REMEMBER ME – WEEK 53 – JESUS VERSUS SATAN
Over the past few weeks we have considered the various people who worked to frustrate the Lord and His work– The SCRIBES, The SAMARITANS, The SADDUSEES, The SANHEDRIN and The SOLDIERS. Today we can reflect on the greatest enemy of all - what Peter, in 1 Peter 5 v 8, calls “Your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.” We learn about the origin of SATAN as a “fallen” heavenly being called Lucifer in Isaiah 14 v 12. He was guilty of jealousy, pride, arrogance and contempt for Almighty God and from Ezekiel 28 were learn that he was “cast out” of heaven. The earth is now his domain and he is called “the prince of this world” [John 12 v 31] and referred to as “The prince of the power of the air” [Eph 2 v 2]. I wonder what Satan thought when he heard a “multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace and goodwill towards men” as Jesus – the Son of God, was born of a woman [Luke 2 v 13]. Possibly he was taken aback by what this Divine intervention could mean for him and his influence towards humanity. Having been in heaven before his fall, he would have known the Lord as a Divine being and possibly he thought he could get revenge for having been cast out? Satan - through Herod – gives orders that “all children that were in Bethlehem from two years old and under be slain” [ Matt 2 v16]. It is interesting to reflect on the fact that during the remainder of his life in Nazareth we read nothing about “the wiles of the Devil” [ Eph 6 v 11] as affecting that man called “Jesus of Nazareth”. Remarkable really, but perhaps the words he spoke at the end of his sojourn in that Garden of Gethsemene tell us of protective forces at his beckoning. As a band of men came to arrest him, Peter is indignant and Jesus says to Peter “Thinkest thou not that I cannot now pray to my father and he will presently give me more than 12 legions of angels”. [ Matt 26 v 53]. Thus, the Lord was protected from evil influences during those years of private life in Nazareth but of course things would change when he began His public work. We have recorded in Scripture the words God spoke about His son, after 30 years of life on earth as “the carpenters son” - “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased [Luke 3 v 23].
His public life began by being led of the Spirit into the wilderness, where for 40 days he was “tempted” [ i.e. tested] by the devil [ Luke 4 v 2]. The first Adam was tempted by a “serpent” in the Garden of Eden. Now that “Old Serpent, the Devil” [ Rev 20 v 2] is tempting the “Last Adam” – the eternal one who had been “found in fashion as a man, and was tested in all points such as we are”.
During those 40 days of testing in the wilderness, the Devil tried on 3 occasions to get the Lord to disobey God’s word and was strongly rebuffed by quotations from old Testament scriptures as the Lord said “It is written” on 3 occasions. He did not sin, nor could he because of who he was and with a note of triumph Luke says [ 4 v 14] “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit”. The only negativity about the wilderness experience was that he came out of it hungry [Matt 4 v 2] – it shows He was human. The Lord also had encounters with those that were emissaries of Satan i.e. demons / devils. We can recall three episodes in Luke’s Gospel record where the Lord encountered demons. In Luke 4 v 33 – 34, there is a man in the synagogue with the spirit of an unclean devil who says to the Lord “I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God”. In Luke 4 verses 40-41 we read of the many from Capernaum who brought people with ailments to the Lord and it says “the devils also came out of many”. Then in Luke 8 v 26 – 36 we read of the encounter with Legion [ who had many devils] who said “ What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high?”
Today we can rejoice in the knowledge that not only did the Lord exercise power over the Devil and demons during His life but he conquered Satan and death in His death. Says Hebrews 2 v 14, “he also himself, likewise, too part of the same [i.e.manhood[ that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the Devil”. Today let us remember a Victor and the victory. Alex
REMEMBER ME – WEEK 52 – JESUS AND THE SOLDIERS
On a cruise to the Far East we called at Phuket in Thailand. We took an excursion to see a famous landmark on the top of a hill and visible from miles away. The attraction was a huge image of a Buddha [45 metres high]. It was painted in gold and had been under construction for 15 years and was still being worked on when we visited. I recalled the image that King Nebuchadnezzar saw in a dream and which Daniel was able to describe and interpret the meaning of it for him. Nebuchadnezzar’s image stood about 27 metres in height and whereas the image in Thailand was of gold painted concrete, the image described by Daniel was made of different materials. The head was made of pure gold and beneath this was the breast and arms of silver, then further down a belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron and feet of a mixture of brass and clay. [ Daniel 2 v 31-34]. Daniel explains the interpretation to king Nebuchadnezzar explaining that the head of gold was intended to portray his rule as the King of Babylon. Thereafter, the sequencial lessening value of the materials described were to portray successive world powers of diminishing moral values. Thus the breast and arms represented a Medo Persian Empire [ now called Iran] - [Daniel 8], The belly and thighs of brass represented the Greek Empire under Alexander the Great [ Daniel 8]. Thus, God in this image was unfolding future world history. So what world power was God saying would take over from the Grecian World Empire? It was to be the Roman Empire. It came into being during the 400 years gap between the Old Testament records and the before the birth of the Saviour. Little did religious leaders realise the unfolding purposes of God as we learn from Luke 2 v 1 that “There went forth a decree from Caesar Augustus [a Roman Emperial soldier] that all the world should be taxed”.
