A daily devotional walking through God's word together using The Bible Reading Plan at http://www.bible-reading.com/bible-plan.html. Our website http://alittlewalkwithgod.com.
Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.
One of our favorite places to visit is Williamsburg, Virginia. I remember one of first times my wife and I visited my daughter was still an infant and we visited as an anniversary present to ourselves. That meant it was December in Williamsburg. It was a great time to be there with all the Christmas decorations and the smell of baked goods in the air. But it was also bitterly cold. I had our daughter bundled up and then stuff in my coat. Most of the shopkeepers were a little surprised when I would begin to unwrap all the scarves and gloves and layers of stuff and suddenly this squirmy little six-month old bundle of flesh poked its head out to look around the store.
We enjoyed the little village a lot. We liked the food. We liked the reenactment of life in the early days of the settlement. We eagerly watched the way things were done with no electricity, no running water, none of the conveniences we have today. It’s really fascinating to watch and sometimes participate in the making of things we just take for granted today. Things as simple as making a cup of tea. I walk to the sink fill up a cup, pop a tea bag in it and often just stick in the microwave for a minute and viola, I have a piping hot cup of tea. But in 1750 Williamsburg making a cup of tea was a process.
Chop firewood for the stove. Assuming of course you already chopped down a tree in the forest to have a cord or so of firewood to chop. Build a fire in your Franklin stove. Go to the well and pull up a bucket of water. Put the water on the stove and wait for the stove and the pot to get hot enough to heat the water to boiling. Find the tin of tea and put a few dried leaves in a strainer if you’re a little on the wealthy side or just put them in the cup if not. Pour the boiling water into the cup and let it steep for a few minutes. Then carefully drink the tea trying to avoid moving the cup too fast so you don’t also get a mouthful of tea leaves in the process.
I’m beginning to understand why they always had afternoon tea in those days. It’s probably because it took all morning to get everything ready to make those couple of cups of tea for that small social gathering.
One of the most fascinating things to me about that era, though, is the craftsmanship of the journeymen in the various trades. Many of those buildings are as sturdy today as they were then because of the skill of the masons who laid the brick and stone in those walls. They have stood undisturbed for three hundred years and it looks like they will stand that much longer without a problem. The furniture is equally well crafted. And they didn’t have the glues and epoxies and fasteners we have today. They just cut everything to exact measurements and fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle so that they went together perfectly and would not come apart. It took incredible skill with only hand tools at their disposal to do the things they did.
Well, one of the most interesting shops we visit when we go to Williamsburg is that of the silversmith. Here you find some of the most intricate designs on candlesticks, silver sets, tableware, platters, door knockers, all sorts of things used around the house. Silver is not a plentiful ore, but is not impossible to find either. And the craftsmen that work with it can do some incredible things with it. In the silversmith shop, though, you can learn some important truths that help us understand scripture a little better.
Here we are in the second week of Advent. Yesterday’s lectionary readings included a passage from Malachi that said the Messiah would come as a refiner’s fire. I heard that term growing up and knew that refiners worked with the ore that held precious metals like gold and silver, but that was about the extent of my knowledge… Until I talked to a silversmith in Williamsburg. You see, a silversmith and a goldsmith use a refiner’s fire every day. They depend on it to purify the ore or the silver ingots they purchase from miners. They want the purest metals when they work because any impurities will cause flaws in the final product. Their trays or cups or mirrors or pitchers or whatever else they might be making will not shine or be as smooth or as perfect as they want.
So how do they make their material pure? I had to ask the question. And the answer is by putting the ore into the a crucible and subjecting it to the refiner’s fire. It super heats the metal until all the impurities burn away. What’s left in the crucible is the pure silver or pure gold. And how does the refiner know that all the impurities have burned away? He just peaks into the crucible and looks at his reflection in the metal. When his reflection is absolutely clear, no spots, no waves, no ripples, just a pure, clean reflection of his face, he knows all the impurities have burned out. The silver is pure.
Malachi says the Lord will come as a refiner’s fire. He will purify the tribe of Levi. But scripture also tells us we priests when we accept him as savior. Why? Because we are commanded to spread the good news that he came to forgive sins. He came to sacrifice himself for our atonement. He came to die that we might live. He came to show us who God is. He came and died and rose again and told us he would return to take his followers back to heaven with him.
