Definition of Discipleship

In a perfect world everyone who takes the name of Christian would be a disciple. Being a Christian should be synonymous with being totally devoted to our Lord Jesus Christ. Unfortunately that is simply not the case. This is not a new problem either. Perhaps one could point to watered down religion or just too many choices of things to do outside of church for the root of this problem. The truth is though that even Jesus had people who followed Him but were not His disciples.

In John 6, the chapter begins with thousands of people gathered to hear Jesus speak and the feeding of the 5,000. Once Jesus began to offer the difficult teaching about the bread of life, many people left Him. When Jesus asked the Twelve if they would leave Him too, Peter responds in John 6:68-69, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

To understand who or what a true disciple is, we must set aside semantics for a moment and separate followers from true disciples. A follower is like a casual fan of a sports team. They are happy when their team wins and sad when they lose. But win or lose, life goes on and by the next day everything is pretty much back to normal. A fanatic’s life revolves around their sports team though. They are ecstatic when they win and devastated when they lose. The performance of their favorite team will definitely affect their mood the following day.

In terms of Christianity, God wants fanatics, not just casual followers. Our entire life should be invested in church so that we are very interested in its success. The major difference between following sports and following the Lord is that following sports is passive. No matter what a fan does, they won’t affect the outcome for their team. Church is active however. What we do as Christians absolutely has an effect on how our church performs. If our church isn’t doing well, it should bother us enough that we want to do something to improve the situation.

When Jesus instructed people to follow Him, He did not want observers who had an interest in what He was doing. He wanted people whose lives would be totally devoted to what He did. He didn’t just want people who would watch what He did; He wanted people who would do what He did. In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out His disciples to perform miracles and to do the things that He did. This wasn’t just reserved for the twelve men who are formally known to us as disciples. Jesus later sent out a group of seventy two to whom He gave similar instructions.

Jesus was never quiet about what it would take to be a true disciple. In Conditions of Discipleship there are numerous verses that tell us that a person must be completely devoted to Jesus if they are to be a disciple. Nothing is to come before Jesus, including personal possessions and even family. Moreover a person must take up their cross daily and hold fast to the teachings of Jesus. Being a disciple is not a onetime event but a lifetime of work.

There are three main requirements to being a disciple.

  •  A disciple knows what God expects
  • A disciple does what God expects
  • A disciple teaches others so that they know what God expects and then does it

We can’t be an effective disciple if we have no idea what God expects of us. So a disciple must be diligent in the study of God’s Word. This means more than simply attending church on Sunday morning. Personal study is needed to truly understand God’s will for our lives. We wouldn’t be in good physical shape if we only ate once a week. It is the same case with our spiritual condition. Hearing a sermon once a week will not leave us spiritually well fed.

Simply knowing what God expects is not enough to make us disciples however. It needs to be applied. This happens both consciously and subconsciously. Consciously, we realize that a certain behavior is expected of us and we make corrections in our life to conform with those expectations. Subconsciously, by hearing the examples of love in the Bible over and over again, we understand that this is normal for a Christian and become more loving without thinking about it. The adage “one bad apple ruins the whole bunch” works in the opposite direction as well. By being around other Christians who are living out God’s Word, we are trained to live it as well.

The third requirement is critical to discipleship. It is possible to be a very godly person by following God’s commands but if God’s commands are not shared with others, Christianity is only one generation from extinction. Fortunately we have the Great Commission. One of the commands that we have is to go and make disciples. If we are obeying God’s commands we will be making more disciples.

Being a disciple is not an easy task. It is more than simply following, it takes hard work and devotion. Jesus Christ must come above everything else in life. A disciple must learn the commands of God, then they must obey them. Finally a disciple passes that knowledge onto others and helps them to obey the commands as well.

The Difference Between the Average Christian and the Pastor

For better or worse, all Christians are under the same pressure as the pastor to live the Christian life as well as they can, most just don’t realize the responsibility.  You’ve probably heard it said as often as I have that people don’t want to have anything to do with Christianity because they are hypocrites.  Fair or unfair that is the impression that a number of people have of Christianity.

When pastors fall from grace, it is high profile.  The media will latch onto the story and carry it wherever they can go with it.  It is bad publicity for the Christian community.  But the truth is that most people do not judge Christianity based on the slipups of a few wayward pastors.  They may read about the sins of a pastor but they are most likely to judge Christianity based on what they have experienced from Christians.  That means the average person in the pew goes much further in shaping others opinions on Christianity than a pastor because the average person knows many Christians but not many pastors.

Pastors are held to a higher standard by people who know them.  People expect a pastor to be “holier” than them.  But the non-Christian world isn’t basing their view of Christianity on pastors, they are basing it on the average Christian in the pew.

Paul instructed his readers to imitate him.  Paul writes just this in 1 Corinthians 4:16, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me.”  As a pastor, Paul knew that everyone was looking to him as an example.  He could only set this example so much as he imitated Christ however.  In the end, Christ is the standard for all of us.  Others will judge Christianity based on what we do for better or worse, whether we are pastors or average Christians.  All we can do is do our best to imitate Christ in all that we do.

The Cost of Discipleship

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Matt. 4:19

It should come as no surprise that as Jesus called His disciples, He had some expectations for them.  The same expectations that Jesus had for His disciples, He has for us now.  They are lofty and not easily met.  Nevertheless, if we want to be disciples of Jesus, we must strive to meet them as they are the conditions of discipleship that Jesus gave us.

