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Sermon illustrations

The Ancient World

Comparing the Genesis Creation Account with their Neighbors

The Jews were not the only religious people in the ancient world. There were others, such as the Akkadians, Egyptians, and Phoenicians, and they had their own creation stories.

When one compares the biblical creation story with these other creation stories, a number of critical differences rise to the surface.

For example, the biblical creation story is the only one that contends that matter — creation, people, the world, everything — is intrinsically good. In other creation stories, the world is essentially bad. Another difference is the role of women in creation.

In an ancient context where men, rulers, and kings alone bore God’s image, the biblical story depicts a world in which men and women are created in God’s image. Among patriarchal societies, no other sacred text held such a high view of women as the Hebrew Bible. Third, consider God’s invitation to rest on the seventh day.

In other ancient Near Eastern creation myths, people were created for the purpose of being worked to the bone to accomplish the fiats of the gods; this was particularly the paradigm of the Egyptians.  Unlike those other gods, however, Yahweh commands that humanity is to work hard and rest well. In no other creation narrative do the gods provide this kind of rest to creation. No other god gave a break. No other god carries the well-being of creation as close to the heart as this One. Again, imagine what first impression that would have given to the Akkadians, Egyptians, and Phoenicians about the God of the Bible and the people who worshiped him.

Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, Kindle Location 351.

Differences in Economics from the Ancient World to Ours

At this point in the discussion some will remark that the Old Testament says a good deal about being prosperous and even occasionally speaks about wealth, but not about money per se. That is the case because ancient economies were not money-based economies, and they were certainly not free market capitalist economies…money was beginning to play a larger economic role in Jesus’s era, but even then it operated mainly within the context of a barter or “bargain and exchange” economy. Money was used for paying taxes and tolls, but less frequently for everyday business.

There is another huge factor often overlooked in discussions of what the Bible says about money and wealth. All ancient economies, especially those of major empires and powers, were dependent on slave labor. One estimate even suggests that by the time Paul and Peter visited Rome in the 60s AD, 50 percent of all the workers in the city were slaves. Today we may jest that working for minimum wage is “slave labor,” but slave labor was literally predominant in the ancient biblical world…the point is that there are vast differences between our own world and the economic world in which the Bible was written. If we are to properly understand the key New Testament texts about money, we need to keep in mind the fundamental factors that economically distinguished those cultures from ours.

Ben Witherington III, Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis, Brazos Press.

The Origin of the Word “Sincere”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always enjoyed hearing stories about the origins of certain words. One of these words is the “sincere.” While there are some questions about the history’s authenticity (ironic, given the word in question) nevertheless it makes for a good illustration. As you may remember from your old Western Civilization courses, the Romans were especially fond of Greek culture (especially after their conquests of much of modern-day Greece) and Greek imports became all the rage among Upper Class Romans. Greek marble sculpture in particular was one of the most highly sought-after treasures of Greek society.

Because many of the sculptures were already a few hundred years old, many were damaged. Traders discovered that if they placed wax in the damaged parts of the sculptures, they looked like new. But of course, over time, the wax would harden and change color to an ugly yellow, thereby exposing the inauthentic parts of the sculptures. Thus, after a while, vendors needed to differentiate their complete works from those held together with wax. To do this they would mark the undamaged statues as being sine, the Latin word for “without” and then cera, the Latin word for “wax”. Sine cera, without wax.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

A Watchman at the Gate

Editor’s Note: The following was an imagination exercise used while preaching on Matthew 24:36-44, I began by inviting the congregation to close their eyes.

Imagine you are a watchmen (or woman) standing guard of an ancient city. You are currently under siege, because, as you may know, most ancient battles took the form of a siege, with a foreign army camped outside your city, you, inside the city are protected by your gates, your city walls, but they are waiting, hoping, praying, that you will give up because you have run out of water and food. 

You’ve been on guard for 32 straight days and the work is getting to you, you hope that the invaders will give up, but you don’t really know if you have enough supplies before your sister city can bring reinforcements, but will they have the courage to face such a formidable foe?

And so really, more than anything this has become your new normal, it’s slightly boring, monotonous, just watching, hoping they don’t try to enter by your entrance to the city. And so, you just kind of doze off, you didn’t mean to, but you’ve been doing this for over a month now and it just kind of happened. 

You wake up to the sound of grapples catching the top of the bulwarks and the sound of crashing lumber, as ladders clank against the wall. All of sudden, the monotony of the last 32 days has been transformed into the most desperate, intense moment of your life, as you realize you have fallen asleep and everything is about to change.

This is a glimpse of the picture Jesus is painting in this morning’s passage (Matthew 24:36-44).

The picture of the second coming is one where normal life that is interrupted in a moment, and then everything changes, and the question is: how will we respond.

Stuart Strachan Jr.