“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD…” – Acts 17:22, 23
One of my favorite sermons of the apostle Paul’s was the one he made at the Areopagus. When he was in Athens and he saw the idols, he was provoked. He wasted no time talking to the people, both Jews and Gentiles about Jesus and His resurrection. That got the attention of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers and they were curious about what he was talking about. Some called him a “babbler” while others perceived that he was preaching about foreign gods. So, they took him to the Areopagus and asked him, “what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” That’s how they spent their time–standing around and telling about or listening to new things.
This was a perfect opportunity for Paul to talk to them about the true God whom they called, “the unknown God”. So, he stood in their midst and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus said would “teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12). Paul starts out by acknowledging that the people were very religious and that he was considering the objects of their worship. He mentioned the altar with the inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. He then proceeded to tell them about the God whom they were worshipping in ignorance.
“God who made the world and all that is in it, being Lord of both Heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, nor is he ministered to by human hands, as though he had need of anything—seeing that he is the one who gives to all men life and breath and everything else.”
Unlike the other gods, we shouldn’t imagine God as being like gold, silver, or stone, or is an image carved by humans using their own imagination and skill. Idols cannot see, hear, talk or move. They have to be taken up and carried around. Why would anyone worship gods made by people when they could worship the true, living God?
Paul informed his audience that “God tolerated man’s past ignorance about these things, but now he commands everyone to put away idols and worship only him. For he has set a day for justly judging the world by the man he has appointed, and has pointed him out by bringing him back to life again” (Acts 17:22:31).
When he mentioned the resurrection, some of the people laughed but others wanted to hear more. A few, however, joined him and became believers, among them was Dionysius, a member of the court of Areopagus and a woman named Damaris.
When it comes to sharing our faith with others, we will encounter the skeptics and opposition but we will also find those who will believe and accept the message. What Paul did that day was worth the ones who wanted to hear more and the few who believed. God will present us with opportunities to tell others about Him. We just have to be open and willing like Paul.
This was the tree where David and I met after school. He was the sweetest boy I ever knew and I always imagined that one day we would get married and have lots of children. It never occurred to me that laws would soon be put in place to make relationships such as ours illegal.
As soon as school was let out, I ran to the tree and he would be waiting for me. He was so tall and handsome with thick black hair and gentle brown eyes. We would hold hands and kiss but that was as far as things went. We would sit under the tree and talk for hours. Parting from him was always hard. I always willed the hours because I couldn’t wait to see him again.
Then one day, I showed up and for the first time he wasn’t there. I waited for hours but he never came. I was understandably frantic. After several days went by and still no sign of him, I decided to go by his father’s shop and was appalled to see the word, “Jude” painted across the window and the star of David. The shop was empty. I ran home and asked my father what had happened to David. My father sat me down and explained to me that the Germans had moved the Jews to the Ghetto. I learned that they were banned from from entering certain streets, squares, parks, woods and other public places. That meant that David and I couldn’t meet by the tree anymore. It was in the woods. David couldn’t go to my brother’s school any more.
After my father finished telling me everything he knew, I went to my room where I cried and cried. David who was forced to live like an animal because of deeply rooted hatred. My world had become a dark and ugly place of intolerance and ignorance. I wanted so desperately to see him but it was out of the question. My father told me it was best to forget about David. There was no future for us. He was a Jew.
I knew that I would never forget David. I loved him. He was my first and only love. And I never gave up hope that we would be together again–not even when I learned that the Jews had been deported to concentration camps. No one was willing to take them in and for some Jews, going into hiding would break up their families and that was unthinkable, especially those who with children.
The years went by, the war raged on and I became a nurse. My father died of a heart-attack a couple of days after his fiftieth wedding anniversary. Only my mother and I were left. My brother was killed years ago after he was arrested for being a part of a resistance movement against the Nazi Regime. My parents were devastated but I was proud of him for fighting against evil. I only wish I had the guts to do something too. Instead I prayed that David and his family would somehow survive and that when the war was over I would see him again.
Well, the war is over and I’m the only surviving member of my family. My mother died from a stroke a month ago. I buried her next to my father.
Tomorrow is my birthday but I have no one special to celebrate it with. It’s a nice afternoon so I decided to go for a walk in the park. I head straight for the tree. A man stood there with his back to me. He was wearing a hat and a trench coat. Something about him looked familiar. My heart began to beat faster. I could feel the color drain from my cheeks. “David?” My voice was barely above a whisper and yet he heard me.
He turned around slowly. “Ingrid.” He removed his hat and stepped forward.
