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ENTERTAINING ANGELS UNAWARE

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I remember one time, in my first year or so as a new believer, a bunch of us went downtown early one night to do some street witnessing. These occasions were always fun. You never knew what might happen.

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We would break up in a few groups with a plan to get back together in a central area later on. I had done a lot of witnessing in those early days but downtown was always a special time. It was all cold turkey with no set plan, meeting people you never knew. The city was very large but thanks to a thriving tourist trade you didn’t have to watch your every step. It had a small town feel and the downtown area had a long and eventful history. People were generally friendly and laid back. The areas we frequented were well lit and maintained, and not all that crowded.

We walked the streets, handed out tracts, and talked to whoever may listen or wish to carry on a conversation, and attempted to tell them about the Lord. You always had to find the proper balance and recognize open doors. One time, a brother and I were walking up a street and noticed a couple of sailors in uniform stopped at a crosswalk waiting for the light to change. The guy on the right was smoking a cigarette. I approached him and, handing him a tract, said “God wants you to have this.” He looked right at me, got really angry, tossed his cigarette down, and replied, “You can keep your God…” I apparently struck a nerve. This often happens when sharing the Gospel in such a raw manner. One never knows what emotions may come to the surface when innocently touching a past experience or memory. God gets blamed for a lot for things He had nothing to do with.

Later on we all gathered back together at the preplanned meeting area on an active street. Someone might have brought a guitar. We used the term “edified” quite a lot back then. It was a spiritually edifying experience to hang out with your friends who had the Lord in common and enjoyed His work. Everyone was having a great time. We would share stories of the night’s events.

At one point I walked by myself a short ways to a busy corner bus stop. There was a bus parked on the side street with the engine running getting ready to load up. I thought I might try to talk to a few of the people milling around. After just arriving at the spot, I saw in my peripheral vision someone walking toward the bus in my direction. He seemed to appear out of nowhere. As he came into view I turned to face him, hoping to get a word in as he walked up. He was a relatively tall distinguished man dressed well in a light-colored tailored suit. His appearance was different somehow. There was a look about him. I approached, handed him a tract, and told him why I was there. He listened politely, his face never changing expression. Then, in answer to me, he kind of looked off into the distance and said, “Yeah, I’ve been wanting to look into that.” He turned and walked off, getting lost in the crowd. I never saw him again.

Right away, I was struck by what he said because it reminded me of the following verse:

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. [1Peter 1:12]

And this:

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. [Hebrews 13:2 KJV][1]

On those downtown streets years ago, in the midst of a curious occurrence, I believed I had just met my first angel.

© 2020 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

MARY HIGHLY FAVORED: “BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN!” (5)

 

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        Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

        While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

        In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

        When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. [Luke 2:1-20][1]

        © 2019 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

MARY HIGHLY FAVORED: “BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN!” (Intro)

MARY HIGHLY FAVORED: “BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN!” (1)

MARY HIGHLY FAVORED: “BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN!” (2)

MARY HIGHLY FAVORED: “BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN!” (3)

MARY HIGHLY FAVORED: “BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN!” (4)

 

MARY HIGHLY FAVORED: “BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN!” (1)

NAZARETH

 

       She was given the opportunity to be the mother of Messiah—the Son of the Most High. She accepted without question, filled with wonder, in humble awe of being chosen.

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         In reading between the lines in the initial Gospel references to the mother of our Lord, we happen upon facts otherwise escaping our notice, primarily, her humble origin. We already know her hometown was not the greatest of places, as none other than one of the twelve, Nathanael Bar Tholmai (Bartholomew) articulated,

         “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” [1]

         The rustic community is never mentioned in any of the Old Testament writings, meaning it had yet to exist then, suffered utmost insignificance, or was known by a different name, one of which might have been “white town” or a variation, named after the ready supply of limestone rocks in the area. Nestled among the lower hills of the Nazareth Range in the ancient tribal land of Zebulun, the city lay about halfway between the seas—the great Mediterranean on the west where sailing ships launched for far-off lands, and to the east, the indigenous, often mysterious Sea of Galilee, loved freshwater fishery of the locals.

         From the little we know, Mary was likely born is this little village by the cliffs in circa 18 BC. This was during the early years of Augustus, who became the first Roman emperor in 27 BC, and the local reign of the ruthless client-king Herod the Great who had gained power a decade earlier. How she or her family arrived in the area is lost to history. Though Nazareth was within the small area originally allotted to the Tribe of Zebulun (the tenth son of Jacob and sixth born to Leah), Mary was actually a distant descendent of King David of the ruling line of Judah. Her connection to the latter tribe is somewhat problematic for a Galilean from the north due to her clear connection to relatives in the territory of Judea south of Jerusalem. The unknown story of her family’s transplantation is an intriguing one.

