Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Oaks of Righteousness- Women of the Word Part 9

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For thirty-three years Jesus walked the earth as a sinless man who was the living Word of God. The women in his family tree, however, were anything but perfect. From their stories, we see the roots of our own struggles and recognize that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. The lives of Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary reveal messy and complicated circumstances. And yet, through the women in Jesus’ family tree, we see God’s redemptive hand at work. With each new branch, he prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah who would ultimately die on a cross and rise from death to graft all people into his family tree.

Despite their flaws, these women were like the nearly indestructible oak tree: symbols of strength and endurance that survived even the most difficult circumstances. Most experienced the pain of a broken heart at least once in their stories—whether it was Sarah and Rebekah who longed for children that wouldn’t come, Leah and Tamar who were unloved by their husbands or Bathsheba who had one loss layered on top of another. Some like Rahab and Ruth had been captives to false religions while others like Eve fell captive to sin. A few, like Ruth and Mary, were poor. These women mourned over lost husbands, children, homelands and dreams. And yet, from them, the bloodline of the Messiah passed from one generation to the next. Reading a familiar passage written by the prophet Isaiah makes me think of them:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Despite their hardships, their pain, their poor choices and ugly circumstances, the women in Jesus’ family line ultimately displayed God’s splendor. They played key roles in fulfilling his covenant promise to Abraham, who was blessed to be a blessing to the entire world. (See Genesis 12:2-3)

Generations after Isaiah made his prophecy, that blessing was fulfilled in the person of Jesus, the Messiah that had been foretold since the creation of the world. (See Genesis 3:14-15) Jesus astonished everyone in his hometown synagogue by standing up and reading this same passage from Isaiah and boldly proclaiming that it was fulfilled in Him:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:16-21, NIV)

Jesus shocked the crowd with this statement just as he was beginning his earthly ministry. After teaching, healing and making disciples for three subsequent years, he was crucified despite committing no crime.   After Jesus resurrected from death and ascended into heaven, his disciples continued to proclaim the good news about him. And despite intense persecution and hardship, their numbers continued to multiply. Each time something threatened to wipe out the burgeoning church, it only grew stronger and spread further.

The disciples’ tenacity and continued multiplication reminds me of an unusual type of oak that grows in the Jurupa Valley in Southern California. Known as the Palmer’s Oak, it looks like an unimpressive little thigh-high shrub. From a distance, it appears to be a grouping of small trees spread out in a wide oval, but it is actually one tree that shares an ever-expanding root system. Periodically, a fire will rage across the hill where it lives, reducing it to ashes. The pressure placed on the roots by the fire causes the normally slow-growing tree to send up new sprouts. With each fire, the sprouts spread further and further.

It sounds a lot like the disciples who endured incredible hardships in order to spread their faith in Jesus. With each persecution they faced, they traveled to farther flung destinations, expanding their roots as they continued to share the gospel and watch their numbers grow. That endurance is what allowed the good news of Jesus to spread to different regions and to be passed through the generations, ultimately making it possible for us to know Jesus today.

And to think, it all started with those flawed women and their messy, complicated lives. God still brings beauty from ashes today. We have the privilege of being counted among those who display God’s splendor just like the oaks of righteousness Isaiah described so long ago.

The image of the tree has been a significant part of the Women of the Word study, both because of the family tree of Jesus and because of the oaks of righteousness. I couldn’t pass up including a song that weaves together these images and themes with a stunning visual representation. Click on the link and enjoy “Worn” by Tenth Avenue North.

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The Lion of Judah- Women of the Word Part 5

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Reading the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, I became captivated by Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter and their many adventures in the magical land of Narnia. As an adult, I re-read the books to my kids and reveled in them again. C.S. Lewis portrays the central character, Aslan, as a Christ figure. His choice to use a lion for this role is no coincidence; he knew the deep biblical symbolism associated with this majestic animal.

If you’ve been following along with this series of posts based on Women of the Word: The Family Tree of Jesus, then you know the next two characters in the family tree are Leah and Tamar. Both women were closely connected to Judah, Jacob’s fourth born son. Near the end of Jacob’s life, he pronounced a blessing on each of his sons. His words for Judah relate directly to the symbolism C.S. Lewis borrowed to create the character of Aslan:

“Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.” (Genesis 49:8-10, NIV)

 Despite being Jacob’s fourth son, Judah received the distinct honor of being the one through whom God’s blessing would continue. Jacob prophesied that the mantle of lordship and power, symbolized by the scepter, would remain in Judah’s family line until “he to whom it belongs” came (The Messiah). And ultimately, He would command the obedience of the nations.

The promise of the Messiah began in Genesis, first with Adam and Eve when God said that Eve’s offspring would one day crush the head of the serpent, Satan (see Genesis 3:14). The promise continued with Abraham, whose offspring would bless all people on earth (see Genesis 12:3). With Abraham’s great-grandson, Judah, we see the Messiah symbolized as a strong lion that would one day command the obedience of the nations. (We are still waiting for this part of the promise to be fulfilled).

The next time we see this term used is in Revelation, the last book of the Bible. In this yet-to-be fulfilled prophesy, the writer, John, describes the Messiah as both a lion and a lamb. The scene he describes is a vision of the heavenly throne room. In it, John sees that there is a scroll in the “right hand of him who was seated on the throne.” He begins to despair because there is no one found worthy to approach the hand of God to take and open the scroll. But John’s fears are unfounded:

“Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals… He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.’” (Revelation 5:5, 7-9, NIV)

This connection between the first and last book of the Bible amazes me. John describes how Jesus, the Messiah, fulfills the prophetic statements made thousands of years earlier. As the sacrificial lamb, He washes away the stain of sin through His death on the cross, making it possible for all who follow Him to share in His ultimate victory over death. As the lion, He represents the conquering King who will return to slay the enemies of God.

Remember the last sentence of Jacob’s blessing to Judah? He talked about Judah’s family line ruling until One came who would command the obedience of the nations. Now, read this verse from Revelation:

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:13, NIV)

John’s prophesy mirrors Jacob’s—both show that one day the whole earth will have no choice but to bow down and worship at the feet of the Lion of Judah who the New Testament reveals as Jesus.

The seamlessness of the Bible leaves me in awe. Jesus is woven throughout the pages, from Genesis to Revelation. Taking a step back to view the bigger picture every now and then gives me an even deeper understanding of God’s greatness and the way His perfect plan unfolds in His perfect timing.

I’ve attached a song that ties together the tremendous symbolism of the Lion and the Lamb. Although this is an audio version with no lyrics written out, you can clearly understand the words of Doug Eltzroth’s song “Judah’s Great Lion Now Lamb.” So click on the link, close your eyes and take a moment to worship Jesus, Judah’s great Lion who became a lamb so that we could know God and enjoy eternity with Him. And if you haven’t read the Chronicles of Narnia, go find a copy of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and get started!

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