What I read in January, 2019

These are the books I finished in January, 2019.  Some of these books I started in 2018.

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt (Penguin Press, 2018)

This book is one of the most important books in explaining what is happening in society, in particular the American campuses, today.  It examines what has happened on college campuses between 2013-2016 as the iGen has been in school.

The books begins with Three Great Untruths (Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; life is a battle between good people and bad people).  Although these untruths might seem innocuous, they have proven very dangerous, especially on college campuses today.  They illustrate what each of these untruths mean and how they are present among college students today.

In part 3 they examine six possible causes for a culture of safetyism:

rising political polarization and cross-party animosity

rising levels of teen anxiety and depression (with a primary link to “screen time,” especially on cell phones)

changes in parenting practices–removing anything of danger to children

the decline of free play–with teaches social skills

the growth of campus bureacracy

and a rising passion for social justice in response to major national events, combined with changing ideas about what social justice requires.

The book ends with some practical suggestions about how to produce wiser kids, wiser universities and wiser societies.

This is a book that parents and educators should read.

The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution, R. Albert Mohler (Thomas Nelson, 2018)

This book takes up the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer in a very informative and practical way.  If you want to improve your prayer life, there is no better way than to pray the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to pray.

Overcomer: 8 Ways to Live a Life of Unstoppable Strength, Unmovable Faith, and Unbelievable Power, David Jeremiah (Thomas Nelson, 2018)

Sandwiched between chapters on David (chapter 1) and Jesus Christ (chapter 10) are eight chapters on the armor of God.  The book is full of illustrations.  Preachers will especially enjoy it.

 

M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, February 1

Today’s readings are Genesis 33, Mark 4, Esther 9-10 and Romans 4.

Now the showdown between Jacob and Esau.  Esau was coming with 400 men (v. 1).  This time Jacob gets out front, bows down…

4 But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

This is not what Jacob expected.  Esau inquired about Jacob’s family (vv. 6-7) and the purpose for the gifts Jacob had sent ahead (v. 8).  Esau wanted to journey “home” (v. 12), but Jacob begged to go slower.  So Esau returned to Seir, in Edom, while Jacob went to Succoth.

jacobreturnstocanaan

Finally Jacob came to Shechum, back in the promised land.  However, as we will see in the sordid events of Genesis 34, he should have moved on to Bethel or Hebron.

Mark 4 is where Jesus begins to tell parables.  Remember that the purpose of a parable is to give insight to some, but to hide the truth from others (Mark 4:11-12).  So Jesus tells the parable of the sower and the seed, which only finds one good soil.  I’m not sure if this is a discouragement or an encouragement to preachers.  Only 1/4 of the seed I plant will bear fruit, but at least 1/4 will!

Jesus goes deeper into parables and understanding them.  He encourages them (and us) to “pay close attention.”  On the other hand, through the parable of growing seed (vv. 27-29) Jesus seems to be encouraging the sower to sow the seed and then not worry about it.  You don’t have to go dig it up again to see if it’s growing.

Martin Luther said about this text: “After I preach my sermon on Sunday, when I return home, I drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer and I just let the gospel run its course.”  I like that.

Luther said that after he pounded on the pulpit and expounded the gospel, he would go home and pull out the Sunday newspaper, and pull out his glass of warm Wittenberg beer and start to drink it and enjoy the afternoon.  Luther knew that the power of his sermon was not based on the power of his theological acuity.  He knew that the power of his sermon was not based on his eloquence or his abilities.  He knew that the power of the sermon would have no effect whatsoever unless the very Word of God got into a person’s heart.  Luther knew that he couldn’t do that.  It was the Holy Spirit who did that. Luther keenly understood the power of the Word.

–Edward F. Markquart, The Mustard Seed

Also, in v. 11 Jesus had said that the ones who will understand parables are those who have “been given the secret of the kingdom of God.”  It is something that God gives, a gift.

The parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32) emphasizes that the kingdom may start out tiny in size, yet grow huge.

Image result for mustard seed

from Garden in Delight

After this Jesus took his disciples out on a boat at night on the Sea of Galilee (vv. 35-41).  A storm arose that would have swamped the boat.  Jesus was asleep and seemed not to care.  But when He awoke He stilled the storm with a word.  He is that powerful.

Sometimes when we go through exceeding difficulties, we wonder where Jesus is and whether He cares.  But He is there and He will arise and come to our aid.

Esther 9-10 records the Jews rescue from extermination (by getting the upper hand).

9:1-19 records their self-defense.

Realize that the uncovering of the plot, the hanging of Haman and his sons, and the second decree, all was meant to discourage the enemies of the Jews from attacking in the first place.

A large number of attackers were killed (nearly 76,000 over all).

Almost twice as many people died in the royal precincts of Susa as in the rest of the city.  The word “capital” in verse 6 really refers to the acropolis, the royal section of the capital city of Susa.

ENEMIES KILLED BY THE JEWS
Number Place Date References
500 men in the acropolis of Susa Adar 13 (March 7) 9:6, 12
75,000 people in other parts of the empire Adar 13 (March 7) 9:16
300 men in Susa Adar 14 (March 8) 9:15

Chuck Swindoll comments:

“The Jews were free to strike back without reservation, in retaliation.  But it is clear that they applied self-control. The Jews certainly defended themselves against their enemies, against those who attempted to wipe out their race, but the Jews resisted the temptation to go too far.  They had been given permission to take material advantage of their enemies’ defeat, but they refused to do that.  They held back.  Think of it this way: Not only did the Jews gain mastery over their enemies, they gained mastery over themselves.”

Warren Wiersbe uses a play on words to say, “The tables having been turned, the tables could now be spread.”

Evidently Mordecai issued the decree establishing the Feast of Purim some time after the slaying of the Jews’ enemies (v. 20). His proclamation united the two days on which the Jews had defended themselves (Adar 13 and 14) into one holiday. During the inter-testamental period the Jews called Adar 14 “Mordecai Day” (2 Maccabees 15:36, RSV), but they discarded this special designation later. Modern Jews celebrate Purim on the evening of Adar 14 (in March). It is their most festive and popular holiday. Esther is the only Old Testament book not found among the texts used by the Essene community at Qumran, probably because this community did not observe Purim.

Purim is the plural of pur, meaning “lot.” (cf. 3:12)

Probably Esther sent her decree (v. 29), confirming Mordecai’s previous declaration of the official Jewish holiday (vv. 20-21), to encourage its firm establishment. Her letter evidently began, “Words of peace and truth” (v. 30).  There was likely considerable resistance within the conservative Jewish community to adding another national festival to those prescribed in the Torah.

The book ends by speaking of the exaltation of Mordecai in position and influence within the Persian empire.

It is quite possible that God’s name is left out of the book of Esther because neither Esther nor Mordecai were particularly religious Jews.  Yet, it still shows God’s determination to preserve His people, even when they were disobedient.

