December 24, 2020

What was the birth of Jesus like?

Ask almost anyone about the setting of the birth of Christ, and you will likely be told about a stable, a wooden manger filled with hay, animals surrounding the baby Jesus, and snow falling outside as the shepherds enter the stable to worship the king of Kings. The problem is that this depiction, though we've heard it many times, is likely far from what actually took place on this night of nights.

To better understand the more probable setting of the Nativity, it's first helpful to understand a little about the natural landscape of Israel, and in particular Bethlehem. The land of Israel is covered with stones, hills and caves. In fact there is so much stone that most ancient homes would have been built almost exclusively of stonework, only using lumber for building aspects like the roof, ceilings, and doors. Trees were a limited, valuable resource, so they choose to build from the more abundant supply of stones. Caves were also commonly used, and it is probable that the "stable" which is not even mentioned in scripture, was located in one of the caves surrounding the hills of Bethlehem. These caves were a perfect place to keep animals, as it was cool during the hot days, and warmer during the cooler nights. [1] It also was a naturally built fortification, so little work would be required to build it, except for adding a fence and gate at the entrance.

Also, that wooden manger filled with hay, well, it actually would be made of stone as well. Many ancient stone mangers have been found in Israel of different sizes, shorter ones for animals like sheep and goats, and taller mangers for animals like horses and donkeys. The mangers were generally block-like in shape, and were only about six to eight inches deep. In addition, mangers were not used for hay, but instead for watering animals, as cutting and storing grass for feed was not necessary because of the warmer climate. Because Israel really only has a rainy season and a dry season, with little to no snow, grass is available all throughout the year. [2]

Stone manger found in Tel Megiddo in Israel
So why do we so often see a wooden stable and a manger filled with hay? Well, because most early Christian artists who depicted the Nativity, lived in Europe, where trees were readily accessible, winters were cold so that you had to store hay, and mangers were made of wood, and used to feed the animals.

Oh, and what about all those animals, especially the sheep, donkey and the ox that are in virtually every Nativity scene? Well, once again, the birth accounts of Jesus never mentions other animals being present, it only mentions that there was a manger, implying that there would be animals. So where do the animals come from? The sheep are there, most likely because of the shepherds. The ox and donkey however, come from, interestingly enough, a prophecy of Isaiah. The verse states: "The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand" (Isaiah 1:3). In other words, an ox and a donkey can recognize who feeds and waters them, but Israel could not recognize God's hand in their lives. Because this verse refers to a manger, or a crib as translated in the King James Bible, later Christians decided to incorporate an ox and a donkey into the story. [3]

Understanding the setting of the birth of Jesus, not only gives us a more realistic picture of this significant event, but also it seems to foreshadow the mission and death of Christ. At his birth, Jesus was likely born in a stone cave because there was no room in the inn, wrapped in linen swaddling bands, and laid in a stone manger. At his death, Jesus was buried in a borrowed stone tomb, wrapped in white linen, and laid on a slab of limestone. In addition, how appropriate that the great Messiah, the one who provides eternal living water (see John 4:14), was laid as an infant in a watering trough. It seems that even from the very beginning, the events of the life of Christ, were meant to point to and foreshadow the most important part of His life, that of His atonement, death and resurrection.

[1] Stone Manger, by Jeffrey R. Chadwick - location 788 of 2025
[2] Stone Manger, location 189 of 2025
[2] The Origins of Christmas, by Joseph F. Kelly, page 36-37

December 20, 2020

Who Were the Shepherds

The shepherds who came to worship the Christ child have been revered and honored by Christians for centuries. They are seen as symbols of humility, honor, and devotion. However, at the time of Christ, the people would likely have seen shepherds in a far less positive light. Yet, the Lord chose them to be one of the first witnesses of his birth. From this story we can learn that the Savior often calls the weak things of the world to testify of him.

During the first century, sheep were a critical part of ancient life. They provided wool for clothing and milk and meat for food. Perhaps most significant, sheep were used as part of the temple sacrifices. Every morning and evening a lamb was offered on the altar of sacrifice as a symbol of Israel’s constant daily need for a remission of their sins.

Even though caring for these important sheep was a critical occupation, shepherds were not typically held in high esteem. They generally didn’t own their own property. They travelled from place to place, and lived in tents like vagabonds. Their sheep grazed on land not owned by the shepherd. Unlike the educated Scribes or Pharisees, who were respected in society, shepherds held very little social or religious status. Yet, throughout the scriptures we read of several prophets and kings who were shepherds including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. Even though not valued by society, God clearly loved shepherds. 

Let us now look more closely at these particular shepherds who were chosen by God to be special witnesses of Christ. Luke tells us that they were watching their flocks in the fields near Bethlehem, a small village just outside of Jerusalem. Because of Bethlehem’s close proximity to the Temple and the large number of sheep that would be needed for the daily sacrifices, many scholars believe these shepherds were actually temple shepherds. If this is the case, then most of these sheep would eventually be offered as sacrifices to the Lord.

Luke also gives us an indication as to the time of year this miraculous event occured. He states that the shepherds were “abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8). During lambing season, shepherds stayed with their flocks both day and night. They lived among the sheep or “abided in the fields” so they could attend the birth of a new lamb. Because ewes were known to have potentially two or even three lambs born at once, it was necessary for the shepherd to watch for the firstborn of a new mother. As part of the law of Moses, the firstborn lambs were to be offered to the Lord as a special sacrifice. This would mean that the shepherd would need to mark the firstborn, possibly with a red ribbon, to set it apart from the other newborn lambs.

As these shepherds watched over their flock, suddenly an angel appeared unto them in the dark of night and said “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” One can only imagine the fear that filled their hearts, which was quickly changed to great joy! The long awaited Messiah had been born! For centuries Israel had waited for the great deliverer to come, and he was now here!

The angel then gives the shepherds a sign so that they will be able to recognize the child. “Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12). While finding a newborn wrapped in swaddling clothes would not have been unusual, to find him lying in a manger, a stone trough used to hold water for animals, would have been highly unusual. 

The shepherds leave immediately leaving everything behind and with great haste search for their Messiah. This would have been no easy task. Ancient homes would have no street addresses. People would need to ask villagers for help to find the home of their acquaintance. These shepherds most likely would have done this in the middle of the night, eager to find their Savior, Christ the Lord. 

The shepherds’ errand is reminiscent of when the prophet Samuel went searching for a king. It is in Bethlehem he finds a young boy tending the flocks in the field. Samuel anoints the young David to be the King of Israel. For this reason, Bethlehem is known as the city of David, the birthplace of the king who united Israel and prepared the way for the building of the temple. These shepherds are now searching in this same city for King David’s heir who is to be the King of Kings.