“David!” I cried again and then we were in each other’s arms, laughing, crying and kissing. I don’t know how long we did that and I didn’t care. All I knew was that David, my David was alive. He had survived the ghetto, the camp and the war.
Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb – John 20:1
On the first day of the week when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb she found the stone rolled away. She went straightaway to let Peter and John know. They ran to the tomb. John got there first but didn’t go inside. Instead, he stooped down and looked in. He saw that the tomb was empty. Only the linen cloths were lying there. When Peter reached the tomb, he went inside.
He saw the linen cloths lying there and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. John entered the tomb saw and believed. Then, the two disciples left and went back to their homes while Mary remained outside the tomb, weeping. She had no idea what had happened to her Lord. She believed that, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” By “They” she might have been referring to the guards posted outside the tomb although I’m not sure why they would have moved the body. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would have had no reason to move it either.
This morning when I read this, it dawned on me that the folded linen handkerchief which had been wrapped around Jesus’ head disproved the idea that His disciples had stolen the body at night while the guards slept. If that were true, they would not have had time to unwrap the body, neatly fold the cloths and then carry the body away. And the fact that the disciples were assembled in a room, fearful of the Jews, also disproves the notion that they would risk being caught stealing Jesus’ body.
The empty tomb and folded cloths speak volumes of the resurrection of Christ. Today, let us rejoice that our Lord lives and that one day He will appear a second time to those who look for Him, not to deal with sin, but to bring them to full salvation (Hebrews 9:28).
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” – Matthew 2:2
Wise Men from the East traveled all the way to Jerusalem to see the King of the Jews. They didn’t know where exactly to find Him. They had see His star and followed it. It led them there in Jerusalem. They visited King Herod, believing that he would know where the Christ was but the king didn’t. He was greatly troubled by this and called the chief priests and scribes together to inquire where the Christ was to be born. They told him what the prophecy said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘Butyou, Bethlehem,inthe land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”
King Herod met alone with the Wise Men and told them that the Child was in Bethlehem, tell them to, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” The visitors left and the star which they had seen in the East went before them and led them to where the Child was. Seeing the star filled them with great joy and they rejoiced.
They went into the house and saw the young Child with His mother, Mary. They fell down and worshipped Him. They presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. What was the significance of each of these gifts? Were they simply customary gifts from the regions or were they chosen specifically? Gold is a precious and valuable metal. It is rare and it doesn’t tarnish. Precious things and ornaments are made of gold. In this instance, gold represents Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense is a perfume or incense. It was used in religious and spiritual rituals all over the world.. It represents Jesus’ priesthood. Myrrh is a bitter gum and costly perfume which comes from a certain tree or shrub in Arabia and Ethiopia. It is also an antiseptic used for embalming. The myrrh prefigures Jesus’ death and embalming.
These gifts were not arbitrary. They were carefully chosen for the One whom they traveled far to behold and worship. They brought their gifts to Him because they believed that He was the Messiah, the King of the Jews. What a beautiful story of faith and the love of God who sent His Son to die for everyone. It is a testimony that Jesus is Savior of Jews and Gentiles. He came to save the world.
This Christmas season, reflect on the roles of Jesus–King, Priest and Savior. Think of someone who needs to know that God loves them and offer them His most precious Gift to mankind–His Son.
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that in town after town the Holy Spirit assures me that imprisonment and suffering are waiting for me. But I don’t place any value on my life, if only I can finish my race and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” – Acts 20:22-24, ISV
Sharing the Gospel is no easy task. It is with beset with hostility, resentment, persecution, opposition and in some cases leads to imprisonment or even death. This is how it was in the apostle Paul’s time. He testified, “I served the Lord with all humility, with tears, and with trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I never shrank from telling you anything that would help you nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house. I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance to God and faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:19-21, ISV). He was beaten, imprisoned, in danger of his life at the hands of those who wanted to stop him from doing the work Jesus had called him to do.
Yet, Paul persevered. He didn’t allow the actions of others or fear to impede him. He was in a race and he was determined to finish it even if it cost him his life. He was true soldier. He was in a war that will continue to rage until Jesus returns. It is a spiritual war and as he pointed out we are not fighting against flesh and blood, “but against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers in the darkness around us, and evil spiritual forces in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 6:12, ISV). These were the forces which were working against him at every turn of his ministry but through it all, he had the assurance that the Lord was with him.
When he was in Corinth, the Lord spoke to him in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent;for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.” Paul was encouraged and he remained in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching the Word of God (Acts 18:9, 10, NKJV).
