Category: Sermons

Garnishing Tombs

They mastered the words of Moses. They recited the Law and the Prophets. They dressed religiously and sat in prominent places of the synagogues. They were consulted on matters of doctrine. These were the Pharisees, Teachers of the Law, and Scribes. They fasted regularly and gave tithes of their increase. Surely, they were righteous but only that righteous!

The righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes only went as far as observing letters of Scripture and norms; they could not go beyond to recognise and partake of the fulfilment (spirit or life) of the Scripture! And, like the Lord Jesus Christ warned us, “except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mat.5:20).

We should ask ourselves: Have we been able to perceive and partake of the fulfilment (or revelation) of Scripture in our day? See, God’s Word is like a seed; after being planted, there was time for the little shoot to sprout off the ground, and later the manifestation of the stem with its branches and leaves. Now, although the present look of the plant could be branches or leaves, those features were actually always there but could not be seen by the eye because they were hidden in the seed. Only when the seed was put in the right place (soil) and there were right conditions of air, light, and moisture, did growth begin, and features previously hidden from sight became revealed! Now, likewise, “The seed is the Word of God” (Luk.8:11) and we ought to be able to discern the present truth (manifestation) of its life in our day!

Through time the Seed of the Word has been ‘growing’ and those with eyes have been able to perceive and get established in its revelation, the “present truth” (1 Pet.1:12). On the other hand are people who only hold to the physical appearance of the seed, failing to reconcile the seemingly strange forms of the stem, branches, and leaves that proceeded from the seed! In looking at the seed (letters), they fail to see (reconcile its appearance with) the manifestation of its life (the stem, branches, and leaves)! Thus, “they seeing see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Mat.13:13). That is exactly what happened when one day the Lord rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

A strange Prophecy

One day a Hebrew prophet, Zechariah, gave a very strange prophecy: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zec.9:9). How would a person coming with the “salvation” of Israel, a nation which had been subdued by mighty kingdoms, be lowly and riding on a donkey? At the time of the prophecy of Zechariah the nation was under that mighty empire of Medo-Persia. To think of Israel getting delivered by a lowly man riding on a donkey was unthinkable! Well, a year passed and the prophecy did not fulfil. Two years passed and nothing had happened. Fifty years, and then a hundred years, still nothing! The prophecy had been given at the time of the Persian Empire, but new empires had risen and fallen – Greece then Rome – and the prophecy had not yet fulfilled! It was at the time of that cruel Roman Empire, about 500 years since the prophecy had been given, that the prophecy got fulfilled, albeit in a way that people didn’t notice. Yes, God had not forgotten about the Salvation King and He had also not forgotten to prepare the donkey that was to carry the king. The seed of prophecy was only waiting for its right place, time, and conditions to manifest the life of the Word!

That Donkey!

It may have been just one of the animals the family owned in that small village near the Mount of Olives. It was a good and healthy donkey. That day it was tied. The owner may have tied it for what seemed to be the usual thing done to animals when we want to restrict their movements. However, unknown to the owner, it was now time for the five hundred year old prophecy to get fulfilled and that donkey had been prepared for the same purpose! No man had rode on it because it had been kept for a day and hour the Lord would use it to enter Jerusalem in fulfilling Zechariah 9:9 but Daniel 9:25.

Now, who knew anything important about that donkey? To begin with, it wasn’t a horse but a mere donkey! It wasn’t from a city but a village! It may have been angry for being tied, and hence not being able to explore life as it desired. But all that was for a purpose, for soon it would be loosed and experience an honour it had never had before – men and women lying clothes where it would tread for carrying the Lord! Oh, if a child of God can only know that present bondages or troubles are not unto destruction but for glory! Even when our loved one (a believer in the faith) has died, let’s not despair;  in Isaiah we read that, “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness” (Isa.57:1-2).

False Expectations

People waited for the Messiah with their own carnal expectations. When they read Daniel’s prophecies they expected a great person to arise and crush the mighty Roman Empire. They knew the written prophecies but did not have a heart and eyes to discern the ways of God. They had man-made religious systems from where teachers of the Law were orained. They thought the messiah would arise from their established systems. Could they not look back into history and see how Moses and other prophets were called?

At no time in history has God ever raised a prophet who conformed to established religious systems. Such systems are often filled with people who are too dead to recognise the living Word of God. When the Lord Jesus came, the religious leaders of the day rejected him by quoting past prophets. One day they rebuked a man who was testifying to them about a miracle, telling him: “Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples” (Joh.9:28). But who was this Moses they claimed to believe? What did he experience in his ministry? What kind of people followed and believed in him? Was it people of the sort of Pharisees?

