Go and Learn

Daily Reading
Genesis 9-10 (Listen – 7:19)
Matthew 9 (Listen – 4:56)
*We’re reading and listening to the NIV this year. See why.

Matthew 9.13
[Jesus said,] “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The Pharisees were liberal in their view of who could have God’s presence, says Hebrew University Historian Daniel Schwartz. [1] There was no debate among Jewish scholars in Jesus’ day that Israel had broken God’s covenant with them. The key question of their time was how the covenant could be restored — and the answer extended from theology into the reality of everyday life.

The Sadducees believed God’s presence could only reside in a certain kind of person: those born of the proper lineage and actively participating in Temple life in Jerusalem. This was a significant problem for most ancient Jews as they were spread throughout the Near East. Moving was almost always an unthinkable risk since land was life in an agrarian society. The Pharisees grew in power because they offered Jews outside of Jerusalem an alternative. In short, they believed keeping the law was the way a person’s standing with God was restored. They were fastidious about the law because it was their only hope.

The Pharisees and Sadducees each crafted a way for a person to restore their relationship with God through their own volition. The Sadducees wanted people to give up on their cities, neighborhoods, and vocations, believing God’s plan was limited to a particular culture and place. The Pharisees looked at their Scriptures like a rulebook, missing—in Jesus’ opinion—the entire point of the Scriptures.

“Go and learn” is a rabbinic phrase which means the hearer has missed something in the Scriptures and needs to study with greater attention. Jesus wasn’t a sage who commanded his followers to study the laws and do their best to conduct flawless lives. Any prophet could have done that. Jesus’ foundational claim was that he was the Son of God who came to extend God’s mercy to the world. Restoration was possible through him.

Prayer

Thank you, Father, for extending your mercy to us. Thank you that your love isn’t limited to those who obey best, or are born to the right family, or live in a particular culture. Guide us to read Scripture in such a way that leads us to be dependent on you and not on our own strength. Help us to extend your mercy to those around us in ways that lead them to you. 

This Week: Anger and Forgiveness, Miracles and Mercy
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Weekend Readings

Saturday: Genesis 11 (Listen – 3:47); Matthew 10 (Listen – 5:07)
Sunday: Genesis 12 (Listen – 2:50); Matthew 11 (Listen – 4:06)

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Footnotes

[1] See Daniel Schwartz’ discussion on requirements for God’s presence inside Jewish Movements of the New Testament Period in The Jewish Annotated Study Bible, pp.526-530. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health

Highlighted Text: 2 Cor. 13:5
Full Text: Prov. 1, 2 Cor. 13

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. [1]

How do doctors diagnose physical health? They ask questions, e.g., Have you experienced any breathing difficulties? In his short book, “Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health” [2], Don Whitney suggests doing the same:

  • Do you thirst for God? Jonathan Edwards wrote, “So holy desire, exercised in longings, hungerings, and thirstings after God and holiness, is often mentioned in Scripture as an important part of true religion.” [3]
  • Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word? Thomas Chalmers wrote, “The sum and substance of the preparation needed for a coming eternity is that you believe what the Bible tells you and do what the Bible bids you.” [4]
  • Are you more loving? Martin Luther wrote, “The more a person loves, the closer he approaches the image of God.” [5]
  • Are you more sensitive to God’s presence? A.W. Pink wrote, “If the soul of the believer is in a healthy condition, he will take occasion to frequently come into God’s presence on purpose to have communion with Him.” [6]
  • Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others? John Calvin said, “There is nothing in which men resemble God more truly than in doing good to others.” [7]
  • Do you delight in the bride of Christ? Peter Jeffrey wrote, “The closer you are to the Lord, the closer you will be to other believers.” [8]
  • Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you? Peter Jeffrey wrote, “Without a disciplined life, you will stagnate as a Christian.” [9]
  • Do you still grieve over sin? J.C. Ryle wrote, “I am convinced that the first step towards attaining a higher standard of holiness is to realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin.” [10]
  • Are you a quick forgiver? James Coulter wrote, “The unforgiving spirit … is the number one killer of spiritual life.” [11]
  • Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus? C.H. Spurgeon said, “You may judge of a man by what he groans after.” [12]

Lord, We long for life in you and, therefore, we must have health and growth. Let us test ourselves, as we seek your face in our quiet times alone with you and in our community. Lift our eyes to Jesus, as we press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in him. Amen.

