The Great Reversal Part 8

Maundy Thursday

The Great Reversal

The Last Supper: Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial, The Garden of Gethsemane

Mark 14:17               In the evening Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 As they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me here will betray me.”

Mark 14:19               Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one?”

Mark 14:20               He replied, “It is one of you twelve who is eating from this bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Mana must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”

Mark 14:22               As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.”

Mark 14:23               And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenanta between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. 25 I tell you the truth, I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”

Mark 14:26               Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

Mark 14:27               On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say,   ‘God will strikes the Shepherd,  and the sheep will be scattered.’

Mark 14:28    But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”

Mark 14:29               Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.”

Mark 14:30               Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

Mark 14:31               “No!” Peter declared emphatically. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the others vowed the same.

Mark 14:32               They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. 34 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Mark 14:35               He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36 “Abba, Father,”a he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Mark 14:37               Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 38 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

Mark 14:39               Then Jesus left them again and prayed the same prayer as before. 40 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.

Mark 14:41               When he returned to them the third time, he said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But no—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

Spring is a great time of year.

The crocuses are in bloom and the tulip leaves are pushing through the ground. The earth comes alive. Soon it will be time to enjoy the garden.

The thought of relaxing in a nice garden brings pleasant thoughts to most of us.

But in our reading we find Jesus far, far from relaxed, in the garden called Gethsemane.

We have just heard that:

Jesus has shared his last supper with his disciples. He has inaugurated a new covenant using bread and wine as symbols of his own body and blood.

He has predicted Peter’s denial.

And then they all, except for Judas, have retreated to the garden of Gethsemane to camp for the night.

Verses 32-33:

“And they came to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, ‘Sit here while I go and pray.”

33 He took Peter, James, and John with him,  and He began to be filled with horror and deep distress.”

 

Jesus, like the Old Testament King David, is surrounded by body guards, if you will, in the midst of battle… but this time , it is with two rings of prayer support.

On the outer edge of the garden are the eight disciples, Inside his closest friends,  Peter, John and James.

Jesus’ prayer reveals an inner struggle and sorrow at what lay ahead.

It is a struggle somewhat similar to the temptation in the wilderness.

‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”

Many times the Psalms had given Jesus words to express his prayer.

On this night, he partly quotes from Psalms 42 and 43:

‘O God my rock,’ I cry, ‘Why have you forsaken me? Why must I wander in darkness, oppressed by my enemies?’ Their taunts pierce me like a fatal wound. They scoff, ‘Where is this God of yours?’

Why am I discouraged? Why so sad?

I will put my hope in God!”

These Psalms accurately express the soul’s deep longing for God…at the same time they end with an affirmation of faith in a God who vindicates.

A God who is with us, in the time of trial.

So it is at this crucial moment Jesus expresses His anguish and he shares it with his three best friends.

Verses 35-36:

“He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by.

36 ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you.

Please take this cup of suffering away from me.

Yet I want your will, not mine.”

 

In Jesus’ day standing with hands lifted was the usual posture for prayer, we can only guess the anguish of his soul as he fell with his face to the ground praying.

And Yet at the same time, he trusts God enough that he can call on him in the most intimate of ways, Abba, Father.

Is there another way?

The answer is no;

It is not possible for Jesus to be the Saviour, Lord,  Messiah, God with us, and avoid drinking the cup of suffering.

This moment of greatest intimacy with his Abba Father, his desperate prayer to an all powerful God who could save him, is also the moment that clinches His  fate. He must face the cross.

‘Yet I want your will, not mine.’

This sums up all of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Obedience to His Abba, Father, and that obedience was perfected on the Cross.

We should remember that Prayer and obedience are two sides of the same coin.

“Then He returned and found the disciples asleep. ‘Simon!’ He said to Peter. ‘Are you asleep?

Couldn’t you stay awake and watch with me even one hour?

38 Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak.”

The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

We know it only too well.

So Jesus rebukes the disciples for falling asleep on the job.

We can never trust in the strength of human nature.

“Then Jesus left them again and prayed, repeating his pleadings. 40 Again he returned to them and found them sleeping, for they just couldn’t keep their eyes open.

And they didn’t know what to say.”

Even the usually vocal Peter is lost for words.

Verses 41-42:

“When He returned to them the third time, He said, “Still sleeping? Still resting? Enough!

The time has come. I, the Son of Man, am betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Up, let’s be going. See my betrayer is here!”

Like the three temptations in the wilderness the third visit to the sleeping disciples gives a sense of finality and completeness.

There is no turning back now.

‘Enough!’

The crisis of decision is over, Jesus has pushed through in prayer.

However just then, Judas the betrayer arrives with his own group.

We know the story:

Jesus will be abandoned by all of them, betrayed with a kiss, and taken captive in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Let me say this as we close:

There is another Garden that figures prominently in the Bible.

Of course it is the Garden of Eden.

It was the home of the first man, Adam.

The New Testament writers describe Jesus as the Second Adam.

Jesus: the second Adam, went into Garden of Gethsemane to restore what the first Adam had lost in  the garden of Eden.

The first Adam sinned in the garden.

Jesus took this sin upon himself in the Gethsemane garden.

The garden of Eden had the tree of life.

Gethsemane brought Jesus to death on a tree.

Adam’s sin forfeited his right to the tree of life and brought death to all mankind.     He who was crucified on the tree conquered death and by His resurrection restored the tree of life to all who believe.

The beautiful garden where Adam fell has long since disappeared but there is a wonderful reversal coming!

Jesus who suffered in our place, alone in Gethsemane, will restore ALL things!

The curse will be lifted, the lion will lay down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6-8), the dry lands will disappear, the earth will yield her increase abundantly (Amos 9:13), and Jesus will reign to bless His people in his forever kingdom in heaven. (Rev 21:3).

Rev. 22:1       Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

Rev. 22:3       No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him, forever.

 

Contrary to popular opinion, the Christian vision of the future is not “other worldly”. It is “new worldly”.

St. John’s description of the new garden in the book of Revelation, is God’s original earthy dream, brought to completion, because of Jesus.

The Great Reversal Part 7

Palm Sunday

The Great Reversal 

Matt. 21:1    As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. 2 “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

Matt. 21:4    This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,

Matt. 21:5    “Tell the people of Jerusalem,

‘Look, your King is coming to you.

He is humble, riding on a donkey—

riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

Matt. 21:6    The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.

Matt. 21:8    Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9  Jesus was in the centre of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise God in highest heaven!”

Matt. 21:10    The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.

Matt. 21:11    And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matt. 21:12    Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

Matt. 21:14    The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. 15  The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.”

But the leaders were indignant.

16 They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

“Yes,” Jesus replied. “Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.’

17 Then he returned to Bethany, where he stayed overnight.

I realized, this week that I had prepared at least 30 Palm Sunday sermons over the years.

Many of us have heard this story so many times, we approach it with a certain amount of ‘Been there, done that, got the Palm Sunday T-shirt.’

When I approach a familiar story like this, I have to ask myself the question: What is surprising about this passage?

It is obvious isn’t it,  A king riding a donkey.

Just imagine if we went to the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, or Washington DC, or Buckingham Palace and saw the different leaders, riding into town in the most run down vehicle.

The newspapers would be all over this.

“Look the queen of England is riding in Pastor Paul’s car.”

A king on a donkey?

Not to mention another great surprise,  the king is now,  going into a church,  and starts throwing things around, even, driving some people out.

What kind of loving, welcoming, inclusive saviour do we have here on Palm Sunday?

What is going on?

What we will discover this morning is not only the complete reversal of what a king should be like, sometimes he does shocking unlikely things… but more important,  this Messiah, King Jesus is the fulfillment of amazing promises made hundreds of years before his arrival.

We find Jesus entering the city, not on a royal chariot, nor on a mighty warhorse; there are no slaves to serve Him. He arrives, instead, humbly, riding on the colt of a donkey.

The word of explanation from the Old Testament is the key.. in verses 4 and 5.

By the way, sometimes you hear people complain that the God of the old testament, is different from the God of the new testament.

You cannot have one without the other.

Listen to the words of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you.

He is righteous and victorious, yet He is humble, riding on a donkey – even on a donkey’s colt…

His realm will stretch from sea to sea…

I believe what we are seeing here on Palm Sunday is a dramatic …prophetic… reenactment.

Just as A picture is worth a thousand words.

His action is speaking louder than  a thousand words.

