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'Wrestling with God' (Genesis 32)

In recent weeks we’ve seen Jacob come a long way – he met God at Bethel, saw God’s hand on his life in Haran and recognised that it was God who protected him against Laban. But he was still somewhat self-reliant and not fully surrendered to God. When it came crunch time with Esau approaching, Jacob does what he’d always done and relies on his smarts to save himself. That all changed, however, when, alone at night, a Man wrestled with Jacob until the break of day. Verse 25 interestingly says, “Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him”. Hosea 12:4 sheds some important light on this night-fight where it says, “Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed; He wept, and sought favour from Him”. We see then that the Man was no mere man but “the Angel”, God Himself in an Old Testament Christophany. Also, that, after ruining his hip, Jacob wept and held on not from a position of strength but of brokenness, desperate in defeat. All Jacob had left was to cry out for a blessing. Spurgeon put it this way, “Now, in his weakness, he will prevail. While he was strong, he won not the blessing; but when he became utter weakness, then did he conquer.” The blessing was of course the giving of a name which spoke of a new character. Jacob – the deceiver, the supplanter, the heel-catcher – became Israel – which means ‘God fights’ or ‘God rules’. Jacob is now Israel, one who is ‘Governed by God’.

 

We spoke also about how Jacob’s wrestling with God points in type to national Israel’s ongoing wrestling with God and the future “time of Jacob’s trouble” spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah (C30:7). Israel today wrestles with God and, for the most part, rejects Jesus as Messiah. But there will come a day when, like Jacob, Israel will be all alone and will struggle with God through her darkest hour. Israel, ever so self-sufficient and smart, will be outgunned, outnumbered, outplayed and out of options. In that day, the light of Messiah will finally dawn as it dawns upon the Jewish people that Jesus is the Christ and has always been. Zechariah 12:10 “then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” And when all Israel is finally saved and reconciled to her Redeemer? Untold Millennial blessing will come upon this earth as Jesus rules and reigns from Jerusalem. What awesome truths these are! 

 

For us, the encouragement is simply to surrender to God. We at times go on struggling in our flesh, refusing to yield this area of our lives or that to God and are the worse for it. Sometimes we are afraid of what surrender will mean and other times we know full well what it means and just don’t want to do it. God is looking for men and women who are fully surrendered to Him, wholly yielded, monopolised by the Holy Spirit. Day by day we are to surrender our lives to God, raising high the white flag and asking Him to have His way in us. A life that is fully surrendered to God is a great tool in His hands. Jacob wrestled with God for a long time and came out the other side of it with a limp. But he was blessed and better for it.

'On the Run' (Genesis 30-31)

In this passage we saw Jacob become “exceedingly prosperous” and ultimately flee with his family from Laban back to Canaan. We considered four areas: the fruit of following God, the faithfulness of God, our faithfulness to God and the fear of God. I want to consider briefly here the second area, the faithfulness of God.

 

Way back at Bethel, God assured Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you” (C25:15). Over twenty years later, Jacob was alive, he had a burgeoning family and had become exceedingly prosperous or, as the idea in Hebrew has it, ‘the man burst out exceedingly exceedingly’. Jacob had been through the wringer under Laban but God had been with him and blessed him through it all. We saw that Jacob was a very capable man – smart, industrious and had an entrepreneurial spirit in terms of the steps he took to grow his flock. But ultimately, and undoubtedly, he prospered because God prospered him. We also see significant character development in Jacob in that he recognised God’s hand of blessing and gave God the glory for it! Jacob knew it was God who did not allow Laban to hurt him, it was God who prospered his flock, it was God who told him it was time to leave, it was God who warned Laban in a dream not to harm him and it was God who had been with Jacob every step of the way (C31:3, 7, 9, 13, 24, 42). “But God…” flies like a glorious banner over Jacob’s life! God was faithful to His word concerning Jacob – He faithfully took care of him and faithfully brought him home.

 

The Bible is full of God’s promises to us as believers in Jesus and He is faithful to fulfil every one of them. Earthly fathers at times break their promises but our Heavenly Father never does. To name but a few, the Great Commission, which is a commission given to us all, is girded before and behind with the promise of Jesus’ power and His presence (Matthew 28:19 – 20). As we seek to reach the lost and make disciples, Jesus assures us that all authority has been given to Him for the doing of this work and that He is with us always as we go and do it. There is also a great promise of scripture that we can cling to amidst temptation. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we read, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” Another great promise, particularly relevant to Jacob and to us, concerns the assurance of God’s completing work in us. Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” There are so many promises in God’s word and I encourage you to seek them out! And know that that God is faithful to fulfil them all. Be encouraged also this week as you walk with God to know that He loves you, cares deeply for you and is always faithful to you.

Equip & Edify Conference (Ephesians 4)

I thought to explain a little bit more about the heart behind the conference. In Ephesians 2:8 – 10 we read these wonderful words, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God has saved us for a purpose and mission on this earth! We glorify God by walking in those good works that He has prepared for us to do. As believers, we are to be busy about His work, redeeming the time. The Bible also teaches that as Christians we are each part of the body of Christ and we each have a function and role to fulfil within the body. God has given us all different gifts, talents and abilities so that we would use them for the building up of His body and of course in reaching the lost for Christ. Every person’s contribution to the body is important and necessary. As a pastor, I desire see all who are part of our Calvary family grow in their gifting and be strengthened for the service that God has called or is calling you to. 