[Note: Supporting Scripture references for each question are found in the footnotes.]

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Footnotes

[1] 2 Cor. 13:5 ESV.  |  [2] Donald S. Whitney. Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. I love his questions because they focus on the state of the heart toward God (which is the goal) and see Christian obedience and the practice of Christian disciplines (which are the means) as evidence of the state of the heart. Also, in each chapter, he expands on these questions and offers “practical steps” for growing in each of these areas.  |  [3] Do you thirst for God? See, e.g., Ps. 42; Ps. 63; Phil. 3:1-11. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [4] Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word? See, e.g., Ps. 119; 1 Ptr. 2:2; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Thes. 2:10. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [5] Are you more loving? See, e.g., Jn. 15:12; Jn 15:17; Rom. 12:10; Rom. 13:8; 1 Cor. 16:14; Gal. 5:14; Eph. 5:2; 1 Thes. 4:9. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [6] Are you more sensitive to God’s presence? See, e.g., Gen. 28:16 (when Jacob didn’t recognize God’s presence); Matt. 28:20; Ps. 139:5-12; Matt. 1:23; Acts 11:21; Matt. 18:10; Rev. 21:3. (Tons more in the chapter.) Also, I love this chapter because it talks about times when we go through the desert and how those increase our later senses of His presence.  |  [7] Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others? See, e.g., Acts 4:33-34; Gal. 2:10; Jms 2:15-16; Jn. 10:10; Jn. 13:1-17. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [8] Do you delight in the bride of Christ? See, e.g., Eph. 5:25-27; 1 Jn. 3:14; Ps. 16:3. (Tons more in the chapter.) (Note: Delighting in “our friends who are in the church” is not the same as delighting “in the church.” In New York, I have found that it is so easy only to spend time with those I already like and am drawn to. Yet the church is filled with all kinds of people. Do I delight in the church? This is the goal; my, how far I have to go!  |  [9] Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you? See, e.g., Heb. 12:14; 1 Tim. 4:7; Mark 1:35. (Tons more in the chapter.) He also asks, “What are the spiritual disciplines?” and “What are the dangers of the spiritual disciplines?” – two important questions.  |  [10] Do you still grieve over sin? See, e.g., 1 Ptr. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:15; 2 Cor. 7:8-11. (Tons more in the chapter.) He also provides wonderful examples of great saints in more “modern” times (Edwards, etc.).  |  [11] Are you a quick forgiver? See, e.g., Mark 11:25-26; 2 Cor. 5:17. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [12] Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus? See, e.g., Rom. 8:22-23; 2 Cor. 5:2. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [13] For those who read our 843 Acres in Google Reader, please disregard the accidental version of this post that was published yesterday.

What Happens When We See God

Highlighted Text: Job 42:5
Full Text: Job 42, 2 Cor. 12

Sight | We can read about God and study His Word and yet never be changed. God is just an idea until He comes and speaks into our hearts. Before God spoke to him, Job was quick to remember his own righteousness. When he heard God’s voice, however, he fell in brokenness and confessed, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you”[1].

Perspective | Job immediately had two new senses about the Lord – that His sovereignty was absolute: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted”[2], and that His wisdom was infinitely superior to human knowledge: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” [3]. In light of having these two new senses about God, Job also had a new sense about himself: “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” [4].

Sense | This is what happens when we see God. We don’t have to ask God to show us our sin for what it is; we merely need to ask God to open our eyes to see Him in His magnificent and sovereign holiness. When our eyes behold His glory, we automatically see how utterly different we are from Him [5]. Then what happens to us? Do we become joyless and depressing people? No! We get a brokenhearted joy and a childlike faith that trusts in God. As Jonathan Edwards wrote, “The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires; their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble, broken-hearted joy, leaving the Christian more poor in spirit, more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior” [6].

