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Was Jesus’ death an end to the Jewish sacrificial system or was it a means by which fallen humankind could return to God?

 Our response to this question is crucial to how we view the being we call God, and the place of organized religion in our world.

When humankind in Adam fell short of God’s glory through disobedience by eating from the fruit of the prohibited tree in the garden of Eden, God’s relationship with her was severed. Adam (a corporate identity of the whole human race) could no longer be in the presence of God. To the modern reader, this idea of Adam eating a piece of fruit and God expelling him from the garden is very pithy, and almost a bizarre way of ending a relationship. It’s like someone divorcing their spouse for burning their toast, or squeezing a tooth paste from the middle. It’s like God was setting Adam up, knowing that he/she would disregard this injunction not to eat from the fruit of the prohibited tree. But is it what God intended? Was it God’s intention to perpetually keep Adam from eating of the fruit of this tree? I would save this for another time, but suffice to say that Adam’s expulsion from the garden was so that not only Adam, but also the entire human race could get back in. One of my favorite professor’s in Seminary Dr. Hugenberbger in his teaching on this subject of the Fall once said, “you have to get out to get in.”

To return to the question at issue, “Why did Jesus die,” let’s look at the Old Testament sacrificial system. Leviticus is one of the least read books of the Bible because of its content. Interestingly enough, it is one of my favorites because it helps us understand and appreciate the atoning death of Christ. But the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was put in place by Yahweh for His chosen people. The sacrificial system was to temporarily mitigate (cover) the inadvertent sins committed by God’s chosen people Israel. But how about other nations in far distance shores, who did not embrace Israel’s sacrificial system? How about other nations that indeed worshipped Israel’s sacrificial elements?

Moses in response to Pharaoh’s counter offer to his request to free the Israelites: “Go sacrifice to your god within the land” (Exodus 8:25) says, “It is not right to do so, for we will sacrifice to the Lord our God what is an abominations to the Egyptians.” How then were these other nations reconciled to God if the sacrificial system was not an option? This brings us to the Hebrew word “shv” to turn, “to return” “to be returned,” “to bring back” This word is misleadingly rendered in Psalm 23:6, in the Psalmist’s pledge to return to Yahweh’s presence: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The word translated “dwell” is the Hebrew word “shv.” I don’t want you to be discouraged by my use of the Hebrew language as is the custom of some. I utilize Hebrew to help the reader understand what the Holy Spirit inspired the author’s to say to God’s people. It could be argued in Hebrew that one did not really comprehend a word until one has total grasp of its roots, and explored its relationship to other words with the same root. This is what biblical theology is all about: discerning the authorial intent. How were other nations reconciled to God? Please stay tuned!

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Many Blessings to you in the New Year!

Happy New Year to all my friends around the globe. I am deeply grateful for the time you have taken out of your busy schedule to view my blog. I am amazed that different readers from over 40 countries log on to read my posts! For the new year, I would like to do something different. I have ben thinking of what I can do differently this year to be able to serve my audience better. So I decided to ask everyone of you to help me by providing guidance on what subjects you that you would best benefit from. So write to me either via my personal email or leave a comment on the blog page on what topics you want me to explore. And for those of you that have not joined, please do, so that you will receive notification each time I publish a new post.

Thank you all

Yours for the sake of the Risen King!

Blessing Jacobs+

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What does Love and Jealousy have in common?

As I was reviewing some of my morning devotion notes late this evening, the morning Office for Friday 14th Sunday after Trinity in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer caught my attention. The text in question is found in 1 Samuel 19:1-10.  I always try to read the entire chapter as ambitious as I am when it comes to reading God’s holy writ. This passage is replete with perplexing and intriguing phrases: The evil spirit from Yahweh; The Spirit of Yahweh; David’s spouse Michal’s betrayal of her husband; King Saul’s schizophrenia; the notion of this same king being ranked among the prophets, prophesying all day; and his servants also prophesying, and the lists go on.

I have spent a considerable part of my adult life trying to study God’s word. But the more I study, the more I realize how little I know. It keeps me humble just knowing that the human mind cannot articulate this Being called God. This passage is troubling because it contains things that are extremely difficult to explain. How can a good God have evil spirit? How can Saul, with such malicious intent to kill God’s anointed prophesy? And Oh by the way, he laid naked the entire day, and also prophesied before Samuel the prophet of Yahweh. He then swears an oath in God’s name not to put David to death, but as soon as the evil spirit from Yahweh comes upon him, he strikes with his javelin but missed David by few inches.

