December 12, 2019

The Remarkable Story of Joseph

Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus Christ, is perhaps one of the most overlooked characters in the life of the Savior. Yet, there is no question that Joseph left a powerful impact on Jesus, Mary, and their other children. He was a man of solid conviction. His love for Mary, the mother of Jesus, is unmatched. Because Joseph’s story is only covered in four chapters of the Bible and he most likely died before the ministry of the Savior, we often gloss over him, and sadly miss the powerful witness he left of his adopted son, the Messiah of the world.

We know relatively few details about Joseph from the scriptures, but through insights from the historical background of life in Israel, we can actually weave together a beautiful tapestry on the life of Joseph.

Joseph was of the tribe of Judah, and in particular a direct descendant of King David (Matthew 1:20). This would mean that he, at least in some regards, had a legal right to the throne. Consequently, any of his descendants, including Jesus through adoption, would also have this same status. Despite his royal lineage, the scriptures tell us that Joseph was only a poor carpenter or craftsman. Joseph is typically portrayed in art as working with wood, but because Israel has a limited number of trees and stone is by far the more abundant resource, Joseph would have actually been a carpenter of mostly stone.

According to Jewish custom, we also know that Joseph was most likely quite young. In fact, he probably was only about seventeen to twenty years old when he was engaged to Mary. We also know that from a very young age Joseph had been trained in the law at the synagogue, and that he had a profound understanding of the scriptures because of his faithful, yet merciful way of obeying the law.

To better comprehend the significance of the story of Joseph and Mary, it will help to understand the marriage customs during the time of the New Testament. Ancient Jewish marriage included three main parts, the betrothal, the period of preparation, and the actual wedding feast.

A young bride typically between eleven and thirteen years old would be formally betrothed to a groom aged about seventeen to twenty. [1] While comparable to an engagement today, it was a far more significant commitment. The bride and groom were actually legally married at the betrothal as wedding vows would be exchanged. The distinction being that the marriage is not yet consummated nor do the couple live together. A period of waiting and preparation would follow when the groom learned a trade, in Joseph’s case stone masonry and carpentry, and built a small home for his future bride.

The two families would also prepare for the wedding feast. Unlike today with the convenience of modern-day stores, everything for the wedding would be made by hand, grown, or traded in the market including harvesting all the food, making white robes for each participant, and other significant preparations. This enormous amount of preparation meant that it was very common to wait a full year before the actual wedding feast. Once ready, the groom would go to the home of his bride with a large procession of his family and friends with torches and oil lamps. He then would take his new bride to his father’s home where the marriage feast would occur and the marriage would be consummated. The wedding feast was huge often lasting for seven days—all the more reason for a yearlong preparation!

With this understanding of marriage customs, let’s read from the Gospel of Matthew. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18 NKJV). According to the Law of Moses, if a young man found that his bride was pregnant before their marriage, he had two options. First, he could publicly divorce her, meaning he would bring formal charges against her before a court. If found guilty, she would be stoned to death. Second, the young groom could divorce her privately, or in other words, he would not bring formal charges against her, but simply end the marriage. In this situation both the life of the mother and child would be preserved. Both options were legal under the law. Matthew tells us that Joseph chose to be merciful and “and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” (Matthew 1:19 NKJV).

However, before Joseph was able to divorce Mary, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to take Mary as his wife. The angel also directs Joseph that he is to name the infant Jesus. By naming the child, according to Jewish tradition, Joseph would formally adopt Jesus as his own. We often just gloss over these few verses, but the implications are massive for Joseph! Consider this story from the perspective of the townspeople who all would know that Mary got pregnant before marriage. By taking her as his wife, Joseph is saying that either he broke his own vows and got Mary pregnant before the wedding feast, or he does not mind being the father to what the people would consider an illegitimate child. Either option would forever brand Joseph as a father of questionable background. Yet, the text seems to imply that Joseph shrugged off these massive consequences, and the instant he awakes from his sleep, does exactly as the angel commands.

The love and compassion Joseph showed to Mary and the unborn Messiah is absolutely remarkable. He disregarded all cultural consequences of marrying Mary, forgoes the elaborate wedding feast that every young couple would be looking forward to, and took in the young innocent Savior of the World as his own. Truly, God could not have chosen a better man to raise His own Son, then Joseph, the humble carpenter. Though we have no recorded words of Joseph, no recorded witness of his testimony, his actions of obedience, kindness, and love speak volumes about the character of this most remarkable man and his testimony of the Savior. As followers of Christ, we can learn much from Joseph the carpenter.

[1] As there always is a debate on the age of Mary, here are a few notes regarding the age of betrothal for women in the Bible. The Midrash and Talmud both state that young men were married by the age of eighteen and girls by the time they were thirteen (Midrash, Aboth 5:21 and Talmud, Pesachim 113). "For the other parameter, age at marriage, no real statistics exist for ancient Israel.... In Egypt, girls were married between twelve and fourteen; boys, between fourteen and twenty." (Life in Biblical Israel, page 37). "The consent (betrothal), usually entered into when the girl was between twelve and thirteen years old" (The Birth of the Messiah by Raymond E. Brown, page 123). "The earliest age for marriage, which typically follows betrothal by a year, is twelve years and a day [meaning betrothal could be at the age of 11]." (BYU New Testament Commentary, The Testimony of Luke by S. Kent Brown, page 107). "According to ancient Jewish custom, Mary could have been betrothed at about 12." (Wikipedia, Mary, mother of Jesus)

December 8, 2019

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

December 1, 2019

Christmas Study Resources

One of the things that has helped me better prepare for Christmas each year is to take up a study of the story of the Nativity about a month before the actual holiday. Advent (the four Sundays before Christmas) is a great time to begin, and gives you plenty of time to read at least one book, and the two accounts of the birth of Jesus Christ as found in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Adding this to my study during the weeks before Christmas makes this special day become all the more holy. Below are a few of the books I have enjoyed reading to prepare for Christmas:

Good Tidings of Great Joy by Eric D. Huntsman

An excellent resource for Advent. The book is divided into five main sections, which are designed to be read during the four weeks before Christmas, with the last chapter studied on Christmas eve or day. The book includes commentary, music, and activities that can be added to Advent to help increase the overall feel of this special season.

