Category Archives: Plants in Christ’s Birth & Galilee

Alpha & Omega of Myrrh

Use of myrrh was recorded throughout the Bible. In Genesis (37.25), Joseph was sold to Ishmaelites, who included myrrh in their trade caravan. Esther (2.12) completed a 12-month beauty treatment, which included myrrh, before she was taken to King Xerxes. Myrrh perfumed the robes of a king (Psalm 45.8) and the bed of an adulteress (Proverbs 7.17). Myrrh was catalogued seven times in Song of Songs to describe the Lover, the Maid (Bride), and Solomon’s gardens. In Revelation (18.13), John listed myrrh as a commodity no one would buy after Roman fell.

Despite the various times myrrh was identified in the Bible, three  times stand out:

  1. The earliest is in Exodus. Myrrh was a component of anointing oil used in the tabernacle (Exodus 30.22-33). This same anointing oil was used in the temple in 1st century Jerusalem.
  2. Myrrh was a gift that the wise men brought to Jesus at his birth (Matthew 2.11). There, myrrh symbolized the deity of Jesus; he was the Son of God. Also, myrrh represented “gifts;” God gave his son as a gift to mankind. Thirty-three years after Jesus’s birth, Jesus gave his life as a gift for mankind. In turn, the gift that Jesus wants from each of us is that we belief in him as risen Savior. When we belief in Jesus as Savior, we accept God’s gift of his son and Jesus’s gift of his life.
  3. Myrrh was present at Jesus’s burial. Following the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’s body in linen saturated with myrrh and aloes (John 19.39). Then, they laid Jesus’ body in a tomb carved in rock.

Likely New Testament myrrh was from a different plant than in the Old  Testament. Further, different plant species were used to make myrrh in different countries. Most myrrh in the Roman Empire came from the Commiphora myrrha plant; however, in Israel the plant used to make myrrh was the C. abyssinica (C. habessinica, myrrh tree, Arabian myrrh, Yeman myrrh). Probably, the myrrh used by Nicodemus and Joseph was from the C. abyssinica plant. The Hebrew word for myrrh is môr or môwr which means bitter because myrrh had a bitter taste.

The Plant Product

Myrrh is a dried resin from myrrh trees. In present day Israel, pilgrims can view myrrh trees in the Biblical Landscape Reserve. The myrrh plant is a small tree that grows up to twenty feet tall. The trunk (bole) is as tall as thirteen feet. When myrrh resin is harvested, lateral cuts are made on the tree trunk or branches. An aromatic gum resin seeps from the wounds. When exposed to air, gum hardens forming irregular-shaped yellow or brown globules. The globules smell pleasant, but, taste bitter. Today, myrrh is sold by vendors in the bazaar in the old city of Jerusalem. Most the sold myrrh is sharp-edged, marble-size pieces.

Reflection: The Greek word for myrrh is smurna, which translates “strengthened for.” At Jesus’s birth, the Magi brought Jesus a gift that symbolically strengthen him for his life on earth. Considering how Jesus was persecuted on earth, a gift that even symbolically strengthen him was a superlative gift.

Copyright 10/11/2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Epiphany Gifts – Frankincense

Most Christians know about frankincense. Frankincense was an ingredient in incense and a baby gift that wisemen brought to Jesus. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Judea, wise men came from the east to worship him (Matthew 2.1-18).  Bible scholars believe that wise men were from Persia (current day Iran).  The visiting wise men were astrologers. They followed a star that first appeared in the East. These Persian sages believed that the star was a sign that a Jewish king was born.

Not surprisingly, the wise men stopped first in Jerusalem, capital city of the Jewish state. There, they met with King Herod and asked to see the newborn king. Because Herod feared a contender to his rule, he asked Jewish scholars where their prophets said that the Messiah would be born. Their answer was “Bethlehem.” The crafty Herod shared the Bethlehem location with the wise men. Herod told them to contact him after they found the child. Herod claimed that he wanted to go and worship the new born babe.