Adoration of the Shepherds by Jan Hoff

Upon finding the Christ child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, just as the angel described, the shepherds worshipped him and then made this wonderful news known abroad. As ones whose occupation was to witness the birth of the firstborn, shepherds were the perfect witnesses of the firstborn of God who had come to earth as the Savior and Messiah. Despite being on the lowest rung in society, the shepherds’ message caused others to marvel in wonder at the glorious news. 

We may often feel like the shepherds: unworthy, uneducated, unnoticed by the world. Yet the Lord most often calls the humble and weak of the world to stand as witnesses of him. He knows of the powerful testimony we each can share. We too can go in haste and find the Savior in this world of darkness and despair. While we may feel unqualified to spread the good news of the gospel, no matter our status, our wealth, our occupation, or our qualifications, we too can be like the shepherds. We can spread the news abroad to all who will hear. For unto us a child is born, even Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. 

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack and Daniel Smith

November 29, 2020

What the Genealogy of Jesus Teaches Us About the Messiah

The story of the birth of Jesus Christ has been told for centuries. The account usually begins with the annunciation to Mary or the appearance of the angel to the shepherds, yet Matthew begins his Nativity story with the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17). The long list of names intermingled with almost 40 "begats" can cause us to skim or even skip this portion completely. But Matthew appears to be teaching us a powerful message about the Messiah by recording His lineage. Let’s see if we can discover some of these lessons.

Matthew divides the genealogy into three main sections of fourteen names each. The first section lists the patriarchs, the second lists kings, and the third lists names of people mostly unknown to us (Matthew 1:17).

First Section
The genealogy begins with Matthew stating, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1). This first section recounts the names of the great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These were each men of great faith who with their wives left us great examples of righteousness. Right from the start, Matthew appears to be giving us a key to understanding his message, that of the promises made to Abraham, the great Patriarchal prophet. Each of these men were promised that through their seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed, a blessing that would be fully realized only through the birth and coming of the Messiah.

Second Section
The second section includes a list of Judah’s kings from David to the Babylonian captivity, emphasizing the importance of the dynasty of King David. David was seen by the Jews as one of their greatest kings. Through him the nation of Israel was united. Under his command, the temple was built by his son Solomon. Through his seed the nation was ruled by the line of the kings. Only two of the fourteen kings mentioned though were considered righteous—very few of the kings actually sought to guide their people to the Lord. [1] The true King of Kings in David’s royal line would only be fulfilled through Christ, the anointed one (see 2 Samuel 7:11-16).

Third Section
The last section lists names of those that are otherwise mostly unknown in the Bible. Matthew shows us the critical role these unknown helpers played in the birth of our Savior. We can easily view ourselves as nothing special when compared to great spiritual and political leaders like the prophets and kings in the previous two sections. But just like the unnamed widow who offered her two mites, our contribution—no matter how small—is acceptable before the Lord (Luke 21:1-4).

From these divisions we can see that God is able to work through the spiritually powerful, the politically powerful, and the commoners that appear to be powerless. It teaches us that each of us can play a critical role in helping to build the kingdom of God. [2]

Another intriguing aspect of Matthew’s genealogy is the inclusion of five particular women. Women are rarely mentioned in genealogies in the Bible (or anciently) except to teach a message or connect a name to a particular story. Thus, it would again seem that Matthew is trying to teach us something by including their names. Four of these women could be considered to have questionable or suspect backgrounds: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.

The first woman, Tamar, dressed as a harlot so that Judah, her father-in-law, would give her a descendent because of the Levirate law of marriage, which was her legal right (Genesis 38:13-30). Rahab, often called a harlot, though possibly just an innkeeper, was a Canaanite woman who lived in Jericho and helped hide the Israelite spies before they prepared to conquer the city (Joshua 2). Ruth, though a faithful and incredible woman, was a Moabite and not of Israel making her a foreigner (see Ruth 1:1-18). Bathsheba, perhaps a Hittite like her husband, was seduced by David and likely always seen as tainted by this act committed against her (2 Samuel 11:1-5).

Because of their backgrounds, each of these women were likely looked down upon at some point in their lives. Yet Matthew reminds us of their great contribution as heroes of the Bible. The last woman mentioned is Mary. Like the other four women, she too had a suspect background because of the miraculous yet misunderstood way she conceived the Christ child. Perhaps Matthew was trying to teach his audience that if you question Mary’s story, remember that many of the greatest prophets and rulers came from women who might have been questioned by society. [3]

As we read the genealogy of Jesus Christ and consider the people mentioned in His lineage, we learn from this long list that different types of people were used so that God’s Beloved Son could come to earth. Whether a righteous prophet, an imperfect leader, an unknown helper, or someone with a questionable background or reputation, all are known to the Lord. No matter our status, background, or station in life, we too can have our name added to the long beautiful list of those who play a critical role in gathering Israel in preparation for Christ’s second coming to earth.

Special thanks to Heather Pack who helped write the script for this video.

[1] A Coming Christ in Advent by Raymond E. Brown, pg. 21
[2] See Advent of the Savior by Stephen J. Binz, pg. 15-16 for commentary on the three sections
[3] A Coming Christ in Advent, pg. 23-24

November 22, 2020

Jesus and the Sinful Woman

The story of Jesus with the sinful woman found in Luke 7 teaches us a powerful lesson in love and service. As Jesus dined at the home of Simon the Pharisee, a woman entered uninvited and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and anointed his feet with fragrant oil. After Simon criticized Jesus for allowing her to do so, the Savior taught him and all of us of the importance of accepting others. 

Anciently, to invite a guest into one’s home was seen as a great gesture of friendship and even a way to make a covenant with another. Breaking bread together was often used as a sign or a token to show that two enemies once at war were now at peace. Welcoming one into the home served as a symbol that the guest was a trusted individual. 

Once a guest arrived, a host would do a series of acts in order for their visitor to feel welcomed and comfortable. It was common for a guest to be greeted with a kiss by the host, similar to shaking hands today. Because the roads were dusty and most wore sandals, feet were washed as a sign of generosity as this would have been the dirtiest part of the body. Lying sideways on cushions around the table, the feet would be extended making it easy for servants or a slave to perform the lowly task. 

Another common act of hospitality would be the anointing with oil. Ancient people did not bathe frequently and often worked long hours in the sun. Consequently, guests would appreciate when a host poured sweet-smelling fragrant oil on their parched, dry skin. While just a drop is used today for many religious services, a generous amount would have been poured on the head. As oils were expensive, particularly when enhanced with spices, flowers, and other fragrances, such an act would be considered a generous gift by the host.

Jesus anointed by a sinful woman by Jan van 't Hoff

With this context in mind, let’s now consider the events that occurred in Luke Chapter 7. Simon, a Pharisee, was a man of prominence and most likely invited Jesus into his home due to the Savior’s reputation and popularity. Despite his status, Simon does not provide any of the common acts of hospitality. However, an uninvited woman with a reputation for being sinful, does offer true generosity. She must have heard that Jesus was in the home and came seeking the Savior. She makes her way into Simon’s home uninvited. Uncovering her hair, she kneels at the feet of Jesus. With all the guests looking on most likely with shock, she washes Jesus’ feet with her tears. Now clean from the dust of the road, his feet are then dried with her hair. One can only imagine the tense feeling in the room. Next, she anointed his feet with the precious oil that she has brought in an alabaster flask or jar. 