We have the same assurances as Paul did. We are not alone in our ministry to share the Gospel. The Lord is with us every step of the way. We cannot be afraid to do the Lord’s work. Instead, like the psalmist, we can boldly say, The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. Whatcanmando to me? (Psalm 118:6, NKJV). So, no matter what the enemy throws at us, we are to speak and not keep silent. The salvation of so many is at stake. We, like Paul, must finish the race.
But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” – John 4:14
When the Samaritan woman needed water, she went to the well to draw it. There she met a Jewish Man whom she didn’t know was Jesus. As she was drawing the water, He asked her for a drink. She was taken aback asking, “How can you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” because Jews didn’t have anything to do with Samaritans. Racism existed between them. The Samaritans were a mixed race resulting from intermarriages between the Israelites and the Assyrians after Samaria fell to Assyria. For the Samaritans worshipped at Mount Gerizim while the Jews believed that the rightful place of worship was in Jerusalem. Jesus explained to her that it isn’t where we worship God that’s important but how we worship Him. God wants us to worship Him in spirit and truth. Our worship must be genuine.
When Jesus asked her for a drink of water, He was thirsty. It was her response to His request which led Him to said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Please give me a drink,’ you would have been the one to ask him, and he would have given you living water.”
She thought He was speaking about the physical water but He wasn’t. She doesn’t realize that her need isn’t physical but spiritual. Her life is in moral decay. She had been married five times and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband. She needed what only Jesus could give her and was freely offering her. The water in the well could not satisfy her. It would temporarily quench her thirst but the water Jesus wanted to give her would satisfy her forever.
The woman asked Him, “Where are you going to get this living water?” His answer was the water when given to those who receive it, it will become a well, springing up to eternal life. It was life-giving water. Jesus is the Source of the living water which He wants to give to all who thirst. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37). He is offering the gift of God, which is eternal life.
What is the living water that Jesus gives to those who thirst? “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. Ephesians 1:13 states, When you believed in the Messiah, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”
Jesus knew this woman and what her life was like. He wanted her to know that despite her past and her present, He wanted to give her a future of hope. When He made her aware that He knew about her previous marriages and her current living arrangement, He wasn’t condemnatory. He came to save, not to condemn. He commended her for being honest when she admitted that the man she lived with wasn’t her husband. She realized that He was prophet to be able to know such things and then she changed the subject. She spoke to Him about worship.
When He told her that God wanted people to worship Him in spirit and in truth, He was basically telling her that worship isn’t just about going to a particular place or church but we worship God by the way we live. Many of us go to church every week but there are things, relationships, people in our lives that have no business being there or there are things in our lives that we need to sort out, clean up. Until we do that, we are not giving God the proper worship He desires. This woman worshipped God but her life was in conflict with His Word and His commandments. Jesus wanted her to see that true worship was a life that was pleasing to God.
She was looking for the Messiah to come and explain everything. After Jesus revealed that He was the Messiah, she dropped her water pot and ran off to tell her community. She said to them, “Come, see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” As a result of her testimony, that “He told me everything I’ve ever done,” many of the Samaritans of that town believed in Jesus. The Messiah, the Savior of the world had come into that town and reached out to a woman whom many shunned and ostracized her immorality. Jesus saw someone who needed Him and what He could give her even if she didn’t realize it. He had a dialogue with her and opened her eyes to the fact that God loves her and wants to give her the gift of salvation which leads to eternal life.
Today, Jesus is offering you what He offered her–living water which springs up to eternal life. All you have to do is drink.
I have heard of Talisman before but couldn’t remember what it was until I searched its meaning on the Internet. It is an object which people believe holds magical properties that bring good luck to the possessor, or that protect the possessor from evil or harm. It can be wore around the neck or wrist.
Jewish amulets were made up of texts, using either letters or graphic symbols which were inscribed various types of materials such as plant matter or precious stones. The amulet was used to ease childbirth, facilitate recovery from illness and improve one’s livelihood. It was also used to protect a mother and her newborn child from the dangers of Lilith, a female demon who was believed to pursue and kill mother and infant. An example of the text found on a amulet used for this purpose is:
I command you, holy and pure angels Sanoi, Sansanoi, Semanglaf, Semanglon, to keep all spirits and demons and all evil misfortunes and all Liline and all Liltine away from this newly delivered mother and from this newborn babe; and from the day on which this amulet, on which are inscribed your names, will be placed in this house in which is to be found the newborn, from this day forward remove Lilith and all her followers and all her servants from this newborn and from this house to the farthest reaches. Let her and all the demons with her flee, that she and her followers may never be able to harm this child for ever and ever.