It seems to me that Saul was really possessed by this evil spirit, to the extent that he was bent on killing David. There are so many things to explore in this passage, but I want to talk about vs 9., the evil spirit from Yahweh coming upon Saul. Commentators avoid this passage. I have not come across one Commentary that dealt with this passage. I am sure that there are commentaries on this passage out there, but I am unaware of any.

I have looked at this passage in other languages to find out what is really going here, but always disappointed. I know someone who knows a little bit of Hebrew, and Spanish. And I figured maybe finding out how this passage reads in both languages might proffer some insight to this passage, but that made it even more interesting.

I tried to exonerate Yahweh by trying to prove that the preposition “from” is employed in an “instrumental” sense and not in “possessive” sense. But unfortunately, the Hebrew has it as possessive (the Hebrew Construct). The word (ruach) Spirit is in the construct tense denoting possession. I figured maybe Spanish will help, but again it reads: “Y el espíritu malo de parte de Jehová fué sobre Saul.” This spirit indeed was from God. This is impossible. The Biblical writers must have made a very huge mistake. But we have to face the fact. So what is going in this passage? Well, stay tuned! I will explore this in my next post. Please share your thoughts on this passage. All comments are valuable and are welcome!

God’s Best Wishes!

Blessing+

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Which God Do you believe in?

This was a sermon that I preached two weeks ago at Saint Michael’s Anglican Church in New Haven, where I happen to be the Vicar. The parishioners expressed their affinity for this sermon and I felt I should share it with you. I pray God’s blessing on you as you read.

Text:Luke 6:36-42 “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. 38 “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure– pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” 39 And He also spoke a parable to them: “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher. 41 “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

Subject: Why did Jesus tell His audience to be like He has described in Luke Chapter 6?

Compliment: Because it is how God their Father is like.

Exegetical Idea: Jesus told his audience to be like He has described in Luke chapter 6 because that is how God their Father is.

Homiletical Idea: Which God do you believe in?

Purpose: As a result of preaching this sermon, I want my audience to understand that our duty as Christians is to reflect God. I want my audience to know that how they live their lives will determine if people around them will embrace their God or not.

I want them to know that living the Christian life is living a counter cultural conventional life style. It is living a life of the kingdom. It is living a new and refreshing life.

Introduction: I have spent a good part of my adult life in schools and training of some sort to the chagrin of my close friends, who cannot hang out and do fun things with me because I am always either studying or commuting over two hours to attend classes. However, at school, we have professors that we like and the ones we don’t care much about except to complete our course work and submit them on time. But there is also this rivalry among professors. In fact some of them will give you a low grade if they find out that you are associated with a professor that they don’t think much of. It could be because these professors that are not liked much are faithful to their biblical conviction or because they disagree on social issues of our day. But there was this professor, who happens to be a Jewish scholar that wasn’t liked by many professors. A former student of his went to study in a different school and happened to take a course taught by a professor who does not like this Jewish professor. This professor gave the former student of the Jewish professor a low grade because of this student’s association with the Jewish professor. But one day, one of the former students of this other professor came to study under the Jewish professor. Although this student’s grades were not that great, but the Jewish professor gave him an “A” grade on that course. The Jewish professor’s teaching assistant protested, and even reminded the Jewish professor how his former student was given a low grade by this student’s former professor, but he insisted on giving him “A”. This Jewish professor said I gave him “A” because that is what Jesus will do. Which God do you believe in?

Transition: Be merciful Because God your Father is merciful

I. Your Mental Model of God will result in how you live your Christian life

1. God is not a stingy penny pinching gloomy God, who likes making us suffer.

2. God is a liberal God, who gives us everything even when we don’t deserve it

3. God is God who gives us a refreshing and abundant life even in the face of adversity.

4. God is not a God who wants to make our salvation impossible by prescribing the things that we should or not do.

5. God is a God of love, who loves both the sinner and the saint alike.

Transition: What image of God have you created?

II: The type of God you believe in will determine the way of life that will follow

1. Is your God merciful?

2. Is your God concerned with the injustice and poverty in our world?

3. Is your God loving and forgiving?

4. Do people around you see the type of God you worship in your behavior

5. Does your neighbor see the God you worship reflect in how you raise your children treat your spouse, cater to the need of the poor?

