Josiah’s Passover & The Lord’s Supper

This week we wrap up our series Great Is Thy Faithfulness. We’ve taken an overview of the Hebrew Scriptures through the lens of God’s faithfulness. We’ve discovered that Yahweh keeps his promises regardless of what we humans do. We also discovered that our actions affect the way God’s faithfulness impacts us. When we live the life he calls us to then his faithfulness is a blessing. When we live contrary to his faithfulness, our sinful actions have painful consequences. This is what we saw the last two weeks as we looked to the 8th century BC in the prophecies of Hosea and Isaiah. The sin of Israel and Judah will bring painful consequences to the people, but God will remain faithful to heal and to save when they repent.

This week we turn to 2 Kings 22 and look at the story of Josiah. About 100 years after Hosea and Isaiah the 8 year old Josiah became king. Following the wicked reigns of his father and grandfather, Josiah chose not follow in their footsteps. We read that he was much like King David, and today is recognized as the 2nd greatest Davidic king.

All of Jerusalem had forgotten Yahweh. His temple had fallen into disrepair and had become the site of worship for Baal, Asherah, and star worship. Josiah ordered to restore the temple of Yahweh, and during that restoration a copy of the Torah was found (presumably Deuteronomy). Nobody knew about God’s word, or what to do with it. When Josiah heard the Torah read, he ripped his robes and sent his advisors to the prophet Huldah to confirm if what they were reading was true. 

The female prophet told these men that indeed the word of Yahweh was true and the punishment foretold in the Torah was coming. But she also had a word of peace for Josiah because of God’s appreciation for his heart. This destruction would come upon Jerusalem, but because of Josiah’s repentant heart, it would not happen during his lifetime.

Josiah calls all the people of Judah and reads aloud the Torah (as prescribed in Deuteronomy). When the people heard the words of Yahweh, they all pledged themselves to keeping the covenant. All of the idols and instruments of pagan worship were destroyed and removed and Josiah issued this decree:

“Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” – 2 Kings 23:21 NIV

In celebration of the renewed hearts and renewed commitment to Yahweh, the people eat the Passover.

Every Sunday at our gathering, we renew our hearts, we renew our commitment to Yahweh, and we eat the Lord’s Supper, a reapplication of the Passover by Jesus on the night he was betrayed (Mk. 14:16ff).

This week as we gather to worship, let us recommit to the mission and the covenant that Yahweh has made with us. And then let us eat the Passover of Jesus.

Sermon Text for 11/24/19 – 2 Kings 22:1-23:23; Mark 14:16-25

Women Praying & Prophesying With Their Heads Covered?

Why does Paul ask women to cover their heads while praying and prophesying? (1 Cor. 11:2-16)  Most people will assume something cultural is going on here, and they would be correct! But what exactly?

Women’s hair was seen as a major object of lust in the ancient world, as well as in some cultures in the middle east today (remember a lot of the Bible was written to people in middle eastern cultures). It seems foreign because hair doesn’t really cause us to lust. But as a means for cultural understanding, let’s equate the “uncovered head” of these women to wearing a very revealing bikini.

Now imagine someone dressing in such a way in front of the congregation on Sunday morning. Now you’re starting to understand the problem. In the ancient world an uncovered head meant you were sexually promiscuous; not such a crazy idea because this is one of the ways pagan temple prostitutes would wear their hair. The idea of a bikini in worship in our culture, and an uncovered head in theirs, is clearly inappropriate.

One of the greatest physical shames a woman could have in this culture was having her hair shaved off. What Paul is saying here is that if you see nothing wrong with uncovering your head in a worship assembly then you might as well go ahead and shave your head. The female readers would understand the level of shame Paul is equating to what they were doing in the assembly.

Why were they doing this? Keep in mind that churches met in homes, not church buildings. It was perfectly acceptable for a woman to have her head uncovered at home in front of her family, just like you might walk around in clothing at home that you would never wear in a public setting. When a more formal gathering (worship assembly) gathered in the same homes, it seems that some of the women were leaving their heads uncovered – again, inappropriate for male non-family members present. 

