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Being faithful in the waiting [First Sunday of Advent, part 3]

5 Dec
Photo by Jonsung Lee on Unsplash

Thus far the readings for the First Sunday of Advent have begun with a prophecy from 600 BC that God would send a new king to Israel, and that the people needed to get ready for that king by practicing repentance.  We looked at Luke 1, which describes Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy.  As we move from the Old Testament readings to the two New Testament readings, we’re going to encounter more prophecy, once again looking to the future.  The next reading is Thessalonians 3:9-13.

From the time of David who wrote Psalm 25, which we studied in part 2, we’re moving forward in history 1000 years to 50 AD.  One of the earliest followers of Jesus is a guy named Paul, and he is writing to the Christians in Thessalonica.  Thessalonica was the largest city in what was then called Macedonia.  It is still today a bustling town, a favorite of tourists, and in the middle of the city is an archaeological site with ancient ruins. Today it is called Thessaloniki, Greece. If you want, you can read about Paul’s first visit there in Acts 17.

At the time Paul visited, scholars estimate 200,000 people lived there, because Thessalonica was located in a favorable position on one of the main highways in the Empire, the Egnatian Way, and it was a port on the Aegean Sea.  Because of its large population and prime location, of course Paul would want to share the good news of Jesus there.  As was his practice, he went to a Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica and preached about Jesus. Many people started believing in Jesus. That made the staunch Jews mad, and Paul and Silas had to flee, but a church was started.  Though Paul moved on, his thoughts and prayers were still with the church in Thessalonica, and in the following weeks and months, he wonders how they are getting along. 

We read in 1 Thessalonians 3:6 that his assistant, Timothy, visited Paul, reporting good news about the Thessalonian Christians’ steadfast faith and love, that they longed to see Paul again.  Paul knows he won’t be headed back to Thessalonica anytime soon, so instead of a visit, he writes them a letter, hoping to keep investing in their lives. 

In this section of that letter, Paul says he was encouraged by their faith, since they are standing firm in the Lord.  Paul is overflowing with thanks for them.  And in verse 12 he prays to God that God would make their love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.  He prays that they will be blameless and holy in the presence of God.  That’s a very similar prayer to what David prayed in Psalm 25!  Hmmm…maybe there is a reason these passages were selected to be read on the same day?

Then in verse 13, Paul mentions the return of Jesus.  Actually in this letter of 1st Thessalonians, you can scan through the end of each of the five chapters and you will notice that the return of Jesus is mentioned each time.  When Paul wrote, he didn’t include chapters and verses.  They were added       much later.  But by seeing this repeated mention of Jesus’ return, of Jesus’ coming again, we can see that it was a major theme for Paul.  Paul is asking the Christians in Thessalonica, and by extension he is asking us, “Will we be blameless when Jesus returns?”  Unlike the Davidic kings who turned away from the Lord, Paul calls Christians to remain faithful and blameless before the Lord while we are waiting for his return.  And when will Jesus return? 

That brings us to the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36.

Advent is a season when we remember Jesus’ first coming, his birth, so that we might prepare ourselves for his second coming.  But when will that happen?  Jesus talks about this in Luke 21:25. 

In this passage, Jesus is in his final days.  He has arrived in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover to great fanfare.  On what we call Palm Sunday, the crowds wanted to make him king. Many Israelites saw Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy in Jeremiah. But they were mistaken about Jesus’ Kingdom.  They wanted a ruler like David who would wage war against the enemy and give Israel independence.  But Jesus was not that kind of King.  His Kingdom, Jesus said, was not of this world, though it would make a great impact on the world! 

And so here in Luke 21 Jesus and his disciples are at the temple in Jerusalem, and the disciples are commenting about the beauty of the temple.  Their beloved church building.  The temple was the center of Jewish life and faith.  And Jesus says in verse 6, “you know, this temple is going to be destroyed.” 

The disciples are aghast.  What is he talking about?  When would this happen?  They want to know details!  How will they be able to tell?  Jesus goes on in verse 8-24, giving them two levels of prophetic teaching. 

