One book of secrets simply isn’t enough!

More Secrets book and pages only

Those who walk the land of the Bible for themselves have a first-hand knowledge of a wonderful truth. The land itself can give us insight into the message of the Bible!

Spend a morning in the rugged Judean Wilderness, and you’ll never miss a reference to it again. Hike through one of the city gates of an ancient town and you’ll have a brand-new understanding of how the “wide gates” lead to the destruction Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount.

From the Jordan River to the Mediterranean coast, from specific valleys to memorable mountain ranges, the land makes some stories in the Bible spring to new life. Sometimes, even the sheep on the hills of the Shephelah add new insight to biblical passages!

“More Secrets from the Ancient Paths” is a natural follow up to Andy Cook’s “Secrets from the Ancient Paths,” published in 2013. Like the original “Secrets,” this book is packed with beautiful photographs and great insight. Spend some time with these “hidden-in-plain-sight secrets,” and you’ll discover why so many readers are still talking about the amazing lessons from the ancient paths. Click here to order!

Did Jesus ever claim to be God?

Jesus passion bread

It slips past modern, Gentile readers of the Bible, but when Jesus claimed that the bread and wine of the Passover meal were telling his story, the options were starkly apparent. He was either insane … or the focus of all history.

Was Jesus God?

To say the least, it’s an important question. If Jesus was God-on-earth, then everything he said and did becomes so important, it simply can’t be ignored.

If he wasn’t God incarnate, then something went haywire between the time he died and the time the Christian scriptures were written. If Jesus wasn’t God, to put it bluntly, then his first followers created that idea after his death. Reading the writings of Paul, John, Luke, Matthew, Peter and the author of Hebrews, there’s no doubt they all considered Jesus to be divine.

But if all of those early voices were creating a re-imaged Jesus, then the words of Jesus aren’t nearly that important. He was simply a man whose devoted followers turned him into a legendary figure.

Wouldn’t it have helped if Jesus had addressed the subject?

It takes a lot of faith to believe in fiction!

King David era inscriptiosn

This inscription from the era of King David was found in 2015. A few decades ago, some scholars considered David a mythological figure. Because of evidence like this, that viewpoint no longer holds.

Today’s Macon Telegraph features yet another column from Bill Cummings that insists the Jesus story is a myth.

This happens on a regular basis, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

TScreen Shot 2017-04-23 at 9.15.11 AModay’s opening two sentences?

“The Gospel narratives were written as faith documents. Not historical documents.”

Since he was “trained for 30 years as a Christian Scripture scholar,” Cummings feels it his responsibility to tell Telegraph readers that the Bible they read is mostly fiction.

Scholarship at the turn of the 20th Century did cast doubt on the historical reliability of Bible stories. Cummings even quotes a scholar who died in 1768 in Sunday’s column. Are you kidding me? Could a man living in 2017 actually still be quoting scholarship that predates the founding of the United States of America?

Scholarship at the turn of the 21st Century is supporting the opposite view.

Archeologists are turning up evidence of the Bible’s truth, not its “errors.” Geographical evidence supports historical accuracy. Cultural studies from antiquity are shedding light on the biblical text without proving some kind of biblical “inaccuracy.” And the circumstantial evidence? It’s overwhelming.

Whatever else can be said about the Jesus stories, this much even Cummings would have to admit is true. Something profound happened in the weeks, months and years after Jesus died. There’s no other explanation for the way thousands – then tens of thousands – suddenly made a radical change in their religious beliefs. Many of those first believers were willing to die for new beliefs.

Maybe Bill Cummings doesn’t need a factual foundation for his faith, but I do. I don’t have the time or energy to believe in something that isn’t true. I’m not going to dedicate my life to following the biblical equivalent of Harry Potter.

And on the seventh day, they rested.

Near Lions Gate Entrance

On Shabbat, parts of Jerusalem seem to stand still. For religious Jews, taking a day to rest is the essence of obedience. (William Haun photo)

logo 12 daysThen came Saturday.

There had been a furious rush to put the body of Jesus in a tomb late on Friday afternoon. The gospel writers repeatedly stress that it was the “Day of Preparation,” and anyone who’s ever been around an Orthodox Jewish community understands the meaning.

Families that are serious about taking 24 hours off have a lot of work to do if it’s going to happen.

You want hot coffee on Saturday morning? Prepare it Friday and keep it warm all night.

You want to read by lamp light at some point during the day? You’ll need to turn the light on – and leave it on – or figure out how to have a Kosher timer do the job for you. Flipping a light switch is “work,” and thereby not allowed.