Prayer | Lord, When we’re not in your presence, it’s easy to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We praise our own abilities and knowledge instead of your sovereignty and wisdom. Yet, when the reality of your holiness comes bursting forth into our hearts, we see how unworthy we are – apart from Jesus – to live in your mighty love. Therefore, make us broken and changed people, who trust in you with childlike faith. Make our objections to you give way to our worship of you. Give us a sense of your holiness so that we live in confession. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Job 42:5 ESV  |  [2] Job 42:2 ESV  |  [3] Job 42:3 ESV  |  [4] Job 42:6 ESV  |  [5] Isaiah saw the Lord and proclaimed, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is. 6:6 ESV), and Peter saw Jesus perform a miracle and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk. 5:8 ESV).  |  [6] Jonathan Edwards. Religious Affections. (portion in italics is taken from 1 Peter 1:8). Elsewhere Jonathan Edwards elaborated on the experience of David Brainerd, “I saw that I had been heaping up my devotions before God, fasting, praying, pretending, and indeed really thinking sometimes, that I was aiming for the glory of God; whereas I never once truly intended it, but only my own happiness. I saw, that as I had never done any thing for God, I had no claim on any thing from him, but perdition, on account of my hypocrisy and mockery. Oh how different did my duties now appear from what they used to do! I used to charge them with sin and imperfection; but this was only on account of the wanderings and vain thoughts attending them, and not because I had no regard to God in them; for this I thought I had. But when I saw evidently that I had regard to nothing but self-interest, then they appeared a vile mockery of God, self-worship, and a continual course of lies; so that I now saw that something worse had attended my duties, than barely a few wanderings; for the whole world was nothing but self-worship, and a horrid abuse of God. I continued, as I remember, in this state of mind, from Friday morning till the Sabbath evening following (July 12, 1739) when I was walking again in the same solitary place, where I was brought to see myself lost and helpless, as before mentioned. Here, in a mournful melancholy state, I was attempting to pray; but found no heart to engage in that or any other duty; my former concern, exercise and religious affections were now gone. I thought the Spirit of God had quite left me; but still was not distressed; yet disconsolate, as if there was nothing in heaven or earth could make me happy. Having been thus endeavoring to pray though, as I thought, very stupid and senseless for near half an hour, then as I was walking in a dark, thick grove, unspeakable glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul. I do not mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing; nor do I intend any imagination of a body of light, somewhere in the third heavens, or any thing of that nature; but it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God, such as I never had before, nor any thing which had the least resemblance of it. I stood still, wondered, and admired! I knew that I never had seen before any thing comparable to it for excellency and beauty; it was widely different from all the conceptions that ever I had of God, or things divine. I had no particular apprehension of any one person in the Trinity, either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost; but it appeared to be divine glory. My soul rejoiced with joy unspeakable, to see such a God, such a glorious Divine Being; and I was inwardly pleased and satisfied that he should be God over all for ever and ever. My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other perfections of God, that I was even swallowed up in him; at least to that degree, that I had no thought (as I remember) at first about my own salvation, and scarce reflected there was such a creature as myself.” See how Brainerd FIRST saw his own sinfulness and wretchedness and THEN saw the unspeakable joy of the Lord – so much that he even forgot about himself! This is the process that God uses to show us who He is and who we are in light of who He is. This is how He makes us brokenhearted in joy and childlike in faith. See Jonathan Edwards. The Life and Diary of David Brainerd.

Why and What Do We Pray for One Another

Highlighted Text: 2 Cor. 11:24-27
Full Text: Job 41, 2 Cor. 11

Prayer-Pleading | Paul frequently asked his fellow believers to pray for him. Sometimes he would simply say, “Brothers, pray for us” [1]. Other times he would passionately plead,“Strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf” [2]. And we know why he so desperately needed their prayers. As he testified, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” [3].

Prayer-Needing | Paul was brilliant and intense. He was a great man, a spiritual warrior, and a chosen instrument of God. Yet he needed others to pray for him. Why? First, he knew that he could never accomplish his work apart from the grace of God: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” [4]. Second, he knew that moral growth and ministry success came only by prayer. As he told the Philippians, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” [5] (moral growth), and wrote to the Thessalonians, “Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” [6] (ministry success).