As Karen Jobes writes, “Beneath the surface of even seemingly insignificant human decisions and events, an unseen and uncontrollable power is at work that can be neither explained nor thwarted.”

Romans 4

Abraham was the most important forefather of Israel.  Paul began this chapter by showing that God declared Abraham righteous not because of works, but because of the Abraham’s faith.

Romans 4:4-5 contrast faith and works.  Work yields wages that the person working deserves. Faith receives a gift (Romans 4:4; lit. grace, Gr. charin) that the person believing does not deserve. Incredibly, God justifies those who not only fail to deserve justification but deserve condemnation because they are “ungodly” (NASB) or “wicked” (NIV Romans 4:5; cf. Romans 3:24). This is how far God”s grace goes (cf. Deut. 25:1)!

Not only Abraham, but David’s experience illustrates justification by faith as well (vv. 6-8).  The issue, to the Jews, was circumcision.  Was it necessary to be circumcised to be justified?  Paul says no, Abraham believed and was justified even before he was circumcised (vv. 9-11), which is true not only of Abraham but all who follow his example and believe (v. 12).

No one is able to keep the law, so it’s a good things we aren’t justified by keeping the law (vv. 13-15).  And justification does not come from being a physical descendant of Abraham, but rather comes to those who imitate his faith (vv. 16-17).

Vv. 18-22 shows us what kind of faith Abraham had.  He believed when it seemed impossible (v. 18), facing the facts (not ignoring the facts, v. 19).  And although the text says twice that he did not “weaken” (v. 19) or “waver” (v. 20) it also says that he “grew strong in his faith,” (which must mean that it wasn’t always strong, as we read in Genesis).  Note that it is his faith which “gives glory to God.”

I believe that it is our faith in God, more than anything else, which gives God glory.  My worship, my love, my service, my contributions, my mission trips–all those are things that I do for Him.  But I trust Him to do something for me, and that glorifies Him more.

I believe v. 21 gives the best definition of faith…

21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

Faith looks to the promise and the power of God.  Faith can have many levels of strength, but the strongest faith is “fully convinced.”

The remaining verses (vv. 22-25) apply Abraham’s example again to the issue of justification.

M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, January 31

Today’s readings are from Genesis 32, Mark 3, Esther 8 and Romans 3.

Wrestling with God.  Many of wrestled with God.  Not necessarily in a physical way like Jacob did, but emotionally and volitionally.  Jacob had been wrestling since before he was born (Genesis 25:26; Hosea 12:3-4).

Sometimes we just do not want to surrender to God.  We want our own way.

Jacob was a man who had largely taken care of himself–usually through cunning and manipulation.  But God was still dealing with Jacob.

Jacob responds to an angelic visitation (vv. 1-2) and begins preparations to meet Esau.  Suffice it to say, Jacob was not looking forward to seeing Esau again.  Their last interaction had Esau wanting to kill Jacob.

So Jacob, again living as a practical atheist, takes care of the situation the best he knew how–by dividing into separate caravans with gifts for Esau, hoping to soften him up.  Jacob did this because he was afraid (v. 7), in fact “greatly afraid and distressed.”  This, despite the fact that God had promised to protect him when he left (Genesis 28:13-15).  Had Jacob forgotten these promises: was he living like a practical atheist?

When you don’t believe in God, that He loves you and is in control of all things, then you are all alone in this unfriendly world and it is all up to you.  No wonder there is so much fear and anxiety in the world today!  But Christians can live like atheists, forgetting that God loves us and is in control and promises to work “all things together for our good.”

But Jacob did pray.  He does repeat back to God His promises.  He asked for deliverance (32:9-12).  And then he proceeded on with his plan (32:13-21).  Jacob was willing to surrender gifts, but not himself.

Spurgeon comments on v. 12

“But you said, ‘I will surely do you good…'”

What force is in that plea! He was holding God to His word—”You said.”

The attribute of God’s faithfulness is a splendid horn of the altar to lay hold upon; but the promise, which contains the attribute and something more, is mightier still—”You said, I will surely do you good.”  Would He say it and then not do it?

If you have a divine promise, you need not plead it with an “if”; you may urge it with certainty. The Lord meant to fulfill the promise or He would not have given it. God does not give His words merely to keep us quiet and to keep us hopeful for a while with the intention of putting us off in the end; but when He speaks, it is because He means to do as He has said.

Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, April 18

So Jacob sends all his possessions across the river Jabbok and God starts a fight.

jabbokriverwithpossiblesiteofpenuelnearfordwherejacobcrossed28gen3222292cbibleplaces

This is likely the valley that Abraham had come through, from east to west, entering the promised land in Genesis 12.

jacobreturnstocanaan

24 And Jacob was left alone.  And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.”  But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

It is God who wrestled with Jacob.  God is always the initiator in our liberation.  And before he blessed Jacob, he touched Jacob’s thigh.  God has to break a person before that person will surrender.  The Christian community really ought to talk more about surrender than about consecration, because human beings resist God to the end and then must ask him to break the resistance and take control of their lives and hearts.  God broke Jacob so he had a crippled leg, and then God came and began to bless him.

I never knew a person who was filled with the Holy Ghost who did not have some brokenness in him.  We want to stand straight and be self-contained and poised, but God cannot use us or bless us when we are in that position.  He wants to break us so that instead of our own power, we have the Holy Spirit’s power.  Are you willing to be broken for him?  This is the toughest of all battles, but it determines whether we will be free or in bondage.

We need to have our own Peniel where we meet Jesus face-to-face.  We must see ourselves for what we truly are.  We must cry out to God for heart cleansing, and we must let him come and fill us with His Spirit.  We must allow him to break us so he can make us into prevailers, conquerors, and overcomers.

Dennis F. Kinlaw, The Day with the Master

Lord, I cannot let Thee go,
Till a blessing Thou bestow:
Do not turn away Thy face,
Mine’s an urgent, pressing case.

Dost Thou ask me who I am?
Ah! my Lord, Thou know’st my name;
Yet the question gives a plea
To support my suit with Thee.

Thou didst once a wretch behold,
In rebellion blindly bold,
Scorn Thy grace, Thy power defy:
That poor rebel, Lord, was I.

Once a sinner, near despair,
Sought Thy mercy seat by prayer;
Mercy heard, and set him free:
Lord, that mercy came to me.

Many days have passed since then,
Many changes I have seen;
Yet have been upheld till now;
Who could hold me up but Thou?

Thou hast helped in every need;
This emboldens me to plead:
After so much mercy past,
Canst Thou let me sink at last?

No, I must maintain my hold;
’Tis Thy goodness makes me bold;
I can no denial take,
When I plead for Jesus’ sake.

–John Newton

And another quote, this time from Jonathan Edwards:

“It is very apparent from the Word of God that he is wont often to try the faith and patience of his people, when they are crying to him for some great and important mercy, by withholding the mercy sought for a season; and not only so, but at first to cause an increase of dark appearances.  And yet he without fail at last succeeds those who continue instant in prayer with all perseverance and ‘will not let him go except he blesses’ (Genesis32:26).”

