Matthew 8

This is more of a PowerPoint show than a biography. A playlist of greatest hits, organised by genre.

Which of course draws attention to how things are ordered and the editing choices.

We’ve had three amazing chapters of Jesus’teaching, today is a series of his acts showing his power, and the responses.

It starts with healings, which are examples of the faith of the recipients as well as Jesus’ power.

He has power over sickness, but he is excited by those with enough faith to ask for healing. This is a practical example of the themes from the sermon. Just ask, and you will be given.

It’s so easy to forget to ask, to carry all your problems alone.

The healings are put in the context of fulfilling scriptures, as Matthew does.

Next the power over nature, (calming a storm); and the forces of darkness (sending demons from two men into pigs).

The responses vary. The non Jewish Centurion earns counter-intuitive praise from Jesus for his faith. The Roman military commander recognised power when he saw it.

The disciples aren’t quite there yet, they are amazed at Jesus’ command of the weather. “Who is this man?”. You wonder who they thought when they dropped everything and followed him. Maybe they thought it would be just for a few days or a week, to find out what “fishers of men” meant.

The locals want rid of him. The herd of pigs full of demons, running into the sea is the last straw. Jesus? Not in my backyard!

The contrast in attitude of Jewish people and the Roman hangs over it. Though this book is clearly a quite specific plea to Jews to consider Jesus, it has been accused of being antisemitic. That tension will come back.

For my part, I’m not sure if a certain depression is making me feel sick, or sickness is making me feel depressed. But I’m sad and struggling to stay motivated, and my throat hurts.

Not majorly, yet. I’ve had a quite producive and enjoyable two days not working. What bliss that is! Did some DIY. I’m also just out of practice having so much self-directed time.

But the rest of my family do seem happier than me. I’ll pray for healing, just ask.

Started looking for jobs, did a work sheet about my purpose in life that a salvo friend sent me. It encouraged me to look outside myself. I’m going to his retirement afternoon tea on the weekend. I’m enjoying feeling open to new experiences.

Nahum overview

A very specific prophesy promising that God will judge the cruelty and evil of the Assyrian empire when the capital, Nineveh, falls.

It was written as a comfort no doubt, to remind the Jews, feeling abandoned by their Lord, that God is still in control.

There is a passing reference to God’s character of being merciful, in chapter one. It also promises that he is slow to anger, but once the anger comes, once God is against you, there is no power in heaven or earth can resist the coming judgment and justice.

Did anyone in Nineveh find mercy from God? That his in God’s hands. But their victims are promised justice.

Evil will not triumph forever. This is something we still need to believe, a promise that strikes at so much of our pain and sadness.

1 God ‘s character, slow to anger. Now angry, against Nineveh.

2 the consequence of having God against you, a vision of Nineveh’s destruction

3 reminding us of how deserved Nineveh’s destruction is, how it represents justice for the victims of Assyrian cruelty

Ezekiel 17

Ezekiel is, I’m starting to think the prophet with the most love. The visions don’t hide the horror befalling Israel, but the end point of God’s love winning in the end is repeated more, I think, than in other major prophets. Just a theory.

This prophesy is quite precise about Zedekiah’s reign. He was virtually the last, pathetic king of Judah. He was a puppet king of the Babylonians, but tried a power move of betraying them by relying on a deal with Egypt to protect against them. It was a dumb move that I think made the sacking of Jerusalem necessary.

These political moves are compared to Eagles carrying twigs of Cedar trees -Israel being the twigs. An uncertain propagation strategy compared to flourishing next to a sustaining River.

It ends with a vision of the kingdom of God which Jesus referred to, as a great flourishing tree, full of birds, providing shade and comfort.

At the end of all these alarming analogies of the last few chapters: the cedar twig carried off by Eagles, the prostitute, the dead vine; are promises of God’s salvation.

I’ve read a lot of dire prophesy, and many stories of death and destruction to get this far in the Bible. Maybe I’m just getting de-sensitised to it.