When Jesus rides  into Jerusalem on a donkey, Matthew points out the connection between his action and the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.

So this word of explanation from the prophet Zechariah is key.

A humble King,-fulfilling prophecy.

Then Jesus goes straight way to the Temple courtyard.

It is a busy place, merchants have arrived with their wares, it is filled with livestock, doves, lambs, and the tables of the money changers .

Passover pilgrims have traveled from all over.

They have come  to make a sacrifice and to worship God in remembrance of their liberation from Egypt many centuries before at the Passover.

We pick up the story at verse 12

Matt. 21:12    Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.  13 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

Jesus’ mission in Jerusalem was not to begin a holy war against the Romans as some, even His Disciples, may have wanted. They thought that their Messiah King  would lead a revolution and  get rid of the Heathen Romans from the Land.

But, It was Jesus’ own people, everyone, needed a revolution…a reversal in their hearts and minds.

How could Jesus make them see where they had gone wrong?

Well, the Prophet King, in Jeremiah-like fashion again enacts a judgement  that would not easily be forgotten.

Like a shepherd He picks up some rope and drives out sheep and oxen.

What Jesus said, and did, by overturning the tables, was a ‘prophet of old’ rebuke of what the Temple had become.

It was just as provocative as His entrance into the city.

Both were a fulfillment of prophetic Scriptures.

Both were an authoritative, public demonstration of God’s Kingdom breaking through in a way that would grab people’s attention.

In this instance, Jesus quotes partly from Isaiah 56:6-7 “I will also bless the Gentiles who commit themselves to the Lord and serve Him and love His Name, who worship Him and do not desecrate the Sabbath…because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Isaiah’s vision spoke of a time when all the nations, the Gentiles of all people,  would join themselves to the one true God …   the outcasts,  outsiders, the least, the last, and the lost would be gathered …with ….His chosen people.

What does that say to us today?

What is our mission?

Jesus also quotes partly from Jeremiah 7:9-11, the full quote is:

“ Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and worship Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here in my Temple and chant, ‘We are safe!’ – only to go right back to all those evils again?

Do you think this Temple, which honours my Name, is a den of thieves?”

The Temple had been so corrupted by the pursuit of economic gain that it had become an obstacle to true worship and prayer.

It was meant to be the very centre of Holy Spiritual life.

To Jesus it looked more like a place where robbers and anti-Roman thugs and revolutionaries hung out.

The Jewish laws demanded that people needed to exchange their various currencies, mostly Roman imperial money which had graven images of Caesar on them, into a special kind of “temple money” before they could buy the animals that were needed for the atonement sacrifice and Passover meal.

But the money changers were cheating the people, taking this Holy occasion as an opportunity to gouge the worshipers.

Doves or pigeons were what the poor people, especially women, would buy as they couldn’t afford grander sacrifices.

And that was the area of the worst corruption.

The whole scene was an offence to the piercing eyes of Jesus and totally dishonouring to God.

The Temple layout had several courtyards of increasing Holiness.  The money changers set up shop in what was the outermost court of the Gentiles where anyone could enter. These outsiders, who believed in and worshiped the Hebrew God were considered to be unclean so they were not allowed into the inner court where the Chosen People of God worshipped.

How ironic!

The outsiders, were the ones who were thought to be unclean!

As mentioned earlier, The old testament prophets would sometimes dramatically enact a message of warning or prophesy in order to get their point across and make it memorable. You can imagine the fuss after Jesus turned over the tables.

What cleansing would Jesus have to do today were he to come to His church in North America?

What gods would He find us worshiping?

One greater than the temple had come and Jesus has enacted God’s righteous judgement on it and its shallow  worship.

No amount of external piety practised in the temple could make up for not only cheating others but of cheating God out of true repentance, true worship, and a truly changed heart.

Money wasn’t the problem but the commerce of worship was… but that wasn’t the only problem, or even the main problem.

verse 14

Matt. 21:14    The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and Jesus healed them.  15 The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.” But the leaders were angry.

They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” “Yes,” Jesus replied. “Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.’”

At the time, anyone with a physical defect was not permitted in the temple with the rest of the community. They too, were the outsiders, the unclean, but Jesus healed them. Once healed they would report to the priests and then they would be allowed back into the community and into the main temple worship.

The people who had been rejected were now healed.  The people who had been kept out were now welcomed in.

These healings of the blind and the lame were another prophetic enactment, but this time, of God’s mercy.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see…” Isaiah 61.

If the temple worship didn’t meet God’s approval neither did its leaders.

How ironic, that it is the blind and lame, considered outcasts, the little children, considered to some as a nuisance that recognize the Lord.

Earlier Jesus expressed thankfulness that truth was hidden from the wise and learned but had been revealed to babes. And so, Jesus is happy to hear the children praising in the way they had heard everyone do as he entered the city; ‘Hosanna to the son of David.’

What did the Temple leaders think of all this attention Jesus was getting? They were angry that Jesus was allowing this irreverent display within the temple.

Another irony; they didn’t seem to mind the money changers and all that corruption, commotion and disruption in the Temple as if that was not irreverent!

But Jesus, relying on the word of God, points out from the book of the Psalms 8:2, that God has ordained that children and even infants would praise him.

It is another fulfillment of Scripture.

So, For the observant, all this proof-texting of the Old Testament Scriptures  was an admission and confirmation  of Jesus’ Messiahship.

It summed up everything Jesus was doing, His mission, but the Temple leaders were indignant and jealous, which ultimately led to Jesus’ death.

Palm Sunday reminds us of this….

But it also reminds us that worship sometimes stirs things up.

Jesus saw the false worship and the sacrificial system as something that had it’s days numbered.

A greater sacrifice, once and for all, is just days away.

Within a week Jesus would be crucified.

We hold our breath for the greatest prophetic re-enactment a week today.

So…. we have seen that the truly surprising and almost shocking point of the story is that Jesus was and is the fulfilment of all that God was and is doing now.

If Jesus were to arrive today, what would he have to do to grab the church’s attention?

What would he say?

Is there a table, as it were, that would need to be overturned?

Now ask yourself ……the same the questions.

The Great Reversal Part 6

The Great Reversal 

Part 6

Jesus Teaches on Serving

Matthew 20:17-28

Matt. 20:17    As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him. 18 “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Mana will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. 19 Then they will hand him over to the Romansa to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”

20Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. 21 “What is your request?” he asked.

She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

22  But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

23  Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

24  When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Imagine three different situations:

Driving in a limousine:

House cleaning service:

Breakfast in bed:

Sounds good doesn’t it?

What were you thinking about?

If you are like me, you are probably… siting in the back of the limousine, not… driving it.

You imagine someone who has been hired to come and clean up your house, not one of the cleaners.

You are being served Breakfast in bed, not the other way round.

Most of us when we think about service, we think about someone serving us.

The reading from the gospel shows us Jesus’ Great Reversal in this whole issue of servanthood.

Our passage begins with Jesus foretelling his gruesome suffering and death on the cross.

When you think about it, it is one of the most ironic places in the bible when after Jesus foretells of his suffering, a caring parent asks for a place of prominence from Jesus for her boys.

But Jesus has to correct her, her two sons, his disciples… and us, about the nature of true servanthood.

Let’s take a closer look:

20 Then, (meaning right after Jesus tells them about the cross) the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons.

She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. 21 “What is your request?” he asked.

She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

In other words, “Give them a place of prominence. Honour them, by serving my sons.”

As a parent I can relate to John and James’ mom. She is a good Jewish mother.

We want the best for our children.

However when we think of being honoured, we do not usually think about servanthood.

Some New Testament scholars maintain that she may have been Jesus’s aunt Salome, Mary’s sister, and the two sons would be cousins to Jesus so perhaps that’s why they wanted special treatment and ask to take the top seats in the Kingdom of God.

The request shows us what the two disciples had in mind when it came to power and leadership. They wanted to be first, they wanted to be more powerful than the other disciples. In fact by asking to be Jesus’s left and right hand men they might have even been imagining ruling over the other disciples. Achievement and ambition are difficult attitudes to weed out.

22  But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

What is this bitter cup of suffering?

There are references to it in the Old Testament; Images used by prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah.

In Isaiah 51 the image of a cup containing the wrath of God was used to express what had happened to God’s people after the destruction of Jerusalem.

The prophet says, “Wake up, wake up, O Jerusalem! You have drunk enough from the cup of the Lord’s fury. You have drunk the cup of terror, tipping out its last drops.”

