Saturday, August 31, 2013

Whatever Happened to Andrew? by Chris White

Andrew was believed crucified on an "X" hence the St. Andrew's Cross

Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist before Jesus, and was the brother of Simon Peter.  In fact, it was Andrew who made the fateful introduction of his brother to the Lord Jesus which resulted later in a call to apostleship.  The last we read of Andrew in the Bible he is among the apostles in Jerusalem.  He is believed to have gone to Asia Minor and further north to southern Russia and then finally central Greece where he was martyred in 69AD.  The tradition the ancient church is that the governor Aigeatis had him killed out of revenge for converting his wife.  St. Regulus is credited with bringing some of Andrew’s relics (and by this I mean skeletal remains) to Scotland and building a church over them.  Ever since, Andrew has been the patron saint of Scotland even though he never visited the country during his earthly life.  Another tradition has the remains of Andrew being interred at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.  When the city was on the verge of falling to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, they were spirited away to Rome for safekeeping.  They were returned by the pope to the metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church in 1964 as a goodwill gesture thus showing that even in death, it seems Andrew still has the knack for bringing people together.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Whatever Happened to the 12 Tribes of Israel by Chris White

The Twelve tribes of Israel are the descendants of the patriarch Jacob whom the Lord later named Israel.  Jacob had 6 sons through his wife Leah (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun) and 2 sons through his wife Rachel (Joseph and Benjamin). In the providence of God, Jacob was forced into marrying two sisters (through the manipulation of his father-in-law Laban) creating a terrible rivalry between the wives for the love and support of their husband.  As this battle between sisters played out, both women gave to their husband their own maidservants as concubines to produce even more children.  This resulted in the birth of 4 more sons (Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher).  Thus, by Genesis chapter 50, the nation of Israel was growing along the family lines of these 12 sons and their wives.

These 12 Tribes of Israel continued to grow through the exile and exodus from Egypt and settled into the conquered land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua.  One particular tribe, the descendants of Joseph, appear from this time forward as the half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.  Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers because of extreme jealousy, but their evil intentions were turned to good as God elevated Joseph into the highest echelons of leadership in Egypt.  When a famine hit the lands of Egypt and Israel, Joseph was tapped by God to save his own family but also the people of his new homeland through his wise leadership.  Ephraim and Manasseh were the sons born to Joseph in Egypt and their names carry the family tree forward when the nation eventually returns to the land of promise.  The number does not increase to 13 tribes but remains 12.  Joseph does not appear with his brothers in the family roll call as his is a life set apart, a type of Christ, to bring salvation to his people.  But his rightful inheritance falls to the bloodline of his two sons.

The first substantial change comes at the end of the monarchy of Solomon.  His son Rehoboam in youthful arrogance, alienates through heavy handed leadership 10 of the 12 tribes( c.926 BC).  These tribes set up a rival nation under the leadership of Jeroboam in the northern provinces and identifies itself as Israel.  The southern territory, which included Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord, remained under the leadership of the House of David through Solomon’s line and called itself Judah.  The tribe of the Levites, which held no territory and were associated with the temple rituals also remain as their work must be carried out in the Jerusalem temple.  Whatever good was happening in these separated kingdoms was eclipsed by their spiritual and moral deterioration.  The Kingdom of Israel started out in idolatry as their first king Jeroboam feared that if his people went to Jerusalem to worship (as they were commanded to do in scripture) they would eventually abandon his kingdom.  So Jeroboam set up two golden calves and a rival priesthood and this began a 200 year downward spiral into deep superstition and idolatry.  God sent many prophets to warn them but His counsel of repentance was spurned and so in 722 BC the Assyrian army was sent by God to invade, conquer, and depopulate the land.  The kingdom of Judah lasted longer than Israel, but they also continued to deteriorate spiritually adding the worship of Canaanite gods to the worship of Yahweh in the temple.  Several of their kings made decisive reforms against this practice but immediately after their death, the nation would go back to the well of idolatry.  Finally in 597 BC, God sent Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army to conquer Jerusalem and take the Jews into exile.  This was to last approximately 70 years according to the prophet Jeremiah.