First the near level.  In verses 12-19 he talks about the persecution the disciples will go through, and that actually took place only a few short months after Jesus said it.  You can read about it in Acts 3-4.

Then the medium range level.  I verses 8-10, and 20-24, he talks about a time when Jerusalem would once again be attacked, just as it was in Jeremiah’s day.  This time, not the Babylonians, but it was the Romans in 70AD who destroyed the city. Before we move too quickly past this, I think we need to just pause and think about how astounding this is. Jesus in 33 AD prophesies that the temple would be destroyed.  And it happened!  Let’s just pause and think about how amazing that is.  Jesus says that a major catastrophic event will happen, and he gives some fairly specific detail about how this event will occur, and 40 years later it happens?  That is Jesus.  He can tell the future like that. That means we can trust in him when he gives the next level of prophecy too.

Next Jesus says there will be third, future, level of prophecy.  That is what we are focusing on today.  Look at verses 25-36.

There will be various signs for sure, and then he will come again!  As he said many other times, we don’t know the day, time or hour.  His coming will be like a thief in the night, like a lightning strike, surprising.  So we should practice humility about signs.  We should be very guarded about our confidence in our ability to interpret signs of the times. What does it mean, then, to be ready for his return?  Jesus will teach us in the next post in the series, as we continue study Luke 21:25-36.

The surprising value of repentance [First Sunday of Advent 2019, part 2]

4 Dec

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash

I don’t like to be in the wrong.  It feels terrible.  When my wife points out something I did wrong, inwardly I immediately start thinking of ways to respond to justify my actions.  Sound familiar?  Today we learn about the right way to handle it when we are confronted about being wrong. 

In part 1 of this series on the lectionary readings for the First Sunday of Advent 2019, we learned that there is hope in dark times.  In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, life was grim in the city of Jerusalem, as the armies of Babylon held the city in siege, slowly choking it to death.  We read in Jeremiah 33 of the prophecy of a new day, of hope for a savior to come from David’s line.  And in Luke 1, about 600 years later, we read about a poor peasant girl, Mary, astounded at the news from an angel that she was going to have a son who will be on the throne of David!  And he would have a kingdom that will never end.  What does it mean?

To get some perspective, let’s turn to the second reading: Psalm 25:1-10.

With all this talk of David, it is quite fitting to read a Psalm written by King David himself, talking about repentance for sins, trust in God, and a plea to God to teach David God’s ways.  This is a psalm that shows us David’s honesty and humility.  David is aware of his own sins, and he calls out to God for repentance. He wants God to act in mercy.

The attitudes and actions that David describes are ones that the king and people in Jeremiah’s day should have been practicing but didn’t.  God is rightly very upset with his people in Jeremiah’s day because they turned away from him.  But look how David describes God: “Truth…great mercy and love…you are good, O Lord…Good and upright…all the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.”

David, like Jeremiah, had plenty of times in his life when he could look around and feel like his world was falling apart.  Read the life of David sometime in the biblical books of 1st and 2nd Samuel.  It’s basically a historical thriller. David knew well what it was like to have his life threatened.  And many times in his poetry, what we call psalms, David writes things like “Where are you God?  Why are you taking so long to rescue me?”  And yet here is David reminding the people of who God is.  David went through so much hardship in his life he could have easily turned bitter toward God, but in Psalm 25 we see David calling us to dwell on God’s love and mercy and faithfulness.

Therefore David tells the people to hope in God, to be humble, to obey.  With this kind of teaching, and with an example like David leading them, you’d think that his descendants would follow David’s lead, so there would be a Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem for a long, long time. 

But even David’s own son Solomon turned away, in part.  Right after Solomon, the nation had a civil war and split in two, north and south.  The kings in the north, which became known as the Kingdom of Israel with a new capital city, almost to a man turned away from God.  The kings in the south, which became known as the Kingdom of Judah, which was the tribe David was from, still ruled from the capital of Jerusalem where the temple was.  Those kings were a mixed bag, some good, some bad.  But by Jeremiah’s time, there had been a string of evil kings in the south, kings who turned away from God. God, through his prophets like Jeremiah, tried to call them to repentance, but they still turned away.