Self-denial

Matt. 10:38 – …and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Matt. 16:24 – Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Mark 8:34 – Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Luke 9:23 – Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Luke 14:27 – And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

To be a disciple of Jesus means self-denial.  This means doing things that we don’t always want to do and going places where we don’t always want to go.  Even Jesus had to deny Himself as the road to the cross was not one that He would have chosen for Himself.  This is why He prays for the Father to take the cup from Him but ultimately decides “not My will but Yours.”

Renunciation

Matt. 19:21 – Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Mark 10:21 – Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Luke 18:22 – When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Some preachers are preaching a gospel that is very different from the one that Jesus taught.  They teach that a person with faith only needs to ask and God will make them prosperous.  Instead Jesus taught us to renounce the pursuit of material wealth and concentrate on following Him.

Leaving all

Mark 10:28 – Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”

Luke 14:26 – “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life — he cannot be my disciple.

Matt. 8:22 – But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Luke 9:59 – He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Luke 9:61 – Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.”

Luke 14:33 – In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Jesus does not actually advocate hating one’s family but is rather stating what our priority should be.  Jesus Christ comes first in our lives, ahead of everything else, including family.  Those who want to follow Jesus but still hold onto other priorities that are equally important to them are not really following Jesus.

What Makes Education Christian?

Christian education is a very broad topic.  In general, Christian education could be considered any education that is based upon a Christian worldview or teaches Christian principles.  The word intentionally should be added to this definition however.  Even our public school system teaches some Christian values such as honesty and integrity without endorsing Christianity as they are generally accepted good traits.  Moreover, because the US has a Christian heritage there will always be some Christian principles taught even if they aren’t acknowledged as Christian in origin.

What is Christian education will vary based on the context of whether it takes place in a school setting or within a church.  In formal education it is impossible to make math Christian but overall the school may strive to grow students into mature Christians.  This would make it a Christian school and one would receive a Christian education there.  In the context of a church, Christian education should only have one goal, make fully functional disciples of Christ.

There are four things that separate Christian education from other types of education – people, purposes, products, and processes.  In respect to people, Christian education is different because it involves Christians.  Christians are the students and more mature Christians are the teachers.  This can be found in any public school in America however, so that is not all that is required.  The most important person in Christian education is the Lord.  God is involved in the education of Christians, both as the subject of the education and as the giver of spiritual gifts.  The spiritual gifts are then used for the glory of God, completing the circle.

The purpose of Christian education is different because it involves the reconciliation of our relationship with God.  All Christians have already been forgiven and that part of our relationship with God has already been restored.  However we continue to sin and need to continue to ask for forgiveness.  We are taught to seek God in prayer and to worship Him.  The more we do this, the more we attain spiritual maturity.

The products of Christian education is brought as a result of the purpose of Christian education.  As a believer is brought into maturity, they will worship the Lord more deeply and whole heartedly.  As they attain maturity, they will seek out others to pass on their knowledge and begin the discipleship process over again, this time as the teacher.

The final thing that makes education Christian is the processes.  This is probably the biggest separation from secular and Christian education.  The Bible is the core textbook in Christian education.  The people are devoted to one another in a way that is not found in normal teaching.  As a result of using the Bible as the authoritative textbook, the education is Christ-centered and focused on the disciplines that Jesus taught.

Elijah: a shining light in a dark time

The prophet Elijah plays a pivotal role in Old Testament history despite the fact that he doesn’t have a book of the Old Testament that bears his name like many other important prophets.  Aside from being a prophet, Elijah is one of the few people who performed miracles in the Bible.

Although we see miracles throughout the Bible, God is the one who performs the vast majority of them.  Miracles performed by people only come in three eras – Moses & Joshua, Eljiah & Elisha, Jesus & the disciples.  With his miracles Elijah foreshadows the ones that Jesus would perform.  It is no coincidence that Jesus is actually called Elijah as some considered His coming to be a return of Elijah.  Theologically it is not the same as Elijah never claimed to be the Son of God and that alone is a drastic enough difference to stop any discussion in that regard.  However the two are similar in their miracles and it is certainly noteworthy that Elijah never experiences death.

Elijah ministered in the northern kingdom during some of its darkest years under King Ahab.  He would serve as one of the remnant that remained faithful to the Lord during this era.  This didn’t mean that his faith was unwavering however.  Even he had times when he doubted himself and what was going on.

In 1 Kings 17 Elijah tells King Ahab that it will not rain for the next few years unless he commands it.  For some time after this Elijah was fed by ravens and drank from a brook that he stayed near.  Because of the drought though, the brook dried up and God instructed him to go to Zarephath.

In Zarephath Elijah encountered a widow and asked her to bring him some bread.  She had a little flour and olive oil however.  Elijah told her to make bread and that flour and oil wouldn’t run out until the Lord sent rain upon the land once again.  Sometime later the widow’s son died.  Elijah cried out to the Lord and brought the son back to life.

There is probably no more important story in the life of Elijah than 1 Kings 18.  It is here that Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal on top of Mount Carmel.  A challenge is proposed where Elijah and the prophets of Baal each build an altar with a sacrifice upon it.  They will then call upon their god and the one who sends fire from heaven will be acknowledged as the true god.

As expected, Baal never responds to the prophets.  Elijah then proceeded to taunt them and their beliefs by implored them to shout louder because maybe their god was asleep or away.  The prophets worked themselves into a frenzy even slashing themselves with swords in a vain attempt to get the attention of their god.

After this, Elijah built his altar.  For good measure he soaked the wood and everything around it with water which would have been very scarce after three years of no rain.  When Elijah called upon the Lord fire came down from heaven and consumed not only the sacrifice but the wood, the stone altar, and even the water that had filled the trench surrounding the altar.  The people immediately turned on the prophets of Baal and Elijah ordered them to kill all 450 prophets there.  As the prophets were slaughtered rain returned to the land, a small cloud appearing in the distance.