This passage and many like it speak of what happens when the One Holy God is grieving over a very sinful  and evil world. He steps in to give the wicked and arrogant the just reward for their evil deeds.

It’s as if God’s Holy anger is turned into a dark, potent wine and poured into a cup that rebellious people will be forced to drink, down to its last dregs. Quite a somber  and scary picture!

But hold on, there is an amazing reversal coming.

It is the Son of God himself who is going to willingly drink the cup of God’s wrath in our place, for our sins and the sins of the whole world!

Jesus knew full well what is going to happen to him. The humiliation, desertion, the betrayals, the suffering on all levels.

I’m sure  you have all experienced these things at one time or another yourselves, so you know at least partially how that feels.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, further on in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says His soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. He asks His Heavenly Father if it is at all possible, to let this cup of suffering be taken away from Him.

It’s the ‘Please Lord, no.’ prayer.

How difficult it is sometimes to pray, ‘Not my will but yours be done, Lord’….. as Jesus ultimately did.

You can’t help but be amazed by Jesus’ patience as he stares down death on a cross… while at the same time his followers are bickering about worldly ambition.

At this point the disciples don’t realize what it all really means for them. They are thinking power and prestige; a throne of their own. They wanted to be first.

23  Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

James and John feel confident that they will be able to endure the cup of suffering… and indeed as Jesus has prophesied here so they do.

Later on in the bible we discover that James was martyred quite early on by Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem.

St. John, though spared a martyrs death, was banished to the isle of Patmos for the remainder of his long life.

But in the immediate future we know they will all run away and desert Jesus to drink the cup of suffering alone.

Jesus tells them that only His Heavenly Father knows who will sit beside Him.

It shows that not even Jesus (at this point)  is privy to everything His Heavenly Father is doing, and that’s ok with Him.

It’s not His ‘right’ he says to make the choices the disciples are asking of Him. His Father has a plan. Jesus doesn’t know every detail but He trusts and humbly obeys His Heavenly Father in everything, even unto death. That in itself says everything.

The conversation is overheard by the other disciples.

Verse 24: “When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant.”

The other disciples are angry, they are annoyed,  not because they have a different idea of greatness, but probably they want the best places… themselves.

The two brothers just spoke up first.

The disciples are jockeying for position and power. They are behaving in a worldly way, all wanting to be first, all wanting to be important.

Had they forgotten the sermon on the Mount? Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the lowly…Jesus, as we know, reverses that whole concept of first and last.

Peter had been thinking about greatness in the Kingdom and Jesus answered, as we saw last week, in the Parable of the vineyard workers.

Verses 25-28:

“But Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them.

26 But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must become your slave. 28 For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.’”

So this is the crux of the matter. Jesus has tried several times to get His message of what the Kingdom of God is going to be like.

Jesus ministry has begun: The Kingdom is coming on earth as it is in Heaven;

The light is breaking through the darkness.

But it’s so different from the world.

Greatness in the eyes of the world is determined by status and power. Greatness in the eyes of God is determined by serving and sacrifice.

I find it interesting that of all the titles that Jesus uses about himself, the one he uses most often is the “son of man”.

In Daniel chapter 7 we find A majestic figure called the son of man, given absolute sovereignty and rule over everything. It says this:

Dan. 7:13    As my vision continued that night, I  Daniel, saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.

It is the portrait of a majestic mighty figure!

One you would expect to be served:

And yet Jesus, comes to serve others, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

He came to serve, to serve you and me.

He looks at you and discerns what your needs are, and he finds joy when he serves you and me.

It is such a reversal of what the world is like and yet ages ago, once again, the prophet Isaiah saw the truth.

Speaking of the suffering servant Isaiah writes…

“He was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed!….And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for He will bear all their sins.”

Jesus is going to Jerusalem. He knows what fate awaits Him there. He goes willingly. He is following the biblical model of Kingship, not the world’s model. The biblical model is the kind where the King is the servant, who gives up his very life as a ransom, a payment, for the world.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” We are reminded of this every Sunday at Holy Communion.

verse 28 again:

28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Some translations have:

28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Verse 28, just as……… I know it seems like a small detail.  But what I think Jesus is trying to say is this:

“You think service is being served, no, no, no, true service is about laying down your life, for someone else. Just as I will do for you.”

In other words, Jesus has a very high standard for the way we are to live our life. I know I am preaching to the converted I am just reminding all of us.

I believe we are to be intentional in developing a lifestyle of service.

What does it mean to serve like this?

At home?

With my family?

With friends?

With outsiders even?

We can only live like this, when we are captivated, and filled and captivated once again, by the grace and love of Jesus.

So we need to pray.

Magnificat

Magnificat.

Hannah prayed to the Lord,
Hannah wept,
Hannah wept at Shiloh
Hannah prayed at Shiloh.
Delivered of a son, Samuel,
Asked of God.
Hannah danced,
Hannah sang:

“My heart rejoices
In the Lord
My horn is lifted up
By the Lord,
I rejoice in your salvation.”

Her voice resounds across the generations,
Travelling sacred songlines,
Mary heard, took up the song,
In joyful praise and wonder.

From then to now
From now to then
From here to there
There to here
And now beyond:
Crosshatched tapestry of time,
Along unknown road
Into song, canticle, poem, ode
Beyond time, beyond space.

How can this be?
Me, a lowly handmaiden,
Most lowly of women.
I am afraid/I am joyful.
Here in Nazareth
shall I be despised, rejected, shunned,
Cast out amongst Sheol’s dust heaps
With dogs and beggars?

Mary prayed,
“I am the Lord’s slave,
May it be done to me according to Thy will.”
But how can this be
The Holy One to be born of me,
To be called the Son of God?
I am most blessed.

Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting at the door
The baby lept, like David before the Ark,
Shared destiny with the Son of God,
Miraculous in symbiotic motherhood.
Elizabeth amazed:
“you are the most blessed
of women
And your child
Will be blessed.”

Eyes closed, eyes open,
In the blink of an eye
All is as before,
Trees, rocks, footfalls, sky,
But changed,
From now on:
Different,
Altered,
Transformed,
Metamorphosed.
The mountains skipped like rams,
The hills like lambs.
From now on you call me blessed.

Me, Mary,
I stand here, Lord,
I am your servant, Lord ,
I will sing of my joy,
“My soul proclaims the greatness
Of the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced,”
Joining in song with Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth
With generations passed,
With those present and to come:
“For His mercy is from generation to generation
For those that fear Him.”

In saecula saeculorum.

Εις τοὺς αιῶνας τῶν αιῶνων

Αμήν.

Παυλήττη Τσάδβηκ  Φεβρουαρίῳ 20 2017

By Paulette Chadwick

 

The Great Reversal Part 5

Lent 4 

The Great Reversal Part 5

The Vineyard Workers   Matthew 20:1-16

Matt. 20:1    “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

Matt. 20:3    “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4 So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5 So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.

Matt. 20:6    “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

Matt. 20:7    “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’

Matt. 20:8    “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9 When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

Matt. 20:13  “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage?

14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’

16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”

“It is not fair.”

If you have had children, you probably heard them say that at some time.

But For some people, their entire way of looking at the world is through the lens of fairness.

I am talking about the way we sometimes compare ourselves to other people.

Be it by the way we look, or how much money we make, or how we measure success.

Some people come to the conclusion that they have ended up in life… in… last place and it’s just not fair!

I want to make it clear at the outset that there is a place to fight for fairness. There are real injustices in the world;  like poverty and inequality that as Christians we have a responsibility and a call to minister to.

But  what I mean are the times when we almost stamp our feet childishly,  and say to God “It’s just not fair!”

Jesus tells a story that reverses and challenges our ideas and feelings about fairness.

Let’s pray first:

Our gospel reading this morning touches on the issue of fairness, and… about the great reversal of grace.

In the bible,  the vineyard has been an image for representing God’s people.

There is a moving passage in Isaiah 5 which describes God as a vineyard owner who is upset that even after all the care He has given His people, His precious vineyard, it has still produced bitter, wild grapes… instead of sweet, cultivated ones.

He could not find good fruit in his vineyard.

It is likely that our text today would have struck a familiar tone with Jesus’ listeners,  but… the ending is a total reversal.

It is intended to show us that God’s thoughts and ways are very different from ours especially in light of this whole issue of fairness.

Jesus had a way of telling stories,  where we sometimes find ourselves relating by the end of it,  to the wrong sort of people.

