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Priestly Shepherds

Beginning 500 years before Jesus’ birth, Judean priests took an active role in the farming life of the countryside. Some priests also became shepherds by raising sheep without a blemish for future animal sacrifices. One thing that I did not know about the shepherds in the passage below is that they were priestly shepherds, working with the local temple. When this angel appeared to them, the news of a Savior meant their ancient tradition of animal sacrifice to forgive sins would no longer be necessary.

And in that vicinity there were shepherds living [out under the open sky] in the field, watching [in shifts] over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord flashed and shone all about them, and they were terribly frightened, Luke 2:8-9.

Was the initial response by these shepherds fearful that they would be out of a job? Or was their main concern based upon Old Testament angelic encounters which often came as a precursor to their deaths? All of the years of hearing this passage read out loud in church, I never knew the context of who these chosen priestly shepherds were. Based upon their reactions to seeing the Christ child, it’s clear to me that these men were more excited about the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy, Isaiah 9:6.

But its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar for a burnt offering, an offering by fire, a sweet and satisfying odor to the Lord. 10 And if the man’s offering is of the flock, from the sheep or the goats, for a burnt offering, he shall offer a male without blemish, Leviticus 1:9-10.

While this is merely speculation, the role of a Jewish temple priest was a messy job. The slaughtering of animal’s day after day likely left stains of blood as well as being squirted by blood in your face from time to time. This tedious practice detailed by Moses in the book of Leviticus was a temporary process until a second Adam arrived. When news of Jesus’ birth was brought forth by an angel, these priestly shepherds realized in their minds that the lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world is about to arrive, Colossians 2:13-15. This is another reason to celebrate Christmas.

by Jay Mankus

The Surrogate of God

A surrogate is a substitute, especially a person deputizing for another in a specific role or office. The definition of a surrogate mother is a woman who bears a child on behalf of another person or a couple, typically via artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization. Based upon the words of Luke, a first centurion doctor, Mary is compared to the surrogate of God. Who needs artificial insemination when you have the power of the Holy Spirit as Mary was a virgin teenage girl.

Now in the sixth month [after that], the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 To a girl never having been married and a [v]virgin engaged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, Hail, O favored one [[w]endued with grace]! The Lord is with you! [x]Blessed (favored of God) are you before all other women! – Luke 1:26-28

This isn’t something that you’ll find in a high school sex education class. While most first century children were uneducated, local synagogues taught young Jewish men and women about life through the Bar Mitzvah process for boys and Bat Mitzvah for girls. Similar to the Confirmation process which takes place in Christian churches, the Jews believed children become adults at age twelve. Jesus’ Bar Mitzvah is featured in Luke 2:41-52 where Jesus is allowed to teach in the temple for the first time.

 But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled and disturbed and confused at what he said and kept revolving in her mind what such a greeting might mean. 30 And the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace ([y]free, spontaneous, absolute favor and loving-kindness) with God. 31 And listen! You will become pregnant and will give birth to a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great (eminent) and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His forefather David, 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob throughout the ages; and of His reign there will be no end, Luke 1:29-33.

When an angel appeared to Joseph in Matthew 1:18-25, Joseph realized that his future wife would become the surrogate of God. To avoid any questions about this child’s father, Joseph decides to not have sex with his wife until after Jesus was born. Despite the rumors spreading about Mary’s illegitimate child throughout Joseph’s hometown, they each trusted God about the message conveyed to each of them by angels. These are the circumstances of Mary, the surrogate of God and mother of Jesus.

by Jay Mankus

S.A.N.S. Episode 310: Ave Maria

Of all of the great Christmas classics that have been recorded over the years, the one that touches my heart, stirs my soul and often brings tears streaming down my face is Ave Maria. There were numerous versions that I wanted to feature, but I thought it would be appropriate to play one sang in Latin. When translated from Latin into English Ave Marie means “Hail Mary.” Whoopi Goldberg charcter uses a portion of this sang as she leads a group of nuns as their choir director in Sister Act.

And Mary said to the angel, How can this be, since I have no [intimacy with any man as a] husband? 35 Then the angel said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you [like a shining cloud]; and so the holy (pure, sinless) Thing (Offspring) which shall be born of you will be called the Son of God, Luke 1:34-35.

