Jesus – The Servant

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Isaiah 42:1- 4 Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.  He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged til he establishes justice on earth.  In his law the islands will put their hope. (Matthew 12:18-21 is the new testament version of Isaiah’s prophecy.)

Read  Matthew 18:1-5, John 13:1-17, John 3:1-7

Matthew 18:1-5 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

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John 13:1-7  It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

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John 3:1-7  Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’

(Bible Verses are from Biblegateway.com) NIV

 Think about what you have just read.  Jesus describes greatness, and how to be clean.  Soap and water are not really what Jesus is talking about.  He is not just washing their feet because they have mud on their feet; though that is part of the hospitality of the culture of his time.  It is a symbolic washing of the feet, meant to show how being washed by Jesus makes you truly clean on the inside and out.  You are forgiven if you have been washed by Jesus.  We use baptism as a symbol to show that we have accepted Jesus into our hearts, and been washed by Jesus.  In John 3, Jesus talks to Nicodemus about being born again.  It is important to understand that being born of water is your original birth from your mother, and that being born again is to be born of the spirit of God, which only comes from acceptance of Jesus.

In the culture of Jesus’ time when a person entered a house as a guest their feet were dusty and dirty.  After all, the footwear was a type of sandal and the roads filled with dust.  It was the custom to have someone there (usually a servant) to wash the guest’s feet.  Most folks back then did not sit at a table in a chair, but reclined next to a low table and ate in that manner.  This being so, the person’s feet were a lot closer to the table than we experience from sitting in a chair.  Just like us, most people back then didn’t like having dirt in close proximity to their food!  It was just plain good hospitality to wash the feet of the guests.

Jesus was showing his disciples that there is no shame in being a servant, and that there is no job that in the service of others is too lowly.  He was showing the disciples that if there is a job which will help people in a loving way, then it should be done with a loving spirit.  We are not to think too highly of ourselves that we would ignore the needs of others!

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God Judges all people equally

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Psalm 96:10  Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”  The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.

Read Isaiah 56:1-8  This is a statement of God’s acceptance of everyone who is upright and keeps his ways.  That God answers their prayers and looks on them as equals in his sight.  All of God’s people are equals.  You are either God’s or satan’s.  It doesn’t matter what nationality or gender you are, or what your physical body looks like.

Read Genesis 11:1-9  This is the story of the Tower of Babel.  Note that these men suffered from pride, and they could all communicate well enough for building this tower.  God took them down, by making them all speak different languages so that they could not communicate and continue building the tower.  They were not acting in an upright manner, so God demonstrated his Godhood by forcing their plans to go awry in a very harsh way.

Isaiah 56:1-8

Salvation for Others

56 This is what the Lord says:

“Maintain justice
    and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
    and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
Blessed is the one who does this—
    the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
    and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”

Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
    “I am only a dry tree.”

For this is what the Lord says:

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose what pleases me
    and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
    a memorial and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that will endure forever.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
    to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
    and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
    and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
    a house of prayer for all nations.”
The Sovereign Lord declares—
    he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
    besides those already gathered.”

New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. (via Bible Gateway.com)

Genesis 11:1-9

The Tower of Babel

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Footnotes:

  1. Genesis 11:2 Or from the east; or in the east
  2. Genesis 11:2 That is, Babylonia
  3. Genesis 11:9 That is, Babylon; Babel sounds like the Hebrew for confused.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Our term for someone who is going on about nothing, or not making any sense is that they are babbling.  If someone tells you that God won’t accept you or forgive you because of something that has happened in your past even though you ask him for forgiveness and have moved forward away from that sin…then you can be sure that they are in fact babbling in the worst way!  God really doesn’t like it when people cause others to move away from him instead of closer to him.  That was in fact Jesus’ main contention with some of the Pharisees…they had added rules which made it harder for a person to follow God.  He challenged them in Matthew 15 about why they made their traditions more important than the following of God’s law.  Sometimes we are guilty of that too.  We tend to expand on God’s rules to the point where it is hard to remember them all.  Then we judge others when they don’t follow the expanded rules….

God is the only true judge of a person, and he judges all equally under his qualifications for them….faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and living in faithful obedience.  God doesn’t care where you came from, only where you are going now!

A Star of Jacob – Blessed are those who obey

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The Prophet Balaam and the Ass, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1626.

Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves it is a gift of God.

Read Ephesians 1:6-7, 2:5-9 We are accepted through God’s grace.  You are saved through grace and not by any work that you may do.  If you were saved by something that you did, then you could boast about it, and would not be glorifying God.  So God used his grace as the only means of your being saved, so that you would recognize who your savior is, and give God the glory.

Read Numbers Chapter 22 thru Chapter 24 The story of Balaam.  Take note of the fact that Balaam is not an Israelite/Hebrew.  Balaam is a Sorcerer/Enchanter/Diviner who acknowledges that all of his gifts come from God, and tries to serve God, but doesn’t have a complete knowledge of God.  He completely doesn’t understand God’s grace.

