'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.
‘Focus Assessment' (Philippians 3:12-16)
At least in my view, the apostle Paul really is in a class of his own in church history. A missionary par excellence, a church planter extraordinaire, diligent disciple maker, bold evangelist, theology expositor and worker of miracles by the power of the Spirit. And yet, for all his advancement and experience in the faith, Paul said “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected”. We might compare ourselves to others and even to Paul but he compared himself to Christ and recognised that he wasn’t there yet. He was still under construction, a work in progress, and would be until his dying breath. As Paul wrote from his jail cell to the church at Philippi, he recognised that Christ was still being formed in him even as He is in us. In verses 13 and 14, Paul gives us his perspective on the race of faith which is one that we should share: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” First, he forgot that which was behind. This means that he did not allow himself to be influenced moving forward by those things that were in the rear-view mirror, be they failures or successes, defeats or victories, lows or highs. Second, he reached forward to that which was ahead. It goes without saying but it’s hard to reach forward while still looking back. The idea here is that of an athlete straining forward over the finish line. Paul pursued what was in front of him with everything he had and so should we. Third and finally, he pressed toward the goal. To be successful in a race, it’s important to know what the goal is and how to get there. For Paul, the goal was Christ and the upward heavenly call placed on Paul’s life and indeed the life of every believer. How important it is that we have a clear view of Jesus and that we look to Him, that we see ourselves as citizens of heaven and, as such, set our minds not on earthly things but on our ultimate heavenly goal. As Paul beautifully puts it in Colossians 3:1 – 4 “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Amen!
‘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.
'Christ In The Gospels' (Church Camp)
It was so good to be together at church camp, to hear some great teachings, spend time in worship and enjoy fellowship with one another. I was personally encouraged to see so many come along and for the spirit of unity that was so evident throughout. Our camp theme was 'Jesus In The Gospels' with Pastor Mark Walsh teaching our four sessions. The first session was ‘The Humanity of Jesus: Gethsemane’ where we saw that Jesus, as a man, in ‘the olive press’, the place where what is on the inside comes out, choose to submit His will to that of the Father. Truly He sympathises and identifies with us in our weakness and times of trial. The second session was ‘Jesus the Servant: Redefining Greatness’. Mark made the somewhat provocative statement that Jesus wants you to be great! It’s just that He redefines what greatness means. In God’s economy, the way up is down. The greatest in the Kingdom of God are those who, following the example of Jesus, make themselves servant and slave of all. To serve like this requires loss of life – dying to self. The third session on the Saturday evening was ‘Jesus Messiah: The Scroll of Isaiah’. It was emphasised here that Messiah is not so much a title as it is a description. Jesus as the Anointed One, for that’s what Messiah means, was anointed by the Spirit of God to do the work of Messiah. He preached the gospel to the poor, He healed the broken-hearted, He proclaims liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, He sets at liberty those who are oppressed, He proclaims the acceptable year of the Lord. Where Messiah is, these are the things Messiah does – Jesus did these things during His earthly ministry and, by His Spirit working through His church, He continues to do the ministry of Messiah today. Finally, our fourth session was ‘Jesus the Son of God: The Opportunity Not Taken’ from John 8. A key point made here was that Jesus was the only One without sin who could rightly condemn but instead He showed grace. Truly we all need God’s grace and that grace comes to us by the death and resurrection of Jesus. My encouragement at the end of camp was to remember the things that God had been speaking to you and the ways He was ministering to your heart. It’s easy to hear a message, or to enjoy a time of worship, where God is speaking but then to forget and move on and ultimately be unchanged. I encourage you again that if there was something that God particularly spoke to you about or ministered to you that you not forget it. Pray over it, write it down, share it with someone you trust or in some other way act upon it. Allow God to solidify and consolidate in your heart what He has been speaking to you.
'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.
'Messiah: Prophet, Priest and King'
On Sunday we had Nigel Christensen of Celebrate Messiah share two teachings on ‘Messiah: Prophet, Priest and King’. It was great to have such solid teaching on these three aspects of Jesus our Messiah. I particularly appreciated the emphasis on Jesus as our Great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. I find it fascinating how a short account in Genesis 14, which is briefly mentioned again in Psalm 110, is then extensively expounded upon and illuminated by the Holy Spirit in Hebrews 5 – 7. Jesus is our High Priest who offered Himself as sacrifice once and for all and now continues in His High Priestly role by offering intercession for us before God’s throne of grace. Such a comforting and encouraging thought! On a different note, this coming Saturday 17 October is of course our New Zealand election. We read in Proverbs 14:34 “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” and in 11:11 “By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.” We read also in 1 Timothy 2:1 – 2 “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” Let’s be praying for our city and nation that God’s hand would be upon these elections and that those elected would govern righteously and not lead our nation further into sin. As Christians we are of course called to be salt and light in this world. Let’s be praying also that Christians across our country would stand up and live lives that honour God and His Word and help better shape our nation’s future.