This woman’s washing of Jesus’ feet does not go unnoticed by Simon. Anciently, unlike today, men normally would not touch women they were not related to fearing it could potentially make them ritually unclean. Because of this, Simon criticizes Jesus for allowing himself to be touched by this woman, one whom this Pharisee calls a sinner.

Jesus responds to this criticism with a parable of two debtors. One debtor owed 500 pence or what a common laborer made in about 8 years. The second owed 50 pence or about 10 months of wages. Jesus then says that both debts were frankly forgiven by the creditor. [1] He asks Simon, “Now which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:42 NIV

The pharisee answers by selecting the one who owed ten times as much. Jesus confirms that Simon has judged correctly. He then points out that Simon has made little effort to show hospitality, yet this woman has shown the Lord an abundance of love and generosity. 

The Master then turns to the woman and offers her a gift of far greater value than the precious oil she has used to anoint his feet. Jesus tells her, “Your sins are forgiven...Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:48, 50 NIV).

Christ and the sinner by Andrei Mironov

The Savior teaches us here that he is willing to forgive everyone, even those who others may not be willing to accept or forgive. All have a path towards redemption. As a woman of poor reputation in her community, she was willing to risk the possibility of being ridiculed by seeking diligently for the Savior. She did this to show her great love and devotion for the Lord. This woman is an example of faith to all of us. As we seek the Savior, we should not fear what others may think of us. What only matters is what the Lord thinks of us. It is remarkable that Christ never calls her the sinful woman. Instead, he sees her for her true character and gives her a much more appropriate description, he says, “for she loved much” (Luke 7:47).

As we think of this beautiful story, do we ever find ourselves treating others how Simon treated Jesus and the woman—with a lack of hospitality, patience, or acceptance? Will we graciously welcome the Savior as a guest into our home? Can we make space for those who want to be with the Lord and seek him out? Or do we choose to socialize only with those who look or think like us. The Savior clearly teaches us that we must love and be accepting of everyone, including those of different beliefs or ideas. We all are children of our loving Heavenly Father, and like this faithful woman, we all have a seat at the Lord’s table.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

November 1, 2020

Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman

The story of Jesus healing the crippled woman teaches us a powerful lesson about freedom from bondage. Just as the woman’s deformed back was healed after long suffering, so too can we be lifted up and freed from our own captivity by the healing touch of our loving Savior. 

As Jesus is teaching on the Sabbath in a synagogue, a woman, who is severely hunched over catches his eye. She has suffered for 18 long years in this debilitating state (see Luke 13:10-17). As one who is bent over and unable to lift herself up, she not only would have been literally looked down upon by others but most likely figuratively as well. Anciently people often saw infirmities “as a result of God’s disapproval” because of sin or unworthiness. [1] Luke states that the woman suffered from “a spirit of infirmity” which could point to some sort of mental or spiritual struggle as well. Perhaps this also meant she felt shame or depression because of her imperfect body. (see Luke 13:11).

Fortunately, there is One in the crowded synagogue who does not look down upon this woman. Jesus sees her among the people and calls her to him. Bravely, she pushes past those who stand straight and tall, and with her imperfect body, comes to Christ. He then reaches out his hand to touch her. Jewish men did not customarily touch women whom they were not related to. They feared it could make them ritually unclean. [2] Nevertheless, he lays his hand upon her and says, “Woman, thou are loosed from thine infirmity” (Luke 13:12). The original Greek word here for “loosed” means to be released or liberated. Immediately, for the first time in almost two decades, she is able to rise and stand straight.

The Jews created a "fence" around the law (created by Ethan Fullmer)

The Jewish leaders were not impressed. They immediately began to criticize Jesus for performing this miracle on the Sabbath. While Jesus had not broken the law, he had broken down what was known as the “oral law.” For years, the leadership had built a barrier or a fence, so to speak, around the laws of God with a series of cultural traditions or rules in an attempt to prevent one from breaking any commandments. As these barriers became more and more restrictive, it distanced the people from the true purpose of the law, hiding it from their view. 

Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of these supposed laws by pointing out that the true purpose of the Sabbath has been lost. He teaches that this holy day is set aside for the Lord’s work. It is a day to commemorate the creation, for remembering the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, and to praise God. [3] 

The woman has come to be refreshed spiritually, as have all the others. What better day to be healed than on the Sabbath day! How fitting that once made whole, she glorifies the Lord, for it is especially on this day we are to pay our devotions unto the Most High (see D&C 59:10).

Jesus declares, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?” (Luke 13:15 NIV). If even the Jews can give water to their animals on the Sabbath, when better for this woman to drink of the living water? 

The Crippled Woman by Jan van 't Hoff

When studying the scriptures, we gain a better understanding of this account by looking at its context. With this in mind, let’s consider what Jesus taught immediately before and after his miraculous healing of this woman as it will add greater insights to these events.

Before the story of the healing, Jesus was telling the people at the synagogue the story of when the tower of Siloam had collapsed, crushing 18 people (the same number of years this woman had suffered). (Luke 13:4-5). Just as these people were killed through no fault of their own, so too had this woman done nothing wrong to suffer this infirmity. By connecting these two stories, we can learn that even bad things can happen to good people. 

After the woman is healed and able to stand straight once again, Jesus does something remarkable. He calls her by a name that only appears once in the Bible—Daughter of Abraham (Luke 13:16). The Jews saw Abraham as the greatest of the patriarchs, and that the promised blessings came through him because of his and Sarah’s faithfulness. Jesus makes sure that those at the synagogue that day understand that despite how they might see her, the Lord sees her true worth and divinity. 

Mustard seeds, via Wikimedia

Later in the chapter, Jesus shares two short parables, one of the mustard seed and one of the leavened bread (Luke 13:18-21). He explains that even the tiniest of seeds can grow into a tree. Even a little bit of leaven, or yeast, when added to flour will permeate the dough producing large loaves of bread. He possibly shares these parables to help the people see the great importance of this woman, and each of us, as a child of God. Perhaps after years of seeing her bent over, others could not imagine the good this woman could do. However in her is a seed, albeit small, that contains what Peter calls her “divine nature” (see 2 Peter 1:4). No one should discount the divine potential of this small woman. 

This woman had spent 18 years looking down. Her myopic, or limited view, would have been focused on the rocks, dirt, and the ground below her feet. Now her field of vision has broadened and she can look directly into another’s eyes. Now others can see the light of Christ in her eyes and that she has always had the ability to bless those around her.