Transition: You will reflect whom you worship for ruin or for restoration

III: Only when people discover the type of God you worship will they make Him their

1. Jesus was speaking about the extravagant exuberant life that His father gives.

2. The crowd were following Jesus because of the power that was flowing from Jesus.

3. His disciples won many souls for the kingdom because of what they saw in them

4. People were amazed at the type of life that Jesus lived.

5. It was counter cultural lifestyle

Transition: It is only when people discover your God that they can embrace Him

Conclusion: How do we respond to this sermon? What should our response be?

There are two things about Jesus’ instructions in this passage.

1. This instruction is simple, clear, memorable, and direct

2. What Jesus was telling them to do was very scarce, and almost impossible. It was not their cultural convention. But so is the Christian life.

-How many communities have you seen or heard that live the way Jesus has instructed his audience?

-Think about what would happen if Christians in New Haven live like this.

-Think about what will happen if Christians all over the world use these guidelines that Jesus has given.

-What has gone wrong in our Christian faith?

-Has God changed?

-Have we forgotten who He really is?

Which God do you believe in? What image of God have you created? It is only when people discover your God that they can embrace Him. Be merciful because you Father is merciful. Whom you worship, you reflect for ruin or for restoration.

May God help us as we ponder on these words: in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

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The New Creation!

Today is the first Sunday after Easter. For the Anglicans and other churches that follow the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, today’s assigned Gospel is from the twentieth chapter of the Holy Gospel according to Saint John beginning from the 23rd verse. This passage records Jesus’ first post resurrection appearance to His terrified and grieving disciples. As I was preparing to preach from this text, I recalled that the Lord Bishop on the day I was ordained to the Sacred order of Priesthood, uttered the same exact words that Jesus said to His disciples (words in italics): “Receive ye the holy Ghost” for the office and the work of a Priest in the church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands. “Whose sins you for forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins thou does retain, they are retained.”

I can only imagine how the disciples felt upon hearing these words from their master. Probably just the same way I felt when I heard these words from the Lord Bishop. “Me Blessing Jacobs, a chief sinner saved by God‘s grace, forgiving and retaining sins? But this is not the only problem in this narrative. The disciples were behind locked doors for the fear of the Jewish religious leaders that have just killed their master. The author also intimates that Jesus appeared in their midst on the first day of the week and to prove to them that He is the same Jesus that they witnessed His crucifixion and burial couple of days prior, showed them His hands and pierced side. He then proceeded to breathe on them the breath of life and gave them the Holy Spirit.

In the Ancient world, the world shared by Israel and other surrounding nations, death is a one way street. No one has ever gone there and returned to life. All of the ancient world dreaded death because dead people don’t resurrect. There were instances of resuscitations, where people were raised from the dead, but died at later time. For example, Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and only son of the widow of Nain. Isaiah speaks of death as shroud that covers all people.

Jesus’ disciples were Jewish. As Jews, their principal sacred text was the Torah. It is arguable that these men were very knowledgeable of the Torah given that they were with Jesus for couple of years or more, and also from what we know of the place of Torah in every Jewish home. To say that they were astonished at the sight of Jesus would be understatement. This is because there is no where in the Torah (OT scriptures) that talks about the resurrection of an individual. Israel as nation was the one that was said to be resurrected on the third day not an individual as we learn in Hosea 6:1-2. (I was first made aware of the information by one of my favorite professors in college by the name of Andrew Sargent). Not only is this an enigma to the disciples, they could also recall God’s act of creation recorded in Genesis as the Spirit of God moved upon the surface of the waters, and God breathing upon the nostrils of Adam, and making them living beings. And by the way, they are also probably familiar with the Hebrew language and being aware that the word that was used for God in the first chapter of the book Genesis wasn’t the usual designation for Yahweh (Lord, though it could be used interchangeably for God the father and the God the son). What is going on here? Is this a new creation? For Jesus to be resurrected from the dead, He must be Israel because only Israel as a nation will resurrect on the third day. So when Jesus was raised from the dead, He was raised as Israel. To Jesus’ disciples, Yahweh has remembered His promise to Israel. They see Jesus, the only true Israelite that has been tried and tested and yet proven innocent, nothing in this world will stop them from preaching the Gospel even if it means at the cost of their lives. What is this business of forgiving sin and retaining sins? God is still the One who forgives sins. But He will forgive sins through His followers. Jesus’ death and Resurrection is the beginning of the new creation. The new creation will produce disciples, who will speak up against sinful activities in our world, rebuke and warn people of the consequences of sin. The new creation will now be defined by the activity of the Holy Spirit and will collaborate in establishing God’s sovereign rule over His people. The essence of the receiving the Holy Spirit is not to give Jesus’ disciples or the Christians a new form of spirituality. It is not to set them apart as some sort of holier than thou group of folks. It is for the disciples to live the rich full life of devotion, humility and dedication that is modeled after Jesus’ own life. The essence of the giving of the Holy Spirit is so that those who are called to be followers of Christ can do for the whole world what Jesus did for Israel. The charge to forgive and retain sins is a call to humility because we are called to do that which only God can do! He is risen!

