A Great Outcry

Bible:

Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.” Nehemiah 5:1-5 ESV

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared. Psalm 130:1-4 ESV

Reflection:

In West Africa today as I write, much of the world’s cocoa is grown. It has the right kind of tropical climate to grow the cacao bean, which is made into chocolate. To make the cocoa cheap to sell, people who own cocoa plantations don’t pay their workers very much, and they often hire children to work long hours in the fields. The children who are hired live in areas of great poverty, and they are desperate for money to help support their families. Sometimes an even more terrible thing happens, and the children of these families are sold as slaves because the people who take them tell lies to their families about dangerous work and the lack of education the children will face. Families live in such poverty that they are helpless to do better for their children.

Something like this was happening to the people of Judah in Nehemiah’s time. There was a famine, and the poorer people didn’t have anything to eat. They were mortgaging their farms, which meant that they were borrowing money that they would have to pay back, or else they would lose their land. They needed money to buy the food that wasn’t growing during the famine, and they also needed money to pay their taxes to the Persian empire, who controlled their country. Some of these people were becoming so desperate that they were at the point of selling their children into slavery to their fellow Jews who were rich, and some of them had already sold their daughters. Now they were crying to Nehemiah for help.

We’ve all been in a desperate situation like this, and we were completely helpless to get ourselves out of it. We were slaves to sin and death, and we couldn’t do anything to work our way out of this slavery. But God sent Jesus to be our Savior, and Jesus defeated the forces of sin and death and the devil when he died on the cross and rose again from the dead. Because of what Jesus did, we are free from all the evil forces that had us trapped and helpless. We are now God’s free people, and we will live forever with him in his heavenly kingdom.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to set us free from sin and death. In His Name, Amen.

Source:

http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/

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The Festival of Purim

Bible:

And Mordecai recorded these things and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, obliging them to keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same, year by year, as the days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

So the Jews accepted what they had started to do, and what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur (that is, cast lots), to crush and to destroy them. But when it came before the king, he gave orders in writing that his evil plan that he had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore they called these days Purim, after the term Pur. Therefore, because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, the Jews firmly obligated themselves and their offspring and all who joined them, that without fail they would keep these two days according to what was written and at the time appointed every year, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every clan, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants. Esther 9:20-28 ESV

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25:6-8 ESV

Reflection:

When the Jews triumphed over their enemies in the Persian empire and were saved from being slaughtered by them, they had a big celebration. They had feasts and sent presents to each other and made sure that anyone who was poor would have enough food to celebrate. Mordecai sent out word to them that they should celebrate the same festival every year and never forget what God had done for them and how they had been saved from death. They called the festival Purim, because Haman had cast lots, called Pur, to decide which day would be the lucky day to kill the Jews, and it became the day when everything was turned upside down and the enemies of the Jews were killed instead.

Today Jewish people still celebrate the festival of Purim, and they make it a very happy time. They tell the story of Esther again, and the people boo and hiss and stamp their feet and use noisemakers whenever Haman’s name is read. When Mordecai’s name is read, they all cheer and call, “Bless Mordecai!” Later there are feasting and skits and games, and people sometimes wear masks and costumes. There are special foods such as hamantaschen, which is a sweet that is supposed to look like Haman’s hat. They send gifts to other people, especially gifts of food such as pastries, fruit, and nuts, and also they send food and money to the poor so that they can celebrate too.

God has also given us many days to celebrate, and the greatest celebration of all is the festival of Easter. This is the day that we remember that Jesus rose from the dead, defeating all our worst enemies of sin and death and the devil. Because of what Jesus did, we can also be happy and celebrate and share good things with others, especially the good news of God’s love for them. Easter is a special time to celebrate, but the good news is that Jesus is alive for us today and every day, and we can be happy and share the love of Jesus all the time. We know that God will always help and protect his people until he brings us into his heavenly kingdom forever.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for loving us and protecting us, and for sending Jesus to defeat death and the devil for us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Source:

Born, David J. Bible Studies on the Feasts of Israel St. Louis: LCMS World Mission, and Orlando: Lutherans in Jewish Evangelism, 1994.

 

What is Your Wish?

Bible:

That very day the number of those killed in Susa the citadel was reported to the king. And the king said to Queen Esther, “In Susa the citadel the Jews have killed and destroyed 500 men and also the ten sons of Haman. What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces! Now what is your wish? It shall be granted you. And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled.” And Esther said, “If it please the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day’s edict. And let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.” So the king commanded this to be done. A decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed 300 men in Susa, but they laid no hands on the plunder.

Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to defend their lives, and got relief from their enemies and killed 75,000 of those who hated them, but they laid no hands on the plunder. This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness. But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the rural towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and as a day on which they send gifts of food to one another. Esther 9:11-19 ESV

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. I John 5:13-15 ESV

Reflection:

One day a little boy found out what happens when you give a mouse a cookie. The mouse will start to ask for all kind of other things. He’ll want some milk to go with the cookie, and a straw to drink the milk with, and then a napkin to wipe his face, and a peek in the mirror, and then a nail scissors to trim his hair, and a broom to sweep up the mess, and a little bed to take a nap in, and a story, and some paper and crayons to draw a picture, and a pen to sign his name, some tape to put his picture on the refrigerator, and another glass of milk, and another cookie! The little mouse knew that the boy was his friend, and he wasn’t afraid to ask him for everything he wanted.

Esther had taken a huge risk and approached King Ahasuerus to ask him for an important favor. The king had granted her request, and on the day that the enemies of the Jews had planned to attack and kill them, the Jews were given permission to defend themselves. In the capital city of Susa 500 men were killed as well as Haman’s ten sons, and in the rest of the Persian empire many more people also were killed. The king reported this to Esther, and then asked her, “What is your wish?” Esther was in his favor, and she could ask him for anything she wanted to, and he would give it to her. She asked that Haman’s ten sons be hanged so that people could see the punishment that came to Haman’s family, and she also asked that the Jewish people be allowed to defend themselves and engage their enemies in combat for another day. King Ahasuerus granted her request, and there was a great victory for the Jews. After two days of fighting, the next day became a day of celebration for all the Jewish people.

We can also go to God with all our needs and requests, and he promises to hear our prayers. We don’t ever have to worry that he’s too busy, or that he doesn’t care about us, or that anything is too big or too much for us to ask for. That doesn’t mean that the Lord will give us everything we want, because we don’t always know what is best for us. God is our loving Heavenly Father, and we can trust him to do what is best, even when we don’t always understand. But we can be sure that it’s always okay to tell God whatever is on our mind, and to know that he will hear and answer our prayers. We can be sure of this because Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, and because of Jesus we are God’s children. We can talk to the Lord they way children are able to talk to a good father, and know that we can count on his love and his help every day.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for hearing our prayers and loving and helping us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Source:

Numeroff, Laura If You Give a Mouse a Cookie New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1985. 

Fellow Citizens with the Saints

Bible:

Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a robe of fine linen and purple, and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. And in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them. Esther 8:15-17 ESV

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:11-22 ESV

Reflection:

Have you ever heard of a gatecrasher? Gatecrashers are people who come into a party, such as a wedding, when they haven’t been invited. They pretend to know people, and they talk and laugh with the guests and eat the food. In 2009 there were a couple of gatecrashers who came to an important state dinner at the American White House. They were not on the guest list for this dinner, but they somehow made it through security and enjoyed time with all the important and powerful people who were there, and even had their pictures taken with the vice president of the United States! People who crash parties often do it for kicks, or to enjoy the good food, or to meet famous and important people.

When events turned strongly in favor of the Jews in the Persian empire, some of the other people who weren’t Jewish were afraid. They could see that there was some power protecting the Jewish people, and even though they didn’t really understand this power, they didn’t want to risk going against the people who were protected in this amazing way. So many people who weren’t Jews said that they were. Like gatecrashers at a party, they wanted to have the benefits and blessings that they could see went with being Jewish.

God loved and helped the Jewish people because he had promised that the Savior would be born to them, and his promise was that all the peoples of the world would be blessed through this Savior. Jesus is the one God promised to send, and he died so that our sins could be forgiven and that we could be brought back to our Heavenly Father. We don’t have to be gatecrashers to become one of God’s people, because Jesus opened the way for everyone to belong to him. Whether someone is Jewish or non-Jewish, there is no division between the people who are God’s children through Jesus. Everyone is welcome, and there is room for all.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to bring us and people from all over the world back to you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Source:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/26/couple-gatecrashes-barack-obama-white-house-dinner

The Enemy Exposed

Bible:

While they were yet talking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried to bring Haman to the feast that Esther had prepared. So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. And on the second day, as they were drinking wine after the feast, the king again said to Esther, “What is your wish, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has dared to do this?” And Esther said, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. Esther 6:14-7:6 ESV

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV

Reflection:

During the 1930s a man named Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. He hated the Jewish people and wanted to destroy them. Under his leadership there were laws passed that discriminated against Jews, and their businesses were boycotted. Nazi soldiers removed Jewish people to ghettos in Germany and Poland. Killing squads killed whole communities of Jews. Finally, Jewish people were taken to concentration camps and many of them were killed there by poison gas. In all, six million Jews were killed during these terrible years.