Verses 1-2:

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like……..

In other words, this is how the kingdom of God works…

For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard.

2 He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

Jesus is using a story to illustrate what God is like, and of course the various ways people interact with God.

It’s time for the grape harvest.

A storm could ruin the harvest so timing is crucial.

The work day begins at dawn 6 am and ends at sunset. 6pm

The pay, a denarius, is actually very generous, especially for an unskilled labourer.

So, There is something strange about this employer.

The employer could have sent someone else. Instead he takes the initiative and goes searching for prospective employees himself.

He cares about their situation. He wants to give them work and …a generous reward.

Verse 3-4

3    “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing.

‘Standing in the middle of the market place’ was the equivalent of waiting in the unemployment line or attending a job fair.

This employer, the vineyard owner, is an unusual employer, as I mentioned.

He doesn’t just go out once……to seek out these people , but He goes out repeatedly through the day.

He’s persistent.

He doesn’t give up.

He searches until, he finds them.

6 o’clock in the morning, 9 am, noon and even 3 o’clock in the afternoon he is out hiring people.

Is the harvest that big? Are the workers so few.

Does the vineyard owner just want to help people out?

Maybe both?

What is Jesus saying about God in this parable?

What is the Kingdom of Heaven like?

Maybe we need to look at the last group of people to get hired, because I think the story is building to a dramatic conclusion.

Verse 6:

Matt. 20:6    “At five o’clock that afternoon, (meaning there is only 1 hour in the work day left)

He was in town again and saw some more people standing around.

He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

Their answer is revealing.

“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

In other words, no one wanted them.

We might guess that they are hungry….They are unemployed, having nothing productive to do, and as the day drags on,  they might even be losing hope.

Perhaps they were the kind of people other employers tried not to hire; the ignored, invisible, unremarkable the lowly?

Matt. 20:8    “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first.

The timing of the payment, at the end of the day was customary in Jesus time;  so that the workers could buy their families food for supper.

But, Paying the last workers first was probably told purposely by Jesus so that the first workers in the story would see how much the one hour workers got paid.

Again the employer does something very unusual;

The big surprise to everyone is that he pays the 5 pm guys, the very same amount as the ones who started working at 6 o’clock in the morning!

The last, who have worked only one hour get paid the same amount as those who have worked all day!

They all got a full days wage. The same reward.

What an amazingly generous employer!

But not everyone is happy about this:

10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage.

11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, “It’s just not fair.”

12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

Doesn’t that sound similar to the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son?

Verse 13:

The Vineyard owner answers, “Friend (Hetaire, in the Greek).

That should get our attention, I will tell you why in a moment.

In effect the owner is saying this: ‘Friend, can I show you an agreement you signed this morning?

You agreed to work for (a hundred dollars), correct? “Yes.”

“ I thought you did. “

“It’s a very good wage for a days’ work, is it not?”

“So, what are you complaining about?

Are you demanding that I tear up this agreement you willingly entered?”

The vineyard owner is telling them, in a nice way,  they are in the wrong.

That is why I mentioned The word, friend, hetaire.

It is used three times in Matthew’s gospel.

In each case the recipient is in the….wrong. (Matthew 22:12 and 26:50) Judas is one of them.

The Vineyard owner is fair, generous and kind.

Life is unfair sometimes, but God is never unfair.

From Romans 9:14, “What can we say? Was God being unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. So receiving God’s promise is not up to us. We can’t get it by choosing it or working hard for it.”

 

Jesus’ simple story about workers in a vineyard suddenly becomes charged with an incredible reversal.

Last part

Verses 14-15 basically say, No matter how long or how hot the day. No matter how hard the work, there are no claims on God to owe us anything more than what he has already given us, which is everything.

His grace is everything.

The story touches on fairness, but it is more about the Amazing Grace of God.

All the workers in the story were equally UN-deserving of the vineyard owner’s generosity.

So, Who’s to complain?

The question arises, Who were the disgruntled workers that Jesus is addressing then?

Well, they may have been the Pharisees, and religious leaders, they often came under fire from Jesus.

The disgruntled ones may have been the chosen people of Israel. After keeping all the laws of Moses for 2 thousand years they now see the Gentiles, outsiders being welcomed into the Kingdom of God by Jesus. He even welcomed tax collectors and sinners.

Even the Disciples themselves may have been the ones Jesus was referring to.

Remember when they were complaining to Jesus that they had given up all to follow him. Shouldn’t they get more from God than everyone else?

Jesus’ message is clear.

Our place in God’s Kingdom does not depend on our worthiness, or even our good works.

It all depends on the sheer undeserving favour of the only One who is perfectly good and who accepts those who could never be good enough, or work hard enough. It is all about grace.

We find the very same message in Ephesians 2:8-10. When the apostle Paul writes…..

‘God saved you by His special favour when you believed. And you cannot take credit for this; it is a gift from God….’

One day,  you and I will stand before our God as workers in his vineyard:

Now Imagine standing before our Holy God and demanding of him: ‘Give me what is fair, give me what I deserve.’

Are you comfortable with a fair God? Or a Gracious Lord?

 

The Great Reversal Part 3

March 12, 2017
Lent 2
The Great Reversal

Get Behind Me Satan Matthew 16:21-28

Matt. 16:13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, a the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John,a because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’),a and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hellb will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”
Then he sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. From then on Jesus  began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?  For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds. And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”

Without a struggle there is no victory, without a cross there is no crown of Glory. Many of us are aware that to follow Jesus challenges our comfort and ease. It means a kind of self-denial.

For Jesus and His disciples it would mean even forfeiting their lives.

One of the main things that Jesus struggled with, and I believe probably frustrated him, was the level of unbelief that refused to recognize Him as the Messiah, the Saviour of the world.

The people of Jesus’ day believed that God would raise up an anointed king who would free Israel from oppression and bring justice and peace. No one knew when this anointed king, the Messiah, would be born, but many believed He would be a  descendant of King David.

What they did not know is how radically different this Messiah would be and how He would reverse all their concepts of discipleship and faith. Let’s pray and then continue our study of the Great Reversal, in Matthew chapter 16.

Matt. 16:21 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.

Verse 21: “From then on….” Marks a new phase of Matthew’s Gospel story. From now on, until the end of the book there will be a new emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus must go to Jerusalem because it is God’s will which was prophesied in the Old Testament

Scriptures. Jesus’ purpose was to suffer on a cross.

As I Mentioned earlier, there is a spiritual battle going on and dear Peter is, unfortunately, a casualty…. for now, anyway.

Earlier, in verse 16, you remember that Peter, taking on the role of spokesman for all the disciples makes the declaration that Jesus is indeed the long awaited Messiah, ‘the Son of the Living God’. And Jesus rewards Peter:

“You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.
18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.
19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

This is an amazing revelation.

But it is short lived: Peter takes on the role of spokesman again when he declares that he doesn’t think it’s right to go to Jerusalem and have those terrible things happen to Jesus the Messiah.

Verse 22:
“Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”

Peter, an instrument of revelation one minute becomes the mouthpiece for the Satan in just six verses. I don’t think Peter knew what he was suggesting really. Obviously he didn’t want his friend to die.  (Apparently this incident is depicted above the entrance to St.Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I admire the Catholic church’s decision to include this episode in the architecture of their buildings at the Vatican. It shows a vulnerability and human frailty.)

You and I are not above getting it wrong, like Peter. There is no plateau of spirituality or effectiveness for any of us, not even the saints. We are in a lifelong spiritual battle and so sometimes we have to look carefully at what God is doing and how He is doing it and what part we must play.

Thankfully we have the Holy Spirit to help us. In the passage, Jesus is trying to get His disciples to look carefully at what God is doing. He’s trying to help them to see in a reverse manner. Like looking in a mirror, everything is in reverse. The prospect of Jesus’s suffering was hard for the disciples to imagine. To them the Messiah was meant to usher in God’s victory over their enemies, the fulfillment of their history.

“Oh, to be rid of the Roman scourge!” Peter was thinking along the lines of taking over the Temple and installing Jesus as King. That’s how the Messiah will be exalted in His Kingdom!

I am sure Peter must have recoiled in horror and confusion when Jesus explains that the Messiah is destined to suffer humiliation, rejection and death at the hand of those enemies.

Peter’s perspective and understanding is wrong.

For one, Peter understood God’s salvation was only for Israel. And two, Peter is tricked by one of the devil’s schemes… to bring confusion.