And the amulet for childbirth would sometimes simply say, “Adam, Eve; Lilith out.”
The belief that amulets have hidden powers was widespread among both Jews and non-Jews in Eastern Europe and across all levels of society. However, there were some Jews who opposed the use of amulets and prominent among them was Maimonides who wrote vehemently against them. The maskilim in Eastern Europe openly mocked the use of amulets and considered them to be profane and harmful. The fact of the Jews believing in amulets may be a result of the apostasy of the Israelites when they adopted many of the beliefs and practices of the pagan nations around them such as worshipping foreign gods and child sacrifice.
Talismans were not only worn by the common people but by kings as well. Charlemagne, the former king of the Franks wore one.
Charlemagne’s wife had sorcerers from the Court of Haroun el Raschid, Emperor of the East, make his talisman for him. It had two large cabochon sapphires, one was oval and the other was square. They were set into a remnant of the wood from the Holy Cross (the Cross of Jesus) and a small piece of the Virgin’s hair. It was to make their love constant. One would assume that it worked since he never stopped loving her. This was the talisman which was buried with him at Aix-la-Chapelle, in 814 and re-discovered when the tomb was opened by Otto III in 1000. The talisman was preserved in the treasury of the Cathedral until it was given, by the canons, to Empress Josephine in 1804, to wear at her coronation.
Wearing a talisman created by sorcerers seems at odds with the Charlemagne who “submitted to no one but God”.
I was surprised to learn that there are Christian Talismans. Ancient Coptic Talismans like this one came from the Oromo people of Ethiopia and were traditionally worn to protect the wearer from evil spirits and bring good luck. They contain scrolls usually made of vellum and were inscribed with prayers and stories from Coptic Christian bibles or manuscripts by priests, religious scribes or unordained clerics known as ‘dabtaras’ and then sewn inside their leather pouch. The writing on the scroll was done with special black and red ink and written in Ge’ez, a currently unspoken language used for religious purposes. These Coptic talismans, like the Coptic crosses, were made a long time ago and it is hard to determine their age. Some were made as early as the late 19th century but these talismans have been made, worn and worshipped for over 1600 years.
Should Christians be wearing talismans? There are two types which are used as symbols of the Christian faith–the Cross and the fish. The first symbolizes Jesus and what He did for mankind and the second symbolizes those His followers who are to be “fishers of men”.
The cross The cross of Christianity was a symbol of the faith. It was previously considered a pagan symbol, with several early church fathers objecting to its use. The cross represents Christ’s victory over death and sin, since it is believed that through His death he conquered death itself.
Fish The fish’s first known use as a Christian religious symbol was sometime within the first three centuries AD. Christians began using the Greek word for “fish” as an acronym for “Jesus Christ God’s Son, Savior”. Followers of Christianity were called Pisciculi; the root of this Latin word is “fish”.
When I did a search on the Fish symbol, I discovered that there are three–the one of the fish only, the one with Jesus’ name in the middle and the one of the cross in the middle.
Christians wear crucifixes or have them hanging in their homes or dangling from the rear view mirror of their automobiles. I have seen stickers of the fish symbol on the back of some cars. Should Christians be part of what has become popular today? Well, many don’t think they should. And they use the following Bible verses to defend their stance:
“They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and clasp hands with pagans” (Isaiah 2:6, NIV).
“In that day, the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes [and] amulets” (Isaiah 3:18-20, NAS).
“Moreover, Josiah removed the mediums and the spirits and the teraphim and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book” (2 Kings 23:24, NAS). The teraphim was the name used for idols or images reverenced by the ancient Hebrewsandkindredpeoples,apparentlyas householdgods.
There is the argument that instead of putting on talismans for protection for evil and demonic powers, put on the whole armor of God “that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
“There are concerns that people allow objects such as crosses, crucifixes, figurines, rosaries, bumper stickers, etc., to take the place of the true change that should take place in our hearts. The things we wear, carry, or put on our cars are not what make us Christians. God is not concerned with what we wear as long as we do not dress in a way that would cause anyone to stumble in his or her walk with God (Romans 14:20) and we are not absorbed with our looks or our possessions.
On the other hand, “Many Christians wear crosses as a proud expression of their love, respect, and service to Christ, along with a remembrance of what He did for us.”
Choosing to wear Christian Talismans or not, is up to the individual. I personally don’t wear religious jewelry or jewelry of any kind but that was me following my own conscience and what I believed was what God wanted for me. If people feel safer on their person, in their vehicles or in their homes, then, they have to do what their consciences dictate, as long as these things never take the place of God Himself who is our one, true Source of protection against the evil one.