Matthew 9

A second chapter of Jesus’ actions – mostly healings. This focuses in on the Jewish establishment’s response to him.

They view Jesus with open skepticism, and are threatened by him. It’s their role in the Bible. In all the interactions here, they are out of step with Jesus.

In various stories of healing here we get on one side:

  • a tax collector (Matthew, the author himself) and
  • his “sinner” dodgy friends, with whom Jesus has dinner after Matthew follows him,
  • those being healed,
  • the disciples of John the Baptist and
  • the “crowd”, the general populace.

The people in these groups get it. Jesus is amazing, he is there for them.

On the other side in each story is the negativity and sniping of the Pharisees and teachers who call him a blasphemer, criticise his choice of associations, and say his healing comes from the devil.

At the centre of it, in answer to Johns’ disciples’ sincere questions why Jesus doesn’t fast, Jesus’ metaphors about new wine in old skins, and patching old cloth with new fabric. They tear, they are not up to the task.

His teaching is a massive paradigm shift, a denial, to an extent, of what has been before.

The only old testament quote is from Hosea, Jesus came for the sick not the healthy. In the opening healing, Jesus asked the blind person if they believed he could help them, it was that person’s awareness of needing help and faith that Jesus could meet it that healed him.

It ends with Jesus seeming overwhelmed. So few get it, so much need.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

CH 9 v 36-38

His response to the attacks on him is compassion for the people trying to make sense of the world.

So far the book has been a credibility sandwich around Jesus’ claim to be God, and to be announcing the kingdom of God. That was the three chapter sermon on the mount.

Before it, 4 chapters of his origin steeped in scriptural prophesy and genealogical provenance. After it, 2 so far of his actions of undeniable godly power, and the challenge to respond honestly at face value to that.

And so it remains. The healings of Jesus are still awkward for people. It’s hard to hate his teaching of love and compassion, but the magical God-power element of healing, controlling weather and being the “chosen one” forces the response to go further than admiration. And he teaches that you must respond.

I went to the retirement event of my salvo friend Paul. An interesting mixture, the guy has a ministry to some vulnerable people. But so many honest harvesters. Workers for the kingdom.

Writing on Monday morning. Feeling a desire to be focused, disciplined and get on with it this week. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Matthew 1

New testament! After a number of years reading the Bible, I’ve finished the old testament. All the law, history, philosophy and prophesy come together in the four accounts of Jesus’ life that kick off the new testament.

I’ve already dipped into Luke and John along the way, but I’m going to start back sequentially: Matthew.

By reputation it’s the one with the strongest links to the old scriptures.

And what stronger link than kicking off with a geneaology! Many unknown names, but also many memories of the sweep of the Torah and the histories. It follows the father’s line and shows how David was related back to the patriarchs, and Jesus back to David.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah. David, Solomon and all the kings of Judah good and bad.

Notable women are singled out, and what a crew: Tamar, a survivor in a cruel dynasty, Rahab, who sheltered the spies in Jericho and believed the coming judgement, Ruth from Moab, Bathsheba. These women often rose above the ignominy and nastiness of the patriarchys of the patriarchs. They ground the stories in gritty realities.

The symmetry of the numbers of generations and eras to lead to Jesus (3×14 generations), the messianic prophesy from Isaiah, the minutiae of the virgin birth in the narrative of Mary and Joseph. It all points to Jesus’ eternal cosmic significance.

God has planned this birth for generations, telegraphed it to a godless and uncomprehending humanity and engineered it. That’s all already present. Wow.

The reasons for Jesus are clear: to save us from our sins, to be God with us.

Ezekiel 46

I don’t think I’m the only one losing patience ever so politely with Ezekiel at this point. Another Leviticus-type chapter detailing worship in the temple, different in minor ways from the mosaic law given back in the Torah.

Reading some of the commentators… A lot of explaining and unpacking of the mechanics and process being described, not a lot of why and what does it signify?

The set-up is the very pure holiness of God, as represented by the priests and the sacrifices in a part of the temple the people can’t get to. This we had in the first temple. A new element is the Prince, for whom the gate between the people and the holy bit is opened.

When he is before them and among them, they are able to see and worship as the sacrifices occur making peace with God.

Then there are laws that clarify that the inheritance of the children of the Prince is permanent. It is to reset every year of jubilee, so any of his wealth anyone else has returns to his children.

This is a bit of an odd flip on the concept of jubilee, which up till now I thought of as the cancelling of debts every 25 years. Here it extends to property rights stemming from debt, as if the bank cancelled your mortgage debt to them, but also your ownership of the house. Not such an appealing plan practically but it makes a point about being children of the Prince.

Its not hard to see messianic elements to the Prince, Isaiah’s phase “Prince of peace”, which became a title for Jesus, comes to mind. But it is hard to understand.

I’ll leave it in hold and think more.

Rennie, my son, has gone home to start school. Kelly and I have an extra week by ourselves of holiday. We see her sister Wendy today, and for a couple of days.

Not sure how that will go. She’s been in a rough spot in her life and marriage, and she’s a complex person at the best of times.