Queen Jezebel, who is even more wicked than King Ahab, vows to kill Elijah for having done this to her prophets of Baal.  This sets Elijah scurrying in fear for his life.  He enters into a depression and asks the Lord to let him die because he is exhausted from running and because he is the only prophet of God left.

The Lord encourages Elijah by assuring him that there are still 7000 people remaining in Israel who have not bowed to Baal.  As a matter of encouragement, Elijah is given two things.  The first is that he’s told to anoint a new king.  This obviously was an indication that Ahab and Jezebel’s days were numbered and God would remove them from power.  On a personal level, Elijah is given a successor as well.  He goes and meets Elisha who immediately leaves all that he has to follow Elijah.  While Elijah struggled with thoughts that he was the only follower of God left, God gives him someone who will be with him until the end.

In 2 Kings 2, it is time for Elijah to leave.  We don’t know how old Elijah was at this time.  It is possible that Elijah was at the end of a normal lifespan and God chose to spare him from death.  It is also possible that age is just starting to take its toll and Elijah was slowing down.  It would seem that whatever the reason Elijah is being taken to heaven at this time, Elisha has completed his mentorship and is ready to take over for him.

It appears that Elijah knows that it is time for him to be called to heaven, and for that matter everyone else apparently knows as well.  As Elijah and Elisha enter several towns, prophets from each town inform Elisha that Elijah was leaving that day.  Elijah seems to want to leave quietly but Elisha will not leave his side.

Finally as the time draws near for Elijah to go, he asks Elisha if there is anything that can be done before he leaves.  Like Solomon once responded wisely to the Lord when offered a free gift, Elisha responds wisely.  He asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.

Shortly after, chariots of fire come out of heaven and Elijah is carried away in a whirlwind.  All that is left is Elijah’s cloak which Elisha picks up.  As he returns it is apparent that Elijah’s spirit was resting upon Elisha.  The Old Testament records Elisha performing twice as many miracles as Elijah did which shows the double portion of Elijah’s spirit that he requested has come upon him.  2 Kings records many miracles of Elisha including some that were similar to Elijah’s.  Elisha carries on Elijah’s work with the help of his spirit and of course the hand of the Lord.

The Kingdom of God

One of the main subjects that Jesus teaches about is the Kingdom of God.  It is the subject of most of His parables.  The disciples want to know who will be the greatest in the Kingdom.  And yet there is a lot of confusion about what the Kingdom of God is.

As you read through the gospels you’ll see the phrase “the Kingdom of God” used quite often.  In Matthew it is also called the Kingdom of Heaven.  This probably adds to the confusion on the subject as well.  If nothing else, we can at least say that we are in good company because the disciples didn’t have a good grasp on what the Kingdom of God was either.

The disciples understand that Jesus was a king.  They grasp that He is the Messiah.  The problem begins when they combine the two ideas together.  There was an ancient expectation that the Messiah would be a king who would reign on David’s throne.  And this expectation wasn’t wrong, it just missed the cross.  Jesus will reign as an earthly king but first He had to go to the cross and that is what the disciples – and basically everyone else – missed.

Our confusion on the Kingdom of God lies mostly in when and where its fulfillment will be.  Is it a present or future event?  A careful reading of scripture indicates that there are actually what we might consider to be three manifestations of the Kingdom of God.

To begin with, there is indication that the Kingdom of God began with Jesus’ coming or at least once His ministry began.  Matthew 12:28 says:

But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Jesus was driving out demons and He didn’t say that this was an indication that the Kingdom would come, but that it had come.  Similarly Matthew 21:31 says:

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”“The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

Once again, Jesus teaches the Kingdom of God as a present day reality.  Tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom of God ahead of the Jewish leaders.  It was not something that would happen in the future but was already occurring in Jesus’ day.

Despite indications that the Kingdom of God was present with Jesus, there are reasons to believe that it was also future.  John the Baptist began preaching about Jesus’ coming.  In Matthew 3:1-2 we see:

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.

Of course John’s preaching could have been fulfilled as soon as Jesus’ ministry began.  But then Jesus goes and preaches the same message.  Mark 1:14-15 says:

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

So Jesus also taught that the Kingdom of God was near, not that it was already present.  Just in case one thinks there’s a possibility that the Kingdom of God doesn’t actually begin until Jesus’ first miracle (which was probably after this passage in Mark), we find the same message repeated later in Jesus’ ministry.  When He sends out the seventy two, he gives them these instructions in Luke 10:8-11:

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ 

But should we interpret the Kingdom of God is near the same way that we interpret Jesus is returning soon?  We know that soon has been two thousand years and Jesus hasn’t returned yet.  We know that time for God is not the same as it is for us.  We are given a clear indication that near meant near as we commonly understand it.  After Peter’s confession of Christ, Jesus says this to the disciples in Luke 9:27:

I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.

So, we have a very strong indication that the Kingdom of God would occur within a short number of years.  We know historically that John was the youngest of the group and he lived the longest.  Yet even he died around the turn of the first century.  So this would be our timeframe for the Kingdom of God to arrive.

Despite these indicators, there is still more evidence that the Kingdom of God is still a future event.  Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of God numerous times within His parables.  Many of these parables can be interpreted within a present context or they could be referring to future events.  But some parables are probably best understood in a future context.  In Matthew 22 Jesus relates the Kingdom of God to a wedding banquet.  Later in Matthew 25 He gives the parable of the ten virgins who waited for the bridegroom to come.  Some were prepared with oil and some weren’t.  The unprepared ones didn’t make it to the wedding banquet and Jesus closes the story with the warning in Matthew 25:13:

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

We have other indications that the Kingdom of God is still future as well.  At the last supper, Jesus said in Mark 14:25: “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.”