The wise men left Jerusalem and followed the star to Bethlehem where it stopped over the place where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived.  Best estimates are that wisemen arrived in Bethlehem 12-18 months after Jesus’s birth. By this time, many Jews, who came to Bethlehem to register for the Emperor’s census, had left Bethlehem to return to their homes.  Likely, Joseph and his family lived with a family member or had a house of their own. Seeing the baby Jesus, wise men fell on their knees and worshiped him. They gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

After the wise men left Bethlehem, God gave Joseph a dream. God told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape being killed by King Herod. The family stayed in Egypt until God told Joseph it was safe to return to Judea. Probably, Joseph used the wise men’s gifts to subsidize the family’s trip to Egypt and their lives there. My guess is that Joseph bartered some of the frankincense for a donkey so that Mary didn’t have to walk and carry Jesus all the way to Egypt. Joseph may have used the gold to make the family’s years in Egypt easier.

Frankincense Tree

Frankincense was from Boswellia sacra (B. thurifera). Both the plant and its resinous product are called frankincense. Almost all frankincense is harvested from wild trees. It is sap which trees exude when cut. When exposed to air, the sap-like resin hardens. Frankincense can be opaque, white, or yellow crystal. Often, frankincense is described as smelling like aromatic pine. Ancient Near East women used frankincense as part of a daily beauty routine. When breathed in, frankincense can promote feelings of peace, satisfaction, and an overall sense of mental wellness.

Odor of Sanctity

So complete is the link between frankincense and religious occasions that frankincense is known as the “Odor of Sanctity” and associated with sainthood. Sanctity implies a holy life and character, a life worthy of religious veneration. Sanctity encompasses reverence, respect, and purity. Saints were recognized in both the Old and New Testaments. God knows his saints and watches over them. Psalmists averred that God delights in the saints, preserves them, and that they lack nothing (Psalm 16.3; 31.23; 34.9). Samuel wrote that God will guard the feet of the saints (1 Samuel 2.9). Loving words from God are, “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalms 116.15 ESV).

Birth-day presents

At Jesus’s birth, wisemen brought him baby gifts, birthday presents, believing Jesus was a king’s son. They were accurate. Jesus was the son of God, born as a baby into the human world. Jesus’s life encompassed reverence for his father and God’s laws and precepts. Jesus’s life was pure—no evil thoughts, no illicit sex, no immoderate words. Jesus was more than a saint; however, his birth, death, and resurrection, made a way for each of us to be saints as we live our lives. No, we won’t always exhibit saintly behavior; however, our corrupt behavior is covered by the blood that Jesus shed for us. Once we accept Jesus as our Savior, we become saints. When God sees us, he sees us through the imputed righteousness of his Son. We have a “get into heaven” card when we die.

Copyright 10/9/18: Carolyn Adams Roth

Origin of Christmas Tree

St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke, VA; photograph by Jim Forney.

Contrary to popular belief, the Christmas tree was not adapted from ancient European pagan beliefs. The Christmas tree has a younger history than pagan practices of first through third century European tribes who Christian missionaries encountered. Pagan Germanic and Scandinavian tribes initially used the hawthorn or cherry trees or branches in their celebrations.

Most likely use of Christmas trees started with medieval plays popular in the early middle ages (476 AD) to the beginning of the Renaissance (c 1400 AD).  Initially called morality, miracle, and mystery plays, these plays began in churches and taught Bible lessons for everyday life; that is, the plays had a moral. Plays that celebrated Jesus’ birth were linked to the creation story, primarily because Christmas eve was the feast day of Adam and Eve (Tait and Tait, 2008). Over time, the plays became raucous and were moved out of churches into public squares or town centers.

In nativity plays, the Garden of Eden was symbolized by a Paradise tree. Paradise trees represented both the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life (Holy Trinity Church). Paradise trees that symbolized the Tree of Knowledge were decorated with apples to symbolize the forbidden fruit; while Paradise tree that symbolized the Tree of Life were decorated with sweets.  Round pastry wafers (cookies), that symbolized the bread of the Eucharist, were placed on the Tree of Life. When morality plays were suppressed in the 15th-16th century, Paradise trees were moved into homes. Over time red balls substituted for the apples, lights were added, and a Star of Bethlehem placed on the tree top.

Traditionally the Christmas tree was put up on Christmas Eve and taken down on Twelfth Night, the Vigil of the Epiphany. Part of the reason for the short span of time the Christmas tree was in place was to differentiate the Christmas tree from pagan trees which often times had trees planted in boxes inside the home the entire winter months.