I’ve already started having a bit of forboding about going back, which I suppose is inevitable in a holiday scenario.

I’m doing some precessing about who I am and the way our family works. I don’t understand why I had this holiday, but I think it will cause some changes to the way I operate that will be good but maybe a bit difficult in the short term.

Together in Queenstown before Rennie returned. Like the South of France in the South of NZ.

Job 28

A stand alone poem about wisdom. No one is quite sure if it’s Job’s or the narrators voice. It’s one of the passages that instantly conjures up an anthem I sang as a choirboy, though listening back to it theres a reason I can never remember more than the opening and closing sections, they’re the catchiest bits.

It starts relating about what man finds precious, and the lengths he goes to to obtain it: gold, silver, precious stones.

Hidden in obscure places, yet man finds the places and uses all his energy and ingenuity to extract these things.

Yet nowhere in earth is wisdom found, and it is of greater value than all the precious wealth we mine.

Death and destruction have heard a rumour of wisdom… Maybe this is a hint at the silver lining in what Job has been through, and validates his position of being more authoritative than his friends because he has less certainty, is more aware of how much we don’t know.

God knows where it is and what it is. It was in the beginning, and part of the creative process. This he says to us: wisdom is to fear the Lord and to depart from evil.

Maybe this is the most basic revelation to man, knowable without the specifics of the light of Christ, or the salvation stories of Israel. Any human is capable of rejecting or acknowledging their innate awareness of God, and moving away from their evil urges.

I’m not turning this into a universalist creed. If you are being presented with committing to Jesus’claim to be God’s son and you choose instead to believe in a God of your own making and entirely conveniently defined according to your preferences, at a certain point you are rejecting the revelation and the promptings of the spirit.

And if wisdom includes departing from evil, it implicitly accepts original sin, that evil is in us all.

What is this? I think I need help. This is the most precious thing anywhere. But how does it relate to the rest of my belief system? Where is Jesus? Where is Jehovah?

Sheesh! Read the commentary, not much help.

I think I’ll hold that thought. I’m very tired after a long weekend and much to think about. Day off tomorrow on lieu of weekend. Unscramble brain.

Job 23

Ooops, I was super tired yesterday and wrote about 24, skipped 23.

23 is a more direct response to Eliphaz’s demand that Job start listening to the Lord’s instruction and reproof.

He says bring it on, it will show that I have paid plenty of attention to His words. He wants to find God, he’s searching for God, not avoiding him. But he is nowhere to be found.

A poignancy comes from Job feeling frustrated, almost betrayed, by God. He describes him as covered in darkness, and says defiantly that his silence won’t stop him speaking.

This flows nicely into 24, whee he seems to share a lot of his friends attitudes about the nature of God and his attitude to sin, but vents his impatience with waiting for God’s justice.

It’s good. Even negative passion is passion. One of my wife Kelly’s enduring strengths is that she doesn’t put up with putting up. She kicks against the dry times, the boring times. And that’s what I think Job is doing in these chapters.

Each time is Job’s turn now, he demands that God speak. The Messiah is the perfect bridge: if God hadn’t promissed him, human would have had to invent him.

Psalm 72

The king is dead, king live the king!

A psalm about king Solomon, but more about the ideal, the role of kingship than any human could achieve. Setting out God’s ideal of kingship, it naturally anticipates and describes the Messiah.

They don’t know if David wrote it about his son, or Solomon himself did. David ‘son of Jesse’ scores a mention at the end, to wrap up book two, which is described as a collection of his prayers. Strikingly in a psalm all about kingship, he’s not called ‘king David’ the prayers haven’t been about his glory, but Gods.

So what is the ideal king like? He has the justice and righteousness of God, his government is dependable and for the benefit of the people.

He defends the poor and afflicted. Care for the weak is a thread everywhere in the Bible, is just so pervasive. I keep getting jolted every time Donald Trump treats aid as a transaction or a bargaining chip. If he doesn’t think it’s buying any benefit for the US, he cuts it: it’s never motivated by the need of the recipients.

There is breadth, length of rule and abundance of prosperity beyond what any earthly king could dream.

I loved the evocative description of soft rain falling on fields of mown grass to describe abundance and blessing. I associate the psalm with that smell memory now.

Then it runs though the same qualities again, but turned up further:

The king treats as precious every drop of blood of the poor, needy and afflicted.

He’ll be in glorious reign for ever, rule every nation.

Crops will be so abundant they sway on tops of every mountain as well as in the fields .

Then it ends with a burst of praise to God directly.

Then the bit about it being the conclusion of the prayers of David.

Well Solomon did achieve a wealth and peace and power David never knew. But David’s prayers, his rule, his life has been all about the glory and eternal saving power of God.

Both their roles as king ended and had flaws, but this model of what a king should be, that they could imagine and evoke in part, but not sustain, outlasted their kingdoms, fulfilled in Jesus.

I’m obsessing on the US mid term elections, now 3 days away. I’m dying to know the result, maybe to have president Trump called to account by resurgent democrats.