We have every reason to believe that this is still future and that Jesus was not just talking about what would take place a couple of days later after His crucifixion and resurrection.

Likewise, Jesus gives a clear indication that the Kingdom of God was still future.  In the Mount Olivet Discourse, Jesus lays out prophecy of what will be the signs of the end of the age.  To close, Jesus gives them a parable in Luke 21:29-31:

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

So, with all of this in mind, when is the Kingdom of God?  The answer is that it came in the past, is here in the present, and will be fulfilled in the future.  The Kingdom of God first arrived with either the birth of Jesus or the beginning of his ministry.  It came to be fulfilled more fully with the coming of the Holy Spirit in the church age.  Finally, it will be literally fulfilled in the future when there is a literal kingdom that Jesus reigns over from David’s throne.

Does this make any sense?  Is it a fair interpretation to say that the Kingdom of God came three times?  Perhaps it is best explained with an illustration.  I’ll even use an illustration that Jesus used but I’ll use it in a different way.  Imagine going to a modern wedding banquet.  When you show up, not everyone is there yet but they’re serving appetizers at least.  If for some reason you have to leave at this point, you might say that you were at the banquet but you also know that you didn’t really experience the full party.  This was the Kingdom of God while Jesus was here on earth.  The party has started but it’s not in full swing yet.

The next thing at the wedding banquet is when they start serving the meal but it’s only the first course, the soup and salad.  Yes, you’ve been at the banquet and you’ve tasted the meal  but everyone knows this isn’t what you’re here for.  The real meal is still to come.  This is the church age.  We get a taste of the meal with the coming of the Holy Spirit, but this isn’t the full thing.  It isn’t what everyone really came for.

Finally, the main course comes.  Everyone eats their fill of the meal, they participate in festivities such as the toast and the tossing of the bouquet.  And there is dancing.  The party is in full swing finally.  This is the future Kingdom of God when Christ returns and establishes His kingdom.

We would be accurate in saying that the Kingdom of God arrived with the coming of Jesus.  We’d also be accurate in saying that the Kingdom of God is present in the church age.  Only in the future will we see all of the benefits of the Kingdom of God.

The Nation of Israel Splits

The nation of Israel has only been a nation for a very short length of time compared to how long the people of Israel have been around.  Over 4000 years ago, around 2000 BC, is the time that Abraham walked the earth and God made His covenant with him.  The Israelites, descendants of Jacob, were in Egypt for 430 years before the Exodus in 1446 BC.  After entering the Promised Land they had judges as rulers for around 300 years.  Then the people cry out for a king and they are given Saul.  While Saul reigns 40 years over Israel, he is rejected by God and David is given the throne.  He too reigns 40 years when his son Solomon takes over the throne.  After this, the kingdom splits.  Israel has only been a united nation for 120 years during the entire time of the Jewish people.

1 Kings 11 prophecies during Solomon’s reign that the nation would be torn in two but that the upheaval would not happen during Solomon’s reign for the sake of his father David.  1 Kings 11:29-39 records:

29 About that time Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem, and Ahijah the prophet of Shiloh met him on the way, wearing a new cloak. The two of them were alone out in the country, 30 and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. 31 Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes. 32 But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe. 33 I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molek the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in obedience to me, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my decrees and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did.

34 “‘But I will not take the whole kingdom out of Solomon’s hand; I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of David my servant, whom I chose and who obeyed my commands and decrees. 35 I will take the kingdom from his son’s hands and give you ten tribes. 36 I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name. 37 However, as for you, I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. 38 If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. 39 I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever.’”

After Solomon’s death his son Rehoboam assumes the kingship of Israel.  The people call upon him to lighten the load that Solomon has placed upon them during his reign.  Wisely Rehoboam consults with the elders who advise him to lighten the load placed upon the people.  Unwisely, Rehoboam rejects this advice and goes to the young men who tell him to increase the burden upon the people and prove that he is tougher than his father Solomon.  This causes the people to be upset and they reject Rehoboam as king with the exception of the tribe of Judah which Rehoboam was from.  The small tribe of Benjamin follows as does half of the tribe of Manasseh at some point but typically it is referenced as only Judah following Rehoboam.

Jeroboam had fled to Egypt because Solomon had tried to kill him.  Upon Solomon’s death he returned to Israel.  In 1 Kings 12:20, the people of Israel, with the exception of Judah, call upon Jeroboam and make him king over them.

When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

The natural response toward the rebelling tribes of Israel is to go to war against them and force them to comply with their new king.  Rehoboam is prepared to do just this, amassing 180,000 troops.  However, he was instructed by God not to go to war against his brothers as the splitting of the kingdom was the fulfillment of prophecy.

On the surface, things would appear to be good for Jeroboam to whom God has given the majority of the people of Israel.  God had come through on His promise that the nation would be split and Jeroboam would be king.  But there is one big problem for Jeroboam.  Despite controlling most of the people and the majority of the land area of Israel, he doesn’t possess the most important city Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is not just the capital city – he could build another capital – but it contains the temple and the Ark of the Covenant.  Jerusalem is the center of Israelite worship.

Jeroboam is afraid the people will return to Jerusalem to worship and end up returning to Rehoboam as king.  In order to combat this, he builds two golden calves in the cities of Bethel and Dan.  He tells the people that they shouldn’t have to travel so far away to Jerusalem in the south in order to worship, so he has created more convenient places for them to worship.

