April 3, 2011

Kingship of Christ

What words, thoughts, feelings come to mind when you think of “king,” “ruler,” “soveriegn”? What about the term “monarchy”?

The southern part of Israel, called Judea, was the homeland of the historic kings of Israel, starting with David. Although the kingdom divided into Judah in the south and Israel in the north around 922BC, the people still remembered the glorious days of David. Messiah, prophecied and longed for, would restore the Kingdom and usher in a new and glorious reign.

Even though the area of Judea was given by Herod the Great to his son Archelaus, Rome exiled the inept king to Gaul because too many riots and incidents of civil unrest plagued his ten-year rule. Rome installed a procurator to keep the fragile peace. Pontius Pilate was installed in the year 26CE. The Roman presence was hated and the Roman fortress of Antonia was a constant reminder of the Roman occupation, overlooking the Temple itself.

As Jesus moved into Judea, toward the capital, he knew he would be challenged. He confronted the priests and rulers of the people with his parables and was perceived as a threat to the status quo. Some of these conversations are found in Luke 20:1-41.

Bethlehem is where it all started, in a stable 30 some years earlier. It is not recorded in the Gospels that Jesus ever returned to Bethlehem, but the town was important to all Jews as the ancestral home of King David. It was also the prophesied birthplace of Messiah. Jesus’ birth there was a link to the lineage of David-the once and future king. (Matthew 1:1-18) This postcard image from 1886 is an artist's rendering of the town at that time.

Bethlehem is a little town nestled in the hills five miles south of Jerusalem. It was closely linked to the capital. The name Bet Leven means House of Bread and the wheat grown here was used for the shewbread in the temple. The nearby hills were home to the temple shepherds and their flocks. The little fat-tailed sheep were raised to provide the lambs for the temple sacrifices. The animals for the sacrifice had to be entirely white, without any spot of another color. During lambing season, the numerous hill caves were used to shelter the ewes and newborn lambs from the chill spring winds.

North of Bethlehem lies Bethany. This small village is almost a suburb of Jerusalem. The name means House of Dates and indeed there are many date palm trees in the area. Scribes and some temple priests made their home in Bethany because it was close to Jerusalem and the duties of the temple, without the dust and crowds of the larger city. Many wealthy families lived in the estates in and around the town.

Bethany was home to friends of Jesus-Lazarus and his sisters. It is not surprising that he stayed here while visiting Jerusalem. His raising of Lazarus offered proof of his supreme power and was a threat to the rulers of the day. (John 11:1-44 )45-53. This miracle was the catalyst that convinced the Jewish leaders that Jesus had to die.

During class this week we had a very lively discussion, especially about “protecting the vineyard” (i.e. church, tradition, faith). It is a struggle to know how to be ‘good stewards’ of the vineyard. The priests of Jesus’ time were trying to protect the faith and life of Israel. Caiphas prophecied, “it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation should not perish.” In his efforts to maintain the peace with Rome and preserve the nation of Israel, he was willing to hand over this troublemaking rabbi to death. We talked about the difficulty of determining where, when, and how to stand up for God vs. trusting God to bring everything to the proper conclusion. What are your answers to these questions?

The parable of the vineyard was a warning to the religious leaders of Israel. Are there ways you try to protect you corner of the vineyard?

Being of the house of David was an honor to the ancient Jews. How much greater honor is it to be of the ‘house and lineage’ of Christ?

Where is Christ’s reign found in your ministry?

Next week we will look at the Passover and Last Supper.

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