Cross Purposes

[The following is a complete excerpt of Day 18 from Feet to Follow, Eyes to See. It is also the basis of my family's 2011 Christmas letter.]

Ever seen a Christmas card depiction of Bethlehem? It is usually portrayed as a quaint little cluster of mud-brick buildings—most flat-roofed, but a few with graceful domes—surrounded by green fields dotted with grazing sheep. If it is shown at night, those domed roofs are silhouetted against a clear sky, brilliantly lit by the natal star. We imagine Bethlehem to be a peaceful place. We sing about Jesus’ birth on a silent, holy night. We’re so enamored with this fantasy of a peaceful nativity, that even when we imagine the baby Jesus waking to the sound of lowing cattle, we tell ourselves, “No crying he makes.”

A visit to modern Bethlehem presents you with quite a different picture. The area around Manger Square is noisy and chaotic, with Muslim street vendors hawking cheap jewelry and touristy kitsch. You bustle past them to arrive at the Church of the Nativity, which preserves the traditional location of Jesus’ birthplace. The building itself is a bewildering compound made up of two churches—one controlled by the Greek Orthodox and the other by the Roman Catholics. The Grotto of the Nativity is located beneath the Greek Orthodox basilica.

Entering the grotto was an exercise in holding one’s ground as countless pilgrims tried to squeeze into the narrow doorway. I must confess I was more focused on preventing a pushy French couple from shouldering their way past us than I was on contemplating the birth of my Savior.

The Star in the Grotto of the Nativity

The floor and walls of the original cave are completely covered with marble and stone. A silver star marks the spot where Mary is believed to have given birth to Jesus, and pilgrims crowd in to press their hands or lips against it. In order to enable the members of our tour group to snap unobstructed photos of it, we acted as blockers for each other, holding back the other pilgrims until each of us had taken a turn. I imagine they had to be thinking, “Who do these pushy Americans think they are?”

Of course, we were only there a few moments. We yielded the floor and were carried out of the Grotto by the inexorable flow of humanity.

Visitors who expect Bethlehem to be idyllic and pastoral are sure to be disappointed by the relative chaos of the place. All the people there are seemingly at cross-purposes with each other. Different religious groups control different areas of the site. Some Christians are there to venerate a spot they regard as sacred. Others merely want to visit the place where Jesus entered the world. Some Muslims want to profit from the tourism Jesus brings. Others want to assert the supremacy of Islam. Then there are the political tensions of this Palestinian area of Israel.

Modern Bethlehem is a far cry from what we see on Christmas cards, but it may be far closer to the Bethlehem into which Jesus was born. That Bethlehem was crowded with Jews who had traveled there to take part in a Roman census. Some of the local residents would have been thrilled at all the extra business, while others would have resented the disruption to their daily lives and the constant reminders of Roman supremacy. The Romans meanwhile, wanted to keep the peace and further their careers among a people who despised them. Mary and Joseph just wanted a place to have their baby. As it is today, first-century Bethlehem was all bustle and cross-purposes.

Jesus also arrived in Bethlehem with cross purposes: He “came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), drawing them to Himself by being lifted up on the cross (John 12:32–33). Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus made it clear He had been born for that hour:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop. … Now My soul is troubled. What should I say—Father, save Me from this hour? But that is why I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name! (John 12:23–24, 27–28)

Our Christmas card mythology presents us with a tranquil Bethlehem and a joyous nativity, but Christ’s birth foreshadows His cross. The death He died so that we might live is the reason we rejoice in His birth. Worship Him today for accomplishing His cross purposes for you.

[If you enjoyed this devotion from Feet to Follow, Eyes to See, please share it with someone you know.]