Christian scholars and historians are not sure when evergreen trees were first used as Christmas trees. Evergreen means having foliage persists as opposed to dropping annually. Evergreen trees retain their green or blue-green color throughout the year, rather than changing color according to the seasons. In cold, snowy, dark winters in Europe, evergreen trees were a sign of everlasting life with God.  By the end of the Middle ages, a common legend some Christian’s believed was that when Christ was born, near the shortest day of the year (December 25), every tree on earth produced new green shoots despite their ice and snow coverings.

In 21st century United States, popular choices for Christmas trees are in the fir, pine, spruce, cypress, and cedar genus. Firs (Abies) include the balsam fir, Fraser fir, and noble fir. Pine (Pinus) used as Christmas trees are the Eastern white pine, Scot’s pine, and mountain pine. With its bluish-gold needles, spruce (Picea) are a favorite Christmas tree. Spruce varieties used as Christmas trees include the Norway spruce, Colorado blue spruce, and (in the Pacific northwest) the Klamath mountain spruce. At times, the Arizona cypress (Cupressus genus) the eastern red cedar (Juniperus genus) are used as Christmas trees.

Frequently, churches that understand that Christmas trees are distinct from pagan worship include a 15 – 20-foot tree in their sanctuary. Below the evergreen tree are placed red poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). What we think of as flaming red petals are actually the leaves of the plant. Poinsettias are a recent addition to Christmas decorations but perhaps years from now will be part of Christmas traditions.

Copyright 10/09/18: Carolyn A. Roth

Swaddling Cloths

When Mary returned to Nazareth from visiting her cousin Elizabeth, her betrothed, Joseph, decided that the couple should leave for Bethlehem. Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered that all men must go to their home town to register for tax purposes. Joseph was of the lineage of David and his home town was Bethlehem.

When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph’s family’s homes were packed. Inns were filled with other returned Bethlehemites. Joseph’s kin told him that he and Mary were welcome to sleep in the barn. Mary gave birth to her first-born son, Jesus in this barn environment. As was the custom in the Ancient Near East culture, Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths (Luke 2:7), Swaddling cloths were narrow band of cloths wrapped around newborn children to restrain and quiet them. A mother’s womb was snug and warm; these cloths mimicked the womb. Newborns have fingernails, so the cloths would have prevented the newborn Jesus from scratching himself has he wiggled around.

The swaddling cloths Mary wrapped Jesus in were probably made from cotton. Because of their poverty, Joseph and Mary likely were unable to afford linen cloths. Often pictures of Jesus wrapped in cloths at his birth depict the cloths as white; however, likely the cloths were gray or brown as the cotton was unbleached. Perhaps, swaddling cloths that Mary used were several colors because they were cast off rags. Have you ever cared for a newborn? They both urinate and have small bowel movements. Likely, Mary knew this newborn characteristic and used cloths that could be changed separately on Jesus’s lower body.

The cotton cloths were probably from the Gossypium herbaceum plant, also known as Levant cotton and Arabian cotton. Cotton plants were domesticated in India about 3000 B.C. and grew in Mesopotamia at least from 1000 B.C. In the 7th century B.C. cotton was present in the Arad Valley in Palestine. Possibly, returned Jewish exiles brought cotton cloth and cotton plants back with them from Persia.  G. herbaceum isn’t the same species of cotton grown in present-day Israel, nor the species grown in the United States. When cotton plants are irrigated, most flower mid-to-late summer. Large, showy, solitary blooms have five petals (1-2 inches long). Flowers are yellow (occasionally white) at first, then fade to a soft red or pink. The cotton plant fruit is called a boll. When ripe, the boll splits and a mass of fine white filaments or fibers exude.  The white fibers are the cotton of commerce. Seeds are present in the white fibers. In ancient times seeds were separated from fibers by hand, then the fibers woven into cloth.

Luke recorded that Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Most photographs showed this manger made from wood, filled with straw, and elevated off the barn floor. The Nazareth Exhibit in the Museum of the Bible showed a contrasting scenario. There, the manger was hewed out of an approximately two by one-foot stone. The interior of the manger was rough. The Bible never recorded that the manger was filled with straw before the newborn Jesus was laid in it. Swaddling cloths could have been the cushion for the newborn Jesus.