It’s my vice. I trawl my phone last thing at night, first thing in the morning and at lunchtime for developments, and try to stop myself at other times. It’s quite compulsive!

I can’t stand to see power used so crassly. The rule of unapologetic lying and selfishness. It’s just such a gross example. I long to see right triumph, the weak get their due.

I need to keep talking about it to myself as a stupid obsession, because it is. All earthly kingdoms are corrupt. My energies are given me to seek first the kingdom of God.

Earthly power can be a means to that end I suppose, a bit, sometimes. But for most of us practically, it a hobby, a time waster, not the real game. Seeking the kingdom in my own little sphere means seeing the preciousness of the weak and vulnerable, living generously, modelling abundance, living out and talking the eternal power realities, the rule of Christ. The kingdom is forever AND NOW.

Psalm 67

This short psalm is a neat refinement of the themes from 66. It’s this generous wish that everyone will know God’s blessing.

It struck me as a sunshine metaphor, God’s face shining on the chosen people at the start, a reference to harvest being tangible evidence of God’s blessing at the end.

But the shining metaphor also reminds me of the moment your dad smiles, or when the judge on a reality show drops the po face and beams his approval of a contestant.

God answered this prayer request for global praise with the Messiah. The department I work in is called mission resources. I should run this through my head as I am working occasionally,

It is surprising that the ancient Israelites sat around praying that the whole world would know God’s blessing and love. They weren’t a missionary religion, they didn’t imagine the blessing as being their religion world wide, as far as I can tell.

It’s declaring the truth of their monotheism. That Jehovah is the one true creator of the whole earth, source of all that is good. The hope that God will guide all nations as he has guided them.

The happiness of praise and celebration sparks this overflow of good to all, like Christmas. I kind of don’t want to unpack my reaction more than a happy sense of optimism for the world. Despite everything, ‘he’s got the whole world in his hands’.

2 Chronicles 22

A chapter of intrigue. The next king is the youngest son, does not love God and rules just one year. It’s a story of false alliance between the North and South, that split after Solomon.

God is mentioned as judge in his death at the hands of an assassin.

His mum the princess from the evil northern kingdom, Israel, stages a northern takeover when he dies and kills everyone in the house of David.

The dead King’s sister manages to hide her nephew, the heir, as a commoner in the temple where he lives 6 years during his grandmother’s reign.

So the promise of the Messiah is barely hanging on though intrigue in a time of rampant evil. It’s Noah in the ark, Joseph in the pit, Moses in the bullrushes, all over again. It will be the baby in the manger.

God’s mighty saving power is sometimes in the smallest things.

Isaiah 59

Evil, judgement and a promised redeemer.

The evil is portrayed with spider web analogies, a web of lies, a bunch of baby eggs hatching more nasties. It describes people using the justice and political systems corruptly.

They are far from God and in darkness, groping at walls they are so blind, and howling like animals when things go wrong.

Isaiah is quite consistently one of the most Bolshie books. As in, evil is seen as government and abuse of wealth.

Then judgement is described as a scream of justice by God. And it is personalised as the poetic phrases pile on, so it comes into focus as a person.

Then the text breaks into prose to promise the Holy Spirit will be forever with Zion.

Zion which a couple of chapters ago was to include all nations and be a gathering of outcasts.

Hmm.

It’s certainly a powerful encouragement not to join the sliminess and self serving power games that are always on display in this world. God will reward the pure of heart in the long run.

And I feel this sort of survey of the final themes of Isaiah in its last chapters is reaching its mid point with the appearance of God’s salvation in personified form.

We’ve had, in:

  • 56 the salvation message extended to all nations,
  • 57 warning against idolatry,
  • 58 call to a life of servanthood,
  • 59 description of corruption & judgement by a redeemer who promises the holy spirit to Zion

Isaiah 53

This must surely be one of the most eloquent and beautiful descriptions of the heart of Christianity.

Lots of sheep metaphors, so affecting because sheep are so vulnerable.

This poetry links the old teaching about sacrifice for sin with the “new thing” Isaiah has started to describe. God has prepared Israel for this step by having them mindfully slaughter sacrificial sheep for generations. But the idea is still a huge leap.

To compare the mighty creator God we’ve met so far: the firey cloudy pillar guiding us through the wilderness, shaking mountains and carving his words on the rock, to a lamb; one being passively slaughtered, is almost incomprehensible.

The servant is beaten, whipped, his striped scars heal us.

Then killed. And in that paradox, the mightiest God submitting to humiliation and destruction, is my sin absorbed.

For we are also like sheep, wandering off, helpless, incapable of following instructions or caring for ourselves.

Such a complete and clear description of my beliefs, the years melt away.

Hundreds of years between Isaiah and Jesus, thousands of years between Jesus and me. All the scar tissue of my own 55 years, I am a new creation again. For me it requires no rationalisation, it is simply truth which has stood and will stand forever.

When I step back from the moment and realise what I am reading, I get a chill. The holy spirit, surely. These ancient writings, so beautiful, predicting Jesus so accurately and so meaningfully. Speaking right to my heart. Loving, saving. The voice of my God.