Jeroboam built other high places and appointed priests who were not Levites in order to offer sacrifices.  This obviously is not what the Lord desired Jeroboam to do.  He had promised to make Jeroboam into a dynasty in Israel but this was a conditional promise.  Jeroboam was required to follow the Lord and instead he rebelled against God by setting up idols and leading the people in worship of them.  For this reason Jeroboam had the kingdom taken away from him and disaster fell upon his family as well.

From the time of Jeroboam on, the nation of Israel would be no more and instead the Israelites would be divided into two kingdoms.  The northern kingdom contained most of the people and it was referred to as the kingdom of Israel.  The southern kingdom held onto the city of Jerusalem and continued to be ruled by descendants of David.  It was known as the kingdom of Judah as the tribe of Judah made up most of the people in the kingdom.

Eventually even these two kingdoms would be no more.  Because of their sin the northern kingdom was attacked by the Assyrians and defeated in 722 BC.  Rather than carry the people away, the Assyrians just took over the land and lived among the Israelites.  They intermarried with them and eventually a people group known as the Samaritans came from this.

The southern kingdom was defeated by the Babylonians.  The people were deported to Babylon in three phases.  The first people were carried away in 605 BC.  The next group left in 597 BC.  Finally in 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem, its temple, and the last remnants of the southern kingdom as well.

David: A man of sin after God’s own heart

When you mention King David to someone the image they have in their head may vary greatly depending on who they are.  A child is going to think of one of the greatest children’s stories, David and Goliath.  They picture David as a young boy with great bravery and faith in God.

An adult on the other hand is likely to picture David as a man of God – someone who was said to be a man after God’s own heart.  Or they might acknowledge David’s greatness while also acknowledging that he had some major shortcomings in his life, most notable being his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah.

If you’re a Jew, when King David is mention, you long for the days when David was king.  Even though it has been 3000 years since David ruled Israel, his reign is still considered to be the pinnacle of the nation of Israel and the Jews still long for a return to days like when David ruled.

King David is such a central figure of the Bible and there is so much written about him, it almost feels as if he must have lived three lives to fit it all in.  He is probably as complex of a figure as there is in the Bible.

David’s two most well known stories are mentioned above; his triumph over Goliath and his fall with Bathsheba.  In between are a ton of stories and there is even plenty of significance before and after.  David was already a hero of sorts before he met Goliath.  He was a man of bravery before as he fended off wild beasts in order to protect his sheep.

After David killed Goliath there is a lot of overlooked action that takes place.  David is God’s anointed choice to become king but Saul is currently king.  This is the type of awkward situation that comedies are based upon but of course this is anything but a comedy.

David becomes a military leader and fights against the enemies of Israel.  The people sing David’s praises by saying “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.”  This obviously inspires jealousy by Saul.

David’s relationship with Saul is complicated by his son Jonathan who becomes David’s best friend.  Saul becomes tormented by an evil spirit but David plays his harp to soothe the king.  Nevertheless Saul seeks to kill David and he spends years on the run in fear for his life.  Some of our greatest Psalms were written by David as he fled for his life.

Despite the fact that David is God’s anointed to sit on the throne following Saul, and despite the fact that Saul is trying to kill him, David never seeks to kill Saul.  David has multiple opportunities to do so but does not act.  His reasoning is that God has appointed Saul as king and it is not his decision to make as to when Saul is to be removed.

Saul will fall in battle which of leaves the throne open for David.  Jonathan is also killed in battle which eliminates any possible thought of succession.  The man who delivers the good news to David thinks that he will earn favor with him by saying that he was responsible for killing David’s enemy – a lie.  Instead, David has the man executed, not for lying but for having the audacity to kill the man whom God had first anointed as king.

All of these events come before David ever becomes king.  It is already a lifetime of battles but also faith and relying on God.  When David becomes king the battles don’t end however.  He continues to lead a nation at war.  Despite being at war, the nation of Israel is at the height of its power while led by David.

One can’t give an honest account of David’s life without mentioning his sin with Bathsheba.  The story is a good demonstration of how sin can snowball into something bigger and quickly grow out of control.  When David witnesses Bathsheba bathing the entire mess could have been avoided if he had just averted his eyes once he knew what was happening.  Some try to lay blame on Bathsheba but bathing on a roof was common practice at the time and she did no wrong in that and was not trying to seduce the king.  While there’s no indication that Bathsheba was forced into the relationship, David is the driving force behind this sin.

After Bathsheba discovers that she is pregnant, King David tries to trick Uriah into going home and sleeping with his wife.  If Uriah had been willing to leave his men and spend a night of comfort at home with his wife, the proceeding mess could be avoided.  But instead Uriah is a righteous man who won’t rest while the rest of his men are not given the same comfort.  It is an ugly juxtaposition to David who has taken what doesn’t belong to him from one of the men who was fighting for him.  Others are making great sacrifices while David remains at home in luxury.

When Uriah is unwilling to go home and sleep with his wife, it is obvious that David will be unable to fool the man into believing the child that Bathsheba is carrying belongs to Uriah.  The king could admit what a terrible thing he had done but he is not willing to come clean.  So instead he places Uriah in a position where he is virtually guaranteed to die at the enemies’ hand.  Even though the enemy does the killing, David is responsible for the murder.

Finally Nathan the prophet confronted David in 2 Samuel 12.  Even though David had sinned in secret and worked hard to cover up the sin, God knew and there would be consequences.  Verses 10-14 describe the punishment that is inflicted upon David.