Luke’s story of Jesus being wrapped in swaddling cloths symbolizes Jesus as the lamb of God.  It was in the Bethlehem area that newborn lambs were birthed for Temple sacrifice. Because the lambs had to be unblemished, often shepherds wrapped them lambs in swaddling cloths. As these lambs were fed by their mothers, they were kept unblemished.

Please visit my website to learn more about Bible plants and my ministry: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Copyright May 28, 2018; Carolyn Roth

Myrrh, A Christmas Present

Christians associate myrrh with the birth of Jesus (Matthew 2:11). Myrrh was one of the gifts that the Persian magi brought to Jesus at his birth. In the Church calendar, we are in the season of Epiphany. Epiphany begins on January 6 and last until Ash Wednesday; thus, it is as long as 8 weeks depending on when Ash Wednesday fall in the Church calendar. Epiphany is about the Gentiles recognizing Christ as savior of the world. The Maji brought Christ gold, frankincense, and myrrh. By tradition, gold symbolized Christ’s kingship, frankincense his deity, and myrrh his death.

Different species of plants were used to make myrrh in different countries. The myrrh described in the Old Testament was likely a different plant from the New Testament myrrh. Most myrrh in Imperial Rome came from the Commiphora myrrha plant; however, in Israel the plant used to make myrrh was the Commiphora abyssinica plant. Arguably, John thought of Judean myrrh when he referred to myrrh in Revelation.

The Plant Myrrh

The Israelite myrrh plant is the Commiphora abyssinica, which has several other names, to include Commiphora habessinica, myrrh tree, Arabian myrrh, and Yeman myrrh. The Hebrew word for myrrh is môr or môwr which means bitter, possibly because myrrh has a bitter taste. The Israeli myrrh was indigenous to Ethiopia, or possibly Southern Arabia and Yemen. As early as 1900 B.C. caravans carried myrrh to Egypt where it was used in the embalming process. Around 1876-1880 B.C., Jacob described myrrh as one of the best products of Canaan and directed his sons to take myrrh to Egypt to trade for grain (Genesis 43:11-14). In present day Israel, the myrrh tree grows in the Biblical Landscape Reserve (Neot Kedumim).

From FlowersinIsrael

The myrrh plant is a shrub or small tree that grows 20 feet tall with a trunk that can be as tall as 13 feet. In Israel, myrrh trees grow as a woody perennial. Although often referred to as a spice, myrrh is the dried resin from the myrrh tree. When the resin is harvested, lateral cuts are made on the trunk or branches. An aromatic gum resin exudes from the wounds. When the resin is exposed to the air, the gum hardens forming irregular shaped yellow or brown globules. The globules smell pleasant but have a bitter taste.

We saw myrrh in the bazaar in the old city of Jerusalem. The myrrh was in sharp-edged, marble-size pieces. Myrrh continues to be used today as sweet-smelling incense for religious celebrations.

Oil of Myrrh*

Known as the Oil of Mother Earth, the smoky herbaceous aroma of myrrh is rather unique. Due to its versatility and effectiveness, myrrh has been valuable for centuries across many cultures. Anciently myrrh was used for incense, perfume, in burials and as medicine. Though much time has passed, myrrh is still used in today’s modern-day world. It is often used to reduce anxious & sad feelings, support healthy hormones, the immune system, and the skin.

Its powerful cleansing properties are often use in oral hygiene. When added to lotions/moisturizers, myrrh promotes a smooth youthful complexion and helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.  Since myrrh effects hormones, new and expecting mothers should take special precautions before using it.

Aromatic use of this woody essential oil uplifts mood, promotes awareness and is very calming to the soul. The aroma of myrrh is rather unique and blends well with spicy, floral and citrus oils such as Frankincense, Cinnamon, Lavender, Lemon or Juniper Berry.  Myrrh can also support and ease issues related to the digestive system.

So whether you want to promote emotional balance, promote smooth, youthful-looking skin, or support and cleanse the body, Myrrh still holds limitless uses for everyday life. Myrrh, it is truly a gift fit for a King!

Reflection: What do you do when you receive a gift? Have you ever been embarrassed by a gift and not wanted to claim it? What is your response to the ultimate gift from God — his Son?

Copyright: December 30, 2017 Carolyn A. Roth. All rights reserved.

