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!”

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Ecclesiastes 7 contrasts wisdom and foolishness. While this should be a no brainer, (surely everyone would rather be thought wise than a fool), it does contain some moments to pause and think. Even our teacher, who has tested so much of life to understand it’s purpose finds that wisdom is hard to attain.

All this I tested by wisdom and I said,

‘I am determined to be wise’–
but this was beyond me.
Whatever exists is far off and most profound –
who can discover it?
So I turned my mind to understand,
to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things
and to understand the stupidity of wickedness
and the madness of folly.

If wisdom, even for such a learned man, was found to be beyond him, who can be wise? Or perhaps, where does wisdom come from, if we can’t attain it by simply setting our mind to it?

No doubt this question brings to mind Proverbs 9:10:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight

If you truly want to be wise, you need to truly know God. And this is exactly what Paul is praying for the Ephesians in Ephesians 3:14-21

I hope the deep truth revealed in this passage strikes you profoundly. To truly know the full extent of God’s love, requires the power of God. We don’t truly know God until He reveals himself to us.

If you want to know the full extent of God’s love for you—to really grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ – ask God to strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith.

As we come up to the 500th anniversary of the reformation, it is great to remember these truths – that God reveals himself to us, not through any merit of our effort, but as a free gift of grace.

  • Sola Fide, by faith alone.
  • Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
  • Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
  • Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
  • Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.

The things that are God’s

Our readings today are Judges 1 and Matthew 22:15-33. By virtue of the way our reading plan has moved around, our Old Testament reading in Judges is a big step back in history from Nehemiah. While Nehemiah’s mission was to rebuild the walls of his beloved Jerusalem, in Judges 1, we see Judah being the first to go up against the Canaanites in battle, in the conquest of Jerusalem, since God had “given the land into his hand”.

Yet even in this first chapter of Judges we begin to see that the conquest of Canaan is not going to be straight forward, Continue reading

Ears to hear

Today’s readings are Lamentations 3:25-39 and Matthew 13:1-23.

“It’s not fair!”

I suspect every child ever born has uttered those words at one point or another when something bad has happened to them, or they have received unpleasant consequences for their actions.

After the first two and a half chapters of Lamentations, filled with graphic description of suffering and pain through God’s consequences delivered to Jerusalem, it’s notable that we don’t hear Jeremiah cry out it’s not fair – in fact quite the opposite. What we hear instead is acknowledgement of the goodness of God, and how good it is to wait upon the Lord for his mercy. We see that even though God is the source of the suffering, God does not delight in it, for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men (v33).

Jeremiah is convinced that both good and bad come from God, and that his current suffering is just. It’s as if he’s crying out the opposite of children everywhere “that’s totally fair”.

Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that good and bad come?
Why should a living man complain,
a man, about the punishment of his sins?

 

Over in Matthew 13 we read again perhaps one of the most famous of Jesus parables, one of the only ones where Jesus himself provides the interpretation. It is perhaps ironic then that both the explanation of why Jesus uses parables, and the parable itself feature people’s inability to understand. Yet there is a subtle difference between the two groups.

For the first, it has not been given to those listening to Jesus’ parables to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. It seems their lack of comprehension is part of God’s plan. This does not seem to be the case for the three groups not producing fruit in the parable itself however. In these groups the hearers themselves appear to be the cause of their own lack of comprehension. They don’t understand what they hear, or things get tough and they give up, or they love the things of this world more than the word of God. For these groups, it does not seem to be because God withheld understanding.

We of course, have the benefit of being able to read the explanation of the parable – God is not withholding understanding from us. With that explanation we therefore have the chance to decide into which category of hearer we fall.

Perhaps this morning is a good time to reflect on whether you have ears to hear.

But the Lord looks at the heart

Our readings today are 2 Chr 12 and Matt 6:1-4.

2 Chr 12 brings us to the end of three chapters describing Rehoboam’s reign as king. And how does the author sum up 17 years of rule?

And he did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord (v14)

Rehoboam even get’s a reprieve from being totally destroyed by the Egyptians in verses 6-12 because he and the princes of Israel humbled themselves and acknowledged that “The Lord is righteous”, but at the end of it all his life and reign were summarised as having done evil, because his heart was not set to seek the Lord.

I ask myself how my life would be summarised by the chronicler if it came down to one sentence. Have I set my heart to seek the Lord? What about you?

Matt 6:1-4 talks of reward from God, and of acts done in humility rather than boasting. Is there some sort of divine calculus that says that any good act can only have a set amount of reward, and if you got it from others already, you can’t have any from God? I don’t think God is miserly or stingy; he has no lack of resources; nor does he set a limit on blessing.

Rather, I think God sees behind the action to the motivation. Gifts of generosity done for approval and reputation are motivated by self. Giving to the needy when no one can see is other centred, from a heart that wants to help.

With all the things we could pursue in this life, the approval of others, wealth, pleasure, knowledge, health, perfect appearance, it’s good to remember God’s words to Samuel when he was sent to anoint David as Israel’s king while Saul still reigned…

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. –1 Samuel 16:7

…not with sword and spear

Today’s readings are both well known passages. The first, 1 Samuel 17, is perhaps everyone’s favourite Sunday School story about David and Goliath. It can be easy with these well known passages to gravitate towards our favourite sections, or miss out on things because we think we know it so well. There is so much interesting detail in this account outside of the main line of action that could be explored, like the relationship between David, his father, his brothers (especially Eliab) and Saul (and how that fits chronologically with the previous chapter).

I tend to be drawn though by verses that speak to why, so today want to reflect on one small part of one verse in the mainline narrative. In verses 46-47, as David answers Goliath’s taunt, not only does he Goliath he will die, but why:

that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear

I wonder what “all this assembly” made of “the Lord saves not with sword and spear” as the giant fell. Continue reading

My Soul Thirsts for You

Today’s reading is Psalm 63

Do you pray for blessing or for suffering?

I know I would much rather have riches and comfort than insecurity, threat or pain. Yet when I read David’s wilderness psalms, as he is pursued by his enemies, I see that these are the times when his soul truly thirsts for God.

So too it has been in my life. It’s much harder to thirst for God, and consciously think about trusting him when all is going well. When I have been out of work, financially insecure, or seen loved ones suffering in hospital and been helpless to help them, it has been much easier to long for God’s comfort and to lean on him.

I am not advocating physical suffering in order to achieve spiritual devoutness, nor shutting out the world in some monastic denial of comfort, but I do wonder whether in order to truly thirst for God, we need to avoid taking our fill of all the other things that vie for our affections.

I have a good friend, who loves chocolate, but has consciously given it up. Some think he’s weird, but it was a choice he made because it reminds him that knowing God is better than the finest things of this world; that God’s word is sweeter than honey; and as David says in this Psalm, God’s steadfast love is better than life.

It is wonderful to enjoy the blessings God has made for us. The safety of the life we live. The comforts of a healthy western lifestyle, with shelter, security and satisfaction. But be on your guard that these things do not fill your life in a way that leaves no room to thirst for God. Instead, let your soul be satisfied [with God] as with fat and rich food, and your mouth praise God with joyful lips as the first priority, then add those other comforts in their proper place behind.

As Jesus said, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.