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Offer Less, Not More

[The following is a complete excerpt of Day 6 from Feet to Follow, Eyes to See]

When the terrible chariot force of Sisera was destroyed, it left a power vacuum in the Jezreel valley the Israelites simply were not equipped to fill. Seeing their opportunity, the Midianites decided to move in. The Midianites were nomadic marauders from the eastern desert who had camels rather than chariots, but a fast-moving cavalry force was still more than the Israelites’ volunteer infantry could handle:

Because of Midian, the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites, Amalekites, and the Qedemites came and attacked them. They encamped against them and destroyed the produce of the land, even as far as Gaza. They left nothing for Israel to eat, as well as no sheep, ox or donkey. For the Midianites came with their cattle and their tents like a great swarm of locusts. They and their camels were without number, and they entered the land to waste it. So Israel became poverty-stricken because of Midian, and the Israelites cried out to the LORD. (Judges 6:1–6)

In response to their cry for help and their renewed dependence on Him, the LORD called Gideon to lead the Israelites into battle. Gideon was no seasoned warrior; he was just trying to cope with the situation by harvesting his family’s grain in secret. The angel of the LORD’s greeting therefore seemed slightly delusional: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12).

It took some convincing for Gideon to accept the role God had assigned him, but he eventually assembled a force of 32,000 men at the spring of Harod. The Midianites were encamped on the other side of the Jezreel Valley, unable to see Gideon’s assembled forces. It was then the LORD told Gideon he had too many men!

The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many people for Me to hand the Midianites over to you, or else Israel might brag: ‘I did it myself.’ Now announce in the presence of the people: ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So 22,000 of the people turned back, but 10,000 remained. (Judges 7:2–3)

What was Gideon feeling in the pit of his stomach when more than two-thirds of his troops turned back? Whatever he felt, God wasn’t finished. He told Gideon to make all the men drink water from the spring, and only those who drank a certain way would be permitted to enter the battle. Only 300 men out of the remaining 10,000 passed this apparently arbitrary test, so Gideon went to war with less than one percent of his original forces.

The Spring of Harod

So often we think that to serve the LORD, we need to offer more: more of our time, more of our effort, more of our energy, more of our abilities, more of ourselves. Yet He doesn’t need more of what we have to offer. On the contrary, we need more of Him.

God was able to deliver the Israelites through the brave actions of 300 men, and He alone received the glory for that victory. Gideon received glory as well: not for his brilliant deployment of a vast army, but for his willingness to do what the LORD instructed him to do. Gideon became the “mighty warrior” God had named him, because he went out in the simple belief that the LORD was “with him” (Judges 6:12).

In much the same way, John the Baptist was charged with announcing the coming of the Messiah. Before Jesus came, John created quite a stir, and people of every station and rank came to hear his preaching. When at last he identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), the people began flocking to Jesus. Asked how he felt about his waning popularity, John replied:

No one can receive a single thing unless it’s given to him from heaven. … So this joy of mine is complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:27, 29–30)

What if Gideon and John had tried to do more than God had asked of them? Would we think better of them, or worse? Are you getting burned out trying to offer God more of yourself? Or are you willing to decrease so that the glory of His name might increase?

[If you enjoyed this devotion from Feet to Follow, Eyes to See, please share it with someone you know. For more on the practical challenges of offering less, not more, see this post on my personal blog.]

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Snapshots: White Wings Where Jesus Walked

I grew up going to Disney World, so I’m used to perfect scenarios designed to capture the imagination of tourists. Disney accomplishes this with carefully sculpted artificial landscapes, animatronic actors, and Hollywood-style special effects. In Israel, the perfect scenarios seem to happen without apparent orchestration—well, at least without apparent human orchestration.

One example of this was when we visited the baptismal site of Yardenit, located on the Jordan river where it empties out of the Sea of Galilee. It’s doubtful whether this is the actual site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, but countless pilgrims go there every year to be baptized in the same river as their Savior. As I paused to snap a few pictures of the river, I saw a white dove flying back and forth over the water. I managed to capture this blurry image:

Of course, the presence of a white dove at a Jordan baptismal site provides a vivid reminder of Jesus’ baptism:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. But John tried to stop Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?”

Jesus answered him, “Allow it for now, because this is the way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him to be baptized.

After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. And there came a voice from heaven: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him! (Matthew 3:13–17 HCSB)

Another place where I caught sight of a white dove was in the archway of the Double Gate at the southern end of the Temple Mount. The arch was added at a later time, but it preserves the location of a Herodian gate through which pilgrims would begin their ascent to the temple courts above. A series of grand processional steps leads up to the Double Gate, and it is quite possible that Jesus ascended those steps and passed through that gate.