  • Information supplied by Linda Sable, Wellness Advocate DoTerra Essential Oils

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God 2 and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/ or on Amazon. Rooted in God 2 is now in electronic format from Kindle.

Epiphany Gift of Frankincense

Frankincense 2The story of the wise men offering frankincense to the Christ child is told in Matthew 2:1-18. This post is appearing a few days late. Traditionally Christians celebrate the date the wise men visited Jesus on January 6, Epiphany Day. The Epiphany season last from Epiphany Day (January 6) until Ash Wednesday.

When Christ was born in Bethlehem, Judea, wise men came from the east to worship him.  Bible scholars believe that the wise men were from Persia.  The visiting wise men were astrologers – they followed a star that first appeared in the east. They believed that the star was a sign that a Jewish king was born. Not surprisingly, the wise men went to Jerusalem, capital of the Jewish nation, and ask King Herod to see the newborn king. Herod learned from Israelite priests that the promised Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod shared this location with the wise men and requested that they contact him after they found the child. Ostensibly, Herod wanted to go and worship the new born babe.

The wise men left Jerusalem and followed the star to Bethlehem where it stopped over the home where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived. Seeing the Christ child, the wise men fell on their knees and worshiped him. They gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Frankincense

The frankincense of Matthew 2:11 is the Boswellia sacra plant, also known as B. thurifera and incense. Both the plant and its resinous product are called frankincense. It is native to the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula and the north-eastern regions of Africa. In 2013, the Boswellia sacra plant was not present in three Israeli plant databases. Almost all frankincense is harvested from wild trees. Frankincense is hard and resinous and can be an opaque, white or yellow crystalline. Generally frankincense is described as smelling like aromatic pine.

Known as the King of Oils frankincense is incredibly versatile. Its unique scent is distinctly known and is prized for its many health benefits. Frankincense has been used for thousands of years and is one of natures most valued gifts.  Frankincense has many health benefits including support of the nervous system, cellular health, respiratory function, digestion and it’s great for the skin. It’s no wonder why it’s the King!   If used on the skin as part of your daily beauty routine and it can help to reduce the appearance of blemishes and rejuvenates the skin.  Topical use of the essential oil includes applying directly to a specific area of concern, or on the bottom of the feet. 2-3 drops is all you need, and regular routine use is recommended.

Emotionally frankincense is the Oil of Truth. It is a grounding oil and when used aromatically can promote feelings of peace, satisfaction and an overall sense of mental wellness.  Diffusing frankincense can also promote healthy lung function.

Symbolism: Sanctity, Saint

Frankincense was used in important religious rituals and occasions from the time of the Tabernacle to the present. So complete is the link between frankincense and religious occasions that frankincense is known as the “odor of sanctity” and associated with sainthood. Sanctity implies a holy life and character, a life worthy of religious veneration. Sanctity encompasses reverence, respect, and inviolability.  A saint as a person who is faithful to the Lord (I Samuel 2:9 study note). From the time of Christ’s birth, he inspired individuals to live reverent, respectful lives. That’s why we have saints. 

Christian denominations place different emphasis on saints. Our Roman Catholic brethren have a formal recognition system for sainthood and believe saints can have a significant influence on the lives of the faithful. Often there are statutes of saints in Catholic churches and buildings, i.e., hospitals.  Christians who are faithful to God are saints have been given instructions on how to live.  God’s saints are to fear and love the Lord, to sing to the Lord and praise his name, and to rejoice in the Lord (Psalm 30:4; 31:23; 34:9; 149:5). God expects us to love and pray for the saints (Ephesians 1:15, 6:18). When Paul wrote to Philemon, he noted that Philemon’s love refreshed the hearts of the saints (Philemon 1:7). Many times we do not think that our love is refreshment to a hurting heart or to a person under stress.          

Saints are recognized in both the Old and New Testaments. God knows his saints and watches over them. The Psalms aver that God delights in the saints (Psalm 16:3), preserves them (Psalm 31:23), and that they lack nothing (Psalm 34:9). Samuel wrote that God will guard the feet of the saints (1 Samuel 2:9). The Holy Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints so their prayers and actions will be consistent with God’s will for our lives (Romans 8:26-27). Loving words from God are, “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalms 116:15).  

Reflection. In one of Saint John’s visions, he saw 24 elders around the throne of heaven (Revelations 5:8).  Each elder was holding a bowl full of incense. The incense was the prayers of the saints! Amazingly our prayers are incense – sweet aroma – to God.

