Archive for June, 2012

June 29, 2012

Lift Your Voice! It’s the Year of Jubilee!

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Matthew 9:35
Full Text: Isaiah 61; Matthew 9

Jubilee | The Law that the Lord gave Moses instructed the Israelites to work for six years and then celebrate the Sabbath Year, when they were to rest from their work and depend on Him to provide for them. Then, every seven times seven years – that is, every forty-nine years – they were to celebrate the Year of Jubilee, when they were to forgive all debts and release all slaves [1]. This was a magnificent year, full of great hope and joy.

Fulfilled | More than a thousand years later, Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” [2]. All eyes were fixed on him and he said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” [3].

Kingdom | His message was clear: the Year of Jubilee was here and he was ushering it in. The kingdom of God that he was announcing would be a kingdom of forgiveness and release. It would be a kingdom of celebration, where people would experience God’s grace and give Him glory with great joy [4]. As we saw yesterday, Jesus cleansed lepers, healed servants, calmed storms and expelled demons. Today, in Matthew 9, we read that he healed paralytics, raised the dead, stopped hemorrhages and restored sight to the blind. Matthew summarized, “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction” [5].

Prayer | Lord, You are king who loves a party, where people are happy because they experience your forgiveness, release and healing. Therefore, when we pray as Jesus taught us, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” we long to be people who throw great parties of great joy in your name. We want to point out signs of renewal in our midst and be people who spread forgiveness and release for your glory. We want to declare that the Year of Jubilee is here in the person of Jesus, our king and redeemer. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] See Leviticus 25.  |  [2] Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV; Luke 4:18-19 ESV  |  [3] Luke 4:21 ESV  |  [4] See Matthew 9:8.  |  [5] Matthew 9:35 ESV

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June 28, 2012

The Proclamation of the New King

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Matthew 8:27
Full Text: Isaiah 60; Matthew 8

Hopes | What hopes do you have for this election year? What kind of White House might get you excited to participate in government? Can you imagine a political culture that inspires its citizens to live as better neighbors, workers, parents and friends?

Miracles | When Jesus came to Galilee, he didn’t merely proclaim the kingdom of God with words; he also did mighty acts to show what it was like. He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” [1]. Then, as we see here in Matthew 8, he cleansed lepers, healed servants, calmed storms and drove out demons.

Rumors | This was the character of the kingdom of God. In the midst of an oppressive government, the alternative kingdom of God would heal people and calm storms. Such joy accompanied his works that rumors about him spread throughout Galilee and even as far as cities in the Decapolis like Amman, Jordan (63 miles away) and Damascus, Syria (135 miles away)! [2] As people saw him perform these miracles, they marveled: “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” [3].

Callings | Today, God calls us to be citizens of His kingdom in our cities. We are to commit ourselves to deeds and words that say, as Jesus’ deeds and words did, that there is another ruler and another way of organizing the world. As Tom Wright reflects, “You commit yourself to the work of healing and liberation, both actual and symbolic. You commit yourself to freeing slaves, to loosening the bonds of debt, to bringing good news to the poor. And you commit yourself to doing those things, not as a grand social action which you will implement by your own energy and ingenuity, but in the power, and with the weapons, of the kingdom of God: by prayer and fasting, by truth and righteousness, by the gospel of peace, by faith, by salvation, by the word of God” [4].

Prayer | Lord, You reign as king and, at the end of this age, every knee will bow at your throne. Until then, however, by the power of your Spirit, we proclaim with words and deeds that your kingdom is coming. Therefore, let us seek you and, in our seeking, live to further your kingdom of healing and joy. Amen.

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Footnotes

 [1] Mark 1:15 ESV  |  [2] See Matthew 4:25 (mentioning that crowds followed Jesus “from Galilee and the Decapolis … and from beyond the Jordan” – 8 of the 10 cities of the Decapolis were not in Israel, including Amman and Damascus).  |  [3] Matthew 8:27  |  [4] Tom Wright. The Way of the Lord: Christian Pilgrimage Today (p. 54). Kindle Edition.


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June 27, 2012

An Asking, Seeking and Knocking Prayer

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Matthew 7:7-11
Full Text: Isaiah 59; Matthew 7

Lord, You are infinitely and unimaginably strong, righteous, good, wise and loving. Although we desperately need you, we confess that we don’t come to you as we ought. You extend to us the greatest invitation in the world – to feast at your banquet table – but we come up with all sorts of excuses for why we can’t accept it [1]. Therefore, awaken effectual inclinations in us to pray.

Sometimes we feel so close to you that we can just ask you for things. Other times, however, you seem distant so we must seek you. There are also times when you seem behind closed doors. Yet no matter how close or far you may seem, you promise to hear our asking, reward our seeking and answer our knocking: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” [2].