Would you agree that the enemy is alive today? We live in a world where confusion reigns. People are confused about the nature of God. And people are confused about their identity in God. Genesis chapter 3 records the beginning of the confusion: The Old testament spoke of Messiahship involving suffering. Isaiah portrays him as the suffering Servant; taking on all the assaults of evil, allowing Himself to be crushed by our sin. The enemy will appear to win the battle, but then, Jesus, the Messiah, will be raised from death to a new life, a life that will never end because it shares the nature of God Himself.

This is the path that Jesus sees before Him. But neither Peter nor the other disciples understand

what Jesus is talking about. It all sounds like foolishness to them. As soon as Peter declares Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God, Jesus makes it clear to him what sort of Messiah he is declaring. Peter is aghast. This certainly did not fit in with his idea of Messiahship at all. So he pulls Jesus aside to express his indignation and resentment in words that literally mean “God be kind to you, Master; this shall never happen to you”.

Peter meant well….. but his outburst showed that he really didn’t understand what Jesus’ mission was.

Think of it like this:

If Jesus had listened to Peter He would have done exactly what Satan had tempted Him to do in the wilderness in Matthew chapter 4. So Jesus rebukes Peter in the same way He did the tempter in the wilderness, ‘Get behind me Satan’. You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” Peter, the ‘rock’ that Jesus said He would build his church on……. Has momentarily become a stumbling block.

The painful lesson that Peter and the other disciples had to learn was that God thinks so differently than how we mere human beings think. God sees in reverse.

How so:

Verse 24:
“Shoulder your cross and follow me’.

Jesus explains a very difficult lesson: If we seek to have life on our own terms we will lose it.

However, If we are prepared to sacrifice our own way, even our life, we will find true life.

Jesus amazed His disciples by reversing the definition of Messiahship and now again by reversing His definition of discipleship and success in life. Peter was addressed as satan because he opposed Jesus’ obedience to the will of God. Not only is Peter wrong about what lies ahead for Jesus but he is also wrong about what lies ahead for the disciples, including his own future.

The paradox here is that he must lose his life in order to gain it. Jesus must lose his life in order to gain Eternal Life for all those who trust in Him. Jesus concludes with verse 27 and 28:

27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father and will judge all people according to their deeds. 28 And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they seethe Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”

We will be accountable for the lives we have led. These 2 verses about ‘the Son of Man coming with his angels to judge’ are slightly complex.

I believe Jesus is pointing to two things at once.

When Jesus says in verse 28, “And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.” I think he means It is about His vindication after His suffering. It is about the great reversal which is to take place that first Easter morning.

Jesus sees it coming; He knows it; And He is trying to tell His followers. But it is also about his return: Or what we would say, his second coming. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

For us today, we know Jesus; we know He is already risen and the exalted Lord of the world.

We don’t have to wait for His vindication, however one day, when Jesus returns, we will have our lives judged (according to our deeds) but not condemned.

In the meantime we have to learn to think in reverse. Jesus didn’t come with a message of an easy life if we follow Him, with everything happening the way we want.

Just the reverse.

Cling to your life and you will lose it.

Give everything you have to following Jesus, and you will have life everlasting.

Let me finish with a quote from N.T.Wright:

 “In every generation there are it seems a few people who are prepared to take Jesus very seriously, at his Word. What would it be like if you were one of them?”

The Great Reversal Part 2

The Magnificat

Luke 1:39-56

 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear  him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.  He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. He has helped his  servant Israel and remembered to be merciful. For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.” Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home.

Mary’s song of praise is often called the Magnificat because that is it’s first word in Latin. It is one of the most famous songs in Christianity. It is recited at our own Anglican evening prayer services, chanted in Cathedrals and has been set to great works of music by the likes of Bach and Rachmaninoff.

It is the good news of the Gospel before it was written, before Easter, before the Cross, before even Bethlehem. It is all about God and His plan for a Great Reversal.

All because of Jesus who has not been born yet, but is much alive in His mothers womb. We might ask our selves ‘Why does Mary, who seems like a rather shy, quiet person, shout out this song of hope and joy? What secrets have been revealed to her? And what about her older cousin Elizabeth? Why did her baby leap for joy in her womb? What does the news of their untimely pregnancies have to do with God and His plans for the whole world?

Earlier in Luke chapter 1: The angel Gabriel visits Mary tells her about the gift of God she is caring in her womb and also about her much older relative Elizabeth who is also with child. So Mary sets out to pay her a visit in the hill country of Judea, which is about about 60 miles south from where Mary lived in Nazareth. Mary travels to the land of the tribe of Judah, and King David.

How fitting that the promises of God are being fulfilled in the area those same promises were given to people like, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. As soon as Mary greets Elizabeth her cousin’s unborn baby, which is John the Baptist, moves in her womb and she is filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit says to her young cousin, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Luke 1:43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”

Elizabeth realizes that the movement of her unborn baby is an expression of his joy, and she realizes under the inspiration of God, that Mary’s child is in fact the Saviour of the world. Elizabeth concludes not only by affirming Mary for her humble faith but also affirming that God’s promises will certainly take place.

We turn to Mary’s song of praise, which is called the Magnificat.

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
Luke 1:47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
Luke 1:48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
Luke 1:49 For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.
Luke 1:50 He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.
Luke 1:51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
Luke 1:52 He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.
Luke 1:53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.
Luke 1:54 He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.
Luke 1:55 For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”

Mary’s song, is very much like Old Testament language. There are a few similarities to Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 which celebrates the birth of Samuel and all that God was going to do through him, as a prophet, but there is a difference in tone. Whereas Hannah’s song is one of triumph in the face of her enemies, Mary’s song is a humble praise to God for His great mercy and grace.

From thankfulness for what God has done for her Mary turns to thinking about God Himself. She contemplates three things. His power, His holiness and His mercy. She sees herself as insignificant, but that doesn’t matter, because God is doing something; He is on the move.

Verses 51-53: In a prophetic spirit Mary looks forward into a future that has already begun, where what God will do is so certain that it can be spoken of as if already accomplished. This was frequently the way OT prophets would speak.

This section of the song tells of a complete reversal of human values. It is not the proud or the rich or the mighty who have the last word. God, through His Son, is about to overthrow all of these and turn human attitudes and society upside down.

Verses 54-56: Mary now sings of God’s help for His people that will come through Jesus. She is saying that God’s action of sending Jesus is not a completely new idea, but rather as a continuation of His mercy to Abraham and the fathers or patriarchs of old times. Mary and Elizabeth shared an ancient dream: that one day all the prophecies in the Old Testament would come true, that through Abraham’s family all nations would be blessed. But for that to happen the powers that kept the world in slavery must be toppled. Evil had to be vanquished.

Mary and Elizabeth, like so many people of their day, listened to the scriptures, soaked themselves in the Psalms and Prophetic writings which spoke of God’s mercy, hope, fulfilment, reversal, victory over evil and of His coming to the rescue at long last. All of this is poured into Mary’s song and much of it will be echoed in her Son’s preaching as He warns the rich not to trust in their wealth, and promises God’s Kingdom to the poor.

The Great Reversal promised in the Magnificat really will involve the downfall of the rulers of the world. The question is when, and in what sense, and how?

Stay tuned.

The Great Reversal Part 1

March 1, 2017

The Great Reversal

Introduction

Dust to Dust, Ashes to Ashes and the New Creation

History is going somewhere.

God’s story is going forward.

Most first century Jews and Christians believed that God was guiding history. A new created world with His justice, peace, healing and hope was on it’s way. This transformation from old to new, from death to life, would not be a matter of destroying everything and starting all over though, but rather a matter of radically healing everything. The writers of the New Testament looked forward to this time and saw the Resurrection of Jesus as it’s beginning. And thus the Great Reversal began 2000 years ago.

I hope to make ‘The Great Reversal’ our study through Lent, and I also hope to be able to explain some of the different ways in which Easter and Pentecost turned the world on its head.

Today marks the beginning of our preparations for the celebration of that Great Reversal, Easter Sunday.

During Lent we prepare ourselves by reflecting on our human frailty and the ways that we have disobeyed God. We also reflect on the suffering and temptations that Jesus experienced as he fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, yet He did not disobey God. He is our Example, the Model for us. The result of our reflections, prayer, and preparations helps us to become more and more like Jesus. We want to be obedient to God; in a loving, intimate relationship with Him; we want to be Christ-like, Christians (little Christs).

