjust, tragic, grief-inducing events that God intends to put an end to in His kingdom (the sort of events we were reminded of yesterday, on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks). One day, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more” (Rev. 21:4). That time has not yet come, but God still cares deeply about us when we’re in pain and He offers comfort.

The Lord Yahweh’s Spirit is on me, because Yahweh has anointed me to preach good news to the humble. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of Yahweh’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion, to give to them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Yahweh, that he may be glorified. (Is. 61:1-3)

Jesus fulfilled this scripture by coming to earth and beginning His ministry (Luke 4:16-21). And what an incredible blessing it is that the Word, God, would come from heaven to earth in a human body with the expressed purpose of comforting those who mourn!

Fully Satisfied With and By God

The Beatitudes, Part Two: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn | LikeAnAnchor.com
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In his definition of makarios, Spiros Zodhiates says, “In the biblical sense, a blessed person is one whom God makes fully satisfied, not because of favorable circumstances, but because He indwells the believer through Christ.” Those who mourn are not blessed simply because they’re in distress, but because God responds to human distress with comfort.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ. (2 Cor. 1:3-5)

God knows what it’s like to grieve and, because of Christ’s sacrifice, what it’s like to suffer as a human being. When we turn to Him for comfort, He responds in a way that makes us blessed even when external circumstances are terrible. Though His presence may not take away our reasons for mourning or the unpleasant feelings that go along with that, He is there. He does not abandon us, and that is indeed a blessing.

 

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The Beatitudes, Part One: Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

We’re only two weeks away from the first of the fall holy days on God’s sacred calendar. Yom Teruah (Day of Trumpets, also called Rosh Hashanah) is on September 19th this year. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) follows ten days later. Traditionally, those ten days and the month leading up to Yom Teruah are a time of reflection and self-examination for Jewish and Messianic believers.

There’s been a lot to distract us lately. I wanted to bring my Bible study back to basics, and also use that as a tool to look at myself and how I’m doing as we move into this fall holy day season. Today’s post is the first of a series on the Beatitudes. As an interesting note, I looked up the word history for “beatitudes” in the Online Etymology Dictionary and found that it comes into English “from Middle French béatitude (15c.) and directly from Latin beatitudinem.” It means “a state of blessedness” not, as some clever speakers have said, a “be-attitude” (as in, an attitude you’re supposed to “be”).

No Glory In Ourselves

The beatitudes come at the beginning of the sermon on the Mount, which Jesus delivered to His disciples after withdrawing from the multitude and traveling up onto a mountain (Matt. 4:23-5:2).

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. 5:3, all scriptures from WEB translation)

Jesus had a few Greek words He could have picked that would translate into English as “poor.” The one He used is ptochos (G4434). It means “reduced to beggary,” destitute, helpless, powerless, “lacking in anything” (Thayer’s dictionary). This does not refer to someone who is poor but still able to earn a subsistence. The ptochos have nothing (Zodhiates’s dictionary).

Adding “in spirit” means Jesus isn’t talking about physical poverty, though. Being “poor in spirit” involves acknowledging our own spiritual helplessness. We don’t have to be destitute physically, but we do need to realize that none of the physical stuff we have (or don’t have) can stop us from being spiritually destitute. Read more