In the challenging world we live in today, we can feel like we are in bondage. Crippled with feelings of unworthiness, grief, depression, and anxiety, we might not see our own self-worth or feel we can lift ourselves up. We might compare our bodies given to us by God to what the world tells us perfection should look like. It can be easy to just focus on the ground below us failing to see the blue majestic skies above. 

We might wonder if we are somehow unworthy or unloved by God when our own towers of Siloam fall down crushing us and holding us captive. But like this crippled woman, we too have the potential to be magnificent. We can stand tall knowing we are children of our Heavenly Father and partakers of the covenant of Abraham. 

Jesus always sees our true divinity, no matter where we may be focusing our gaze. With so much demanding our time and attention, God has given us one day each week, the Sabbath day, to focus on Him and do His work. He is beckoning us to come to Him so that our spirits can be lifted up and we can be refreshed and made whole. He wants us to be free from what binds us. And then, like this woman healed by the Master’s touch, we too can praise and glorify the name of our Lord and Savior, even Jesus Christ.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

October 3, 2020

Understanding Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot

It is prophesied when Christ comes again we will gather at the wedding feast of the Lamb celebrating the triumph of the Savior over all things. To be taught of this significant event and other teachings, Israel was given the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. Understanding this feast not only teaches us of the last days leading up to the Second Coming, but also of the Savior’s role as the light of the world, the living waters, and the King of Kings. 

In addition to daily, weekly, and monthly worship, Israel was commanded to participate in three major feasts: The Feast of Passover, The Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot (Leviticus 23). Occurring during fixed times at the spring, summer, and fall harvests, these feasts were meant to both remind Israel of past events and teach them of future events.

Let’s now look more closely at the third feast, the Feast of Tabernacles, which Josephus called the “most holy and most eminent” of the feasts. [1] 

On the first day of the seventh month, is the Feast of Trumpets also known as Rosh Hashanah (Leviticus 23:23-25) ushering in a period of ten days of penitence for the people to prepare for the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur (Leviticus 23:26-32). As the holiest of days, it is the only day when the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, symbolically taking Israel into the presence of the Lord. Israel is now forgiven of their past sins and prepared for the holiest of the feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles which begins five days later (Leviticus 23:33-43). The feast’s connection to the final harvest of the year foreshadows the final harvest of souls at the coming of the Messiah. 

According to the Law, Israel was to build booths or temporary shelters to dwell in for seven days from the 15th through the 21st day. (Leviticus 23:42) These booths, also known as Sukkot in Hebrew, were generally moderate in size with at least three walls and a roof made of branches. [2] This likely was a fun time for children as the families ate and slept in their temporary tabernacle or sukkah, almost like “camping” in the backyard. The purpose of living in the booth was to remind the people that Israel dwelt in booths after the Lord brought them out of Egypt. (Leviticus 23:43).

A young boy holds an oil lamp during the Feast of Tabernacles

It also could remind Israel that the Lord dwelt among his people in the Tabernacle which stood in the center of the camp of Israel. John taught of when the Savior came to earth that “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” (John 1:14 TLV). Just as the Lord was with the people as they escaped bondage and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, so too is our Savior with us as we seek out shelter from our worldly cares and troubles. He will always dwell with us, if we let him, as we journey toward our own Promised Land.

In addition, the Lord commanded the people to celebrate by taking “the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook” and rejoice during the feast before the Lord (Leviticus 23:40 NKJV). Despite it being during Passover when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem riding on a donkey, the people greeted him by waving palm branches (John 12:12-19). This was likely due to them understanding the connection of Jesus triumphantly entering Jerusalem and the coming of the Messiah during Sukkot. By waving palm leaves and shouting hosanna to the Lord, they were obeying what was commanded in the law! [3]

A priest draws water from the Pool of Siloam for Sukkot

During the second temple period, additional celebrations were added to Sukkot. Each morning during the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles, a procession of priests came from the Temple down to the Pool of Siloam whose water came from the Gihon spring and was the principal supply of water for Jerusalem. With a golden pitcher, a priest drew water from the large pool. Because it came from a spring, the water was considered “living water” and used for ritual purification. The priests then took the pitcher of “living water” and returned to the temple. As they arrived at the court of the priests, they circled the altar once and then the priest poured the water out onto the altar of sacrifice. They did this each morning for the first six days. On the seventh day, called the “great day of the feast” (John 7:37) the same ritual took place, except the priests circled the altar seven times instead of only once. This ritual symbolized Israel’s request that the Lord bless them with rain for the next harvest season. [4]

Water from the pool of Siloam is poured out at the altar for Sukkot

On this very day, when Israel was praying for rain, Jesus proclaimed, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38). By Jesus proclaiming that he was the ultimate source for “living water,” he was giving a clear and direct declaration of His divinity. The day following the feast Jesus found a blind man and spit on the ground making a small amount of mud. He anointed the blind man’s eyes and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam, the exact same pool where the priests had drawn living water for seven days. The blind man obeys and is healed. (John 9:1-38) Eventually, he is able to see the One who gave him sight. Like the blind man, we too have the opportunity to see with our spiritual eyes and be purified with the Living Water, even Jesus Christ. 

On the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, in addition to the water-drawing ceremony, the people gathered at the temple in the Court of the Women. Young Levite boys climbed up to four massive candelabras lighting their large bowls filled with oil. This light was so bright that it is said that every courtyard in Jerusalem was lit. It is in this same area of the temple just days later, that Christ proclaims “I am the light of the world...” (John 8:12). Just as the light from the candelabras shone over the entire city, so too does the light of Christ shine throughout the world for all to see. [5]

In scripture, the fall feasts were also connected with several significant events. This was when traditionally kings were often anointed with oil as king of Israel. Solomon’s temple was also dedicated during the Feast of Sukkot, and the presence of the Lord came down to accept his Temple. Significantly, it is during this season of Tabernacles that we look forward to the coming of Christ as the King of Kings, coming to his temples or places of worship. The prophet Zechariah declares that all nations will celebrate Sukkot when Christ returns. “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.” (Zechariah 14:16).