So to begin these preparations and reflections we have this service of the Imposition of Ashes where ashes are put on our foreheads in the sign of a cross as a visible symbol of our repentance, contrition, humility and desire to be more Christ-like.

In Old Testament times ashes were often used to express grief, and sorrow for sins. For example Job responds to God, …

Job 42:3-6 ‘I had heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I have said and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.’

Or ashes were used in the context of supplication or pleading prayers,

Daniel 9:3 ‘So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with Him in prayer and fasting. I wore rough sackcloth and sprinkled myself with ashes.’

A New Testament example can be found in the Gospels, ….

Matt 11:21 & Luke 10:13 ‘ What horrors await you Korazin and Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon their people would have sat in deep repentance long ago, clothed in sackcloth and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse.’

Ashes also represent our mortality and frailty , that our life passes away on earth, as God told Adam and Eve.

“All your life you will sweat to produce food from the ground, until your dying day. Then you will return to the ground from which you came. For you were made from dust, and to the dust you will return.” Gen 3:19

These words remind us to humbly seek God’s mercy.

And now for the good news!

We know that our Creator God is merciful and gracious to all those who believe in His son Jesus and call on Him with a repentant heart.

‘For now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death.  Rom 8:1-2   And….

Rom 8:39 “Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing  in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

I said in my introduction that History, His story, is going somewhere. Our frail bodies shall return to dust But that is not our final destination, praise God!

In His infinite mercy the Lord has a wonderful destiny for ‘this dust’, a great reversal.

We will one day be resurrected just like Jesus.

He was first.

All those who repent and confess that Jesus is their Lord will have this great reversal to look forward to, the day of Resurrection.

“Jesus didn’t say a lot about the future life. He was primarily concerned that God’s kingdom was coming on Earth as in Heaven. He gave no fresh teaching on the resurrection apart from hints that it was going to happen soon, to One person, ahead of everyone else. (N.T.Wright Surprised by Hope  page 177.)

God is going to make everything right in the end. He has turned the world on its head, turned it up side down (or right side up). We are in the midst of this great reversal now, but one day our frail dust will be transformed into resurrected bodies that will not ever turn to dust again! Heaven and Earth will be married together into God’s New Creation when Jesus returns for His bride. And we will play a vital role in His New Creation. That is the whole point of being saved. It’s not just a question of whether or not we (I) will forever live in bliss after we (I) die but rather what will we (I) be able to contribute in God’s New Creation?  ‘We are fellow labourers with God’

1 Cor 3:9

For now though, we are part of God’s family who seek to live our earthly lives by the standards and purposes of the Kingdom of heaven, constantly assured of our belonging to the future New Creation.

And we pray Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.

The Importance of Daily Bible Reading

Thoughts on the importance of Daily Bible Reading Edited from the Gospel Coalition WebsitePastor Paul

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO READ THROUGH THE ENTIRE BIBLE IN A YEAR?

Less than 10 minutes a day.

(There are about 775,000 words in the Bible. Divided by 365, that’s 2,123 words a day. The average person reads 200 to 250 words per minute. So 2,123 words/day divided by 225 words/ minute equals 9.4 minutes a day.]

DOES THE BIBLE EVER COMMAND US TO READ THE WHOLE BIBLE IN A YEAR?

No. What it commends is knowing the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and meditating or storing or ruminating upon God’s self-disclosure to us in written form (Deut. 6:7; 32:46; Ps. 119:11, 15, 23, 93, 99; 143:5). It is compared to bread and water—not nice things to have when there is time but that which is essential for survival.

The point is not to check off a list but rather to meditate on the Word in such a way that your mind, heart, and actions are transformed in a godly, gospel-drawn way.

As Joel Beeke writes:

As oil lubricates an engine, so meditation facilitates the diligent use of means of grace (reading of Scripture, hearing sermons, prayer, and all other ordinances of Christ), deepens the marks of grace (repentance, faith, humility), and strengthens one’s relationships to others (love to God, to fellow Christians, to one’s neighbors at large).

Thomas Watson put it like this:

A Christian without meditation is like a solider without arms, or a workman without tools. Without meditation the truths of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory is slippery, and without meditation all is lost.

So reading the Bible cover to cover is a great way to facilitate meditation upon the whole counsel of God.

DESPITE OUR GOOD INTENTIONS, WHY DON’T MORE CHRISTIANS READ THE BIBLE IN A YEAR?

Simple resolutions are often well-intentioned but insufficient. Most of us need a more proactive plan. As John Piper has written, “Nothing but the simplest impulses gets accomplished without some forethought which we call a plan.”

WHAT ARE SOME HELPS FOR READING THE BIBLE IN A YEAR?

Some Bibles are designed to facilitate daily Bible reading. There are several options to choose from.

There is also the One-Year Bible. Again, the whole Bible is divided up for you into 365 daily readings. In this Bible, you would read from the Old Testament, New Testament, a Psalm, and a Proverb each day.

The nice thing about Bibles like this is that you don’t need to have a plan alongside you, and you don’t need to flip around to your next reading—all the work is done for you.

On the other hand, this is not the sort of Bible that you could bring to a Bible study or to church, because it’d be difficult to locate a passage quickly.

Also be aware that because there is a reading for every single day, it can be easy to fall behind. In other words, unlike some of the plans below, there is no “grace period” built in for catch-up days.

Bible Reading Plans that Can Be Used with Any Bible

These plans can be looked up and downloaded from the internet:

  1. Let’s start with the most doable of the plans: Stephen Witmer’s two-year-Bible reading plan. Stephen writes: ”In my opinion, it is better to read the whole Bible through carefully one time in two years than hastily in one year.” His plan has you read through one book of the Bible at a time (along with a daily reading from the Psalms or Proverbs. At the end of two years you will have read through the Psalms and Proverbs four times and the rest of the Bible once.
  2. Jason DeRouchie offers his KINGDOM Bible Reading Plan, which has the following distinctive:

Proportionate weight is given to the Old and New Testaments in view of their relative length, the Old receiving three readings per day and the New getting one reading per day. The Old Testament readings follow the arrangement of Jesus’ Bible (Luke 24:44—Law, Prophets, Writings), with one reading coming from each portion per day. In a single year, one reads through Psalms twice and all other biblical books once; the second reading of Psalms (highlighted in gray) supplements the readings through the Law (GenesisDeuteronomy). Only twenty-five readings are slated per month in order to provide more flexibility in daily devotions. The plan can be started at any time of the year, and if four readings per day are too much, the plan can simply be stretched to two or more years (reading from one, two, or three columns per day). 3. Trent Hunter’s The Bible-Eater Plan is an innovative approach that has you reading whole chapters, along with quarterly attention to specific books. The plan especially highlights OT chapters that are crucial to the storyline of Scripture and redemptive fulfilment in Christ.

  1. For those who would benefit from a realistic “discipline + grace” approach, consider Andy Perry’s Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers. It takes away the pressure (and guilt) of “keeping up” with the entire Bible in one year. You get variety within the week by alternating genres by day, but also continuity by sticking with one genre each day. Here’s the basic idea:

Sundays: Poetry Mondays: Penteteuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) Tuesdays: Old Testament history Wednesdays: Old Testament history Thursdays: Old Testament prophets Fridays: New Testament history Saturdays: New Testament epistles (letters)

  1. Finally, there is the Legacy Reading Plan. Here is a description:

The overarching objective of the Legacy Reading Plan is to read through the Bible once a year, every year for the rest of your life. The reading calendar is naturally segmented into seasons and the seasons into months. At the beginning of each year you know that during the winter your focus will be on the Pentateuch and Poetry (249 chapters); in spring, the Historical books (249 chapters); in summer the Prophets (250 chapters); and during the fall, the New Testament (260 chapter). Each season is further broken down into months. Thus every January your goal is to read through Genesis and Exodus and every December the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. There are times when you will naturally read ten chapters at a time and others when you will read one or two. More importantly you will read the Bible just as you read other literature.

WHAT ARE SOME RESOURCES TO HELP ME UNDERSTAND THE STORYLINE OF SCRIPTURE AND HOW TO READ SCRIPTURE WELL?