Advent of the Savior by Stephen J. Binz

Short (only 69 pages), yet concise and powerful. This has become one of my new favorites for the study of the birth of Christ. A verse-by-verse commentary on the Nativity story, yet it does not have the feel of most commentaries. Excellent insights and highly recommended!

The Nativity by Alonzo L. Gaskill

A simple, short, yet very interesting study of the Nativity story. The book is divided into sections that discuss the account of Matthew and Luke, with other supplemental material (including a short quiz to see how well you know the Nativity story). If you want a simple quick read, this is the best book to read.

Mary and Elisabeth by S. Kent Brown

BYU professor, Kent Brown, examines the lives of two of the most important women in scripture (the two mothers of the Messiah and the greatest prophet ever). As we so often gloss over the lives of Mary and Elizabeth, and focus on the birth of Jesus (who is of course the reason for the story), this is an excellent study of the lives of these two women. There is much we can learn from their examples of faith and devotion.

A Coming Christ in Advent and
An Adult Christ at Christmas by Raymond E. Brown

Short, yet very detailed and doctrine heavy booklets on the story of Christmas by Raymond Brown, one of the greatest American Catholic scholars of our day. The first booklet covers Matthew 1 and Luke 1, the second booklet covers Matthew 2 and Luke 2. This is the very condensed version of his 750 page Birth of the Messiah.

October 20, 2019

The Laver and the Washing and Anointing of Priests

Within the outer courtyard of the Tabernacle of Moses was the bronze laver (see Exodus 30:17-21). It was here at the laver where Aaron and his sons were washed, clothed, and anointed prior to becoming a priest. The laver was also used by the priests for daily ritual washing prior to serving at the Tabernacle. The washing at the laver can symbolize our need to be spiritually cleansed through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Only the tribe of Levi, and in particular the family of Aaron, could officiate at the Tabernacle; therefore, the Lord commanded that Moses first consecrate them for this sacred service here at the laver. In Exodus 40 it reads, “And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and wash them with water. And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest's office.” (Exodus 40:12-13). This consecration of the priests included three important and symbolic acts: washing, clothing, and anointing. These gestures were to demonstrate and teach Israel that the priests were authorized to act on their behalf.

In ancient times, washing with water often symbolled becoming ritually clean, allowing the person to perform sacred acts such as prayer or sacrifice. Though we are not given any details about the washing process, many scholars speculate that it would include the washing of the full body. [1] The scriptures include many references to ritual washing including one from Psalms “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalms 51:2).

After the washing with water, the high priest and priests were clothed with the holy garments. Unlike today, clothing in ancient times was very costly and difficult to make. The hand spinning and looming process could take possibly hundreds of hours for a single piece of clothing. Thus, the giving of clothing, especially ceremonial clothing, represented a significant bestowing of authority and power. Interestingly the word atonement in Hebrew, or kaphar, actually means to cover, possibly connecting the sacred priestly clothing, which covered the priests, with the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Moses anointing Aaron with oil, the oil is stored in the horn of a bull
Next, Moses was to anoint Aaron and his sons with sacred anointing oil and blood from the sacrifice. The oil was a special combination of pure olive oil with liquified myrrh and other spices (see Exodus 30:22-30). Several stories in the Bible state that anointing oil was stored in an animal’s horn (see for example 1 Samuel 16:13 and 1 Kings 1:39), the horn often being a symbol of power and strength. [2] The scriptures again do not provide any details how the priests were anointed with oil, but we are told about the process of anointing with blood which may give us hints to the full process. [3] Moses would first kill a ram and then save the blood in a dish. He would then place the blood on the right ear of the priest, then on his right thumb, and then the right toe of his foot. (Exodus 29:20 and Leviticus 8:23-24).

Moses dabbing blood on the right ear of Aaron
Blood being placed on the right thumb of Aaron
Moses placing blood on the right toe of Aaron
This act of covering with blood certain parts of the body might seem strange to modern readers of the Bible, but understanding its significance can help us learn several powerful lessons. First, again the meaning of the word atonement in Hebrew means to cover. Second, each of the body parts could represent the service at the Tabernacle and to the Lord. The ear can symbolize the need to hear and follow the word of God. The thumb can represent our actions and ability to labor in the work of the Lord. The toe often is a symbol of our daily walk possibly teaching the priests that they were to walk in the paths of righteousness. By anointing with blood these parts of the body, it could serve as a reminder to the priests that all their actions and deeds should bring others to the Lord. According to one scholar, it could also symbolize that the priest, who represented Israel, was taking upon him the tokens of the death of the sacrifice. Thus, reminding him that it is only by the blood of the sacrifice that he is worthy and able to enter the Lord’s presence. [4]

After being consecrated just once in their life before becoming a priest, the priests then would ritually wash their hands and feet daily at the laver before performing sacrifices and entering the Holy Place (Exodus 30:19-21). This served as a constant reminder that they were to be spiritually clean prior to coming before the Lord.