Maybe it was the hopelessness of Ezekiel’s audience, already political captives, learning of the situation at home worsening. There is a lot of grace here. Hope despite everything.

It’s what is so appealing about the Bible: yes there is a reason we have spiritual longings as well as fleshly desires There is a God. The one constant, and God is a God of love.

Jesus is love in human flesh. In a world of evil, against all odds, God’s kingdom is established.

Ezekiel 7

This is about the most stereotypical old testament prophet chapter I’ve read. God is giving Ezekiel a word, and it is “the end is nigh” a number of times along with “Doom” and “distaster” and “the day is here”.

It’s where all those cliches come from. But I don’t want to make light of it. It is the most extreme language available.

Literally no words are going to make any difference, God’s frustration is palpable.

He would rather love them I guess. He’ chose Israel above all other nations, but they have not honoured God. Nothing has, or will, change them.

I came to this from a news item about a judge giving the victims of accused sex-trafficker billionaire Jeffrey Epstein a day in court to tell their stories, even though he killed himself before the trial.

This chapter talks vividly about the valuelessness of the wealth and jewels of Jerusalem’s elite when judgement comes. They’ll be throwing it on the streets like it’s nothing.

What did Epstein think about his wealth as he slipped away in his cell? Makes you shiver to think of a life of such opportunity, disgusting abuse and emptiness.

Ezekiel’s audience have already escaped, they are on the sidelines. They’ve been feeling wobegone, but they are actually the lucky ones.

They are to channel their survivor-guilt into response to God. The line that caps the chapter brings that into focus: “Then they will know that I am the Lord.

Psalm 117

Big love, forever faithful.

Score! Easy reading today. Wikipedia confirmed this is the shortest chapter in the Bible, and as it turns out the middle one.

Praise God – who? Everyone! All nations, all people.

Praise God – why? Because his huge love has taken over our lives (thanks message translation!) And his faithfulness lasts forever, praise the Lord!

Deep down in its very heart this book’s secret is revealed: the Bible is a love letter.

I was circulated stats yesterday. Australia is approx 50% Christian. I’m actually surprised it’s that high. Glebe, where I go to church is more like 30%, and it dropped about 9% in the past 5 years. I’d even been feeling pretty good about the 30% until they laid out the bars over each other in a graph, each one dramatically shorter.

What’s up God? Is this going to tend down to zero?

And I had a sleepless night. Woke up at two with a restless mind. I’m disturbed, can’t unpack why. A bit to do with identity and the future, somehow.

Praise God – is it a fun communal activity, or a largely unheard plea?

Well it’s true. His love is great, it’s for sharing with everyone, and it will be the last thing standing. Praise God!

Psalm 113

These all seem to be special purpose or novelty type Psalms. The next group, 113-118 were a set sung at Passover. Jesus would have sung them at the last supper, most likely. We just had two acrostic alphabet Psalms, and Psalm 119 will be the super long one that has a whole stanza per letter of the alphabet… The longest chapter in the Bible.

It’s an appropriate way to kick off passover because it’s praising that God lifts up the lowly.

Praise him: who? The lord. His servants, his name: praise.

Praise him for: who he is. Psalm 8 moment… He’s so big, above the stars, and he’s so loving he has to stoop down just to see heaven and earth, to think of us.

We’re told of the emotion Jesus felt on the night he was betrayed. To think he’d probably sung this. How low must I stoop?

Praise him for: what he does. God stoops down, and lifts up the poor and the needy, the most vulnerable. The miserable slaves in Egypt….

He makes them Princes.

He makes childless women happy mothers, settled in their home.

It reminds you that’s he did literally do that for Rachel, Elizabeth. It’s a sign of blessing about to be poured out.

The world remains a mixture of crappy and wonderful, with a lot of meh besides. Are these things God does happening? On some metaphorical spiritual level? Or literally?