You want to spend Shabbat with family or at a resort? Get there before the sun goes down, and have everything ready for 24 hours of rest. That’s going to take some forethought. That’s going to take some work!

What about food? You want breakfast or lunch on Saturday? Can’t prepare it then. That’s why you’ll prepare it on Friday, the day of preparation.

It’s been like that for centuries. It was that way the weekend Jesus was crucified.

Jesus and the disciples, along with the rest of the nation, celebrated Passover on Thursday night. Actually, once the sun set, the Jewish world called that evening “Friday.” Jesus was arrested that night, hurriedly tried in a sham court and sentenced to death before most of the community was even awake.

Because of the approaching sunset and arrival of Shabbat, Pilate allowed that the three men on crosses would have their legs broken. In the most twisted of reasoning, this would hasten their deaths and thereby preserve the sanctity of the Sabbath. Jesus, however, was already dead. A spear in the side confirmed it. Nicodemus and Joseph hurriedly prepared the body for burial and laid Jesus in Joseph’s tomb, still under construction at the time.

The stone was rolled in front of the entrance, darkness overcame the city, and Jerusalem rested.

You know some of the people who refused to travel or perform any forbidden task that Saturday.

Simon Peter was one. Andrew another. James and John and every other disciple except Judas, who was dead.

Mary Magdalene observed the Sabbath. Mary the mother of Jesus, likewise.

Even Jesus was perfectly still.

The Romans wanted you to see this …

 

Jesus crucified Passion

Jim Caviezel played the role of Jesus in Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ.” The 2004 film shocked moviegoers with its graphic depiction of the crucifixion. For those who lived in the era of Roman rule, however, these brutal – and public – executions were a part of everyday life.

logo 12 daysOne of the best-known details of the crucifixion is that Jesus was crucified in plain view just outside the city walls of Jerusalem.

Like countless other men who’d been crucified by the Romans, Jesus and the two criminals with him were put on display as a warning to the city’s residents and visitors.

In the days of the Roman Empire, there were no hidden executions or efforts to develop “humane” ways of carrying out state-sponsored killing. Quite the opposite, actually. Roman soldiers literally experimented with ways to make crucifixions more unpleasant than ever.

Imagine growing up in Jerusalem or any other part of the vast Roman Empire. The police force was armed, unpredictable and violent. Political leaders cared far more about political peace than the actual guilt or innocence of its prisoners. Every child in the area got the message quickly and clearly.

If you break the rules of Rome, you will suffer unimaginably painful consequences.

The Fifth Cup


Like everyone else in Jerusalem that night, Jesus and his disciples had four cups of wine during “The Last Supper.” Unlike anyone else in history, Jesus also took … the fifth cup.

Though there is some debate about the symbolism of each cup, it might be best said that the four cups are (in order), the Cup of Sanctification, the Cup of Deliverance, the Cup of Redemption, and the Cup of Praise.

For those who worry about washing all those dishes, we’re actually talking about one cup per person … filled four times.

It’s most likely, by the details we can pick up from the Gospels, that Jesus used the third cup, the “Cup of Redemption,” for the symbolic cup that would represent his blood. This is the drink Christians take when they celebrate the Lord’s Supper. There’s even a hint that Jesus skipped the fourth cup, the Cup of Praise, reserving it for a time in the future when his task was completed.

Here’s the way it is written in Mark 14:24-25.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” Jesus said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Only a short time later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying in great agony, Jesus wrestled with the idea of drinking the “cup” that was before him. Jesus acted as if taking that “fifth cup” would be the most difficult, painful thing he would ever do.

This clip (7:16) is the story of the Fifth Cup.

You want to really celebrate on Resurrection Sunday? Watch this clip now.

Previously: You were looking for a sign? Here it is.

You were looking for a sign? Here it is.

sign on cross

The Latin letters stand for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” (Michael Barber photo, First Community Church, Columbus, Ohio)

logo 12 daysPilate must have known it wasn’t going to be a good day. How could it be, when pompous religious leaders are demanding an audience so early in the morning?

Maintaining order during Passover week was always a hassle and Pilate knew the visitors brought trouble. What had gone wrong now?

Pilate only had the job as governor of Judea because one of Herod’s son’s had been so violent, the Romans had fired him. The man simply couldn’t keep the peace. From Rome’s point of view, keeping the peace was paramount. The leader of Jerusalem could, of course, use force. But whatever he did, he’d have to answer to Rome for his actions.