The priest ritually washing his hands at the laver
After completing these sacred cleansing rituals, the priests were authorized to serve at the Tabernacle and in particular, enter the presence of the Lord into the Holy Place, and in the case of the high priest, the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. Though Israel would not participate in these sacred cleansing acts individually, the priests represented them all as if they too were able to be washed themselves. This would hopefully be a reminder to ancient Israel that as they watched the priest physically and spiritually prepare to act on their behalf, they knew they likewise had to be prepared to enter albeit symbolically through the services of the priests.

These powerful symbolic acts at the laver can teach us of our own need to be cleansed by the waters of baptism, clothed in the power of the atonement, and anointed by the blood of the Lamb of God having our sins covered over or blotted out. These rituals can be an outward representation of the truth that it is only through the atoning power of the Savior that we can ultimately be worthy and able to enter the presence of the Lord!

[1] The Gate of Heaven, by Matthew B. Brown, pg. 79.
[2] The Lost Language of Symbolism, by Alonzo Gaskill, pg. 49-50.
[3] The Gate of Heaven, pg. 79-80.
[4] The Anchor Bible, Exodus 19-40, by William H. C. Propp, pg. 530-531.

October 8, 2019

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.

October 4, 2019

Day of Atonement - Leviticus 16

Over the years as I have studied the Tabernacle of Moses, I have been fascinated by the ritual of the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. It was the most significant event of the Jewish calendar. It was the only day when the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies. It was the day when he reconciled Israel with God.

As part of the ritual, lots would be cast for two goats. One for the Lord, the other for the scapegoat. The blood of the first allowed the high priest to enter into the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people. The second goat (the scapegoat) had the sins of Israel placed upon its head and then he was led into the wilderness to die. No other sacrifice comes closer to the atonement of Jesus Christ, as it is the only one where full intercession was made allowing Israel to enter God's presence.

After years of studying, and several film shoots, I finally have enough footage to create a full video for the text of Leviticus 16. I did remove some of the verses that were more complicated, so this is not the full ritual, but it hopefully is enough to give you the idea of what is going on. The text of the video comes directly from the KJV of Leviticus 16:2-5, 7-8, 11-15, 18, 20-22, 24, 34. I hope you enjoy! In a few days, I will be publishing a video that goes more in-depth into the Day of Atonement and its powerful foreshadowing of the Savior Jesus Christ.

September 17, 2019

The Tabernacle and the Messiah

According to the book of Genesis, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden where they lived in God’s presence. After Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, they were cast out of the Garden. This separation was not permanent; however, because God the Father would send His Only Begotten Son to be the Savior of the world to overcome the effects of sin and death.

In anticipation of the Savior’s great and last sacrifice, God instructed righteous followers such as Adam and Noah and their families to offer sacrifices. Eventually, God made a special covenant with a righteous man named Abraham and his wife Sarah. Their descendants came to be known as Israel.

After Moses freed Israel from bondage under the Egyptians, the growing family of Israel renewed the covenant of Abraham, promising to be God’s people. However, full of fear and quick to turn to idol worship, they were unprepared to enter into His presence. Instead, they relied on Moses and the priests that were called to commune with God on their behalf.

To help the people of Israel draw closer to Him, God revealed His law to Moses with many detailed instructions, including directions for building a holy sanctuary, or Tabernacle, where God could dwell among them. In this Tabernacle Israel, through the priests, would participate in special sacrifices and rituals.

The detailed design of the sanctuary and the symbolism of the rituals performed within, pointed Israel toward the coming Savior, the Messiah, who would redeem them from sin and death. Let’s take a tour of the Tabernacle to better understand its Messianic symbolism.

The progression through the Tabernacle is symbolic of mankind ascending from the fallen world back into the presence of God. The Tabernacle is divided into three spaces: the outer courtyard, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies. The outer courtyard invites one to depart from the cares of this world into a space focused towards God. The Holy Place, lit by oil lamplight, can be suggestive of one moving closer to God through the light of the Holy Spirit. The Holy of Holies represents returning into the presence of God.

A closer look at each space of the Tabernacle reveals more about the symbolic journey heavenward. Only one entrance leads into the outer courtyard. Through this beautiful and colorful gate on the eastern wall, Israelites symbolically began their ascent towards God. The Savior taught during His mortal ministry, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9 NIV).

A priest offering sacrifices at the altar
Entering through the gate into the Tabernacle courtyard we come to the bronze Altar of Sacrifice where Israelite men and women offered sacrifices to God as a means of showing devotion, expressing gratitude, and seeking reconciliation for transgression. These sacrifices were all a type and shadow of Jesus Christ, the unblemished firstborn Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world.

Next, we come to the bronze Laver where ritual washings took place. Here, the sons of Aaron were washed, anointed, and clothed in the priestly robes prior to becoming a priest. The priests would also ritually wash their hands and feet here before performing sacrifices and entering the Holy Place. The cleansing water of the Laver can remind us of the Savior, whose words and love are the Living Water in which we can be washed, cleansed, and filled.