Well was the rescue from Egypt practical salvation of a group of slaves or part of a plan to free the world from the grip of sin? Both.

When Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick, was it because they were hungry and sick, or to show he was Messiah? Worked both ways.

This praise is the Bible’s promise of optimism, that things should be right, and will be. God is inherently abundant, caring, and strong enough to deliver on these. It a message to shout and a way to live.

Believe it, proclaim it by praising him all day and all night, and live it by doing what you can for the poor and needy in any dimension of those terms.

We won’t and can’t fix all the problems, Jesus didn’t try to feed all the poor, but it has this context of praise, of telling a great truth about the nature and existence of God, of hope that makes it work on multiple levels.

There’s a good start to the day. At work I’m busy, on stuff I’m glad to be doing, and that I’m not necessarily up to doing, it challenges some of my weak spots. I’m feeling keen!

Psalm 110

Verse 1 throws you into it, it’s one of the most quoted Psalms through the new testament:

The Lord says to my lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”

Suddenly there is three: God, David, and “my Lord” – who is David’s Lord, and seated at the right hand of God – just a minute isn’t that in the creed? It seems David had this extraordinary insight into the plans of God, the Messiah, the rule of the whole earth, the destruction of evil. And it is so concise – 7 verses. And confrontingly violent.

He’s put together a bunch of ideas from his time, plus some pure revelation of the Spirit, into a vision of our time now, and our future: armageddon. A vision of the establishment of god’s rule.

I imagine him as an older king, perhaps, sending off fresh young troops under the power of his kingly sceptre to subdue their military enemies, and waiting till victory is reported back. When that comes, he will declare formally that their rule is at an end and that any lands they took are now officially part of his kingdom.

I imagine his mind turning, after that vivid image of the young troops marching off; to god’s Messiah, and how a Messiah would work.

The Messiah will declare kingship over not just Israel but the whole world, and the believers will go ahead like his troops and declare the kingship to God’s enemies until the day when their time of power ceases.

A few of the images also struck me as having similarities with Psalm 23. Like David had some go-to images of God that lasted his whole life.

His rod and staff comforting him as he passed through the shadow of death, reminded me of the royal sceptre here. Both solid symbols of a higher authority.

Being led to cool waters, reminded me of the moment here where the victorious king is calm enough to stop and take a “drink from a brook along the way” in the last verse, an evocative but otherwise odd inclusion.

And the feast laid out in the midst of enemies, the same phrase, the king’s rule being established in the midst of enemies. There’s a time before the enemies are finally gone where they can see, and maybe respond to the inevitability of god’s rule, his invitation.

He’s also pulled in, with the “make my enemies my footstool” line, to my mind, the image of the destruction of the snake, the evil one from genesis. The finality when the foot crushes the head. The commentators said it was a reference to a known ancient practice of a conquering king placing his foot on the neck of a conquered king.

And the new priest. The Messiah is another kind of priest, not the ones they had in the temple. David pulls out the precedent of Melchizedek to show that it is not heresy. He was king of Salem before it was Jeru-salem and was a priest to Abram before there was a priesthood.

God’s plan for the world is so much bigger than David’s kingship and Israel’s religion. Kingship and priesthood meet in the Messiah and are restored/fulfilled/transformed to their true cosmic meaning.

Our job is running around declaring God’s kingship and priesthood, like David’s troops introducing his enemies to the reality of his kingship.

And, though I feel (Monday morning) a bit burned out and confused, to God I am beautiful “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” Isaiah wrote. Turns out perhaps it was an actual question, answered here: “like dew from the morning’s womb”. Such a description for his young troops!

And the day will come when the opportunity to yield to the king is gone and evil is destroyed forever. The bodies will be piled high, it says. I trust in a God whose love and justice are perfect, but I live with that urgency.

May I work vigorously, worthily this week.

Psalm 103

This is a delightful Psalm of happy praise to God. It’s one of David’s, and they think it probably dates from his later years.

