Veggie Tales was one of my favorite shows when my children were growing up.
In a very creative manner, Phil Vischer abd Mike Nawrocki created personalities out of fruits and vegetables and conveyed Christian moral values through very entertaining shows. The hosts of the show were Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. Bob was the straight guy and Larry the comedian. The story lines dealt with moral issues very current for children (telling the truth, sharing, etc) and in the meantime us adults watching were very entertained.
One part of the show that was especially funny was “Silly Songs With Larry”, where Larry would sing about the love he has for his lips, his search for his hairbrush, his trip to see the Cebu, and assorted other inane subjects.
Phil and Mike were masters at subtle and outrageous humor.
One episode of “Silly Songs” is especially famous, and captured the hearts of all Americans. As the scene opens, Larry is still caught in a bear trap from the last “Silly Song” and wearing a raccoon in his head. The announcer cancels Larry’s song, and substitutes a squash named Mr Lunt, who sings a song about a guy’s love for cheeseburgers.
The song begins with a car driving up to the drive through ordering spot. Here are the lyrics, sung in Mr Lunt’s distinctive accent and nasally style.
He said to her “I’d like a cheeseburger,
And I might like a milkshake as well.”
She said to him “I can’t give you either.”
And he said “Isn’t this Burger Bell?”
She said “Yes it is but we are closed now,
But we open tomorrow at 10.”
He said “I am EXTREMELY HUNGRY
But I guess I can wait until THEEEENN.”
Cause You’re his CHEESEBURGER,
His YUMMY CHEESEBURGER,
He’ll wait for YOU-OO,
Ohh He’ll wait for YOU-OO,
Ohh you’re his CHEESEBURGER
His tasty CHEESEBURGER,
He’ll wait for YOU-OO,
Oh he will wait for you.
He stayed at the drive there until sunrise,
He may have dozed off once or twice
When he spotted a billboard for Dennies
Bacon and eggs at half price.
How could he resist such an offer,
He really needed something to munch.
Cheeseburger please do not get angry,
He’ll eat and be back here for luuunnnunccchhhhhhh.
‘Cause you’re his CHEEESEBUR-GER,
His precious CHEEESEBUR-GER,
Be back for YOU-OO,
He’ll back for YOU-OO,
Won’t be so long Cheeseburger,
Oh Lovely Cheese-bur-ger,
Be back for you,
Oh he’ll be back for Youuuuuuuuu.
Italians have their pasta, Japanese their sushi. Mexicans have their tacos, and Greeks have their moussaka. Belgians have their fries, and the French their baguettes. For Americans, it’s a cheeseburger.A few years ago, my family was living in Jerusalem.
Dr. Randy Smith had invited us in 1999 to come to Israel to work with him. We rented an apartment in downtown Jerusalem, next to Independence Park on Ravi Akiva street. A few blocks away was a McDonalds restaurant, providing us with a touch of America in an often strange land.
The first time we took our family there, I noticed the absence of a cheeseburger on the main menu. I was really disappointed! No Big Mac either! So I ordered a quarter pounder, along with other sandwiches for our family.
Later my son Lukas went to a register on the far end of the counter where he ordered a McFlurry- a thick milkshake. When he got it, he was taken by an armed guard through a glass door to a separate seating area. He was just seven at the time, and really didn’t want to go there, but the security guard insisted that he stay in that area as long as he had his milkshake. We observed all this at a distance. Finally, I went over to retrieve him, and the guard said that he must drink that milkshake in that separate room. Eventually Lukas finished the drink and we left McDonalds.
A few days later I asked Dr. Smith why Lukas had to sit in the separate room to drink his milkshake. He told me it was all about kosher dietary laws. Religious Jews don’t mix meat and dairy. It was because of the way the rabbis interpreted Exodus 23:19 (and Exodus 34:6)
“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
The rabbis understood that prohibition against boiling a calf in its mother’s milk as God’s commandment to not mix meat and dairy products. Religious Jews never serve meat and dairy products at the same meal. We discovered this at our meals in various hotels. Religious Jews even have two refrigerators and two sets of dishes: one for meats, and the other for dairy.