In other words:

An obvious pattern in the Bible is that God tests the faith and stamina of his people as they cry out in prayer for some significant mercy.  He tests them by withholding the mercy they are asking for.  Not only that, but first he makes things worse, sending them discouraging setbacks.  But count on it – he will eventually prosper those who push through in urgent prayer without quitting and will not take no for an answer.

Jonathan Edwards, “A Call to United Extraordinary Prayer,” in Works (Edinburgh, 1979), II:312.

One of the ways we receive greater blessing is to press for it, not to be content with where we are.  Even after Jacob was injured, he would not let go of God.

You can only win with God by surrendering and letting Him win over you.  We win by surrendering.

After this wrestling match with God, Jacob walked straighter in his life with the limp, than he had before without it.

In Mark 3 Jesus first heals a man with a withered hand, on the Sabbath, which according to the religious leaders, was work, therefore verboten (forbidden).  He was saddened by their hard hearts (v. 5) and they began to plot to kill him (v. 6).  How quickly people’s opinions change, how fickle we are.  One moment for, another against.

So Jesus got away, but crowds followed.  Again, for the moment, he was the darling of the crowds.  He healed the sick and cast out demons.  Later, he went up on a mountain to pray.  I believe that was Mt. Arbel, there near Capernaum.thearbelingalilee2cwillisbritt

Here is the easternmost bluff of Mount Arbel, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  Many believe Matthew’s tax table was at that crook in the road to the left of Mount Arbel.

Photo by Willis Britt

There, according to Luke 6:12 Jesus spent all night praying before naming the apostles.  In Mark 3:13 where he calls his disciples up to the mountain is more likely the place where Jesus preached the “Sermon on the Mount,” pictured below (bottom left).

mountofbeatitudes28loveisrael.com29

The photo is from loveisrael.com

Verse 13 says he “called those whom he desired,” but we know that He had prayed about this issue all night long (Luke 6:12), so He was also choosing those whom the Father had chosen.

The crowds kept pressing in on Jesus (v. 20) so that he couldn’t eat.  His family thought he was out of his mind (v. 21) and the scribes claimed he was “possessed by Beelzebul” (v. 22).  All in all, not a very good day.  I would have fallen apart, probably gone into hiding never to come out again.

But, He dealt with the scribes (vv. 23-30), then His family, saying that His real family was those who “do the will of God” (v. 34).

Esther 8

Even though Haman was now dead, the Jews were not yet safe. This section of the text records what Esther and Mordecai did to ensure the preservation of the Jews who then lived throughout the vast Persian Empire. The death of Haman is not the major climax of the book.

Esther and Mordecai are rewarded (8:1-2) and Esther makes request to the king that they be allowed to defend themselves (since the law of the Medes and Persians was inviolable and could not be changed).

The first decree, to destroy the Jews, had gone out on April 17, 474 B.C. (3:12).  Ahasuerus published this second one, allowing the Jews to defend themselves, on June 25, 474 B.C.  Thus, the Jews had over eight months to prepare for the day their enemies might attack them, which was March 7, 473 B.C.

Evidently, Mordecai read the second decree at a public meeting in Susa. Contrast the Jews’ reaction here with their response to the first decree (3:15). God had blown away the dark cloud that had hung over their heads.  And the Jews celebrated (8:15-17).

While God’s work in the book of Esther is always behind the scenes, it comes through loud and clear.

In the infinite wisdom of the Lord of all the earth, each event falls with exact precision into its proper place in the unfolding of His divine plan.  Nothing, however small, however strange, occurs without His ordering, or without its particular fitness for its place in the working out of His purpose; and the end of all shall be the manifestation of His glory, and the accumulation of His praise.

B. B. Warfield

Romans 3 culminates Paul’s “bad news” that we are all under sin.  The Gentiles were condemned by creation (1:18-32), the moralist by the law, written in stone and in the heart (2:1-16).  Now Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

The Jews had wonderful advantages over all the nations, but had squandered them (3:1-8).  There was no excuse.  David Guzik says about the rationalization in verse 5:

Paul was familiar with the line of thinking that says, “God is in control of everything.  Even my evil will ultimately demonstrate His righteousness.  Therefore God is unjust if He inflicts His wrath on me, because I’m just a pawn in His hand.”

In theory, the most dramatic example of someone who might ask this question is Judas.  Can you hear Judas make his case? “Lord, I know that I betrayed Jesus, but You used it for good.  In fact, if I hadn’t done what I did, Jesus wouldn’t have gone to the cross at all. What I did even fulfilled the Scriptures.  How can You judge me at all?”  The answer to Judas might go like this: “Yes, God used your wickedness but it was still your wickedness. There was no good or pure motive in your heart at all. I t is no credit to you that God brought good out of your evil. You stand guilty before God.”

–David Guzik

Paul then launches into the apex of his argument that all are sinners in 3:9-18, quoting passages from the Old Testament.  Warren Wiersbe calls this passage “An X-ray study of the lost sinner, from head to foot.”  The law, far from justifying us, points out our sinfulness in bold relief (v. 20).

J.B. Phillip’s paraphrase of this phrase: It is the straight-edge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are.

But, there is a way to be righteous.  Righteousness is a free gift offered by God to those who trust in Jesus.  I love these verses…

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it–22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

God’s justice was maintained in that sin was punished, but He could now justify us because Christ had been “put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith” (v. 25).  Those who believe, God can justly justify.  But only those who believe.

This excludes boasting (vv. 27-28) and upholds the law (vv. 29-31).

M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, January 30

Today’s Bible readings are from Genesis 31, Mark 2, Esther 7 and Romans 2.

In Genesis 31 Jacob heads back home to the promised land.  Laban was upset with him (v. 2) and God told him to return home “and I will be with you” (v. 3). This is the best promise one can have.  So it was a good time to go.

Because of Laban’s displeasure, Jacob felt like he had to leave on the sly, so he told Rachel and Leah how he had come to have more flocks than Laban and that God wanted him to return (vv. 4-13), so Rachel and Leah respond…

“Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? 15 Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has indeed devoured our money.  16 All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do.”

This might have been the first time Leah and Rachel ever agreed on anything.  Apparently Laban had already spent their potential inheritance and they were all too glad to leave, especially since God had blessed them with wealth (v. 16)

Rachel and Leah complain about the loss of their inheritance because of their father’s dishonorable behavior.   Consider for a moment the inheritance our Heavenly Father is keeping safe for you.   Can the thought of that inheritance encourage you to good thoughts, words, and deeds today?

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
–1 Peter 1:3-5 (NIV)

Also…

Rachel and Leah were wrong to look to their father Laban for their portion or inheritance (Genesis 31:14) once they were married to Jacob.  He now was their portion and inheritance.  “Since you are saved and joined to Christ, appraise the world and ask, ‘Is there yet any portion for me?’  If you think there is, you are mistaken” (Barnhouse).