 

With this in mind, the conference theme is based around Ephesians 4:12 which refers to “the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”. The conference will therefore have a ministry focus, looking at different aspects of ministry such as serving, stewardship, gifting and calling. As Christians we are all called to serve and minister in one way or another. So, whether you’re currently involved in ministry at Calvary, are keen to get involved or indeed are involved in ministry elsewhere then this conference is for you! It is my hope and prayer that all who attend will be encouraged in their faith and be better equipped to serve the Lord in whatever He has gifted you in and called you to.

All are welcome to join! For more information and to register for the conference check our events page.  

'Lessons from the Life of Jacob' (Genesis 27-28)

During our time we considered ten lessons. First, you reap what you sow is a general Biblical that we see played out in Jacob’s life. His family was in disarray with Isaac acting in the flesh, Jacob relying on deception, Rebekah’s marital manoeuvring and Esau plotting murder. They all played a part in the discord and now, as a result, Jacob was on the run from his brother. Second, you cannot please God in the flesh was seen from Esau’s example in marrying Ishmael’s daughter and his third wife. Third, God has a purpose in the tough times you face. Jacob was in large part the author of his sorry circumstance and yet God had a purpose for this tough in his life. God revealed Himself to Jacob in a dream, drew Jacob unto Himself and confirmed the covenant to him. We can be confident that no trial or tribulation we face is wasted in God’s hands. He can use it all for His good purpose in our lives. Fourth, getting out and away can help you hear from God. A simple point really but it was when Jacob was alone and away from it all that God spoke and Jacob heard. We all need that quiet time alone with the Lord and sometimes it helps to physically get away for a while in order to hear from the Lord. Fifth, you live in a spiritual world. God gave Jacob an amazing dream in which he saw a ladder from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it and God Himself speaking from above it. A reminder for us that we are spiritual beings who live in a spiritual world! Ephesians 6:12 says “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” And in view of this spiritual reality, the command of Scripture is that we take up the whole armour of God.

 

Sixth, you must know God personally. Abraham knew God, Isaac knew God and here in Genesis 28 Jacob came to know God for himself. It is such a blessing to grow up in a Christian family but, as we know, each one must know God personally and choose to follow Him. Jesus, when calling the disciple Nathaniel, referenced Jacob’s ladder when He said “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51). We must all respond to Christ and see Him as the ladder, the only way, that bridges the divide between earth and heaven. Only through Him can one gain access to our Heavenly Father and live forever in ‘The House of God’. Seventh, you should remember what God has done. Spurgeon, I believe, said “God’s past faithfulness demands our present trust”. It is good to appropriately memorialise what God has done in our lives, even as Jacob created and consecrated a memorial stone at Bethel. Eighth, you should not limit God’s presence to a place or time. God was God in Beersheba, Bethel and Haran and God is God wherever you are. Ninth, you should give back to God. Jacob made a vow and in it he said that he would give a tenth of all he had to God. The tenth is an acknowledgement that, in fact, all comes from God and belongs to God. Paul said “And what do you have that you did not first receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). The appropriate response to what God has done in our lives is to give back to Him – our resources, time, energy, talents, gifts, abilities, our very lives. Tenth, you are a work in progress. Jacob met God at Bethel but, as we shall see, he was not the finished product, far from it. And neither we are. However, God said to Jacob “for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you” (C28:15). And God says to us “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). I pray that these lessons and these final words would be an encouragement to you this week as you walk with God and serve Him.

'The Brothers and The Blessing' (Genesis 27)

This is a fascinating but, in many ways, sad passage of scripture where we see Isaac’s family falling apart. We saw a warning flare go off in chapter 25:28 when we read “And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob”. This parental preference was very much on display in Sunday’s passage. Isaac sought to give the blessing to Esau, his favoured elder son, and had him hunt some game to make a meal before he gave the blessing. Fleshly factors influenced Isaac in passing on that which was most precious, the covenant promises. And, we must add, Isaac did this surely knowing that God had already chosen Jacob to inherit the covenant. Rebekah, eavesdropping on her husband, was then the driving force behind her favoured younger son Jacob playing the part to deceive his father and receive the blessing. And so Jacob became his name – deceiver, supplanter – as he lied to and deceived his father and supplanted his brother for the second time. Isaac, to his credit, did realise that God had divinely overruled his attempt to give the blessing to Esau and so confirmed that Jacob would indeed be blessed. Then there was Esau. Pipped at the post, beaten again, he was red with anger and, as we shall see, full of murderous intent towards Jacob. He cut a pitiful picture indeed as he wept and implored his father to bless him despite having given the birthright blessing to Jacob.