On our first trip to Israel in 1997, we were standing in line at Bonkers Bagels in Zion Square, at the bottom of Ben Yehuda street. With us was Craig and Kathy Englert, our pastors from Hope Chapel Maui, along with our three Miskito leaders-Truman, Augusto, and Onofre. I heard a voice behind us say “Hey, are you guys from Maui?
I turned around and it was my friend Suzanne, who had lived on Maui and was friends with my cousins, whom I had seen often in the early ‘80’s. She had two daughters and was involved in leadership at a church in Hana, on the jungle eastern side of Maui. Suzanne was famous in my world because she previously had lived in San Francisco and her neighbor in the next apartment was Carlos Santana, the famous guitarist. Suzanne told me that she would listen through the walls to Carlos playing the same riff over and over again, finally provoking her to pound on the wall and shout “Play something different Carlos!” No wonder he is so good.
“Suzanne! What are you doing here?”
“I live here now. I emigrated a few years ago.”
“Really? How could you do that?
“Because I am Jewish. I became a Christian at a church in Phoenix before I moved to Maui, and then we decided to immigrate to Israel.”
“Where are you daughters?”
“One of them, Sidra, is behind the counter preparing your breakfast.”
I looked and sure enough it was Sidra, now grown up. It had been at least 12 years since I had seen Suzanne and her daughters.
On our next trip to Israel, Suzanne invited us over to her house to make sushi. We noticed that her kitchen had two refrigerators, two silverware drawers, and two sets of dishes. When we asked her why the duplication, she said: “I want to reach out to my neighbors, who are all Religious Jews. They will not accept an invitation to share a meal with me unless I have a kosher kitchen. I am also using my Jewish name Shlomit now.” She was serious about her outreach to her neighbors.
Sometime after Paul and Barnabas returned from Road Trip 1, Luke records that the church was forced to address the issue of the Gentile Christians keeping the Law.
While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted. Acts 15:1-3
This was a serious issue, as what the formerly religious-Jews-now-Christians were saying is that all followers of Jesus must have “the operation”. They were all obligated to have the foreskin of their penises removed. Along with this painful procedure came all the dietary laws, as well as the rest of the 612 laws given to the Hebrew people before they entered the Land by Moses.
4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. 5 But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”
6 So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue. 7 At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. 8 God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. 10 So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? 11 We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
12 Everyone listened quietly as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. Acts 15:1-12
The issue here was what is required for salvation? Is it Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, and your faith in Him, plus keeping all the Jewish laws?
I’m always careful when someone tells me that salvation is Jesus plus something.
I have made a joke over the years with my children that to be a true Christian you must do three essential things: read your Bible, go to church, and give money to the missionaries. It is true that doing all these three things will be helpful in the growth of your personal relationship with God, but none of these have anything to do with your membership in the Kingdom of God.
This is a good time to ask ourselves the question of “How essential are these Laws given to Moses in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy to me, the New Testament Christian?”
Photo: Michelangelo's "Moses", part of the tomb of Julius II in Rome.
It is at this point that some will say that “The Law is obsolete and part of the Old Covenant!” They will most often quote from Hebrews chapter 8:
When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear. Hebrews 8:13
What is the context of this verse? What is the writer of Hebrews trying to communicate to his audience- Jewish believers? What is obsolete?
After Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, many Jewish Christians continued to go to the Temple in Jerusalem and offer sacrifices for their sins. In a very detailed explanation, the writer of Hebrews explains to those who continue to go to the Temple for the ritual sacrifices that Jesus is greater than the angels, greater that the patriarchs, greater than Melchizedek, and the Perfect High Priest who offered the perfect sacrifice, once and for all for our sins. Therefore, it is no longer necessary to go to the Temple and offer sacrifices for our sins. That part of the Levitical law is indeed obsolete, out of date, and no longer part of the life of the believer.
This was confirmed a few years later in 70 A.D. when Titus brought the Roman legions to Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. There has not been a sacrifice for sins since then!
How essential are the Laws given through Moses to the 21st Century follower of Jesus?