In the Christan film the Nativity Story, the 2005 version, there is an amazing scene without words that illustrates what Mary had to endure. A virgin seen pregnant in public will elicit gossip, judgment and stigmas. According to Gospel of Matthew, Joseph had plans to divorce Mary quietly because he thought like many others in his village that she had been unfaithful. This all changed when an angel appeared to Jospeh in a dream, Matthew 1:20-25. This is the inspiration behind Ave Maria.

by Jay Mankus

The Shaft to the Abyss

Half of the Gospel of John is devoted to the events of Passion Week: Jesus’ final week on earth. In the passage below, Jesus drops a hint about Good Friday and Easter Sunday. A first century doctor either interviewed Jesus following his resurrection or had a vision of Jesus’ trip to Hades, Acts 2:31. Paul devotes 1 Corinthians 15 to explaining the significance of Jesus conquering death via his resurrection.

In My Father’s house there are many dwelling places (homes). If it were not so, I would have told you; for I am going away to prepare a place for you. And when (if) I go and make ready a place for you, I will come back again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And [to the place] where I am going, you know the way, John 14:2-4.

Jesus doesn’t explain how He was able to visit the Abyss which John uses to describe hell. Yet, during one vision, John sees a shaft open up momentarily to unveil this bottomless pit. As soon as the fifth angel in heaven blew his trumpet, the shaft to the Abyss opened to reveal a glimpse of hell. Out of this shaft came a plume of smoke like a modern-day industrial plant polluting the sky above.

Then the fifth angel blew [his] trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth; and to the angel was given the key [a]of the shaft of the Abyss (the bottomless pit). He opened the [b]long shaft of the Abyss (the bottomless pit), and smoke like the smoke of a huge furnace puffed out of the [c]long shaft, so that the sun and the atmosphere were darkened by the smoke from the long shaft, Revelation 9:1-2.

Hell is one of those topics which rarely comes up at a funeral. To avoid depressing family and friends, heaven is brought up to bring comfort to those in audience. Yet, when you consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:13-14, few people follow the less traveled road. Therefore, may this blog cause you to consider the shaft of the Abyss. May the fear of death scare people straight toward eternal life.

by Jay Mankus

The Hour of Trial

Revelation 2 and 3 serve as a first century report card for 7 different churches in Asia. Like a child’s progress report in the first marking period of a new school year, this piece of paper revealed strengths and weaknesses. Everyone responds differently to pressure. During the hour of trial of a test, some students rise to the occasion while others fold under the stress of remembering all they studied.

[You should] be exceedingly glad on this account, though now for a little while you may be distressed by trials and suffer temptations, So that [the genuineness] of your faith may be tested, [your faith] which is infinitely more precious than the perishable gold which is tested and purified by fire. [This proving of your faith is intended] to redound to [your] praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) is revealed, 1 Peter 1:6-7.

According to Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus describes Peter as a spiritual rock. Yet, when Peter faced his own hour of trial following Jesus’ arrest, he failed miserably by denying Jesus three times in public, Mark 14:72. During the first breakfast Jesus has with his disciples after rising from the dead, Jesus restores Peter’s role as a spiritual leader. Yet, this isn’t without disappointment and humility of Peter’s past failure.

 Because you have guarded and kept My word of patient endurance [have held fast the [b]lesson of My patience with the [c]expectant endurance that I give you], I also will keep you [safe] from the hour of trial (testing) which is coming on the whole world to try those who dwell upon the earth. 11 I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one may rob you and deprive you of your crown, Revelation 3:10-11.

One of the 7 churches in Asia receives a message from the angel of the Church in Philadelphia. The passage above serves as a direct warning to Philadelphia. The hour of trial is approaching, perhaps like God’s servant in Job 2:7-9. Those who are alert, sober and spiritually awake will be able to withstand upcoming trials. Those caught off guard like Peter will have to turn to repentance and lean on Jesus for future tests. May this blog prepare you for your own hour of trial.

by Jay Mankus

No Signs of Life

Today’s title is found in the lyrics of a band based in Columbus, Ohio. Send the Beggar’s second album Closer to Complete features a song entitled The Knot. The message is based upon a Christian who blends into their surroundings, afraid to make a public confession of a faith in Jesus. The lyrics include an autopsy performed by an angel, carefully examining this person’s heart. Inside the name Jesus Christ is pulled out, causing confusion which prompts a question: “why was this never shown?”