         We know from the later annual pilgrimages made by the holy family to Jerusalem for the feasts that young Mary likely also made such trips as a child growing up, probably as part of small caravans. She was thus familiar with the territory and probably looked forward to such opportunities to see the great city and visit family. Journeying from the north in Galilee, one would traverse the disparaged Samaria, sandwiched between Galilee and Judea, and venture through the ancient tribal areas of Issachar, Manasseh, and Ephraim in the process, and lastly through the allotment of Benjamin on the approach to Yerushalayim which was located on the southern edge of his tribal land.

         The eastern border between the two famous territories of Benjamin and Judah actually runs north and south along the Kidron Valley. The Kidron divides the city of Jerusalem in Benjamin’s territory to the west from the Mount of Olives in Judah’s territory to the east. The southern border between the tribes is divided by the valley of Hinnom which was immediately due south of the ancient city. Beyond these two natural demarcation lines was the fatherland of Judah and the ancestral land of King David to which Mary and her family sojourned frequently. It was also the ancestral homeland of her new husband Joseph, the strong but tender carpenter, chosen also as she was, and suited well for the calling.

AN ANGELIC VISITATION

         Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. [Luke 1:26-27]

       Luke makes it clear in his definitive account that Mary was a virgin when the angel Gabriel revealed to her the plan of God which would soon go into effect upon her consent. She was betrothed to the carpenter, meaning the marriage was not yet fully contracted, and both were honorable and chaste. It is often not acknowledged that young Mary had a choice regarding the Lord’s plan for her life. We all have a choice, and for everyone there is a plan. Notwithstanding the discipline required to live and work for the Lord according to His will and not our own, any other plan created and chosen by a person is always inferior to His. Mary understood this. It is why she replied to Gabriel with no hesitation in her heart:

         And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

         Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

         And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. [Luke 1:28-38] [2] 

         Mary’s use of the word “bondslave” is not without import. It is from the Greek doulos and is defined accordingly as a female slave without any ownership rights of her own. This word, also translated as bond-servant, is used throughout the New Testament denoting the pure servanthood and dedication to the Master by real believers. The Hebrew equivalent for a female servant is shiphchah and has an ancient etymology dating to the book of Genesis. Though we often fail to perceive, in these brief Scriptural renderings, the full connotation and significance of the choice she made, Mary knew exactly what she was doing by deciding in the affirmative. She understood the gravity of the situation, the ramifications thereof, and that is was a lifelong commitment.

         But there is more. Mary alluded to her current state of life before the angelic visitation as thoroughly humble and insignificant. We see this first in her initial reaction to Gabriel’s greeting when he referred to her as “favored one” and said the Lord was with her: But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. She was also afraid, probably for the same reasons you or I would be startled at the appearance of an angel. It was more than this, however. She was concerned about what it meant for her life and, in those first few seconds, that she was in no way worthy of such an astounding visitation and calling.

         Why did she feel this way? There is something else here that Luke’s narrative hints at which he does not delve into, possibly because he knew his audience was aware of whatever particulars were involved with Mary and the circumstances of her humble life.

         In Part 2, I will continue delving into such lesser-known particulars. We will look closer at Mary’s upbringing, family, and momentous visit to her elderly but expecting relative Elizabeth, also a chosen woman of the Lord who found much grace in His sight.

         © 2019 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved. [To Be Continued]


[1] John 1:46  

[2] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

MARY HIGHLY FAVORED: “BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN!” (Intro)

MARY HIGHLY FAVORED: “BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN!” (2)

MARY HIGHLY FAVORED: “BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN!” (3)

MARY HIGHLY FAVORED: “BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN!” (4)

MARY HIGHLY FAVORED: “BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN!” (5)

 

EVERY TIME A DOOR SLAMS A PASTOR GETS HIS WINGS

“Next…”

“Hi. I’m Mrs. Jones. I sit in the third row every service, and…”

“I know who you are Mrs. Jones.”

“Well I know that but I wanted to make this official because it is an official thing we are doing here isn’t it?”

“Okay yeah go ahead.”

“Well, I think you should preach on the things that make people feel good but not so good that they won’t get the message, okay?”

“What does that even mean?”

“It means you should preach real good but not get too off or wacky.”