Revering Prophets of Old

The teachers of the Law revered Moses and recited his words. They rejected Jesus with Moses’ quotes! But if only they could look closer they would have realised that Jesus was the living manifestation of what Moses pointed to. And if they could look back they would have realised that the same spirit that rejected Moses was actually operating in them. In Numbers chapter 14 we read that “all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night”. That was an entire congregation crying out. If truth is in numbers then surely these people were right! But what were the people crying about? Verse two and four continues: “And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!… And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.” How would a people murmur against Moses, that great prophet? Well, a prophet may look great because he is no more and we can read him on pages of paper. It is important to know that whenever the Word manifests, it does so in simplicity. Is it not strange that when Joshua and Caleb saw the rebellion of the people and spoke out against their disobedience to God, the people threatened to stone them – “But all the congregation bade stone them with stones” (Num.14:10). Here we notice the people’s violence against faithful disciples of Moses, Joshua and Caleb! Surely, Joshua stood for what Moses truly believed. And so, if they could not accept Moses, they wouldn’t definitely accept Joshua! Isn’t that what has happened to today’s Joshuaic ministry – people have fought and rejected what it stands for because they actually reject what Moses’ ministry truly stood for! They can try to quote words of Branham but their actions are contrary to what he actually taught – Back to the Word!

That day when the Lord rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, Luke 19:37 records that “the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen. Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.” The Spirit of God was working among these people, making them proclaim Jesus King and hence fulfil Zechariah 9:9. This was much to the annoyance of religious leaders who heard the praise as “noise” and not fulfilment of prophecy (v.39-40). These are the people who decorated and revered tombs of prophets of old but yet denied the Spirit that now worked in their present day!

As the Lord Jesus moved closer to Jerusalem and saw the city he wept: “he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” (v.41-44).

How did the Jews become ignorant of the time of their visitation? Why did they spend time garnishing the tombs of old prophets but yet failing to recognise the present prophetic ministry? Simply because, although they had faith in the prophets, they did not have the faith of the prophets! By not having the faith of the prophets they were not truly children of the prophets but actually children of those that killed the prophets – “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. ” (Mat.23:29-39)

70 AD – Jerusalem Destroyed

In 70 AD the words of the Lord got fulfilled when Jerusalem, because of the rebellion of Jews against the Roman Empire, was surrounded by armies of Rome under Prince Titus. The city was razed to the ground and lay desolate, dispersing the Jews. However, after many years later on (about 300 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus) Rome embraced Christianity and erected a temple on the site of the tomb where the Lord was laid to rest before His resurrection. It’s a huge and beautiful structure that attracts tourists from all over the world. It is called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Do the people who garnish this structure, to maintain it for the many tourists who visit it, have the faith of Jesus Christ? Are the many people who visit it truly disciples of Christ? Will the world, which so much cherishes the tomb of Christ, recognise the sign of the Messiah sent to this generation? Did people have eyes to recognise the Star-Messenger who was sent to the Laodicean Church Age, the forerunner of the Second Coming of Christ? Did they hear and understand his Message?

Download PDF copy of this Message: Garnishing Tombs

The Tenth Persecution, 303 AD

Diocletian was born in 240 BC and grew up during the Third Century Crisis, a period when the Roman empire was very unstable and on the verge of collapse because of power struggles and ineffective rulers. Young Diocletian joined the military and rose through the top ranks.

Rise of Diocletian

It was around 282 BC when a division of Roman soldiers (i.e. a legion)  had proclaimed their commander, Carus, as the new emperor. Emperor Carus liked Diocletian and elevated him to the highest ranks.

Emperor Carus only ruled for about a year and (like was explained earlier) was killed by a lightening. His sons  – Numerian and Carinus – succeeded him. They only ruled for a very short period of time. Numerian died of an illness (most likely a result of being poisoned). Carinus was in conflict with Diocletian. A battle between Carinus and Diocletian ensued. Carinus was unpopular and most of his men defected to Diocletian’s side. Carinus got killed by his own soldiers and the armies of both the western and eastern empire rallied behind Diocletian and proclaimed him emperor.

Emperor Diocletian became determined to completely put to an end the instability that characterized the empire. There were two main challenges for Diocletian to overcome: the internal struggles for power in the empire, and the horde of barbarian tribes (especially from the eastern side of the empire) which kept attempting to attack and destroy Rome. Diocletian was set to protect the empire from collapsing through various reforms.

Diocletian established himself as a powerful dictator who could never be challenged. He de-politicized the army and ensured total allegiance to his authority.

Noticing that the empire faced immense danger of Persian invasions on its eastern borders, he realized that the empire was too vast to be governed from one central point, Rome.  In 285 AD he divided the empire into two halves – the western half to be ruled by a lesser emperor (addressed by the title Caesar) and himself (a senior emperor addressed by the title Augustus[1]) to rule over the eastern half of the empire. With these developments, Rome ceased to be the capital of the empire;  the Western Empire was ruled from Milan ( a city in northern Italy), and the Eastern Empire from Nicomedia (now Izmir in Turkey)

In 293 AD another change was made: each half of the empire would have both an Augustus and a Caesar so that the whole empire now had four rulers. This system became known as the Tetrarchy (i.e. “government by four people”). During the Tetrarchy, Emperor Diocletian was Augustus of the eastern half of the empire and watched over Thrace, Asia, and Egypt. Galerius as Ceaser under Diocletian watched over Illyria, the Danubian provinces, and Achaea. Emperor Maximian was Augustus of the western empire and watched over Italy, Sicily, and Africa. Constantius was Ceaser serving under Maximian and ruled over Gaul, Spain, and Britain.