It is remarkable to note that the timing of the coming of our Lord had to await the arrival of a Roman Empire. Its emperor would decide that “All the world would be taxed” which meant that those two chosen vessels [Mary and Joseph] had to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem, by order of a Roman conquering power and as ordained in the time line of the purposes of the Ruler of the Universe. We read “When the fulness of the time was come God sent forth His son” [Gal 4 v 4]. The land of Israel had to have been conquered by a Roman power that would introduce the idea of civilian taxes, of tax gatherer’s and coins with an emperor’s image etched on it. [ Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s- Matt 21 v 21]. Execution methods that were incredibly cruel such as scourging and impalement on a cross and leg breaking – a mode of execution unknown to Jews but needed to fulfil Old Testament prophesy. Thus, the arrival of soldiers was required so as to play their part in the life story of the Saviour. Life under Roman rule in Israel was relatively peaceful. The Roman’s had found it best to let local people practice their own beliefs and way of life so long as it did not threaten Roman ideals. The Lord’s encounter with soldiers was largely positive – remember the centurion’s servant that was sick. He sent for the Lord to come. Remember his faith as he conveys a message to the Lord “Say in a word and my servant shall be healed” [ Luke 7 v 1-10]. Remember too what is said of the centurion guarding the crucifixion, “When the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God saying, Certainly this was a righteous man” [Luke 23 v 47]. Then there is the trial before Pontius Pilate. For him it was an unusual day. He sensed the uproar by the people and would be taken aback by the warning from his wife “His wife sent unto him, saying, Have nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” [[Matt 27 v 19].
He listens to the charges brought against the Lord and concludes they are all false and was desirous to let him go. But he was worried about the reaction of the people and what message would reach the emperor in Rome. He washes his hands of the matter saying “Take you him and crucify him, for I find no fault in him”. [John 19 v 6]. He had the power to release him but chose not to do so. “Taken by wicked hands, crucified and slain” says Peter in Acts 2 v 23. He cruelly died in time that we might blissfully and eternally live. Remember Him and praise him in thanksgiving.
REMEMBER ME – WEEK 51 – UP AGAINST THE SANHEDRIN.
The SANHEDRIN was a ruling body which deliberated on matters relating to the Jewish religion acting as a “Supreme Court of Justice”. It’s origin is described in Numbers 11 v 14 – 16, where Moses complains to God that he is “not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me” he says. God’s response was an instruction to “Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee”. Thus, Moses plus these 70 men [ 71 people in all] were responsible for governance. In Jesus day, the Sanhedrin comprised the high priest in a presiding role, previous high priests, elders, scribes and members of the privileged priestly aristocracy [Pharisees and Sadducees]. The Sadducees were very strict and operated primarily around the temple in Jerusalem and only accepted the 5 books of Moses as being inspired scriptures. The Pharisees, on the other hand, not only accepted the writings of Moses as being inspired but recognised all the Old Testament books as holy writ plus they put a lot of store on their “Mishnah” – a written summary of their “oral traditions” – i.e. the traditional interpretations of scripture by leading Pharisees about what the Mosaic laws meant in everyday life. The Sanhedrin had wide powers in civil and religious matters and could arrest and send for trial persons deemed to have broken their rules. [ Remember that it was “Officers from the chief priests and Pharisees” who came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to take him to trial - John 18 v 3]. One thing that the Sanhedrin could not do was to invoke the death penalty. That required the involvement of the occupying forces – the Roman authorities - who had conquered the land of Israel as part of their drive to establish a worldwide Roman Empire. The local representative of the Emperor in Rome [Caesar Augustus] was Pontius Pilate. The Roman influence explains why Jesus suffered the typical Roman death of crucifixion] rather than a traditional Jewish death by stoning.
Pharisees were generally deemed to be pious and held in esteem as men of the people and having a strong presence in local communities, whilst the Sadducees were rather elitist in attitude and were mostly evident around the temple area in Jerusalem. The pharisees were also popular because they protested against Roman rule in contrast to the Sadducees who collaborated with them.
One interesting point to reflect on is that the Apostle Paul said of himself “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. [ Acts 23 v 6] and he says he “lived as a Pharisee” [ Phil 3 v5] implying that he was proud of being a Pharisee. How does that sit with the perception that they were enemies of the Lord? Although they did have a good knowledge of the Old Testament, they put an emphasis on their own interpretation of it and their adherence to ritual. The Lord describes them as “whited sepulchres” – ceremonially clean on the outside to look at but corrupt and wanting inside. Thankfully, not all members of the Sanhedrin were against him. Remember that Nicodemus was a ruler and there must have more than just him who had a leaning towards the Lord. Nicodemus says “We [ not “I” – i.e. more than one of us] know that thou art a teacher come from God.” [John 3 v 2]. Nicodemus gave support to the Lord as did Joseph of Arimathaea. In the face of opposition to the Lord, a few were willing to speak up for him. However, it is sad to remember that as a collective the Pharisees hated him and were “out to get him” as we say. They held an informal examination of him before Annas – an acting high priest. [ John 18 v12-23] and a formal hearing before the entire Sanhedrin [Matt 26 v 57-68]. They in fact failed to follow their own procedures so what they did was illegal when they decided to hand him over to the Roman authorities. “They took counsel together to put him to death”. [John 11 v 53]. As “counsellors” they failed to recognise the one whose name was “Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” [Is 9 v 6]