The Key to the Universe

In the first three verses, the writer of the psalm is giving God a history lesson – reminding Him of all of his goodness to the nation of Israel in the past. Notice that Jacob’s other name is Israel so it is not the man Jacob whose fortunes were restored but the nation of Jacob (Israel). The writer reminds God that in the past He forgave their iniquity and covered all their sins.

Now the author of the psalm begins his entreaty. “Listen, God, I want you to forgive us again.” The assumption is here that even after being forgiven and restored to God’s favour in the past, they’ve dropped the ball again and are in need of forgiveness once again. You see I have used the word “again” three times already (well that now make four) in this paragraph. This psalm is a salutary lesson in the relationship between human beings and God, and by extension between one another. Before God and before our brothers and sisters, we continually let ourselves down and require forgiveness. By God’s grace he does forgive us until we let Him and ourselves down again. It is easy to suffer a bit of contrition fatigue. What? I have to be sorry again? What? I have to forgive you again? Yes!

There is a caveat in verse eight. The writer is not simply saying, “Hey it’s me again with another mercy petition.” He says, “I will listen to what The Lord God will say.” So there is no assumption that forgiveness will be automatic.

Finally, there is a bit of smooch up to God. “I know you are faithful, righteous, peaceful, loving, good…etc,” and therefore I am going to trust you.” In verse eight: “He promises peace to his people”.

For the left-brainers amongst our readers, here is the flow-chart:

Sin -> Contrition -> Forgiveness -> More sin -> Righteous anger -> More contrition

-> Listening -> Trust -> More forgiveness.

So what is the key to the universe? Without forgiveness, all of us would be constantly at war with each other and without forgiveness all of us would be condemned to hell. Can there be anything more important in the universe than forgiveness?

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He’s not a naughty boy

There is something very human in the reading from Luke2:41-52 today.

I remember many years ago when we lost Tim at Tumbalong park at Darling Harbour. He was 3 at the time. It was packed with families on the Australia day weekend. We ran into Lee and Merylyn Roberts and started talking…….and talking. Tim WAS playing with Ben in the giant sandpit………but he wondered off. We, his neglectful parents frantically searched for him for about 1/2 hour. Finally found the security people who had found the lost little boy. The relief, we hugged him……and then then we scolded him!

Poor Mary and Joseph have lost their son in the business of attending Passover in Jerusalem, they are in the “big city”. Jesus is not a little boy anymore. At 12 He is about to come of age at 13 when He will be able to enter the religious community of Israel.

They don’t even know he is missing until during the trip home so they travel back to Jerusalem and are frantic…….we have lost our son…….we have lost God’s son! I assume they gave Jesus the liberty to do his own thing and maybe he was allowed to catch up or be a bit ahead of them.

Jesus displays both His divinity and humanity in this recount. He is human in that he needs to grow up physically, in experience and stature into adulthood. However He is also the son of God, “word who became flesh” who already understands the scriptures better than anyone else.

His parents are surprised to find Him in the temple….the last place they thought to look, not where 12 year olds go. Jesus is no ordinary 12 year old boy! Surely as He grew up they reflected on His remarkable birth –  virgin mother, angels, star, wise men. At times Jesus was probably like any other boy…….but somehow different. I would have loved to have heard their pillow talk!

Here in the temple Jesus knows exactly who He is. He is in His Fathers house, the Lord’s house, God’s house.

He goes back to Nazareth and is an obedient son. In doing so he honours his parents fulfilling the 5th commandment.

No wonder Mary treasured all these things in her heart.

Simeon and Anna – Waiting for God

Readings today: Numbers 8-9, Luke 2:22-40

In the passage in Luke 2 we get a snapshot of the lives of two faithful old saints who waited for the Lord to answer their prayers for decades and how God answered their prayers in the most amazing and unexpected fashion.

 

Simeon (the just and devout)

The bible doesn’t tell us a lot about Simeon. He is only mentioned in Luke where he is described as a man living in Jerusalem, who is “just and devout”. Luke records that God had appeared to him in a dream and made him a promise- the promise that he would not die until he saw the saviour.