A family celebrates the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot

The Feast of Tabernacles is a wonderful time of joyous celebration. As we are now living in the last days anxiously awaiting the joyful return of our Savior, we can see that this feast teaches us of the glorious celebration that awaits us. The scriptures teach that at the sounding of the trumpet at Christ’s coming, that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Lord (see Romans 14:11; Mosiah 27:31; D&C 88:103-104). Are we willing to confess now before the final harvest that Jesus is our Anointed King and Savior? Are we spiritually prepared to greet him when he comes again to the Temple Mount as the light of the world? Every day we can drink of the living water of Christ as we study the scriptures, pray to the Father, and serve others as God loves them. How magnificent will be the day when those from all nations gather together and feast with our Lord, even Jesus Christ.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

September 27, 2020

Understanding the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur

The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is the most holy and solemn day of the Jewish calendar. It is the only day when the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place within the Tabernacle and ancient temples. It was the only day when the high priest reconciled Israel with God and symbolically brought them back into the presence of the Lord. No other day and no other ancient ritual comes closer to the full meaning and purpose of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The fall season of festivals begins with Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashana marks the start of a ten-day period of repentance and preparation for the Day of Atonement. During these ten days, Israelites would seek to draw closer to God in preparation for these sacred rituals. On the Day of Atonement, all of Israel would be forgiven for their sins of the previous year, thus allowing them to be cleansed and prepared for the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot to occur five days later. Feast of Tabernacles was the final and most joyous of the three major Jewish feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

The Day of Atonement followed a complex, yet beautiful ritual, symbolizing that all of Israel now had been forgiven and was able to re-enter the presence of the Lord through the high priest (see Leviticus 16).

The ritual began with the high priest, dressed in his normal colorful golden garments, offering the daily morning ritual of sacrifices and burning of incense on the altar of incense. He then would wash his flesh and change into simple white robes. The act of washing and changing clothes would actually occur five separate times throughout the ritual. The wearing of just the white robes could symbolize the Savior who leaving His heavenly throne, “laid aside all the glory … [and] put upon Himself the plain robe of humanity … becoming like one of us.” [1] The color of white is also a powerful symbol of purity, representing the absolute purity of the true Great High Priest, even Jesus Christ.

The high priest selecting lots for the goat for the Lord and for the scapegoat
Next, the high priest would bring two goats into the Tabernacle or temple and cast lots for each of them. One lot was for Azazel, or the scapegoat, and the other was for the Lord (Leviticus 16:7-10). A red ribbon was tied around the horns of the scapegoat to distinguish it from the other goat.

The high priest would then take a bullock, or young bull and place his hands on its head, symbolically transferring his own sins and the sins of his fellow priests to the bull. He would then slit the throat of the bull and catch the blood in a dish to be saved for later services. (Leviticus 16:11)

The high priest entering the Holy of Holies with incense on the Day of Atonement
He then would bring a burning coal from the altar of sacrifice and incense into the Holy of Holies through the veil for the first time. Here dressed in all white, the high priest would burn the incense before the Lord. The room would fill with smoke, the cloud of smoke often being a symbol of the presence of God. (Leviticus 16:12-13).

The high priest then would exit the Holy of Holies, wash again, and take the blood of the bull and re-enter the Holy of Holies for a second time. He would then sprinkle seven times the blood of the bull on the Ark of the Covenant. (Leviticus 16:14). The shedding of the blood of the young bull represented that the high priest was forgiven and reconciled to enter into the presence of the Lord.

The high priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement
The high priest would then kill the goat that was chosen for the Lord, again saving the blood in a dish. He then would enter the Holy of Holies with this blood for the third and final time. As he did before, he would sprinkle the blood of the goat seven times before the ark. (Leviticus 16:15-16). As the goat was the offering for the people, this act of bringing its blood into the Holy of Holies represented that all of Israel was symbolically able to enter the presence of the Lord, through the high priest and because of the shedding of the blood of the sacrifice. Just as the high priest could only enter by blood, so too it is only by the shed blood of Jesus Christ that we can enter God’s presence.

As the high priest exited the Holy of Holies, he would then sprinkle the combined blood of the bull and the goat before the veil of the Tabernacle. He would also use the blood to cover the four horns of the altar of incense. The remaining blood was poured out at the base of the altar of sacrifice in the outer court. (Leviticus 16:18-20).

High priest laying his hands on the scapegoat for the Day of Atonement
The high priest would then return to the scapegoat and place his hands upon its head symbolically transferring the sins of all the people to the goat. He then would utter the sacred name of the Lord, which was never to be said except on this holy day, “Oh, Jehovah! I intreat Thee! Your people, the House of Israel, has been iniquitous, sinned, and erred before you. Oh, then Jehovah! Cover over, I intreat Thee, upon their iniquities, their transgressions, and their sins!” [2] The goat was then taken outside of the Tabernacle and led into the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:20-21). The guiltless goat, dependent upon its owner for its care and protection, would become lost and die in the desert. Perhaps no symbol of the Savior is more powerful than the scapegoat. Innocent of any wrongdoing, just like this goat, the Savior has had laid upon Him the sins of the world. As Isaiah so beautifully stated, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6).

The scapegoat being led into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement
Modern readers often gloss over the significance of the Day of Atonement as simply an outdated, archaic ritual of death and covering of blood. However, as one better understands each of the aspects, it teaches a powerful message of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The word atonement, or kaphar in Hebrew, actually means to cover. Thus, as the high priest literally covers with blood the ark, the veil, and the altars of the Tabernacle, he symbolically shows that atonement has been made, and that the way is now open to progress back through the Tabernacle because of the shedding of blood.

From the scriptures we learn that when the Savior went to pray and suffer in Gethsemane, He first left eight disciples at the entrance, then took Peter, James, and John further into the garden, and then by Himself, went further in to pray. Though it is impossible to know the exact reason for this three-level progression the Savior creates within the garden, it has a strong correlation to the three levels of the Tabernacle with the outer courtyard, the holy place, and the holy of holies. It is as if the Savior desired to recreate these three levels, to show that He was officiating as our Great High Priest and interceding on our behalf.

How beautifully the symbolism of the Day of Atonement teaches us that it is only through the shed blood of the Lamb of God, even Jesus Christ, that we can once again enter the presence of the Lord. It is only because He took upon Himself our sins and iniquities, that we can be forgiven and our burdens made light. Because of Him, we can have our sins covered over, blotted out, or atoned for. The book of Hebrews teaches, “But Christ being come an high priest … Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). How wonderful it is that unlike ancient Israel, who only could be forgiven once a year, we can daily come to the Lord, lay our sins and guilt upon Him, and continually be forgiven and cleansed because of His atonement!

[1] Thus Shalt Thou Serve, The Feasts and Offerings of Ancient Israel, C.W. Slemming, pg. 151.
[2] Paraphrased from: The Temple, Its Ministry and Services by Aldred Edersheim, pg. 253-254 and Carta's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by Israel Ariel, pg. 146-147.

September 18, 2020

Understanding Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah


We live in a time when as the Savior prophesied in Matthew, there are wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. These perilous times can cause us to fear an uncertain future. But as followers of Christ, if we are prepared, we have nothing to fear, for these are signs that the Savior will come again bringing peace to the land. The Lord taught ancient Israel about his first and second coming through the celebration of the Feasts, including the Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah. Understanding these feasts, and in particular the fall feasts, can help us prepare for the glorious return of Christ our King.

Israel has two major harvest seasons. The early or spring harvest, and the later or fall harvest. Each of the various holy days and feasts coincide with these two harvest seasons.