Prayer-Doing | Lord, We long for grace, moral growth and ministry success in our lives. Thus, we know that we must meet with you in prayer. We must boast in our weaknesses apart from you, knowing that we cannot accomplish the most lasting achievements on this earth apart from your might, power, glory and love. Let us not be lazy in praying for one another – that your grace would abound in our lives, that our love may grow in knowledge and depth of insight, and that your word may speed ahead and be honored in our lives – even as we endure hardship for our obedience like Paul did. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] See Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1.  |  [2] Rom. 15:30 ESV  |  [3] 2 Cor. 11: 24-27 ESV  |  [4] 1 Cor. 15:10 ESV. See also 1 Peter 4:11; Heb. 13:20-21  |  [5] Phil. 1:9 ESV. See also Col. 1:9-10; Lk. 22:40  |  [6] 2 Thess. 3:1. See also Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3-4

How and Why God Exposes What We Really Think About Him

Highlighted Text: Job 38:1
Full Text: Job 38; 2 Cor. 8

Recession | Last week, Bloomberg highlighted the struggles of several wealthy New Yorkers who are struggling in the current economy. One executive said that, since his bonus was lower this year, his $350,000 income could no longer cover their children’s tuition, their summer rental, and their apartment upgrade. “I feel stuck,” he said. “The New York that I wanted to have is still just beyond my reach.” Another executive, who spends $17,000 a year on his dogs, has been forced to “re-examine lots of assumptions about how grand their life would be”[1].

Reveal | Job was ridiculously wealthy. He was “the greatest of all the people of the east” in his day [2]. He had seven sons, three daughters, thousands of livestock, and many servants[3]. Moreover, he was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned way from evil” [4]. When he lost everything, however, his thoughts about God – thoughts that were dormant during his time of prosperity – were revealed. He said things that assumed his own righteousness: “Let the Almighty answer me!” [5] and his own correct perspective, “When I hoped for good, evil came” [6].

Expose | Paul Brand wrote, “The more we let our level of contentment be determined by outside factors – a new car, fashionable clothes, a prestigious career, social status – the more we relinquish control over our own happiness” [7]. Yet how do we know whether our joy is based on outside factors? It’s very often one of two ways – either we give it away or He takes it away. God loves to use tough times to expose our true foundations because He wants us to move our joy from our goods to His grace, our money to His mercy, and our wealth to His worth [8]. And why should we want Him to do this? Because He alone is God. As he interrupted Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” [9] God alone has knowledge, power, sovereignty and wisdom to run the world and our lives. And there’s nothing more precious than knowing that He exerts all that might to do us good [10].

Prayer | Lord, Pride sits dormant in us during times of prosperity. But we thank you for your gracious work through adversity, exposing the foundations of our hearts and realigning our joy in your unchanging love and victorious grace. Teach us to embrace hardship, as we recognize that you’re doing a massively important work in our souls. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Max Abelson. Wall Street Bonus Withdrawal Means Trading Aspen for Cheap Chex. Bloomberg. 29 February 2012.  |  [2] Job 1:3 ESV  |  [3] Job 1:2-3  |  [4] Job 1:1 ESV  |  [5] Job 31:35 ESV  |  [6] Job 30:26 ESV  |  [7] Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. The Gift of Pain. Zondervan (1993), p. 293. (Dr. Paul Brand is the physician who discovered that leprosy doesn’t eat away at the skin; it is a disease that results in a leper’s having no sensation of pain. Thus, he argues that pain is – in fact – a great thing because it is a warning sign. The chapter from which this quotation is taken is entitled, “Pleasure and Pain,” and it has a challenging perspective on the Western ideal of a pain-free existence. Again, I have mentioned this book in the past few weeks many times. I cannot more highly recommend it. If you haven’t yet suffered, prepare for it now by reading this book and reflecting on its truth. If you’re currently suffering or have already suffered, you’ll fall in love with this book. (I hope!)  |  [8] See John Piper. Sermon: “What’s the Recession For?” 1 February 2009.  |  [9] Job 38:1 ESV  |  [10] The Bible is FILLED with passages that tell us how much God utterly DELIGHTS to do us good – see Zeph. 3:17; Ps. 147:11; 1 Ptr. 1:6-7; Rom. 2:29; 1 Cor. 4:5; Ps. 18:19; Ps. 147:11; Ps. 149:4; Rom. 8:31-19 … the list goes on and on.  |  [11] This reflection is dedicated to my parents, who constantly took the opportunity to show me that their treasure was not in worldly goods – both by giving away so much to so many and by joyfully experiencing times of struggle when things were taken away.

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