Moses anointing Aaron as the High Priest
We now enter the door of the tent into the Holy Place in a symbolic ascension closer to the presence of God. On the right is the Table of Showbread where twelve loaves of bread were kept and eaten by the priests every Sabbath. Tradition holds that a pitcher of wine was also kept on the table. The bread serves as a reminder of our need to be spiritually nourished by Jesus Christ, who declared, “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35). Together, the bread and wine can be a reminder of Christ’s flesh and blood, as taught by the sacrament or communion.

On the south side of the Holy Place stood the golden Menorah, or oil lampstand. The Menorah had seven branches, each decorated with almond flowers, buds, and blossoms. Every evening, the priests would trim, refill, and make sure that the lamps were burning with pure olive oil. This was the only source of light for the Holy Place and can serve as a reminder of Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the Light of the World” (John 8:12).

Next we come to the Altar of Incense where a priest burnt incense each morning and evening in front of the veil. The altar’s position before the Holy of Holies shows the importance of prayer in preparing to enter the Lord’s presence. Just as the sweet smoke of incense rises heavenward, so also the prayers of the righteous rise up to God, drawing them closer to Him.

High priest praying at the altar of incense in the Holy Place
The linen veil separates the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Embroidered on the veil are figures called cherubim which symbolically guard the presence of God. When Christ was crucified, the veil of Herod’s temple was rent in twain from top to bottom, signifying that through the Savior’s sacrifice, the way was now open for all to enter God’s presence. The writer of Hebrews taught that because of Christ, we can go boldly into the Holy of Holies “By a new and living way … through the veil, that is to say, [the] flesh [of Christ]” (Hebrews 10:20).

We now enter the Holy of Holies representing the ultimate goal of living in the very presence of God. In the center is the Ark of the Covenant, the most sacred object in the Tabernacle. Atop the Ark was the Covering, often called the Mercy Seat or Seat of Atonement, with two cherubim made from solid gold. These cherubim stretched their wings over the ark, symbolically guarding the place where the presence of the Lord would dwell. Inside the Ark were kept sacred objects, including Aaron’s rod, a bowl of manna, and the stone tablets of the Law given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. Here he sprinkled blood from the sacrifice on the Mercy Seat, symbolizing that through the blood of the Lamb of God, Israel could obtain mercy and the opportunity to once again live in God’s presence. Although the children of Israel were not allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, the High Priest represented them. Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest, who intercedes on our behalf before the Father.

The high priest entering the Holy of Holies
During Israel’s time in the wilderness, the Tabernacle moved from place to place as a portable structure. Eventually, it was replaced by a more elaborate and permanent structure called the Temple of Solomon. Built after the pattern of the Tabernacle, Solomon’s temple was the crowning jewel of Jerusalem for almost 400 years until its destruction by the Babylonians.

Seventy years later a second temple was rebuilt after the same pattern, which Herod the Great extensively remodeled during the first century. It was here Jesus, the foretold Savior of the world, was brought as an infant. He was born into the world to fulfill the law of Moses and complete God’s plan to open the way back into His presence through a new covenant.

At the last supper, Jesus taught His disciples about this new covenant made possible by His suffering and death. The following day as Christ, the ultimate Passover Lamb, hung on the cross, He offered a sacrifice bringing deliverance to all from sin and death, replacing the need for animal sacrifices. From this point forward, a new kind of sacrifice would be asked of God’s followers—that of a contrite spirit and a heart willing to turn and follow Jesus.

The ancient Tabernacle that became the temple in Jerusalem, with all its sacrifices and rituals was centered on Christ. His life and ministry, culminating in His death and resurrection, fulfilled every law and ordinance and shows the path that will lead us back to our Father in Heaven.

Text written by Jane & Clark Johnson adapted from an earlier video I produced in 2018.

June 17, 2019

Holy Week: His Blood Be On Us

After the Savior was judged by Pontius Pilate within the confines of the palace of Herod, Pilate again brought Jesus before the Jewish leaders. Here Pilate exclaimed that he had found no fault with Jesus and sought to release him because of His innocence, symbolically washing his hands of the matter. The most vocal of the crowd would hear nothing of Pilate’s verdict of innocence for the Lord. The Gospel of Matthew records the profound interchange: "When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children." (Matthew 27:24-25).

Here among the group were many of the priests of the temple, including the high priest himself who well understood the concept of a blood atonement. The word atone, or khapper in Hebrew means to cover, blot out, expiate, condone or cancel. For the priests, this term of atonement or covering also had a literal application during temple sacrifices. Depending on the type of sacrifice that the priest was offering, a portion of the blood of the animal was dabbed upon the horns of the altar, splashed against the sides, or poured out at the base. On the Day of Atonement (the holiest day of the year), the High priest would, in addition, dab blood on the horns of the altar of incense, and sprinkle blood before the veil. The High Priest would also enter the Holy of Holies and with blood from the sacrifice sprinkle it seven times upon the Ark of the Covenant. This “covering” with blood of the various pieces of furniture within the Tabernacle and later temples represented that the blood of the sacrifice covered, or made atonement for the sins of all Israel. Because of these rituals, the act of covering with blood, and atonement were almost interchangeable for the Israelite people.