So David’s reminder in Psalm 25 was needed badly then, and we need it today too.  We need repentance, to turn to God.  Do you need to repent of anything?  Ask God’s Spirit to examine you, to see if there is anything you need to confess to him or to others.  Advent is about preparing ourselves spiritually for the coming of the King, being ready for his return, and God calls to being the readying process through the act of repentance.  Take some time to repent to God, and ask him for the strength to obey him, just as David teaches in Psalm 25.

And perhaps that’s what the Apostle Paul had in mind in our third reading, which we will look at in the next post.

There is hope in dark times! [First Sunday of Advent 2019, part 1]

3 Dec

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

For Advent 2019, Faith Church will be following the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary.  Each Sunday we’ll look at how the four readings tie together thematically, all supporting the goals of the season of Advent.  Thus we are pausing our series on Deuteronomy.  We’ll return to that after the New Year 2019.  Why does Faith Church observe Advent?  This post explains our thought. And this post from the Deuteronomy series refers to it as well.

In this series of posts we start by meeting a guy who was living in a very dark time.  It was one of those difficult phases of life that most of us know by personal experience, times when you can look all around you and seriously question whether God is real, or if he is able to keep his promises.  You look around you and you wonder, “Why? Lord,Why?” 

I was talking to someone this week who was going through a difficult and painful time in their career, and they said that very thing, “Why is this happening to me?” At times like this, it can seems like there is no hope.

Maybe you’ve been there.  The worst is when the difficulty and the pain carry on and seem like they are not going away anytime soon.  As Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.”  And in the waiting game,you can be very tempted to have dark thoughts.  

So let’s meet Jeremiah.  He was in one of those dark times. Turn with me to Jeremiah 33:14-16.

To get a sense of the backstory of this passage, look back at Jeremiah 32 where we learn that Jeremiah is prophesying at the very end of the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (which was the southern kingdom of Israel).  The scene takes place in the capital of Judah, the famous city of Jerusalem.  A powerful enemy force of the superpower nation of Babylon has built siege works around the city walls, and they are starving the people.  It’s only a matter of time until the city gives up, and all is lost. 

So Jeremiah, directed by the Lord, buys his cousin’s field, as a prophetic sign. Kinda weird, right? At that moment when Babylon’s armies are surrounding the city, God wants Jeremiah to buy a field? The people inside the city walls, Jeremiah’s friends and family would have been thinking, “Jeremiah, what in the world are you doing?  This is a ridiculous time to buy anything.  We’re all going to die!” But God had a reason for Jeremiah to buy the field, and he sure got their attention.

God’s message was that, though things look dire now, one day people will buy and sell property in the land again.  Through Jeremiah, God says that Israel has turned its back on him, and so he is allowing Babylon to wipe Jerusalem from the face of the earth as punishment for Israel’s sins.  But one day in the future, there will be restoration.  And that promise of restoration is what we read about in Jeremiah chapter 33. 

Specifically looking at 33:14-16, we see the words, “The days are coming!” What days?  The days when God will fulfill the gracious promise he made to his people.  Look at verses 15 and 16.  There we read of the promise of a new king.  He uses the image of a branch sprouting from David’s line.  The famous second king of Israel, David was known as a “man after God’s own heart.”  Long before Jeremiah’s time, 400 or so years earlier, David ruled the land, and God promised David that, if his descendants followed the way of the Lord, David would always have someone from his royal line on the throne of Israel.  Well, as Jeremiah looked around the city, he knew the 400 year streak of having a Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem was nearly over.  The kings had turned away from God, and thus God allowed Babylon to capture them.  And that is what eventually happened soon after this passage.  Jerusalem was destroyed, and never again was a Davidic king on the throne. 

But here in Jeremiah 33 we have a new hope, a prophecy of a new Davidic king who will come, who will do what is right and just in the land.  A new day is coming, declares the Lord, a new David! And who might that be?