Pilate was the man in charge on that particular Friday morning. If he wanted to keep his job, he would take the concerns of these religious men seriously.

Although seriously, who in his right mind actually thought of them as holy men?

The perfect backdrop for the most stressful night of Jesus’ life

Olive Tree against sky Garden of Gethsemane

Olive trees still provide shade in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus would have been very familiar with a view like this one during the Passover holiday. (William Haun photo)

logo 12 daysGethsemane is just exactly where you’d expect to find it. It’s at the bottom of the Mount of Olives.

If you’ve ever harvested a crop, this makes perfect sense. Whether you’re picking apples, pecans, cotton, tomatoes or olives, if you gather a basket or so, you’re dealing with a heavy load.

Now. Do you want to carry that load up a hill … or down?

Or do you even know what “Gethsemane” means?

“Gat” is “oil.” “Shemane” is “press.” So our “Gethsemane” is the location of the oil press on the Mount of Olives.

And olives can be quite heavy during the harvest. So no kidding, it’s at the bottom of the hill.

The process for turning ripe olives into cash is two-fold. Part One is cracking the olives open with a mill stone. That first bit of “virgin oil” is collected and sold at a premium price. Part Two involves putting the cracked olives into porous bags, stacking the bags, and then pressing those bags until every last drop of oil is drained from the olives.

Ten things every Christian should know about Passover

 

Jesus passover bread

The “Last Supper?” It was the Passover meal. Understanding the world’s most symbolic meal adds incredible insight to understanding what happened the day Jesus died. This image from “The Passion of the Christ” shows Jesus preparing to share the unleavened bread with his disciples.

logo 12 days

It’s no accident that the Christian celebration of Easter and the Jewish celebration of Passover fall close to one another each year. This year, the two events are occurring on the same week, nearly in perfect timing with the Passover week that coincided with the crucifixion of Jesus.

Tonight, all around the world, Jewish families will take their place around the Passover meal. Many Christian families will do the same. In the Fourth Century, early Christian leaders led a movement that essentially divorced Christianity from its Jewish heritage. At that point, Christians stopped celebrating the most symbolic meal in history.

Now it’s finally time to reconnect followers of Jesus with the meal he used to describe the purpose of his life. Here are 10 Things Christians should know about the Passover.

1. The “Lord’s Supper” is Passover. What Christians know as “The Lord’s Supper,” “Communion,” or the “Eucharist” came out of the Passover meal Jesus had with his disciples. More than 20 times in the Gospels, that “last supper” is referred to as the Passover. Jesus even said that night, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you …” (Luke 22:15)

2. There’s a story. The Passover meal tells a story through the order (“Seder”) of the meal itself. As participants eat greenery dipped in salt water, matzo dipped in horse radish, or count off 10 drops of wine, those around the table remember how God rescued the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery.

3. It’s a happy meal. As did all observant Jews, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal every year. Mary and Joseph were extremely committed to this practice, taking their family all the way to Jerusalem each spring for the holiday (Luke 2:41). Though Christians naturally think of the “Lord’s Supper” as an extremely solemn, quiet and serious meal, the Passover is actually a joyful meal that involves children, laughter and song.

God loved Mary so much … He let her see the crucifixion?

Mary holding Jesus

Actress Alissa Jung plays the role of Mary in “Mary of Nazareth,” a 2014 film. If God loved Mary – or you – so much, why would He allow such suffering?

logo 12 daysMary, the mother of Jesus, was at the cross.

It’s an unimaginable picture. Why would any mother, anywhere, intentionally attend the execution of her adult child? Why would her family even allow her attendance?

Fact is, Mary didn’t come to Jerusalem for the crucifixion.

She came for Passover.

Mary and Joseph had kept a long-standing practice of attending the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover,” is the way Luke 2:41 records it.

At some point, Joseph died. But Mary kept going to Jerusalem for Passover.

It was a long, brutal trip. Almost certainly, Mary walked the entire 75 miles, taking the better part of a week to complete the trip. The last leg of the journey included the 18-mile climb from Jericho to Jerusalem, one of the most difficult hikes you’d ever want to tackle.

The year Jesus died, Mary didn’t make the long journey so she could witness history’s most important moment.

The year her son was stripped naked, scourged until he could barely stand, beaten until he was nearly unrecognizable, she didn’t go to Jerusalem so she could be there when his lifeless body was finally removed from the stakes of torture.

Mary went to Jerusalem because she loved God.