'A New Beginning' (Genesis 8 - 9)
It is fascinating to think about how different the world would have been as Noah and those with him exited the ark. The mountains were likely sharper, the hills higher, the land barren and even the air cooler as they entered the post flood world. But God was there. His faithfulness and His promises remained. The first words we read are of God blessing and then establishing His everlasting covenant. What ministered to me as I studied the passage is that our God is a God who blesses. Blessing begins with God and we bless, praise and thank Him in response to who He is and what He has done. How important it is to recognise how blessed we are. We are blessed to live in this nation with its freedoms and way of life, to be able to work and to provide and to have family and friends. These are all great blessings that we can be thankful to God for! Even more blessed are we to experience all spiritual blessings in Christ. We are forgiven, redeemed, chosen, adopted and so greatly loved by God (Ephesians 1:3 – 7). In our Genesis passage we also saw God establish His covenant with Noah – that He would not flood and destroy the earth again – and the sign of the covenant which is the rainbow in the clouds. We talked about how it was a broad covenant made with all of Noah’s descendants which includes you and me. That it was a permanent covenant and that it was a generous covenant being unconditional and undeserved. The heart of man had not changed but God would forbear with man. What a great reminder then of the new covenant in Christ which is broad, saving all who come to Him, it is permanent, saving to the uttermost for now and all eternity, and it is oh so generous! Like the rainbow that it elusive to us, so too is our ability to chase down or earn God’s grace. And yet God has drawn near to us and His grace is available to all who would come to Him in and trust in Christ. How blessed we are!
'The Great Flood' (Genesis 7 - 8)
On Sunday we were in Genesis 7 – 8 ‘The Great Flood’ – these are two momentous chapters that bridge the old world from the new world by the cataclysmic flood judgment. During our time we considered Geological Presuppositions, Flood Traditions and Eschatological Positions. On this last point, we see in the New Testament how Jesus in Matthew 24 and Peter in both of his epistles connected events from the flood to the last days and the Lord’s coming. God has judged the world for its wickedness before and He will judge it again. God has rescued His righteous people before and He will rescue them again. What a comfort it is to know that we who have trusted in Jesus and are righteous in Him are not destined to wrath, because Jesus has already taken it for us, but to that final salvation in the Lord’s presence at His coming. As Christians we look up to the rapture of the church, we look forward to the new heavens and new earth and, for now, we look to ourselves and our walks before the Lord. In 2 Peter 3:11 we read, “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness”. In the same way that Noah lived righteously and godly in his day, so are we to live righteously and godly in our day. We are called to live different than the world around us and when we do, we have a powerful witness to the lost around us. I pray that we would all shine our lights bright this week as we draw near to God and seek to point others to Christ!
'Noah's Ark' (Genesis 6)
Perhaps it’s the appearance of animals, a big boat and the radiant rainbow that makes Genesis 6 ‘Noah’s Ark’ feature so prominently and quite pleasantly in children’s books and many a creche wall mural. Yet the backdrop to the flood and the situation on the ground was dark and indeed demonic such that divine judgment was necessary. We read of how man multiplied on the earth prior to the flood and how, I believe, Satan sought to corrupt the human race through the presence of the hybrid Nephilim ‘fallen ones’. Mankind fell further and further into sin to the point that “all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” and the earth was filled with violence. Jesus said “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37) and so it is to be expected that increased violence and increased demonic activity will be present on the earth before Jesus comes again. Against that dark backdrop, however, a ray of light can be seen – “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” Noah didn’t earn it and didn’t deserve it but he found it in God. We do not deserve grace and it can’t be earned but we can find grace in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. God saw this righteous man and called him to complete a truly unique task – the building of an Ark for rescue. Some say it took 70 years and others up to 100 or more but, however long, and despite whatever opposition he faced, Noah completed the task just as he was commanded to do. In a word? Noah was faithful. Hebrews 11 upholds Noah up as an example to us of one who believed God’s word and took concrete steps in response. The encouragement I left us with was simply to be faithful. Whatever it is that God has called you to or is calling you to, be obedient in it and be faithful. For some it may be a specific ministry in the church or an individual ministry God has given you. For others it may be your work or at home with your family. For others still it may be the call to intercede and encourage and exhort others whenever you can. God gives us all different gifts, talents, abilities and opportunities. What we are all called to do is to use what God’s given us and be faithful to Him with it. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” and “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded Him, so he did.” May that be true of each one of us.