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/. Linda Sable, Wellness Advocate with DoTerra supplied the information on use of frankincense oil.

Copyright January 3, 2018; carolyn a. roth

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Advent is Approaching

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The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.  Psalm 85:12-13 (NIV)

Advent started on November 27, 2016. From now until 25 December, we prepare for the birth of Christ.  Advent is a season of hope filled waiting. We are waiting for God’s intervention in our land; we are waiting for God to give what is good. The recent horrific events that have occurred in our nation are a prayer point that God is preparing our nation for righteousness. May our prayers be filled with hope filled waiting as our society continues to face the reality of sin. God is preparing the way for his steps (David Whitehead).

The Amaryllis has become a popular Christmas flower, offered for sale in all the catalogs and stores. Interestingly, I buy them but they rarely flower until January. Perhaps that’s what is to occur — we wait for the flower to bloom as we wait for the birth of Christ.

Amaryllis is showy and brilliant and puts plants with only green foliage to shame; but they should never be ashamed.  After all, Christ was described as having no physical beauty. Plants with only, or mostly, green foliage have great value. It is the green-foliage in plants that gives oxygen into the atmosphere and adds appreciable to the pleasing environment of our homes.

By the Way: If you are growing amaryllis, be sure not to let the water level go above the top of the root bulb. I’m sure  there is a lesson in Christian living in that; such as don’t drown when you can walk on water with Christ.

As we walk for Christ in 21st century, most of us aren’t showy or even brilliant; we tend to be more quiet and  simple  as we live each day. That doesn’t make us less valuable, it just makes us what we are: a Christian who does his or her part daily for Christ. We raise children in a Christian home, we are a witness in the workplace, we let a driver into the traffic lane in front of us.

Reflection: Perhaps it is more important to walk day-by-day, year-after-year for Christ than  have a brilliant flare.

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, 2/14, Updated 11/28/16

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Winnowing Wheat, Winnowing Us

Girl winnowing wheat

Bible Reference: Matthew 3:12

John the Baptist parable on winnowing described separating chaff from wheat:

His winnowing fan (shovel, fork) is in His hand, and He will thoroughly     clear out and clean His threshing floor and gather and store His wheat in His barn, but the chaff He will burn up with fire that cannot be put out. Matthew 3:13 The Amplified Bible.

John spoke this parable to foretell actions of the coming Messiah (Christ). John preached personal acknowledgement and repentance of sins followed by baptism—full body emersion—in water as an outward sign of repentance. The water of baptism washed sins away. John didn’t stop with his message of repentance and physical act of baptism. John exhorted those baptized to change their behavior and bear fruit consistence with repentance (Luke 3:8-14). When the baptized asked him what they should do, John’s answer wasn’t that they quit their jobs; rather in their lives and jobs, they should act honorably, treat others fairly, and share with the less fortunate. For example, John told men with two tunics to give one to the man who had none. Soldiers should stop accusing people falsely and extorting money from them.

John the Baptist spoke bluntly to the multitudes that came to him for baptism; but reserved his worst denunciations for the Jerusalem’s elite, i.e., Pharisees, Sadducees, and priests. He called them vipers (Luke 3:7). The fierceness of his words, suggests firsthand knowledge of their behavior. Perhaps, when he rotated through the Jerusalem temple as a priest, John saw the excesses, insincerity, and, yes, even corruption that infected the leaders of the Herodian-style Jerusalem temple.

Separating Wheat from Chaff

In ancient Judea, wheat kernels (seed, grain) were separated from the chaff (stalks, straw) on threshing floors. Generally, chaff was unusable except as fodder for livestock. The farmer separated the wheat kernels from the chaff using a process called winnowing. Winnowing consisted of throwing the threshed material (chaff and grain) into the air with a fork or a winnowing basket. The wind separated the valuable grains of wheat from the chaff. Because wheat kernels were heavier than chaff, they fell to the ground. The lighter chaff, dirt, etc., were blown away by the wind. At times, farmers used fans to create air currents to blow chaff and other impurities away from the valuable wheat kernels.