How ironic that here the people ask that Christ’s blood be upon them. Of course, the Jewish leaders did not mean to imply that Jesus’ blood would atone for them, or cover them, but the symbolism of the wording they choose still vividly remains. How true their request would be that the blood of the Lamb of God, who would be slain for their sins, would come upon them or cover them; for Christ did suffer for all, even His accusers. Even more powerful is the statement that Christ’s blood be upon their children, for all, both Jew and Gentile, are to be grafted into the lineage of Abraham, thus becoming children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Each of us, in essence, are part of the crowd who requested that Jesus' blood cover them. As sinners we each have the need of having our sins blotted out, or covered over to be remembered no more by God. Truly, it is by His blood coming upon us that we are forgiven. How prophetic the words of these wicked men, who in attempting to place blame on their children, actually helped in providing the means of salvation to their children through the blood of the Lamb of God. The Lamb, that on their behalf, and by their request, was slain!

May 6, 2019

Raising of Lazarus from the Dead

One of the most powerful examples of the Savior's love is the raising of Lazarus from the grave. The event took place just before the triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus and His disciples were traveling to Jerusalem for the last time when a messenger was sent with word that Lazarus was sick; however, the Savior tarried for several days instead of rushing to heal Lazarus. When Jesus and the disciples finally arrived, Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb for four days (see John 11:1-45).

One of the first questions often asked is why would the Lord wait to heal Lazarus? Why would He prolong His coming when He knew that the hearts of Mary and Martha would both be broken? Though we do not know for sure why Jesus delayed His coming, there are several likely answers, each which teach of the love and compassion of the Savior.

First, by raising Lazarus from the dead after four days, Jesus demonstrated His true power over even the worst of enemies, that of death. Previously, the Savior had likewise raised two people from the dead, the young daughter of Jairus, and the only son of the widow of Nain. However, in each of these cases they had only been dead but a few hours. Dissenters could easily claim that those who had been raised, had only been sleeping. Yet in the case of Lazarus, there was no question as to the magnitude of Jesus' power.

Second, the miracle teaches of the Savior’s pure love for others, despite His all-knowing omniscience. The shortest verse found in scripture simply states "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). Volumes could be written about these simple, yet two powerful words. The Savior knew that He would raise Lazarus from the dead. He also knew that in just a few moments the two sisters, Mary and Martha would again be embracing their brother. Yet Jesus was in the moment, and felt their pain, even though He knew the power of the future.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Jesus performed this miracle to help prepare His followers for His own death—an even more tragic death than Lazarus. One of the reasons Jesus may have wept is because He knew of the sorrow that His disciples soon would feel when they saw their Lord and Savior nailed to the cross. Just as the Savior knew that Lazarus would live again, Jesus also knew that He Himself would be resurrected. Yet for a short time, His followers would weep and not fully understand why their Savior had died. It seems that the Lord allowed Lazarus to die, to instill in His disciples a belief beforehand that truly nothing is impossible for the Lord. Through this miracle, the Savior gave His disciples hope for the future. Hope for the seemingly impossible. Hope when all would be lost.

Often in our own lives we might ask why the Lord has not answered our prayers despite having sought Him in faith and devotion. We may wonder why the Lord tarries instead of providing promised blessings. The story of Lazarus teaches us that the Savior’s timing is always perfect. Even though there are many moments when we think our prayers have gone unanswered, we can be assured that the Lord will come to us, weep with us, and embrace us until the miracle comes.

April 29, 2019

The Healing of the Blind Man at the Pool of Siloam

The account of the blind man who is healed by Jesus at the Pool of Siloam is a beautiful story that can teach us of the power of the Savior to likewise give us light and healing in our own daily struggles.

According to the Gospel of John, we are told that the blind man was healed following the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot (see John 7:2). The Feast of Tabernacles was the third of the three major Jewish Feasts: Passover, Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23). Each feast was designed by the Lord to help teach and remind the people of the redemption of ancient Israel from bondage.

Tabernacles or Sukkot was celebrated for seven days from the 15th through the 21st of the seventh month (see Deuteronomy 16:13). During the Feast, Jews built small booths, or in Hebrew sukkot, and lived in them for seven days. Families slept and ate in the temporary booths made of branches to commemorate the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years (Leviticus 23:42-43). [1]

In addition, each morning of the seven days a procession of priests came from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam. With a golden pitcher, a priest drew water from the large pool. This water came from the Gihon spring and ran through Hezekiah’s tunnel, a tunnel hand bored through rock for almost 1,800 feet. The water was considered “living water” because it came from a spring. Living water was used for ritual purposes. The priests then took the pitcher of “living water” from the Pool of Siloam and climbed the hundreds of steps that went up to the beautiful Temple Mount. 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” the same ritual took place, except the priests circled the altar seven times instead of only once. [2]

With most of Israel being extremely dry, the rainy season after the Feast of Tabernacles was critical for the coming year of planting and harvest. Though developed hundreds of years after Moses received the Law, this ceremony at the temple symbolized the people’s need for the blessing of rain from God. In addition, on the first of the seven days the people would gather in the large Court of the Women and at dusk light four huge lamp stands located in the court. Later Jewish writings described the light as being so bright it illuminated much of the city. [3]

Jesus being fully aware of the events that were taking place specifically used the various rituals of Sukkot to teach of His Messiahship. According to the Gospel of John, we are told that midway through the festival Jesus began to teach the people in the temple (see John 7:14). Then on the “last day, that great day of the feast” Jesus stood and cried “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). The people were shocked! Here, only a few yards away, they had just witnessed the significant ritual of the pouring out of the water. By Jesus proclaiming that he was the ultimate source for “living water,” He was giving a clear and direct declaration of His divinity.