You may be surprised at the answer Jesus gave to this question which was recorded in Matthew 5:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20
It is apparent that in this passage Jesus said that the “Law and the Prophets” (an idiom referring to all the sacred writing of the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament):
1) have permanent validity to everyone in the Kingdom of God, and that
2) The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) should be taught and obeyed by the children of the Kingdom, and that;
3) Entrance into Heaven is dependent on an inner state of righteousness reflected in the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures.
This may be news to many who read the Old Testament as “old and out of date”. Jesus says they are current and essential to our spiritual health. But how?
There are actually three ways that we can look at these Hebrew sacred writings:
- The “Theonomic” view that says all these laws are still in effect and must be obeyed to the letter. I have many Jewish-Christian friends in Israel who take this view and eat a strict ‘kosher” diet, observe the Sabbath laws, and try to do everything they can. Obviously, they are not able to obey the sacrificial laws, since the Temple was destroyed by the Roman armies in 70 AD.
- The “Cultural” approach which says that all the laws belonged to their day and have nothing to do with our lives today. One of my friends asked her pastor if it was okay to have sex with her boyfriend. The pastor replied that in “Bible times” people rode camels, wore sandals, and did many things that we don’t do today. Since we don’t ride camels in modern times, etc., he told her that it is permissible to have sex outside marriage. Interestingly, in these past years, we have spent many days in the Negev desert riding around on camels. People still use them for transportation. And most people in the Third World use some form of a sandal for their footwear.
- Then there is a third view, which we refer to as the “Principle Approach”. This Biblical interpretation technique says that behind each “cultural practice” is a spiritual principle that is always relevant to our lives as members of the Kingdom.
Of these three, which makes more sense to you? Paul told his disciple Timothy in his second letter that
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Tim 3:16-17 NLT
It is interesting to note that at the time of this letter, “Scripture” consisted only of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures). At that time, the New Testament was in the process of being written. If this is true, what is in these 612 laws of Moses and description of the Tabernacle that is relevant to my personal spiritual growth? Let’s take a look the law which prevented me from eating a cheeseburger at the Jerusalem McDonalds.
“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
What should be done with this command? Few of us are goat farmers. Most of us have never even seen a baby goat. We could easily ignore this in our modern culture, but I was a victim at the McDonalds restaurant of some who don’t.
What would you do? Obey this law (Theonomic)? Ignore the law (Cultural)? Or look for a principle behind it that might express something that is important to God and that may be relevant to us today? What was going on in the culture during Moses’ time that might provoke God to issue such an injunction?
Maybe if I have the “context” of the command, I might understand the principle behind the cultural practice, and then be able to apply that principle to my life in the 21st century.
According to Alec Motyer (The Story of the Old Testament p.13) and other historians, a common practice among Egyptian and Canaanite people was to produce a magic fertility potion by killing a young goat by boiling it in its mother’s milk. Then all would drink this magic elixir and the result would be an increase in the flock, which would result in great prosperity.
Today, currently in the Miskito culture along the Rio Coco in Nicaragua and Honduras, a common practice is to have a “sukia” (spiritual medicine man) kill a chicken and sprinkle its blood on your rice or bean field, which would cause the spirits that control agriculture to make your crop grow more abundantly, and protect the crop from floods. Once when we were visiting our school in Klampa, Lukas noticed a man with a dead chicken in his hand walking around the field behind the school building, shaking it as he walked. Killing a young calf by boiling it in milk or cutting a chicken head off and sprinkling blood are two techniques to manipulate a spirit to cause your economy to improve. One is from 2000 BC and the other is from 2000 AD.
However it is clear that the principle behind the command to “not boil a calf in its mother’s milk” when placed in the cultural context is simply that God’s people must not seek prosperity by occult means or glorifying the gods of fortune.”(The Story of the Old Testament p.12)
God says simply “Don’t be like the Canaanites or the Egyptians who do such things to improve their economy. Just trust Me, and I will take care of all your needs.” This is consistent with what Jesus commanded in Matthew 6:
“So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. 32 Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, 33 and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern. Matthew 6:31
How do we apply this “not boiling a goat in its mother’s milk” in our 21st century culture?