Here are some good, short books on the big picture of the Bible:

Chris Bruno, The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses D. A. Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible

Vaughn Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible Here are some on reading the Bible responsibly:

George Guthrie, Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guide Grudem, Collins, Schreiner, eds., Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible: A Guide to Reading the Bible Well For a focus on the Old Testament, see (in increasing order of level):

Jason DeRouchie, ed., What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible Paul House, Old Testament Theology Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology For a focus on the New Testament, see:

  1. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Andy Naselli, Introducing the New Testament: A Short Guide to Its History and Message Andreas Köstenberger, Scott Kellum, Charles Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament

Frank Thielman, New Testament Theology For a whole-Bible theology books, see:

Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology Thomas Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments For special attention to seeing Christ in the Old Testament, note in particular:

Nancy Guthrie, Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament (Bible studies) Michael Williams, How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture David Murray, Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament ESV Gospel Transformation Bible, ed. Bryan Chapell ANY BOOKS TO HELP CHILDREN CATCH THE BIBLICAL STORYLINE?

For helping children trace the storyline of Scripture, see:

Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible David Helm, The Big Picture Story Bible

Kevin DeYoung’s The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden Note that with the Helm book, Crossway has now released a whole set of corresponding materials in the series: including an innovative Scripture memory/catechism of redemptive history, a free audio book, and a family devotional.

WITHOUT HAVING TO GO BUY A BOOK, CAN YOU GIVE ME A QUICK FLYBY COURSE ON PUTTING TOGETHER THE BIBLICAL STORYLINE?

As you read through the Bible, here’s a chart you may want to to print out and have on hand. It’s from Goldsworthy’s book According to Plan. It simplified, of course, but it can be helpful in locating where you’re at in the biblical storyline and seeing the history of Israel “at a glance.”

Goldsworthy’s outline is below. You can also download this as a PDF (posted with permission).

Taken from According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy.

Creation by Word Genesis 1 and 2 The Fall Genesis 3 First Revelation of Redemption Genesis 4-11 Abraham Our Father Genesis 12-50 Exodus: Our Pattern of Redemption Exodus 1-15 New Life: Gift and Task Exodus 16-40; Leviticus The Temptation in the Wilderness Numbers; Deuteronomy Into the Good Land Joshua; Judges; Ruth God’s Rule in God’s Land 1 and 2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1-10; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles 1-9 The Fading Shadow1 Kings 11-22; 2 Kings There Is a New Creation Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Esther The Second Exodus Ezra; Nehemiah; Haggai The New Creation for Us Matthew; Mark; Luke; John The New Creation in Us Initiated Acts The New Creation in Us Now New Testament Epistles The New Creation Consummated The New Testament Below are Goldsworthy’s summaries of each section.

Creation by Word Genesis 1 and 2 In the beginning God created everything that exists. He made Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden of Eden. God spoke to them and gave them certain tasks in the world. For food

he allowed them the fruit of all the trees in the garden except one. He warned them that they would die if they ate of that one tree.

The Fall Genesis 3 The snake persuaded Eve to disobey God and to eat the forbidden fruit. She gave some to Adam and he ate also. Then God spoke to them in judgment, and sent them out of the garden into a world that came under the same judgment.

First Revelation of Redemption Genesis 4-11 Outside Eden, Cain and Abel were born to Adam and eve. Cain murdered Abel and Eve bore another son, Seth. Eventually the human race became so wicked that God determined to destroy every living thing with a flood. Noah and his family were saved by building a great boat at God’s command. The human race began again with Noah and his three sons with their families. Sometime after the flood a still unified human race attempted a godless act to assert its power in the building of a high tower. God thwarted these plans by scattering the people and confusing their language.

Abraham Our Father

Genesis 12-50 Sometime in the early second millennium BC God called Abraham out of Mesopotamia to Canaan. He promised to give this land to Abraham’s descendants and to bless them as his people. Abraham went, and many years later he had a son, Isaac. Isaac in rum had two sons, Esau and Jacob. The promises of God were established with Jacob and his descendants. He had twelve sons, and in time they all went to live in Egypt because of famine in Canaan.

Exodus: Our Pattern of Redemption Exodus 1-15 In time the descendants of Jacob living in Egypt multiplied to become a very large number of people. The Egyptians no longer regarded them with friendliness and made them slaves. God appointed Moses to be the one who would lead Israel out of Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. When the moment came for Moses to demand the freedom of his people, the Pharaoh refused to let them go. Though Moses worked ten miracle plagues which brought hardship, destruction, and death to the Egyptians. Finally, Pharaoh let Israel go, but then pursued them and trapped them at the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds). The God opened a way in the sea for Israel to cross on dry land, but closed the water over the Egyptian army, destroying it.

New Life: Gift and Task Exodus 16-40; Leviticus After their release from Egypt, Moses led the Israelites to Mount Sinai. There God gave them his law which they were commanded to keep. At one point Moses held a covenant renewal ceremony in which the covenant arrangement was sealed in blood. However, while Moses was away on the mountain, the people persuaded Aaron to fashion a golden calf. Thus they showed their inclination to forsake the covenant and to engage in idolatry. God also commanded the building of the tabernacle and gave all the rules of sacrificial worship by which Israel might approach him.

The Temptation in the Wilderness Numbers; Deuteronomy After giving the law to the Israelites at Sinai, God directed them to go in and take possession of the promised land. Fearing the inhabitants of Canaan, they refused to do so, thus showing lack of confidence in the promises of God. The whole adult generation that had come out of Egypt, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, was condemned to wander and die in the desert. Israel was forbidden to dispossess its kinsfolk, the nation of Edom, Moab, and Ammon, but was given victory over other nations that opposed it. Finally, forty years after leaving Egypt, Israel arrived in the Moabite territory on the east side of the Jordan. Here Moses prepared the people for their possession of Canaan, and commissioned Joshua as their new leader.

Into the Good Land Joshua; Judges; Ruth Under Joshua’s leadership the Israelites crossed the Jordan and began the task of driving out the inhabitants of Canaan. After the conquest the land was divided between the tribes, each being allotted its own region. Only the tribe of Levi was without an inheritance of land because of its special priestly relationship to God. There remained pockets of Canaanites in the land and, from time to time, these threatened Israel’s hold on their new possession. From the one-man leaderships of Moses and Joshua, the nation moved into a period of relative instability during which judges exercised some measure of control over the affairs of the people.

God’s Rule in God’s Land 1 and 2 Samuel; 1 Kings 1-10; 1 Chronicles; 2 Chronicles 1-9 Samuel became judge and prophet in all Israel at a time when the Philistines threatened the freedom of the nation. An earlier movement for kingship was received and the demand put to a

reluctant Samuel. The first king, Saul, had a promising start to his reign but eventually showed himself unsuitable as the ruler of the covenant people. While Saul still reigned, David was anointed to succeed him. Because of Saul’s jealousy David became an outcast, but when Saul died in battle David returned and became king (about 1000 BC). Due to his success Israel became a powerful and stable nation. He established a central sanctuary at Jerusalem, and created a professional bureaucracy and permanent army. David’s son Solomon succeeded him (about 961 BC) and the prosperity of Israel continued. The building of the temple at Jerusalem was one of Solomon’s most notable achievements.

The Fading Shadow 1 Kings 11-22; 2 Kings Solomon allowed political considerations and personal ambitions to sour his relationship with God, and this in turn had a bad effect on the life of Israel. Solomon’s son began an oppressive rule which led to the rebellion of the northern tribes and the division of the kingdom. Although there were some political and religious high points, both kingdoms went into decline, A new breed of prophets warned against the direction of national life, but matters went from bad to worse. In 722 BC the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the power of the Assyrian empire. Then, in 586 BC the southern kingdom of Judah was devastated by the Babylonians. Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, and a large part of the population was deported to Babylon.

There Is a New Creation Jeremiah; Ezekiel; Daniel; Esther The prophets of Israel warned of the doom that would befall the nation. When the first exiles were taken to Babylon in 597 BC, Ezekiel was among them. Both prophets ministered to the exiles. Life for the Jews (the people of Judah) in Babylon was not all bad, and in time many prospered. The books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel indicate a certain normality to the experience, while Daniel and Esther highlight some of the difficulties and suffering experienced in an alien and oppressive culture.

The Second Exodus Ezra; Nehemiah; Haggai In 539 BC Babylon fell to the Medo-Persian empire. The following year, Cyrus the king allowed the Jews to return home and to set up a Jewish state within the Persian empire. Great difficulty was experienced in re-establishing the nation. There was local opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple. Many of the Jews did not return but stayed on in the land of their exile. In the latter part of the fourth century BC, Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire. The Jews entered a long and difficult period in which Greek culture and religion challenged their trust in God’s covenant promises. In 63 BC Pompey conquered Palestine and the Jews found themselves a province of the Roman empire.