If this had been Disney World, I would have thought those doves had been placed there by design as a symbol of Jesus’ divinity, or of His ongoing presence through the Holy Spirit, or as a reminder to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6). Who knows?
Perhaps Israel has an artificially large population of white doves as a result of their being released at special events over the years. Whatever the reason for their serendipitous presence, they added a symbolic significance Walt Disney would have been proud of.

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Dotwatch: Local vs. Federal Government

[Dotwatch is a series dedicated to showing how connecting the dots in the text of the Bible can reveal a more complete picture of what is being described.]

Are you fascinated by politics? I am. No, I don’t attend political rallies or listen to talk radio. I watch the news occasionally and sometimes listen to political commentators, but I can’t tell you who my local and state representatives are. In fact, where current politics is concerned, I tend to find bliss in relative ignorance. Yet when it comes to biblical politics, I’m as enthusiastic as any faithful viewer of Bill O’Reilly, Stephen Colbert, Glenn Beck, or Jon Stewart.

Many of the biblical narratives, psalms, epistles, and oracles are set against a particular political backdrop. Miss that political reality, and you end up with a very incomplete understanding of what is going on.

Sometimes the political situation is obvious, such as when the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were faced with the threat of foreign invasion. Sometimes the situation is more subtle, resulting from the competing concerns of rival political factions or the ongoing tension between local and national interests.

It is this last political reality which we have touched on in a few posts already. Once you catch a glimpse of it, you begin to see its presence throughout the Bible. Much of Israel’s history can be characterized as the tug and pull between local communities and their national rulers.

My recent devotion about the sin of Jeroboam discusses how Jeroboam came to be king over the northern tribes of Israel. The northern tribes had been taxed heavily to pay for all of Solomon’s grand building projects, and they were beginning to feel like all their wealth and manpower were being used to make the king in Jerusalem and his own tribe of Judah rich and powerful. When they went to Solomon’s son Rehoboam to ask that he soften his father’s policies, they were really protesting what we would call the “redistribution of wealth” and “taxation without representation.”

My Dotwatch post about the Temple to Yahweh at Arad discusses how people who took pride in their local sanctuaries must have felt when Hezekiah and Josiah shut those sanctuaries down. Why should they be forced to travel to the Jerusalem temple to celebrate the festivals and offer sacrifices? That would just funnel tourism dollars into Jerusalem, making the central government rich at the expense of local communities.

Much of the current political turmoil in the United States stems from this same tension between local and national interests. When we feel that the federal government is taking money away from our own communities and using it to benefit other communities, or worse, to line the pockets of corrupt politicians, we tend to cry foul. We petition our own representatives to go to Washington and make sure some of that money goes to benefit us. We do the same thing when we feel that Washington is trying to dictate how we should live in our local communities. How can those politicians from other states tell us what to do when they don’t understand our situation? Again we cry foul and demand that our representatives defend our “rights.”

While we have more control over our own destiny than the average ancient Israelite farmer, we can understand the resentment and frustration those farmers felt when their kings were interfering with their personal interests. We can also understand the predicament those kings faced when trying to satisfy the competing interests of diverse tribes and communities. Catching sight of this political reality can help us make connections and better understand the motivations, frustrations, and seemingly inexplicable actions of the people we read about in the Bible.

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New Blog About Faith, Family, and Life with a Superpower

This blog is narrowly focused on subjects related to the “different kind of devotional” I’m writing, but recently I’ve been feeling the need to blog about other subjects as well. This nagging desire to start a more general blog “some day” has been given a new urgency now that I’ve been enlisted to teach English at my children’s homeschool co-op. My thinking is that being able to blog my thoughts about reading and writing will help me be a more effective teacher.

I love writing, but I know many of my students will not. How do you instill a love for writing into the heart of a distracted teenager? That’s what I’m attempting to do in my first lecture entitled Writing is a Superpower. For those of you who are interested, I’m now blogging that lecture in parts over at davidallenlang.com.