So, when the story begins, Simeon has been waiting for his earnest prayers to be answered for some time. We don’t know how long he has been waiting, nor do we know how old he is, but we can assume he was elderly from his prayer that he can now die knowing that God has fulfilled his promise.

I wonder what his friends and family thought of Simeon. As the years rolled by and Simeon continued to wait and hope as others got on with their lives around him, I wonder how many of them wrote him off as a silly old fool. Did they think his prayers were simply wishful thinking?

Yet, Simeon’s faithful prayer vigil is recorded for all time in the gospel of Luke as this faithful Old Testament style believer had his dreams and hopes fulfilled when he first looked into the eyes of the 6 week old baby Jesus.

 

Anna the Prophetess

Like Simeon, the only details we know about Anna we get from this passage. The commentators seem to be unsure of her age (is she 84, or 84 years widowed!). Regardless it is clear that she is very old and has been waiting and praying earnestly for the saviour for a very long time.

What must Anna have thought decade after decade as Israel’s moral decline continued without hope of a saviour in sight. Surely she must have been discouraged by her unanswered prayers. How many times must she have been tempted to give up on God. How many times must others have looked at her life – so old, so many years alone, so many years prayers unanswered – and thought of her as someone to be pitied.

Then, unexpectedly and in a most miraculous way, God answered Anna’s prayers. Like Simeon, faithful Anna’s name will be remembered in eternity. Forever God’s people will read the story of this long-suffering saint and praise her faithfulness and perseverance – and praise God for answering her prayers.

 

God – the promise keeper.

God did not forget old Simeon and Anna. God honoured their faithfulness in spectacular fashion – in coming to earth as a baby and letting them welcome him at the temple!  He kept his promise to them and He blessed them in ways they could never have imagined

No doubt both Simeon and Anna would have been familiar with the Old Testament Psalms and may have been encouraged to persevere by the words of Psalm 130

 

5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption

Both of these old saints waited on the Lord, and they were rewarded by experiencing His unfailing love and finding themselves in the front-row seat as his plan for full redemption played out in the birth of Jesus.

 

Today

Be encouraged in prayer. If you have been earnestly praying for years for God to act in the life of a loved one, or to resolve some long-standing burden, know that God is faithful and answers our prayers.

 

Peter

 

And it’s not even Christmas

Today’s readings are Numbers 7, and Luke 2:1-21. In numbers we read a long account of gifts offered when Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle and had anointed and consecrated it with all its furnishings and had anointed and consecrated the altar with all its utensils.

There are two sets of gifts. The first a set of wagons and oxen, seems somewhat strange. It’s certainly different to passing the Offertory bags on a Sunday.

But then it makes sense when you realise that what Moses had finished setting up was not  a building like our auditorium, but literally a large tent, where the Holy God met with His people who at the time had no permanent home. The oxen and wagons were to be used in transporting the tabernacle. As Israel moved around, their God was ever-present with them. I can’t help but be reminded of John’s description of the incarnation of Christ.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

John 1:14

The second set of gifts, are brought at the consecration of the altar. Listed out over and over, the same gifts brought by each of the chiefs of the tribes of Israel, given over 12 consecutive days. These gifts are extravagant and valuable, and they are for the dedication of the altar – the place where sacrifices are made for the atonement of sin. This too points towards the incarnation of Christ, who becomes the one sufficient sacrifice for all.

And that’s exactly where our second reading finds us today. Does it feel strange reading about shepherds and angels in October?

The contrast of extravagant gifts brought by the chiefs of the tribes of Israel, with some formal ceremony and repetition, could not be more stark, against the shepherds in the fields who were minding their own sheep, when an angel of the Lord shows up.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord

Unto you. Not chiefs, princes, rulers, but you. Shepherds – ordinary people. They had no extravagant gifts – rather they received the gift, to see the Word become flesh and tabernacle among us. No more need for priests, tabernacles or altars.

If you really want to get a sense of the significance of this, have a quick flick over to Hebrews chapter 9. If you have time, read the whole of Chapter 9 and the first part of 10.  Here’s just a taste

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, so obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Hebrews 9:11-14

No wonder the sky filled with angels saying

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The Lord bless you and keep you

Numbers 5 and 6. Luke 1: 57-80

The people of Israel have been rescued by God, and are preparing for their journey to the promised land. Numbers dictates, in detail, what redemption is to look like for the people of Israel; how this ancient cluster of tribes are to worship God and live out the liberty and restoration which has been gifted to them.