We find out about 600 years later,when God sends an angel to a humble unknown peasant girl.  In Luke 1:26, the angel Gabriel appears suddenly to a young lady named Mary in the Northern Israelite town of Nazareth,and the angel says Mary is highly favored, that the Lord is with her.  Mary’s life is about to change forever.  The angel tells her in Luke 1:31 that she is going to bear a child, and that child will be great, the Son of the Most High, and get this, God will give Mary’s son the throne of his father David,and her son will rule over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end.  Imagine Mary hearing that! 

Mary knew that she was of the line of David, but 600 years had gone by.  That would be like a descendant of George Washington in our day saying, “George Washington is my great, great, great,great, great, grandfather.”  The lineage is interesting, but it doesn’t mean anything anymore.  So there’s Mary, knowing that David is her great, great, great, great, great, grandfather. But what is God talking about?  She’s going to have a son who will be on the throne of David?  And he will have a kingdom that will never end?  What does it mean? To get some perspective, we’ll need to turn to the second reading of the day, and we do that in the next post.

Jesus wants to destroy your echo chamber [God’s heart for people to find truth, part 5]

30 Nov
Image result for jesus cleansing the temple

In this series of posts on Deuteronomy 18, we’ve been talking about how we need to get out of the echo chambers of life and find the truth in Jesus.

There is an interesting story in John18:33 and following.  Jesus has been arrested, and he was taken to the Roman governor Pilate.  The Jewish leaders accused Jesus of treason against the Roman Empire, saying Jesus called himself a king and thus a challenger to the throne. That would definitely pique Pilate’s interest, and he questions Jesus.  Read John 18:33-38 to see how their discussion goes.

I want to focus on the line where Jesus’ said that he came to testify to the truth, and everyone on the side of truth listens to him. Pilate responds with the question that so many of us are asking: “What is truth?”  It is a question philosophers through the ages have asked, and the answer is not always easy to come by, especially in a world of so much false news. 

But Jesus said that everyone on the side of truth listens to him.  Are you listening to Jesus?  That reminds me of another event in Jesus’ life.

Do you remember the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration?  Jesus took his closest disciples, Peter, James and John, up to a mountain to pray.  There Jesus’ was miraculously changed in appearance, shining bright white.  And guess who shows up?  Elijah and Moses, perhaps the two greatest prophets of Israel. Peter is blown away, of course, and he does what he so often does. He lets his emotion carry him, and he tells Jesus, “Let’s build shelters for you all…” and just then, we read that God the Father, interrupts Peter and says, “This is my beloved son, with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

In other words, God is saying, “Peter, be quiet.  Though you have before you Moses and Elijah, listen to Jesus.” We must listen to Jesus. 

We find truth in Jesus.  Christians must make a practice of seeking truth in Jesus.  So let us not engage in detestable practices, trying to gain knowledge and power from them.  Steer clear of them. Instead, listen to Jesus. 

To listen to him we need to spend time with him! Read the four stories of Jesus’ life, The Gospels. Learn from people who are experts on Jesus.

Read books like Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew. Jesus is surprising.  Yancey, in that book, talks about how when he started a careful, close study of Jesus, he was shocked at what he learned.  He thought he knew Jesus.  Of course, he knew a lot, but through his study, he learned so much more. He found out that he had viewpoints on Jesus that needed correction. 

Sometimes we need to be put in our place, like God did with Peter, and not assume that we have listened to Jesus.  I can almost guarantee that when you listen to Jesus he will destroy your echo chamber.  Jesus is not conservative, or progressive or liberal.  Jesus, as he said, has a kingdom is not of this world. 

When I was in the Clergy Leadership Program a few years ago, my cohort had pastors from a variety of Christian perspectives.  Lutherans, Catholic,Orthodox, and many others.  We’d get into theological or biblical discussions regularly, and when some of them started talking, I sometimes didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.  I realized that I could live in my own echo chamber.  They knew Jesus in ways I had never heard about, and I was tempted to think that they were wrong!  It was kinda scary.  Being in an echo chamber is so comfortable because you are affirmed all the time, and you don’t have to learn or grow or hear that you might be wrong.  Those other pastors showed me a Jesus I never knew. 