Jacob leaves secretly, without saying goodbye, and headed towards the mountains of Gilead, going across the desert on camels.

Image result for camels on the arabian desert

https://youngzine.org/news/history/camel-genes-shaped-ancient-trade

Image result for mountains of gilead

The mountains of Gilead are in Jordan, east of the Jordan river.

Laban pursued Jacob to the hill country of Gilead.  He was upset because Jacob had “driven away my daughters like captives of the sword” (v. 26), which was certainly hyperbole and he was not allowed to give a going away party (vv. 27) or bid them farewell (v. 28).  And also, Jacob had stolen “my gods” (v. 30).

In all this Laban could not do any harm to Jacob because God had warned him not to (vv. 24, 29).

Jacob admitted to being afraid that Laban would “take your daughters from me by force” (v. 31) and challenged Laban that if anyone was found with “your gods shall not live” (v. 32).

Laban searched every tent but did not find his idols.  Rachel sat on them and claimed to be experiencing her “time of the month” (vv. 34-35).  Of course, Jacob then expressed his incense at Laban accusing him of taking his gods (vv. 36-37) and then unloaded on Laban all the pent up frustrations he had experienced serving him (vv. 38-42).  Although Jacob was accurate in his report, Laban still felt the sting of losing his family (v. 43) and made a covenant with Jacob (vv. 44-54) to protect his daughters.  The Laban left (v. 55).

“Amid much that is sad and even sordid in this story… amid craft, deceit, and lying on almost every side, we cannot fail to see the hand of God overruling and making even the wrath of man to praise Him.” (Griffith Thomas, cited in Barnhouse)

God kept his promise to Jacob to bring him safely back to the land, in spite of human opposition and his own failures, just like He will bring us to our eternal home, in spite of satanic opposition and our own failures.

But why did God allow Jacob’s family to keep the idols?

Also, what does it say about Jacob’s faith, that he said in verse 42, that “unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac had been with me…”that he did not claim God as his own?

Mark 2:1-12 is one of my favorite stories.  It is the story of four friends who take a paralytic to Jesus.  They do everything they can, including digging through the roof, to get their friend in front of Jesus.  The text says that Jesus “saw their faith (v. 5) and forgave the man’s sins, then healed him to show the teachers of the law that he did have authority to forgive sins (vv. 6-12).

9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?

An interesting question!   Of course, it is impossible for humans to forgive a man all his sins or heal him on the spot of his paralysis.  For God, on the other hand, both are easy.   In another way, though, it is easier to say “Your sins are forgiven” because that is invisible.  To say, “Stand up” demands clear proof which would be satisfied only when the man begins walking.

After this, Jesus calls Matthew, the tax collector (hear “boo, hiss”) is called by Jesus.  The Jewish people held them to be traitors (on the side of Rome) and extortionists, taking more than was required to line their own pockets.  Therefore, they were despised.  But Jesus called him anyway.

Apparently Matthew invited Jesus, and many of his other non-savory friends, to eat together (vv. 15-16).  Jesus was glad to be there, for these were people who knew they were “sick” (v. 17).  Jesus was a friend of sinners.

Small groups today sometimes host “Matthew Parties,” an intentional outreach to neighbors and friends to a meal, some fun event, with someone sharing their testimony or a short gospel presentation.

In three discussions, first about fasting (vv. 18-22) and then about the Sabbath (vv. 23-27) and picking grain on the Sabbath (vv. 25-28).  In the first he told parables indicating that change was coming, making the Jewish religious practices out of date and irrelevant.

Jesus came to introduce something new, not to patch up something old.  This is what salvation is all about.  In doing this, Jesus doesn’t destroy the old (the law), but He fulfills it.

In Ezra 7 Esther’s banquet comes to a close and she reveals her true identity.

 

PARTY!

But Haman, I’m afraid the meal won’t agree with you . .

At the banquet, Esther asks the king to spare her people from someone who wanted to destroy them (7:1-4).

Esther was in a very dangerous position.  Not only did she now identify herself with a minority group that Haman had represented to the king as subversive, but she also accused one of his closest confidential advisers of committing an error in judgment.

“She understands full well the delicate and precarious nature of her position.  The threat against her and her people has two perpetrators, Haman and the king, and both are present with her.  She must somehow fully expose the culpability of Haman, while at the same time never appearing in any way to be bringing any charges against the king.  Hence, her response is extremely well thought out and presented with the utmost tact.”

–Frederic W. Bush, Word Biblical Commentary

When the king asks “Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?” Esther points to Haman (7:5-6).  Esther was not afraid to tell it like it is: “A foe and enemy!  This wicked Haman!” (v. 6)

The king, in rage leaves the room, and Haman falls upon Esther, begging for mercy (7:7).  When the king re-enters the room, he sees Haman “molesting” the Queen (7:8).  When Harbona, one of the king’s eunuchs, mentioned the pole set up to impale Mordecai, the king commands “Impale him [Haman] on it.”  And he was (7:9-10).  Ironically, this type of death was an ancient precursor of crucifixion.

When anyone works against God, he falls into his own trap. “Perhaps the greatest example of this was when Satan thought that he won by getting the crowd to crucify Jesus, but the cross turned out to be the instrument of his defeat” (David Guzik)

Romans 2 sentences the religious Jews to the same condemnation as the Gentiles in chapter 1.

When we judge others, we condemn ourselves, just like the Pharisee did in Luke 18:10-14.  We cannot escape the judgment of God (v.3), so we need to respond to His kindness by repenting (v. 4), else we experience God’s wrath (v. 5-6).

“Notice, dear friends, that the Lord does not drive you to repentance. Cain was driven away, as a fugitive and a vagabond, when he had killed his righteous brother Abel; Judas went and hanged himself, being driven by an anguish of remorse because of what he had done in betraying his Lord; but the sweetest and best repentance is that which comes, not by driving, but by drawing: ‘The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.’” (Spurgeon)

Even the very moral person falls short of God’s standard of righteousness (vv. 6-10).  Is Paul saying here that we can earn eternal life “by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality”?  Paul probably meant that if a person obeys God perfectly, he or she will receive eternal life.  But that is not possible.  Those who do not obey God perfectly receive wrath.  Later he willclarify that no one can obey God perfectly, so all are under His wrath (Romans 3:23-24).

The Gentiles do not have the Mosaic Law in the sense that God did not give it to them.  Therefore He will not judge them by that Law.  The Jews in Paul”s day did have it, and God would judge them by it (Romans 2:12).

Even Gentiles who do not have the Mosaic Law know that they should do things that are right and not do things that are wrong (Romans 2:14).  It is written in the Law, but also on our consciences (2:15).

In summary, to convict any self-righteous person of his guilt before God, Paul reminded his readers of three principles by which God will evaluate all people.