Many centuries before in the Persian empire there was a danger of the same terrible thing happening. Haman had bribed the king into passing a law that called for all the Jewish people in the kingdom to be killed. After Esther had given King Ahasuerus and Haman a second feast, it was time for her to tell the king what was on her mind. She told Ahasuerus that she was a Jew, and that her people were in danger of being wiped out. She said that the cost to the king of losing so many people from his empire would be great. The king was angry and asked who had done this terrible thing, and Esther boldly pointed to her enemy. “This wicked Haman!” she shouted.

We were all under the power of our enemy, the devil. He held us in slavery to sin and death, and there was no way we could ever free ourselves from his power. But Jesus came to us and confronted our enemy for us. He defeated death and all the forces of evil when he died on the cross for us and rose again on the first Easter Sunday. Because of what Jesus did, we are free from our bondage to sin and death, and will live forever in our Lord’s heavenly kingdom.

Prayer:

Dear Jesus, thank you for defeating sin, death, and the devil and setting us free. Amen.

Source:

https://www.ushmm.org/outreach/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007704

Planning Revenge

Bible:

After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why do you transgress the king’s command?” And when they spoke to him day after day and he would not listen to them, they told Haman, in order to see whether Mordecai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew. And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. Esther 3:1-6 ESV

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.” Psalm 2:1-6 ESV

Reflection:

Aaron had once been a happy boy who had lived on a farm with his mother and father. But one night something terrible happened. Bandits attacked the farm, stole almost all of the animals, burned down Aaron’s home, and worst of all, killed his parents. Aaron was left alone, and he felt very angry and bitter because of what the bandits had done. He made a fierce promise to himself that for the rest of his life he would hate all people. He wasn’t content with just hating the bandits who had taken his family and his home away from him, but instead he hated everyone.

King Ahasuerus promoted a man named Haman to be a very high official, and he commanded that everyone should bow in reverence to Haman. But Mordecai refused to do this, even though others warned him that he should obey the king. The Bible doesn’t tell us why Mordecai refused to bow, and God’s law allows us to show respect and honor to government officials. But Mordecai said that he wasn’t going to do it and that he was Jew. Probably bowing to Haman would somehow have given him the honor that only belongs to the God of Israel, and that’s why Mordecai refused to bow. But Haman was very angry about this. He was so angry that he wanted to destroy Mordecai, and not only him, but all of his people, all of the Jews in the whole Persian empire!

An attack on God’s people is an attack on God himself, and this was an attack on the promised Savior God had promised to send through his people. It’s foolish and wrong to try to rebel against God’s plans in this way. God’s purposes can’t be put aside, and fighting against them can lead only to failure. The Lord had promised to protect and care for his people and to send the promised Savior through them, and nothing could ever stop that plan. We know that at the right time God sent Jesus, and the full force of hatred and evil was set loose on Jesus. But Jesus defeated sin and death and all the devil’s schemes when he died on the cross and rose again. Because of what Jesus did, we are God’s people, and he will protect and care for us now and always.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for making us your people and for your protection and help. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Source:

“The Little Drummer Boy.” NBC. 19 December 1968. Television.

The King’s Decision

Bible:

Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in Babylonia, in the house of the archives where the documents were stored. And in Ecbatana, the citadel that is in the province of Media, a scroll was found on which this was written: “A record. In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices were offered, and let its foundations be retained. Its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, with three layers of great stones and one layer of timber. Let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. And also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and brought back to the temple that is in Jerusalem, each to its place. You shall put them in the house of God.”

“Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and your associates the governors who are in the province Beyond the River, keep away. Let the work on this house of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. Moreover, I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River. And whatever is needed—bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require—let that be given to them day by day without fail, that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons. Also I make a decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it, and his house shall be made a dunghill. May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who shall put out a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God that is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence.” Ezra 6:1-12 ESV

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. I Timothy 2:1-6 ESV

Reflection:

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of what is known of as the Bill of Rights, says that an accused criminal has the right to have the assistance of a lawyer for his or her defense. In 1961 a man named Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested and brought to trial for breaking into a pool hall and stealing money from its vending machines. Gideon couldn’t afford a lawyer to defend him in court and asked that a lawyer be appointed for him, but the court refused to do that. He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in jail. While he was in prison, he appealed to the Supreme Court of Florida, saying he had had an unfair trial because he didn’t have a lawyer, but the Florida court didn’t agree. Then his case went to the United States Supreme Court. The job of the Supreme Court of the United States is to look at cases and situations, and then look at the highest law of the land, the Constitution. The court then decides if what happened was according to the United States Constitution, or if what happen was against this law. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that what had happened to Gideon was against the Constitution. From that time on, people in the United States who have been accused of a crime and can’t afford a lawyer must be provided with one.