It’s a nice counterpoint to yesterday’s, from the start of his reign promising sincerely to stay pure, strong and good.

Older David is still praising unreservedly, but thanking God over and over for lifting the burden of his sin, his failure. It has a wonderful light, spacious feeling.

As high as the heavens is the size of god’s love, as far a the East is from the West has he removed David’s sin.

He remembers god’s patient compassion to past generations and looks forward to an eternal future of god’s rule, erasing the sadness of the ending of our frail ephemeral span of years.

He lists the benefits of being God’s: personally he’s been pulled from the pit, given a crown of love and compassion (more worth mentioning than the earthly crown) provided good things and he feels young and invigorated, ready to soar like an eagle.

It’s just wonderful intimate tumbling praise of a person filled with God’s spirit.

The righteousness and justice phrase describes god’s objective again.

Righteousness and justice; forgiveness and love. Being the beginning and end of all those seemingly irreconcilable things is the mystery and power of our triune God.

But that’s not a heavy thing to think about, it’s light, fizzy and best expressed in a song.

Psalm 43

This is a sequel to 42. Sometimes they were printed as one, but I did like where the other was left.

The psalmist asks for vindication. He asks to be rescued. I liked how the request for rescue echoes Exodus and Deuteronomy. Led by light, to a mountain of blessing.

He’s doing the consistency argument. Reminding God that He saves…

He mentions being back in the temple praising God on the Lyre. He’s a church guitarist! He’s saying ‘Isn’t that we where you want me God? Where I am supposed to be?’ ‘You like praise don’t you? Put me back and you’ll get more praise…’

It’s a bit like a business proposal: ‘I think your interests and my interests could be better aligned if you take certain mutually beneficial steps…’

But its a good test for prayer. This sort of logic prayer seems self serving, almost manipulative at first blush, but the mutuality of it is a check that the prayer is the within the will of God.

The answer could still be ‘no’ of course but if you are saying ‘God, your character has been this, your plans were this’ it’s a good starting point. It’s respectful, acknowledging that God is calling the shots. It’s the revelation thus far.

Psalm 31

It starts with David in one of the many tight spots he was in during his life and he prays, like people do when they are desperate.

He is out of options, he says if God won’t save him, its not going to happen: they are Jesus’ last words, ‘to you I commit my spirit’

God rescues him, and David recognises that is because God is the rock, solid; the fortress, safe, and because he does good. Not because David was good, because God was good.

That opening verse ‘deliver me in your righteousness’, read with Romans, sparked Martin Luther to be transformed by grace, sparked the Protestant church, apparently.

Luther considered that verse contradicted the church’s teaching that it was God’s holy, righteous nature that condemned us. No, it saves us.

So, rescued David goes on with life and expands that crisis perspective out to be a life attitude.

God remains the rock as you get old, grow weak, eyes fail, your influence fails and people forget about you, and start to plan for you not being around.

He recognises his all his times are in God’s hands just as he gave his spirit over to God in the moment all seemed lost.

The safe fortress of God is spacious, it’s full of good things, and promises shelter and abundance forever.

His moment of acute physical salvation intimately revealed God’s spiritual and eternal nature, of generous, unearned love safety and abundance. And that we are spiritual beings, more than the sum of our bodies.

It’s that simple but massive jump God has patiently been revealing the whole old testament: he doesn’t just save bodies, he saves souls, and they matter more.

He doesn’t just save like a mate lending a hand when you need it, saving is who God is. It’s the gospel in a Psalm.

Jeremiah quoted the phrase ‘terror on every side’ in ch 6 when Jerusalem was under siege, and twice in ch 20 when he was put in the stocks, and people obviously wanted him to fail – a phrase choice to evoke hope. Paul also quoted it, its a classic!

The response? Praise! This is David.

Praise God! What a great return to reading psalms. Yesterday I was quite stressed about my employment prospects and general situation. Less so today.