When Balak, King of the Moabites saw the Israelites who came out of the Egypt camping near his borders he felt panicked, and decided to call on the local Sorcerer (Balaam) to come and put a curse on the Israelites. 

The first time Balak sends a group of men to get Balaam, Balaam sends them home after consulting with God. He tells them to tell Balak that  he could only say what God would have him say, even if Balak offered his house full of silver. 

Balak doesn’t take no for answer, and sends a more impressive group to see Balaam with an offer of great honor if he will just come and curse the Israelites.  God tells Balaam he can go with this group to see Balak, but he must ONLY SAY WHAT GOD SAYS FOR HIM TO SAY AND NOTHING ELSE, so they sleep on it.

The next day Balaam sets out with the group.  God knows what is in Balaam’s mind, that the Israelites will be cursed so he sends an angel to stop him from going.  That is when Balaam beats his donkey three times, because the donkey keeps moving away as it sees an angel and Balaam doesn’t see it.  The angel eventually shows up to where Balaam can see him. He tells Balaam that his donkey saved his life, that if the donkey had not turned aside, then he would have slain Balaam.  So Balaam offers to go back home because he still doesn’t understand what he did wrong (which was to plan for what to say, as opposed to waiting for God’s words.) 

The angel then warns Balaam to continue, but that he is only to say the words that God gives him to say.  (Now this is where this story really starts to get pretty humorous as if it wasn’t enough to have the situation with the donkey.) 

So Balaam meets Balak, and they sacrifice 7 Bullocks and Rams on 7 fires.  Then Balaam consults with God, and returns to stand by Balak, then proceeds to attempt to curse Israel, but God changes the words into blessings for Israel. 

Balak is mad of course, and says lets go someplace else and try this again.  The 7 sacrifices happen two more times in two different places, and each time Balaam utters blessings as God tells him.  Balak is extremely angry and tells Balaam that he blew it, that God took away the honors he was going to give him because he wouldn’t curse Israel.  Balaam reminded Balak that he had told him he couldn’t say anything that God didn’t put in his mouth, even for a house full of silver.  Then Balak told Balaam to go home.  

Can’t you just picture the frustration of Balak?  I can picture him stomping around and saying, “Wait just a minute!  Why did you bless them!  I’m going to go and get 7 more bulls and rams, and set up 7 more altars and this time you better get it right!!!”  He was probably jumping up and down wanting to run Balaam through with the sword by the time he had done that the 3rd time!  Balaam is totally between a rock and a hard place…his trust is in God because he knows that God will definitely kill him if he doesn’t say what God gives him to say, and he knows that Balak may decide to do kill him too.  Ultimately Balaam recognizes God’s higher authority (being a seer) and subconsciously trusts that God will not let him be hurt by Balak.

There are several noteworthy things about this story: 

1) Balaam was not Hebrew, he was a sorcerer/diviner/enchanter who acknowledged God for his gifts, and tried to serve God, but was doing so without understanding.

2)  God used Balaam to bless Israel even though he was a heathen, and also used Balaam to prophesy the coming of Jesus in the phrase “A Star will come out of Jacob, a sceptre will rise out of Israel, he will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth….”

3)  Balaam did not understand God’s grace even though it was active in his own life.  He thought that he when God gave him permission to go to Balak that he was going to do as Balak asked.  He was expecting that God would curse Israel.  However, he received a lesson in God’s grace with his donkey and the angel, and again with the blessing of Israel. 

4) Balaam acknowledged that God was supreme over any enchantment or divination that he himself could do. God was his acknowledged supreme power of the universe.

5) Balaam does not have a good end, despite having had this opportunity to draw closer to God he later chose to go up against God in a sneaky way.  You can read about him being killed because he thought to circumvent God by trying to make God take his blessing away from Israel by sending Moabite women in to tempt the Hebrew men into fornication and idolatry. (Numbers 31:16 and Joshua 13:22 and Revelation 2:14)  This teaches us about trying to go in through the back door to accomplish a goal that God has told you not to do.  Balaam was clearly made to understand that God was blessing Israel, but he decided that maybe he could make God “unbless” Israel if he could just tempt them to do ungodly things! That was his downfall.

God promised Abram (Abraham) in Genesis 12:3 that he would bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him.  That was part of God’s covenant with Abraham about him and his descendants.  We as Christians are adopted in to this same blessing.  That is what it means to be grafted onto the Vine.  The Vine being Israel, and us Gentiles are those who are grafted. (Romans 11:11-31)

To put it more simply Luke 11:28 says: But He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Balaam heard directly from God and did not in the end obey.

Grace to the Humble

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This is the inside the Harem at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey.  Esther would have resided in a harem also.  From the tour guide we learned that until a woman had a child she was housed in a general group with no private quarters, but after a child was born she was given her own quarters within the harem.  The harem was considered a social step up for most women over the regular life of marrying and having children to a poor person.  Women didn’t have to work or slave and they had plenty of food and clothing so life was generally much easier.  There was no negative stigma in those times as we think of that type of life from our moral point of view today. Mainly because women were for the most part powerless as we see in the story of Esther.  Her power came from God.