This was new territory for most of these Corinthian people. We are having a public gathering in a private home. How do we act? Paul here is teaching modesty within the assembly. How do we know this is the assembly? Paul tells us so in verse 16. “Churches” is the Greek word ekklesiai, the plural form for “assembly.” There is no assembly that practices uncovered heads (again cultural) while women are praying and prophesying.

But did you notice what is assumed in this passage? Women are clearly praying and prophesying (v. 5) openly in the presence of men in the assembly (v. 16), and that is totally ok! It is never questioned if women can pray or prophesy in the assembly, but rather can they do so with their heads uncovered. 

Somehow, women praying and prophesying in the assembly of 1 Corinthians 11 is not a violation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. But how can that be? We’ll take a closer look at that next week. But as a starting point, read all of 1 Corinthians 14 while asking yourself this question: 

What goal does Paul have in writing this chapter?

Priscilla – The Leader?

Luke continues telling the stories of women serving in the Kingdom throughout his second volume, which we call “Acts.” Today we’ll begin with Priscilla. Paul first meets Aquila and Priscilla, fellow tentmakers, in Corinth after they had been ordered to leave Rome by Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2-3). Later on these two were missionaries traveling with Paul to Syria, staying for a time in Ephesus, and later returning to Rome (Acts 18:18-19, 2 Tim. 4:19, Rom.16:3).

Of all the times that these two co-workers of Paul are mentioned (seven times total), two of these times Aquila is mentioned first: When Paul meets Aquila, and then Priscilla, and when Paul sends greetings to the church in Corinth on their behalf. The other five times this ministry team is mentioned it is the female, Priscilla, who is mentioned first.

What does this tell us about Priscilla? She played a very active role in these events, likely the lead role. When we tell stories we tend to include the key player in the discussion first. We say “Tom Brady and the Patriots,” not “Jarrett Stidham and the Patriots.” Stidham is one of the backup quarterbacks. Does he play a role in the organization? Of course. Is he the key player? Not usually. Luke does this in other places as well. At the beginning of his relationship with Barnabas, Luke refers to the two as “Barnabas and Saul/Paul” (Acts 11-13). But after chapter 13, Paul becomes the main player, except for occasionally like Acts 14:14, and 15:12. When Paul is the main player, he is mentioned first. When Barnabas is the main player, he is mentioned first.

Priscilla is mentioned as the main player five of the seven times she is mentioned with Aquila. This includes the teaching of Apollos (Acts 18:26), the missionary work in Ephesus (Acts 18:19, 2 Tim. 4:19), and on three other occasions. Saying Priscilla helped her husband is inadequate. They are both called co-workers with Paul (Rom. 16:3), and Priscilla is mentioned first 71% of the time.

There are some who teach women are not allowed to minister in this way, yet time and time again Scripture shows them doing so. And they are never rebuked or criticized for doing so! Luke mentions numerous other women prophesying on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14-15, 2:1, 4, 17-18), or Mary, who had a sizable church meeting in her home (Acts 12:12), Lydia, who also hosted a church (Acts 16:40), or Philip’s four daughters, who were prophets (Acts 21:8)?

Many have tried to take two verses from Paul’s writings out of context and use them to silence women in the Kingdom. The problem is the rest of Scripture, and even Paul’s own writings and ministry, show them doing the very things they are supposedly not allowed to do. So do we allow tradition to shape our understanding of what women may or may not do in the Kingdom, or will we allow the examples set forth in Scripture to set those guidelines?

Next week we’ll look at Paul’s conclusion to the Romans, and look at a few of the women he mentions there, as well as their roles in the Kingdom.

Jesus and the Female Disciples – Part 2

Today we continue our look at the female disciples that Luke mentions throughout his Gospel. Their introduction in the opening verses of chapter 8 leads to a thread throughout Luke’s story of the “others,” or the “rest” of those that followed Jesus. Luke makes it clear that his story isn’t one of Jesus and the 12. It is also a story of the “others.”

As Luke’s narrative unfolds, we find Jesus arrested and on trial after being betrayed by Judas. At this point the 12 disappear from the story, except for Peter. Peter follows Jesus through part of the trial, but ultimately denies his relationship with Jesus three times, then disappears from the narrative until after the resurrection. Luke does focus on a particular group throughout the crucifixion and resurrection: the women. 