A similar thing happened to the Jews who were rebuilding the temple. They claimed that there was a decree on the books that had given them the right to rebuild the temple of the Lord. Governor Tattenai appealed to the King of Persia to have a search be made of old documents to find out if this was true or not. So King Darius had a search made of government archives, and he found the decree of Cyrus that had decreed that the Jews return home and rebuild their temple. The king then gave his decision, that the Jews were acting according to the law and should be allowed to continue their work. He told the governor and his officials to leave the Jews alone and not to try to stop their work in any way. In fact, he ordered the governor to help the building project by providing the people of Judah with money and with other supplies that they needed so the work could be finished. God worked through the law to give the Jews the support and protection and help they needed to keep on building.

Sometimes God works through laws and governments to help his people, and Christians are to pray for their government and their leaders, whether they are doing good and helpful things or bad and wrong things. Having a good government is a blessing from God, and times of peace and safety are times when the good news about Jesus can spread more easily. But when there are bad and violent times, we don’t need to worry that God has forgotten us or that he doesn’t care. The Lord works good things for his people during both good times and bad times, because he loves us and wants others to come to know Jesus. Good government and safety are wonderful blessings from God, but the best blessing of all is the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross. Sometimes God might allow there to be hard times and bad leaders, but nothing can take us away from the Lord’s love and care of his people.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, please help and bless all the governments and leaders of the world with wisdom and strength so there can be peace and safety. Please bless your people through good times and bad times. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Source:

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/rights/landmark_gideon.html

The King Stops the Work

Bible:

The king sent an answer: “To Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River, greeting. And now the letter that you sent to us has been plainly read before me. And I made a decree, and search has been made, and it has been found that this city from of old has risen against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it. And mighty kings have been over Jerusalem, who ruled over the whole province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, custom, and toll were paid. Therefore make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. And take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?”

Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Ezra 4:17-24 ESV

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:28-30 ESV

Reflection:

In the United States, the Interstate 90 expressway runs from the city of Boston to the city of Seattle, all the way across the country. In the city of Seattle, there were many ramps leading on and off I-90 planned to be built to connect it with another interstate freeway as well as to other roads. But for almost three decades, these ramps weren’t finished. If you drove by, you saw a number of freeway ramps leading to nowhere, just ending, many of them pointing up and then suddenly ending in midair. What happened was that there were legal challenges to the work, as well as environmental issues, and so what was begun in the 1960s didn’t get completed till the 1990s. For many years, the unfinished project simply sat, with its ramps leading to nowhere.

The same kind of thing happened in Jerusalem. When the people started to rebuild their temple, and the city and its walls, their enemies started to give them trouble. They wrote a letter to the king of the Persian empire accusing the Jews of planning a rebellion, and when the king got the letter he wrote back saying that he agreed that rebuilding Jerusalem meant trouble for him. He had found in his historical records that Jerusalem had once been the capital of a powerful country with kings that had received tribute from surrounding nations, and also that there had been rebellions against powerful empires coming from Jerusalem. He would have read about the glory days of the kings David and Solomon, and also about the way Jerusalem had stood firm when the Assyrian empire had taken the northern kingdom captive. So the king of Persia decreed that the Jews had to stop their building project. For many years the city stood only partly finished.

Sometimes we have things in life that we want to get done, and then something gets in the way and we can’t finish our projects.  It can be very frustrating when this happens, but it’s a reminder that there are many things in life that we can’t control. The most important thing to remember is that if we try to earn our way into God’s favor, we will never even come close to finishing what we need to do! We sin against God every day, and there’s nothing we could ever do to make up for the ways we’ve rebelled against him. But Jesus came to help us with this. He obeyed God’s law perfectly for us from the beginning to the end of his life, and then he laid his life down on the cross for us. The moment he died he said, “It is finished.” That means that Jesus did everything he needed to do to save us and bring us back to our Heavenly Father. As long as we live, we will be unfinished in becoming like Jesus, but we can always be sure that Jesus completely finished our salvation for us.

Prayer:

Dear Jesus, thank you for your perfect life, and for finishing our salvation by dying on the cross for us. Amen.