In addition to writing about life with a superpower, I’ll also be blogging more generally about matters of faith and moments with family. I hope you’ll check it out.

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Have You Committed the Sin of Jeroboam?

[The following is a complete excerpt of Day 12 from Feet to Follow, Eyes to See]

Solomon’s many building projects required a large labor force, so Solomon conscripted laborers from the foreign populations still living in Israel (1 Kings 9:20–22). Forced laborers require strong oversight, so Solomon appointed Israelite deputies to keep these conscripts working and in line (1 Kings 9:23). One of these deputies was Jeroboam, a young man who proved so capable Solomon “appointed him over the entire labor force of the house of Joseph” (1 Kings 11:28).

Solomon’s approval of Jeroboam came to an abrupt end when a prophet publicly declared that he would one day become king over the ten northern tribes of Israel!

“this is what the LORD God of Israel says: ‘I am about to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand. I will give you 10 tribes, but one tribe will remain his because of my servant David and because of Jerusalem, the city I chose out of all the tribes of Israel.’” (1 Kings 11:31–32)

God was doing this to punish Solomon for engaging in idolatry, but rather than repent of his sin, Solomon tried to kill his new rival. Jeroboam escaped to Egypt and remained in exile until Solomon died.

When all the tribes gathered to ratify Solomon’s son Rehoboam as their king, the northern tribes summoned Jeroboam from exile to be their spokesman. Jeroboam approached the new king with an ultimatum: “Your father made our yoke difficult. You, therefore, lighten your father’s harsh service and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.” (1 Kings 12:3–4)

Not wanting to look weak, Rehoboam boasted that he would be an even harsher task master than his father, and the northern tribes refused to be ruled by the house of David any longer:

“What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. Israel, return to your tents; David, now look after your own house!” (1 Kings 12:16)

Thus the nation of Israel became divided between the southern kingdom of Judah, ruled by Rehoboam, and the northern kingdom of Israel, ruled by Jeroboam. Rehoboam tried briefly to subject the northern tribes by force, but he was ultimately unsuccessful. Both kings then began trying to adapt to the new political situation.

Jeroboam knew that to solidify his rule over the northern tribes, he had to sever the Israelites’ religious ties with Jerusalem:

Jeroboam said to himself, “The way things are going now, the kingdom might return to the house of David. If these people regularly go to offer sacrifices in the LORD’s temple in Jerusalem, the heart of these people will return to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah.” (1 Kings 12:26–27)

Jeroboam couldn’t build a temple as grand as Solomon’s, but he could build rival worship centers in his own territory. He built one “high place” at Bethel in the south, and another at Dan in the north.

The High Place at Dan

Not only were these sanctuaries strategically located, they were associated with long-standing religious traditions. Abraham had built an altar at Bethel (Genesis 12:8) and Jacob had experienced a vision there (Genesis 28:10–22). Dan also had a patriarchal connection (Genesis 14:14) and had been an independent worship site since the days when the Danites first conquered it (Judges 18:27–31). By building his “high places” at sites already sacred to the Israelites, Jeroboam’s religious innovation didn’t seem quite so new. In fact, he could claim that these ancient worship centers were more legitimate than the LORD’s temple in Jerusalem, which was after all only a few decades old.

The LORD gave Jeroboam a kingdom, yet in his fear of losing it Jeroboam tried to use the LORD’s name to benefit himself. The Israelite kings perpetuated “the sin of Jeroboam” (1 Kings 16:31; 2 Kings 3:3; 10:29, 31; 13:2, 11; 17:22) until the kingdom was finally destroyed.

Have you committed the sin of Jeroboam? Have you tried to use the LORD’s name to benefit yourself—to make a sale, land a job, gain a good reputation, or curry favor with someone? Remember to worship Him on His terms, and depend on Him to keep safe what He has clearly provided for you.

[If you enjoyed this devotion from Feet to Follow, Eyes to See, please share it with someone you know.]

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Sittin’ on the Dock of a New Day

I’m not an early riser. I’m more prone to see sunsets than sunrises. Still, adjusting to an eight-hour time difference can help you wake before you normally would. I stumbled out of my hotel room in Tiberias while it was still dark, eager to see the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee.