  • He will judge righteously, in terms of reality, not just appearance (Romans 2:2).
  • He will judge people because of their deeds, what they actually do both covertly and overtly (Romans 2:6).
  • Moreover He will judge impartially, not because of how much or how little privilege they enjoyed but how they responded to the truth they had (Romans 2:11).

Paul had been speaking of Jews, included in the larger category of “good people,” in Romans 2:1-16, but now he identified them by name. The Jews were very self-righteous. Paul explained the basis of their boasting in vv. 17-20.  Verses 21-24 indicates some of their sins.  Additionally, they depended upon circumcision, which was to no avail (vv. 25-27).  The important thing was to have a circumcised heart (vv. 28-29).

In Romans 2:17-29 Paul’s point was that perfect obedience is more important that religious privilege.  Even though the Jews boasted in outward matters, the law and circumcision, they were guilty of failing God inwardly, as were the Gentiles.  Really a God-fearing Gentile was more pleasing to God than a disobedient Jew because God delights in obedience.

M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, January 29

Today’s readings are from Genesis 30, Mark 1, Esther 6, and Romans 1.

Infertility (actually barrenness) seems to have been a problem among the matriarchs (Sarah, Genesis 16:2; 30:2; Rebekah, Genesis 25:21; and Rachel, Genesis 29:1; 30:22-24).  There are only five women in the whole Old Testament identified as “barren” (Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:5-6; and Samson’s mother (Judges 13:1-3).

God had told Adam to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28) and children were a blessing (Psalm 127:3-4).  Biblical women who experience periods of barrenness often understand their inability to conceive as a divine withholding of blessing, a punishment, or even a curse.

But in the case of these three women, barrenness provided an opportunity for God to work in a miraculous way.

In the Rachel and Leah saga, the narrator tells us “When Yahweh saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren” (Gen. 29:31). He later “remembers” Rachel and “opens her womb,” allowing her to conceive and bear her son Joseph (Gen. 30:22-24).

Cynthia R. Chapman notes:

Socially, barrenness as presented in several biblical stories caused a woman to experience reproach and even a form of social death. Sarah and Rachel found barrenness so stigmatizing that each offered her handmaid as a surrogate to her husband in the hopes that she might be built up through a son born through surrogacy. Rachel understood conception as her only path toward life, crying out to her husband, “Give me children, or I shall die!” When she finally bore Joseph, her hard-won first son, she proclaims, “God has taken away my reproach” (Gen 30:1, Gen 23). Similarly, when Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, conceived despite being old and barren, she announced, the Lord “has taken away the disgrace that I have endured among my people” (Luke 1:7, Luke 1:25).

Rachel”s reaction to her barrenness and Jacob’s response contrast with how Rebekah and Isaac, and Sarah and Abraham behaved in similar circumstances.  Sarah resorted to a custom acceptable in her culture, though contrary to God”s will, to secure an heir for Abraham (cf. Gen. 16:1-2). Isaac prayed that God would open Rebekah”s womb and waited (Gen. 25:21). Rachel and Jacob followed the example of Sarah and Abraham.

Rachel’s first reaction was to give her handmaiden Bilhah as a surrogate, who bore two children to Jacob (vv. 1-8).  Zilpah, Leah’s maid, then bore two more (vv. 9-13).  The score was now Leah 6, Rachel 2 (but not really).

Rachel’s second reaction was to try mandrakes, thought to help a woman conceive, in exchange for Leah sleeping again with Jacob.  End result: Leah 7, Rachel 2 (but not really).

Finally, in vv. 22-24, God “listened to her and opened her womb” (v. 22) and she gave birth to Joseph, saying, “God has taken away my reproach.”

Verses 25-43 recounts how Jacob became rich, at Laban’s expense.  Jacob, seemingly trying to outsmart Laban, was really blessed by the grace of God.  His flocks grew, and this caused problems with Laban.  But that’s for another chapter.

The lesson of this chapter is that even when we depend upon our own machinations and schemes to help ourselves, our only real help comes from God, who hears and acts.

Mark 1 begins “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  The good news of Jesus Christ.

Possibly Mark began his Gospel as he did to recall the opening verse of Genesis.  The good news about Jesus Christ provides a beginning of as great significance as the creation of the cosmos.  When Jesus” came to earth and began His ministry, God created something new.  This Gospel presents a new beginning in which God revealed good news about Jesus Christ. (Thomas Constable)

John the Baptist comes on the scene (Mark 1:1-8).  He is the forerunner to the Messiah, preparing the way for people to hail him as King.

John’s ministry took place in the Judean wilderness, east of the central mountain range upon which Jerusalem sat.

judean desert, biblicalisraeltours

Biblical Israel Tours

John was baptizing people in the Jordan river when they gave evidence of repentance.

jordan river

jordan river (near where jesus was baptized), ebibleteacher

Jesus comes to John to be baptized (in a place near the picture above)

10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg, in their book Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus have this to say about this portion of Scripture.  It is about the rabbinic habit of “stringing pearls.”

Believe it or not, God himself seems to enjoy “stringing pearls.”  Do you remember the scene in which Jesus is being baptized by his cousin John?  Listen to how the Father spoke from heaven at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:11):  “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  At face value this seems like a simple, though wonderful, affirmation.  But it’s so much more than that.  Did you catch all the references?  If not, here they are:

  • “You are my Son” is from Psalm 2:7:  “He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’”
  • “whom I love” is from Genesis 22:2:  “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
  • “with you I am well pleased”  is from Isaiah 42:1:  “Here is my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.”

What was God saying by making use of these quotations?  To answer this question, you need to know two things:  the context from which each passage is drawn and the way in which the people of that time understood the passage.  Both Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42 were understood as powerful messianic prophecies.  In Psalm 2, God makes a royal proclamation announcing his Son, the King of kings who would rule over the whole earth.

But in Isaiah 42, God speaks about his “servant” (also understood to be the Messiah).  Paradoxically, God’s Messiah is both a king and a servant.  This passage from Isaiah also proclaims that God’s Spirit is upon his servant.  How fitting since the Father utters these words as the Spirit descends upon Jesus in the Jordan River.

The reference “whom I love” is likely drawn from Genesis 22, one of the most poignant scenes in the Old Testament.  Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac out of obedience to God.  Genesis heightens the drama by emphasizing how precious Isaac is to Abraham, foreshadowing the Father’s own feelings for his only Son.  When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the Father is saying, “Here is my precious son, my Isaac,” hinting at the sacrifice he will soon ask of Jesus.

In just three brief quotes from the Scriptures, God speaks of Jesus as a king, a servant, and his Son, who will become a sacrifice.  When God speaks, he packs a lot into his words!  And be sure to notice where the three passages come from:  the Torah (Genesis 22), the Prophets (Isaiah 42), and the Psalms (Psalm 2).  Just like the rabbis, God links together the words from the three parts of Scripture.  By quoting all three, he is proclaiming that the entire Scriptures point to Jesus as their fulfillment.

pp. 43-45

I think these words are words fathers should speak into their children’s lives (especially their sons).  He identified him as “my son,” that he loved him and that he was proud of him.  There are no greater gifts a father can give his son than these–identity, love and affirmation.