You keep these promises because we come to you through Jesus, who died to give us acceptance by and access to you. He has given us the right to become your children [3]. Therefore, although we may feel shy or unworthy to pray, Christ removes our timid doubts [4] and reminds us that we are coming to our Father, who always gives us good things: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” [5]. Therefore, Lord, we turn to you and not another to hear us and give us good things – whether that means that you give us what we ask or something better than what we ask. Your will, not ours, be done.

We take you at your word. Although we may not fully understand how you answer our prayers, we trust your promises. Therefore, we pray. We ask, seek and knock, because we long for your unending goodness to come to us, our families, our church, our nation and our world. Let us, therefore, make new and fresh commitments to set aside time for prayer alone and together, knowing that you invite us to your banquet table that is full of eternal blessings for your great name’s sake. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] See Luke 14:18-20.  |  [2] Matthew 7:7-8 ESV  |  [3] See John 1:12.  |  [4] Martin Luther. The Sermon on the Mount, translated by Jaroslav Pelikan, Vol. 21 of Luther’s Works, [Concordia, 1956], p.234.)  |  [5] Matthew 7:7-11 ESV  |  [FN] For additional reflection on asking, seeking and knocking see John Piper, Ask Your Father in Heaven (31 December 2006).

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June 26, 2012

The Lord’s Prayer Expanded

by Bethany

Highlighted Verses: Matthew 6:9-13
Full Readings: Isaiah 58; Matthew 6

Lord | Our Father in heaven.” | We proclaim that you’re our Father. Together, with those who have gone before us, we are your children. In Christ, we call you Father, as we seek you together. Unlike us, you’re in heaven, where you have perfect perspective. Our ways are not your ways. Here, sin and death reign. In heaven, however, Christ is king and he lives to intercede for us.

You | “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” | May your name be holy, may your kingdom come, and may your will done. May all that we do – how we relate to you, our families, our friends, our possessions – glorify your name. Set us apart as people who bear your name, Christ-ians. Make us holy, as you are holy. Make your gracious rule reign in our hearts. Let us not fear what those around us fear; instead, let us fear you so that we run to you. Let us obey your commands as a response to your abundant grace in Christ. We also pray that your name be treated as holy in our cities, as our good works are lights that shine your glory [1].

Us | Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” | We long to join you in making your name great, your kingdom come and your will done. Therefore, we pray for health, forgiveness and holiness. We need forgiveness daily because we’re sinners daily and we can’t thrive with guilt. Yet we don’t deserve your forgiveness, which means that we are called to show forgiveness to others when it isn’t merited either. Therefore, we plead through Jesus, our redeemer. We long to fight for holiness. We don’t want to keep on sinning. So we pray that you remove us from temptation. Guard us from sin and the deception of the Evil One. Let us walk in holiness for your name’s sake.

Amen | We agree with you that your name should be loved and cherished. For as many as are the promises of God, they are Amen in Christ; therefore, also through him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.

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Footnotes

[1] 843 Acres. “The Sermon on the Mount Was Not Tranquil.” 25 June 2012.

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June 25, 2012

The Sermon on the Mount Was Not Tranquil

by Bethany

Highlighted Verses: Matthew 5:14-16
Full Readings: Isaiah 57; Matthew 5

Counter | The Sermon on the Mount is a counter-cultural sermon. “The followers of Jesus are to be different,” John Stott wrote, “different from both the nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious. The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete delineation anywhere in the New Testament of the Christian counter-culture. Here is a Christian value-system, ethical standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, lifestyle and network of relationships – all of which are totally at variance in the non-Christian world. And this Christian counter-culture is the life of the kingdom of God” [1].

Context | Jesus preached this sermon in Galilee, which was under Roman control. In Rome, Tiberius was Emperor and, having deified his adoptive father Julius Caesar, many called him the Son of God. The regional leader was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, who led the Slaughter of the Innocents when Jesus was born and who was called the King of the Jews[2]. Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist, was just as brutal as his father [3]. In this context, Jesus preached an alternative kingdom, where he was the true Son of God and King of the Jews.

Lights | In this sermon, therefore, Jesus wasn’t talking about a tranquil spiritual life. He said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” [4]. His kingdom wouldn’t come by sword against Tiberius or Herod; it would come by a lifestyle of good works against the real insurrectionist – Satan himself. This wouldn’t be easy. As Jesus knew, he would have to be killed in order to redeem his people and put his Spirit within them to will and work for his good pleasure [5].

Prayer | Lord, We long to live as lights in our cities, valuing service and sacrifice over strength and success. Awaken your Spirit within us so that, by taking up our crosses, our lives proclaim that Christ alone is our treasure, security and salvation. We are loyal and happy subjects of your kingdom. Therefore, let us shine forth your glory. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] John Stott. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978.  |  [2] See Matthew 2:13-18.  |  [3] See Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9.  |  [4] Matthew 5:14-16  |  [5] See Philippians 2:13.

