When reading ancient literature, there is always a danger for us to “Americanize” the meaning. An example is the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-24. Verse 16 in the King James Version says, “…he would have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat…” Some critics of the Bible have said that eating husks would not have allowed anyone to survive, not even the pigs.
This criticism is a case of assuming that the “husks” were the husks of what we call “corn” in America and which is known as “maize” in other parts of the world. First, they did not have that type of corn in Jesus’ day. When the King James Bible uses the term “corn,” it is wheat or barley. What we know as corn in America was domesticated from a wild plant in southern Mexico. However, the term “corn” is not even used in this parable.
The Greek word used in Luke 15 is “keration,” which refers to something horn-shaped. Newer translations use the term “pods.” The carob tree, native to the Middle East and the Mediterranean, develops edible seed pods shaped like horns. People use carob pods as energy-rich fodder for livestock, including pigs. Humans also eat them in dried and powdered form, sometimes as a substitute for chocolate in recipes because of their color and taste. You may find this ingredient listed as “locust bean gum” in some prepared foods. The poor also use carob pods as a food source.
The prodigal son was reduced to surviving on a poor man’s diet. The people listening to Jesus would have understood these words to demonstrate the level to which the prodigal son had fallen. His life was at rock bottom. The Father’s forgiveness and his statement “…my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” should resonate with thinking people. The Father represents God, and His forgiveness is amazing.
A former top official of the Southern Baptist Convention, Russell Moore, told NPR that members of that denomination object to following the instructions of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. The complaint is that saying “love your enemies” is a “liberal talking point that doesn’t work anymore.” This attitude demonstrates more than misunderstanding who Jesus was and is, it reduces Jesus to the status of a prophet or politician, as Islam and Baha’ullah suggest.
If Jesus Christ had not been WHAT He claimed to be, He could not fulfill the purpose for which He came to Earth. He accomplished that purpose because He was God in the flesh. The Bible shows Jesus to be God in passages such as John 1:1-14. Colossians 1:16-17 leaves no doubt when it says, “For by Him were all things created that are in heaven and on earth … and in Him all things consist.” Hebrews begins by telling us that God “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Even Genesis 1:1 hints at Christ’s involvement in the creation process by using “Elohim,” the plural word for God.
In Matthew 5:43-44, when Jesus told His listeners to love their enemies, the Greek word is “agape.” That word means to consider the person to be of incredible worth and value. Jesus tells His followers to consider every human life precious because of its very nature. This flies in the face of atheists who promote “survival of the fittest” and of the Koran, which advocates war and killing as a means to convert people to the Islamic religion.
As long as people fail to understand what Jesus was and is, viewing Him as no more than a prophet or human teacher, we will continue to have war and killing – some of it in the name of religion. Only Jesus Christ offers an end to war and conflict as well as redemption because He is God.
What did Jesus Christ look like? In my travels, I have seen pictures of Jesus with Asian features, caucasian features, Hispanic features, and features of people of color. We don’t know what Jesus looked like, and we really shouldn’t care. The fact that He could slip through a crowd unnoticed (Luke 4:28-30) and Judas had to use a kiss to identify him (Matthew 26:48-49) indicates that He must have looked pretty much like a typical Jewish man of His time.
The important thing about Jesus is not His appearance but His message. If you read Matthew 5, 6, and 7, you won’t see a picture of Jesus, but you will get a good look at the uniqueness and practical value of His teachings. Time magazine recently (August 24, 2023) reviewed the various cover images of Jesus they published over the years. They would have done better to publish what Jesus taught in those chapters of Matthew’s gospel. That is what our society needs today.
Read Acts 2:37-42 and notice how the people who listened to Peter’s message about Jesus responded to God’s invitation. They weren’t concerned about what Jesus looked like. They were changed by what Jesus taught and what He did. They were baptized, not as an emotional response to a speaker but to receive the gift God offered to them through Jesus.
Read Romans 6 and notice what baptism is about. It isn’t like joining a club and isn’t dependent on hearing a preacher. Baptism is a personal response to God and a change in one’s life. It is also the way to bring God’s Spirit into our feeble human existence so we can live a new life. Reading and acting on God’s Word can make an incredible difference in our lives and future.
The following poem was in the Niles, Michigan, bulletin. The author was not identified, but it has a lesson about judging for us all to think about. Read, enjoy, laugh, and think.
I was shocked, confused, bewildered As I entered Heaven’s door, Not by the beauty of it all, Nor the lights of its décor. But it was the folks in Heaven Who made me sputter and gasp – The thieves, the liars, the sinners The druggies and other trash. There stood the kid from 7th grade, Who swiped my lunch money! Twice! Next to him was my old neighbor Who never said anything nice. Herb, who I always thought Was rotting away in hell, Was sitting pretty on cloud nine, Looking incredibly well. I nudged Jesus, “What’s the deal?” Would love to hear Your take. How’d all these sinners get up here? God must’ve made a mistake.” And why’s everyone so quiet, So somber – give me a clue.” “Hush, child,” He said, “they’re all in shock. No one thought they’d be seeing you.”