He also came to cleanse us. To purify us. To make us new and remove the stains of our old life and recreate us in his image. He came to show us how to live in community with God and with each other. He came to give us a new covenant. A new Way to live. New directions. New joy. A legacy of internal peace in an external world of chaos. He came to be more than just a good teacher or a mysterious prophet. He came. God incarnate. Immanuel. God with us. A refiner’s fire.
Malachi also says he will come like fuller’s soap. There is another one of those terms that pops up in ancient times that we know little about in our modern society. So what is fuller’s soap? It’s not easy to discover. The first places I searched likened a fuller to a launderer, but in ancient times, there were no laundries like we think about them today. Families did their own laundry in the rivers, lakes, and streams around the cities where they lived. Or they had slaves do it for them. Sometimes for really stubborn dirt or stains, they would use a large kettle filled with water heated over a fire and a stick or paddle became the agitator in the kettle much like in our washing machines today.
The second line of thinking is that a fuller worked with the wool from sheep. When the wool is removed in shearing, it’s not very clean. Sheep graze in the fields, are subject to the weather and whatever environment they live in, so their wool get tangled and dirty as it grows. The only time it really gets any attention before shearing is when it rains and natures washes some of the crud out of it. So the sheared wool goes to the fuller, whose job is to scrub the wool with soap to clean and untangle it so it can be made into yarn for making cloth.
The soap was a mixture of a kind of clay called fuller’s clay and ashes. This alkaline mixture served to bleach cloth and other materials as much as to clean them, but because of the alkaline properties, it did kill most of the bacteria and so helped keep populations a little healthier when used for cleaning, bathing, washing clothing, and so forth. In our early American history, the fuller’s soap would be akin to our lye soap and used much the same way. It was a very harsh, but effective means of bleaching and therefore cleaning clothing.
So whether we are talking about the soap used by a family to clean their limited articles of clothing or a person who cleans and prepares the sheared wool for further use, the fuller’s soap in ancient Israel was the stuff Granny Clampett used to scrub the hide off Jethro when he needed his Saturday afternoon bath. A harsh, rough on your skin, bleach like soap used to scrub anything that needed a lot more than just hot water to get it clean.
The Lord comes like fuller’s soap ready to scrub the toughest pots and pans to get the crud out. He comes like fuller’s soap to make sure that stuff behind the ears is gone. He comes to make sure that smidge of dirt under the fingernails disappears. He comes to get rid of the pesky buildup in the corner of the closet that nothing seems to reach. He brings the fuller’s soap to scrub inside and out so there is nothing left but purity. It’s cleaning power is better than Pinesol or Ajax or Mr. Clean. The stuff he brings gets the job done right.
Well, Malachi prophesied about his coming. And Jesus came. The Messiah was born in a little town called Bethlehem. Enough historical facts have now been uncovered by the scientific world to show the man, Jesus lived and died. Many don’t want to believe the rest of the story. But Jesus fulfilled so many of the prophecies of the Old Testament that the odds that he is not the Messiah have been calculated. In fact, one scholar shows that Jesus fulfilled 456 prophecies. The odds of that happening is a number we cannot begin to fathom. A mathematics professor at Westmont College gave 600 students a probability problem to determine the odds of one person fulfilling just eight, and the odds were 10^17. That 10 with 17 zeros behind it.
So what is that number like? Suppose that we take 10^17 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They’ll cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up the one silver dollar that has the special mark on it. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would’ve had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time. It would take more than 20 million years to reach that number counting as fast as you can.
But the professor didn’t stop there. He then went on to look at 48 prophecies fulfilled by Jesus during his lifetime. Remember, some have shown Jesus fulfilled 456, but the odds of one man fulfilling 48 four-hundred year old prophecies is 10^157. That’s 10 with 157 zeros behind it. We can’t think in those terms. Those odds are so far beyond our comprehension they are laughable. Is Jesus the Messiah? Don’t take my word. Look at the math. What are the odds he is not? Go find that marked silver dollar blindfolded and tell me what you think!
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.