And, by the way, the Father affirmed His Son before He had done anything!

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

Some think the mount of temptation was right outside Jericho.mount of temptation above jericho

Jesus then starts his ministry by calling his first disciples (vv. 14-20).  Mark omitted Jesus” year of early Judean ministry (John 1:15-4:42), as did the other Synoptic evangelists. He began his account of Jesus” ministry of service in Galilee, northern Israel (Mark 1:14-6:6a).

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15) summarizes Jesus’ whole ministry in Galilee.  The Messianic could begin, Jesus says, but only through repentance and faith.

sea of galilee map, a. d. riddle

Map by A. D. Riddle

The area around the Sea of Galilee was the scene of much of Jesus’ 3-year ministry.  He lived in Capernaum and here he met his first group of disciples, fishermen.

The command/invitation “follow me” would likely have thrilled the hearts of these men.  Likely passed over for promotion to rabbinic school, they were given a new opportunity to follow a rabbi, and this one they had heard about–he was healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, casting out demons.  He was the real deal!

Verse 21-28 capture Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry in the Capernaum synague.aerial view of capernaum synagogue

This is a reconstruction of 4th century synagogue, likely on the same site as the synagogue Jesus taught in.

Jesus taught with authority, cast out a demon, and grew in popularity (vv. 21-28), when to Simon’s house and healed his mother-in-law (vv. 29-31), then healed many otherss (vv. 32-34).  All-in-all, a productive, but long and tiring day.

That’s what makes Mark 1:35 stand out…

35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.

Even Jesus, the almighty creator of heaven and earth, needed to get away, get alone where it was quiet, and pray.  How much more do we need to get away early in the morning, to pray.

Grassmick notes:

“Mark selectively portrayed Jesus at prayer on three crucial occasions, each in a setting of darkness and aloneness: near the beginning of his account (Mark 1:35), near the middle (Mark 6:46), and near the end (Mark 14:32-42).  All three were occasions when He was faced with the possibility of achieving His messianic mission in a more attractive, less costly way.  But in each case He gained strength through prayer.”

This time in help helped Jesus focus on the Father’s will for Him.  He was always careful to follow the Father’s plan.  Even though He was popular here, Jesus knew He had to move on.

38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

We go to God in prayer to get orders from our commander and remind us why we are here today and what we are to do next.

Esther 6

Meanwhile (6:1-3), the king couldn’t sleep (cf. Daniel 6:18 for another king who couldn’t sleep), and asked for a boring book to be brought to him (the Congressional Record), to put him to sleep.  There, the king realized that he had never honored Mordecai for his loyalty.

This was a remarkable example of Providence in action.  King Ahasuerus can not sleep, and he can choose 20 different diversions to fill his sleepless night – but he commands that a book be brought to him and read.  The one commanded to bring the book could have brought any one book of the records of the chronicles, but he brought one particular book.  The book could be opened to any page, but it was opened to the exact page telling the story of Mordecai and how he saved the King from assassination.  God guided every step along the way.

–David Guzik

While Satan was putting it into the heart of Haman to contrive Mordecai’s death; God was putting it into the heart of the king to honor Mordecai.

Normally, this king quickly rewarded people who did him special services.  Herodotus gave two examples of Xerxes doing this. [Note: Herodotus, 8:85,9:107.]  Consequently, when he discovered that he had overlooked Mordecai”s favor, the king moved speedily to rectify the oversight.

Haman enters the court, ready to ask the King to impale Mordecai, and the king asks, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?” (v. 6).

Thinking the king was talking about him, Haman suggests dressing him in a royal robe, setting him upon a horse from the king’s stable led by someone, and having people bow down in honor (6:7-9).

The king says, “Go and do this for Mordecai,” which Haman does, and then goes home in shame, where his wife “prophesies” that these events show that he will go down in flames!  Then he had to go to the banquet. (6:10-14)

Esther 6:14 means that Haman hastened to go to the banquet.  He did not want to be late.  It does not mean that he was reluctant to go and that the eunuchs needed to hurry him along.  He evidently looked forward to the banquet as an opportunity to lift his spirits, little realizing that it would be the scene of his exposure and condemnation.

Romans has always stood at the head of Paul’s letters, and rightly so. Since Acts ends with Paul’s arrival in Rome, it is logical to have the Epistle section of the New Testament begin with the apostle’s letter to the Roman church, written before he visited the Christians there. More decisively, Romans is the most important book theologically in the whole New Testament, being as close to a systematic theology as will be found in God’s word.

–William MacDonald

Romans is the Paul’s greatest letter.

Augustine was converted reading a single verse from Romans 13:14.  Martin Luther also, meditating on Romans 1:17.  John Wesley “felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ” hearing someone reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

“All roads in the Bible lead to Romans, and all views afforded by the Bible are seen most clearly from Romans, and when the message of Romans gets into a person’s heart there is no telling what may happen.”  (J. I. Packer, in the last chapter of Knowing God).

Paul showed how human beings lack God’s righteousness because of our sin (1–3), receive God’s righteousness when God justifies us by faith (4–5), demonstrate God’s righteousness by being transformed from rebels to followers (6–8), confirm His righteousness when God saves the Jews (9–11), and apply His righteousness in practical ways throughout our lives (12–16).

In Romans 1 Paul begins with his introduction 1:1-17, with his typical salutation (vv. 1-7), identifying the writer (1:1), introducing the subject of the letter (1:2-5) and greeting the original readers (1:6-7).

Paul had not yet met these Christians in Rome and expresses his desire to see them (vv. 8-15).

Paul gives his thanksgiving for their faith (vv. 8-9) and expresses his desire to see them (v. 10).  He felt an obligation to preach the gospel to them (vv. 14-15).

Why “preach the gospel” to them?  Weren’t they already Christians?  It is possible that some of them were unclear about the gospel.  Or it is possible that, like us, the gospel is never something we leave behind, but need to delve deeper into.

In his article, “The Centrality of the Gospel,” Tim Keller helpfully elucidates the all too simple but all to neglected diagnosis of our spiritual ‘issues’.

We never “get beyond the gospel” in our Christian life to something more “advanced.”  The gospel is not the first “step” in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth.  The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity.  The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.

We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal. 3:1-3) and are renewed (Col. 1:6). It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Rom. 1:16-17).  It is very common in the church to think as follows.  “The gospel is for non-Christians.  One needs it to be saved.  But once saved, you grow through hard work and obedience.”  But Col. 1:6 shows that this is a mistake. Both confession and “hard work” that is not arising from and “in line” with the gospel will not sanctify you-it will strangle you.  All our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel.  Thus when Paul left the Ephesians he committed them “to the word of his grace, which can build you up” (Acts 20:32).