“A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.”

Luke 23:27 NIV

After Jesus breathes his last, and the centurion confesses Jesus’ righteousness, we are told that many of the witnesses of the crucifixion leave, except for some who stayed.

“But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

Luke 23:49 NIV

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfume.”

Luke 23:55-56 NIV

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.”

Luke 24:1 NIV

“When they (women) came back from the tomb they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.”

Luke 24:9-10 NIV

“While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Luke 24:36 NIV

So who were the first preachers of the resurrection? The women. Who did they tell? The Eleven and “the others,” both male and female.  And who does Jesus appear to and commission after the resurrection? All of them! (And in case you are unsure of this, go to Acts 1:13-15 to see this continue.)

Luke makes it very clear. The commission to preach this news starting in Jerusalem (Lk. 24:47-48, Acts 1:8) is the responsibility of the Eleven, the women, and the others, as we’ve already seen them do! This commission by Jesus has not been retracted. Next week we’ll see how Luke carries this commission into the mission of the early church in Acts 1 & 2.

Jesus and the Female Disciples

Today we continue our look at Luke’s gospel and some of the women he includes in his story about Jesus. Luke has a major focus on the role of women in the ministry of Jesus and this week we look at some of the female disciples and supporters of Jesus’ ministry.

Luke 8:1-3 tells us about “many” single and married women who not only traveled with Jesus, but supported his ministry financially. These women are not the twelve, but they are disciples and benefactors nonetheless. Benefactors (financial supporters) in the ancient world would financially support an effort they supported, but that did not mean they would physically participate in that effort. These women are not simply benefactors, they are disciples traveling with Jesus, involved physically in his ministry, and learning to be just like the Messiah. A disciple would eventually go on to have their own students and teach in a way similar to their own teacher.

The fact that Luke tells us of Jesus and these women as disciples, a very unusual practice in the ancient world, tells us something about Jesus. Their presence in support and practice of Jesus’ ministry shows that Jesus wasn’t constrained by, nor concerned with cultural ideas about the roles of women. Culture considered them property to be kept in the home, but Jesus included them as disciples, ones who could travel along side, support, and assist in his ministry.

This detail sets up the often misunderstood story of Mary and Martha at the end of Luke 10. Many tell this story as a lesson on priorities; Jesus is more important than housework. While this is true, it misses the context of what Luke is telling us about Jesus. Luke always gives a female counterpart to the males in his gospel, showing that following Jesus and serving in the Kingdom is not a job relegated to men. Luke gives us Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, the widow of Zarephath and Naaman (ch. 4), the centurion and the widow (ch. 7), the widow with the coins and the shepherd (ch. 15). Here in chapter 8 and chapter 10 we see the female complement to the male disciples.

Luke tells us that Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (10:39). In doing so, Mary is taking up the role of a disciple, something a male would do in that culture. She is breaking a cultural rule (that many other women from ch. 8 did as well). Martha wants Jesus to rebuke Mary, but Jesus affirms that “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (10:42)

This story goes with the preceding story of the good Samaritan, and is an example of the Greatest Commands lived out. The Samaritan is the hero of the first story, and a female disciple is the hero of the second story. These are two upside down images of obeying the Greatest Commands in a culture that valued neither of these heroes. Luke is clearly portraying Jesus as being against the rules and boundaries of the culture in which they lived. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t follow societal norms, it follows Jesus. These stories also call us to radically break with tradition and culture, disregard all else, and follow the example of Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel, the teachings and actions of Jesus remind us that the Kingdom of Heaven is a place where Jews and Samaritans, as well as men and women can serve as equals. (See Gal. 3:28)

Why the Church Needs to Talk About Huldah

I was at a Bible conference recently and the speaker asked for a show of hands by asking the question, “Who here has heard of Huldah?” Almost nobody raised their hands. Sadly this important prophet has been forgotten about, even though the king sought her out! Her story is part of the narrative around king Josiah restoring worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, and can be found in both 2 Kings 22, and 2 Chronicles 34. King Josiah is not like his father or grandfather. They were wicked, but Josiah decided to follow God like his ancestor, King David (2 Kings 22:2). Josiah removed all the idols and altars to pagan gods. He drove out the spiritists and mediums, all the household gods and brought the nation back to worshipping Yahweh.