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How are the miracles of Jesus to be construed today? Should they be replicated? Or are Jesus miracles/signs to be viewed as foretaste of eternity?

One of my favorite uncles became a born again Christian in the late 70s. He gave his life to Christ through the Scripture Union, which was a movement within the traditional churches to evangelize the heathen and to commit to Bible study, and prayer fellowship. Did I also mention that it was the “King James only” era? Not only was this uncle completely sold out for God, but he was also very bright with a stellar academic record at school.

This man was so dedicated to God that one would literally feel God’s presence while spending time with him. It was his final year in Secondary School (High school), and everyone knew that he will graduate with “highest honors.” It was a given because this man was the cream of the crop academically; and also a born again!

This was during the era of the ostentatious claim of the miraculous. If it is declared, it is bound to happen. If Jesus said it and it happened, then it must happen when declared with authority by Jesus‘ followers. After all Jesus said the believers would do greater things than He did because He was going to the Father (paraphrase). So this uncle declared that if he received any grade lower than “highest honors” at graduation, he would denounce the faith that he has cherished and to which he has committed his whole life.

If faith could be measured by any standard, this man could be said to rank among the highest echelon of the faithful. Then came the graduation, and the results were in. Unfortunately, he graduated two grades below his expectation. He did pass, and many people would be happy with the grade he received, but he asked for the “highest honors.” Because he did not receive it, he abandoned his faith. The news of his rejection of the faith went spiral. People could not believe it. He then began to indulge in lifestyle of sex, booze and partying. It was like he was trying to catch up for the years of abstinence. Thank God that after almost two decades, he turned back to God, but I m not so much sure how he views “name it and claim it” after that experience.

During my first year in ministry, I said that if I declare someone healed or prayed for someone and it did not happen, I will quit the ministry. In the innocence of my faith then, I thought that as ministers we must replicate the miracles of Jesus. My colleagues and I prayed for what we called “slaying” anointing (not knowing that when people are slain they are really dead) but the word “slain in the Spirit” promoted by Benny Hin and the likes then was the real stuff. Well, I never received the slaying anointing (thank God for that, you could imagine the death toll since 1996), nor did I receive everything that I prayed for. This is not to deny being used by God in the miraculous in numerous occasion to meet the needs of others. Thank God I did not give up my faith, because of my unrealistic expectation.

I have been troubled by preachers, and authors that espouse this claim that Jesus’ signs/(miracles?) is a proof of his Divinity or the proof to the unbelievers that we have the gift of healing, or a proof for the unbelievers to come to repentance when we perform miracles. The interesting thing is that miracle is not a monopoly of Christians or God. Heathens perform miracles alike. The idea that Jesus’ miracles ought to be replicated today has led many to people develop formulaic prayers that will command such miracles from God.

People can now attend few weeks of “school” to learn how to “move in the miraculous.” Some Christians are never satisfied until a “shiny shoe” evangelist lays hand on them and push them backward to the ground in pretense of falling under “the power.” (whatever that means). This quest for the miraculous has also led to the reintroduction of the “sale of indulgence,” which Luther, the Reformer gave his life to protest against. Indulgence has reappeared in the form of Tele preachers offering “holy water,” healing handkerchief,” and “holy anointed oil” at exorbitant cost. Yet, these preachers criticize the traditional churches, and characterize them as lukewarm or dead; but yet they are offering “indulgences” for sale to the poor, and also forcing them to “sow a seed” before God will prosper them (I think we are due for another 95 Thesis).

Jesus does not need to prove Himself to anyone. He does not need to prove His divinity. He is the epitome of self-awareness. People around Him recognized and attested to His divinity. We read of pious Jewish religious leaders that came to Him, and were also His disciples secretly. His actions of mercy and compassion to the disenfranchised, and His love for sinners and the outcasts unmistakably attest that He was was not an ordinary man.