I walked out to the end of a dock which stood about ten feet above the water level of the lake. I sat down, dangling my legs over the edge, and began watching for the sun to crest over the Golan Heights on the opposite side. While I waited, I began to pray, remembering the sunrise I experienced while sitting on another dock half a world away.

It was exactly twenty-seven years ago today that I sat on the edge of a dock looking out on a small lake in rural Alabama. I had come there on a retreat with a friend’s church youth group, and it was the last night of the retreat. The youth pastor, who talked about God like He was someone he knew personally, had just invited us to pray a prayer and “ask Jesus into our hearts.”

Somehow, I knew I could not come to Christ simply by praying a prayer in a noisy youth meeting. I knew I had to be alone, and I lit out of that meeting as soon as we were dismissed. I headed straight for the end of the dock because I knew it would offer some solitude.

Not brought up in the church, I didn’t have any preconceived notions about how to pray, so I just began pouring my heart out to God: confessing my sin, my futile self-reliance, and all the reasons I was unworthy to come to Him. I understood that I was a sinner, and I was keenly aware of my need for God.

There is a famous quote, variously attributed to Pascal, Augustine, or Ambrose, which says, “There is a God-shaped vacuum inside each of us which only God can fill.” For me, that vacuum was all too real and palpable. As I sat there praying to God, I remember looking up at the vastness of the night sky and clearly sensing that He was there all around me, filling every space—every space except the comparatively insignificant void inside of me. Then it dawned on me that in His divine greed, He wanted to fill that space too!

While I can remember the perceptions and emotions of that night quite clearly, I recall almost nothing of the things I actually said in that prayer. The only thing I do remember saying is this: “God, I don’t know what kind of servant I’m going to be for you, but I want to be the best I can be.” That moment when I spoke those words is the closest I think I’ve ever gotten to genuine humility. My pride was broken, my vanity spent, I knew I had nothing to offer. And yet, somehow, I knew that God wanted all of me, and I wanted nothing more than to be of some use for Him.

As I got up from the dock and headed off to bed that night, I remember feeling as if an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I had just been freed from the burden of my sin, and all the separation, guilt, anxiety, and utter loneliness that go with it. That night, my step was light, and my heart was full.

I’m not sure I realized that night just how much I had experienced the dawn of a new day. I could see it all too clearly, however, from that dock overlooking the Sea of Galilee. As the morning sun cleared the horizon, scattering the darkness in the sky and igniting the waters below, I rejoiced that the God who had ordained that sunrise had likewise ordained that His Son rise in my heart, forever dispelling the darkness that hung over it like a shroud.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:8–14, NIV)

Twenty-seven years ago, I woke from the sleep of death to find Christ shining on me. It has made all the difference in my life. It has been the difference between night and day.

Posted in Salvation, Sea of Galilee, Sunrise | 3 Comments

“I’d Like to Take Jesus to Disney World!”

Sometimes connecting the dots for your children can lead to surprising reactions. This morning for family devotions I read my recent post about The Lamb without Blemish. When I read the part about the Law requiring a sacrificial lamb to be “without blemish” (Exodus 12:5), David (16) asked, “What if you didn’t have a ‘spotless’ lamb?”

I explained briefly that there were actually people who inspected the animals brought for sacrifice to see that they were without blemish. If an animal brought for sacrifice did not pass inspection, its owners would have to buy another animal from the vendors who set up shop in the vicinity of the temple. If they were pilgrims with foreign currency, they would also have to exchange it for the approved currency before they could buy anything.

El Greco's depiction of Jesus cleansing the Temple

Such a system of inspecting the sacrifices and offering sacrificial animals for purchase was necessary and generally helpful. A Jew traveling to Jerusalem from Greece, for example, could not easily bring his own livestock for sacrifice, so he had to be able to buy a sacrificial animal once he arrived. Still, as helpful as these “services” were, there was all kinds of opportunity for corruption. If the inspectors were in collusion with the animal sellers, they could reject perfectly acceptable animals and force the owners to buy the animals being sold in the temple. The animal sellers could charge higher than fair market prices because the worshipers had no place else to turn. And, of course, the money-changers could offer an unfair rate of exchange.

