Judas receiving silver for betraying Jesus. 16th century fresco painting on the vault in the Saint Sébastien Church, in Planpinet. Clarée valley, Hautes alpes département, France.
I wrote of Jesus’ trial before Pilate a couple of years ago and noted that Jesus had to work very hard to keep from being acquitted. Studying the Last Supper and events leading up to it, I notice that Jesus had to work just as skillfully to orchestrate his betrayal.
Judas went secretly to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus. Luke’s account (Luke 26:3) specifically says that Satan entered him. Once the conspirators agreed on the fee, He kept his eyes open for an opportunity.… Read the rest
Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy 8:11-20, illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company
Lent is a time of repentance and preparation for Easter. That Jesus died for our sins and rose again to take them away means nothing if we don’t recognized ourselves as sinners. For all our individual differences, we all have one sin in common. We forget God.
Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt to the doorstep of the Promised Land. and they refused to enter.
They had forgotten God’s power, protection, and provision. When they heard the report of fortified cities, they wailed and declared it would have been better if they had died in Egypt.… Read the rest
Simeon Receives Jesus in the Temple / Simon Vouet, 1640-41
Have you ever had a vivid encounter with God? What happened a day or two later? A week? Years?
Quite often Christians have reported an overwhelming spiritual high followed by a deep spiritual low.
God’s presence can be so vivid that it seems like what he says is bound to happen in the next 15 minutes, but it never does.
A cherished promise never seems as far off and distant as it does after vividness of the divine presence fades.
Does that mean perhaps that we had no genuine spiritual experience?… Read the rest
Detail from: “Mary and Child, surrounded by angels”, mosaic of an Italian-Byzantine workshop in Ravenna, completed within 526 AD by the so-called “Master of Sant’Apollinare”.
Did the three wise men really visit the manger in Bethlehem on that first Christmas day bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh?
The town and the gifts are right. At best, the rest of the familiar scene is dubious. Who were the wise men (magi), and what does it matter?
The Bible (Matthew 2:1-12) simply says wise men (it’s plural, so there were at least two) followed a star from the East (a vague enough reference that only rules out other directions).… Read the rest
Annunciation of the Angel to Zechariah / Domenico Ghirlandaio (1490) Fresco in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence
Zechariah’s song (known as the Benedictus) doesn’t get nearly the attention as Mary’s (the Magnificat) earlier in the chapter, but it is the first recorded prophetic word since the Book of Malachi some 400 years earlier.
Its outpouring of praise culminates a long life of both piety and disappointment. After years of waiting and hoping, Zechariah, an aging priest, drew the lot for the once-in-a-lifetime assignment of burning incense in the temple.
The angel Gabriel appeared to him and said his prayer was answered. What prayer?… Read the rest
John the Baptist, Preaching / Luca Giordano, ca. 1695
In Luke 7:28, Jesus summarized his description of John the Baptist and his ministry saying, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John, yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
What was so special about John? And how can the least in the kingdom of God be greater than John?
… Read the rest
Moses Blesses Joshua Before the High Priest / James Tissot, late 19th century
God’s first words to Joshua are, “Moses my servant is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan.” Joshua had known that this moment would come.
Everyone knew that Moses would not lead the people into the Promised Land.
We have all experienced starting a new venture or getting a big promotion, something that we have prepared to do for a long time.
But when it comes time to actually start working, it’s only natural to have some jitters about our adequacy.
… Read the rest
Saint Paul / Bartolomeo Montagna (1481)
Does the Bible contain contradictions? It can appear so.
Paul wrote, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28), and a few lines later, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (Romans 4:2).
James, on the other hand, wrote, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? . . . You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:21, 24).… Read the rest
Construction of the ark, from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)
According to Romans 1:18, the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. It seems at first that Noah’s flood could be Exhibit A.
Except that a careful reading shows that nowhere in the Genesis account of the flood does “wrath,” “anger,” or any synonym occur!
The first time “anger” occurs in the King James Bible is Genesis 27:45 to describe Esau. “Wrath” first occurs is Genesis 39:19, which describes Potiphar after his wife accused Joseph of attempted rape. Abraham asked God not to be angry in Genesis 18:30 when the two were bargaining over the fate of Sodom.… Read the rest
Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh (detail) / Benjamin West, 1766-68
Perhaps nothing so starkly displays the fall more starkly than comparing the first verse in Genesis (which begins, “in the beginning”) and the last (which ends, “in a coffin in Egypt.) Unfortunately, the story gets worse from there.
Until his death, Joseph was Egypt’s prime minister and held nearly unlimited power. Lord Acton’s saying, “power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely” is only partly correct.
Power reveals and intensifies the level of corruption already present. Strong faith in God reduces that level substantially. If sons of godly people show themselves corrupt, it’s because they did not inherit faith.… Read the rest