Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The God Who Gives and Demands

I love the Old Testament because it paints such a clear picture of who God is. The Law (the first five books) is fundamental both in how it establishes God's character and in how so much of the rest of the OT (and, ultimately, the NT) are built upon what it teaches. Familiarity with the Law makes the rest of the OT much clearer.

So let's spend some time in Deuteronomy. As with Leviticus, I'm not going to do anything deeply systematic. I'll alight upon whatever catches my attention.

The first three chapters of Deuteronomy are history. The story begins while Israel is at Horeb. God told them it was time to go take the Promised Land. And Israel said, "Are you crazy? Have you seen those guys? They're huge!"

To make a short story shorter, it didn't go well for them. So they were sent to wander in the desert for 40 years. But even then, when God was angry at them, he provided for them, protected them, and gave them victory over enemies. The text retells of kings who were defeated and lands that were taken — the first lands to be given the new nation of Israel, beginning the fulfillment of the promise that Abraham's children would possess Canaan and become a great nation. Then it says ...

"Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you" (Deut 4:1).

This God's pattern. He gives, then he demands. He requires obedience only after blessing.

He gave Adam and Eve all of the garden. Oh, but there's this one rule ... (Gen 2:16-17).

He brought Noah and his kin through the flood. He promised to never bring another like it. Then he established some rules (Gen 9:1-6).

The Ten Commandments begin with "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Ex. 20:2).

This is God's pattern. It is a pattern that continues in the New Testament. Paul spends 11 chapters of Romans expounding on God's mercy and salvation before finally getting to "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God ..." (Rom 12:1).

God requires. Oh my does he have requirements. But he only lays them on us after blessing us more than we ever could have imagined. In Christ we have been given every "every spiritual blessing" so "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received" (Eph 1:3, 4:1).

God lays a burden on his people. No one denies that. Even if his "burden is light," it's still a burden. But it is only laid on those whom God has lavished with love. Sometimes we're going to chafe against the rules. We operate under restrictions that the rest of the world aren't bound by. It can seem unfair.

But God is no miser. He is not Scrooge, demanding a long day's work for a pittance and a single lump of coal. He is the God who gives and gives and asks only that we respond to his generosity with loving obedience.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Of Sons and Promises

Sometimes the smallest things in the Bible can pack a lot of punch.

“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

The first verse of Matthew is easy to rush by. It seems like it’s a title or just introducing the genealogy that follows (that we also rush by).

But it’s actually packed with meaning. The author is telling us quite a bit about the subject of the genealogy and the rest of the book.

How do you unlock it? If your Bible has cross references, just follow them. If it doesn't, you can use something like the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge or a Bible dictionary. What does the author mean by "the son of David" and "the son of Abraham?" Quite a bit.

The Son of Abraham
God said to Abraham, the father of the Jews, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you ... and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:2-3) and “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (22:18).

Paul, writing years before Matthew, taught that the offspring God spoke of was not Abraham’s descendants in general but Christ Jesus (Gal 3:16).

The Son of David
God made similar promises to David, the great king of ancient Israel: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2Sam 7:16). The prophets expanded on that over time: “David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel” (Jer 33:18).

So David would always have a descendant on the throne. But it quickly becomes one descendant who would reign forever: “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (Is 9:7).

This King of David’s line would usher in a time of safety and rest for Israel:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The LORD Our Righteous Savior.” (Jer 23:5-6)

“In that day,” declares the LORD Almighty,
“I will break the yoke off their necks
and will tear off their bonds;
no longer will foreigners enslave them.
Instead, they will serve the LORD their God
and David their king,
whom I will raise up for them.” (Jer 30:8-9)
God promised that, under this King, Israel would follow the law and live in the Promised Land, and he would dwell among them forever. “I will be their God, and they will be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever” (Ez 37:27-28).

This descendant will be a “light to the Gentiles,” just as God promised to Abraham, and would actually represent Israel: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor” (Is 49:1-7).

Under this King, all the promises to Israel would be fulfilled: “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zec 9:9-10, cf Ez 37:24-28).

Promises Kept
This Jesus that the gospel is introducing is not just some Israelite; he’s the Seed of Abraham. He’s not just one of David’s many descendants; he’s the Son of David.

The author begins by letting the reader know that all of God’s promises to Abraham, David, and Israel as a whole are going to be kept in and through this Jesus. It’s been a long road — almost 2000 years from the promises to Abraham, about 1000 from David — but God keeps his word.

And in the gospel that follows, more promises are made. From “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” to “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So it is important for us to know that God keeps his promises.

You might also be interested in:
A Concordance as a Devotional
How to be a Self-Feeder