 

From this passage we considered a number of applications. First, striving or struggling in the flesh is never the way to achieve God’s will or to do God’s work. Christians are to be characterised by truth, honesty and integrity and never by lying and deceit. Second, God’s grace is available to all who would repent. Isaac, Rebekah and Jacob were all clearly flawed, sinners like you and me, but they are saints in the Lord even as we are. Jesus died to save liars and deceivers, like Jacob was, and He died to save you and me from our many and various sins. Third, there is a chasmic difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. 2 Corinthians 7:10 says “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Esau’s was a worldly sorrow “for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:17). Esau sorrowed for his earthly loss in that he missed out on the physical prosperity and political power promised to Jacob. He was not sorry for being a carnal and fleshly man who despised his birthright. There are many today who are sorry for their current situation, where their sin has led them or indeed that they got caught! That kind of sorrow does not cut it with God. What matters most is a penitent heart and personal repentance towards one’s Maker. Fourth, and finally, we spoke of how our God is a God who blesses. We see this from the beginning of creation, through the law of Moses in the likes of the Aaronic Blessing and into the New Testament. God gives us physical and material blessing aplenty and we should be grateful to Him for them! Even more so though are the spiritual blessings that we have in Christ. I encourage you again to read the amazing words in Ephesians 1:3 – 12 which starts, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us Him before the creation of the world…”               

'Faith Under Fire' (Genesis 26)

In this chapter we see Isaac tempted, like his father was, to go down to Egypt during a time of famine but, unlike his father, he did not succumb. Instead, Isaac heeded God’s words to “Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you”. We see here God’s covenant promises spoken direct to Isaac as the inheritor of those promises. Isaac did, however, follow in his father’s faulty footsteps when he played ‘Sister Act 3’ and played Abimelech for a fool. Ultimately unfooled, Isaac’s sin found him out and he was rightly rebuked by this pagan king. Truly, as Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trust in the Lord shall be safe”. We’ve said it before but how important it is that we as Christians act with integrity before unbelievers and give no cause for our witness to be tarnished and God’s name be lessened in their eyes. A good reminder also for parents, and specifically here for fathers with their sons, that our children do watch and imitate our actions for the better or for the worse. I really appreciated Greg’s insights into the account of Isaac moving from well to well as he faced hostility from the Philistines. Isaac could have resisted and insisted on his just claim to those wells but instead he peaceably moved on. There are times when, like Abraham did in battling the eastern kings, we are called to stand our ground and fight. Oftentimes, however, the right path, the Christian path, is the way of peace whereby we shake of the dust, as it were, and move on. As it says in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” We saw also that in some instances Isaac re-dug wells that his father had dug and at other times he dug new wells. We live at a time in which many in the church at large are seeking after that ‘new thing’ and the old ways of the faith, the old truth, no longer interests them. In Jeremiah 6:16 we read, “Thus says the LORD: “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls…” We must stand fast in the old faithful paths – the simplicity of the gospel of salvation, the command to witness for Christ, the earnest expectation of Jesus’ return, the call to sanctification in holiness and love. We also do need to dig those fresh wells – daily being refreshed and renewed by Christ, having our spiritual thirst satisfied by Him and walking in sensitivity to and in step with the Holy Spirit.

'Two and the Stew' (Genesis 25)

These days I’m starting to see certain milestones in my life, such as my little girl starting school and me recalling past events in terms of having taken place decades rather than years ago, that speak to me of the fact that life swiftly moves on and is but a breath. How important it is then that we make the most of the time that we have by walking with God and serving Him! In chapter 25 we see the sun set on the life of Abraham, the greatest of patriarchs. His was a life of ups and downs but it was characterised wonderfully by his close fellowship with God and his faith in God. Abraham was a man who lived his life in view of the eternal. We also saw a sun rise with the birth of Isaac’s twin boys, Esau and Jacob. Their conception came through the pleading prayer of Isaac and during the pregnancy Rebekah also prayed, inquiring of God regarding the abnormal struggle she felt inside of her. God told her prophetically of how she had two boys who would become two nations – Edom and Israel – and that the older would serve the younger. The boys were born and, ‘swiftly fly the years’, they grew to become men of very different character and priorities. We read of how Esau, the ‘hairy’ hunter, “despised his birthright” when he sold it for a bowl of red (vegetarian!) stew. He was a profane and godless man, driven by fleshly desire, who lived for the here and now and cared nothing for the spiritual. Jacob on the other hand, the ‘supplanter’, again caught his brother’s heel when he set the terms of their deal. A bowl of red for the birthright. Jacob was a shrewd man, a schemer and we might say an opportunist. But for all Jacob’s flaws, he was spiritually inclined and cared deeply about the birthright. He cared about the covenant and the eternal promises of God which came through the birthright – the land, the nation and the coming Messiah. The application and encouragement I gave was two-fold. First, that, like Isaac and Rebekah, we be people of prayer who bring our needs before God. Sometimes we have physical, material or spiritual needs but we fail to ask God in earnest about those needs. God knows and cares about you and your situation but He wants you to pray to Him and ask of Him about it. Second, I encouraged us to consider our priorities in life. What do you value most? How do you spend your time and energy? What priority do the things of God have in your life? Abraham and Jacob were real people, flesh and blood, like you and me. But they prioritised the eternal, the spiritual, the things of God, and so should we. As CT Studd once said “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