‘Not Just A Genealogy’ (Genesis 5)
It can be easy to side-step or skim over genealogies in the bible – we’ve all done it I’m sure – but when you dig in and search them out it’s amazing to see what you can learn from them. This genealogy is particularly important as it is the genealogy of the first man Adam. This one chapter also bridges the 1,500 or so year period from Adam to Noah – a vast proportion of the whole bible from a time perspective. We see in it also a stark reminder of the curse and of the reign of death through the repeated phrase “and he died”. On the life side of things, I find it so fascinating to think of the long lifespans prior to the flood with many living well into their 900’s! Imagine what you could do, what you could learn and the places you could go if you had that many years ahead of you! We spoke also of God’s patience with sinful man in that Methuselah, whose prophetic name means ‘His Death Shall Bring’, lived to 969 years old – the longest life ever lived – before dying and ushering in the flood judgment that very same year. Truly God is long-suffering and graciously gives people time to repent. Most intriguing of all is the description of Enoch the man who never saw death. We read “After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” In this we see the first recorded rapture in the scriptures taking place prior to God’s judgment on the ancient world. Likewise, the rapture of believers will take place prior to God’s judgment coming upon this world. What characterised Enoch’s life before God took him? Twice we read that Enoch walked with God. He was a man who lived in close fellowship with God. He was wholly devoted to God. He spoke to God and heard from God. He was the quintessential one who was in the world but not of it. Enoch had a consistent walk, a humble walk and a long walk with his God who he knew so well. Amazing also to think that this man who was first raptured gave the first recorded prophecy in scripture which concerned Jesus’ Second Coming (Jude 14 – 15). As we wait for the Lord’s soon return, Enoch provides an important example to as to how we are to live – in close fellowship with God. Let’s be praying for each other this week that we would all walk worthy of the Lord and that we would all enjoy closer and deeper relationship with Him.
‘Sin Pounces’ (Genesis 4)
Following on from the curse, it is sad and sobering to see the deadly depths of sin with Cain murdering his brother Abel. Shocking also to observe Cain’s flippant indifference and lack of remorse when confronted by God about it. Yet before this took place, and knowing what was in Cain’s heart, God gave him fair warning saying “sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” How God strives with man over his sin. We will see in chapter 6 how the Holy Spirit strives against sin and we read in the New Testament that the Holy Spirit comes alongside the unbeliever to convict of sin, righteousness and judgment. The Holy Spirit living in us as believers of course also convicts us and warns us against sin. How important it is that we be aware of sin’s exceeding sinfulness, that we guard against it and that we not put ourselves in situations where we will be tempted to sin. We are not to toy with sin, humour it or give it a foothold in our lives. Indeed, we are not even to cage it nor chain it up but rather the command of scripture is that we would, by the power of the Holy Spirit, mortify it, put it to death (Romans 8:13). We do sin, which of course we all do, we should keep short accounts with God – confessing it, repenting of it and receiving the cleansing that God gives through Christ to those who do. I appreciated Greg’s teaching on the family of Cain and how we see the continuation of ungodliness and ultimately despair for the one who lives without God. Indeed, even pursuits that are in and of themselves good and fine – music, metal-work, animal husbandry and any other form of cultivation and industry – are vanity when God is not part of the equation. So, in the line of Cain we see the fate of all who seek to live without God ultimately be consumed by the flood. On the other hand, in the new son Seth and his line we see those who “call on the name of the Lord”. Truly this is the division that has been and always will be. Those who see their need for God and those who do not. Those who say ‘no’ to God and those who say ‘yes’ to God. Those who refuse to call upon His name and those who, in recognising their own sin and need for Him, gladly call upon His name and are saved.