In Luke 7:18, we read of an account of the man born blind, whom Jesus healed. His disciples asked Him whose fault it was that this man was born blind to which He replied no one. In stead Jesus said that it was so that God would be glorified. If you are not familiar with Jesus’ narratives, you would think immediately that God is this egoistic, narcist, who would stop at nothing to satiate His ego. For those who really understand how narrative works, they are thrilled because they understand what the miracle in question means. Jesus is utilizing natural occurrence to explain greater realities.

His miracles ought not to be construed as conquering natural obstacles, or a proof of His divinity, they are to be viewed as a pledge of eternity. His miracles are to be understood as surety that God’s promised sovereign reign has begun and will fully arrive in His timing. God has remembered His people, and Has through Christ come to rescue them, and usher them into His eternal reign of shalom! When we view Jesus’ miracles as proof of anything to anyone, and claim that because Jesus performed miracles, His followers must do the same or they are devoid of faith, we are mistaken.

Our faith in Jesus must result in the expression of gratitude, which ought to be evident in what we do in secret, how we treat others, our utterances, what we do with our finances, how we treat our spouses, our children, how we carter to the poor, and how we speak up against injustice.

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“Religion is the opiate of the people”

 

“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.”

Karl Marx, Critic of Hegel philosophy of Right.

I am currently recovering from surgery. Prior to my surgery, I had no experience with narcotics or in Marx’s choice word opium. I remember returning home the same day after my surgery and writhing in pain with no one around to help. The pain was so intense that I could not answer phone calls because I had left my phone on the dresser away from the bed. So I took two tablets of the oxycodone 5-325 given to me at the hospital, man did it feel so good after few minutes! The bed felt unusually warm and cozy to the point that I forgot I had just had surgery. I remember narrating this experience to my friend and she said, “Blessing you were high, that’s what was happening to you.” I had no idea that that’s what being high translates to (no wonder it is a controlled substance), man it felt so good!!! But after about six hours the reality settled in as the pain resurfaced.

If you know a little about philosophy, agnosticism, or atheism you must have heard this quote, “religion is the opium of the masses (people).” This quote when read in exclusion of the entire quotation would suggest that Karl Marx was against religion. But was he really? Let’s look at the quote as a whole. “Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress.”

It seems to me that Karl admits that people are in distress and religion offers them comfort in the same way people who are physically going through pain from injuries or in my own case surgery receive temporal relief from narcotics (opium). To Karl, religion is the protest against the real distress. What is the real distress that Marx has in mind? Is it not the existing economic and political structures that cause suffering to the masses and disenfranchise the poor in our society?

The second part of the quote recognizes religion as “the sigh of the oppressed creature and heart of the heartless world.” Let’s assume that Karl’s use of the word religion is in the context of organized religion or institutionalized faith (I am arguing that religion could but not solely refer to institutionalized faith). He admits that it is a sigh (of relief?) of the oppressed creature. It seems to me that Marx is saying that the purpose of religion is to create relief for the poor and oppressed through it’s creation of illusory fantasies for these disenfranchised people.

I will argue that he was irate about the political and economic systems in place that hinder the poor from achieving true happiness in this present world of form. Religion then says to the masses; it’s okay, do not worry, this world is not all there is. Do not worry about this transient world, its wickedness and indifference to true virtue and happiness because you will find happiness in the life to come.

Karl concedes that people are in distress and religion provides comfort or alleviates the pain in a similar fashion as narcotics would provide temporary relief to those who are going through physical pain. What I find fascinating is that Karl recognizes that opiates do not heal the physical injury in the same way that religion whether organized or existential does not resolve the underlying causes of people’s pain and suffering. Instead, religion helps them to explore why they are suffering and helps them to look to an imaginary future, where pain and suffering would be completely eradicated. A future where the King of righteousness will return and establish His rule in our world. A future where there would be no more sickness, oppression, war, poverty, and dying. A future, where in the words of the Prophet Isaiah, the shroud that covers all people would be removed.

Although, it would be misleading for me to insinuate that Marx did not have disgust for organized religion, but when this quote is considered in it’s entirety, it seem to me that he inadvertently uses religion as a polemic to the temporary relief obtained from the unjust political and economic system that enslave and constantly keep the less privileged in perpetual poverty by policies which offer them temporary relief. That Marx is not entirely against religion could be seen in the resulting Liberation theology by the Latin American theologians, that utilized Marx’s analysis of religion as a critique of the economic injustice against the poor. What do you think about my thoughts about this quote?

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