10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”

God forgave David but there were severe consequences for his sin.  While David had been a man of war, he would continue to be a man of war.  Because David took the wife of another in secret, his wives will be taken from him in public.  This is fulfilled in 2 Samuel 16 by his son Absalom.  Finally, the child from the union of David and Bathsheba will die.

These are three brutal punishments that David must bear but one can hardly argue that they don’t fit the crimes that David committed.  Nevertheless, God also blesses David.  Despite his sin, David is still a man after God’s own heart.  He is not upset that he was caught in sin the way most are, rather he is crushed that he committed the sin in the first place.  Psalm 51 was specifically written after Nathan confronted David and it shows what a truly repentant heart looks like.

God forgives David and he and Bathsheba have another son named Solomon.  Of course this son goes on to be king following David.  And interestingly enough Bathsheba ends up in the lineage of Christ as well.  God never blesses sin but He can take terrible things and make good come from them.

Although there are many instances which show David’s love and respect of the Lord, perhaps none is more to the point than what is recorded in 2 Samuel 6.  When the ark of the Lord is returned to Jerusalem, David rejoices and dances to the point that essentially his clothes fall off and he is left dancing in his underwear – an ephod as it is called in the passage.  This displeases his wife Michal and she confronts him about this but David is unconcerned about her displeasure.  Verses 20-22 tells the story:

20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord.22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

In short, David was unconcerned about what anyone else thought of Him.  He was going to worship before the Lord and if that left him humiliated in others’ eyes it was better that than to be humiliated in God’s eyes.

Despite David’s great reverence for the Lord and a desire to build a temple for God, the Lord won’t allow it.  It is because he is a man of war who has blood on his hands.  One could easily argue that David was only fighting the battles that God had him fight and that would be true.  I don’t believe that David sought out the battles that he fought.  But nevertheless this disqualifies David from the task in God’s eyes.

From a practical standpoint, it probably would have been difficult for David to fight off oppressing nations and do the building of the temple justice.  From a theological standpoint though, the temple should be built from the riches that God blessed the nation with and not spoils of war.

Solomon will be the one to build the temple and God promises peace in his day in order to accomplish that.  Nevertheless, David does much of the planning for the temple and prepares many of the materials that will be needed for its construction.  While David doesn’t get to witness the actual temple, he is at least able to see in his mind what it should look like once his son Solomon completes the work.

This has only scratched the surface of David’s complex life.  He was a complex man who had some very human faults.  But he is a man who loved the Lord and he didn’t just pay lip service when it came to repentance.  When he realized he had hurt the Lord with his sins, he hurt too.  This is perhaps the best definition that we have of what it means to be a man or woman of God.

Judges: a cycle of sin

The book of Judges is a story about the cycle of humanity.  While there are 12 judges, there are seven distinct cycles that occur in the book.  There is a repeated theme of sin and redemption throughout the book.  Judges 2:11-19 sums up the events of the entire book rather well.

11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. 15 Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.

16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. 17 Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord’s commands.18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

In a sad way, you don’t need to know the specifics of the book of Judges as this story just keeps repeating.  It is like the predictable plotline of a movie where you know that the guy is always going to get the girl in the end.  Judges is predictable like that without the happy ending.  As you’re reading you know that even though things are good for a time, they will eventually go poorly once again.

Judges stretches over a period of time of about 300 years, from the time of Joshua’s death until the Israelites demand a king.  The exact dates covered in the book of Judges are likely 1367 BC through 1050 BC.

If you add up the number of years associated with each judge, there is a bit of a number problem.  The judges rule for a period of 410 years.  This is not a big problem for the book however as these judges are not national leaders.  Instead they rule over a relatively small area as compared to the entire nation.  Because of this there are several judges who overlap in their reigns.

The book of Ruth also occurs during the time span of the judges.  She lives toward the end of this time period as she will be the great grandmother of King David.  This would place her about two generations away from the end of the era of Judges.

There are a number of judges whom we know next to nothing about.  There are 6 “minor” judges about whom little is written.  These include Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon.  Much like the difference between the major and minor prophets, these judges are not necessarily less important than the “major” ones but less is written about them; in some cases they are only mentioned in one verse.  Nevertheless, these judges each usher in an era of peace following their reign.

The “major” judges include Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson.  Some also include Eli and Samuel as judges as they are rulers in Israel who obviously are not kings but generally they are left out in the discussion concerning Judges in part because they are not included in the book that bears the name.

The book of Judges contains some of the stranger stories in the Bible.  Ehud gained success because he was left handed.  When he was escorted into the presence of an enemy king, the guards only checked his side where a right handed person would carry a sword.  When left alone with the king, he stabbed him.  The king was so fat that his stomach enveloped the sword and covered it up.  Ehud then drug the body into the bathroom, locked the door, and then left.  The servants waited for the king to exit the bathroom – to the point of embarrassment, which would mean longer than anyone could take to go to the bathroom.  By the time the deed was discovered, Ehud was long gone.

Deborah is the only female judge.  She is recorded as actually pronouncing judgments for people much as Moses did for the Israelites before.  When called to battle, Barak shows cowardice and says that he will only go if Deborah goes, presumably as assurance that what God has told her will happen actually does take place.  Deborah’s response is that she will go but because of the lack of faith, the honor of the battle will go to a woman.  And indeed this is what takes place as the enemy Sisera wanders into the tent of a woman name Jael.  When he asks for water, she gives him milk and he becomes sleepy.  While he slept, Jael drove a tent peg through his temple and killed him.

