Archive for November, 2010

November 30, 2010

Advent: Why Did God Make Promises?

by Bethany

Advent Readings: Genesis 1, Luke 24

In December, 843 Acres will journey to the manger through advent readings that consider promises made and kept by the Lord [1]. Yet, before we begin, let’s think about God’s promises as a general matter.

Need for Promises

In the beginning, God spoke into nothingness and created life. Creation was meant to live in perfect harmony with Him [2]. Made “in His own image” [3], Adam and Eve enjoyed His ultimate good – an unbroken, personal relationship with Him [4].

Yet, they were unsatisfied. Rather than enjoying everything He had given them, they wanted the one thing He had not – the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden [5]. Thus, they engaged in a foolish cost-benefit analysis [6], embracing sin and pushing God away.

As He looked upon them – hidden and ashamed, yet bearing His image – He loved them and longed for restoration. But how could His holiness coexist with their unholiness [7]?

Made and Kept

God planned the grace of our forgiveness before eternity [8]. Century after century, although His people repeatedly rejected Him, He made promises of salvation, using many images to communicate with them [9].

In Jesus, God kept those promises. As Jesus told His disciples, the Scriptures were written about and fulfilled in Him: “[A]ll things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” [10].

Long Delay

Yet, why wait thousands of years to send Jesus? Why promise salvation rather than just provide it when it was needed?

Without His promises, we would not have understood Jesus as Messiah. By delaying, He taught us about Israel’s persistent rebellion and His long-suffering forgiveness through the sacrificial system. Without the Old Testament, we were tempted to see Jesus as a mere therapist, good example, or hero.

Yet, these are not His deepest attributes. The truest part of Jesus was that He solved the greatest mystery of all time – namely, how God could punish the guilty and forgive iniquity [11].

Prayer

Lord, Over the course of thousands of years, you gave us an epic display of your love, grace, mercy and patience, as you made promises to your rebellious people and kept those promises in Jesus, who is the center of history. How we needed your promises! How we long to be restored to you. Keep our hearts tethered to you, as we continue to hope in your promises until the return of Jesus. Amen.

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[1]  For the regular reading plan, see here.  |  [2]  Jonathan Edwards’ The End for Which God Created the World provides an excellent theological foundation concerning the reason for creation. Since Edwards’ essay was written to philosophers of his time, however, it is very difficult to read. John Piper has written an excellent work, God’s Passion for His Glory, that accompanies the full text of the essay and has hundreds of footnotes of explanation. I highly recommend it.  |  [3] Genesis 1:27 NASB  |  [4]  When God looked upon His creation of Adam and Eve, He said it was “very good.” For an extended reflection on the concept of friendship with God, see Billy Graham’s The Journey, chapter 3 (“The Great Design”).  |  [5]  Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-6  |  [6]  Genesis 3:1-7  |   |  [7]  The frequent Biblical analogy to show that holiness cannot coexist with unholiness is that light cannot coexist with darkness. Once a light shines in the darkness, there is no more darkness; the light has overcome it. Similarly, once holiness shines in unholiness, the holiness overcomes the unholiness; the unholiness has been extinguished. See, e.g., Luke 11, John 1, John 12, 1 Corinthians 6.  |  [8] 1 Timothy 1:9  |  [9]  As we will see in the advent readings, God used the covenant, the law, the temple, the sacrifices, etc., to communicate His promise of salvation in ways that we could understand.  |  [10]  Luke 24:44 NASB  |  [11] Exodus 34:6-7 (announcing His character to Moses, the Lord said that He was, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished … NASB).

November 29, 2010

Was Jesus a Hypocrite?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Micah 4, Luke 13

That is, did He express “zeal for those virtues which he neglect[ed] to practice” [1]. For example, although He claimed to “fulfill” the Law [2] and knew it read, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” [3], did He “abolish” it [4] when He healed a woman on the Sabbath?

He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit … When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness” [5].

At once, someone recognized His transgression:

But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed and not on the Sabbath day” [6].

Jesus responded:

You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day? [7].

Jesus was not a hypocrite; the religious leaders were. He knew that the Law – as it was given to Moses – merely read, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Yet, Jewish law added to the commandment when it defined “holy” to be the prohibition of thirty-nine categories of activity on Shabbat [8].

The religious leaders were hypocrites. They focused on peripheral distractions of their own creation and “neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” [9]. They were selfish, using religion to protect themselves from inconvenience (a woman’s healing) and help themselves in convenience (an ox’s nutrition). They were not interested in keeping the Sabbath holy; they cared about their donkeys and their money [10].

Jesus, however, was not a hypocrite. Unlike His opponents, He loved the Sabbath and kept it holy. He did not add to the Law; He fulfilled it.