“Wacky? Wacky?”

“Well, I think you know what I mean so you just do that…”

“Next.”

“Pastor, I think you should be cognizant of the fact that people work hard and are busy and need things that are strong but not so strong that it adds to our burden okay? Because life has many burdens and…”

“What do you mean ‘Preach strong?’”

“Okay, I mean strong like in doing it in a way that we get a good message but not something weak but good. You know, strong.”

“Okay, strong. I’ll try that. Next.”

“Pastor Bailey I really like that you are giving us this opportunity to tell you what to preach and, no, wait, not tell you what to preach but suggest, er, to tell you what we would like, or need, er…”

“So what is your, uh, suggestion?”

“So, my thing is I like those kind of Scriptures that are like verses of poetry, you know? I really like those especially because they look great on little wall plaques or bookmarks and I like when I can go to church and picture in my mind mountain vistas and seascapes and scenes of nature. So I think poetry verses are good.”

“Poetry verses? (Are you for real?) You mean Psalms?”

“So, I don’t know what that is but if its poetry verses then I guess yes…”

“Sigh… Next. Please.”

“Pastor, I think you do a great job but we need more teaching! I like real teaching so we can get in deep! Are you familiar with Matthew Henry? Now he could get in real deep and we could all learn…”

“You want me to read Matthew Henry Commentaries from the pulpit?”

“Well no, not especially, but like that, because we need real teaching!”

“Okay, thank you. Real teaching. Please close the door behind you. Thank you… What do we have so far Jennifer?”

“It looks like you are supposed to preach things that make people feel good but not so good that they don’t get the message. Nothing wacky. And it must be strong but not too strong because people are tired. And, oh, it must involve poetry verses and also be deep teaching. Deep. Teaching. Got that?”

“Are you sure this is in the contract?”

“Page 16, Clause 3.”

“Do I have to listen to anyone else tonight?”

“Only one more. It says you must seek five new members each week.”

“Each week!”

“Yes. I’ll get the last one… Who’s next out here?”

“Me!”

“Okay, come in…”

“Hello Pastor!”

“Hello. Well?”

“Here’s what I think. I think you should preach whatever the Lord puts on your heart.”

“Do I even know you?”

“I’m new.”

“Okay. So you’re new. Hi. I’m George Bailey, er, Pastor Bailey. Good to meet you. Your name?”

“I’m Clarence. And I know all about you! What’s important is that you obey the Lord. That’s my advice.”

“But I have to obey all those people! It’s in my contract.”

“I know, but…”

“And next week it’s five more! And then the next! I can’t do this! I must be off my nut! This can’t be happening! I wish I was never born!”

“Oh, you mustn’t say that! …Wait. …You know, I think that could work! …Okay, you were never born. You don’t exist.”

“Don’t exist! Wait a second! This all sounds familiar! Are you some kind of angel or something?”

“Why yes.”

“Great! Now you’re the new pastor too! Later! Don’t hold my calls, Jennifer…” (Slam)

© 2019 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.

BUSTING PETER OUT OF JAIL: THIS IS WHAT PRAYER CAN DO!

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       I originally posted the following two weeks ago on the morning of the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. It illustrates what powerful prayer and intercession can accomplish.

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THERE COMES A TIME, WHEN YOU JUST KNOW, THE LORD HAS THIS…

       Peter sat uneasily against the grimy wall of his darkened cell, chained to two hardened Roman soldiers. He thought about what just happened to his good friend and fellow apostle James.

.

         Agrippa was a bloodthirsty bastard. In his twisted mind he knew he could curry favor with the Jews by arresting followers of the man they called Yeshua of Nazareth. The Jews hated the Herods but made use of them. It was a symbiotic love-hate relationship. The Herod family—Idumean Jewish pretenders—were not unlike the inbred Roman imperial family. Their genealogical chart went off in every direction including sideways and often doubled back upon itself. The members thereof were not only plagued by abnormal DNA and sick minds but immoral behavior that would gag a maggot.

         His grandfather was Herod the Great. Through Agrippa’s close ties to Roman royalty, including a close friendship with Caligula, he eventually became king of the restored environs of his grandfather’s vast domain, including Judea. A cold and tactless political warrior, he knew early on he would have to bring the Jews and Romans into closer proximity, which he did accomplish, but only at the expense of the Jewish followers of the Lord. He figured correctly that such people were expendable and would do nothing for his kingdom, and most likely surmised them to possess an opposing kingdom. He stood strongly for Jewish orthodoxy and this put the Jewish Christians at odds with Rome and furthered the gap with the religious Jews who saw the Community of the Lord as a heretical faction.

          Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. [Acts 12:1-2]

         This happened very fast. The Lord’s people were caught somewhat unprepared at the sudden vengeance directed toward them. James, possibly the oldest apostle, probably put himself in peril at the start by stepping out to take the brunt of the brutality against his people. He likely sacrificed himself to protect the others. It didn’t help that the unbelieving Jews hated him all the more due to his strong personality and manly stature. Some say this Son of Thunder had a fiery temper to match Peter’s. Before anyone could do much to stop Agrippa’s treachery James was quickly executed for all to see, likely going out the way of the Baptist.

          When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people. [Acts 12:3-4]  

         Peter was quickly rounded up and arrested as Agrippa was told by the Jews that he was another ringleader. Something had to be done speedily because a blood bath was in the making. The unbelieving Jews reveled in the emerging murder spree and wanted to wipe them all out. Agrippa knew he would gain ever greater favor with every believer killed. In no time at all the leadership of the early Church would be no more. What to do?

         As Peter pondered his fate He no doubt thought of his times with the Lord and his own early ministry. Had he misheard Him? Would he not actually live to a mature age as the Lord had implied? He wondered how it had so quickly come to this. He was chained to two Roman bikers and two more guarded the door. Three other sets of four replaced the previous ones every six hours. It looked like each new set was more gnarly than the others and undoubtedly threw their weight around. These were rough characters. Peter was no longer the bad dude he used to be. In his former life he could have taken any of them and made them pay dearly. James too, and probably John. The early apostles were very tough men. The Lord chose no pansies for apostle work. But Peter’s priorities had changed. Much fasting had sapped his physical strength in the intervening period of the early Community and the edge was taken off his spirit as he grew loving and kind, and in greater control of his notorious temper.  

         He was ready to go. There was nothing to be done. It may be a few days yet because Agrippa knew he’d better wait until after the eight day feast. James had likely been killed right before Passover, close to the very time his Lord had also been executed. In the interim Peter would make his peace and ready himself, but was greatly worried about his fellows. What would happen to them all?

          So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. [Acts 12:5]  

         Of course, they were all thinking the same thing and decided that rather than accept mass death they would pray for no more death. It was a tall task, but they went for it. They would pray for Peter and for each other. They would put their faith to the test and find out if spiritual power really did work on such a scale. Outside observers would have called them utter fools for believing any such thing. The faithless knew there was no way this could ever end well.

         They decided to act anyway, against impossible odds, and before long a level of prayer had risen up majestically in Jerusalem that knocked the devil over on his ear. Mature Christians know the great power of prayer and one had also better know that the enemies of the Lord were backed up on their heels. They were feeling a great weakness coming over them and a curious fear. Agrippa himself no doubt became deeply concerned in his dark soul that something was happening he could not explain. He felt fragile and scared. Unseen demons knew the feeling. And they didn’t like it. It was enough that massive sinister spiritual forces began shifting around in an unsettled state, their former confidence and unity shattered. The great incessant prayers of the Jerusalem Community were having a profound and powerful effect.

         On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. [Acts 12:6]      

         Peter stirred sleepily. He tried to understand what was happening. In his groggy state he thought he heard someone talking to him. The snoring unwashed soldiers beside him did not make things any easier. He had become accustomed to the jail, as least as well as one might, and had been blessed with an unearthly spiritual strength to handle the rough treatment, the dank smells, the darkness… What is more, he actually felt the prayers on his behalf. He was becalmed and strengthened by them. He should not feel this good under such circumstances. He was not only resigned to his fate but had an ongoing peace as he waited for the fast approaching time of his murder. But who was speaking? Was this a dream? There was a glowing form…  

         And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.

         When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” [Acts 12:7-11][1]  

            © 2019 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.   


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

THERE COMES A TIME, WHEN YOU JUST KNOW, THE LORD HAS THIS…

Blog Pic 2.7.19        

        Peter sat uneasily against the grimy wall of his darkened cell, chained to two hardened Roman soldiers. He thought about what just happened to his good friend and fellow apostle James.

 

        Agrippa was a bloodthirsty bastard. In his twisted mind he knew he could curry favor with the Jews by arresting followers of the man they called Yeshua of Nazareth. The Jews hated the Herods but made use of them. It was a symbiotic love hate relationship. The Herod family—Idumean Jewish pretenders—were not unlike the inbred Roman imperial family. Their genealogical chart went off in every direction including sideways and often doubled back upon itself. The members thereof were not only plagued by abnormal DNA and sick minds but immoral behavior that would gag a maggot.