The Passover Supper by Brian Call

Let’s first look at the feasts that occur during the early harvest. In the spring, the Feast of Passover reminds Israel when the lamb’s blood on the doorposts spared them from the destroying angel. It also commemorates the crossing of the Red Sea as they escaped bondage in Egypt. During the Passover season is when the Savior died and rose from the dead, redeeming all who believe on his name, just as ancient Israel was redeemed from bondage by the blood of the lamb. 

Fifty days later, Israel celebrated what was known as the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, reminding them of the receiving of the 10 commandments and the law of Moses on Mount Sinai. It also commemorated the harvest of wheat. It was during this feast, 50 days after the resurrection of Christ, on the Day of Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and the first harvest for souls began.

The high priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement

The high holy days in the fall begin with the Feast of Trumpets, followed by the Day of Atonement, and finally the Feast of Tabernacles. These feasts were to remind Israel of the 40 years spent wandering in the wilderness before arriving in the promised land. This later or final harvest has yet to be fully fulfilled and points to the time we now live in, when scattered Israel will be gathered in preparation for the Lord's second coming.

With this in mind, let’s now focus on how the fall or later harvest begins, with the Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah. This feast begins on the first day of the seventh month. The number seven can symbolize fullness or completion, and can point to the completion of the end of the yearly harvest cycle. This month is the sabbatical month of the year. Just as God rested on the seventh day after the creation, and the seventh day of the week is to be a day of rest, so too is this month meant to be a holy month. 

The month officially began when two or more witnesses observed the new moon and testified to the Jewish leadership of what they saw. Once the leadership verified their testimony, the announcement was heralded around Jerusalem, then to Israel, and beyond. Messengers were sent to all the land. Large torches were lit from mountaintop to mountaintop to proclaim the start of this most holy season.

In addition to light, sound was also used to spread the word. Trumpets were used to declare to the people in villages and cities that the high holy days or “days of awe” had begun. Throughout the scriptures we learn that the sounding of trumpets symbolized several events. Trumpets were used to announce the beginning of the sabbath, and all feasts. Trumpets were used as a battle cry. The sound of a shofar horn was used to symbolize the gathering of Israel. Trumpets were used to call forth a solemn assembly, the anointing of a king, and were even used as sounds of praise. 

This particular sounding of the trumpets was to warn Israel that the time to enter the Lord’s presence was at hand. For ten days, Israel was to remember the Lord, repent, and prepare for the most high and holy day, the Day of Atonement also known as Yom Kippur. On this day, and only on this day, the high priest entered the most sacred room of the Tabernacle or Temple called the Holy of Holies. He did this on behalf of all Israel, symbolically taking them into the presence of the Lord. There he would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice seven times on the mercy seat. This symbolized that because of the shedding of blood, Israel was now forgiven and prepared for the holiest of the feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles. Starting on the fifteenth day, Israel then would dwell in booths, or tabernacles, for seven days. Families would wave palm branches, and feast together celebrating this most joyous of seasons, the end of the final harvest.

The sounding of the shofar during the Feast of Trumpets also could remind the people of when Israel was gathered at Mount Sinai. The Lord wanted all of Israel to enter into his presence, and told Moses that “...when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.” (Exodus 19:13) It was the sound of the trumpet that was to signal that they could come to the mountain of the Lord into his presence.

Interestingly, for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this day is also very significant. On September 22, 1827, on the very day of the Feast of Trumpets, the angel, and ancient prophet Moroni delivered the golden plates to the young Joseph Smith. These records are known today as the Book of Mormon and are a second witness of Christ’s words to the people in the ancient Americas. Moroni today is often depicted on Latter-day Saint temples with a trumpet in hand symbolically signalling the final gathering of Israel, and perhaps reminiscent of this connection to the Feast of Trumpets.

In a world filled with a cacophony of noise, have we heard the trumpets sounded by messengers warning us that the Lord will soon come to dwell among us? Signs are all around us that the second coming of Jesus Christ is near. Are we preparing spiritually for this glorious day? We are living in our own days of penitence. Are we striving to repent of our sins and live his gospel by studying the scriptures, drawing close to God in prayer, and loving and serving those around us? Just as the light shone on the mountain tops announcing the beginning of the fall festival season, so too can we shine our light on a hill for others to see and hear the good news of the gospel. 

Let us heed the trumpet’s warning that now is the time to spiritually prepare for Jesus Christ’s second coming. The trumpet’s battle cry is calling us to gather Israel in a solemn assembly. The trumpets are announcing that soon we will attend the marriage supper of the Lamb (see Revelation 19:9). Let us join in the trumpet’s song of praise to the anointed King, our great high priest, who by the shedding of his own blood has enabled us to be clean that we may enter into the presence of our Father in heaven.

September 6, 2020

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria

A Samaritan woman living in adultery approaches Jacob’s well to draw her daily supply of water. She comes at noon in the heat of the day, unlike other women who typically come in the cool morning and evening hours. As she approaches, she sees a man sitting at the well. He’s a Jew, those who despise Samaritans. She will soon learn this is no ordinary Jew. He is the Messiah, and what he has to offer will change her life forever.

Gathering water was primarily a woman’s responsibility. Most women chose to come to the well at the same time to socialize and share the latest news. Weighing at least 40 pounds, a family’s daily supply of water required great strength to carry. Such an arduous task would be avoided at noon when the sun is high. As someone who had previously had five husbands and was now living with a man unmarried, she chooses this unpopular time most likely because she has been ostracized by others and the subject of their gossip. At the hottest time of the day, she can gather her daily supply of water alone and unnoticed.

As this woman is making her way to the well, Jesus and his disciples have left the well-travelled path to take a shortcut through Samaria. Jews typically would use a longer route between Galilee and Jerusalem. They did this to avoid Samaritans whom they considered to be unclean and of mixed blood. According to the Pharisees, touching a Samaritan, someone living with another unmarried to them, or even just a woman, could render a Jew unclean. The woman who finds Jesus alone at the well is all three.

As the woman quietly prepares to fill her waterpot with her daily supply of water, Jesus makes a simple request. “Give me to drink” (John 4:7). This must have surprised her for she responds, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” (John 4:9)

Jesus and the Woman at the Well by Anton Robert Leinweber
If Jesus were to touch even the cup the adulteress Samaritan woman used to get him a drink, he would then be considered by some to be ritually unclean. This would require a need to become ritually clean once more.

In Biblical times, water was not just considered essential for one’s physical sustenance but for spiritual survival as well. In order to become ritually clean, one would wash in what is known as a mikvah filled with living water. Living water came from a natural source of moving water such as a spring, rainwater, or a stream. If even just a small amount of living water was added to water that was stagnant or not moving, all of it would then be considered living water and thus able to be used for purification.