Prayer

Lord, You love an honest heart. Yet, we confess that we are prone to hypocrisy and making our religion a farce. Forgive our hearts that seek to add to your Word. Show us how keep your law in faith, as we fully trust in your having met its demands in Christ.  Amen.

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[1]  Samuel Johnson, Rambler 14, P. 154. In Chalmers, Alexander: Full text of “The British Essayists.”  |  |  [2]  Matthew 5:17 NASB  |  [3]  Exodus 20:8 NASB. See also Exous 31:12-17.  |  [4]  See FN2 |  [5]  Luke 13:10-13 NASB  |  [6]  Luke 13:14 NASB  |  [7] Luke 13:15-16 NASB  |  [8] Wikipedia, Activities Prohibited on Shabbat |  [9]  Matthew 23:23 NASB  |  [10]  See Luke 16:14

November 26, 2010

Giving Thanks (Part 3)

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Micah 1, Luke 10
This Weekend’s Readings: Micah 2-3, Luke 11-12

While Thanksgiving is for Marthas,  the day after Thanksgiving is for Marys.

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me. But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:38-42 NASB]

Yesterday, most of us were Marthas – distracted with all our preparations. We cleaned and prepared and cooked and served and ate and cleaned and ziploc-ed. Today (and every day), let us be Marys – who sit at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. Let us rest and listen and sit and be still.

Prayer

Lord, The greatest good we can do is to listen to you. In fact, your Word tells us that the only work that you require of us is to “believe in Him whom He has sent” [John 6:29 NASB]. Yet, we see the seemingly urgent demands around us and we get distracted from the good of listening to you. We think there is so much work to do and that we will have time to listen to you only after we finish everything on our to-do lists. We confess that we are deceived in our thinking and we need your help. Work in our hearts to desire you more and in our ears to hear you more. Show us what it means to be Marys as we live in a world with practical tasks that are made for Marthas. Amen.

November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks (Part 2)

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Jonah 4, Luke 9

For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? [1]

Lord,

Today, as we give you thanks for the many things that you have given to us and the many ways that you have worked in our lives, we recognize that all of our achievements and privileges are rubbish compared to knowing you [2]. Our jobs, our homes, our food, our families, our children, our spouses, our money, our righteous living – although these are nice things, none can save but Christ alone.

Yet, we were formerly separate from Christ and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Now, however, we have been brought near by the blood of Christ [3], whom you raised from the dead and seated at your right hand in the heavenly places. And you put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all [4].

Who can understand this great mystery? Therefore, we pray that you would give us a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened, so that we will know what is the hope of your calling, what are the riches of the glory of your inheritance in your people, and what is the surpassing greatness of your power towards us who believe [5].

We want to gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of our own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Chist, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that we may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that we may attain to the resurrection from the dead [6].

Thank you for you. Thank you for letting us know you. Thank you for living for us. Thank you for dying for us. Thank you for saving us.

Amen.

[1]  Luke 9:25 NASB  |  [2]  See Philippians 3:7-8  |  [3]  See Ephesians 2:12-13 NASB  |  [4]  See Ephesians 1:20-23  |  [5]  See Ephesians 1:17-19  |  [6]  See Philippians 3:8-11 NASB

November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks (Part 1)

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Jonah 3, Luke 8

Lord,

As I read today’s passages, I am thankful that …

  • … in spite of our sinful pasts, You call us into Your mission: “The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses” [1].
  • … in spite of our spiritual numbness, You grant us to know the mysteries of Your kingdom: “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” [2]
  • … in spite of whether we have families or whether our families are marvelous or miserable, You call us into Your family: “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it” [3].
  • … in spite of our weak faith, You calm our storms: “They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. And He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’” [4].
  • … in spite of our total dependence on You, You ask us to participate in advancing Your kingdom: “He sent [the man whom He had healed] away, saying, ‘Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you’” [5].
  • … in spite of our presumptions about life and death, You call forth life from the dead: “He said [to those mourning the girl’s death], ‘Stop weeping, for she has not died, but is asleep.’ And they began laughing at Him … He, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, ‘Child, arise!’ And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately” [6]
  • … in spite of our rebellion against You, You speak to us again and again: “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time” [7]
  • … in spite of our wickedness, You show us mercy and love: “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” [8].

For all these things, I give You thanks.

Amen.

As you read today’s passages, for what are you thankful?

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[1] 8:1-2 NASB  |  [2] 8:10 NASB  |  [3] 8:21 NASB  |  [4] 8:24-25 NASB  |  [5] 8:39 NASB  |  [6] 8:52-55 NASB  |  [7] Jonah 3:1 NASB  |  [8] Jonah 3:10 NASB

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