After explaining all this to the kids, I compared it to how a fast food meal inside one of the Disney theme parks here in Orlando costs a small fortune compared to a comparable meal bought just outside the parks. This form of price gouging they understood full well.

I then went on to explain that it was this kind of corruption taking place inside the temple courts which prompted Jesus to drive out the money changers and animal sellers:

Jesus went into the temple complex and drove out all those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves. And He said to them, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you are making it a den of thieves!” (Matthew 21:12–13 HCSB)

In response to all this, David grinned and said, “I’d like to take Jesus to Disney World!”

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Dotwatch: Size Matters

[Dotwatch is a series dedicated to showing how connecting the dots in the text of the Bible can reveal a more complete picture of what is being described.]

When I wrote the Bible Lands PhotoGuide for Accordance Bible Software, I spent months poring over photos of Israel so that I could write meaningful captions for them. So when I actually traveled to Israel, I had a pretty good idea of what I would see at each site. I also experienced numerous “aha” moments where I recognized something I had previously seen in photos.

One humorous example of this came as we were walking through the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem. Our tour group walked right by a fenced in area on their way to a museum, and as I glanced into it I recognized the excavated remains of Hezekiah’s Broad Wall (2 Chronicles 32:5; Nehemiah 3:8). I was a bit scandalized that we had just ignored a wall built 2700 years ago by a famous biblical king. I didn’t realize that our tour guide intended to bring us back to it after the museum.

Even though my in depth study of all those photos gave me a good sense of what to expect, there was one thing those photos could not adequately give me: a proper sense of scale. There’s a difference between seeing a photo of the colonnaded street of Beth-Shan and actually standing at the foot of one of those massive columns. Even if the photo actually shows people standing next to those columns, so that your mind is able to conceive the difference in height, it is somehow not the same thing as actually being there. Getting a sense of scale from a photograph is a clinical kind of knowledge. It cannot convey the experiential knowledge of actually being dwarfed by something and feeling awe at its grandeur. Somehow, this second kind of knowledge is deeper and far more real. I suppose you could say it’s the difference between seeing in three dimensions rather than two.

Throughout my time in Israel, getting a sense of scale and understanding the actual size of things helped me to connect the dots in various Biblical stories. For example, I had always imagined the Sea of Galilee to be a large body of water. In truth, it’s a rather modest lake. It’s funny, I had never had trouble believing Jesus could walk on water, but I always thought it strange that he would even think to walk across a “sea.” Look across the lake in the vicinity of Tabgha and Capernaum, and you realize walking that distance would only take a few hours.

When it comes to connecting the dots in the text of the Bible, size matters. Whether the elements in these narratives are bigger or smaller than we imagine, developing a proper sense of scale can give us a clearer picture of what they describe.

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Snapshots: The Lamb Without Blemish

Even the most mundane events in Israel can take on unexpected meaning. As we drove into one of the national parks, we saw a large flock of sheep lying down in a wide green pasture. It was a picture straight out of Psalm 23:2, and I was admittedly annoyed that our bus driver did not stop so we could photograph it. When we drove back out of the park an hour later, the teenaged shepherds who were tending this flock had roused them and begun to herd them away. It was then that our bus driver decided to stop, and a few people got off the bus to snap some pictures.

I already had photos of sheep being herded, so I didn’t bother to get off the bus. Still, I went ahead and snapped a few shots through the window. It was then the flock parted to reveal a spotless white lamb who seemed to make a point of posing for the camera.

Of course, there is nothing particularly remarkable about a lamb in the middle of a flock of sheep, but this spotless lamb’s sudden appearance reminded me of the sacrificial lambs which the Law required to be “without blemish” (Exodus 12:5). More than that, it reminded me of “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Like the lambs that were sacrificed in the temple, this Lamb of God had to be spotless so that His blood could atone for our sin:

For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was chosen before the foundation of the world but was revealed at the end of the times for you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18–21, HCSB)

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