Part of this was due to the discovery of the book of the Law when the Temple was being repaired, likely the complete Torah scroll or at least Deuteronomy. At this point in history Israel had no know knowledge of the Torah. After hearing the book read to him, Josiah responds:

 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”

2 Kings 22:12-13

This is where the high priest and the advisors consult a prophet. Now during this time there were several well known prophets in Jerusalem who had been prophesying against the wickedness of idolatry. You’ve probably heard of them too, Jeremiah and Zephaniah. You can read their prophecies in your Old Testament. Yet when it was time to “inquire of the Lord” as to the validity of the words in the Book of the Law, the leaders of Israel go to Huldah. 

Huldah is a prophet, a married woman, and the keeper of the garments (NIV translates “wardrobe”). This must tell us something about Huldah. The great prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah are prophesying in Jerusalem and yet they go to Huldah. Why? We can speculate all day about her social status, her past prophecies, why she is more highly sought than prophets we know more about today. But in the end what we do know is that when Israel’s leaders wanted to “inquire of the Lord” and validate the Book of the Law, God sends Huldah into the story.

In this narrative we find for the first time someone validating the words of the Law as being God’s word. We find that the Book of the Law is actually Scripture by the Lord’s prophecy through Huldah. Nowhere in this passage is Huldah criticized or reprimanded for teaching these men. Nowhere are these men condemned or criticized for allowing a woman to teach them. This leads to a question: If we say it’s wrong for a woman to teach a man, why does God teach these men through a woman? The story of Huldah is preserved twice in Scripture because it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. 

So what can we learn from Huldah? We learn that even though Jeremiah and Zephaniah had God-given prophetic roles in Jerusalem during this time, God gave Hulda a job too. And that job was to teach the men leading Israel about God’s Word. Perhaps we would be wise to remember that God gifts “each one” as he determines (1 Cor. 14:4-11). We don’t make the rules. God does.

The Song of Deborah

Last week we looked at Deborah: judge of Israel, prophet, wife,  and as we’ll discover today she was also a worship leader. Due to the Lord’s work through the leadership of Deborah, and the bravery of Jael, Israel enjoyed peace for forty years. Today we will look at Deborah’s celebratory song in Judges 5, and what it tells us about God and his people.

The beginning of verse 2 is problematic for translators, literally beginning with “In the breaking forth of the breakers in Israel.” NIV translates this as “When the princes in Israel take the lead.” I believe the ESV’s rendering to be clearer:

“That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!”

Judges 5:2 ESV

This is the story of Deborah! When the leader God had ordained, regardless of gender, took the lead and offered herself willingly, it brings praise to the Lord. All people should offer themselves willingly and lead in the mission of God as their divinely given gifts allow (1 Cor. 12:7).

The song is clear that it is God’s power that won the victory for the nation (v.4-5, 31) but the song clearly exalts the acts of Deborah in motivating and leading the people (v.7-9) and Jael for defeating Sisera (v. 24-27). And once again, we have a clear statement that this is not a story of renegade women usurping authority because of weak males in the kingdom. That belief is making assertions that the text does not. In fact, it states quite the opposite: God is behind this. God chose the leaders of Israel (2:16, 5:8) to accomplish his will and bring the people back into line with God’s covenant.

7 Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel.
8 God chose new leaders when war came to the city gates, but not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.
9 My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord!

Judges 5:7-9 NIV

The further you go into Judges, the further Israel drifts from the knowledge of God. Eventually, even the Judges know so little about God that they do detestable things thinking it pleases God. Most of the judges failed to follow God, and by the end of the book the people no longer knew God. Judges sadly ends by saying this:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

Judges 21:25 NIV

Deborah’s story at the beginning of the book shows us what good Godly leadership should do: bring people back into line with God’s will. God raised up Deborah and she followed God. She didn’t issue excuses as to why her situation wasn’t ideal. She simply offered herself and her God given abilities willingly. Our world is in desperate need of more women and men like Deborah!