'Here Comes the Bride!' (Genesis 24)

This chapter, the longest in the book, beautifully tells how the servant was sent by Abraham to his homeland to find a wife for Isaac who, interestingly, never left the Promised Land. During our time together we considered eight principles regarding marriage and relationships but what I want to focus on here is how this passage wonderfully points to Christ the Bridegroom and His bride the church. In this typology and parallel, the father desired a bride for his son, a most pressing and important matter. The son had just been accounted as dead and was raised from the dead. For Isaac this was figurate but for Jesus it was literal. Abraham sent a nameless servant to get a bride for his son. This is a fascinating detail and in type points to the Holy Spirit who faithfully and without fanfare does the will of the Father. Although not named in chapter 24, it is believed that the servant is Eliezer ‘God of help’ referred to in chapter 15 and so he points to ‘The Helper’ sent by the Father. The servant finds a bride of the same blood but from a foreign land. Jesus came as a man but will receive a predominantly Gentile bride, the church. Upon meeting Rebekah, the servant spoke of his master’s greatness and his great riches, all of which were given to Isaac. The Holy Spirit testifies to the greatness of God and His great love in offering up His Son. Isaac’s beautiful bride was divinely met, chosen and called. Christ’s church is chosen and called of God. Rebekah nonetheless had to say ‘Yes’ to the offer of marriage and she did, saying, “I will go”. And so it is that each person who makes up the body of Christ has to individually respond to the gospel and say ‘Yes’ to Jesus. She responded to the invitation of one she had heard of but not yet physically seen. Rebekah was lavished with gifts from Isaac as tokens, a foretaste, of what would be hers when she was joined to him in marriage. As Christians, we have received the Holy Spirit of promise as a guarantee, a down payment, that Christ will come for us and receive to Himself the prized purchased possession. Rebekah was entrusted to the care of the servant until her journey had come to an end when she met and married Isaac. The Holy Spirit is with us now as our helper, comforter and guide until we meet the Lord in the air at His coming. Isaac, the groom, was meditating, praying, while he waited for his bride to come. Jesus, our Mediator, is in heaven praying for us at the right hand of God the Father. Finally, Isaac prepared a place for his bride and upon her arrival took her unto himself. Jesus, in John 14:1 – 4, said “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” Be encouraged that, however bad or good, troubled or care free, things are for you right now, nothing compares to what is ahead and in store for God’s people. The best is yet to come. The church is Christ’s bride and He will one day soon come for us.

‘Risen and Ascended’

This Resurrection Sunday  we considered John’s gospel account where Mary Magdalene, Peter and John encountered the empty tomb. It’s been rightly said that the stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out but to let the disciples (and us) in. And enter that tomb they did! As Peter entered the tomb he noticed the linen cloths lying there. The significance of this is that, had the body been removed, then surely the grave clothes would have been removed with it. But the linen was there and Jesus was not. He had risen! Further, we read that the handkerchief, the facecloth, that had been around Jesus’ head was orderly set aside by itself and rolled up. It is a small detail but, like the worker who diligently tidies up after the job is done, this speaks again to that great truth which Jesus cried from the cross – “It is finished!” The great work of salvation is complete. We saw that Mary also looked into the tomb “And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain” (John 20:13). We have in this a beautiful picture of the Mercy Seat spoken of and described in the Old Testament (see Exodus 25). The Mercy Seat was the lid that covered the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Tabernacle. In appearance it was made of one piece of solid gold with two cherubim, angels, wings outstretched facing each other at either end of the Mercy Seat. It was on the Mercy Seat that the High Priest would, once a year on the Day of Atonement, sprinkle the shed blood of a bull and thus make atonement for the sins of the people. Jesus is our Mercy Seat. He has made propitiation for us as on the cross God’s judgment and mercy perfectly met in Him. The place of God’s judgment becomes for us the place of reconciliation. By Jesus’ shed blood our sins are atoned for and God’s righteous wrath is satisfied. We spoke also of how the earthly tabernacle points to and is a shadow of the heavenly tabernacle. As Hebrews 9:11 – 12 says “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” The truth of scripture is that after Jesus wonderfully resurrected that He then gloriously ascended. Jesus is, right now, seated at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus’ Great High Priestly role of offering sacrifice is done – He offered Himself once and for all. Jesus’ Great High Priestly role of intercession is ongoing. What an awesome and comforting thought it is to know that we can boldly and in full assurance of faith come to God’s throne of grace “that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Jesus has made the way to a new relationship with God as our Father. And like a child with their earthly father, we can boldly come to our Heavenly Father knowing that He loves us, is for us and that there is grace sufficient for us for every need. 