Peter 5:5-7 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.  All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all anxiety on him because he cares for you.

2Thes.2:16-17 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

In other words, God’s grace offers comfort, encouragement, hope and strength.

Read the Story of Esther Part II  Esther Chapters 5 thru 7  As you can see in this portion of the story, Esther has been strengthened and shown great faith in approaching her husband the King, as she is actually risking her life doing so without being called, and having to admit to being a Jew herself, and Haman gets taken down by his own self centered pride. 

This situation with Esther and her fellow Jews was very upsetting because it all actually came about because of an act of disobedience back in the days of King Saul. (1Samuel 15:1-35) The Amalekites, whose King Agag was originally spared is the one whom Haman was descended from.  I am not sure exactly how Haman was descended from him, but perhaps Agag was not the only member of the royal family that King Saul spared, or King Saul treated Agag as a typical captive of royal peerage gave him suitable quarters including women which would allow for him to father a child during that time period. We are not told how this descendent came about, only that Haman was Agag’s descendant.  Either case is possible because we are told when Samuel called for Agag that Agag when to him in an unworried manner.  It does tell us in the above verses that Samuel slew Agag after Saul spared him.

The Amalekites/Agagites were a group of people whom God had condemned to death because they were so horrible as to not be tolerated any longer.  In reading  Deuteronomy 25:17-19 we find that they were a group who were vicious and sneaky, they followed after the Israelites as they were crossing the Wilderness and went behind them picking off the women, children and the elderly.  They didn’t come at them face to face and fight the strong, they picked off the weak of God’s chosen people. The most defenseless.  God hated this so much that he told the people of Israel that when they got into the promised land and got settled down they were to wipe them off the face of the earth…so that they were not able to influence any of his people the Israelites with their evil ways.

King Saul took it upon himself to keep the finest of the spoils and to spare Agag the King of the Amalekites.  The thing is that this was King Saul’s second great disobedience to God and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back so to speak.  On both occasions Saul was more worried about people and maintaining their good opinion than he was about God and what God wanted him to do.  He suffered from the idea that he knew more than God about the situation and he needed to take care of things.  King Saul was suffering from pride.  Whenever we start to think that we know more than God, or we know better than God then we are suffering from Pride.  We are actually putting ourselves and our desires and our opinions into the place of God…or another way to put it is that we are becoming our own god!  After all, if we know better than God about something, then that would mean that God is not God.  By definition God is all knowing, all powerful, and eternal.  How can we who are not all knowing, nor all powerful, and are limited by our lifespans even begin to consider what is the best course of action and even begin to think that God is wrong about something?  I mean, who are we to tell God that he is wrong?  Yet, we do this all the time.  One needs only to look at the world to see that kind of thinking in action and to see what that has brought to us.

We get very upset when we read in the Old Testament that God told the Israelites and Saul to wipe out an entire group of people, but the Bible also tells us that the penalty of sin is death.  These people as a whole were the worst kinds of people, they were vicious and completely unrepentant….There is the difference between them and the average group of people.  They were completely and totally as a whole group unrepentant, not sorry at all.  There wasn’t a single individual among them who had a conscious or felt bad about what they did.  How do we know this?  That is a simple answer, if they did, they would have left the group.  No one who has a conscience and is in a group like that survives long, either they would flee for their life, or they would be killed by the rest as a weakling. So rest assured, God being a God of justice and a God of wrath decided that they were like Sodom and Gomorrah and judged the Amalekites/Ammonites as unredeemable.

We don’t like the idea at all that someone can be unredeemable, but the world is full of people who are too hard hearted toward God to ever allow themselves to be humble and submit to God.  We all have to admit that this is also true, even if we don’t like the thought.  However, the thing we have to remember is that as Christians we are required to love those people to the best of our ability, and to share our knowledge of God with them to the best of our ability, and when our ability falls short, as it frequently does, we need to pray that God’s love for them will flow through us to them so that they may know the love of Christ.  What we are not to do is to stand in the place of God and condemn them.  We do not ever know what God has in store for that person.  We cannot tell the redeemable from the unredeemable, only God knows that.  So as Christians we must treat everyone as redeemable.  We do not need to put ourselves in harms way or blithely hand the keys to our house to a known thief.  That is not at all what I am saying.  God gives us a spirit of discernment as to what to do in these cases so as to have a measure of protection for ourselves, and also so as not to offer temptation to someone who is struggling.

Anyway, back to King Saul, his inability to humble himself before God cost him the Kingdom that God had entrusted him with.  In contrast, we look at Queen Esther, who stepped humbly forward in faith at great personal risk to do as God wished her to do and was able to save her people because of that single step of faith.

Proverbs 29:23 “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit”