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The Resurrection

The Resurrection

“Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here but is risen!’” (Luke 24:1-6 NKJV).

The Romans crucified thousands of Jews in the first century; Jesus was one of them. His death on a cross was not unique. It proved to be a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23). The difference: the resurrection. Jesus walked out of the tomb.

The resurrection became the cornerstone of the New Testament message that Jesus was God’s Messiah. He “was born of the seed of David according to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4 NKJV). When Paul stood in Athens addressing the pagan Athenians, he sought common ground to proclaim his message to them—an altar to an unknown god, quoting their poets, not quoting the Jewish Scripture—yet the one thing he could not equivocate on was the resurrection, even though Greeks found it to be foolishness (Acts 17:16-34).

The resurrection of Jesus served as God’s promise to those who are faithful that they too will participate in the resurrection at the end of the Age (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15). It also provided a powerful reversal. The crucifixion and death of Jesus left the hopes of many shattered (Luke 24:21). While Jesus died fully trusting His good and loving Father, His followers did not share the faith of their master. But God specializes in turning the dark into light, making the impossible, possible, bringing life from death.

In the resurrection of Jesus, God triumphed over death and the grave. He brought life from death; He turned darkness into light. He gave hope. This is why in the midst of our deepest darkness and despair, we do not lose hope. No matter how dark the night, how devastating the diagnosis, how impossible the circumstances, God will triumph. He will transform death into life, impossible into possible, darkness into light; therefore, we have hope. Why? Because Jesus walked out of the tomb.

The Apostle Peter summarized the hope we have because of the resurrection: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away” (1 Peter 1:3-4 NASB).

Even when we finally come to the end our lives and face our own death, we have nothing to fear. We have hope, for ourselves and our loved ones. Why? Because Jesus walked out of the tomb.

PRAYER

Father, You are our hope. Even in our darkest circumstances, You bring light and life into our lives, and therefore we trust You. Thank you for the hope we have in the resurrection. Amen.

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The Crucifixion

“And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ And they divided His garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.’ The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.’ And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last” (Luke 23:33-38, 44-46 NKJV).

Crucifixion was one of the most cruel, painful, and humiliating forms of capital punishment ever devised, and the Romans perfected it. They reserved it for non-Roman citizens, slaves, heinous criminals, and enemies of the state. The Gospel writers—the entire New Testament, for that matter—did not delve too much into the details of crucifixion because most people in the first century had seen a crucified victim, and the sight elicited such horrors that it was not something to write about.

The crucifixion of Jesus was intended to be an outright mockery of Jewish hopes of redemption. The Jews had just celebrated Passover, the festival of liberation and freedom. So why did Pilate need to crucify anyone during Passover? This brutal act was his deliberate way of reminding the Jews in Jerusalem who, in fact, was in charge. His message was clear and simple: You may have celebrated redemption, but Rome still rules.

Jesus may have worn the plaque for the cross around His neck as He went from Pilate’s tribunal to the place of execution. It provided the crime for which He was executed: “This is the King of the Jews.” Its mocking effigy not only ridiculed Jesus; it also taunted the Jews as they celebrated Passover, hoping for redemption. The Roman soldiers also mocked Jesus, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself,” a refrain that appears throughout the Passion story on the lips of Pilate and his soldiers, which carries a very anti-Jewish attitude.

Even the chief priests, the ones who brought Him to Pilate and cried for Him to be crucified, mocked Him. They had won. They used Pilate to carry out their dirty work. They had effectively protected their wealth and power, both of which were given them for their collaboration with imperial Rome. And, as Jesus hung on the cross, subjected to the most cruel and painful torture ever designed by man, humiliated and mocked by those in power, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

The one who commanded His followers to, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27 NIV), did just that. He walked the path that He expects each of His followers to walk.

Then, when the moment of Jesus’ death came, He uttered the words of every faithful Jew upon their death bed, “Into Your hand I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5 NKJV). Like His Jewish contemporaries, Jesus’ citing part of the verse pointed to the larger context of the psalm, which is trusting God as the hope for redemption.

Everything about that awful day screamed that evil had triumphed. The ridicule, the humiliation. The pain, the cruelty. Darkness came upon the land. Hopes and dreams lay in tatters as Jesus hung on the cross. Yet, in the moment when He breathed His last, He uttered a profound confession in a faithful Father who had not abandoned Him.

Jesus went to the cross believing that His Father would not forsake Him but would raise Him from the dead. He never wavered. When the people mocked Him, He asked God to forgive them. With the final breath of life passing His lips, He affirmed His hope in a just and loving Father who would not abandon Him to the grave. He trusted that through His death and sacrifice on the cross, God’s redemption would be extended to all people.

When we find ourselves in the midst of chaos, with broken and shattered hopes, mocked and humiliated, do we give into despair? Jesus could have. In such moments, trusting God seems next to impossible. The fear, the hurt, the pain, the loss, the devastation of these moments can overwhelm us. Jesus found Himself in such a moment on the cross. He was not rescued from the pain, the torture, the humiliation, or death. Yet He trusted in His Father.

Jesus not only perfectly represented God’s nature through the entirety of His trial and execution; He also showed us how to go through these moments of pain, suffering, and oppression as a human being. He forgave those who did this to Him, and He never lost faith in His Father.

PRAYER

Father, even in our darkest hour, may we be like Your Son Jesus, who when reviled, He forgave,  and trusted in You. Amen.

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The Garden of Gethsemane

“Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed,  saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.’ Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:39-44 NKJV).

Have you ever thought about the daily habits of Jesus? The Gospels only record a very small fraction of His entire life, so what habits would He have daily engaged in as a first-century Jew? Ancient Jewish sources record that Jews in the first century participated in daily prayer, offering prayers in the morning and evening. We also find the widespread practice of reciting the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) also in the morning and evening, which, outside of the Temple in Jerusalem, took place in homes.

The first-century Jewish historian Josephus indicates that people often attached prayers and blessings to the reciting of the Shema. Jesus’ contemporary sages viewed the reciting of the Shema as one accepting God’s kingdom, His rule and reign, upon themselves. It establishes the right order and relation with God being king and people His servants. It acknowledges that He alone is God and that we should live our lives accordingly. Although we do not hear of this daily practice in Jesus’ life recorded in the Gospels, we can assume that He acted like His countrymen; moreover, this passage clearly played a significant role in His faith (see Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; and Luke 10:25-28).

What impact do you think it had on Jesus to make it a daily habit of submitting His will to the rule and reign of His heavenly Father? The answer appears in His response on the Mount of Olives, this most critical of moments, when Jesus wrestled with God’s will.

As modern readers of the Gospels, we do not feel the tension of this moment created by the geographic location of Jesus’ prayer. The increased drama of the moment can be felt when one understands the exact location.

The Mount of Olives forms a north-south ridgeline on the eastern boundary of Jerusalem. The Kidron valley separated it from the walled city of Jerusalem. It forms the eastern watershed of the hill country around Jerusalem. From the top of its ridge, you can see the steppeland of Judah, which slopes down into the Jordan Rift Valley toward Jericho and the Dead Sea. The land east of the Mount of Olives sits in the rain shadow of the Judean hill country characterized by deeply eroded chalky slopes and infertile soil with a lack of water. This difficult region historically served as a refuge for political figures and spiritual ascetics.

The traditional location of the “Garden of Gethsemane” sits on the lower slope of the western side of the Mount of Olives. The tradition identifying this as the location of Gethsemane dates to the Byzantine era (4th–6th century A.D.) and cannot be considered definite. Nevertheless, according to the Gospels, Jesus prayed that final night somewhere on the Mount of Olives. From the bottom of the western side of the Mount of Olives, one can leisurely walk to the top of the ridge in 20 minutes. Another 20 minutes and you are in the eastern wilderness, a place of refuge for those seeking asylum from the authorities. When Jesus prayed that night, “not My will, but Yours, be done,” He physically sat in a geographical location that presented Him with a doorway of escape. An hour’s walk would have taken Him to freedom! He could have avoided Caiaphas, Pilate, and the cross.

But He turned His back on the doorway of escape and went to the cross in complete submission to the will of His Father. Have you ever wondered how Jesus was able to make the decision He made in that pivotal moment? While many would answer, “because He was the Son of God,” which is true, it is vitally important that we not minimize or diminish the real humanity of Jesus. As a human being, is it possible that Jesus was able to submit Himself to His Father’s will on that crucial night because He had made it a daily habit to do so each and every day of His life?

We often equate true spirituality with how we live in the big moments of life. But we fail to realize that we condition our performance and our obedience in the big moments by how we choose to live every day. Our daily habit of pursuing a trusting relationship with God and forming disciplines that are vital to our living in obedience to Him will ultimately impact the choices we make when it counts most. 

Jesus chose the will of the Father in Gethsemane, even while standing at the door of escape, because He had made it a daily habit to trust His Father and submit to His will throughout His entire life. In a moment when He could have run, His habit of daily trust and submission to His Father’s will took precedent. And because of that daily relationship and discipline—a central part of the ancient Jewish faith—the world has never been the same.

We need to be careful not to define spirituality by only the big moments. We should not despise the daily and mundane moments of life that provide us the opportunity to build trust in God and learn to submit to His will. If we want to truly follow Jesus, what might we learn from how He lived His everyday life according to the Gospels and what we know about ancient Judaism?

PRAYER

Father, in all things in our life, not our will but Your will be done. Amen.

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The Passover Meal

“And He sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.’ So they said to Him, ‘Where do You want us to prepare?’ And He said to them, ‘Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house which he enters. Then you shall say to the master of the house, “The Teacher says to you, ‘Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?’” Then he will show you a large, furnished upper room; there make ready.’ So they went and found it just as He had said to them, and they prepared the Passover” (Luke 22:8-13 NKJV).

Jesus came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Pilgrims came to Jerusalem in obedience to the Law of Moses that commanded Jewish males to appear before the Lord at Passover (Exodus 23:14-15; Deuteronomy 16:16). If they came to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival, they did so to participate in the sacrificial system of the Jerusalem Temple, which culminated in the eating of the Passover lamb—inside the walled city of Jerusalem on the eve of Passover.

On the day of the eve of Passover, a group, or a person representing a group, brought the Passover lamb to the Temple. The person bringing the lamb slaughtered it. This was the only sacrifice where the one who brought the sacrifice slaughtered it instead of the priests in the Temple doing so. When Jesus instructed Peter and John to prepare the Passover, He spoke specifically about slaughtering the lamb and roasting it for the meal.

According to the Old Testament, participants must eat the Passover (the festival and sacrifice both can be simply referred to as the Passover) in the presence of the Lord. Due to the enormous size of the pilgrim crowds in the first century, not everyone could fit into the Temple courts; thus, the Jewish sages extended the sanctity of the Temple to the walled city of Jerusalem on the eve of Passover.

In the first century, while the Temple stood, the eating of the Passover lamb constituted the primary event on the eve of Passover. Today Jewish families all over the world participate in a Passover Seder in which the Passover liturgy, the Haggadah, is recited. This liturgy developed centuries after Jesus and does not reflect the Passover meal of the first century. In the first century in Jerusalem, the meal consisted of eating the Passover lamb, drinking two cups of wine—one before the meal and one after)—possibly a reminiscence of the Exodus story in some form, and the singing of a few hymns.

Jesus, knowing what lay before Him over the next few hours, took the opportunity of the meal to provide His disciples a pointed object lesson: He called upon His disciples to remember His action and suffering. This remembrance formed the heart of their gatherings for centuries after, even to this day in some traditions.

The Passover meal was, in itself, a form of memory—remembering what God did for the children of Israel in delivering them from Egyptian bondage. Remember. Remember God’s saving acts. Why do we need to remember what God has done? Especially with the death of Jesus and the Exodus—those are pretty big events. But Jesus called upon His followers, as God did the children of Israel, to remember and celebrate. To take time out of life to remember and celebrate. How often do we do that?

God uses sacred moments within the Bible, on holidays and the Sabbath, and during Communion to give us the opportunity to stop long enough so that He can be present with us in a special way and cause us to remember. Why? Because we tend to forget. We forget what He’s done for us. We forget to celebrate His redemptive acts. This is why Jesus instructed His disciples to “do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19 NKJV).

Remember. Don’t forget. Be sure to create space for God’s presence, to remember, and celebrate His wondrous redemption in your life.

PRAYER

Father, we remember Your mighty acts of redemption. We celebrate Your deliverance. Amen.

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The Temple Cleansing

“Then He went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in it, saying to them, ‘It is written, “My house is a house of prayer,” but you have made it a “den of thieves.”’ And He was teaching daily in the temple. But the chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people sought to destroy Him, and were unable to do anything; for all the people were very attentive to hear Him” (Luke 19:45-48 NKJV).

Jesus rode into Jerusalem in the week leading up to Passover on a wave of popularity and redemptive anticipation. Upon His arrival in Jerusalem, He entered the Temple and challenged the financial corruption of the chief priests. They were the ones who oversaw the sale of sacrifices and financial activities of the Temple. Jesus’ actions were not directed against the Temple itself; in fact, He never rejected the Temple, as evidenced by the actions of His followers after His death and resurrection, who continued to frequent the Jerusalem Temple and participate in its sacrificial system (Luke 24:53; Acts 3:1, 21:26).

His actions specifically targeted the sellers—the chief priests. He drove them out by quoting a passage from Isaiah and one from Jeremiah, “My house is a house of prayer,” but you have made it a “den of thieves.”’ Luke makes clear that this action led the chief priests and their scribes, those who were the principal men of the people, to seek to kill Jesus, but they could not do so openly because the crowds hung on His words. From this point, however, the chief priests of Jerusalem sought to kill Jesus, eventually having to arrest Him under the cloak of darkness—further evidence that the crowds of Jerusalem never turned against Jesus.

Why did His action elicit such a visceral response? The answer lies in Jesus’ teaching and His popularity, both of which threatened the power and wealth of Jerusalem’s chief priests.

Jewish sages, like Jesus, often taught by tying passages from the Old Testament together. Because the sage and the audience knew the Old Testament by heart, the simple mention of a phrase or line from a passage called to mind the entire context of the passage. Jesus did this when He combined Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.

The fuller context of Isaiah 56 calls upon the people to both “keep justice and do righteousness” (56:1 NKJV). This contrasts with the context of Jeremiah 7, in which Jeremiah predicted the destruction of the First Temple built by Solomon due to the corruption of the people. To “prove” his point, Jeremiah reminded his listeners what God did to Shiloh where the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant resided for a time (Jeremiah 7:12-14). This event seems to coincide with the capture of the Ark and the slaying of the corrupt priests Hophni and Phineas, who were the sons of Eli (1 Samuel 4). On that day, the Philistines captured the Ark and cut off the priesthood of Eli due to the corruption of the people.

Jesus’ fragmentary citation of Jeremiah 7:11 would have caused His audience to make that jump in an instant, and they clearly understood His message: Because of your (the chief priests’) corruption, God is going to judge this place (the Temple) and your priesthood will be cut off! From their response in the Gospels, they understood Jesus’ message very clearly, and due to His popularity with the people, He was a threat that needed to be removed. 

The wealth of the high priestly clans of Jerusalem was legendary, as was their brutality and desire to protect their wealth. They controlled a monopoly setting prices for sacrifices, which often became so exorbitant that pilgrims to the Temple could not participate in the sacrificial system. A number of Jewish sources, including the New Testament, comment on the greed and brutality of the Sadducean chief priests.

Archaeological excavations in Jerusalem have uncovered high priestly homes that attest to the opulent and lavish lifestyle in which these priests lived. The largest of these homes—which contains beautiful fresco work, imported Roman pottery, and a hand-blown glass piece signed by the artist, Enion of Sidon—is over 6,000 square feet!

Jesus, and His popularity, threatened the power and wealth of this elite group. This sets the stage for the events of His last week, which culminate in His death and resurrection, carried out by the Romans in collusion with the chief priests of Jerusalem, who sought to protect their power and money at all costs. It was in their best interest to preserve the status quo with Rome, and so Jesus had to be eliminated. 

These same forces are alive in our world today. The clamor of power and money leads many, including some Christians, to behave in ways God despises. Jesus’ citation of Isaiah 56 calls upon the people to “keep justice and do righteousness.”

He called upon the people to return to God and His ways. He calls us to do the same. We have to guard against the allure of power and greed by submitting daily to God’s rule and reign in our lives and looking for ways we can love those who are hurting and suffering in our world.

PRAYER

Father, may we “keep justice and do righteousness” in our world today. We submit our wills and ways to You, our God. Lead us in the paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake. Amen.

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The Triumphal Entry

“Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’” (Luke 19:37-38 NKJV).

Jesus came to Jerusalem riding a wave of popularity and redemptive expectations. As He ascended toward Jerusalem, Luke tells us that those traveling with Him were anticipating that the kingdom of God would appear immediately (19:11). We hear in the voices of the disciples on the road to Emmaus the redemptive hopes many had pinned on Jesus: “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (24:21 NKJV). Their hopes were not misguided, for after the resurrection, the disciples asked Jesus about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6).

Jesus did not rebuke them for failing to understand God’s redemptive plans and purposes. Rather, He affirmed their hopes but said, now is not the time. When He came to Jerusalem, the time of redemption for the nation of Israel had not yet come. Instead, God had other immediate plans for Jesus—a path of suffering, the path of the cross.

Jesus came to Jerusalem riding on a donkey, surrounded by the rejoicing of His loyal disciples. Their song of praise, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” echoes the angelic proclamation at Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14 NKJV). The jubilation of Jesus’ disciples during His entry into the city and the announcement of the angels both herald God’s redemption through Jesus. At His birth, it referred to the hopes carried by the newborn baby; as He rode into Jerusalem, it pertained to hopes deferred. Jesus had things to accomplish.

We do not always understand what God is doing and where He is taking us. Yet do we have the confidence to trust that He will get us there? We want to know the future, understand the signs of the times, but Jesus said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7 NKJV). Can we trust God even when the times of His plans and redemption are not fully known to us?

The New Testament affirms and declares God’s faithfulness to His promised redemption; it has dawned and has come near. But can we remain faithful knowing that the loving Father who promised redemption, who led Jesus to the cross knowing that the empty tomb stood on the other side, stands with us, and He will accomplish what He promised?

May we echo jubilation of Jesus’ disciples on Palm Sunday, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

PRAYER

Father, our lives are in Your hands. We trust in You. Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven. Amen.

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Lone Soldier Home

Israel has a national army that requires mandatory service of its citizens. And for Israeli teens, turning 18 means swapping school books for military uniforms, and putting other dreams and goals on hold. But for a young immigrant, the challenges of army life can be far more daunting.

Imagine traveling to a country without friends or family, where you don’t speak the language or know the culture, and you are about to join their military. Every year, Israel’s army receives many young people who emigrate alone, from a variety of countries—including the U.S.

Lone soldiers face unique challenges. If you don’t have a family to go home to during your time of leave and a place that is yours, it can leave you feeling even more isolated and alone during your military service.

But today, they have a strong ally. Daniel Carlson, the national director of CBN Israel, was a lone soldier himself 30 years ago. He experienced the same struggles—and he had a vision to help these young recruits. It started with a large rented house, but soon the demand grew.

Thanks to friends like you, we rented an even bigger home. It has plenty of room for more beds—and a caring couple, who serve as volunteer house parents. They provide home-cooked meals, plus vital spiritual and emotional support for these brave soldiers who risk their lives.

Your gifts to CBN Israel can also bring aid and God’s love to single mothers, Holocaust survivors, and terrorism victims. And during Israel’s COVID-19 crisis, your support is crucial as the needs escalate. You can deliver food, housing, medicine, and essentials to those in need. Please join us in bringing God’s love to those in the Holy Land who need our help!

GIVE TODAY

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Biblical Israel: Chorazin

By Marc Turnage

Located two and a half miles north of Capernaum, Chorazin sits in the hills overlooking the lake of Galilee at 45-46 meters above sea level and 267-273 meters above the lake. Although only mentioned once in the Gospels (Matthew 11:21-24; Luke 10:13-16), Jesus cursed the village for not repenting when seeing the miracles he worked in its midst. He cursed Chorazin, along with Capernaum and Bethsaida. Incidentally, the land between these three villages, on the north shore of the lake of Galilee, covers much of the territory of Jesus’ ministry recorded in the Gospels.