Even so consider yourselves also dead to sin and your relation to it broken, but alive to God [living in unbroken fellowship with Him] in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore rule as king in your mortal (short-lived, perishable) bodies, to make you yield to its cravings and be subject to its lusts and evil passions, Romans 6:11-12.

One of the things I struggled with as a new Christian was mixing feelings with faith. My life was like an emotional roller coaster lifting everyone up around me while on my highs. This was quickly replaced by depression as I sucked the joy out of every room that I entered. To be honest, there have been periods where I exhibited no signs of life as a Christian. Like James 1:13-15, my faith was dead inside.

Do not continue offering or yielding your bodily members [and [a]faculties] to sin as instruments (tools) of wickedness. But offer and yield yourselves to God as though you have been raised from the dead to [perpetual] life, and your bodily members [and [b]faculties] to God, presenting them as implements of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not [any longer] exert dominion over you, since now you are not under Law [as slaves], but under grace [as subjects of God’s favor and mercy], Romans 6:13-14.

Apparently, first century Christians in Rome also experienced spiritual dry spells. Depending upon how you lived in the past, breaking any addiction or bad habit can take years. Similar to an internal tug of war, Galatians 5:16-18, ridding your life of sinful desires isn’t easy. King David describes this conviction and pain in Psalm 55:1-4. Whenever you find yourself spiritually dead or dying, on the verge of walking away from your faith, pour out your heart to God in prayer. May confession bring you back to life spiritually in 2022.

by Jay Mankus

Open My Eyes Through Faith

Paul Baloche was sitting in a pew, listening to his pastor pray for the congregation. Upon hearing the expression “Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord, that we may see you,” Baloche was inspired to write a song. Baloche’s soul was touched by the wisdom of this prayer request. As Paul Harvey once said on his radio broadcast, “and now you know The Rest of the Story.”

When the water in the bottle was all gone, Hagar caused the youth to lie down under one of the shrubs. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about a bowshot, for she said, Let me not see the death of the lad. And as she sat down opposite him, he lifted up his voice and wept and she raised her voice and wept, Genesis 21:15-16.

After Sarah convinced Abraham to cast out one of his maid servants, Hagar and Ishmael were forced into the wilderness to find a new place to live. When Hagar ran out of water, she lost hope, laying down her child in the shade under a shrub. Unsure of what to do next, Hagar found an appropriate place to weep and cry out to the Lord. Sensing death was near, the Lord sent an angel to encourage Hagar. Despite being consumed by despair, the Lord opened Hagar’s eyes to a miracle, an empty bottle now filled with water.

And God heard the voice of the youth, and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven and said to her, What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the youth where he is. Arise, raise up the youth and support him with your hand, for I intend to make him a great nation. 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the [empty] bottle with water and caused the youth to drink, Genesis 21:17-19.

The Coronavirus has forced the world to view life through a new lens and perspective. The idea of sitting down with friends inside a restaurant seems like a foreign concept today. Yet, sometime in the near future, the fears of COVID-19 will pass, replaced by a new concern, fear or worry. However, as long as desperate hearts cry out to the Lord in prayer, your eyes will be opened to see all the good things God provides, James 1:17. This is my prayer for 2021 that eyes will be opened through faith in Jesus.

by Jay Mankus

Christmas is a Time for Second Chances

The retail calendar is an endless cycle, constantly moving from one celebration to the next. As soon as Halloween festivities end, stores are transformed into a winter wonderland overnight. Meanwhile, on television a month of horror flicks are replaced with movies about joy, thanksgiving, and praise. When Thanksgiving Dinner’s wind down, Christmas shopping comes to life or should I say ignite. Whether you wait in lines or do most of your purchases online, consumerism doesn’t overshadow the fact that Christmas is a time for second chances.

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go into the kingdom of heaven. 25 When the disciples heard this, they were utterly puzzled (astonished, bewildered), saying, Who then can be saved [from eternal death]? – Matthew 19:24-25

During a first century conversation, the 12 disciples became deflated following a parable shared by Jesus. The point of Jesus’ analogy was to illustrate that individuals aren’t good, holy or strong enough to save themselves. Attempting to be some sort of superhuman Christian, the disciples became depressed, painfully aware of their limitations. As despair began to set in, Jesus’ words served as a swing in momentum, “anything is possible with God.” Yes, even those of you who need a second chance this Christmas.