'Eternity in Mind' (Genesis 23)

Genesis 23 is perhaps a chapter you might move on through and not give too much thought to. It is, however, a significant historical passage in scripture in that we see the death and burial of Sarah, wife of the first patriarch. We see also the care and concern that Abraham has to give her a burial worthy of her. Significant also is that this is the first piece of the Promised Land that Abraham and his descendants owned! Israel would not fully receive the land part of the promise until much later after their slavery in Egypt, departure with Moses and eventual conquest under Joshua. The world today questions Israel’s right and legitimacy to the land of Israel but here in Genesis 23 we have the first land transaction where Abraham gained the title to the cave of Machpelah and paid full price for it. There is some important spiritual application for us from verse 4 where Abraham said “I am a foreigner and visitor among you”. While it is true that Abraham was a foreigner from Ur of the Chaldees, there is more to it than this. In Hebrews 11:13 we read “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” What does it mean for us as Christians to live as pilgrims and sojourners? An important aspect to this is that we are to have a different perspective from that of the world around us. While we are involved and engaged with things on this earth, we do not regard this earth as our final destination. We are here for a time but ultimately we are passing through to out eternal home. As Jesus said in John 17:16, we are not of the world just as Jesus is not of the world. We are to live as people dwelling in tents such that our foundations are not so securely fixed to and fixated on the things of this life. Rather, like Abraham, we wait “for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). As citizens of heaven, we are to live as citizens of heaven who are at our core different than citizens of earth. We are to be known for our righteousness, living in a way that pleases God, and for our love as we point others to Jesus. Finally, be encouraged by these words of Jesus from John 14:1 – 3 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that were I am, there you may be also.” 

‘Test of Faith’ (Genesis 22)

This is a momentous chapter of scripture in which Abraham faces the greatest test to his faith when he obediently offered up his son Isaac. James 2 draws out an important spiritual application from this account which is that Abraham’s faith was made perfect, complete, when he acted upon his faith in offering up Isaac. As Christians, our faith is to be seen in the things that we do – real and genuine faith must be practical outworking to it. What I want to, however, focus on here is how this chapter points to our salvation and God offering up His Son for us. First, Abraham offered up his only son who he loved and God the Father offered up His only begotten Son who He loved. In this we can know and be sure of God’s great love for us – that He sent His Son to die for us. Second, Isaac carried wood for the offering up the hill and Jesus carried His wooden cross up Calvary hill. That hill does have another name and so, third, quite remarkably, Isaac and Jesus were both offered up on Mount Moriah. Fourth, both Isaac and Jesus offered themselves up willingly. Isaac was a grown man, likely in his 30’s, and could easily have resisted but instead submitted to his father. Jesus submitted Himself to His Heavenly Father. There are, however, some key differences between the shadow and the substance. Fifth, at the very last moment, as the knife was raised to strike, the Angel of the Lord cried halt and stayed Abraham’s hand. But for us to be saved, God could not stay His own hand from striking His Son. Again, we can be confident of God’s love for us and of His provision in our lives in that, as Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” God provided for our greatest need – salvation – when He gave His Son. So we can trust that He will take care of our other lesser needs. Sixth, God provided Abraham with a substitutionary sacrifice whereas Jesus is the substitutionary sacrifice. Related to this, seventh, our Jehovah-jireh provided Abraham with a ram whereas Jesus is the Lamb. Isaac had asked Abraham, “where is the lamb”? and down through the ages the prophets and those who sought God would ask the same question. John the Baptist gave the answer when he said “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Eighth, Isaac was reckoned dead for three days, at least in Abraham’s mind, as they travelled to the appointed place of sacrifice. Jesus was of course in the grave for three days. Ninth, on the third day, when Isaac was spared, Abraham received back his son in a figurative resurrection (Hebrews 11:19). Jesus literally resurrected from the dead on the third day. We therefore see in Genesis 22 a complete picture of the gospel! Jesus Christ, the beloved only begotten Son of the Father was offered up by the Father as a substitutionary sacrifice for us all. He died and was buried and on the third day He arose again. Tenth, and I think this is pretty cool, after Isaac’s ‘resurrection’, the next time we see him is at the end of chapter 24 when his bride Rebekah appears. As Christians, the next time we will see Jesus after His resurrection is when He will come again to collect His bride the church! Until that day, and in view of God’s great love and mercy towards us, how should we then live? Romans 12:1 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

‘Children of Promise’ (Genesis 20 – 21 )

I asked the question ‘What is the greatest fight or battle you have ever seen or known?’ and focused our application on a battle we are all familiar with, that between the flesh and the Spirit. Indeed, we are told in Galatians 4 that the symbolic spiritual meaning of the account of Isaac and Ishmael is very much one of flesh versus Spirit. Hagar, the bondwoman, gave birth to Isaac according to the fleshly will of man. Hagar, we are told, is a picture of Mt Sinai and the old covenant of law which brings bondage and so it was that Jerusalem at that time was in bondage to law. Sarah, the freewoman, gave birth to Isaac the child of promise according to the will of God. God promised it, Abraham believed it and God performed it when Isaac was miraculously born. Sarah points to Jerusalem above and her children, both Jew and Gentile, are free in the new covenant of grace. God does not recognise that which is done in the flesh but only recognises that which is a work of His Spirit. As Christians, when we place our faith in Christ, we are born from above and sealed with the Spirit of God. We too then, as Isaac was, are “children of promise” who have believed the promises of God regarding salvation in Christ and have been miraculously born again. And from that moment, as it was when Isaac entered the picture, we experience a new battle between the flesh that lives on in our mortal bodies and the Spirit who now indwells. It’s a fight we all face and one that will be with us until we see Jesus face to face. So how do we experience victory over the flesh? The exhortation, and indeed command of scripture, in Galatians 5:16 is to “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” Ours is the victory through the power of the Holy Spirit as we walk in the Spirit. So what does it mean to walk in the Spirit? Practically, this involves sowing to the Spirit by prioritising the spiritual in our lives – such as by staying in the word, persisting in prayer and keeping in fellowship. Doing those things that will grow us spiritually. We are also to live in a place of constant surrender before God, daily raising the white flag, as we recognise our inability and rely on God’s ability. The struggle is real but God has given us His Spirit to give us the victory.

‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ (Genesis 19)

This is a heavy chapter of scripture and one that the world and indeed segments of the church would like to ignore and even erase. In it we have a clear example of the downward spiral presented in Romans 1 where a people and society have suppressed the truth, perverted the truth and ultimately perverted life itself and gone headfirst into immorality. Sodom’s sin was such that there came a point of no return and God destroyed them for their wickedness. Interestingly, 2 Peter 2:6 tells us that this judgment is “an example to those who afterward would live ungodly”. Many today will mock at the idea of judgment, even as Lot’s sons-in-laws laughed, thinking that things will carry on as they always have done but the Bible tells us differently. It is because of God’s desire that none would perish but that all would come to repentance that judgment is delayed (2 Peter 3:9). As Christians, we are to herald the gospel truth of repentance towards God and faith towards Christ. The Bible is clear that homosexuality is sin but the Bible is equally clear that this is not the unpardonable sin. I love those words in 1 Corinthians 6:11 where, after giving a long list of sins ranging from various sexual sins to drunkenness and to coveting, Paul says “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” The world is enraged when sin is called sin but to the penitent, to the Christian, these words bring life and hope. We were all dead in our sins hopelessly lost without Jesus. But at the right time God sent His Son to save and all who call upon His name will be saved. And it is because we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ that, like righteous Lot, we are not subject to God’s wrath but will receive that final salvation at Christ’s coming. There is, however, also a warning from Lot’s life that we should take heed of. As we wait for Jesus to return, we would do well to consider the dire consequences on Lot and his family from living too close to the world.

‘The Sign Of The Covenant’ (Genesis 17)

We saw earlier in chapter 15 God establish His covenant with Abraham and in chapter 17 God reiterates the covenant and commands Abraham and his descendants to be circumcised as the sign of the covenant. It is significant that three times God refers to the covenant as an “eternal covenant” and he refers to Canaan as an “everlasting possession”. We see therefore that this is not merely of historic significance but of current and future ongoing significance. History would, however, record that the Jews came to rely more on the sign of the covenant than on the God of the covenant. Many thought that they were good with God simply because they were circumcised rather than because their heart was right with God through faith in Him. Paul gives the proper perspective on this in Romans 4 where he emphasises that Abraham was accounted as righteous because of his belief in God prior to circumcision and indeed hundreds of years before the law was given. What application can be draw for this? Circumcision may not be such a hot topic among Gentiles today (although it certainly was in the early years of the church) but many similarly trust in baptism, taking communion or relying on one’s Christian heritage or ministry experience as indicators that they are good with God. Now, these are all good things! But what matters is Christ. As Christians, we place no confidence in the flesh and instead trust wholly in Christ’s finished work on the cross. As Paul says in Galatians 5:6 and 6:15 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” and again “…but a new creation”. Finally, the great theology of it all is found in Colossians 2:11 “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ”. When you read this, it is clear that the ‘circumcision of Christ’ took place in the life of every Christian upon placing their faith in Jesus. You are a new creation in Christ! Your old fleshly deeds have been removed and nailed to the cross! The encouragement therefore is that we would each live in light of this spiritual reality. That we would be who we are in Christ. 

 
'The God Who Sees' (Genesis 16) 

The life of Abram has been something of a rollercoaster ride so far and this chapter is no exception. The week before we had the high of the unconditional covenant and yet what follows is a definite low with Abram and Sarai seeking to fulfil God’s promise through the flesh. By bringing Hagar into the equation, they took matters into their own hands and showed a decided lack of faith in God’s ability to perform what He said He would do. How applicable are the words of Galatians 3:3 “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” A good reminder for us that God does not need our help, God’s timing is perfect, God’s ways are higher than our ways and that God does not recognize the works of the flesh but the work of His Spirit. God certainly wants to use each one of us in the good works that He for us but He would have us do so according to His will and His way. Sarai came up with the plan and Abram rather passively went along with it. Immediately, bad fruit of the flesh was seen. Hagar became haughty, Sarai was upset and the maidservant soon ran away into the desert. As mentioned on Sunday, I’ve tended to have a less favourable view of Hagar, particularly because of the spiritual significance attached to her story (see Galatians 4). But consider her humanity as a foreign slave, instructed to carry her master’s child, treated harshly by her mistress and now alone and afflicted, pregnant in a precarious position, wandering in the wilderness. It was there that the Angel of the Lord, the first Christophany or Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ, is seen as He came to her. In this we see a great example of God’s grace and love for all. The Angel of the Lord instructs Hagar to “return” and “submit”, words we all need to hear at times, and gives her a remarkable promise regarding her son Ishmael (‘God hears’). From this encounter, Hagar describes God as El Roi ‘You Are The God Who Sees’ as she saw the One who sees her and heard her affliction. What a wonderful name this! Truly our God is the God who sees. God sees our affliction, our hurts and our sorrow. God sees when you’ve been mistreated and when life is a mess. God sees when you’re on the run or in the wilderness. God sees our sin. God sees it all! And He loves us all the same. Knowing that God sees shouldn’t scare us or cause us to hide but rather that we run to Him, to confess to Him and to cast our cares on Him knowing that He knows it already. Be comforted this week that, whatever is going on in your life, God knows and God sees. Draw near to Him and pour out your heart before Him. 