The tetrarchy was an effective system of administration which made the presence of imperial authority felt throughout the empire.

Now, Diocletian is much known for two things – first, the great organization (administration) he established in the empire and second, the terrible, worst, and last persecution he caused upon Christians.

Beginning of Christian Persecution

Sometime in the year 299 AD there was an  important ceremony of sacrifices in Antioch which was officiated by emperors. Performing the ritual were  haruspices. Haruspices were diviners in the religion of Rome and used to read entrails of sacrificed animals in order to predict the future. At the special event of 299 AD they failed to read the omen of the entrails and accused the Christians to be causers of the failure. The emperors ordered people to offer sacrifices to purify the place. The order was extended to all men serving in the army; everyone was required to offer a sacrifice or he would be dismissed.

Such orders to offer sacrifices always put Christians in trouble. Christians soldiers would refuse to sacrifice, get accused of disobedience, and were killed. This time Emperor Diocletian decided to recall every Christian from serving in the army. However, Caesar Galerius was bent on influencing Diocletian to further exterminate Christians. Diocletian was at first reluctant to enforce such an extreme response to Christian’s exclusive lifestyles, but he later turned into an ugly monster that devised every possible tool and way to inflict pain on Christians.

After returning from Antioch, Diocletian was angry with Deacon Romanus, a  Christian leader who had been vocal against pagan sacrifices. He ordered that his tongue be pulled from his mouth. John Foxe tells the details of the torture of this saint: “he was scourged, put to the rack, his body torn with hooks, his flesh cut with knives, his face scarified, his teeth beaten from their sockets, and his hair plucked up by the roots. Soon after he was ordered to be strangled, November 17, A.D. 303.

On 24th February, 303 AD Diocletian issued The Edict Against the Christians which ordered the destruction of Scriptures and worship places of Christians, and further prohibited them from meeting for prayers.

A few days after the edict had been issued there was an inferno which gutted a portion of the imperial palace. Galerius blamed it on Christians. Even after an investigation into the matter did not find the causers of the fire, Christians had to bear the consequences: A Christian by the name Peter Cubicularius was stripped of his clothes and scourged. Salt and vinegar were poured into his wounds. After this excruciating experience he was slowly boiled over an open flame.  A terrible persecution thereafter ensued in which “no distinction was made of age or sex” writes John Foxe. “the name of Christian was so obnoxious to the pagans that all indiscriminately fell sacrifices to their opinions. Many houses were set on fire, and whole Christian families perished in the flames; and others had stones fastened about their necks, and being tied together were driven into the sea. The persecution became general in all the Roman provinces, but more particularly in the east; and as it lasted ten years, it is impossible to ascertain the numbers martyred, or to enumerate the various modes of martyrdom.

Cause of the Diocletian Persecution?

As to why the Diocletian Persecution occurred, Jean Cousin in Encyclopaedia Britannica wrote:

The reasons for this persecution are uncertain, but various explanations have been advanced: the possible influence of Galerius, a fanatic follower of the traditional Roman religion; the desire to restore complete unity, without tolerance of a foreign cult that was seen as separatist and of individuals who were forming a kind of state within the state; the influence of anti-Christian philosophers such as Porphyry and governors such as Hierocles on the scholarly class and on the imperial court; the fear of an alienation of rebellious armies from emperor worship; or perhaps the disturbances provoked by the Christians themselves, who were agitated by doctrinal controversies. At any rate, some or all of these factors led Diocletian to publish the four edicts of 303–304, promising all the while that he would not spill blood. His vow went unheeded, however, and the persecutions spread through the empire with an extreme violence that did not succeed in annihilating Christianity but caused the faith of the martyrs to blaze forth instead (Cousin, 2017).

But our Lord had clearly foretold saying, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me” (Joh.15:20-21). And as history has repeatedly shown, no amount of suppression or persecution can break the spirit of a people who believe. The flames of fire, or cruelty of a sword, can never vanquish the faith of a soul that is sincerely devoted to a cause. Amidst all the trials and cruelty the Christians suffered, God had not abandoned them. Satan, the master of political systems of this world, sought to destroy the saints but faith in God’s Word and the joy of the Lord gave them strength to press on. Prophecies, like the ones which came through the aging and last surviving apostle of Jesus, John, were a source of encouragement: “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life”(Rev.2:10).

Indeed, when historians are listing failures of Diocletian, one thing that cannot go unmentioned is that despite his campaign against the Christians having been the largest and bloodiest, it not only failed to eliminate Christianity but was shortly followed by its increased popularity, and only about a decade later became the state religion of the empire. It was such a sharp and unpredictable swing in history.

[1] The first emperor of Rome was Augustus. After his death his name became the official title of emperors.