Sunday, December 31, 2017

Block 88 Herod Antipas

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“That day Herod and Pilate became friends; before this time they had been enemies.” Luke 23:12

Upon his death, King Herod the Great had divided his kingdom into four parts and bequeathed the four parts to four of his surviving children (Herod had executed three of his children).  This division was supported by the Roman senate.  Herod Antipas had been given Galilee to rule.  When the siblings travelled to Rome to receive their commissions, Antipas tried to argue that he should be allowed to govern the whole kingdom.  Caesar Augustus did not agree, and ratified the division of the kingdom.  So Antipas started off his rule on a rocky foot with his brothers and sister.
It’s clear that Herod Antipas was not the accomplished builder that his father was, but it is hard to tell whether or not Antipas shared his father’s attitude toward Jesus.  It seemed that Herod Antipas tried to be more sympathetic to Jewish traditions.  He did not have his image minted on the coins, did not build pagan temples and opposed Pontius Pilate in a few minor decisions regarding the palace in Jerusalem.  Antipas traveled to Rome and stayed with his step-brother, Herod II and fell in love with Herod’s wife.  He didn’t let a little problem (he was already married, AND Herodias was his niece) stop him from divorcing his wife and marrying Herodias.  Around the same time, John the Baptist had been traveling and baptizing in the name of Jesus.  He was quite vocal about denouncing Antipas’ marriage, because it was incestuous and because Antipas married Herodias while his brother, Herod II, was still alive.  Antipas was afraid that John’s influence would lead to a rebellion, so he had John imprisoned and later executed. 
John had already baptized Jesus, who had begun his own ministry in Galilee.  When Herod heard of the ministry, he feared that Jesus was John the Baptizer, resurrected from the dead.  This fear increased his motivation to bring an end to Jesus’ ministry.  When Jesus was brought to trial before Pontius Pilate, Pilate recognized that Jesus was from Galilee and should fall under Herod Antipas’ jurisdiction.  Antipas mocked Jesus, but ultimately was afraid to convict him (possibly his experience with John scared him), so he returned Jesus to Pilate for conviction. Antipas and Pilate had been opposed to each other in the past, but in this instance, they seemed united.  Both had the opportunity to release Jesus, and yet, both allowed the prophecy to be fulfilled.

I chose Four Knaves to represent Antipas because King Herod the Great had divided his kingdom into four parts.  Herod Antipas was one of the four children chosen to inherit a portion of the kingdom.


Block 87 Herod the Great

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"They are dead that sought the young child’s life.” Matthew 2:20

The Ne w Testament mentions six different Herods, part of a hereditary dynasty in Israel. But unlike the kings before them, the family Herod were appointed by the Roman emperors.  The first appointed king, Herod the Great ruled from 40BC-4BC.  Edomite by birth, King Herod the Great did not make the list of Jewish kings detailed in the Bible books of Kings or Chronicles.  He was greatly disliked by the Jews  because of his zealous taxes and pro-Roman support.  When Julius Caesar defeated Pompey, Herod’s father, Antipater, supported Caesar and was named procurator of Judea. Mark Antony visited Judea in 41 BC and became good friends with the younger Herod.  Herod later travelled to Rome where the Roman Senate appointed him King of Judea. Herod divorced his wife (Doris) and married a Maccabeen princess (Mariamne) in order to gain the support of the Maccabees (a group of Jewish priests).  Much to his surprise, he came to love Mariamne, but this love did not cause him to embrace the Jews.
During his rule, Herod the Great imposed unreasonable taxes and used the Roman militia to shut down any rebellions. He embraced Greek culture, and forced it on the Jews.  He built a raceway and amphitheater in Jerusalem, and many pagan temples in other cities.  In an effort to regain Jewish favor, he restored and reconstructed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, but chose to build the temple on the site of a Maccabeen temple, which further alienated him from his wife’s family.  The pressure of leading a nation that did not support him took a toll, and Herod became paranoid that the Jews were planning an uprising.  He had his wife and several members of his family executed. Caesar Augustus lost his confidence in Herod’s leadership, and was planning his replacement.  Herod’s paranoia reached its peak when he spoke with three wise men and learned of the of the birth of the Messiah, the King of the Jews. He pretended to want to pay homage to the newborn, but the wise men were suspicious and did not disclose the child’s location.  Herod ordered the execution of all male Jewish babies, but Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus had already escaped to Egypt.  A few days later, Herod was found dead of unknown cause.  Upon Herod’s death, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him that Herod was dead and it was safe to return.
Despite all of his power, Herod could not control his fate.  Once again, God reminds us that HE is in control. 