The distance of Chorazin from the lake meant that it did not participate directly in the fishing industry on the lake. We learn from rabbinic literature that Chorazin produced exceptional wheat. Excavations of the site reveal that the village, which began in the first century A.D., was a Jewish village.

The majority of the ruins one sees when visiting Chorazin today date from after the first century, but they reflect Jewish village life in the Galilee. The central structure from the later village is the synagogue. Built perhaps as early as the third century A.D., the basalt structure resembles the Galilean style synagogues excavated at places like Capernaum, Bar’am, Meiron, and Arbel.

The synagogue sits in the center of the village. Worshippers entered the hall through three entrances from a large staircase on the south, which faces towards Jerusalem. Two tiers of benches line the two long aisles and the short wall opposite the entrance in a “U” shape. Inside the synagogue, the basalt stone, which is hard to fashion, bears carvings and decorations.

Excavators uncovered pieces of what appears to be a Torah Ark, where biblical scrolls read in the synagogue were kept. They also discovered a basalt stone seat, which was known as the Seat of Moses (see Matthew 23:1-2; Luke 4:20). The chair bears a dedicatory inscription in Aramaic, which reads, “Remember for good Yudan son of Ishmael, who made (or donated) this stoa, and its steps from his property. May he have a portion with the righteous.” Recent excavations in the floor of this synagogue indicate that it may stand on an earlier public building, perhaps the first century synagogue.

Although the ruins of Chorazin that one sees today date to after the first century, the site contains a number of features in the homes, installations, like a covered Jewish ritual immersion bath, and details within the synagogue that help to illustrate stories from the Gospels and the life and ministry of Jesus.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Out of the Depths

“Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD; Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. … I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning—yes, more than those who watch for the morning” (Psalm 130:1-2, 5-6 NKJV).

Have you ever been there? In the depths? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by life and its circumstances that you felt as if you were in the deepest, darkest pit? The psalmist did. And he cried out to the Lord. 

This is actually an amazing statement by the psalmist, because when you find yourself in the depths, one of the hardest things to do is cry out to God. You may think that sounds strange. Perhaps you think that the natural cry should be to God. And it should. The problem, however, is that when we find ourselves in the depths, we stand on the edge of despair. 

Circumstances overwhelm us like violent waves of the ocean. At first, we may find the strength to face the challenges and hardships, but eventually, even inside of us, we begin to faint, wear down, and despair. 

Faith is not just believing God in the good times or even the mildly bad times; faith is crying out to God from the deepest depths of despair, when everything outside of us and inside of us feels like things are hopeless. When we can cry out to God in that moment, pleading with Him to hear our cry, that is the genuine test of our faith. 

Everyone faces hardships and overwhelming circumstances, many of which we cannot control. The challenge of faith is this: that even though we find ourselves in deep despair due to circumstances and the doubts that arise in us, we continue facing toward God. No matter our circumstances, we cry out to Him and know that He will answer us. He will not abandon us. 

The psalmist didn’t allow his circumstances to consume him, nor did he buy into the thought that his circumstances separated him from God’s being able to hear him. From the depths, he called out to the Lord because the God of the Bible is near to the cry of His people. 

When you find yourself in the depths of despair, turn toward God, not toward your circumstances. That doesn’t mean that the hardship, difficulty, or pain will subside. It does mean that the God of the universe will hear your cry, and the deepest depths are not too deep for Him.

PRAYER

Father, hear our cry. Give ear to our plea today. Amen.

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When Change Happens

By Mark Gerson

The life of our father Jacob—and with it, the book of Genesis—is coming to an end. On his deathbed, Jacob says perhaps the most beautiful and moving expression of love and gratitude ever spoken, “I had not expected to see [even] your face, and behold, God has shown me your children too.” 

Joseph, we are told in Genesis 48:12, “removed them [his sons] from his knees and he prostrated himself with his face toward the ground.” 