Where we will end up does not depend on our good works, but on Christ’s saving grace. This poem may not be theologically correct, but it has a lesson about judging for us to think about.
One of the consequences of the rejection of God and Christianity in the United States has been the success of the Satanic Temple. This group, active worldwide, is headquartered in Salem, Massachusetts, and growing in influence in the United States. They have launched a nationwide campaign to bring After School Satan Clubs to elementary schools.
The Satanic Temple claims 700,000 members and has had several successes in opposing Christianity. Recently they gave the invocation at the San Marcos City Council, conducted a Los Angeles Satanic Mass, and administered “un-baptisms” in Boston. In addition, local Satanic Temples have engaged in Bible burning, drinking a blood-like fluid from a cup, and celebrating the sacrifice of goats.
The After School Satan Clubs offer a coloring book published by the Satanic Temple, which engages children in satanic rituals and constructing a pentagram, the official symbol of the Church of Satan. Clubs. The Washington Post commented, “The Satanic Temple is determined to give young students a choice: Jesus or Satan.”
The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that elementary schools could not stop the evangelical “Good News Club” from hosting after school club meetings. The Satanic Temple is using that decision to justify having clubs that promote Satanic beliefs. After School Satan Clubs have reportedly been started in Utah, California, Ohio, Washington, Illinois, and Oregon elementary schools.
The message of the Satanic Temple ridicules Christianity, belief in God, and the Bible’s moral teachings. It seems this group would qualify as a “hate group” which could be legally challenged, but that will probably never happen. Nevertheless, Christians must be aware of this threat. Parents and local church leaders need to educate themselves on what is being taught in the schools and be ready to oppose satanic teaching if it comes to their communities.
People today are concerned about “green energy.” The government is attempting to move the economy away from fossil fuels to protect the environment and reduce climate change. However, all of the alternative power sources have limitations. What we need is nuclear fusion to power the future.
Presently, the favored alternatives to fossil fuels are wind and solar, both of which have drawbacks. They include the expense of installing and maintaining them, plus the fact that sunshine and wind are only sometimes available. In addition, there are few locations where water power is feasible, and building dams on rivers can cause other issues. Nuclear fission is probably the most efficient method of generating electric power without putting carbon in the atmosphere. However, past catastrophes cause people to fear that option. Plus, nuclear fission creates waste that will be radioactive for years, and we have no place to store it.
On the other hand, nuclear fusion can release massive amounts of power. After all, that’s what powers the Sun and other stars. With nuclear fusion, there is no radioactive waste and no carbon to create greenhouse gases. The byproduct produced is helium, a useful resource in short supply.
Nuclear fusion to power the future sounds like the answer to all of our problems, so why aren’t we switching to it now? The problem is that science hasn’t found a practical way to do it. However, in December 2022, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California produced nuclear fusion in a lab. The tiny reaction was nowhere near what the Sun does, and it lasted only trillionths of a second. But it was a start. Thirty private fusion companies worldwide are using the Livermore breakthrough as a pattern to promise clean energy that would outpace wind or solar, or anything else we now have. The Fusion Industry Association suggests they could generate fusion electricity sometime in the 2030s.
Is nuclear fusion to power the future just a pipe dream, or could it really happen? God has given us everything we need for an advanced civilization. Intelligent planning of Earth’s history provided the fossil fuels needed to bring us into the modern age. Einstein’s equation e=mc2 revealed the enormous power contained within each atom. By releasing some of that power, we have generated electricity by nuclear fission. By applying the intelligence God gave us, we can go a step further and release even more power through nuclear fusion. That could get us away from depending on energy sources that are unreliable or pollute the atmosphere.
The truth is that tiny atoms are held together by incredible power, and releasing that power can solve our energy needs. The power that holds every atom together had to have a source—the One who created everything and holds everything together. “[Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17 ESV).
One of the great tragedies of American culture today is the incredible waste of food and resources. People in many places around the world are surviving on less than 1000 calories per day, and starvation is killing vast numbers. Over a third of the food produced in the United States is never eaten. On average, Americans throw away a pound of food per person daily. The Environmental Protection Agency says the water and energy wasted in the United States in a year would supply more than 50 million homes.
The problem is not just the waste of food and resources but also how we use the land to produce food. The University of Oxford and Global Change Data Lab tell us that 50% of the world’s habitable land and 70% of freshwater goes to growing food and raising livestock. So when we throw away food, we also waste land and water resources. Three-fourths of the global ocean and freshwater pollution comes from agriculture. Greenhouse gas emissions from one year of food waste in the United States alone are equivalent to the emissions from 42 coal-fired power plants.
God has provided us with all the resources we need to feed the world’s population, but corporate greed, selfishness, ignorance, and a lack of concern for others cause the problem of world hunger. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus described judgment based on how we conduct ourselves in meeting the needs of others. The first thing Jesus mentions is that providing food for others is a responsibility of His followers (verses 35 and 42). One way we can do that is by avoiding the waste of food and resources God has given us and becoming leaders in the war against hunger. By living in obedience to Christ, we witness the reality of God to the world.