Application

When John the Baptists told the parable of winnowing wheat and chaff, the spiritual reality was that the coming Messiah (Christ) would distinguish or separate the righteous from the unrighteous. Christ would critically analyze peoples’ hearts, not pious actions that were outward displays for show. John said that sincere, righteous individuals – the wheat kernels—would be taken and stored in the farmer’s barn, i.e., heaven. In contrast, the chaff, those with pretend piety, will be forever burned.

Reflection: God is not going to accept any dirt, chaff or straw into his barn. Where does that leave you and me?

Check out http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com books on plants.

Copyright August 11, 2016; all rights reserved.

False Prophets?

Centaurea iberica

Reference:  Matthew 7:15-20.

This teaching is labeled “A Tree and Its Fruit” (NIV-SB). Jesus began with “watch out for false prophets” (Matthew 7:15). Then, he told the crowds the reason for his warning: false prophets were ferocious wolves that acted like gentle sheep. The good news was that people could recognize false prophets by their fruit – by looking at both their words and their actions. Just as a woman cannot pick grapes from thorn bushes or a man pick figs from a thistle, neither can a false prophet produce good fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Although false prophets could appear humble and mild like Christ or even blunt and rough like John the Baptist, their words are full of lies.

When Christ compared the words of false prophets to thorn bushes and thistles he was still teaching in Galilee. Primarily his listeners were from rural areas and small towns who had experience growing and picking grapes and figs. They knew about good and bad vines and productive and non-productive trees. These listeners weren’t surprised when Jesus said that trees that do not bear good fruit are cut down and thrown into the fire. The sooner bad trees were uprooted and destroyed the better. Although newly planted trees take 3-4 years to grow, they have the potential to produce good fruit; with bad trees there was no hope for a good crop. When Christ noted that bad trees were cut down, he was not implying that the people should kill false prophets. Rather, he was saying that the correct response to a false prophet is to stop listening to them.

Spanish Thistle Centaurea iberica, butterfly

The plant associated with the thistle in Matthew 7:15-20 is the Centaurea iberica, known as the Spanish thistle or Iberian star thistle. The Spanish thistle is native to India, the Middle East, and southeastern Europe. Often the thistle is found in disturbed areas including over-grazed lands and construction sites. Seeds are spread by livestock, vehicles, equipment, and contaminated hay and seed crop. Seeds can be transported on clothing. The Spanish thistle grows throughout Israel from the northern Golan and Hermon areas, through the central mountains and plains including the Mediterranean coast to the Northern Negev Desert area. Spanish star thistle is an invasive plant that displaces valuable forage species and space in pasture lands. The plants sharp spines deter grazing animals, impede recreational use, and restrict access for wildlife.

Symbolism: Recognize, Recognition           

Christ told his disciple that plants and prophets could be recognized by what they produce. When we recognize someone, we are familiar with them, distinguish them from others, and comprehend what they do and say. God gave some guiding principles to differentiate between a true versus a false prophet.

First, a true prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ is the son of God in the flesh (1 John 4:3).  In contrast, a false prophet does not acknowledge Jesus as God. When prophets, pastors, or theologians say that it is not important whether Christ was truly God or in some way deny the deity of Christ, they are false prophets.  

Second, false prophets can be recognized by how they respond to and preach the word of God.  True prophets read and obey God’s word (1 John 4:6). They preach the Bible, because it contains God’s truths for personal salvation and for successful everyday life.  In today’s society, the norm is to “spin” information. “Spin” is a form of propaganda that provides an interpretation of an event in order to persuade opinion for or against it. Often spin is disingenuous, deceptive, or manipulative. False prophets spin God’s truths. Believers need to discerningly read the scriptures so they do not get taken in by the words of false prophets.

Third, false prophets can be recognized by sin in their lives. One way to recognize sin is to compare a prophet’s life with The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments identify sins, e.g., coveting, lying, and putting career achievement before God. A prophet who breaks God’s Commandments consistently and without repentance is a false prophet.  

Finally, in the Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus outlined expectations for followers. False prophets have said that these standards are unrealistic, e.g., so high that people cannot meet them. False prophets argued that the moral-ethical standards that Christ described in the Sermon on the Mount will only be achieved when Christ returns to earth the second time. Prophets or pastors who advocate this view are denying Christ’s words. In the Sermon on the Mountain, Christ outlined how individuals should live now, not in the new heaven and the new earth. False prophets sin when they distort God’s word and they provide an instantaneous way for Christians to recognize them.