The same thing happens in our local Conestoga Valley Ministerium, when we have Bible study, and I hear what Mennonite or Pentecostal or Brethren pastors have to say.  What I have come to find is that those other perspectives are so good for me.  I don’t always agree, but many times I do, and in fact have learned that my view of Jesus and his Kingdom was shallow, an echo chamber view, and my view needed to be expanded. 

So get out of your echo chamber.  Seek to learn new and different views.  Especially about Jesus.  And find the truth in him alone.  Jesus isn’t going to tell you which political party to follow.  But you can learn about his Kingdom, and you can learn to apply his kingdom principles to all of life. 

Who is THE prophet? [God’s heart for people to find truth, part 4]

29 Nov
Image result for john the baptist pointing to jesus

In part 3 of this series, we met a prophet named John the Baptist in the book of the Bible titled John (though the “John” in that title was a different John!)  In John 1:25, the people question John the Baptist about his ministry.  They wanted to out him as the Messiah (the savior king that God promised to send to Israel), or the reincarnation of one of Israel’s most famous prophets, Elijah, or the fulfillment of the promise in Deuteronomy 18, THE prophet who was to come.  John responds with a resounding “No!” to all these questions.  The people are mystified.  If he is not any of those, why is John the Baptist having a ministry of calling people to repentance through baptism?  His ministry model seems like something that one of those promised leaders would do!  John tells the people that he has a specific role, that he is preparing the way for THE prophet.

As the passage continues, we read that John saw Jesus the next day and proclaimed that Jesus was the one he was preparing the nation for.  Some of John’s disciples, then, start following Jesus. Soon more disciples start following Jesus, and one of them, Philip, says in verse 45, to another guy, Nathanael, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law.”  By saying this, Philip is making a reference to the Prophet Moses referred to in Deuteronomy 18. 

But the references don’t stop there.  In John 5:46 we read Jesus saying the same thing, that the person Moses wrote about in the law was Jesus himself!

In John 6:14, after Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 5000 people with only five small barley loaves and two small fish, the people say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

In John 7:40 after a powerful teaching by Jesus, some people in the crowd said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”  Others said “he is the Christ.”

A few years later, after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension back to his father, after the church had first started, we read in Acts 3 that Peter and John healed a man, and Peter started preaching to the crowd.  In verses 22-26 he quotes Deuteronomy 18, where Moses talks about the prophet to come, and Peter says that Jesus was that prophet!

A few more years went by, and the church had grown like crazy in Jerusalem, and the Jewish religious leaders were not happy, feeling threatened by popularity of the Christians.  So they started persecuting the church, and one of the first men they attacked was a guy named Stephen.  In Acts 7, Stephen is standing trial before the high priest, and Stephen tells the story of the nation of Israel, eventually concluding that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised one.  In verse 37 he refers the Old Testament teaching of that promised one, and guess who he quotes?  Moses, in Deuteronomy 18, where Moses says,“God will send you a prophet like me.”

What all this means is that the earliest Christians, and Jesus himself, said that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18, the promise of a prophet who would come. 

So if Jesus was THE Prophet, what does that matter to us?  As Moses said in Deuteronomy 18, we need to listen to the prophet. Check back in to part 5 of this series, as we will specifically apply this teaching to our lives!

Of Prophets [God’s heart for people to find truth, part 3]

28 Nov
Image result for john the baptist

When you think of prophets, what comes to mind?  A scraggly guy like the one in the picture above?  Or maybe a preacher in a church?  Someone who has a vision of the future?  The Bible is loaded with prophets, and they come in many shapes and sizes.  One thing is similar about them all, and that is what this post is about.  In this series, we’ve been looking at Deuteronomy 18:9-22, seeking God’s heart for how to discover the truth. As we saw in part 2, Israel should not listen to the sorcerer or diviner.  Now in Deuteronomy 18:15-22 we read that they should listen to God’s prophet. 