What about the lottery tickets that we see everywhere at our local convenience stores? Should a follower of Jesus participate in the state lotteries? The payoffs are huge, and we might hit a good number! Imagine what we can do for the Kingdom with all that cash!
But is playing the lottery really trusting God with our economy, or are we glorifying the gods of good fortune? I think it is the “boiling a goat” principle with a modern application.
Let’s step back a few millennia in time for a moment to try to understand what the Giving of the Law was all about.
As you read the history of the Hebrew people in Genesis, God reveals Himself in a very personal way to Abraham, his son Isaac, and his grandson Jacob. Jacob has twelve sons, and one of them, Joseph, is sold as a slave and ends up in Egypt. Joseph also has a personal relationship with God, and he eventually becomes Pharaoh’s administrator for the entire country. During a severe famine, Jacob and his sons go to Egypt, where they discover Joseph. Pharaoh invites the entire clan to move to Egypt, where he gives them land, and they prosper.
There is historical evidence that the Hyksos people migrated to Egypt from Western Asia around 1800 B.C. and set up their own government in lower Egypt, where they ruled until about 1550 B.C. It was during this time that Joseph became the second in command to a non-Egyptian Pharaoh, and they prospered. The Bible records,
5 In all, Jacob had seventy descendants in Egypt, including Joseph, who was already there.
6 In time, Joseph and all of his brothers died, ending that entire generation. 7 But their descendants, the Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land.
8 Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. 10 We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.” 11 So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. Ex 1:5-11
These Biblical events coincide with the establishment of the Hyksos dynasty, and it’s overthrow, and the enslavement of the Hyksos allies, the Hebrews, by the new rulers of Egypt.
It is Moses, one of the Hebrew boys who is raised in the home of Pharaoh, whom God sends back to free the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery and lead them to an area known as Canaan, where they are to live.
Jacob’s descendants had lived in Egypt for many generations. They were totally immersed in Egyptian culture. Yahweh wanted them to be His family and His representatives on Earth. He wanted them to learn a new way of life and a new way of thinking. He wanted them to know His moral values and His principles for living life. He wanted them to be different from the Egyptians, and from the Canaanites.
How would you teach a group of desert nomads this new lifestyle?
Remember, there are no graphic arts, no internet, no video displays, no printing presses, and no billboards in the Sinai Desert. How do you speak to them in a manner in which they would understand?
First, God brings them to the mountain, where He gives them His commands on relationships. We refer to this as the 10 Commandments.
The first four commandments concern their relationship with Yahweh. He tells the Hebrew people to worship only Him, not to make any images of other so-called gods, not to misuse His name, and to take every seventh day off of work to focus on Him.
The next six are about their relationships with one another. The Hebrews are to honor their parents, not murder, not have sex with another’s spouse, not steal, not lie, and not covet their neighbor’s stuff. These are all good practices to avoid problems with family members and others in the community.
Then Yahweh gives very detailed instruction on justice issues, economy, agricultural practices, and caring for the poor. These practices were often very different from Egyptian laws.
Later on, He gives dietary laws. Some animals like pigs, catfish, lobster, and shrimp, clams, oysters, and scavenger birds often carry disease, and He wanted His people to be healthy. Other animals were used in pagan sacrifices, and His people were not to be mixed up in that.
Public sanitation laws were also given. In Leviticus 13-15, a detailed inspection of any contagious disease conditions was ordered, and any one with boils, rashes, or other communicable sicknesses were to be quarantined. Clothes were to be inspected for contamination, and bodies washed and hair shaved to prevent the spread of disease. In Deuteronomy 23:12, God commands that latrines be dug outside the camp. Excrement must be covered up.
Modern science has confirmed the health benefits of many of these dietary and sanitation laws.
Often God used the “show and tell” method of teaching His people.
He had specific orders for building a place called the Tabernacle where His people would come to meet him.
In 1999, my friend Dr Smith built "The Tabernacle in the Wilderness" down by the Dead Sea as a study center for understanding Hebrew Culture. He constructed the goat hair tent and all the furniture according to the instructions written in Exodus. This study center was a teaching place for many years until an Israeli official took issue with the purpose, and canceled the permits for the project. Eventually many pieces of this exhibit ended up in a Biblical attraction in Orlando Florida.