The New Creation for Us Matthew; Mark; Luke; John The province of Judea, the homeland of the Jews, came under Roman rule in 63 BC. During the reign of Caesar Augustus, Jesus was born at Bethlehem, probably about the year 4 BC. John, known as the Baptist, prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus. This ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing began with Jesus’ baptism and lasted about three years. Growing conflict with the Jews and their religious leaders led eventually to Jesus being sentenced to death by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. He was executed by the Romans just outside Jerusalem, but rose from death two days afterward and appealed to his followers on a number of occasions. After a period with them, Jesus was taken up to heaven.

The New Creation in Us Initiated Acts

After Jesus had ascended, his disciples waited in Jerusalem. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon them and they began the task of proclaiming Jesus. As the missionary implications of the gospel became clearer to the first Christians, the local proclamation was extended to world evangelization. The apostle Paul took the gospel to Asia Minor and Greece, establishing many churches as he went. Eventually a church flourished at the heart of the empire of Rome.

The New Creation in Us Now New Testament Epistles As the gospel made inroads into pagan societies it encountered many philosophies and non-Christian ideas which challenged the apostolic message. The New Testament epistles shows that the kind of pressures to adopt pagan ideas that had existed for the people of God in Old Testament times were also a constant threat to the churches. The real danger to Christian teaching was not so much in direct attacks upon it, but rather in the subtle distortion of Christian ideas. Among the troublemakers were the Judaizers who added Jewish law-keeping to the gospel. The Gnostics also undermined the gospel with elements of Greek philosophy and religion.

The New Creation Consummated

The New Testament God is Lord over history and therefore, when he so desires, he can cause the events of the future to be recorded. All section of the New Testament contain references to things which have not yet happened, the most significant being the return of Christ and the consummation of the kingdom of God. No clues to the actual chronology are given, but it is certain that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. The old creation will be undone and the new creation will take its place.

Another helpful guide comes from David Talley’s The Story of the Old Testament.

He points out that the majority of the OT story or narrative is found in the following 11 books:

Genesis Exodus Numbers Joshua Judges 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings

2 Kings Ezra Nehemiah He writes:

If you were to read these eleven books, beginning with Genesis and reading them in succession to Nehemiah, you would read through almost the entire story of the Old Testament. The reason it must be stated that it is “almost the entire story” is because there are some additional stories isolated in parts of other books.

This is a really helpful pedagogical move, as it allows readers to distinguish between the main ongoing narrative and then to examine the way the other 28 books of the OT interpret, reinforce, and supplement this storyline.

Below is his summary of the story through these 11 books.

Genesis

Genesis begins THE STORY by providing the narrative of the beginning of the world in the first eleven chapters. In these chapters, the story progresses through 20+ generations of people. The goal is to get the story to Abram (Abraham). So

these chapters cover a very long time period . . . and, as a result, can obviously focus on very few details.   The remaining chapters of the book provide the narrative for the early beginnings of the nation of Israel through the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and concluding with the family of Jacob in Egypt. Then THE STORY slows down, focusing on only four generations of people. The purpose is to provide a “skeleton” of information about the background of everything that leads up to Israel being in Egypt, awaiting the redemption of the Lord.

Exodus

Exodus picks up THE STORY from Genesis as evidenced by an overlapping connection with Joseph going to down to Egypt, being used by God to preserve Jacob’s family. After Joseph dies, Exodus continues the narrative by 1) recounting the nation’s hardships in Egypt, 2) demonstrating God’s miraculous work of judgment against Egypt and redemption of Israel in the exodus from Egypt to Mt Sinai, 3) providing the establishment of his covenant with Israel, and 4) explaining the building of the Tabernacle so that God can dwell in their midst. Whereas Genesis covers 24-plus generations, Exodus concerns only the life of Moses (his life actually continues to the end of Deuteronomy, the remainder of the Pentateuch). The family of Jacob grows into a nation with whom God makes a covenant. All of this is preparation for taking the nation to the Promised Land.

Numbers

Numbers continues THE STORY for us, narrating the developments taking place as Israel prepares to take the land. All of the contents occur in Moses’ generation. After the completion of the Tabernacle, this book conveys the story of the organization of the nation, their departure from Mt. Sinai, and the subsequent disobedience of this first generation when they refuse to take the land. The resulting judgment is 40 years of wilderness wanderings, which is also found in this book though not in much detail. We do not have a lot of information about this 40-year time period because the focus of the book is to get us to the border of the Promised Land. The book closes with the preparation of the second generation (after the exodus) in taking the land of Canaan.

Joshua

The book of Joshua connects to the previous books by beginning with a reference to Moses’ death. (Recall, Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his sin when he struck the rock rather than spoke to it.) The leadership of the people for the task of entering the Promised Land is transferred and entrusted to Joshua. The narrative in this book continues THE STORY by providing the events of Israel entering the land by focusing on the conquest, division, and initial settling of the land of Canaan during the life of Joshua.

Judges

Judges continues THE STORY by overlapping with the end of the book of Joshua with its focus on the details of Joshua’s death. Since the land has already been settled, this book provides a glimpse of the early years in the land when Israel was led by judges. This period marked by the rule of the judges is summarized by utilizing a similar cycle evidenced by each generation. The cycle is simple, yet disturbing. Each generation is characterized by eventual rebellion, followed by God’s judgment, their crying out to the Lord, the Lord raising up of a deliverer, the actual deliverance, and a subsequent return to obedience for a period of time until the cycle repeats itself. Consequently, many generations are covered as the author seeks to make it clear what this time period was like for Israel. When they are disobedient, there are consequences, but, when they walk in faithfulness, the Lord in his mercy restores them to a place of blessing.

1-2 Samuel

The era of the judges continues into the books of Samuel. Samuel is a judge, but he moves THE STORY from the period of the judges into the period of the kingdom. These two books include the transition from the leadership of the last judge (Samuel) to the beginning of (under King Saul’s leadership) and establishment of (under King David’s leadership) the kingdom. It is also the necessary foundation to the books that follow.

1-2 Kings

The books of Kings naturally flow out of the books that introduce the kingdom, especially with the overlap of the end of King David’s life. Connecting to the end of the books of Samuel, the books of Kings begin with the latter years of King David’s life, culminating in the transfer of leadership to Solomon as the new king and the story of King David’s death. King Solomon is the focus immediately after King David’s death, and, after his unfaithfulness and the subsequent division of the kingdom, the remaining pages summarize the lives of the kings of the divided (northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah) and the solitary kingdom (southern kingdom of Judah alone). THE STORY points to the “glory” of the kingdom (under King Solomon’s leadership) and the division of the kingdom into the northern kingdom, until this kingdom goes into exile, and southern kingdom, until this kingdom goes into exile, which is the seeming end of the nation as a whole.

{Exile}

At this point we have the exile. The nation is taken out of the land. There are many events that happen during this time, which are part of the growth and formation of the nation. The land is the focus in the Old Testament, so in many ways, and for our purposes, THE STORY takes a 70-year hiatus. But God is not done. His story continues.

Ezra and Nehemiah

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah continue THE STORY by reversing the removal of the people from the land. They now return. After the 70 years of exile are over, these books record the three returns to the land under the leadership of Zerrubabel (to rebuild the Temple), Ezra, and Nehemiah (to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem). The purpose of these returns is ultimately concerned with preparing for the coming Messiah and the restoration of the kingdom. However, each return also includes the many reforms that the people must make along the way. God is continuing his work.

So note very clearly that THE STORY of the Old Testament ends with the book of Nehemiah. Yes, Nehemiah. It is not that God is done with his people. It is just that God will resume his story with the coming of the Messiah, which occurs in the gospels in the New Testament. The end of the Old Testament is one of anticipation, the anticipation of the good news of the gospel in the coming Messiah.

The prophets add to this anticipation as these books begin to fill in certain details about what God is up to, what he is going to do, and when it is going to happen.

The Old Testament is actually the “first testament” or the prelude to the New Testament. Both testaments contain God’s story.

Finally, The Bible Project is producing some great, free resources: sophisticated animation that provides an overview of each book of the Bible.

They’ve set up a new Bible reading plan, and if you sign up with them you can get a short animated video about the book’s design and message as you come to it in your plan.

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