'The Fall' (Genesis 3)
This is a truly foundational chapter in scripture. In it we see the serpent, indwelt by Satan, deceive Eve by using the same playbook he uses today – divide and conquer, questioning God’s word, contorting / twisting God’s word and finally contradicting God’s word yet with enough truth to make the lie seem plausible. Eve took the bait and in taking and eating the fruit we again see Satan’s devices at work as he still today plays upon the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life to tempt and entice (1 John 2:16). As Christians we are to be wise to Satan’s methods and this chapter is Temptation 101 in seeing how Satan still works today. Eve was deceived, tempted and fell whereas Adam went in eyes wide open and was not being deceived so for him taking and eating the apple was a case of wilful disobedience and therefore greater culpability. Upon eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, rather than being enlightened as Satan had promised, Adam and Eve were aware of their own nakedness, their sin and their shame. How tragic it is that they were immediately afraid of God’s presence and sought to hide from Him and then, when confronted, sought to pass the buck. Man still doesn’t like taking responsibility for his actions. When then see the three-part curse pronounced by God to the serpent, the woman and the man with the ultimate curse being death. God had made man to live forever in Eden but with sin came the curse of death. And yet we see that even in pronouncing judgment, God is merciful as the promise of Messiah is first relayed. To the serpent God said of the Seed of woman, “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” On the cross Jesus was pierced, His heel was bruised, but at His resurrection the tables were turned and the Devil was defeated and the final yet future crushing of his head assured. In Christ’s death we see also the crown of thorns, that symbol of the curse, and He became “a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13) and has provided redemption for the whole of creation from the curse. Finally, God clothed Adam and Eve in animal skins. Fig leaves, the work of man’s hand, wouldn’t suffice. An animal had to die. Blood had to be spilled. And so it is that we cannot by our own efforts atone for our sin but rather Jesus shed His blood for us on the cross and we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. How awesome it is to think that at the very beginning as soon as man fell we see so much pointing to the redemption of man! God was not blind-sided by Adam’s and Eve’s sin but rather He foreordained that the Last Adam, Jesus Christ, would be sent to save. Be encouraged this week to know how greatly you are loved by God! He did not leave us lost in our sin but made a way to take care of our sin, deal with our shame and restore us to relationship with Him. Praise God!
'Adam and Eve' (Genesis 2:4 - 25)
This week we considered two more foundational truths that the world increasingly rejects. First, that God made us male and female. Second, that God instituted marriage as between one male and one female for life. We saw in this more detailed creation account how the LORD-God, Yahweh-Elohim, like a potter working the clay made Adam from the dust of the earth with great care and personal attention. God breathed His own breath, the same word as Spirit, into Adam and he became a living being made in God’s image. Truly it was “not good that man should be alone” and so Eve was likewise made with great care and personal attention from Adam’s rib to be a “helper comparable to him” an the NLT sweetly says “a helper just right for him”. I like this Jewish saying, “God made woman, not out of man’s foot to be under him, nor out of his head to be over him, but “She was taken from under his arm that he might protect her and from next to his heart that he might love her.” And so we see from the very beginning, before the fall, the complementary relationship ordained by God of the husband as head and the wife as helper. As you consider where the world is at today, so much we see that gender is diminished and marriage is marred. God, however, elevates both male and female as made in His image and marriage as made to honour Him. Indeed, marriage is a great blessing given by God and points to an even greater spiritual reality – that of Jesus Christ and His bride the church. We closed our time by reading Ephesians 4:22 – 33 which gives instructions to husbands and wives and keeps coming back to the greater view of Christ and His bride. The best marriages are the ones where Christ is at the center and where His example is followed.
'The Creation' (Genesis 1 - 2:3)
I always love studying God’s word but I particularly enjoyed considering creation week. To think on the creation of light, the division of sea and land, the stretching out of the expansive firmament and the almost causal filling of it, as it says, “the stars also”, you can’t help but be amazed by the awesome power of God. The bringing forth of vegetation, and the creation of sea, land and sky creatures all speak to the wisdom and intelligent design of our Creator. Everything that we see was in God’s mind to make – the sight of sunsets, the smell of flowers and the sound of waves all had their genesis in Him. Truly creation declares God’s greatness and glory! And in view of it I’m reminded of Psalm 8:3 – 4 “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” Yet we see that the jewel in the crown of creation was man and woman made in the image and likeness of God. Man is unique compared to the rest of creation in that God made a creature similar to Him, one made for relationship with Him and to bring Him glory. Man made in God’s image means that we have inherent value and worth and it was of course for mankind, and not the animals or indeed the angels, that Jesus became one of and died for. We finished our time considering the spiritual significance of God resting on the seventh day. God did not rest because He was tired but because the great work of creation was complete. Jesus cried out from the cross “it is finished” and after the great work of salvation was complete “sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). The work of salvation is complete and we can rest in Christ’s finished work on the cross. We read in Hebrews 4:9 “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his work as God did from His.” The word for rest there is Sabbatismos and it speaks of an ultimate Sabbath rest, an eternal Sabbath rest for God’s people. Resting in the Lord does not mean that we are idle, lazy or that we frit our time away but rather that we rest in our salvation and that we serve Him from that place of rest.