As the Jerusalem Rabbi Benji Levy notes, this would be an entirely explicable expression of parental fealty—a classic example of honoring one’s father—until one considers what we just learned about Jacob: He was blind! Jacob would not have known if Joseph were prostrating himself, standing, or doing jumping jacks. Joseph could honor his father with his words, but not with his body. 

Why, then, does he prostrate himself?

Because the act of honoring a parent—or doing any mitzvah (“good deed”)—is not only for the recipient. Doing a good deed reflects and improves the character of the doer. Joseph does not prostrate himself to send a message of respect to his father. He does so because that is just how he acts in the presence of his father, and because treating his father with this respect refines him. 

In the beginning of Exodus, God is ready to start the plagues. As a prelude to the first plague, God instructs Moses to tell Aaron to use his staff to get the Nile to change its water to blood. This raises two questions. First, why would God want a person to do the act that causes the plague? As God, he could have made the water turn to blood unaided. As Joseph did with prostrating himself before his father, God is teaching us that the purpose of an action is not only to accomplish its objective. God wants the Nile to turn to blood, but he is also showing us he wants to operate in the world with a human partner. 

Why, then, does God tell Moses to tell Aaron to strike the river? Moses had a staff and could have easily struck the river himself. The Rabbis explain: The Nile River had saved the life of the baby Moses by delivering him safely, in the basket, to Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses, therefore, owed the river gratitude—so God would never ask him to strike it.

How can a person owe an inanimate object gratitude or anything like it? The river, of course, could neither think nor feel and so could not have taken offense if Moses struck it. That, the Rabbis state, is not the point. Moses owed the river gratitude, whether or not it could have appreciated or known about it. By having Aaron strike the river, Moses was inculcating himself into the discipline and the habit of gratitude that would define his character and condition him to express gratitude to people. 

Every Friday night, we Jews exercise the most joyous aspect of our faith as we welcome Shabbat and get ready to enjoy Shabbat dinner. We bless God over the wine and the challah (the bread). The challah is always dressed with a beautiful covering. Why do we cover the challah? Because the wine is blessed first, and we do not want to embarrass the challah. Can challah be embarrassed? Of course not. But if we are conditioned to respect the challah this way, we will begin the Sabbath by reminding ourselves to always be very careful to avoid embarrassing anyone. 

Each of these three examples is very different from the others. Yet they all illustrate the same Jewish truth: Every action we take changes us. This makes intuitive sense. When we look back upon a period of our lives—perhaps a birthday, an anniversary, a school reunion—we acknowledge how much we have changed. And if we pause for a moment, we would realize something that is both obvious and important. All that change didn’t happen in the moment before we considered it. Like a child’s growing or an adult’s aging, the process happens continuously. 

Consequently, the answer to the question, “When did this change happen?” is the same as the answers to the questions: “When do I grow?” and “When did I look older than I did before?” The difference is that we can take ownership and control over the first question—and Joseph, Moses, and the Jewish parent who blesses the challah show us how. 

We can take ownership of our non-physical changes by acknowledging that they happen at every moment. Every writing we read, every video we watch, every conversation we have, every person we meet, every reaction we have—they all change us. Of course, some change us more than others. A conversation with a spouse about how one can be a better parent or communicator is likely to change us more than a conversation with a grocery clerk about whether or not (to quote a Saturday Night Live bit from my youth) the snack pack counts as one item or six in qualifying for the express lane. But they all change us. 

Upon acknowledging that the answer to the question, “When did I change?” is “continuously” or “always,” we realize something else as well. If every encounter changes us—and we can usually control a significant part of each encounter—then we can change ourselves in accordance with who we want to be. 

Joseph decided he wanted to be respectful and religious. So, he prostrated himself before his blind father. God decided Moses, whom God had determined would lead the Jewish people out of slavery and toward freedom, should be grateful. So, God told Moses to tell Aaron to strike the Nile. And some wise Jews a long time ago wanted us to be sensitive to publicly embarrassing anyone, so they devised the otherwise strange custom of dressing the challah. 

Who does each of us want to be? What qualities do we want to cultivate and resist? Once we make those decisions, each day will present literally hundreds of opportunities for us to change ourselves accordingly. 

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Website: therabbishusband.com
Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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