If the world was not surprised that God himself would come to us in Jesus Christ, then what he came to do would certainly have been unexpected. Jesus Christ was not born in a palace, raised with privilege, given an army, nor did he march upon Jerusalem and then Rome to conquer the world. Our coming king came to save us and to rule but he followed the path that led him to the cross. Our God is king and our king wore a crown not of gold, but of thorns.
This was foolishness. How could the Almighty be weak? How could our Victor suffer such apparent defeat? How could our Savior not save himself? But on the cross Jesus Christ showed his power over sin and death and sacrificed himself so that we may be saved. He was the ultimate sacrifice, sufficient in every way to atone for our sins.
At the crucifixion the curtain in the temple that divided God’s presence from a sinful people was torn in two. Behind that curtain was the Holy of Holies where only the select few could enter. But now we are chosen in Christ, we are the select who can be in God’s presence because Christ opens the way. He has reconciled God and humanity. Our sin divided and pushed us away. Our sin alienated us from God and made us his enemy. But God loved us even when we were enemies. And now in Jesus we can boldly go before the throne of grace.
God created this world and placed us in it. He was there in the garden with us and it was good. But we rejected him and turned to various idols. This pattern repeats again and again with the same tragic results. We turn from God to sin and to death and to those things that will never satisfy. Left alone this would be all we would ever know. Sin, death, and dissatisfaction. No amount of effort or progress could restore us back to the garden.
So God came to us. We celebrate that fact every Christmas. In Jesus Christ the God of the Exodus; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and the God of Israel came to be with us. We celebrate ‘Immanuel.’ And God came to seek and save the lost. This is the radical teaching of Christianity. It was beyond the world’s imagination that God would enter this fallen creation the way that he did. As Tim Keller says, “The founders of every other major religion said, ‘I’m a prophet who shows you how to find God,’ but Jesus taught, ‘I’m God, come to find you.'”
Having left Egypt, the story of God’s people was not nearly finished. God had already promised Abraham and his descendants a new land. They would leave slavery and enter into a land flowing with milk and honey.
The time from the former to the latter could’ve been shorter, but the people feared more than they trusted. Moving into the promised land would not be easy for their were enemies of God in the land and they were strong. This created doubt and fear and people even wished they could turn back. This reluctance to follow where God would lead–even though he had just given them freedom from and victory over the great power of Egypt–led to a time of wandering. Forty years passed before they entered the promised land. It was a place of grace, for they reaped the harvest of another’s work. They did not earn or deserve the blessing. It is just as we receive the blessings of Jesus, one who has done all the work for us.
In week three we took a trip down to Egypt. Although God’s people had spent 400 years in a foreign land and were under the great burden of slavery, God had not abandoned them nor his plan. He leads them out of Egypt and set them in the direction of the Promised Land.
God did great wonders in their sight, but the people continue to waver between faith and doubt. Not long after God delivered them they turn to false idols. Their great sin is a danger to their on-going existence as God says he’d be tempted to destroy them if he were to be in their midst. But Moses pleads with God to stay because of their sin.
God’s people are a stiff-necked, stubborn, sinful people. But that is all the more reason we are desperate for God to be with us. This longing for God’s presence and guidance is a deep desire within us. Our sin is a barrier, but in Jesus Christ God has done all that was needed to remove our sin making it so that our longings can be fulfilled.
We are in the final week of this 10-week reading plan so it is now or never for review. I’d thought we would look back and try to remember each week a bit before we reflect on our final readings.
The idea was to have a plan that in a relatively short time introduced a great, overarching theme of Scripture. I wanted us to see that the Bible is cohesive. God has a plan and has had a plan since the very beginning. And we read this in week one. Before the world was made, God had chosen us in Jesus Christ.
We read this back in Ephesians 1:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Our other readings emphasized that we can actually believe the Bible. We aren’t left in the dark about who God is and what he is up to. God’s word is trustworthy and points us to this great plan God has in Jesus Christ. In reading the Bible we trust that God will continue to speak to us, at times with comfort and at times with very challenging, piercing words. But the whole of it is his inspired word.
My goal is that in these ten weeks we begin to see more clearly the big picture of the Bible, and that can’t happen if we read each week and forget about what came before. So take some time, especially since this week is a bit shorter than last, and ask yourself some good questions and do some review:
How would you describe creation?
What did Adam and Eve do?
What was God’s response?
Did God abandon them?
What plans does God have now?
To whom did God make his promise?
What was the promise?
Where did the promise take the people?
How did God begin to move his people into a foreign land?
How has God been at work in his people and accomplishing his plan?
This week we’ll pick up in Egypt and read what I believe will be both familiar and unfamiliar passages about Moses, the Exodus, and God’s ongoing interactions with his people.
Since we finished reading 1 Corinthians just last week, what do we do now? The reading plan was pretty clear that we finished, but so you know, you are allowed to return to 1 Corinthians. You can reread it to your heart’s content.
If you want some methods of review, here are a few.
You could read it. Slowly. Again. Not a complicated method. Maybe you could try a different version this time around.
You could use the Bible studies to go in-depth. Besides that link to the website, you can also download them all as one PDF here.
Using the Bible visualizations you can review the memory verses. We did this in our final meetings of the Bible study and tried to remember what the context of those verses were. It’s great to know these verses, but it is even better to remember why Paul was talking about Christ as our Passover lamb or why he talks about eating to the glory of God. Again, if you want to download them, here is a big (20 mb) PDF you can use.
Something else we did to review at our study was like a puzzle. I stripped 1 Corinthians of all its verses and chapter headings and then mixed up all the chapters. The goal was to be able to put the letter back in order. You can use this to try it out for yourself. I’d recommend stapling the few chapters that are two pages together so that you have sixteen units to put in order.
We’ve now closed out a section that seeks to talk about Christian freedom in the context of our responsibility to our neighbors. The conversation started with food offered to idols, talked of Paul’s right to be financially supported, and now has circled back to food and idols. Paul at times gives a statement that is clear, along the lines of “you can eat the food.” But that principle then has its exceptions. So as we read it, and this is especially true if we are only reading little bits at a time and not keeping the larger movements in our mind, it can be confusing because Paul will say, “Yes, but no, but yes, but no.”
To lean heavily again on Ken Bailey’s commentary, since he puts its so clearly in review, these last chapters tell us four things, and I’ll paraphrase:
Eating meat offered to idols and eating in these temple-restaurants is OK. But it is only acceptable if you’re mature in your faith so as to understand that these idols are nothing, and as long as no one that doesn’t see things that way sees you. After all, you don’t, by expressing your freedom, want to cause anyone to stumble. (1 Cor 8)
But what about eating and drinking not only at a temple-restaurant, but actually as part of an idol worship service? Well, Paul is clear cut on this one. No. That would be participating with demons. (First half of 1 Cor 10)
Back to the food, if you buy it from the market, then you’re fine eating it at home, for the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. (1 Cor 10:25-26)
If you’re at the home of an unbeliever, then eat up and don’t ask questions. But again, like in 1 Corinthians 8, be careful of your witness. If someone tells you that the food is offered to idols, presumably because of their concern about the issue, then don’t eat–not for your conscience but for the other. (1 Cor 10:28)1
The issue is not so much the food itself. Rather it is the witness we are making by eating it. While it may be a fine piece of food and it is the believers right to eat it, as long as the proper understanding is present, the more important element is how we can best love and serve our neighbors. If that means sacrificing a right, then so be it.
Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, 291-292. ↩