Ritual purity is a major concern, as Israel prepares to live in a way which honours their calling as the covenanted people of God. This includes rituals for managing conflicts, reconciliation and restitution among neighbours, and detailed instructions for living as a consecrated Nazarite, one who devotes him or herself, for a period of time, to service of God.

Sections of these chapters in Numbers, however, make deeply disturbing and frankly harrowing reading.

Contact with skin disease, bodily discharges and corpses are named as defiling. Lepers are to be cast out of the camps, Num 5: 1-4.

Wives who have been accused of unfaithfulness by their husbands, without any corroborating evidence, are subjected to public humiliation and shame, and trial by ordeal. They are brought to the Priest, who dishevels the woman’s hair as a sign of ritual impurity, and forces them to drink ‘cursed’ water, which will have no effect if they are innocent, but if they are guilty will induce miscarriage, result in permanent infertility, and cause bitter pain, Num 5: 11-31.

What are we to make of such cruel exclusion of lepers (even taking into account the very real fear of contagion) and misogynistic brutality?

Jesus is the radical, life saving and merciful response to the deep questions which passages such as these pose. Jesus tells us that while purity rules can mean shame, exclusion, abandonment, and abuse of power, God, in contrast, embraces, forgives, restores and welcomes.

Thank you Ian, for a moving reminder at church yesterday of Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, who understands brokenness and rejection, whose infinite love and valuing of humanity is not constrained by any social or religious barriers. Jesus, who himself bore our diseases and infirmity, who bore our shame, who bore our suffering.

Jesus, who revealed with courage, love and authority (at enormous cost), the truth about the nature of the saving and merciful God of Israel. This is a God who blesses his people, ALL his people, with these beautiful words of providence, presence and peace.

“The LORD bless you and keep you;

The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;

The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” (Num 6: 24-26)

Being redeemed by God means receiving His free, gracious, and generous gift of blessing and peace.

Luke 1: 57-80, the story of the birth of John the Baptist, contains a prophetic song of utter joy and trust in a God who has not abandoned us, but instead, has looked favourably on us and rescued us. God has come close, very close. He is with us, God with us, Jesus. The readings from Numbers remind me this morning of the extraordinary blessing and liberation brought by Jesus. This is no small thing!

With Zechariah let us sing:

“By the tender mercy of our God,

the dawn from on high will break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the

shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1: 78-79)

Peace be with you today.

The special purpose of the first born

Numbers 3 commences with a recount of Aaron the brother of Moses and high priest’s four sons. The two oldest Nadab and Abihu were struck down by the LORD for making unauthorised sacrifices (Leviticus 10:1-7). Their priestly roles were inherited by their younger brothers Eleazar and Ithamar and the priestly succession passed down to their sons after them.

The sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he consecrated to minister as priests were only one small family among the Levites; to be a priest and a Levite were not the same thing at all. Only those who were descendants of Aaron could be priests.

What is readily apparent in our reading is that God desired order and organization in the way the Israelites were to worship him. The families of the Levites had certain callings they were to fulfill. There was no one man or family to do everything; God made them dependent on one another to accomplish the work.

Number 3:6-10 details the role of the tribe of Levi – serving the needs of Aaron and the priests, the needs of the congregation at large, and the needs of the tabernacle itself.
The Levites are a special possession to God. The firstborn belonged to God; a firstborn lamb from a ewe would be given to the LORD. God didn’t want human sacrifice, so He took the tribe of Levi as Israel’s firstborn (v.11-13).

In the census of the tribe of Levi (v.14-20), they were to be categorized by the families, with the main grouping according to Levi’s three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
The families of the Gershonites (numbering 7,500 males) were to camp behind the tabernacle westward (in between Judah and the tabernacle itself). The Gershonites were to take care of the skins that covered the tabernacle itself (v.21-26).