In verse 16 Moses reminds them of the time 40 years earlier when they were at the mountain and God made his covenant with the people.  See Deuteronomy 5:23-27.  There we read that God’s voice was so powerful, the people wanted God to stop talking because they feared for their lives!  We so often wish God would speak to us.  Maybe if we actually heard God’s voice, we might feel differently.  I know we like to joke about loud mouths, but imagine a voice that could get you killed!  So God said that he would raise up a prophet from among them, and God would speak through the prophet, whose voice wouldn’t kill them, and they were to listen to the prophet.  Moses was that prophet. 

Turn back to Deuteronomy 18, and Moses is prepping the people for the time when he would die and there would be a new leader.  Moses spoke God’s truth to the people, and eventually there would be a new prophet to lead them.

The big question was how were they to know if the prophet was speaking for God or just for himself or for other gods?  That prophet would have been in a prime position, right?  He could really manipulate the people for personal gain. He was the one who was supposed to be speaking the words of God, and if he wanted, he could make the words of God say a lot of stuff that would benefit him, keep him in power, enrich him. 

Like the tele-evangelists who say, “God wants me to have this multi-million dollar Lear Jet.”  Or maybe for 2019 when we start up our capital campaign again, I should say, like some preachers, that God wants me to lock myself in the church steeple until we raise all the money.   

How do we know what to believe?  With so many people saying “God told them this or that,” how are we to evaluate it? 

Well, God gives them a test.  In verse 22, he says that if the prophet speaks things that don’t take place or come true, then they can disregard that guy.

This is similar to New Testament teaching about false prophets. 

1 John 4 says that there are two tests we can use to determine if a teacher is true: must agree that Jesus has come in the flesh and is from God, and second, that teacher must listen to the apostles.  In other words, teachers must follow New Testament teaching. If they don’t they are false.

So just as Moses in Deuteronomy 18 says that there will be more prophets after him, the people of Israel began keeping an eye out for these prophets. There were many.  Through the Old Testament, there is a lineage of prophets, and they were both men and women.  Some of the most famous, you may have heard of.  Deborah in Judges 4-5.  Samuel, Nathan, Elijah & Elisha, and of course the many prophets who have biblical books to their names: Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all those short books at the end of the Old Testament, the Minor Prophets.  Even in the New Testament we read about prophets.  At Jesus’ birth there is a lady named Anna, and a man named Simeon, who functioned in a prophetic role.  Jesus called his cousin John the Baptist, the greatest prophet, but was John THE prophet that Moses refers to Deuteronomy 18?

What I mean is that as the centuries went by, the situation of the Jews changed. After the Israelite period of Kings, the people turned their backs on God and he allowed them to be defeated by the many world powers fighting for control of the region.  The Babylonians gave way to the Persians who were conquered by the Greeks and eventually the Romans took control.  So by the time we get to the New Testament, the Jews longed for another kind of Moses, a leader who would once again lead them to freedom.  And they looked to Deuteronomy 18, the Prophet who was to come. Was John the Baptist that new prophet?

In the New Testament, in John 1:21, we read that John the Baptist was gaining popularity in the nation of Israel.  This was a thousand years after the time of Deuteronomy.  John the Baptist was in ministry right around the year 30 AD in Palestine.  The Roman Empire had military control of the land, and the people of Israel were hoping and praying for change.  Maybe John was the guy they were hoping for!  So the people ask John a very unique question: “Are you the Prophet?”  They were referring to Deut. 18, and the prophet mentioned there. But John says, No.  So the people ask him, “Are you the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior?”  Again he says, No. In verse 25, they question John further.  If he is not the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior, and if he is not the Prophet, or the reincarnation of Elijah, one of the greatest prophets of Israel, then why was John baptizing people?  They were really curious about John.  But clearly John was not the Prophet, though he said he did have a unique role, in that he was preparing the way for someone, someone who was far more important.

