“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?
Do you ever use the term "God Bless You" or has anyone used the term for you? Someone might say it after you sneeze, or offer it as a form of condolence over the loss of a loved one ("May God Bless You"), or as a farewell message in a card or letter. But what does it really mean to be "blessed" by God?
In Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-11) he gives us eight definitions of who is blessed and the outcomes of those blessings. Let's look at them closely because it could be that you are missing out on blessings Jesus wants you to have.
1. "Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The International Standard Version translates “poor in spirit” as “destitute in spirit.” God’s Word Translation says, “Those who are spiritually helpless.” Those who are poor in spirit recognize how unworthy they are to stand before the throne of God. They agree that their sin is ever before them and without God they are utterly and hopelessly lost. People who are poor in spirit, therefore, recognize their spiritual condition and the need to make themselves right before God. The promise of course is the kingdom of heaven.
2. "Blessed Are Those who mourn . . .
for they shall be comforted." I recently lost my mother and was greatly comforted by all the friends and family who came alongside me to mourn her loss. But I don't think this is where Jesus was going with this. Why? I believe when Jesus was teaching his disciples he had a more spiritual goal in mind. For example, when building on the first blessing listed above (Blessed are the poor in spirit), if you recognize that you are poor in spirit, do you mourn your separation from God because of your sin? If you do, then God not only promises you the kingdom of heaven, but he promises that you will be comforted as well. To those who believe in Jesus as their Saviour your sinful state was washed clean and God sees you as a new creation, holy and perfect in His sight (2 Corinthians 5:17). What a comfort to the soul that is!
3. "Blessed are the meek . . .
for they shall inherit the earth." Each blessing seems to build on the next. If you recognize that you are unworthy to stand before God and you mourn that spiritual state, then when you humbly bow before Him confessing that sin and repenting of it, God promises that you will inherit the earth. But what does it mean to "inherit the earth?" Psalm 37:11 also talks about the meek inheriting the earth, but goes on to say that they shall also "delight themselves in the abundance of peace." Jesus was probably referring to this verse in his Sermon on the Mount discourse because it would have sent a strong message to the Jews of his day that were being persecuted by the Romans. Read Psalm 37:9-13 and you will see that the wicked will not prosper (God is actually laughing at their plans) and that in the end it is the meek (the lowly, poor, humble, needy, etc.) who humble themselves before God, who will inherit His promises.
4. "Bless are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . .
for they shall be filled." Who fills us when we seek the Lord with all our hearts? The Holy Spirit. He alone makes us complete in Christ. Jesus said in John 15:4-5: Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If you are not actively pursuing God by getting to know Him through His Word, if you don't hunger and thirst for His Word, you will never truly be filled with His Holy Spirit. If you just believe in Him but don't pursue a relationship Him, you are missing out on the blessing of being filled by Him. Jesus confirmed that apart from Him you can do nothing. So if you are actively pursuing God, you have the promise of being filled with His Holy Spirit.
5. "Blessed are the merciful . . .
for they shall receive mercy." How do you treat others? When they wrong you are you forgiving? How about when it comes to sharing the Gospel? God’s eyes roam the earth. Will He find you merciful toward others in that you have freely shared not only His love and kindness, but His message of salvation as well? There are many opportunities to extend mercy to another. But the greatest mercy of all is sharing the truth about Jesus with one who does not know Him.
6. "Blessed are the pure in heart . . .
for they shall see God." “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Because of this, no one can see God face to face and live (Exodus 32:20). But those who are made new in Christ Jesus are justified by His blood and will one day see Him face to face (Revelation 22:3-4). God has wiped their sins away and they are no more. On judgement day they will be considered pure of heart and will see God face to face.
7. "Blessed are the peacemakers . . .
for they shall be called the children of God." Are you starting to see a pattern? The Beatitudes don’t single out one type of person. Jesus was describing the blessings that all who follow Him will receive. The early Christians sought to live in peace with each other as much as possible. They were known by their love for each other. They lived their lives for God and because of Him and were known as a peaceful people. While there were many issues they had to deal with from within their own circles, such as eating food sacrificed to idols and whether or not Gentile converts should be circumcised for example, they were still devoted to each other (Acts 4:32-35). To my knowledge (and please point me to Scripture that I am missing if I'm wrong) the early Christians did not single out unbelievers and attack their lifestyles as Christians do today with homosexuals. Yes, if sin was found within the church it was dealt with, but as far as I can tell they did not openly attack people outside the church. They shared Jesus' message of redemption and free gift of eternal life, but they let the Holy Spirit convict the hearts of those listening to the message. They were known as a peaceful people, something today's Christian's need to practice.
8. "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness . . .
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Christians are currently the most persecuted people in the world. “Out of every ten people, seven cannot live their faith in full freedom. And the most persecuted faith is Christianity, with at least 200 million people suffering from discrimination.”1 Jesus added to this blessing by saying, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12, NASB). Yes, serving God is a risky business, but great are the rewards for those who follow Him.
Finally, did you notice that it is the persecuted and the poor in spirit who will receive the kingdom of heaven? Each blessing as I said, builds on the other. Each blessing gives a description of a person who is living for God. All these blessings are intertwined and are granted to those whose hearts are set on God, ready to serve Him. But what does the phrase, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" mean? Revelation 3:21 gives us a hint of what it will be like to receive the kingdom of heaven. Revelation 20:6 goes even further to suggest we will reign with Christ. This is the gift of the kingdom of heaven. To not only serve as priests to God, but to serve with Him in the new heaven and new earth. What an inheritance awaits those who live their lives with God as the center and focus of their beings! Don't miss out on these blessings. Set your heart and your mind toward the King of Heaven and be welcomed into the family of God.
1 Rome Reports TV News Agency, November 30, 2010