“No! His name is to be John.” Elisabeth spoke up.
“John?” Lemuel asked, his bushy eyebrows rising up to meet his hairline. “But there is no one among your relatives with that name.”
Each person present started talking at once, thinking Elisabeth must be mistaken.
Lemuel turned to Zechariah and asked, “What is the child to be named?”
Zechariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.”
“John? Are you sure?” Lemuel asked again.
“His name is John!” Gasps of surprise came from all corners of the house as Zechariah’s voice returned to him. Laughing and crying, he began to dance around praising God and prophesying.
“My Love!” Elizabeth reached toward her husband, who grasped her in a firm embrace. She cupped his face in her hands and wept. “I have missed your voice.”
Zechariah threw caution to the wind and kissed his wife firmly on the mouth. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and has redeemed His people!” Zechariah lifted his hands toward the heavens and cried with joy as he praised God. The people around him felt the glory of the moment and one by one began to kneel in prayer.
Zechariah took John from Lemuel and, lifting him high in his arms, proclaimed, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him. You will give God’s people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”
Elisabeth and Mary hugged each other and sobbed as Zechariah continued to prophesy. The wonder of it all took their breath away. Zechariah could speak again! What other great things would happen? Their neighbours were filled with awe and, as the weeks passed throughout the hill country of Judea, people began talking about the new baby born to Elisabeth and Zechariah. All who heard the story wondered about it, asking, “What then, is this child going to be?”
For the Lord's hand was with him.
 Luke 1:67-69
"Baruch At Hashem, Eloheinu Melech Ha'Olam, Asher Kideshanu Bemitzvotav Vetzivanu La'asok B'divrei Torah."
"Blessed are you, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who has made us holy through His commandments, and commanded us to actively Study Torah."
The above is a blessing of the Torah that Jews pray every morning. I have been learning about Jewish prayers through Rabbi Gidon Ariel of Root Source. This morning the Rabbi said something in his lesson that really struck a chord with me. He explained that one of the reasons the Jewish people pray this prayer is because they have a holy commandment (a task) to actively study the Torah. As a nation, the Jewish people should therefore, actively be studying the Torah. The Rabbi then asked, "So, what happens if you don't actually learn anything? If it goes in one ear and out the other?" It then becomes, according to the Rabbi, a blessing that shouldn't have been said. For example, the blessing above is a commandment from God to the Jew to actively study the Torah. If the blessing is simply repeated without putting it into action, than you have said the whole blessing in vain.
Did you catch that? If the blessing is not put into action you are saying it in vain, and by doing so taking God's name in vain. The Hebrew translation of the word "actively" is La'asok and it literally means to "occupy yourself with". Jews are commanded to "occupy" themselves with the words of Torah. I loved the Rabbi's explanation of this. He said, "Even when a doctor is not healing, he is "occupying" himself with his medical profession. So as a professional occupies themselves with their profession, the Jewish people occupy themselves with their profession. And their profession is the Torah."
How then does this apply to the Christian when studying God's Word? God wants everyone in the world to know Him. We can each have a unique relationship with God. But the Jewish people are different. Yes, they can have a personal relationship with God, but they are unique in that they have a national relationship with God. They have been called as a nation to actively study the Torah. It is their responsibility as a nation therefore to have a relationship with God. How do they get this relationship with God? Through the study of the Torah. This is why the Jewish people are so unique. No other nation on the face of the earth, since time began, has ever been called to do this. For the Christian then, the key to having a relationship with God, to truly know Him, is also to study the Torah (God's Word). If you go to church every Sunday and never pick up your Bible the other days of the week, you are not actively seeking a relationship with God. It is going in one ear and out the other! Like the Jews, we need to "occupy" ourselves with the Word of God.
To truly know God and to grow in your relationship with Christ, there is no other way but to study His Word. The Jews were commanded to obey all of God's laws and ordinances. To learn them they had to study the Torah. Deuteronomy 11:19 says, "Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." It is the same for anyone who wants to pursue a relationship with God. Read His Word, study it, teach it to your children. Deuteronomy 11:19 says, "when you lie down and when you get up." In other words, occupy yourself with the Word of God all the time. Memorize it and keep it in your heart. Knowing God's Word keeps you from sin and in a right relationship with our Lord.
The Jewish people have been commissioned as a nation to study the Torah. Christians have also been commissioned. We are to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, "Baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20). So while the Jewish nation has a unique calling to occupy themselves with the Torah, so too do those who profess Jesus as their Messiah. If you are not studying the Word of God, how can you fulfill the Great Commission set before you? If you have ever struggled with your identity in Christ and what He expects from you - that is it in a nutshell. Study His Word, learn from it, put it into practice and then share it with others. Don't keep it to yourself or the blessing that comes from reading it will be in vain.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19-7-11, ESV).
Have you ever thought about your authority in Christ and what happens when you don't use it? In Matthew 16:13-19 Jesus asks the disciples who people think he is. Peter responded by saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus was so pleased by Peter's answer that he said, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” And ever since that time this verse has been a source of confusion for many in regards to Peter and his authority within the church. Although Peter’s name in Greek means rock, Jesus was not saying that His church would be built on Peter. He was saying that the truth of what Peter had just revealed, that Jesus was the Son of the living God, is the rock upon which His church would be built. This unshakeable foundation, that Jesus is the Messiah, is what holds and binds the church together.
The translation of some of the words in Matthew 16:13-19 from English to Greek gives credence to this theory.
Even the Apostle Paul agreed that Jesus was the Rock when he said in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (Emphasis mine).
Catholicism suggests only Peter had the power and authority to bind and loose, so the power to “bind” and “loose” was passed down from him to each Pope throughout history, as were the keys to the kingdom (in that the Pope alone is in charge of the church). But Scripture does not indicate this at all. And I fear that many evangelical Christians have taken the meaning behind to bind and loose out of context as well.
As followers of Christ, we have all been called to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. If we are silent, we keep those who are “slaves to sin” in bondage. Effectively "binding" them or keeping them in their sin. If we do not share the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are shutting the door of heaven in the faces of those we meet each day. However, if we are diligent in sharing the Gospel we will see many come to Jesus. They will be "loosed" from their bonds and enter through the gates of heaven, cleansed, forgiven, and saved for all eternity. The keys to the kingdom of heaven therefore, are found in the saving grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, but are not used unless we "turn the key" so to speak. They are not dependant upon Peter or the Pope. They are however dependent upon whether or not you will choose to open your mouth. You may be someone Jesus chooses to use today to speak to someone still in bondage. How will you respond? Will you keep them bound or set them free?
As Christians, we have always been aware that we alone must spread the saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet it becomes more urgent when we realize that by not speaking up, we risk condemning someone to eternal damnation. At the same time, by speaking up, we have opened the gates of heaven to them. Think about it. If Jesus is building His church on the firm foundation that He is the Messiah, it is easy to see why the gates of Hades will not overcome that belief. This verse is not about Peter at all, but about Peter's belief that Jesus is the Messiah.
The keys of the kingdom of heaven therefore, are in the hands of all who call themselves disciples of Jesus. How will you use them?