We are then told that Jesus left the city and returned on the following day, again to teach in the temple (see John 8:2). Standing in the same court where only seven nights previous the people had lit the four huge lamp stands, Jesus then proclaims “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). So significant were the words of Jesus during this feast alone that we are told that the Jewish leaders either desired to or even tried to kill Jesus three separate times (John 7:30, 44; 8:59).

After having testified of His Messiahship, Jesus then left the temple and found a blind man. As the disciples gathered around this man, they asked the Lord why he was blind. Jesus simply answered “that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:3). He then spit on the ground, and making a small amount of mud, anointed the eyes of the man and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam, the exact same pool where the priests had drawn water for seven days. In simple, yet profound faith, the blind man then found his way to the pool and washed, after which he was healed and received his sight! The remarkable part of the story in many ways is not the actual healing of the man, but of his fervent faith and devotion to Jesus—a man he had never seen before. When later he was brought before the council questioning how he was healed, the once blind man gave powerful witness to the divinity of the Savior. As the trial continued the man even challenged the Jewish leaders “will ye also be his disciples?” (John 9:27). So enraged were the leaders that they cast him out of their presence.

When Jesus heard that the man had been cast out, the Savior found him and asked “Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.” Having never seen Jesus before, but having heard his voice and having felt of His power and love the now healed man fell at Jesus’ feet and proclaimed “Lord, I believe!” (John 9:35-37).

Each of us, like the blind man, have had moments of darkness and despair. We too have not personally seen the Lord, but have only heard or read of His powerful words of healing. As we seek Jesus, by sincerely repenting and being washed of our sins, we too can be given the true light of the world, even the light of Christ that will illuminate our paths. As we find ourselves in darkness and feel cast out, rejected by those around us, we can know that the Savior will embrace us, welcoming us back into His eternal presence!

[1] The Temple, Its Ministry and Services, Alfred Edersheim, pp. 216-217
[2] The Gospel According to John I-XII, Raymond E. Brown, pp. 326-329; Edersheim, pp. 220-222
[3] John and the Feast of Tabernacles, Bruce K. Satterfield pp. 249-259; Edersheim, pp. 224-225; Brown, pp. 343-344

April 14, 2019

Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb

The events of the last week of the life of the Savior, Jesus Christ are the most significant in all of history. These eight days, from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday change everything. They give us hope. They show us that sin and death will never prevail. These eight days begin with Jesus coming to the beautiful city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover festivals. As we better understand Passover and the spring Jewish Feasts, we can gain powerful insights into Holy Week, the atonement, and the ultimate triumph over all things by Christ, our Passover Lamb.

Passover was first celebrated by the ancient Israelites as they were freed from Egypt after living in bondage for over 400 years (see Exodus 12). As part of this deliverance, the Lord commanded that on the 10th day of the first month, the people were to select a lamb without blemish and to bring it into their homes for the next four days (Exodus 12:3-5). During this period the family would examine the lamb for impurities and would likely become very attached to this young innocent lamb. The family also cleansed their home of all leaven products, leaven often symbolizing impurity because it can quickly spoil and mold (see Luke 12:1). On the 14th day of the month towards the evening, the people then killed the lamb without breaking any of the bones (Exodus 12:6). Using a branch of hyssop, they covered their door post with the blood of the lamb (Exodus 12:22). This was to be a sign for the destroying angel to pass by and spare the firstborn of that home. The Lord then commanded the family to gather that evening and share a meal of the slain lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs (Exodus 12:8). The unleavened bread represented the haste in leaving Egypt, the Israelites not having enough time to allow their bread to rise (Exodus 12:33-34). The bitter herbs represented the bitterness of bondage and slavery. According to later Jewish tradition, wine was also part of the feast as a symbol of joy and redemption. [1]

Once freed from slavery, Israel was commanded to celebrate the Passover every year thereafter, to commemorate and help them remember the powerful hand of God in delivering them from bondage. In addition to Passover, each spring the children of Israel were also to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the observance of the First Fruits. The Feast of Unleavened bread started the day after Passover and ran for seven days from the 15th through the 21st of the month (Leviticus 23:6-8). During this period no leaven was to be consumed, again commemorating the haste with which the children of Israel fled Egypt. The offering of the First Fruits was celebrated the day following the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened bread (Leviticus 23:10-14). On the evening of the Sabbath, the priests would cut the best sheaf of barley and bring it to the temple to be threshed and ground. In the morning the flour would then be combined with oil and frankincense and a handful would be burned on the altar. The offering of the First Fruits symbolized the gratitude of the people by first giving to God an offering before enjoying for themselves the harvest of that season. [2]

With this understanding of the Passover celebrations, let us now examine the powerful significance of the timing of the events of Holy Week. According to the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus entered Jerusalem on the 10th day of the month, the same day when all the people would be selecting their Passover lambs preparatory for the coming feast. [3] At this same time, on the day we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus was welcomed with shouts of praise and acclamation (Matthew 21:7-9). Jesus, the true Passover Lamb, then entered His Father’s home, the temple of Jerusalem, just as the lambs were being brought into the home of all Jews to live for the next four days. Upon entering the temple courts, Jesus cleansed His Father’s house of impurity, driving the money changers from this sacred space (Matthew 21:12-13). At the same time all Jews would be cleansing their own homes of all leaven products.

The next few days of Holy Week, Monday through Wednesday, were days in which Jesus taught the people, spending much of His time again at the temple, in His Father’s house. During this same period of when the priests and people would be examining the lambs for impurities, Jesus was interrogated by the Sadducees and Pharisees asking Him of His authority and power.