Many of us who spent time at The Tabernacle in the Wilderness believed it to be one of the most helpful tools for understanding the principles behind the rituals commanded in Torah, and how these principles can be applied to our lives today. Most importantly, we began to understand the heart of God toward His people, and His love for them.
Here we see the altar, the laver, and the "residence" of God's presence.
The first stop in this “tabernacle” was the racks where the animals were hung and slaughtered.
The animals were brought to the altar, where sacrifices were made to cover the sins of the people.
This object lesson was to tell the people that there was a price to sin. This was emphasized in the Sin Offering described in Leviticus 4:1-7. The Guilt Offering described in Leviticus 6:1-7 was required when one knowingly sinned. This required “a ram”, as the atonement. The ram was the most valuable animal in your flock. If the ram did his job, many would be added to your flock and you would prosper. The Guilt Offering taught the Hebrew people that intentional sin usually cost you something of your future. I have seen this principle in my own life played out.
Next stop was the washing place- the laver- where the priest cleaned up before going inside the tent. God’s ministers must always go through a personal cleansing before approaching Him.
Inside the tent was a table with the bread collected that day. God was to be the source of all sustenance.
The incense altar is where pleasing aromas rose up to God, like our prayers.
The Menorah was a seven-candle holder that lit up the tent.
God was the one that would light up our world. In fact, 1500 years later Jesus would echo these visual lessons by saying “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:48), and “I am the Light of the World” (John 8:12)”
Behind the curtain was the Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant was. It was here that the Presence of God dwelled.
Even the clothing of the priest was an object lesson to the people. The priest was to wear a garment while presenting offerings with stones on the front that represented all the tribes of Israel (Exodus 28:15-21). The turban of the priest was to have a plate of pure gold on the front engraved “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36-38).
Thus, when God looked upon the priest, He would see the entire nation of Israel represented, but the golden plate would reflect back to God His own image. He would not see their sinfulness, but His own righteousness.Let that one sink in.
God was speaking to them in a manner that they would understand. He wanted them to know what was important to God, and how they would best live. Behind every commandment and cultural practice was an everlasting principle that would have value for God’s people in all generations.
A good example of the Cultural Practice/Everlasting Principle has to do with an issue that will pop up in our ministry at the Rio Coco Café. What does the Bible say about tattoos? Many have heard that these are prohibited, and that anyone who has a tattoo cannot be a follower of Jesus. What does the Bible actually say in its cultural context? What is the everlasting principle behind the command? It is found in Leviticus 19.
“Do not practice fortune-telling or witchcraft. Do not trim off the hair on your temples or clip the edges of your beards. Never cut your bodies in mourning for the dead or mark your skin with tattoos, for I am the Lord”. Lev 19:25-28
There we have the prohibition against going to Psychic Mary and her friends who charge you for a session of hearing from the spirits. God Himself will speak to you if you are listening. He will take care of your economy as well! The next is a bit strange- “Don’t cut your hair or shave and don’t make marks on your body.” If you have ever seen a Religious Jew, you know immediately by the curly locks hanging from the sides of their head and their beard that they take this one literally. And tattoos? Forbidden!
(Photo is at the Western Wall with a Religious Jew walking in front of Pierre, Craig, & Michael)
Now let’s step back and take a look at the context of this command. It may help with the understanding of the principle, and our application of this principle in the 21st century. God begins this conversation with Moses by saying this at the beginning of Chapter 18:
Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Say this to your people, the Israelites: I, the Lord, am your God. 3 So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life. 4 You must obey all my regulations and be careful to keep my laws, for I, the Lord, am your God. 5 If you obey my laws and regulations, you will find life through them. I am the Lord. Lev 18:1-5
It appears that God is being very clear to His people. “Don’t be like the people around you who do things that displease me. Follow my commands and you will have life through them. Be distinct in whatever culture you find yourself. I am your Creator and you are my people.”