Gideon is known as much for his fleece as his triumph in battle.  In order to be sure that God was calling him to go to battle, he asks for two signs.  The first is for the ground to be wet while the fleece on the ground is dry.  The next day he asks for the opposite, wet fleece with a dry ground.  Once assured that God was with him, Gideon is ready for battle but God isn’t through testing Gideon’s faith.  The army of ten thousand men is considered too big by God – even though the enemy numbered over one hundred thousand.  The people may believe that they won the battle on their own strength, so God narrows the army down, ultimately to 300 people.  At night they surround the enemy camp.  When given the signal, they break upon pots containing fire and blow their trumpets.  The 300 men look like a massive army surrounding the enemy and in their confusion the enemy kills one another.

Samson is known as much for his failures as he is his triumphs.  At birth he is set aside as a nazirite and is told not to cut his hair.  His hair will be the source of his strength.  Unfortunately Samson’s weakness is beautiful women and he ultimately succumbs to Delilah.  He reveals the secret of his strength and she shaves his head while he sleeps.  He is imprisoned and has his eyes put out.  A while later his hair has grown out and his strength has returned but the Philistines don’t notice.  When brought out as entertainment as a prisoner of war he literally brings down the house, collapsing the temple of Dagon.  In his death Samson killed more Philistines than he did in the rest of his life.  Despite what might appear to be a wasted life and a wasted gift, Samson is listed in the Hebrews 11 “hall of faith” as an example of someone with great faith.

Throughout the book of Judges we see a cycle repeated numerous times.  Things start out with sin as the people do evil in the eyes of the Lord.  After this sin, the people are given over to their enemy who oppresses them.  The people wise up and cry out to God for help.  God raises up a judge.  The judge defeats the enemy.  And peace is restored, usually for the life of the leader and the following generation.

Even though this happens in a cycle, things get worse as time goes on.  They are going in circles but it as if they are a ship caught in a whirlpool, slowly being sucked down.  The final verse of the book summarizes all that has taken place perfectly.  Judges 21:25 says, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”

The problem in the book of Judges was not that there was no king, it was that God was not king of the people.  They did not look to Him for help but instead did as they saw fit.  They only called upon the Lord when things got difficult.  Once that generation passed on to the next, the lesson wasn’t passed on and the people returned to their evil ways.  This is a modern reminder that Christianity is always only one generation from dying out if the love of God isn’t passed on to the following generation.  The people in the period of Judges failed the test miserably and things got continually worse as a result.

Ten Commandments – rules to live by

The Ten Commandments is literally at the heart of the book of Exodus, coming in at chapter 20 of the books 40 chapters.  It is obviously an important chapter of the book but whether it is the most important is a matter for debate.  It’s quite possible that we place too much importance on the Ten Commandments while overlooking the general guiding principles that they should give us for life.

To begin with, these commandments are not just an important set of laws.  This is a covenant between God and Israel.  They are placed inside of the Ark of the Covenant, not the ark of the law or ark of the commandments.  In Exodus 24 we see that the covenant is agreed to by the people.

We know that this covenant was recorded on two stone tablets but every depiction I’ve seen of the Ten Commandments is actually wrong.  You always see the stone tablets with commandments 1-5 on one tablet and 6-10 on the other tablet.  In fact there are two tablets because there are two copies of the covenant.  Any time a covenant was made between two parties, there were two copies made, just as any modern contract today would do.  The two stone tablets include a copy for the Israelites and a copy for God.  As we might put an important document or contract in a safe deposit box today, this covenant is placed into the greatest safe deposit box in the universe – inside the Ark of the Covenant.

Now, what about the actual commandments?  Obviously a lot can be said about each one and I won’t pretend to give an in depth treatment of each command.  Instead I’ll start with a summary of them.  This is a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  If you grasp the overall goal of the commandments the individual commands are essentially unnecessary.

Jesus was challenged about the law and asked what the greatest commandment was.  It was a trap by the Jewish leaders but of course Jesus outwitted them in Matthew 22:34-40:

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The Ten Commandments can be broken down into two components – love God and love others.  If we were capable of doing that unfailingly we wouldn’t need ten commandments because those things wouldn’t even cross our minds.  But of course we can’t do that.  The Ten Commandments serve as examples of what we need to avoid if we are to love God and love others.

With that in mind, let’s jump into the commandments by looking at the first four.  The first four commandments concern our love for God.  The first commandment tells us that we are to have no other gods before the Lord.  This is relatively straight forward in the idea that God is to be number one in our life.  It’s easy to think of this strictly in an idol worshipping kind of way but it obviously has just as much importance today.  We make gods out of our job, out of television, and out of our other relationships.  Any time that we put something ahead of God in importance, we make it into a god.

The second command tells us that we are to build no idols.  This means that not only are we not to have any other gods ahead of the Lord, we aren’t to worship any other gods at all.  When idolatry was prevalent as it was in this era, there were multiple gods.  Despite the presence of multiple gods, one of them had to be the most important.  God is more important than all of the other gods as He has just proven through the devastation He laid on Egypt with the ten plagues.

But it isn’t enough to just acknowledge God as more important and more powerful; there is nothing even comparable to Him.  There is nothing else to even call a god compared to Him so there is nothing else that is to be worshipped.  Because we don’t bow down to physical idols today it’s easy to miss the modern point on this command as well.  It means that not only is God to be the most important in our lives, there’s nothing else that we should replace Him with.  A person who states that they’re still putting God first in their lives by attending church 3 Sundays out of 4 while golfing the 4th Sunday would be violating this second command by still having idols.