According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, on the eve of the 14th day of the month, the Savior celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples (Matthew 26:19-30). As Jesus sat with His disciples during His Last Supper, he took the symbols of the Passover feast and converted them into symbols of His own deliverance that He would soon bring. He took the unleavened bread and broke it and taught His disciples that this represented His broken body, which the following day would be torn and bruised for their sakes. He then took the wine, a symbol of joy and redemption, and taught that it signified His blood which would be shed for them that evening in Gethsemane. These two symbols became what is now known as communion or the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It is interesting to note that Jesus did not incorporate the bitter herbs into the symbols of the sacrament, perhaps symbolizing that Christ in our stead would consume the bitter cup so that we can instead partake of the sweet cup of joy and redemption.

That evening Jesus entered a beautiful garden just outside the city of Jerusalem, and atoned and suffered for our sins (Matthew 26:36-46). As hundreds of thousands of Jewish families celebrated the ancient redemption of Israel, Jesus was suffering in Gethsemane providing true deliverance. Just as the blood on the doorpost protected ancient Israel from the destroying angel, so too the blood of Christ, shed in Gethsemane and on the cross, can protect us from the effects of sin and death.

In the dead of night, Jesus was arrested and taken and tried before Caiaphas the High Priest (Matthew 26:57-68). The remarkable fact is that, as the leading priest for the temple, Caiaphas had the ultimate responsibility for all Temple offerings. Here Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God, was condemned to death by the very man who oversaw all temple sacrifices. Jesus was then taken to the palace of Pilate in the upper city, then Herod, and then Pilate again where He was condemned to death.

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was crucified at noon and hung on the cross in pain for several hours (John 19:14-16). As he hung, a branch of hyssop, the same kind of branch used to cover the doorposts with blood, was raised up to Jesus (John 19:29-30). On the end of the branch was a sponge soaked in vinegar, or cheap wine to help with the excruciating pain. Then at 3pm Matthew tells us that Jesus died, breathing His last breath of mortal life (Matthew 27:46-50).

Concerning the events of Holy Week, there are some discrepancies in the timing among the four gospels, and one of the most significant differences is that John places the Passover on the following day, not the night of the Last Supper (John 19:14). This means that according to John, at the exact same time that the Passover lambs would be slain in the temple, which was from about 3-5pm, Jesus died on the cross for all of God’s children. [4] The symbolism is extraordinary! Jesus Christ, who was sinless, without blemish, is killed the same hour as the Passover lambs. John also notes that while the other two condemned men had their legs broken, Jesus instead only had a spear driven into His side, fulfilling the requirement that the Passover Lamb was to be killed without breaking any bones.

The body of Jesus was then laid in a borrowed tomb where on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, Jesus’ mortal body rested from all labors. The following day, on Sunday, the first day of the week, Jesus rose from the dead, overcoming all things. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus rose from the dead at the same time when the first fruits were being offered at the temple, thus fulfilling this aspect of the law, and as Paul stated becoming the first fruits of them that slept. (1 Corinthians 15:20)

The powerful symbolism is undeniable. Jesus seems to use every aspect of the spring feasts to help the Jews understand His ultimate redemptive power. He is chosen by the people on the same day as the Passover lambs. Jesus cleanses His Father’s home when the people are cleansing their own homes of all leaven. He teaches in the Temple and is examined and tried by the very priests who are responsible for all Temple sacrifices. He suffers and dies as the Passover lambs are slaughtered at the Temple. He then rises from the dead when the first fruits of the harvest are offered before the Lord. Jesus Christ is our true Passover Lamb. Because of Him we are redeemed from bondage and slavery. Because of His blood we are protected from the destroying angel and allowed once again to enter the presence of the Father. Truly as John the Baptist stated, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

[1] The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, by Alfred Edersheim, p. 185.
[2] Edersheim, pg. 203-205.
[3] There is a lot of debate on the exact timing of the events of Holy Week, but I will attempt to do my best to show likely connections between Passover and the last week of the Savior's life.

March 25, 2019

Jesus Feeds the Multitudes

During His mortal ministry, one of the more significant miracles Jesus performed was the feeding of the multitudes. Understanding this miraculous story can help us gain a greater appreciation of the power of the atonement as the Savior daily nourishes and strengthens us in our own mortal journey.

After hearing of the tragic news of the death of John the Baptist, the scriptures record that Jesus went into a mountain to be alone (Matthew 14:12-13). The emotions Jesus felt for the loss of his beloved relative and knowing that He Himself would also soon face a similar fate, must have been overwhelming. As He sought solitude, we are told that a large multitude followed Jesus. Remarkably the scriptures record that in this moment of great sadness, Jesus was “moved with compassion towards them” (Matthew 14:14). Instead of turning them away when He Himself was mourning, Jesus healed the sick and ministered to them.

As the day became evening, Jesus turned to His disciples and asked them to feed the large multitude. With 5000 men present, in all reality, the multitude was more likely around 10,000 to 20,000 when you include women and children. As the disciples exclaim that it would be nearly impossible to feed such a large multitude, Jesus simply asks them to bring all that they have. A young lad was found among the multitude who had five loaves and two small fishes (John 6:9). This young boy was willing to give his all, even though it would equate to nearly nothing compared to such a huge multitude. Yet Jesus teaches us that He can transform any willing offering into something far more than enough. As Jesus gives gratitude to God for the small meager offering, He first distributes the food to His disciples and then to the multitude. Miraculously, the entire multitude is fed from the small gift of this young boy.