Source:

http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19900212&slug=1055692

A Letter to the King

Bible:

And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

In the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia. The letter was written in Aramaic and translated. . . . (This is a copy of the letter that they sent.) “To Artaxerxes the king: Your servants, the men of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. And now be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired. Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king, in order that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. You will find in the book of the records and learn that this city is a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces, and that sedition was stirred up in it from of old. That was why this city was laid waste. We make known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls finished, you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River.” Ezra 4:6-7, 11-16 ESV

O God, be not far from me;
O my God, make haste to help me!
May my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
with scorn and disgrace may they be covered
who seek my hurt.
But I will hope continually
and will praise you yet more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
of your deeds of salvation all the day,
for their number is past my knowledge.
With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come;
I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. Psalm 71:12-16 ESV

Reflection:

Kit had moved from Barbados to New England as a young woman, and she had a very hard time learning to live in a new place. One of the things that was the most difficult for her was trying to understand the way the Puritans in New England thought and understood the world. The way she dressed was considered wrong and sinful by the Puritans, and one of the friends she made was an old woman who was an outcast in her village. Then a terrible thing happened to Kit. A number of the people in her village got together and accused her a being a witch! This was a very serious thing, and if she were found guilty she might be put to death or banished from the village. At her trial, people she hardly knew made all kinds of false accusations. They said that she had put a spell on one man’s cattle so that they couldn’t move, and that they had seen her dancing around a fire one night, and that she had put a spell on a woman’s sewing so that she couldn’t make the sleeve set into the pattern right. All of these accusations were lies, but Kit was in danger of being found guilty if no one spoke up in her defense.

The people who had returned from exile and were rebuilding their temple and the city of Jerusalem had the same problem. Their enemies did everything they could to make trouble for them. They wrote a letter to the king of Persia saying that the Jews were troublemakers who were planning a rebellion against the Persian empire, and that if the king didn’t make them stop building he would lose his land and subjects in that part of the empire. The men who wrote this letter told the king to look back in history and see that Jerusalem had always been a rebellious city who had fought against foreign control, and that the reason the people were rebuilding Jerusalem was so that they could start their battle for independence from Persia. The Jews weren’t planning a rebellion, but their enemies made up this lie to make trouble for them and try to get them to stop rebuilding their city and their temple.

Jesus faced many false accusations when he was on trial for his life. Many people told hateful lies about him to try to get him into trouble. But Jesus didn’t fight back or try to defend himself. He let himself be sent to the cross to pay for all our sins and bring us back to our Heavenly Father. Sometimes we feel bad about our own sins. Our hearts accuse us of the things we’ve done wrong, and other people point out all the ways we’ve let them down. Sometimes these accusations are lies, and sometimes they’re true. But no one, not even the devil, can accuse us to God. The Lord is with us every day, and he encourages us when we feel worried or sad about our sins or about the lies other people tell about us.  Because of what Jesus did for us, God forgives us all our sins every day, and there’s no accusation that can ever stop God from loving us and helping us.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus to die for us, and for forgiving our sins. Please help us and give us strength when we are sad and worried about what people say. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Source:

Speare, Elizabeth George The Witch of Blackbird Pond Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958.

God Works Through the Government

Bible:

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
that gates may not be closed:
“I will go before you
and level the exalted places,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
I will give you the treasures of darkness
and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the Lord, who does all these things. Isaiah 45:1-7 ESV

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
he turns it wherever he will. Proverbs 21:1 ESV

Reflection:

At the time when Jesus lived, and many years that followed, the Roman empire spread across a great part of the known world. It was a time called the “Pax Romana,” which means the Roman peace. There were no wars to make life difficult or dangerous, and the people could live in safety. There were good roads going back and forth all across the empire, so people could travel to many places safely and more easily than in other times in history. Even though the Roman emperors didn’t believe in the true God, the Lord worked through them. The good news about Jesus could spread very quickly over a large area because of the Roman peace.

The prophet Isaiah looked forward to a time before Jesus, earlier than the Pax Romana, a time when the Persians ruled the world. God’s people would be living far away from home, scattered throughout the empire, but God was going to work through a ruler named Cyrus. Cyrus didn’t know the true God, but the Lord gave him victory and power for a reason. He was going to work through Cyrus to bring his people home again. God would show his glory and power through the rule of Cyrus, the man he had chosen to rule the Persian empire.

God continues to work through history and through the governments of the world to accomplish his purposes. We can’t always see or understand what God is doing, and sometimes it’s hard to trust that God is in control when a ruler is wicked and does wrong things. But we can always be sure that God is at work, even in the most difficult times. He showed us this when he sent Jesus, our Savior. Jesus was an innocent man, but he was cruelly put to death on the cross under the Roman government, yet God worked through that death to bring us back to himself. Because of Jesus, we are God’s people, and he promises never to leave us and always to be working for good in our world.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for always working for good for your people, through good rulers and bad ones. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.