Earlier in this conversation with Moses, recorded in the book of Leviticus, God says it in very plain language:
“You must be holy because I am holy” Leviticus 11:44
The word holy in the Hebrew language is “Qadowsh”. According to the Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains this word means:
pertaining to being unique and pure in the sense of superior moral qualities and possessing certain essential divine qualities in contrast with what is human.
God’s command to His people is to be “Qadowsh”. We are to live our lives displaying a higher morality that reflects the character of our Heavenly Father. We are to be examples of Him and His ways. Many times, that will cause us to act differently, dress differently, speak differently, and think differently than the people around us.
Apparently, the Egyptians and Canaanites were cutting their hair short in their religious practices to their gods. We see this in paintings found in Egyptian tombs.
They were also making cuts and tattoos on their bodies in ceremonies for the dead. God said not to do such things.
So what about tattoos? Can we have a tattoo and still be “Qadowsh”? Some pastors will say “No!”.
A few years ago, we took the leaders of our school project in Nicaragua, Truman and Mirna, on a cruise to celebrate our 20 years of working together. Our assigned waiter at dinner was a young man from India named Geromino, who is seen in the photo serving Baked Alaska to Lukas.
I realized that with a name like that, he might be from Goa, a former Portuguese colony. That might also tell me his religious background. Since I was spending some time with him every evening that week, I wanted to make the most of the opportunity and use my time with him for Kingdom purposes. I wanted to be intentional. So at the next dinner I asked:
“Geronimo, are you by chance from Goa?”
“Yes I am!” he replied, surprised.
“Are you Hindu or Muslim?”
“I am Christian” he said proudly as took off his white glove and he set his hand on the table in front of Lukas and I.
I noticed a cross tattooed on his hand between his thumb and forefinger.
“Do all Christians in Goa have that mark on their hand?” I asked surprised.
“Yes. That is what makes us to be Christian!” Geronimo said.
In his cultural setting, having a tattoo of a cross on his hand is what made Geronimo and other Christians in Goa “Qadowsh”. In this case, Geronimo was obeying the principle in Leviticus 19:26 by having a tattoo! It is what made him distinct from the Hindus and Muslims in his neighborhood. Geronimo taught me something that night, and we had many conversations over the next week about our faith, and the challenges around us to be “Qadowsh”.
As you read Leviticus 18:6-23, you will notice many prohibitions against sexual practices that were common among the Egyptians and Canaanites. God tells His people to not have sex with close relatives (mother-in-law, sister, step sister, brother, aunt, uncle, etc), nor with anyone of the same sex. They are also told not to engage in the religious practices of the Egyptians and Canaanites which often involved having sex with the various animals that represented their gods.
“Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin. A man must not defile himself by having sex with an animal. And a woman must not offer herself to a male animal to have intercourse with it. This is a perverse act.” Lev 18:22-23
Having sex with your sister, mother-in-law, an animal, or someone of the same sex is a cultural practice that goes against the principle of sex being something that God created for a man and woman in a marriage relationship. Here the prohibition of the practice and God’s principle are inseparable. Interestingly, God tells why these practices must be avoided:
24 “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the people I am expelling from the Promised Land have defiled themselves. 25 As a result, the entire land has become defiled. That is why I am punishing the people who live there, and the land will soon vomit them out. Leviticus 18:24-25
Being “Qadowsh” somehow relates to the success of God’s plans for His People.
God’s design of mankind has specific functions. Man and woman together give birth to children, and make up the family unit that society is to be built upon. This apparently is our Creator’s design. The act of sexual intercourse was given for procreation, as well as an expression of intimacy. Apparently, God thinks that it is best reserved for a marriage relationship and a promotion of love, commitment, and intimacy within the family unit.
Otherwise why would He prohibit adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and bestiality? God says to be careful with lust- it will get you into trouble. Lust running amok will never be satisfied!
My personal experience validates this principle. I have seen the destructive effects of unbridled lust with my own eyes on familial relationships, as well as in our culture as a whole. I can see why God would prohibit such activity among His people. His desires for us are healthy, strong, and giving relationships. Self-centered sexual behavior never attracts but most often repels. It hinders intimacy in relationships, and most often hurts others around us.