In all four accounts of the feeding of the 5000 and also the two accounts of the feeding of the 4000, the Gospels state that the multitude was “filled” physically (see Matthew 14:20, Luke 9:17, and John 6:12 for example). This simple wording might be glossed over by many readers, but when compared to the story of Jesus feeding the multitude after He appeared to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon, a powerful connection can be made.

According to 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, after His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, Jesus Christ showed himself unto the inhabitants of the American continent. On the first day of His three-day ministry to the Nephites, the record states: “And it came to pass that Jesus commanded his disciples that they should bring forth some bread and wine unto him” (3 Nephi 18:1). Jesus then took the bread and wine, blessed it, and gave it to the multitude, instituting the sacrament. The scriptures state that the multitude again was “filled” physically by both the bread and the wine (see 3 Nephi 18:4-5 and 18:9).

On the second day of His ministry to the Nephites, Jesus again distributed to them the emblems of the sacrament, however with one major difference. On the first day, the disciples provided the bread and wine, whereas on the second day the Lord miraculously provided the bread and wine. 3 Nephi states “Now when the multitude had all eaten and drunk, behold they were filled with the spirit and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus whom they both saw and heard” (3 Nephi 20:9). Notice again that the multitude was filled, but this time they were filled with the Spirit!

So what does connecting these two stories of feeding the 5000 and feeding the Nephites in the new world teach us about the Savior and His atonement? First, the Savior teaches us that He will always minister to us, even when He Himself might be mourning or suffering. We can always turn to the Lord and know that He will heal us, minister to us, and feed us. Second, when we bring our gifts to the Lord, He has the power to make it not only enough, but more than enough. Third, Jesus likely fed the multitudes to foreshadow the significance of the sacrament and how the atonement can strengthen us and nourish us physically and most importantly spiritually. Each week as we partake of the sacrament, though only a small piece of bread and a small cup of water, we are physically nourished and strengthened. But more importantly, as we repent of our sins, and turn to the Savior, just as the ancient Nephites, we too can be spiritually fed and nourished. Just as the small piece of bread will become part of our very body as we digest it, so too the atonement of Christ should become a very part of our being, giving us life eternal. As Jesus stated in John 6 just after feeding the multitude, “I am the bread of life, he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). As we come to the Savior each Sabbath day, we are given this same powerful promise, to be filled with the Spirit of the Lord! (see Moroni 4:3).

This post was originally published for Book of Mormon Central

March 7, 2019

The Healing Touch and the Woman with an Issue of Blood

In the synoptic gospels, we read of the story of Jesus healing the woman who had an issue of blood. The woman had tried unsuccessfully for 12 long years to be healed by numerous physicians (see Luke 8:43). According to the Law of Moses, because she constantly was bleeding, she was considered ritually unclean, and thus should not touch anyone else, as they would also become unclean. This also meant that she was unable to worship at the Temple, as she was always in a state of ritual impurity.

Matthew records that the woman, upon finding Jesus in a crowd of people “came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.” (Matthew 9:20-22 ESV).

We also learn of other similar accounts when the sick and afflicted were healed by touching Jesus’ garments. In Mark we read, “And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.” (Mark 6:56 ESV).

Blue tzitzit attached to the tallit katan
Most scholars agree that the “hem” or “fringe” of his garment refers to the tzitzit or tassels worn by observant Jews. The tzitzit are “specially knotted ritual fringes ... attached to the four corners of the tallit ([or] prayer shawl) and tallit katan ([or] everyday undergarment)”[1].  The four fringes were designed to help Israel remember their covenants with God.

In the book of Numbers, the Lord said unto Moses, “Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them” (Numbers 15:38-41).

Blue and white tzitzit (or fringes) attached to the tallit katan 
This specific color of blue is mentioned 49 times in the Old Testament [2]  and was associated with the same blue colored thread and cloth of the high priest garments, the veils and coverings of the Tabernacle, and of nobility (see Esther 8:15). Most Jews at the time of Jesus only had enough money to buy clothing of simple colors, such as grey, brown, or off-white, so these blue threads would stand out in contrast with the rest of their clothing. Jews saw that by wearing this special color of blue, it connected them to the high priest and the Temple, helping them to remember that no matter their status in life, they were ultimately a kingdom of priests and of royalty. [3].

Because the Bible is not clear on how to make the specific color of blue, many modern Jews will only wear white tzitzit attached to their clothing and prayer shawl. In addition, the modern tzitzit is tied in a specific way to create 613 knots, symbolizing the 613 commandments in the Torah, a constant reminder to always remember the commandments of God [4].

Why the woman decided to touch this specific part of Jesus’ garments is unknown. Was it simply because it was easily accessible to her touch, being low on his robe, or was it because she possibly knew that there is power in remembrance, power in the commandments, and power in the priesthood? Perhaps she thought that of all places to touch on his clothing, these tassels, with their priestly temple-blue threads, would be the closest thing to touching heaven. How fitting that after being unclean to worship at the temple for twelve long years that this faithful woman would find healing power by touching these tassels, connecting remembrance, priesthood and the temple with the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

[1] Tallit - Wikipedia
[2] Tekhelet - Wikipedia
[3] Tekhelet: The Mystery of the Long-Lost Biblical Blue Thread and The Mystery Of Tekhelet - Part I of III - YouTube
[4] Tzitzit - Wikipedia