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June 22, 2012

On the Jewish Heritage of the Gospel

by Bethany

Highlighted Verses: Matthew 2:1-2
Full Readings: Isaiah 54; Matthew 2

Background | Matthew was a first century Galilean from Capernaum and a tax collector during the Roman occupation of Israel and Judah. Jews who got rich by collecting Roman taxes from their fellow Jews were despised. In this context, Jesus called Matthew to be one of his twelve disciples. Later, when Matthew invited Jesus into his home for a meal, the Jewish leaders criticized Jesus for eating “with tax collectors and sinners” [1], but Jesus replied, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” [2].

Message | Matthew presents Jesus as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah and universal king. Yet, even though Matthew wants to establish Jesus’ Jewish credentials in accordance with the Hebrew Scriptures, he also wants to show that Jesus’ authority extends over all nations. Therefore, Matthew immediately focuses on foreigners coming from the East to worship Jesus in response to their understanding of the Scriptures: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him’” [3].

Significance | Jesus was, and is, the universal Messiah for all the nations, not just for the Jewish nation. His first worshipers were not Israelites; they were from the East – perhaps, Babylon. They were Gentiles and, therefore, unclean under Jewish law. But this was God’s plan. He wanted to welcome Gentiles to rejoice in the Messiah. Even the Hebrew Scriptures themselves repeatedly prophesied that the nations and their kings would worship the Jewish Messiah. As Isaiah said, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” [4].

Prayer | Lord, When we reflect on our faith, we acknowledge our Jewish heritage – Jesus was Jewish, the disciples were Jewish, every biblical author was Jewish except one. Yet most of us are Gentiles. Therefore, we praise you that, in Christ, we are adopted as true Israelites [5]. This is a “mystery” – that Gentiles “are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” [6]. Thus, we glorify you as the great king – not only for Israel, but for us as well. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Mark 2:16 ESV  |  [2] Mark 2:17 ESV  |  [3] Matthew 2:1-2 ESV  |  [4] Isaiah 60:3 ESV  |  [5] 843 Acres. “On True Israel and Its Implications of Promise.” 13 June 2012.  |  [6] Ephesians 2:6 ESV

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June 21, 2012

On the Three Views of Christ: Christianity, Judaism and Islam

by Bethany

Highlighted Verses: Isaiah 53:10, 11
Full Readings: Isaiah 53; Matthew 1

Distinctive | Christians believe that Jesus died for a reason, Judaism believes that Jesus died for no reason, and Islam believes that Jesus did not die at all. As the Qur’an states, “[The Jews] said, ‘We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of God.’ (They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them.)” [1].

Prophecy | Isaiah prophesied that the Jewish Messiah would die: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted … like a lamb that is led to the slaughter … he poured out his soul to death” [2]. Isaiah foretold that his death would have a purpose: “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” [3]. Yet Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would rise again as a result of his sacrificial death: “When his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” [4].

Importance | These prophesied truths about the purposeful death and resurrection of the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” [5].

Lord | The heart of Christianity is that Jesus died for our sins. To reject the death and resurrection of the Messiah, therefore, is to reject the Old Testament and the New Testament. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis reasoned that Jesus had to be more than a teacher: “You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Prayer | Lord, We come to you through Jesus, who had to die so that we could be in the presence of God. Increase our faith in him so that we see him as the prophesied Messiah, who suffered to redeem us. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] The Qur’an. Sura 4:156-157.  |  [2] Isaiah 53:9, 12 ESV  |  [3] Isaiah 53:4, 5, 6 ESV  |  [4] Isaiah 53:10 ESV  |  [5] 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV

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June 20, 2012

On the Double Prophecies of Jesus Exalted

by Bethany

Highlighted Verses: Isaiah 52:13-15
Full Readings: Isaiah 52; Revelation 22

Jerusalem | In the gracious providence of the Lord, our daily readings right now are simultaneously in Isaiah and Revelation. Thus, yesterday, we read in Revelation about the new Jerusalem that will come at the end of this age. In that great and glorious city, all things will be made new and Christ will reign as king eternal and universal. Isaiah also prophesied about the new Jerusalem, calling the people of God to awake from their stupor of sin: “Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city” [1].

Servant | Just as Revelation sees Jesus sitting on the throne as the Lamb that was slain, Isaiah – seven hundred years before the crucifixion of Jesus – envisions a suffering servant as ruler: “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you – his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind – so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand” [2].