Mikvah from the time of Christ next to the Temple Mount
When Jesus mentions living water to the Samaritan woman, she seems to understand the spiritual significance of Christ’s words. Samaritans still had many of the truths of the law of Moses and practiced them during the time of Christ. As a woman living in sin, she would want to experience the purification that living water could provide. However, she is confused by his offering. The well is deep and Christ does not have a way to access this living water. He then offers a profound promise: “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst;” (John 4:13-14)

After being taught from the Savior, she is then offered a rare gift, one that few have received up to this point, including Christ’s own disciples. She receives a clear witness that Jesus is in fact the Messiah she seeks. He simply states, “I Am the Messiah!” (John 4:26 NLT). As we read the story in John, we see that the Samaritan woman has progressed towards a deeper understanding of the man she initially met at Jacob’s well. First, she calls him a Jew (v. 9), then Sir (v. 11), then prophet (v. 19) and finally Christ (v. 29).

Samaritan Woman at the Well by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller
 The purification received from grace now begins to work within her. She realizes she has met her Savior. She leaves behind the waterpot she had brought to collect her daily water and runs to testify to the very ones she had hoped to avoid by coming to the well at noon. She proclaims to them, “Come, see… is not this the Christ?” (John 4:29) Because many people believed her testimony, Jesus was welcomed into her village. There he stayed for two days as people came to see the man she has witnessed is the Christ.

While this story stands alone as a witness to the divinity of the Savior, it has an even more powerful message when one considers that John has placed it next to the story of Nicodemus (see John 3). John frequently used this technique to allow readers to gain poignant insights with a side-by-side comparison of opposite characters.

Nicodemus was a Jew and a ruler in the Sanhedrin, she was a Samaritan and an adulterer. Nicodemus would have studied the law, as a woman she would not have been formally taught the law. Nicodemus comes to Christ when it is fully dark, the woman comes to the well in full light. He does not ask to be spiritually born, she asks for the living water. Nicodemus does not appear to tell others immediately what he has learned, this woman runs to tell others what she now knows.

Even today Nicodemus would seem like the one Christ would select as a witness. His wealth, education, and powerful influence should make him the obvious choice. Yet Jesus chooses the one who is none of these. He chooses the adulteress Samaritan woman. God knows best who will be his most effective servants. We should not doubt God’s ability to give us through grace the power we need, even when we feel weak.

As we contemplate the events that occurred with Jesus and the woman at the well, both men and women alike can see themselves in this powerful story. In the modern world, we do not socialize at wells, but we do find places to gather to connect with others. At times we may not feel worthy or accepted by others, and thus withdraw or exclude ourselves from the group. Fortunately, Christ is willing to leave the well-worn path and come to where we are.

Just as the woman was surprised that Christ would ask her for something to drink, we too may feel that what we have to offer is not acceptable. Christ is willing to receive whatever we freely give no matter how meager it might be.

Each of us comes to our own Jacob’s well. We seek to quench our thirst only to have to return later. We try to be fulfilled by what the world has to offer, and yet it always leaves us wanting for more. When we come to Christ, he offers us the refreshing, purifying living water. It washes over us leaving us clean and whole. It nourishes and strengthens us so that we can leave behind our earthly cares and rush to testify of Jesus the Christ.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

August 9, 2020

Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery

Early in the morning while Jesus was teaching at the temple, the scribes and Pharisees presented a woman they claimed to have committed adultery. Attempting to trap the Savior, they ask what should happen to the woman. (John 8:1-11). The Master’s response teaches us a powerful lesson of both justice and mercy.

According to the Law of Moses, the act of adultery was punishable by death by stoning (Leviticus 20:10). The death penalty was also prescribed for several other types of sins including persistent disobedience to parents (Deuteronomy 21:18–21), breaking the Sabbath day (Exodus 31:14), and blasphemy (Leviticus 24:10–16), among others. Today, the severity of the punishment might seem archaic and overly harsh. However, a better understanding of the law reveals that it actually provided for both justice and mercy in a masterful way unmatched by even our modern legal system.

Before anyone was punished, the accused would be tried before the Jewish leadership where at least two witnesses must testify of the wrongdoing. If the verdict was guilty, the witnesses who accused the person had two options. First, while still being guilty of the crime, the person could be forgiven by the witnesses, thus receiving mercy. Their life is spared. If the witnesses refused to forgive, they were required to cast the first stone. The punishment of death would be required at the hands of the witnesses. They could not just stand by and watch. (Deuteronomy 17:6–7). If the accusation was later discovered to be false, the witnesses could also be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 19:15–21).

The stoning of Stephen by Robert Leinweber
In the Old Testament, mercy was the outcome in almost all instances where the law required capital punishment. For example, King David’s son Absalom was allowed to live even though he had tried to overthrow his own father’s kingdom and take the throne (2 Samuel 14:33). If stoning had been chosen every time a child disobeyed a parent or an Israelite failed to keep the Sabbath day holy, very few, if any, Israelites would have remained. The law, in essence, teaches the severity of disobeying the Lord, while also teaching the importance of being merciful—fulfilling both justice and mercy.

Now let’s focus on the Pharisee’s accusation of this woman. Typically, when adultery occurred, both parties were tried before the Jewish leadership. The woman’s husband would then decide whether to forgive the immoral act or cast the first stone. In this instance, no mention is made of either the man the woman was supposedly with or of her husband. This means one of the following three scenarios are possible: first the woman had committed adultery, second the woman had been raped, or third the woman was actually innocent and thus falsely accused. Whatever the case may be, this woman is not receiving a fair trial according to the law.

In order to trap Jesus, the Pharisees say, “Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” (John 8:5). Silently, Jesus bends down and uses his finger to draw on the ground, the same finger who had written the law on the stone tablets on Mt. Sinai. This serves as a powerful reminder that he who wrote the law knows best how to interpret the law. In silence, the Master teaches a poignant lesson. He does not accuse the woman nor even ask her to defend herself.

Jesus and the woman taken in adultery by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri
The Pharisees continue to press for an answer. Jesus finally stands up and says this powerful statement, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7).

The Master is exposing the Pharisees’ attempt to trick him. In essence, Jesus is saying, “If you think she is guilty and you are innocent, then stand as her accusers and cast the first stone causing her death.” Christ fully understands the true meaning behind the law, and he sees that these wicked Pharisees only seek to use the law to entrap him. In their minds, they could care less about if this woman is guilty or not. Christ again bends down and writes on the ground as the crowd contemplates their decision. One by one they leave. No one is willing to execute the punishment and the woman is left there alone. (See John 8:9–10).

Alone with her Savior who is without sin and could justifiably cast the first stone. He who knows whether she is indeed guilty of this crime. And yet, he does not condemn her.

We often are quick to think of this story, like the title, as the “woman caught in adultery” yet, notice Jesus never actually accuses her of the crime. He simply states, “go, and sin no more” (John 8:11) which could be said to any of us. Though we don’t know if this woman has simply been falsely accused in order to frame Jesus, perhaps the Pharisees, knowing the truth, held an unfair trial to trick Jesus into accusing an innocent person. In the end, we don’t know if she is guilty or not, but it would be wise to follow the example of the Savior and leave judgment to him.