In addition, it was common in ancient cults that personified ‘gods’ as animals for the priest or priestess to have sexual intercourse with the bull, goat, or sheep ‘representative” of the god. This worship of false gods is something that God says not to do. We are to worship Him only.
Here the cultural practice and principle coincide, and the ancient prohibition and principle stand as appropriate and relevant for God’s people today.
As we study these laws of Moses, we must ask ourselves what was the purpose of the Law. Why did God give them?
Photo: Pondering at Masada
Here are four thoughts:
1) He wanted to give His people His standard for morality. They were heavily influence by their world environment, just as we are. God wanted His people to be distinct, to stand apart from the society of Egypt and Canaan.
2) He wanted to give them an understanding of what sin is, and how it affects relationships. His people needed to know they had a need for forgiveness, and ultimately a need for a Savior.
3) God wanted to reveal His Divine Holiness to a people who had unique privileges bestowed upon them for a fulfillment of a high calling. He didn’t want them to become presumptive and take lightly their mission, or Him. He wanted them to understand just who they were dealing with- and it was not the flawed, self-serving gods of the Egyptian and Canaanite culture. It was THE CREATOR of the Universe.
4) God wanted to give His people a manner in which to express their faith in Him. Doing what God wants when you don’t want to do it is a very practical way to display your faith in God through your obedience. Without any laws, how will your faith really be expressed?
God always intended the relationship between Him and His people to be one of trust and faith. This is the vision behind the verses. These laws were never meant to be legislation, but more information on the lifestyle of the child of God. Paul told his friends in Galatia (Galatians 3:19) that as Abraham was saved through his faith, the laws given to Moses didn’t alter that, but were rather layered upon that relationship of faith. The Law was just a signpost to our sin (Romans 7:7), to our need for Christ (Romans 8:2-4), and a practical guide for our living (Psalm 119:105). Although its proscribed cultural practices may be antiquated and irrelevant, the principles behind the laws given through Moses are essential to our spiritual health, and determine our entrance into heaven.
At least that is what Jesus declares in Matthew 5:17-21!
Many of the Hebrew people at Mt Sinai who boastfully declared that they would obey all that the Lord says forgot that. They came to understand their relationship to God to be not based on faith, but on accomplishing a righteousness of their own, based on their own ability to achieve perfection and godliness. They received the Law, and made something out of it that was never intended. It became a curse rather than the blessing it was intended (Galatians 3:13-14).
How did it become a curse?
The fourth commandment says to rest one day a week. God designed us to need a day to focus on our relationship with Him, and our family and friends. This was a revolutionary concept within a culture that demanded work every day of the year. The Jews received this, and decided that obedience to this “non-work” edict was more important than actually enjoying a day with God and your family. Thus, they devised a series of their own laws to build a fence around this commandment to ensure that no religious Jew would ever get close to breaking the Fourth Commandment.
In Jesus’ time, these rabbinic laws reached levels of ludicrousness. For example, the rabbis defined work as digging a ditch, so therefore on Sabbath you could not drag a chair across the dirt floor, creating a groove (small ditch) or spit on the dirt (and scooping out a very small shovelful of dirt in the process). Spitting on a rock, or dragging a chair across a paved floor was acceptable.
Since walking was also considered work, you could only walk about 400 yards from your home on Sabbath. Now the religious leaders got around this by defining “your home” as the place where your food was, so they strategically positioned small bags of grain in their friend’s home 390 yards away from their home, and again in another home another 390 yards away, and so on. Thus, they could walk anywhere around the town on Sabbath, while condemning those who did not have their “homes” spaced all over the city. They had other shenanigans like this to avoid other “laws”. This really ticked Jesus off.
Even today, modern religious Jews will not answer the telephone on Shabot. However most have a foot pad which activates the speakerphone function of the phone. So, if the telephone rings on Sabbath and you happen to be walking by the phone, inadvertently step on the pad, and hear a voice speaking to you, you can talk back! You still are not technically “working” by answering the telephone in this manner.