I chose Greek Cross because of King Herod’s efforts to inflict a Hellenistic (Greek) culture (arts, architecture and pagan religion) on the Jews of Judea.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Block 86 Tiberius

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 "The one who practices sin is of the devil.” 1 John 3:8

Mentioned only once in the Bible, Tiberius, was the only Roman emperor throughout Jesus life.  Like his step-father, Augustus, Tiberius had no love lost for the Jews, but probably knew nothing of Jesus, even though Jesus undoubtedly knew Tiberius.   During the time that Jesus was performing his miracles, Tiberius had vacated the Imperial Palace and was residing in his vacation palace on the Island of Capri.  It was rumored that Tiberius used the privacy of the island to hide his perverse immoral behavior with young men. He typically killed his conquests to remove any evidence of his behavior.  And if you think this is bizarre, it’s nothing compared to the soap story that details Tiberius’ succession to the throne…
While his wife was pregnant (later gave birth to daughter,Julia), Caesar Augustus, first emperor of Rome, divorced her and married another woman who had one son (Tiberius) by her previous marriage and was pregnant with a second son (Drusus).  Tiberius, Drusus and a nephew (Marcellus) were raised in the palace, well-educated and military trained.  Tiberius was battle-tested and ready for the throne when he fell in love and married.  Augustus forced Marcellus to marry Julia.  Marcellus died.  Drusus died.  And Augustus forced Tiberius to divorce his wife and marry Julia. Julia was a promiscuous adulterer, and she made no attempt to honor her new husband.  Tiberius asked for a military assignment to get away from his wife.  August granted the request, and started to look elsewhere for an heir to the throne.  He favored his three grandsons (Julia’s children from previous marriages). One was a wastrel and was exiled away from Rome.  The other two both died, and when Augustus died, Tiberius became emperor. 
 Tiberius was a successful emperor, until his son died, and then he seemed to fall apart.  Tiberius moved to the island of Capri and never returned to Rome.  He contracted a disease that covered his face and body with smelly, oozing sores.  He became paranoid and aggressive.  He built prisons, torture chambers and execution chambers.  His favorite pastime was killing.  With no children of his own, Tiberius was forced to select an heir from one of Julia’s grandsons.  It was a fitting end to his immoral, violent reign.
Augustus and Tiberius were both classic examples of absolute power “corrupting absolutely,”  and Satan just loves the opportunity to corrupt a power-hungry leader.

I chose Broken Paths to represent Tiberius, who traversed a very disconnected path to the throne as the second Roman emperor.

Block 85 Augustus

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"This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet…” Matthew 21:4

Mentioned only once in the Bible, Caesar Augustus unwittingly played a primary roll in the Christ story.  His decree that everyone in the empire should be enrolled in the census (Luke 2:1) fulfilled a Bible prophecy made over six hundred years earlier (Micah 5:2).  Caesar’s goal to increase the Roman coffers ultimately led to the birth of Christ in Bethlehem.  Joseph and Mary were obligated to travel to Bethlehem to register for the census, and the story of Christ began.  It’s extremely ironic that a man who allowed himself to be worshipped as a living god was indirectly responsible for the introduction of the TRUE living God.
As far as emperors go, Caesar Augustus was a pretty good one.  As the grand-nephew of Julius Caesar, Augustus was destined for greatness.  He was the first emperor of the Roman empire, and wanted his reign to be remembered for peace and prosperity.  He commanded a vast, well-trained army that quickly put down any form of insurrection.  Augustus ruled with a heavy hand, and he was feared throughout the lands. In an effort to keep peace throughout the region, Augustus allowed the Jews to keep their religion as long as they toed the line.  Augustus used the increased tax base to build roads and infrastructure and encouraged the cultural advancement of art and literature.  The Sanhedrin were given the authority to govern the Jews.  As long as the Jews were under control and paid their taxes faithfully, they were left alone. 
Thus, the perfect storm was set in motion.  Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem in fulfillment of a 600 year old prophecy.  The savior of the world was born in Bethlehem.  He grew to irritate the Sanhedrin, who feared that Jesus and his followers would draw the attention, and ultimately punishment, of the Roman empire.  The Jewish leaders were more than happy to sacrifice Jesus with hopes that the Roman empire would continue to leave them to their own devices.  But it didn’t quite work out that way.  God had his own plan. 

I chose a variation of the Crown block to represent Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor.  Augustus transformed Rome from a republic to an empire and crowned himself the first Roman emperor.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Block 84 Caiaphas