As we read this story, it can be helpful to look for ourselves in the text of these events. Sometimes we might be like the Pharisees—quick to make an accusation or attempt to entrap others. Or maybe we might be like the members of the crowd—embarrassed and withdrawn when we recognize our own sins. Or there may be times when we feel like the woman—alone, unsupported, treated unfairly, and in desperate need of mercy. But among those who stood on the steps of the temple that early morning, no one stands as a greater example than the Savior. If Christ, being without sin, is unwilling to accuse the woman and cast the first stone, should not we, in our sinful state, do likewise? Should not we, like our Savior, lift each other up and offer a hand of mercy?

This will not be the last time these same Pharisees will seek condemnation without a fair trial. Eventually, they will accuse the very One they had previously sought to entrap, even Jesus Christ. Unlike the woman accused of adultery, he will not receive mercy. The Pharisees will chant, “Crucify him!” Christ willingly submits and dies on the cross—innocent of all crimes the Pharisees falsely testified he has committed. He does this so that we, who are sinners, can receive the very same mercy he had deserved. And just like the woman who possibly had been caught in adultery, we too can go free, thanks to the loving sacrifice of our Savior.

Script written by Heather Ruth Pack

July 26, 2020

Mary and Martha, Disciples of Christ

The stories of the two sisters Mary and Martha are some of the most remembered in the Bible. We learn of their many interactions with Jesus Christ. They fed him. They housed him. They learned from him. They wept with him. They were loved by him. As we look more closely at the lives of these two incredible women, we discover how the Savior’s love for them extends to all of us. We too can be disciples of Christ like Mary and Martha.

In ancient times, women’s responsibilities were primarily to prepare, cook, and serve meals while also caring for the children and other household duties. Men worked the land and various trades such as carpentry, pottery, and fishing. From a young age, boys were generally given a religious education at the synagogue. During the week and on the Sabbath, the men and boys would gather at the synagogue and learn and study the scriptures. Women were not generally afforded these same privileges; it was always men who were trained in the law.

Additionally, women normally would not socialize or mingle with men, except for their own family. According to Jewish law one who touched a dead body or anyone with open sores or blood became ritually unclean. Because it was difficult to know whether a woman was menstruating or flowing with blood, men generally avoided women. Consequently, women were not to disturb the men but serve them behind the scenes as they discussed matters of God.

Now let’s look more closely at Mary’s and Martha’s personal circumstances. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were siblings living in Bethany, a village just outside of Jerusalem. Apparently, Martha was quite well off as she was the householder. As an itinerant rabbi, Jesus relied on the support of others to feed and house both him and his disciples. Martha appeared to have the means to be able to do this for the Master.

Let’s consider the story found in Luke chapter 10 with this background in mind. Jesus arrives at Bethany with his disciples. This most likely would have been more than just the 12 who had been asked to follow, but others as well. Martha opens her home to Jesus and these travel-weary individuals. This monumental task, of caring for her guests, would have fallen on Martha and Mary, not Lazarus.

Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha by Robert Leinweber
What Mary chooses to do instead of helping Martha is of significant importance. She is not only mingling with Jesus and the other men, but also sitting at the Savior’s feet. This place is reserved only for the chief disciple. Mary is seen by Jesus as deserving not only of a religious education, but also of the seat for a chief disciple. Martha expresses frustration that she has been left alone to care for so many guests. “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.” (Luke 10:40).

Jesus answers by saying her name not once but twice, possibly to reflect his great love for ‘her, “Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answers, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:41-42 NIV).

When we ponder Jesus’ answer, we see that Martha was not necessarily being scolded, but rather lovingly taught an important principle. Jesus was not concerned with the societal norms at the time, but rather that both men and women learn of Christ and his teachings. Mary has chosen the better part—what is most essential for her at that moment—to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Luke ends the story here. We do not know what was said next or how Martha reacted to the Lord’s chastening. However, Martha’s story does not end here. She does not let this single moment define her as one who criticizes her sister or doesn’t understand what is most needful. In the book of John, we discover quite the opposite.

When Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus becomes sick, they send word for Jesus to come and heal him. In their moment of grief, they think to turn to Christ for help and healing. After Lazarus dies and is placed in the tomb, Martha receives word that Christ has finally come, she leaves her home and even the village to rush to meet him. In this moment, she expresses her deep testimony of the Savior.
“Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.” (John 11:21-22). What Martha says next is rarely said by those who knew Jesus, even by his closest disciples. She testifies that he is the Messiah. “I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” (John 11:27).

Clearly, Martha holds no animosity or resentment to the One who previously had censured her. She shows us that she too has learned how to choose the better part by rushing to his side and declaring him to be the Savior of the world. And because of her faith, Mary and Martha can once again enjoy the companionship of their dear brother Lazarus. This is the moment that defines Martha, one who knows what is truly needful, Jesus the Christ.

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead by Léon Bonnat
While Jesus’ interactions with Mary and Martha offer us several lessons, let us look at just a few.
First, Jesus shows us that both men and women alike can receive a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Jesus Christ. No one is exempt from sitting at his feet and learning from him. While social norms might dictate otherwise, no one should feel excluded from both receiving and sharing God’s word. All women and men can be scholars of Christ just like Mary.

Second, it is interesting to note that Jesus did not criticize Martha for preparing the meal for him and his disciples. Just as Mary had done nothing wrong by sitting at the feet of Jesus, Martha has done nothing wrong by running her household and serving her guests. Where Martha needed correction was by wrongfully assuming what another’s role should be. Whether it is as a wife, mother, divorcee, widow, never married, homemaker, working professional, or caregiver, women’s roles are unique and endless. When we look past our own lives and decide what others should be doing with their own, we too could be told, “…you are worried and upset about many things…” Instead of judging another’s choices, we can strive to help each other fulfill one another’s unique roles on this earth.

Third, we all have moments when we mistakenly misread a situation and make the wrong judgment. These moments do not have to define who we are. Like Martha, we can humbly acknowledge our misstep and commit to improve by learning from the teachings of Jesus.

And finally, we see that Jesus loves whom he chastens. (see Hebrews 12:6) John tells us that “Jesus loved Martha.” (John 11:5) We should not feel that God does not love us when we are chastened by him. Rather we can be like Martha and continue to have a loving relationship with our Savior even if at times we might feel censured by him. Likewise, we can do the same for others. If at times we need to offer correction or guidance to another, we should show an increase not a decrease of love towards them.

In a world where we are worried and troubled about many things, we can follow Mary’s and Martha’s examples by sitting at Jesus’ feet to learn his gospel and by proclaiming to all those who will hear that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world.”

Script by Heather Ruth Pack