One Saturday morning during breakfast at a hotel in Tiberias, I suddenly had to get to my room- nature was calling. I ran to the elevators and stepped in the first available one. It was the Sabbath Elevator. I was on the seventh floor. The Sabbath stopped at every floor. I had to get off at the third and take a regular elevator to make it to my room in time.
Even through on the Sabbath you could pull your donkey out of a hole it fell in, the religious Jews took issue with Jesus healing a sick, blind, or paralyzed man on the Sabbath. In fact, the Gospels record that it was this very reason that the Religious authorities decided to kill Jesus. Jesus addressed this hypocrisy and misuse of the Law when He said in Matthew 5:17:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
The key word here is “fulfill”, and its meaning in this context.
It is true that Jesus did fulfill many aspects of what was spoken of in the Old Testament. He was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). He was crucified and dice were rolled for his garments (Psalm 22:16-17). There are many other prophecies of the Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus fulfilled. He certainly fulfilled the requirements of the unblemished lambs required for the sacrifices detailed in Exodus and Leviticus. As the writer of Hebrews explained, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the one-time good-for-all-time sacrifice that makes us holy and acceptable in God’s eyes (Hebrews 10:4-10).
But when Jesus told the crowd in Matthew 5 that he came to “fulfill” the Law and the Prophets, it helps to understand the Greek word “Pleroo” that Matthew used, and it’s complete meaning.
Ple’ ro’ o (πληρόω) can indeed be translated “fulfill”, or “accomplish” but in this context, according the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, pleroo means:
“to give the true or complete meaning to something—‘to give the true meaning to, to provide the real significance of.’
In is interesting to note that in ancient Greek, this word was also used by physicians to take a broken bone and put it back in its place.
In the following discourse in Matthew, Jesus says five times “You have heard the ancients say…but I say to you…” In each instance he reveals the principle behind the law, and calls attention to obedience to the principle, rather than the cultural practice.
He is giving the true meaning to the Law.
He is taking something which had been broken out of it place, and putting it where it belonged- not a legislation to determine our righteousness before God, but rather an intimate expression of God’s heart toward His People.
Does this have any place in the lives of all Humanity? Of course it does! We should know what our Creator thinks about us, and our lives here on Earth. This knowledge will lead to success in our relationships, peace in our souls, and prosperity in our communities. And it will cause us to draw close to Him who deeply loves us.
After the discussion at the council in Jerusalem, James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, writer of the Book of James, and the half-brother of Jesus, addressed the group.
13 When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself. 15 And this conversion of Gentiles is exactly what the prophets predicted. As it is written:
16 ‘Afterward I will return and restore the fallen house of David. I will rebuild its ruins and restore it,17 so that the rest of humanity might seek the Lord,including the Gentiles— all those I have called to be mine. The Lord has spoken— 18 he who made these things known so long ago.’
19 “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. 21 For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.” Acts 15:13-21
James agrees with concept of understanding the principle behind the cultural practice. There are things in the Law of Moses that are beneficial to understand and follow, but it does not have anything to do with the issue of salvation. James seems to add a comment that if Gentile believers want to become Jews, join the synagogues, and live like Jews, then they may, as there are synagogues in most cities across the Mediterranean world. But they are not required to do so.
In the Rio Coco Café ministry, our mission is not to simply copy Biblical cultural practices, and present a list of rules to our new friends, but rather to understand and apply these Biblical principles to our relationships and ministry there. We must avoid “religion” and stick to a living relationship with our God and His People. This is why we must devote ourselves to studying and understanding God’s Word.
Work hard so God can approve you. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
Like Paul’s disciple Timothy we too must be prepared to understand, correctly explain, and put into practice the things God has given us. Then we must teach these principles to the people God brings us through our ministry at the Rio Coco Café .
You have heard me teach many things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Teach these great truths to trustworthy people who are able to pass them on to other. 2 Timothy 2:2
We have an opportunity to help the Bible come alive to our guests at the Rio Coco Café. Through our understanding of it principles, and the application of these principles in our own lives, many will discover the riches of the Bible, and the beauty of God Himself.
Therefore, enjoy your cheeseburger!