'Belief Unto Righteousness' (Genesis 15)

This is a truly foundational chapter in the Bible. During our time together we considered four words that are used for the first time in this passage. The first word was ‘word’ – “the word of the LORD came to Abram”. How we need God’s word! We need to hear it, we need to know it and we need to be in it each and every day. The second and third words were ‘believed’ and ‘righteousness’ – “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness”. Abram believed God’s word and promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in heaven and, because of his belief, he was accounted by God as righteous. We see here that faith and righteousness go hand in hand and that it’s always been this way. In the book of Romans, Paul, in setting out the great theology of salvation, points to Abram as an example of justification by grace through faith. Abram was not accounted as righteous because of any works he did, not through law adherence and not by the rite of circumcision. And so it is with us. It’s not by works, so we have nothing to boast in, but is all by grace through faith in Jesus’ finished work on the cross. The fourth word was ‘inherit’. Abram wanted assurance from God that he would indeed inherit the land that was promised so God cut Abram a deal. It seems strange to us but, in that day, contracts were formed by the cutting in half of animals and the parties walking between the animals speaking the words of the contract. The Abrahamic Covenant, however, was unique in that Abram was in a deep sleep and God’s presence passed through alone. The significance of this is that it was an unconditional covenant – not based on Abram’s performance but on God’s promise. From this we are reminded that God is not done with national Israel! His “everlasting covenant” with the Jewish people stands. There is encouragement for us also that God is not done with us! God has made a new covenant in Christ’s blood and we are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. While we were dead in our trespasses, paralyzed by sin, that’s when Jesus died. Indeed, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). The love God has for you and me is unconditional – how amazing is that! What then is the appropriate response to God’s love? Loving God and loving others. 1 John 4:10 – 11 says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

'Our Great High Priest' (Genesis 14)

In this chapter we see the first war in scripture that results in the capture of Abram’s nephew Lot who was living in Sodom. Abram, a man of courage and quite the fighter, pursues the eastern kings with his men, defeats them and rescues Lot. As Abram returns, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, comes to Abram with bread and wine, blesses him and receives a tithe from him. Just three verses in Genesis and, were you to read this account by itself, you may find it raises more questions than it answers. Then 1,000 years later, David pens Psalm 110 where one verse says of Messiah, “The LORD has sworn and will not relent, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”. And from this, the writer of Hebrews, inspired as he was by the Holy Spirit, spans five chapters in that book speaking of Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, of the superior order of Melchizedek. We saw that the Priesthood of Melchizedek is a priesthood for all men, a royal priesthood, a priesthood greater than Abraham and Levi and an eternal priesthood. As great as the Levitical Priesthood was, the Priesthood of Melchizedek is greater still. We saw also that the Priesthood of Melchizedek, Jesus’ priesthood, is better for us. It is the priesthood of superior sympathy, it is the priesthood of the true tabernacle and it is the priesthood of fellowship and of blessing. I was particularly encouraged to study this passage and consider how Jesus, being God but having also entered and experienced the fullness of humanity, is perfectly equipped to serve as our Great High Priest. As humans we’ve all suffered loss, battled against sin and know the struggle to surrender to God. Sometimes, when the battles rages and the struggle is intense, what you want most is to know that someone understands, someone’s been there before, someone gets it. And to be able to talk to them and be encouraged by them. Jesus is that someone. Jesus suffered loss. Jesus was tempted as we are. Jesus knows the struggle, better than you or I do, to fully surrender to God. Truly Jesus sympathises with our weakness. The encouragement of scripture is that, knowing that we have such a Great High Priest, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” That’s an open invitation that requires a response.        

'Circumstantial Evidence' (Genesis 13)

In this chapter we see that Abram and Lot had prospered in Egypt so much so that when they come back to Canaan that the land wasn’t big enough for the two of them (almost sounds like a line from a western!) They therefore go their separate ways – with Lot lifting his eyes to the productive plain of Jordan whereas Abram’s eyes were lifted by God to the whole of the land that God ultimately had for him and his descendants. Now separated from his nephew Lot, Abram finally walked in the fullness of what God had originally called him to – leaving his country, his family and his father’s house. In this, we see that Abram was very much a work in progress even as we are. We have been justified, we are being sanctified and one day we will finally be glorified. With this in mind, we so often see things in the here and now, subject, as we are, to time and space and our own incomplete understanding. God, on the other, is outside of time and He sees the bigger picture. God has plans and purposes that He wants to see worked out in our lives. For each of us there are those “good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Knowing this, and knowing that God will get us from A to B even though we sometimes muddle along the way, ours is to surrender our lives to God daily and to trust Him more.      