         His grandfather was Herod the Great. Through Agrippa’s close ties to Roman royalty, including a close friendship with Caligula, he eventually became king of the restored environs of his grandfather’s vast domain, including Judea. A cold and tactless political warrior, he knew early on he would have to bring the Jews and Romans into closer proximity, which he did accomplish, but only at the expense of the Jewish followers of the Lord. He figured correctly that such people were expendable and would do nothing for his kingdom, and most likely surmised them to possess an opposing kingdom. He stood strongly for Jewish orthodoxy and this put the Jewish Christians at odds with Rome and furthered the gap with the religious Jews who saw the Community of the Lord as a heretical faction.

          Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. [Acts 12:1-2]

         This happened very fast. The Lord’s people were caught somewhat unprepared at the sudden vengeance directed toward them. James, possibly the oldest apostle, probably put himself in peril at the start by stepping out to take the brunt of the brutality against his people. He likely sacrificed himself to protect the others. It didn’t help that the unbelieving Jews hated him all the more due to his strong personality and manly stature. Some say this Son of Thunder had a fiery temper to match Peter’s. Before anyone could do much to stop Agrippa’s treachery James was quickly executed for all to see, likely going out the way of the Baptist.

          When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people. [Acts 12:3-4]  

         Peter was quickly rounded up and arrested as Agrippa was told by the Jews that he was another ringleader. Something had to be done speedily because a blood bath was in the making. The unbelieving Jews reveled in the emerging murder spree and wanted to wipe them all out. Agrippa knew he would gain ever greater favor with every believer killed. In no time at all the leadership of the early Church would be no more. What to do?  

         As Peter pondered his fate He no doubt thought of his times with the Lord and his own early ministry. Had he misheard Him? Would he not actually live to a mature age as the Lord had implied? He wondered how it had so quickly come to this. He was chained to two Roman bikers and two more guarded the door. Three other sets of four replaced the previous ones every six hours. It looked like each new set was more gnarly than the others and undoubtedly threw their weight around. These were rough characters. Peter was no longer the bad dude he used to be. In his former life he could have taken any of them and made them pay dearly. James too, and probably John. The early apostles were very tough men. The Lord chose no pansies for apostle work. But Peter’s priorities had changed. Much fasting had sapped his physical strength in the intervening period of the early Community and the edge was taken off his spirit as he grew loving and kind, and in greater control of his notorious temper.  

         He was ready to go. There was nothing to be done. It may be a few days yet because Agrippa knew he’d better wait until after the eight day feast. James had likely been killed right before Passover, close to the very time his Lord had also been executed. In the interim Peter would make his peace and ready himself, but was greatly worried about his fellows. What would happen to them all?

          So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. [Acts 12:5]  

         Of course, they were all thinking the same thing and decided that rather than accept mass death they would pray for no more death. It was a tall task, but they went for it. They would pray for Peter and for each other. They would put their faith to the test and find out if spiritual power really did work on such a scale. Outside observers would have called them utter fools for believing any such thing. The faithless knew there was no way this could ever end well.

         They decided to act anyway, against impossible odds, and before long a level of prayer had risen up majestically in Jerusalem that knocked the devil over on his ear. Mature Christians know the great power of prayer and one had also better know that the enemies of the Lord were backed up on their heels. They were feeling a great weakness coming over them and a curious fear. Agrippa himself no doubt became deeply concerned in his dark soul that something was happening he could not explain. He felt fragile and scared. Unseen demons knew the feeling. And they didn’t like it. It was enough that massive sinister spiritual forces began shifting around in an unsettled state, their former confidence and unity shattered. The great incessant prayers of the Jerusalem Community were having a profound and powerful effect.

         On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. [Acts 12:6]      

         Peter stirred sleepily. He tried to understand what was happening. In his groggy state he thought he heard someone talking to him. The snoring unwashed soldiers beside him did not make things any easier. He had become accustomed to the jail, as least as well as one might, and had been blessed with an unearthly spiritual strength to handle the rough treatment, the dank smells, the darkness… What is more, he actually felt the prayers on his behalf. He was becalmed and strengthened by them. He should not feel this good under such circumstances. He was not only resigned to his fate but had an ongoing peace as he waited for the fast approaching time of his murder. But who was speaking? Was this a dream? There was a glowing form…  

         And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.