The Babylonian exile was not all bad for the Jews.  They were permitted to settle and build as communities within their host nation which in turn allowed them to practice their laws and traditions in a foreign context.  During this period the leaders of Israel reasoned that since the temple no longer stands and therefore the altar of sacrifice is no longer available, the best thing they can offer God is to gather for worship and to learn and practice His law.  This led to the development of the synagogue, something that was unknown in Judaism prior to the exile.  The placement among idolaters definitely cured them of their own idolatry.  When they return to their own land, no prophet denounces this sin ever again.  And later when Jesus comes on the scene, the charge of idolatry is conspicuously absent from his many public criticisms of Israel’s religious and spiritual life.

The northern kingdom was taken by Assyria.  The southern kingdom was taken by the Babylonians.  The Babylonians were used by God to judge Assyria (just because they were his tool of discipline didn’t mean He approved of their evil and idolatry as a nation either).  In turn, when the 70 years of exile in Babylon were complete, the Persian empire conquered and destroyed the Babylonian empire (in judgment for their arrogance against Him).  Cyrus, one of the early and great Persian rulers, made a decree that the Jews were to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the walls and the temple and there in the temple, they were to offer prayers and sacrifices on his behalf (Ezra 1:2-4).  What is even more amazing is that Isaiah the prophet predicted that God would raise up a servant by the name of Cyrus who would release the Jews from captivity (Is.44-45).  Isaiah made this prediction 150 years before Cyrus the Great was born and 180 years before he made his decree.

The Jews did rebuild Jerusalem and the temple under Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel and were restored to their land, but with the exception of a couple of short episodes, they never were a totally sovereign nation again but under the domination of other world powers.  I would argue this is even true today although they are certainly not occupied as they were by the Romans in ancient times.  In this restoration people from the tribes of the Northern and Southern kingdoms returned to the land, but they were but a remnant.  Many had grown up having never lived in the Jewish homeland and had no desire to return.  Economics, opportunities, and politics caused many Jews to disperse throughout the Roman empire and form enclaves wherever they settled.  Later on in the church age, these colonies were often the initial targets of evangelization by the Apostles Peter and Paul.

As the Persian empire gave way to the Greek empire of Alexander the Great which in turn dissolved into 4 smaller kingdoms headed by Alexander’s generals after he died suddenly in his early 30’s, Israel found itself literally and figuratively caught between a family feud between the Seleucid’s (whose kingdom corresponds to Syria today) and the Ptolomies (whose kingdom corresponds to Egypt).  Both kingdoms fought over Israel because it was a nice buffer zone between the two.  This went on for several hundred years until Rome became powerful enough to absorb them both.  This was the Israel that Jesus of Nazareth was born into, and this tension of desiring to overthrow the Romans and retake national sovereignty is a constant theme in the background of the Gospels.

 When Jesus offered himself as Messiah and was rejected, betrayed, and crucified by his own, it was a moment of destiny for the nation.  It was before Pilate that the leaders of Israel said “we have no king but Caesar”, and “ his blood be upon us and our children”(Mt. 27, Jn.19).  I am not insinuating the notion of the “blood curse” which has been used for centuries to excuse anti-semitic persecution.  What I am saying is that in rejecting their own messiah, their national trajectory was set.  They would continue seeking to realize freedom from Roman occupation and the discontent and resentment became so palpable that it caused a great rebellion against Rome which was met with overwhelming power.  In the end, Jews were banned from living in Jerusalem and it was renamed Aelia Capitolina and was made a Gentiles-only city.

And so for the last 1900 years, the 12 tribes of Israel have become a pilgrim nation among other nations.  During the last two centuries (19th and 20th) there were efforts led by Jewish leaders to reestablish the state of Israel in its traditional boundaries.  The holocaust in World War 2 accelerated these efforts and the United Nations on May 12, 1948 approved and recognized Palestine as the new and official homeland for the Jews.  Anti-Semitism, persecution, religious connection, and patriotism have served to return many of the Jewish nation back to their homeland for more than 6 decades.  But they are a mixed multitude of traditionalists, secularists, and atheists.  It’s hard to imagine this present nation as God’s chosen people, but St. Paul in Romans 9-11 makes it clear that in this present time (the church age)  God has allowed a hardening of the heart towards the Gospel in the Jewish to remain in place.  This does not mean that Jews can’t become Christians (it does happen in this present age) but that there will be a future large-scale work of God among them that waits until the end of the era of the Gentiles.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Whatever Happened to Matthias? by Chris White