Yesterday the mail brought an appeal from the 100th organization asking us for money for a cause somewhere in the world. Some are organizations dealing with politics, and others are trying to protect animal life or solve environmental issues. Seventy-four were organizations meeting human needs, including blindness, disease, poverty, birth defects, mental illness, and victims of war. Many organizations meeting human needs have budgets well under a million dollars. They get their money from people like me, who are not wealthy but give what we can. Yet, because there are so many of us, these organizations continue to accomplish their work.
A news item that arrived yesterday was a list of the dollar value of contracts between major league baseball players and their teams. Aaron Judge topped the list with a 360 million-dollar contract. The total for the top three players reached a billion dollars. The top fifteen major league baseball players signed for over sixty million dollars each. We could find similar data for NFL football players or NBA basketball players. The wealth of politicians, the amount paid to movie stars, and the salaries of CEOs in the business world are staggering for those of us who get by on less annual income than some of these people make in an hour.
So how much do the world’s wealthiest people give to organizations meeting human needs? Of course, there are a few cases where the rich support good causes. But considering the lifestyles of most of the rich, we understand why Jesus told His followers, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24 CSB).
The Bible tells about rich people who made a positive difference, but overall the message is that the love of money crowds out everything else. “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10 CSB).
The track record of the very rich is not good. Suicide, alcohol and drug addiction, broken marriages, lost children, and the lack of genuine companionship abound. Meanwhile, the flow of misery from undeveloped countries is accelerating, and the followers of Christ are shipping the food, drilling the water wells, and providing medical help to meet human needs. Our thanks to all who follow the teachings of Jesus and give sacrificially to meet the needs of others.
The medical name is takotsubo cardiomyopathy, but a more straightforward name is “broken heart syndrome.” Extreme stress or emotions can cause it. That includes the loss of a dear loved one. A “broken heart” can temporarily weaken your physical heart muscle. Research has shown a person has a 41% increase in the risk of dying in the first six months after losing a spouse.
Extreme emotional stress increases the release of the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine while causing a reduction in the feel-good hormones of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. The result can be broken heart syndrome with depression, poor sleep, fatigue, anxiety, high blood pressure, and physical pain.
I have often heard broken heart syndrome used in connection with Jesus as he agonized in prayer before the crucifixion. After all, while Jesus was fully God, he was also fully man. He was “tempted in all things just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). But what about the disciples? They had spent three years with Him. He was their closest friend as well as their teacher-rabbi. They had begun to recognize that He was the Messiah who had come to restore God’s kingdom. Imagine the shock they experienced when they saw him crucified like a common criminal. They must have considered the three years they spent with Jesus all for nothing, and their faith in God must have been shaken.
Broken heart syndrome literally changes the structure of your heart, even though we know that the physical organ is not the center of our emotions. So you could say that those disciples were brokenhearted emotionally and physically. They fled and hid and wept and pondered. They were in despair.
However, in a few days, they became bold proclaimers of Christ. They had a new courage that they never had before. They were not afraid of the Roman authorities or the Jewish leaders. There is only one possible explanation. They saw, heard, touched, and even ate with the resurrected Christ.
The disciples were in agony for two days, but on the third day, their broken hearts were restored to “brave hearts.” They never stopped proclaiming Christ’s resurrection, even though their lives were tragically shortened because of their message. There is no way to explain their courage except that they knew first-hand that it was true.
Many Christian denominations have established special Holy Week traditions connected to the Easter message of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. However, palm Sunday, Holy Monday, Teaching Tuesday, Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday are traditions not commanded in the Bible.
Palm Sunday is the day that begins the week. In biblical times, palms were a symbol of triumph and victory. John 12:12-13 tells us that people waved them in front of Jesus as He entered Jerusalem on the Sunday before His crucifixion. What a king would ride on indicated much about his status and purpose. A donkey was an animal of peace, and a horse was an animal of war. Jesus came on a donkey showing the focus of His earthly ministry. Interestingly, this was prophesied some 500 years before Christ’s birth (Zechariah 9:9).
Romans 14:5-8 reminds us that even though some people consider one day or week more sacred than another, that should not be a source of division or conflict. Instead, the Bible tells us to remember Christ’s sacrifice to free us from sin and guilt and His resurrection conquering death. The teachings of Jesus are very different from any other religious system on the planet, and that difference is what Christ calls us to focus on.
In John 13:34, Christ calls us to obey a “new commandment” – to love one another. The Greek word is “agape,” referring to a unique form of love that tells us to consider all humans as having immeasurable worth. In John 13:3-10 Jesus calls His followers to have an attitude of service, and He sets the example by washing His disciples’ feet.
Holy Week traditions are well intended, but we must not allow them to distract us from hearing and following the actual teachings Christ gave. Our culture tends to focus on Easter eggs, new clothing, and sumptuous meals while neglecting Christ’s instructions for living. Christ opposed legalism and the failure to love and serve. Every day, we must celebrate what Christ’s sacrifice has done for us. We need to live out “pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father,” visiting “the fatherless and widows in their affliction,” and “keeping ourselves unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).