         When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” [Acts 12:7-11][1]  

            © 2019 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.   


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

AWAY IN A MANGER: HE FIXED HIS TENT AMONG US

Blog Pic 12.24.18        

         And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. [John 1:14]

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         In the preceding verse, the word “dwelt” comes from a Greek word which means “To fix one’s tabernacle or tent,” and “To dwell.” There is no doubt this Greek word came from a Hebrew original. God Himself fixed His tent among us.

THE TIME OF HIS VISITATION

         It was in the autumn of the year. The Feast of Sukkot or Ingathering was the last on the annual calendar. It was a weeklong event celebrating the harvest. Also called the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, it hearkened back to that in-between time in the vast and lonely Sinai desert when Egypt was long gone and in the remote recesses of their rear view mirror. The Promised Land was up ahead in the distant future. It was an unsettled time of transition and hope.

         “You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” [Leviticus 23:42-43]

        These booths were crude, temporary dwellings. Constructed of entwined boughs and branches from desert flora and brushwood, these canopied shelters served as impermanent homes as commanded by the Lord. As in all things spiritual with fleeting types and shadows, their otherwise ostensible purpose and full meaning was known only by Him. The Hebrew word is sukkah. The first time it is used in Scripture, it refers to a corral Jacob built for his livestock, the location of which eventually became the settlement of Sukkoth east of the Jordan.

         In escaping Egypt and entering the unknown and ultra-challenging wilderness of Sinai, the sons of Israel were a nation in the making and a people on the move. Forty years of wandering were on tap in order to learn to walk by faith and know the voice of the Lord. It would be a hard lesson for the current populace of that time, being thoroughly engrained with worldly vestiges of a foreign and pagan nation. It would take long years for the Lord to extract the fetters which opposed spiritual life and add the building blocks of circumcised hearts and willing minds. In His own wisdom He chose an unruly and rebellious people with stiff necks and hard hearts to eventually show forth His glory and to bring to this world the hope of celestial communion.

         These rustic booths of branches were thus a stark opening lesson in spirituality 101—that of pure and holy humility—the door which makes all else possible. Whoever declines the offer and refuses to cross this threshold chooses instead to harbor their pride. It should thus be obvious that God chose the most humble of circumstances to enter into this world.

AWAY IN A MANGER

        While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” [Luke 2:6-12]

      Newborn babies are completely vulnerable. They are entirely dependent on their parent’s love and protection. God had carefully chosen Joseph and Mary if for no other reason than their great faith and obedience born of a humble nature to serve and please the Lord. Mary did not understand why she was chosen but she readily complied. Joseph had a tad tougher row to hoe and it took a few angelic visitations to get him on track. As long as these two remained faithful all would be well, but there was no guarantee.

         There is also no guarantee for anyone in this life outside the will of God. Without faith it is impossible to please Him. Each of us enters this world just as the Lord did but each of us is also initially unaware of God’s purpose. Discovering His purpose is the true quest of life. It is what gives our lives meaning. He’s got it all covered as long as we don’t rebel. We know by the life He lived that rebellion and disobedience were never part of His nature. Some of us learn the lesson somewhat easily by comparison to those who fight all the way. For the majority, it is far too high a price and for them, this life is the only home they will ever know. In the drive to escape all things humble they construct the most humble and temporary life of all compared to the glories of heaven.

         The tabernacles of the Lord’s people are temporary. They are necessary for now. We exist to please Him and nothing pleases Him more than to take care of us, rescue us from the ravages of sin, and bless us. This demands a process not at all unlike the process He chose to be with us. He meets us where we are.

       And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. [Luke 2:13-16]  

GETTING OUR WINGS

        I love the Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life and the overall message it conveys. It illustrates the important role of each person and signifies the far-reaching effect each of us has on the lives of others. We all know the line spoken by George Bailey’s young daughter at the very end of the movie: “Look Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” For every person who overcomes his or her personal pride and surrenders to the Lord, the same thing happens. A miracle takes place.

        “I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” [Luke 15:10][1] 

         By humbly giving our lives to the Lord as He gave His for us, we also effectively fix our tent as He did. From such humble beginnings, He is then able to bring us out of Sinai into our personal Promised Land, a place of greatly meaningful service to Him and to others.

          I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.    

         © 2018 by RJ Dawson. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unless otherwise noted all Scriptures are taken from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

LINK: Exactly eight years ago, in late August of 2010, the Lord spoke to me very clearly: “WE ARE IN THE EARLY STAGES OF A NATIONAL GREAT AWAKENING.”