The third command involves taking the Lord’s name in vain.  We’ve reduced this command to not saying a certain two word phrase that gets bleeped out on television.  And the saddest irony is that the word God is the part that is bleeped out, not the word that is offensive to many.  But that completely misses the point of this command I believe.

Misusing God’s name is anything that makes a mockery of God.  People may swear an oath using God’s name saying “so help me God” or something like that but if they have no intention of keeping that oath they take God’s name in vain.  Perhaps the clearest case of taking God’s name in vain is one that most Christians never think about.

Christian has the name Christ right in it.  It literally means “little Christ” or that we are considering ourselves to be Christ like when we call ourselves a Christian.  Any Christian who calls themselves such and then does something completely un-Christ-like is making a mockery of Christ.  This is a commandment that Christians violate far more often than they realize.

The fourth commandment is to keep the Sabbath holy.  This is probably the most controversial of the commandments today because some claim that Jesus did away with this commandment.  That is a debate that is outside of the scope of our explanation here.

For Moses and the Israelites, the fourth commandment was clear that they were to rest on the Sabbath day.  If there was any confusion to this rule, the manna which God provided six days a week did not appear on the seventh day.  By Jesus’ day the Jewish leaders had taken this rule and made it legalistic, losing the spirit of it.  Today we have adopted the day of rest as a day of worship.  Most Christian denominations no longer worship on the seventh day but on the first day of the week in recognition of Jesus’ resurrection.  Although it doesn’t say it in the commandments, worship and rest have been closely linked for a long time.

These first four commands focus on our love for God which Jesus identified as the greatest commandment.  The last six concern our love for others which is the second greatest commandment.

The fifth commandment tells us to honor our parents.  This is the single most important relationship that we have with others.  The family is something that God created in the very beginning.  It isn’t a man made institution unlike other relationships that we may have.

The idea of honoring our parents is pretty straightforward.  It doesn’t mean that we will always agree with our parents or do what they want us to do.  As we become adults we must make our own decisions that may not please our parents.  At the same time we must remain respectful of them even if we disagree.

There is one time when we may not honor our parents however.  Luke 14:26 states, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. “

Jesus does not mean hate in the way that we think of hate.  What He means is that sometimes we must make a decision between honoring family and honoring God.  When that time comes, we must honor God above family.  If you’re a Muslim who chooses to follow the Lord, this verse is very pertinent because you can’t honor your father and mother and follow Jesus.  Just like in the order of the Ten Commandments, God comes first.

The sixth commandment is against murdering.  Once again, this is pretty straight forward on its surface and it’s an idea that is accepted pretty much universally.  Jesus, however, made it clear that murder is not just about our actions.  We also murder people with our words whenever we attempt to cut them down.  We can murder people with our attitudes when we dehumanize them and make them into anything less than someone who was created in the image of God.

Commandment number seven is against adultery.  We know what adultery is but Jesus made it clear that even lustful thoughts towards one who isn’t our spouse is adultery.  Guys obviously have a bad but well earned reputation for lust.  Part of this is because we are visual creatures who are stimulated by our senses.  But the truth is that lust is not strictly a burning desire that causes us to think of sex.  Lust is longing for anything that is to be fulfilled within a marriage and wishing it to be fulfilled outside of marriage.

We think of lust and adultery in terms of sex because these are the most concrete ways of thinking.  But we also have emotional needs that are fulfilled within a marriage relationship.  Going to another to have those emotional needs fulfilled or longing to have those needs fulfilled is adultery as well, it just isn’t the physical form.

There have been numerous studies that have shown people who cheat on their spouses usually don’t do so starting out by looking for someone younger or better looking.  Instead the relationship begins on the emotional side as they are seeking someone to talk to or get sympathy that they may not get at home.  Even though we concretely think of adultery as sex, the issue is much more than that.

Number eight is that we shouldn’t steal.  We know that stealing is taking something that doesn’t belong to us.  Most people would never walk into a store and put something in their pocket and then walk out.  But we justify not paying for things that we’ve received in other ways.  The grocery store may not have charged us for an item and we don’t bring it to someone’s attention.  We justify it by the fact that it wasn’t our fault and the store is still making plenty of money.

We may steal from our employer by our attitude towards work.  We’re paid for eight hours of work but an hour each day may be spent chatting with coworkers about television and sending non-work related emails.  Anytime we receive something that we didn’t pay for or earn – and the intention wasn’t to give it to us for free – we steal.

Commandment nine tells us not to lie.  I’m not going to spend much time on this one because I probably don’t have much to add to what you’ve likely heard before.  We all know the difference between the truth and a lie.  Lies also come about when the whole truth is not given, when it is misrepresented, or when it was omitted.  A lie is anything that we say that is an attempt at deception or a prevention of the whole truth coming out.

What I won’t get into are little white lies and things of that nature.  We all know that the age old question “Does this dress make me look fat?” is a trap.  It is not a question that wants an honest answer and certainly no man has been dumb enough to say, “No dear, the dress is fine, it’s your butt that makes you look fat.”

The tenth and final command is do not covet.  I believe that this command is last because it is the beginning of a lot of sins.  Why do people steal?  Because they want something that someone else has.  Why does adultery occur?  Because someone has coveted another person who is not their spouse.  You can break any of the other Ten Commandments because you first coveted something that wasn’t yours.

This is obviously a very brief breakdown of the Ten Commandments.  I believe that our goal should not be to legalistically try to follow these commands because we can’t.  That’s actually the point that the Jewish leaders never grasped and it is why they were in conflict with Jesus so much.  This covenant is one that couldn’t be kept.  A new covenant was needed and Jesus came to put it into effect.