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As high priest of the temple of Jerusalem, Caiaphas was the Jew’s representative to God.  Caiaphas, alone, was responsible for making annual sacrifices to God in the temple.  Caiaphas was also in charge of the temple coffers, temple guards and lower-ranking priests.  Appointed to the position by his father-in-law, Caiaphas was power hungry and had a good thing going —  a good thing going, until Jesus entered the scene and put a wrench in the works… 
Caiaphas hated Jesus.  HATED Him!  When Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, Caiaphas lost a significant source of revenue.  When Jesus taught in the temple, many Jews began switching their alliance to Jesus rather than Caiaphas.  When Jesus started performing miracles, Jesus continued to whittle away at Caiaphas’s leadership.  So when Jesus resurrected Lazarus, Caiaphas was fed up!  Worried that the Jews would universally rise up to follow Jesus, Caiaphas feared that the Roman emperor would become angered if the taxes and assessments were not paid in full.  So Caiaphas did the unthinkable.  He gathered the other priests and developed a scheme to have Jesus arrested and executed.  The degree of Caiaphas’s hatred can be measured in the Jewish laws that he broke to bring Jesus to trial.  After his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was brought to trial during a feast time (a big no-no). Priests were not given the chance to vote on Jesus’s fate privately, rather Caiaphas forced a public affirmation.  Jesus was sentenced to death in less time than accorded by Mosaic law.  The Jews exceeded their authority to execute prisoners. Jesus was denied legal representation.  Jesus was asked to incriminate himself, against Mosaic law.   Jesus’s trial was rigged to result in a guilty version.  Caiaphas knew it; Jesus knew it, and went along with it.  The execution of an innocent man fulfilled the Divine plan, and Caiaphas was merely an evil pawn in the plan. 
Hatred is evil.  It is a tool used by Satan to steer us away from God and His love.  We must always stay on guard against anyone and everyone who espouse hatred directed toward others.  God is LOVE, and we cannot fully receive His love if we harbor hatred for others in our hearts.  The only hatred we should hold onto is hatred of sin.

I chose the Swastika block to represent Caiaphas.  The Swastika is a symbol of one of the most hated men in human history, so it fittingly represents Caiaphas’ deep and unreasonable hatred for Jesus.


Block 83 Pilate

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"What is truth?” John 18:38

Probably the greatest coward in Bible history was responsible in helping Jesus fulfill the Divine plan.  Pontius Pilate was appointed Roman governor of Judea by Roman Emperor Tiberius 26 AD.  His responsibilities included tax collection, supervision of building construction, and maintaining law and order, which included being the sole judge and jury with the power to sentence criminals to death.  There was no love lost between Pilate and the Jews.  He loved to antagonize them, and in return, they hated and distrusted Pilate.  He was described (by the Jews) as being cruel and greedy.  Luke describes and incident (Luke 13:1) where Pilate was responsible for the slaughter of a group of Jews from Galilee. 
So when Jesus was brought before Pilate for sentencing, he found himself caught between a rock and a hard place.  Frequently in trouble with Roman authorities, Pilate wanted to get things “right.”  The Sanhedrin were calling for Jesus to be crucified, but Pilate was uncertain of His guilt. Pilate questioned Jesus, searching for the truth.  But in fact, Pilate was standing in the presence of “the way, the truth and the life.”  John 14:6.  Pilate was not aware that Jesus was the Truth, but he knew that Jesus did nothing to deserve the death penalty. The Jewish leaders continued to apply pressure.  Pilate’s wife interpreted a dream, warning Pilate to release Jesus.  The Jewish crowd was ready to riot.  What should the governor do?  Ultimately, Pilate washed his hands of the situation.  He turned the decision over to the Jews, letting them choose between Jesus and hardened criminal, Barabbas.  And we all know how the Jews responded.  It is unclear how Pilate came to die in 39AD.  Some stories say that the Roman emperor ordered Pilate’s death; other stories say that Pilate committed suicide. 
How many times have we been put in a situation where public or peer pressure makes it difficult for us to do the right thing?  How many times have we looked the Truth in the face, yet caved to that pressure?

I chose Stone Mason’s Puzzle to represent Pontius Pilate.  A stone was found in 1961 in an archaeological dig that provided evidence of Pilate’s existence, which in turn gives credence to the crucifixion story in the Bible.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Block 82 Lazarus (beggar)

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"…but now he is comforted, and you are in agony." Luke 16:25

Jesus has always been a champion of the underdog.  So it is no surprise that in many of his parables, the underdog comes out on top.  The same is true for the parable of Lazarus the beggar (not to be confused with Jesus’ dear friend, Lazarus).
Lazarus’s body was covered in sores.  He was dying slowly.  Each day, he rested outside a wealthy man’s gates, happy for whatever scraps would be thrown  his way.  But the rich man had no concern for Lazarus.  With each day that passed, Lazarus became weaker and weaker.  Eventually, his body surrendered and Lazarus died.  Angels delivered Lazarus to heaven to stand beside Abraham.  Shortly after, the rich man died and he was delivered to the depths of hell.  The rich man appealed to Abraham, asking that Lazarus be sent to wait on him and help him cool off.  He also asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers about sinful behaviors and the punishment that awaited them.  Abraham denied both requests. Abraham knew that the brothers had denied the scripture and would be unlikely to believe a messenger.  Abraham responded to the rich man, reminding him that in life, he enjoyed comfort, while Lazarus lived in agony, and now in death, the roles are reversed. 
Reversed roles, for good reason.  In life, the wealthy man rejected the Gospel, so in death, God rejected him.  A rich man can’t buy his way into heaven.  God gives wealth with the expectation that it is used to better humanity.  This is exactly what Jesus meant when he said, “the last will be first and the first will be last.”  Matthew 20:16.

I chose Beggars Blocks to represent Lazarus, a beggar who was rewarded greatly for his steadfast faith.