Matthias was selected as a replacement for Judas Iscariot following his betrayal of Jesus and subsequent suicide.  Psalms 109:8 was used to justify this decision as it reads “let another man take his office.”  This Psalm can be read as describing the betrayal of the Messiah without a whole lot imagination and this is the directive given concerning the betrayer.  The Apostles sought someone who had followed Jesus from his baptism until the resurrection so that they would be a full witness to the Lord’s life as they were.  The ancient Jewish custom of drawing lots was used and Matthias was selected to join the other 11 Apostles.  It is interesting to note that when James was martyred some years later there was not a selection made to replace him.  This is because Judas lost his apostleship and there was the sense that 12 is the appropriate number corresponding to the 12 tribes of Israel.  Though James was dead, he had not lost his position among the apostles since he was faithful to the end and because he lives eternally.   Some have suggested that the Church acted in haste in their selection of Matthias giving him the spot that should have been given to the Apostle Paul.  This makes little sense when you consider the criteria the remaining apostles used in selecting Matthias.  Paul was a witness to the resurrection but not to the life and ministry of Jesus.  He was an apostle “born out of time” but a special instrument of the Lord with his own mission.  After Acts chapter 1 we read nothing of Matthias ever again in scripture.  He is associated with the churches Damascus and Armenia but no strong traditions exist beyond this.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Whatever Happened to Barnabas? by Chris White

Barnabas is known to us largely because of his connection with the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts.  Barnabas’ cousin was John Mark (who wrote the Gospel of Mark) whose family was prominent in the Church of Jerusalem in the earliest days.  We are first introduced to him in Acts chapter 4 where he is noted for selling a large tract of land he owned and giving the money as a gift to the Apostles for the care of the poor in the early Church.  His real name was Joseph and he was of the tribe of Levi but was given the name Barnabas which means the “son of encouragement”.  Nicknames are usually related to some truth or behavior in a person’s life and so knowing Barnabas must have been a real blessing because he would be more likely to encourage than to criticize you.  Later Barnabas took up the commission of pastoring the Church of Antioch where he brings Paul into the ministry and the two are sent as missionaries to their respective home countries Cyprus and Asia Minor.  Both the men made history together as they brought the gospel to the Gentiles but especially in Cyprus where the Roman governor of that island nation was converted through their preaching.  Eventually Paul and Barnabas had a falling out in their enterprise and chose to go in separate directions and Barnabas fades from the pages of scripture.  The long standing tradition of the Church is that in old age, Barnabas returned to his homeland of Cyprus where he was eventually killed by the Jews in his hometown of Salamis for continuing to preach the Gospel.  Because of the fact that the Church in Cyprus was founded directly by the Apostles Paul and Barnabas, the Greek Orthodox Church allows the Cyprian Church to be autocephalus or self-governing even in the present day.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Whatever Happened to Simon the Zealot? by Chris White

It is a fascinating study to see the diverse kinds of people whom our Lord selected to be part of his apostolic band.  Jesus, it seems, has little interest in ‘cookie-cutter’ ministry leaders and seems to delight in taking people for who they are and using that to further the Kingdom.  The Zealots were a nationalist party in first century Israel that were anxious to end Roman rule and weren’t above using violence to further their cause.  In fact, the Zealots were the undoing of Israel and eventually led to the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and were remembered for their last stand at Masada where they committed mass suicide to avoid capture by the Romans.  But Simon was called to follow Jesus and although he is not a major player in the story of the Gospels, we may rightly assume that at all the great events Simon was present and learning with the rest of the Apostles.  Outside the New Testament there is a very strong tradition that he was the apostle to North Africa.  Making this plausible is that North Africa was a Christian stronghold in the 2nd Century which meant this project had to get underway early in the 1st Century.  The 4th Century historian Eusebius claims that Simon also evangelized Persia and Britain and died there as a martyr in AD 60.  The emblem of Simon is a saw because tradition has it that he was sawn in two.  Had he lived through such treatment he would have been the first pastor in history to possess the much-coveted ability to be in two places at once!  However he met his end, if even half of the tradition is true, Simon took his passion for political change and put it into spiritual change. And for that the Kingdom of God is the richer for it.