The Kohathites (8,600 males) were to camp southward to the tabernacle (in between Reuben and the tabernacle itself). Their duty included taking care of the furniture of the tabernacle: The ark of the covenant, the table of showbread, and so forth, under the direction of Eleazar the priest, son of Aaron (v.27-32).

The family of Merari (6,200 males) were to camp northward to the tabernacle (in between Dan and the tabernacle itself). Their appointed duty was to take care of the structural aspects of the tabernacle: The pillars, the boards, etc (v.33-37).

The family of Aaron, and Moses, were to camp on the east side of the tabernacle – closest to the entrance, which was on the east, keeping charge of the sanctuary (v.38-39).

In total they numbered 22,000 Levites (v.39). Those quick at maths will see that this does not tally with the totals of the individual clans given in verses 22, 28, 34 which come to 22,300. Scholars explain this discrepancy as a textual corruption in verse 28. The number of Kohathites may originally have been 8,300. 3 (Hebrew sls) could quite easily have been corrupted into 6 (ss).

The exchange of the firstborn (Numbers 3:40-51)
The firstborn – which was always thought to be the best and the favoured – always belongs to God; so instead of giving the firstborn of Israel to God in sacrifice, the tribe of Levi was “given” to God as in place of each of the firstborn sons of Israel. However, there were 22,273 firstborn sons in Israel; and there were only 22,000 Levite males (Leviticus 3:39). The extra 273 were given a monetary value (five shekels for each one individually), and the money was given to the tabernacle as redemption money.

Numbers 4 further details the duties each of the Priestly families in relation to who was fit to serve and what responsibilities each had in relation to the special task of packing and transporting the tabernacle on its journey to the Promised land.

In our New Testament passage from Luke 1:39-56 we have the account of Mary’s visit to her relative Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) to share the good news of her special pregnacy. In the encounter we are told:

when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit

Elizabeth gives Mary a prophetic blessing to the mother and her unborn child. Mary responds with a Song of Praise know as the Magnificat – a song of praise for what God has done.

There will be no further need for priests or the tabernacle for he is Emmanuel – God with us (Matthew 1:23), the first born child (Colossians 1:15-20) who will grow up to become our great high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Jesus my Captain

Today’s reading is from Numbers 1, 2 & Luke 1:26-38.

The story that starts in Exodus and continues through the rest of the Pentateuch is a story where God draws out his chosen people so that he could eventually draw them into His presence. He authors their story of slavery to freedom, of darkness to light. He redeems them from the clutches of Pharaoh’s tyranny to a land flowing with milk and honey where a life of blessing is to be enjoyed. As they made their way there He guides them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. What he required in return is that they be His people, and He their God. He gave them the law at Sinai and other instructions and required that they live according to it and be set apart for His purposes.

Numbers, the fourth book in the Pentateuch is about how the Israelites were organized into a fighting force as they made their way to the Promised Land. In Numbers 1 & 2 we see how every man twenty years of age and older is chosen to fight in Israel’s army. The prominent theme through these chapters is how God, through Moses meticulously gives out instructions or standard operating procedures on how the army is to be formed and functioning. The Israelites were God’s chosen people and needed to be set apart from those around them in order to live for God’s purposes. Here in these chapters He is giving them a certain way of living that would see to it that they are set apart, living as God’s people, under God’s rule and soon to be in God’s land. We can see that although God is working here through Moses, He is their captain, their ultimate commander in chief. The newly formed Israelite army is God’s army, assembled for His purpose and to fight His war.

Luke chapter 1 announces the birth of Jesus who is to lead Jacob’s (aka Israel) descendants forever. Jesus is the fulfillment of all that has been revealed through Israel’s redemptive past. God blessed Israel and ruled over them. Jesus came so that the promise given to Abraham may be fulfilled and that His Kingship and rule would extend beyond the borders of Israel so that we too may live as God’s people, under God’s rule and in His Kingdom. Jesus is our captain, our commander in chief. The Word of God today gives us the means to be set apart as God’s people as the Holy Spirit moves within us. As we live and fight the evils of our age let us be reminded that we serve on the army of the one true King and Captain. Let us pray that we can be set free in the knowledge of his leadership and love for us.

Have a listen to this song – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_oR5Twx-RU