'When God Calls' (Genesis 12)

This is a key passage in the Bible regarding God’s call of Abram and His plan for national Israel and indeed the whole world through the coming of the Messiah. We’ll explore this more in chapters 15 and 17. On Sunday we saw that Abram was a man of faith but that his faith was not perfect. It’s easy to see the great men and women of faith presented in the Bible as super-saints but they were sinners and had lapses of faith even as we do. With Abram we see that, in responding to God’s call, he was at first only partially obedient in that he left Ur but stayed with his father in Haran. Then, after Abram had entered Canaan, when the famine came, he traveled down to Egypt and relied on a deception to keep himself safe rather than fully relying on God. Ultimately, despite Abram’s failings, God was faithful to get him where he needed to be and to achieve God’s purposes through him. We should of course endeavour to walk by faith and be faithful to God at all times but there is comfort in knowing that God is gracious and bigger than our failings.

With camp this coming weekend, I wanted to also explain a little bit about this year’s camp theme: ‘Jesus in the Gospels’. Like looking through different windows into a house or, better still, like different angles of a beautiful diamond, each of the gospels emphasise a different aspect of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew clearly presents Jesus as the Jewish Messiah who fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures. Mark shows Jesus as servant and the One whose example we are to follow. Luke emphasises Jesus’ humanity as the Son of Man who can relate to us and with whom we can relate. Finally, John highlights Jesus’ deity as the Son of God and God Himself. My hope and prayer, as we consider these different aspects of ‘Jesus in the Gospels’, is that we learn more of His character and of His love and that our love for Him would grow deeper.

'Tower of Babel' (Genesis 11)

In Genesis so far we have seen the origin of many things including the origin of creation, mankind, marriage and sin to name a few. In Genesis 11 ‘Tower of Babel’ we saw the origin of languages and nations. It had only been a hundred plus years since the catastrophic flood judgment and yet again we are reminded of the wickedness and rebellion of man. God had commanded Noah’s descendants to “be fruitful and multiply”, to fan out across the earth but instead they congregated around a construction project. The building of a city and a tower. They were one people speaking one language and worked together on the city and tower with great zeal. It was a monument to self – an exercise in humanistic pride. In it was the beginning of false religion – likely a massive stepped pyramid and place of pagan worship. It was an act of collective defiance – man disobeying God’s clear command and instead doing his own thing. The description of God coming down to observe the construction project is quite striking and emphasizes the greatness of God and the smallness of man. As one commentator says, “It was a tiny tower, conceived by a puny plan and attempted by a pint-sized people.” And yet, we can see that God’s judgment in coming down and scrambling their language and scattering the people abroad was an act of restraint and of mercy. Had God left them to their own devices then they would have fallen deeper and deeper into sin. What a good reminder for us that we as Christians are no better than those rebels at Babel and that we are no better than the lost around us today. In and of ourselves, in our flesh, we are all rebels against God. And even as Christians I’m sure there are many times that God, in His mercy, restrains us and keeps us from sin. What then is the answer to man’s rebellion? It is of course God’s redemption. How sweet it is that after the tower of Babel episode that Genesis 11 tracks the lineage of Shem all the way down to Abram. From this point on we will focus on the three great patriarchs of the Jewish nation – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In studying their lives we’ll also see that they were far from perfect! But from them would come the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. He, and He alone, is the only one who would never rebel or sin against God. Instead, He would live a life of obedience and be obedient even to the point of death. There is good news for the rebel! The Good Lord has come to redeem! 

'Table of Nations' (Genesis 9:18 - 10)

While it may appear at first glance to be a long list of names, some of which are quite tricky to pronounce, chapter 10 is a truly remarkable passage of scripture. No other piece of ancient literature is so bold as to say where the nations of the world came from yet that’s what this passage does with incredible detail and accuracy. It lists the seventy nations, that started off as clans, that came from Noah’s three sons Shem, Ham and Japheth. We at times forget where we’ve left our car keys or even what day of the week it is but God knows exactly which parts of the world which peoples came from and when they came there. He knows which people-groups are related to others and He knows precisely how their ancient names translate through to their modern equivalents. Off the back of our New Zealand election and as we await the upcoming US election, what a good reminder for us that God is indeed sovereign over all the nations. Romans 13:1 says “For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” We touched upon Daniel 4:25 where Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (that Nimrod first built), would lose his mind “till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.” Finally, Psalm 46:10 says “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” What a comfort it is to know that God is sovereign and that His plans and purposes on this earth and among the nations will come to pass all according to His word. No election result or world event comes as a surprise to God. He is over all. As has been said, things are not falling apart but are falling into place. And if God is sovereign among the nations, which He is, then how much more is He sovereign in our lives? You can trust and rest in the sovereignty of God. With these things in mind, be encouraged to draw near to God and to surrender your life to God this week as you walk with Him.