The Bible in 10 Weeks – Week 1 Review

"before the foundation of the world..."

“before the foundation of the world…”

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.

God and a stiff-necked people: Reflections on Exodus 33-34

God shows himself to Moses and to the people of Israel in incredible ways throughout the story of the Exodus. He protects Moses and raises him up to be a leader in Israel. God come to Moses and speaks to him in a burning bush and reveals his name. In ushering them out of captivity in Egypt, God shows his might pouring out 10 plagues on the land and he shows his mercy in sparing the children of Israel during the 10th plague. God provides a way for them in the Passover by the blood of a lamb. God then leads Israel out of Egypt, guiding them by the cloud of his presence. And if these acts weren’t enough, God then parts the Red Sea as pharaoh’s army advanced behind them. Truly this is a God with control over all things. He has great power and has used it to save his people and to be with them.

Unfortunately the chosen people of God cannot match his faithfulness and so quickly they are turning to those things which are not god. They reject God and turn to idols. This is sin and it offends God to the point that he says his presence can no longer be with the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

Exodus 33:1–3

Why can’t God be with the Israelites? It is because of their sin. It is because they are sinful and God fears that he will destroy them because of it. He describes their issue by describing them as a “stiff-necked people.”

The idea that God’s presence will no longer be among the people is devastating to Moses. This has been a hope that the God who revealed himself as, I AM, would remain with Israel and guide her. Moses has enjoyed the immense blessing of being in the presence of God and wants this blessing for others.

So Moses intercedes with God. If your presence will not go with us, why did you bring us out of Egypt? How can we be your people if you are not with us? We don’t want your angel–we want you.

Moses then asks to see the glory of God and God passes before him. He hides Moses in the cleft of a rock and God’s goodness goes in front of him and God says in chapter 34:

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.

Moses’ response is to bow in worship. And then he makes his final plea. He wants for the people what he just experienced himself, the presence of God. What argument can Moses make to get God to remain there among the people? What reason can he put forth for why God should make his dwelling in the midst of a sinful people? What does Moses say? In verse nine he says, "If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

What sort of argument is this? Why had God already said he couldn’t be with the people, lest he consume them? Because they were stiff-necked. Now Moses is asking God to stay with them because they are stiff-necked. Does this make sense?

Let’s say there were two roommates, one of whom was moving out. Jack says to Jill, “Why are you leaving?” and Jill responds, “Because you’re filthy.” So Jack thinks this over and comes back and says, “Jill, I think you should reconsider.” “Why?” she replies. And his thoughtful argument is this, “Because I’m filthy.”

Would that make sense? His filthiness is why she’s leaving. So why would use that as a reason to stay? Do they have an unhealthy codependent relationship? Is Jack too dependent on Jill relying on her alone for his cleanliness, needing her to stay so he won’t be filthy?

While inappropriate for Jack to put that responsibility on another, it is entirely right for Moses to realize that only God can provide for Israel. Because they are stiff-necked they are sinful and that separates them from God. But in their sin, who can save? Could they ever save themselves? No. Therefore, Moses realizes that because they are stiff-necked they need God all the more. It is the problem and cause of separation, but it is also the cause of their great need. Israel is desperate for God to be with them because they know they are lost without him.

Graciously God says yes. He will remain with them, but we see throughout scripture what he does to make a way for our holy God to be with a sinful people. The end of Exodus tells us about the tabernacle and how that provides a way. We sometimes can read about it (or the temple) and see it as a barrier to being with God. Instead we should see in it how our God desires to be with us and for us and that is the way it could be accomplished.

It was the way for generations. The presence of God was seen as located among Israel. But now because of the work of Jesus Christ, the world is different. Read what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Those provisions of the old are fulfilled and nullified in him because on the cross Jesus took the sin that separated. He removed the barriers and brought us together with God. Now in Jesus Christ, we who are a stiff-necked people are blessed with his Spirit and the very presence of God is not confined to a tabernacle or a temple and it is not limited to the few priests. We who are in Christ all have the presence of God by his Spirit and we all are made into temples of the Holy Spirit.

Where once the world went to Jerusalem to seek the presence of God in the temple, now the temples go out from Jerusalem to the world.

Christ’s Sacrifice Frees Us From Sin, Not For Sin

When Paul mentions the Passover he is calling to mind one of the defining events for the Jewish people. The final plague of Exodus was to be the death of the firstborns in Egypt, but God’s people are spared because he has made a provision for them. The blood of the firstborns is replaced by the blood of a lamb. Its blood is smeared on the doors of the homes and death passes over God’s people. Paul now says to the church that Christ is this Passover lamb.

Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) - Francisco de Zurbaran

Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) – Francisco de Zurbaran

But the Passover calls to mind not only the passing over, but also the final deliverance from Egypt. The people were to prepare themselves for on the same night that Israel is passed over and death comes upon many in that land, there were to leave. They need to be ready to go and go quickly. Exodus 12:11 says this:

In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.