Tomorrow we meet THE Prophet!

Avoid the occult [God’s heart for people to find truth, part 2]

27 Nov

Photo by Marten Newhall on Unsplash

As we saw in part 1 of this series on Deuteronomy 18:9-22, God instructs Israel to not dabble in the detestable religious practices of the nations they will encounter when they enter the Promised Land of Canaan.  He lists a bunch of these practices, making it abundantly clear what he is talking about. 

The most obvious one is child sacrifice in verse 10, a grave injustice he has warned them against previously in Deuteronomy.  That one seems obviously wrong.  It is hard to imagine how any people group could ever practice ritual child sacrifice. 

The others on the list, though, are not as obviously destructive, but they are just as detestable in the eyes of God.  They all relate to the occult, and are almost all in the realm of gaining special knowledge or power through occult practices.  Witchcraft, sorcery, divination, trying to consult with dead people. You see these activities pop up in many Bible stories.  The magicians of Pharaoh in Egypt, the wise men of Babylon, and the prophets of Ba’al, to name just a few.  God comes against these practices totally and completely.

In our society there are many movies and TV shows that have similar practices,so that we might be confused about what God is talking about here.  This is not the Jedi of Star Wars or the wizards of Harry Potter. This is not Disney.  God is referring to real dark, evil power.  And it exists today.  It is rooted in the power of Satan and his demons.  So of course God doesn’t want his people to getting mixed up in that.  It might look impressive, and enticing, because Satan is powerful.  But God is more powerful yet, by an infinite magnitude.

When Israel follows God who is truly powerful, there is no need to get mixed up in the lesser powers of the occult.  But the occult is tempting.  Especially when we want to know the truth about life, and especially when we feel like God is being silent.  That happens, right? We can feel God is silent, and we get desperate, and we can be tempted to get knowledge in dark places.

A couple years ago my Amish neighbors wanted to dig a new well, because they needed extra water for the animals and gardens. So beforehand they hired a local water “guy.”  He walked around their property with metal pipe wrench that supposedly started vibrating when he got over a place that was good to drill for water.  I did not see this man, but when they dug the well, I saw the drilling rig.  A few days later, I stopped by their house to buy eggs from them, and I asked about the well.  The wife explained that they were seeking more water, and then she told me about the “water guy.”  She asked me what I thought of him.  She had heard that it was just science, the vibration in the pipe wrench.  In my mind, I thought, “diviner,” and I said to her that I wouldn’t have hired him. 

Every now and then I hear about groups, usually at teenage birthday parties or sleepovers, where people get an Ouija board and ask it answers.  Sometimes people hold séances to contact the dead.  There used to be a  palm reader and tarot card reader that had a storefront not too far from us.  None of this is rooted in God and his ways, and Christians reading this, I would strongly encourage you to stay away.  Like Israel, we have knowledge and power from God, and we just don’t need to seek it anywhere else.

Growing up my wife wasn’t allowed to watch certain movies and TV shows or read certain books because of this same concern about dabbling in the occult, when we Christians are to find the truth in God.  I’m not trying to tell your family what to do, but I do think we need to be cautious.  Don’t underestimate the power of evil.  Take it seriously.  So often we live our lives seeing how close we can get to line of what is evil, without crossing over it.  Instead, I would like suggest what Moses says in verse 13, “You must be blameless before the Lord your God.”

That word “blameless” is the Hebrew word for “complete” or “perfect”, and that is a high bar, right?  One scholar I read said that here in Deuteronomy 18, it refers to the integrity of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh, the Lord, meaning that they must give their devotion to God and God alone, and they must not have allegiance to any other god or detestable worship practice of the nations in the land of Canaan.  Same goes for us!  See what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.  “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy?  Are we stronger than he?”  The answers Paul is obviously looking for, in response to both of these questions, is “No!” 

And that is where Moses goes next.  If they are not to rely on knowledge and power from the occult, where should Israel go to get that knowledge and remain blameless?  We’ll find out in part 3.