The main problem, then, in the Christian life is that we have not thought out the deep implications of the gospel, we have not “used” the gospel in and on all parts of our life.  Richard Lovelace says that most people’s problems are just a failure to be oriented to the gospel-a failure to grasp and believe it through and through. Luther says, “The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine. . . . Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.”  The gospel is not easily comprehended.  Paul says that the gospel only does its renewing work in us as we understand it in all its truth.  All of us, to some degree live around the truth of the gospel but do not “get” it.  So the key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel.  A stage of renewal is always the discovery of a new implication or application of the gospel-seeing more of its truth.  This is true for either an individual or a church.

Starting in v. 16-17 serve as a bridge introducing us to the first major section of Romans–that all men are under sin (1:18-3:20)

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

It was the “righteousness of God” that first caused Luther to hate God, for it was what God (impossibly) required of us.  But then it dawned upon him that this righteousness was not something he had to achieve, but something that could be received.  It was a gift of God.  The theme of Romans 1:18-5:11 is that God imputes (credits) righteousness into our moral account when we believe in Jesus Christ.

In August of 1513, a monk lectured on the book of Psalms in a seminary, but his inner life was nothing but turmoil.  In his studies, he came across Psalm 31:1:  In Thy righteousness deliver me.  The passage confused him; how could God’s righteousness do anything but condemn him to Hell as a righteous punishment for his sins?  Luther kept thinking about Romans 1:17, which says that in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live” (Habakkuk 2:4). 

The monk went on to say: “Night and day I pondered until . . . I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith.  Therefore I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise . . .  This passage of Paul became to me a gateway into heaven.”

Martin Luther was born again, and the reformation began in his heart.

–David Guzik

Paul first elaborates on the sinfulness of humanity (1:18–3:20), demonstrating the universal need of righteousness.

Here in Romans 1:18-32 Paul is saying that everyone is responsible for the revelation they have received through creation.  It is undeniable and therefore everyone is without excuse.

But because mankind chooses to worship the creation over the creator, we have degenerated into adulterers (vv. 24-25), into homosexuals (vv. 26-27) and finally into a depraved mind (vv. 28-32).  The consistent phrase in these verses is “God gave them up” to reap the fruits of their own desires.

In each of these cases, mankind is venerating something (usually sex) above God.

 

Quotes to Ponder

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”  -Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT

 

“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Graeme Goldsworthy on one defective concept of Jesus Christ that is fairly common among evangelical Christians:

[I]n some circles, Jesus is conceived of a really not human at all.  I hasten to add that mostly we evangelicals would deny that we hold to heretical views, even though we then express them in word and song!  Thus the chorus ending, “You ask me how I know he lives; he lives within my heart.”  Yet to ignore the fact that Jesus is bodily in heaven and sends his Spirit to us (Rom. 8:9-11), is to be in danger of focusing our faith on what is happening within us rather than on the objective, finished work of the Son of God (Col. 3:1; Heb. 9:24).  Soon our feelings and spiritual euphoria become the means for gauging our spiritual health and for having assurance of salvation.  Faith then becomes faith in our feelings of having Jesus “in our hearts.”  We must remember that we know that Christ lives because the Bible tells us so, not because of a subjective feeling of having Jesus “in me.”  The same biblical word informs and assures us of the power of Christ in his gospel to save and to give us the grace of perseverance until our earthly life’s end.

From The Son of God and the New Creation

“If you need a guide for your ongoing relationship with God, read Psalms.”
― Jim George

“The more deeply we grow into the psalms and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich will our prayers become.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, January 28

Today’s readings are Genesis 29, Matthew 28, Esther 5 and Acts 28.  Today we end Matthew and Acts.

In Genesis 29, unlike in Genesis 24, when Jacob goes to Haran to look for a wife he doesn’t pray.  However, he wasn’t a slacker.  He rolled the stone away and watered Rachel’s sheep.  Find out that Rachel belonged to Laban he rejoiced, but didn’t worship.

Bruce Waltke notes that this present scene (29:1-14) is “chiefly about God’s providence versus Jacob’s prayerlessness” (Waltke, Genesis, p. 402).

So Jacob marries…two daughters of Laban.  One he loved, Rachel, but Laban tricked him and gave him Leah first, thus forcing Jacob to work for him seven more years for Rachel.

David Guzik notes:

It was possible for Jacob to be fooled because of the wedding customs of the day.  According to those customs the wife was veiled until she was finally alone with her husband in the “honeymoon suite.”  If it was dark by the time Jacob and his new bride were alone together (something Laban would not have difficulty arranging), it helps explain how Jacob was fooled.

And Thomas Constable says…

Jacob had pretended to be his older brother, and now Leah pretended to be her younger sister.  Laban and Leah deceived Jacob as Jacob and Rebekah had deceived Isaac.  Perhaps Jacob”s eating and drinking at the feast had clouded his mind (Genesis 29:22).

As Jacob had deceived Isaac by taking advantage of his inability to see due to poor eyesight (Genesis 27:36), so Laban deceived Jacob by taking advantage of his inability to see in the dark tent (Genesis 29:25).

The “bridal week” was the week of feasting that followed a marriage (Gen. 29:27; cf. Judges 14:12; 14:17). Jacob received Rachel seven days after he had consummated his marriage to Leah (cf. Genesis 29:28, 30).

The Hebrew name “Rachel” means “ewe,” and “Leah” means “cow.”  Ironically, Laban treated them as cattle and used them for bargaining and trading.

“Zilpah” means “small nose,” and “Bilhah” means “carefree.”  Jacob married two women in eight days.  The Mosaic Law later prohibited marrying two sisters at the same time (Leviticus 18:18). Bigamy and polygamy were never God”s will, however (Genesis 2:24).

Notice that Jacob was behaving like his parents, who each favored one son above the other, by favoring one of his wives above the other.  In both cases serious family problems followed.

Then Jacob began to have children, by one wife, then another.

Image result for jacob's son and their names

Image result for jacob's son and their names

There was definitely jealousy and competition between Rachel and Leah, and later between their sons.

Matthew 28–Christ is risen

he is risen!

What Happened on the Cross

by John Damascene (c. 675 – 749)

By nothing else except the death of our Lord Jesus Christ
has death been brought low:

The sin of our first parent destroyed,
hell plundered,
resurrection bestowed,
the power given us to despise the things of this world,
even death itself,
the road back to the former blessedness made smooth,
the gates of paradise opened,
our perfected nature seated at the right hand of God,
and we made children and heirs of God.

Here for Steven Green’s Christ the Lord is Risen Today.

garden tomb in jerusalem

“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb” (Matt. 28:1) and the angel said to them ““Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay” (vv. 5-6).  Hallelujah!

An angel had announced the Incarnation, and now an angel announced the Resurrection (Matt. 1:20-23); cf. Matt. 18:10).