Sight | Peter writes that Isaiah and the prophets longed to understand their own prophecies concerning the suffering servant. They were on the lookout for who he would be and when he would come: “The prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” [3]. Yet there was – and remains – blindness about Jesus’ identify [4]. As Isaiah prophesied, however, the Lord will open eyes to see the Son as the Servant. God will give us eyes to see the majesty of Jesus, who is “the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star” [5].

Prayer | Lord, Open our eyes to see Jesus as high and lifted up. Recover within us a high view of Christ, as the Spirit shines light on the majesty of Jesus. Give us humility to know that it is by grace that we have been saved through faith and this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of our works, so that we may not boast [6]. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Isaiah 52:1 ESV  |  [2] Isaiah 52:13-15 ESV  |  [3] 1 Peter 1:10-11 ESV  |  [4] See Acts 26:18; Romans 15:21.  |  [5] Revelation 22:16 ESV  |  [6] See Ephesians 2:8-10.

June 19, 2012

On a Vision to Endure Trials

by Bethany

Highlighted Verses: Revelation 21:3-4, 22-24
Full Readings: Isaiah 51; Revelation 21

Beginnings | Christianity began as a sect among the early Jews. As Jesus grew in popularity, however, the Jewish and Roman leaders felt threatened and wanted to stop the movement. Thus, Jesus was crucified. A year later, Stephen was stoned for proclaiming Jesus as Messiah. In 41 AD, wanting to endear himself to his Jewish subjects, Agrippa continued the persecution. James the Lesser was killed, but the other apostles escaped. When Agrippa died, Annas stepped into the power vacuum and killed James the Greater. Paul was persecuted, stoned and imprisoned frequently.

Persecutions | Under Nero (54–68 AD), a vast multitude of Christians “were made the subjects of sport; for they were wrapped in the hides of wild beasts and torn to pieces by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set on fire, and when day declined, were burned to serve for nocturnal lights.” All of the twelve disciples – except for Judas, who killed himself, and John, who died of natural causes – were martyred by various means, e.g., beheading, death by sword or spear, or upside down crucifixion. In 66 AD, a Jewish revolt broke out, which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The Jewish Christian Church fled from the city [1].

Visions | Domitian (81–96 AD) strengthened the cult of emperor worship and continued the persecution of Christians. During this time, God gave John the vision we find in Revelation (95–96 AD). At its climax, John records, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away … I saw no temple in the city, for the temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And … the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” [2].

Prayer | Lord, You alone are the universal and eternal ruler and king. Just as Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, all of our cities and buildings will pass away. Yet you have prepared for us a new Jerusalem, where Jesus himself is the temple. In him, we are co-heirs of your happy and merciful kingdom. Therefore, give us a strong vision of what is to come so that we can rejoice and endure through any trial. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] All historical information taken from the following sources: Diarmaid MacCulloch. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. New York: Viking, 2009 (pp. 102-111).  Wikipedia, “Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.” “Domitian.”  |  [2] Revelation 21:3, 4, 22-24 ESV
June 18, 2012

On Christ Wanting Followers, Not Admirers

by Bethany

Highlighted Verses: Revelation 20:11-12
Full Readings: Isaiah 50; Revelation 20

Person | “It is well known,” wrote Soren Kierkegaard, “that Christ consistently used the expression ‘follower.’ He never asks for admirers, worshippers or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for” [1]. Christianity is about a person, a savior, a redeemer. His relationship with his followers is so intimate that, at the end of this age, he will welcome them as a groom welcomes his bride: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of [Jesus] the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” [2].

Books | In Revelation, John saw two types of books – (1) “books” that contain the deeds of all people, and (2) “the book of life” that contains the names of Christ’s followers: “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it … And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” [3].

Faith | The full name of “the book of life” is “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” [4]. That book is about the life of Jesus and his redemptive work on the cross. Thus, his followers are saved on the basis of Christ, not themselves [5]. Yet their “books” confirm that they trusted in Christ [6]. Even the thief on the cross, whose “books” were filled with sin and transgression, is in “the book of life” because his final hours showed his humble trust in Jesus as Lord [7].

Prayer | Lord, We don’t want to be your admirers, who stay personally detached from you, or your adherents, who see you merely as a teacher. We long to be your followers and disciples. May our lives evidence our faith in you, even as our names are written in the book of life. Keep the eyes of our hearts focused on the life and work of Jesus Christ our Lord, whose life redeems us to walk in accordance with your will. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Soren Kierkegaard. “Followers, Not Admirers.”  |  [2] Revelation 19:6-7 ESV  |  [3] Revelation 20:11-12 ESV.  |  [4] Revelation 13:8 ESV  |  [5] See also Revelation 1:5; 5:9.  |  [6] See Revelation 13:8; 21:27.  |  [7] See Luke 23:39-43. See also John Piper. What Will the Final Judgment Mean for You? Taste & See Article. 31 December 2007.
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