But Jesus looked at them and said, With men this is impossible, but all things are possible with God, Matthew 19:26.

George Bailey, played by James Stewart, needed a visit from an angel to notice just how wonderful his life was. A ruthless TV-network chief played by Bill Murray in Scrooged needed to witness his own death to realize what was truly important in his own life. As you sit down at some point this Christmas to watch one of the classics films, the Lord wants to remind you that forgiveness, grace and mercy is available every day, Lamentations 3:31-25. For Christmas is the season of second chances, a fresh start and a new beginning in life. Seize this opportunity to begin again with God, Romans 10:9-11.

by Jay Mankus

Make Sure That You are Knocking on the Right Door

Long before the days of cell and telephones, if you wanted to talk to someone you would go over to where they lived or write a letter. If this desired individual lived close by or in a nearby neighborhood, walking over to knock on the front door was a common practice. In the days of my youth, I regularly rode my bike or walked over to a friends’ house. On a couple of occasions, usually at night, I knocked on the wrong door. These embarrassing moments were short lived by quickly getting directions to where I needed to go.

When he, at a glance, became aware of this [comprehending all the elements of the case], he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where a large number were assembled together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the gate of the porch, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14 And recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she failed to open the gate, but ran in and told the people that Peter was standing before the porch gate, Acts 12:12-14.

However, sometimes you are at the right place, but are surprised by who answers the door. Perhaps, a friend, relative or visiting neighbor greets you. Following a period of awkwardness, you are able to enjoy a time of fellowship. During the first century, Peter was at the right house, but the residents inside didn’t believe their maid. Rhoda opened the front gate, but not the front door, running inside to tell everyone the great news. Despite their pedigree of faith, a house of unbelieving souls doubted Rhoda until a persistent Peter kept knocking until he was finally let inside.

They said to her, You are crazy! But she persistently and strongly and confidently affirmed that it was the truth. They said, It is his angel! 16 But meanwhile Peter continued knocking, and when they opened the gate and saw him, they were amazed, Acts 12:15-16.

Near the end of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus compares praying to knocking on a door, Matthew 7:7-8. Jesus expounds upon this analogy with a three step process: asking, seeking and knocking. Everyone has probably experienced a moment of prayer where God seemed distant. Yet, when doubts begin to creep into your thoughts, Jesus urges believers to press on by continuing to seek God. Finally, if the Lord hasn’t clearly answered your request, keep knocking on God’s door like the persistent widow, Luke 18:1-8, until justice arrives. In today’s scenario, fasting and praying until a cure for the Coronavirus is found.

by Jay Mankus

Unwrapping Christmas

It’s only fitting for a first century doctor to write about a foreign concept, the virgin birth. From a biological stand point, this doesn’t make any sense. Yet, Luke devotes an entire chapter, one of the longest in the New Testament, to lay out how this unique event took place. Luke sets the stage for a miracle to occur within a teenage girl named Mary.

Now in the sixth month [after that], the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 To a girl never having been married and a [v]virgin engaged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, Hail, O favored one [endued with grace]! The Lord is with you! Blessed (favored of God) are you before all other women! – Luke 1:26-28

Modern scientists refers to a virgin birth in terms of parthenogenesis. This process is defined as reproduction from an ovum without fertilization, especially as a normal process in some invertebrates and lower plants. Human beings first attempted to duplicate this process in the form of test tube babies in 1948. Nearly 2000 years after Jesus was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, fertilization of an embryo was successful using genetics.

And Mary said to the angel, How can this be, since I have no [intimacy with any man as a] husband? 35 Then the angel said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you [like a shining cloud]; and so the holy (pure, sinless) Thing (Offspring) which shall be born of you will be called the Son of God, Luke 1:34-35.

When Mary receives word of her pregnancy, she is confused just like anyone else with a basic understanding of biology. Yet, an angel of the Lord unwraps the miracle of Christmas in the passage above. These events all needed to take place in order for Emmanuel to be born, God with us. If human beings can duplicate a virgin birth using modern science, why is it so far fetched to believe the creator of the universe did this first? As I unwrap Christmas in the weeks to come, may these blogs bring joy to your heart.

by Jay Mankus

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