7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

“Fear and great joy,” what would you feel, knowing your Lord, whom you have been with for at least a couple of years, whom you have seen doing miracles, teaching God’s truth, casting out demons…has come back!

They should “go quickly” because this was great news indeed.

Of all the possible reasons for the tomb being open and empty that the women could have imagined, the angel clarified the one true explanation.  Jesus had risen from the dead.  The angel reminded them that Jesus had predicted His resurrection (cf. Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:18-19).  He then invited them to come and see where He had lain and to go and tell the other disciples that He had risen from the dead.

Now, the guards and religious elders concocted a story (read “fake news”) that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body, if anybody asked (28:11-15).

Jesus then commissioned his disciples to go make more disciples (28:16-20).

Notice the repetition of “all” in vv. 18-20 : all authority, all nations, all things, and all the days.

We make disciples by going, baptizing and teaching.  And notice, it is “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”  Teaching without application does not fulfill the great commission.  Call people to do something!

We have His authority (v. 18) and His presence with us always.  There are no excuses.  We have everything we need.

Here is a good word from Francis Chan…

Esther 5

Chapters 5-7 carry us to the climax of our story.  They show how God providentially preserved and protected His people.

Chapter 5 is about Esther’s wisdom in preparing an audience with the king and exposing Haman as the enemy of the Jews, and thus of the Persian Empire.

Here we have an example of how God controls the hearts of kings (Prov. 21:1).

Esther prepares a first banquet (5:1-8), inviting Haman as well.  Esther does not reveal her petition at this time, but requests another banquet the following day.

Literally the Hebrew says, “so we may do the word of Esther.”  This is a deliciously ironic twist on a king who only three chapters before was terrified that women might not do the word of their husbands.  Vashti was banished for not coming when the king called, but now Esther has gotten away with coming when the king did not call.  The king who worried about women obeying their husbands is now obeying his wife, and ordering Haman to obey her as well.  And to add irony to irony, Haman not only obeys a woman, but delights in being hosted by a Jew—a Jew passing as a Persian so splendidly that she puts the lie to all he said about her people’s disruptiveness.

–Patricia K. Tull

Esther. why wait?  The king has asked you for your request, twice!  The enemy is right there beside you!  Every day your fellow Jews are suffering!

BUT! — God will use the next 24 hours to accomplish important things!  The king will have insomnia, and Haman will initiate a construction project. . .

What are you waiting for the Lord to do for you?  As you wait, God is at work on your behalf.

“Wait on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14; 33:20-22; 62:5; 130:5-6; Isaiah 40:30-31; Lamentations 3:25; Isaiah 30:18

Haman leaves on cloud nine, but that quickly disappears when he sees Mordecai and Mordecai does not rise or show fear in his presence (5:9).  Haman goes home, boasting to family and friends that he was rich, that he alone was invited to Queen Esther’s banquet, and yet complaining that Mordecai the Jew does not bow to him (5:10-13).

His wife Zeresh suggests that he set up a pole and ask the king the next day to have Mordecai impaled upon it (5:14).  No, Haman apparently had not read Proverbs Proverbs 26:27…

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.

Well, this is a pole, not a pit.  Whatever.

Acts 28, Paul finally gets to Rome.  28:1-10 tells us that Paul and those on his ship stayed first in Malta, where they were treated well by the people, but Paul was bitten by a snake.  They thought, “bad luck,” but when he didn’t die they changed their minds and thought he was a god (28:4-6).  Paul then healed Publius’ father (v. 8) and several others (v. 9) so that Paul was honored by the people (v. 10).

After three months they sailed sailed to Syracuse and stayed there for three days (v. 11-12).

acts 28--paul arrives in rome, bob's boy's christianity blog

13a And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium.

Notice that they missed going through the Straits of Messina.

strait of messina, wikipedia

The waters there are treacherous.

ers2 radar view of strait of messian

So much so that in Greek mythology, a six-headed monster named Scylla lived on the Italian Peninsula and would pull sailors up and devour them if they came within her grasp, while an all-consuming whirlpool called Charybdis, on the Sicilian side, would suck passersby to their deaths.

steering a couse through the strait of messian, between scylla and charybdis

In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew confronted the two monsters while navigating through the Strait.  Emphasizing the dangers of the narrow Strait – 32 kilometres long and from 3 to 16 kilometres wide – it was only possible to avoid one of the monsters by sailing closely to the other.  Odysseus navigated his ship through safely, but Scylla managed to catch and devour six of his men.

But Paul didn’t go that way.

13b And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli.

Image result for Puteoli

Notice that Puteoli is not far from Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii.  Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., destroying both Pompeii and Herculaneum.

mount vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius Today, Italy Magazine

harbor of puteoli 1, carl rasmussen

Puteoli Harbor, Carl Rasmussen

14 There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome.  15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.

News of Paul”s arrival preceded him to Rome.  An entourage of believers traveled down the Appian Way, one of the major roads in Italy, 33 miles south to the Three Taverns, a resting spot.  There some of them waited while the more energetic among them proceeded another 10 miles to Appii Forum, a market town.

There Paul met his first Roman Christians.  He had sent them his epistle to the Romans three years earlier (in A.D. 57) from Corinth during his third missionary journey.  This group of greeters would have been a great encouragement to Paul who had looked forward so long to ministering in Rome (Rom. 15:22-29).  Their reception led Paul to thank God.  The trip from Malta probably took three weeks.

Paul was placed under house arrest (28:20) this first time in Rome (v. 16) and was allowed visitors.  He explained why he was in Rome (vv. 17-22) so many came to hear him (vv. 23) and there was the typical response:

24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.

So Paul, quoting Isaiah 6 (vv. 25-27) about their hardness of heart, turned to the Gentiles (v. 28)

Acts 28:28 is probably the ultimate climax of Acts.  It summarizes the main theme of the book. Having presented the gospel to the Jews in Rome, and having witnessed their rejection of it, Paul now focused his ministry again on the Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:46-52; 18: 6; Rom. 1:16).  Until “the times of the Gentiles” run their course and Messiah”s second advent terminates them, Gentiles will be the primary believers of the gospel (cf. Romans 11:19-26).

Luke -Acts is basically a story about a mission.  Acts 28:28 comments on the mission”s future.  The narrative prepares for this comment by reports of the Gentiles” friendly response to Paul on the voyage and the Roman Jews” contrasting response.  When we recognize the careful reflection on the possibilities of mission among both Gentiles and Jews in Acts 27-28 , the impression that the ending of Acts is abrupt and unsuitable is considerably reduced.” [Note: Tannehill, 2:343. See also Ladd, “The Acts . . .,” pp.  1177-78.]

30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

With this expression [i.e, unhindered], which is literally Luke”s last word in Acts , he is saying that largely through Paul”s activities, the Church is now on the march, and nothing can stop it, echoing Jesus words, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Victory in Matthew 28 and Acts 28.