Reflection. Do you know the Bible well enough to recognize when it is being preached truthfully? If you answered “No,” what are some options?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright: June 22, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

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Mustard Seeds are Small Beginnings

Mustard tree Sara

Read Matthew 13:31-32, 17:19-20, and Luke 17:5-6 for some of Christ’s teachings on mustard trees and seeds.  

Christ used the mustard seed several times in his ministry.  The first time Christ talked about the mustard seed was in a parable about the kingdom of heaven. Christ told the crowd that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, one of the smallest of all seeds. Yet when planted in a field, the seed becomes a large garden plant. Birds come and perch on tree branches. The meaning of this parable is that although the kingdom of heaven begins small, it will expand throughout the entire world. People from all nations will take refuge in it.

On another occasion, Christ used the mustard seed to illustrate faith. In Caesarea Philippi, a man asked Jesus to heal his son who was possessed by a demon (Matthew 17:14-21). Christ’s disciples had tried, but were unable to heal the boy. Christ rebuked the demon and it came out of the child. The disciples asked Christ why they were unable to heal the man’s son. Christ responded that the disciples had too little faith. If they had faith the size of a mustard seed, the disciples could say to a mountain, “Move from here to there” and the mountain would move.  Christ’s point was that nothing – not even casting out a demon — is impossible with enough faith.

The Mustard Plant

Some  scholars and botanists believe that the Biblical mustard seed and tree was the Brassica nigra. Brassica nigra is also known as Sinapis nigra, black mustard, and shortpod mustard. Others believe it was the Salvadora perscia commonly called the toothbrush tree. I favor the Salvadora because it is a larger plant than the black and better able to accommodate birds resting in its branches.  The toothbrush tree grows up to 20 feet in comparison than the much shorter black mustard plant. The mustard tree grows throughout arid Africa and the Middle East. The mustard tree grows in the Judean Desert, Dead Sea Valley (around Ein Gedi) and in southern Israel deserts. Pilgrims to Israel can see the mustard tree growing in the Biblical Landscape Reserve between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Symbolism: Faith

From early Christian times, the mustard seed has been associated with faith. As a young girl, I was given a necklace with a single mustard seed inside a clear heart. The mustard seed was tiny.  It reminded me that if I had even a little faith, nothing was impossible to accomplish as long as it was God’s will for my life. The dictionary defines faith as a firm belief in something or someone for which there is no proof. The implication of that definition is that there is no proof of God. Yet, a popular Christian song says, “I talked to him this morning.”  In fact, I talk to God all the time and God talks to me. He talks to me through the Scriptures, through other people, and through my conscience. God is really good about convicting me of transgressions against his holiness and I appreciate his ongoing discipline. Part of my role in the ongoing dialogue between God and me is wanting God’s input and staying attentive to it. 

Through the work of the Holy Spirit, a small religious group known initially as “The Way” grew into a world-wide religion that has lasted for 2000 years. The disciples of The Way had faith in God and shared their faith with other individuals, who shared their faith with others, who shared their faith with others. Today, we have a world-wide communion of Christian believers. My minister tells us that our present age is more like that of the first and second century Way than any other time in the history of the Church. Christians are no longer in the majority in Westernized countries including Europe, Britain, Australia, and the United States; while, Christians in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia must worship underground and are dying for their Christian faith. The Christian faith is ridiculed and Christians are mocked and declared intolerant.

Individuals who follow The Way should not be surprised by the negative behavior directed toward them. Christ and the early apostles warned us that Christians would be persecuted for their faith (John 15:20; 2 Timothy 3: 12). Our goal during this time of persecution is to have faith, even faith the size of a mustard seed. When we have faith, we can move mountains and trees. With faith we can accomplish great things for Christ and live The Way he taught us to live both by his words and his actions. So what if we are scorned for our Christian faith? So what if we are called bigots, intolerant, etc. for our faith? So what if our careers dead-end for our faith or friendships are lost? Didn’t these same things happen to Christ? There is no reason to think that we, Christ’s servants, will be treated any different from the way our master was treated. A key to a Christian life is to have faith in all circumstances, counting on Christ to not only be the author but the perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Reflection.  How does faith in Christ ease the circumstances of your life?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright January 20, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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