Having your belt fastened is what is at times translated, “gird up your loins.” The idea behind it is be ready for travel. Don’t let your robes hang low and trip you up as you make your escape. Don’t just have your shoes by the door, put them on. Fasten your belt, tie your shoes laces–in double knots, have your car keys in hand and not on the table. Be ready to go immediately.

This hurry is why they eat the unleavened bread. Israel would have no time for their dough to rise. They needed to make haste.

Then as God had told them, it all comes to pass. Cries went up in the night “for there was not a house where someone was not dead.” Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron in the night and commands them to go. He says, ““Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!”

There is a great urgency for Egypt to rid itself of such a people that have brought God’s judgment upon them. They fear what may come next. So with such urgency in the land, it was in God’s wisdom that he prepared Israel to make haste. This great exodus was no small undertaking and it would have taken much preparation, and God had guided them through it. Here is what happened, beginning in verse 34 of Exodus 12:

So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

The book of Exodus then recounts the length of time that Israel had spent in Egypt, emphasizing the ending of that time and the beginning of a new day for Israel. Now they are freed. Generations of slavery have come to an end. So, when death pases over the people and Pharaoh finally tells Moses and his people, “Go!”, the only proper response is to leave. God did not bring about such a miraculous deliverance for his own people from the great worldly power of Egypt for them to remain in captivity. Israel’s response to God’s work and Pharaoh’s charge cannot be to linger. When Pharaoh says to leave, they shouldn’t say, “Give me a minute.” They can’t stay a moment longer. They can’t remain in slavery. God makes this point when he tells them to prepare themselves and dress appropriately for they won’t even have time for bread to rise. When God makes the way for his people, they must go. He desires to free them from Egypt and deliver them into a land that had been promised to them.

Paul is calling upon this theme of deliverance in 1 Corinthians. When he mentions that Christ is our Passover lamb he wants you to remember the Passover. The Passover is not only the sparing of Israel, it is the catalyst of their freedom. Likewise, Jesus is our sacrifice, sparing us from the consequence of our sin. He has taken the judgment on himself. But this Passover lamb was not sacrificed so that we can now linger in slavery. The church in Corinth is making a mockery of the sacrifice and is misunderstanding freedom in Christ. The arrogant sinning that is going on is nothing but a return to slavery. Paul wants them to understand and then live into a true freedom in Christ. His sacrifice is what brings us freedom to flee from captivity, leaving behind the chains of sin and the dominion of death.

Knowing that Jesus is our Passover, we ought to make haste to flee from sin and rush into his arms. We experience true freedom in him. We know the life we are intended to live when we are in Christ.

Lamb of God Stained Glass

Using our freedom in Christ to return to sin is a return to slavery. Rather, just as Israel prepared itself to march out of Egypt into God’s guidance, we too must prepare ourselves. We are called to rid ourselves of such bondage, casting aside whatever weighs us down and entangles us because we have a race before us that we must run (Hebrews 12:1-2). We must be ready for a march into God’s promised land. We have a kingdom to be stewards of in this fallen world. We have a life of freedom that leads not to death, but to newness of life and life everlasting. So in our continuing work to leave the captivity of sin and live the life of a freed people, captive only to the righteousness of God, let us prepare ourselves as we are instructed in Ephesians 6, keeping in mind the way the Israelites were to prepare themselves on the night of their deliverance:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

A Delight of Reading the Whole Bible in a Year

I have not had as much chance to post this past week as I have been way at a conference. Several of the speakers delivered fantastic sermons, which is always a benefit of these events. But I had a special delight this year as I heard from books like Daniel, Ezra, Ephesians, and Timothy. As the preachers delivered the messages I was so much more familiar with the scriptures that they were using.

But that isn’t to say that I now know enough. In reading though the Bible this past year I am instead primed to learn more and learn better. I loved knowing the context of the stories, remembering conversations had or posts written about those passages, and being challenged in new ways on what I thought I knew.

When they stepped back to give context, I was right there with them. The texts were still fresh in my mind, much closer to the surface, and much more accessible for the Spirit to use in my hearing and responding to the Word. It wasn’t like I was having to watch the same movie over again. It wasn’t at all tired or boring. The Bible is a living Word and I could see that as I had the chance to sit and receive it.

I pray you find that same delight as you grow more familiar with it and continue to read and re-read and read again God’s Word.

Salvation is Only a Work that God Can Do

"The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones", Gustave Doré, 1866

“The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones”, Gustave Doré, 1866

Our focus passage from this last week was the familiar passage (at least familiar relative to other parts of Ezekiel) of the valley of dry bones. God brings Ezekiel to a place full of death. There are bones that are long dead and have dried up. They appear to be hopeless, for who holds out hope that life can return to a corpse, let alone the bones that remain after years of decay? But God commands Ezekiel to speak this prophecy to the bones:

O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 37:4b-6

As God had described it so it happened. Ezekiel witnesses dry bones covered with sinews and then flesh. But just to have appearance of the living is not enough. God then breathes life, Spirit, into the bodies. Then they stood as a great army.

These bones represent the whole house of Israel that believed itself beyond hope, but God still had a plan for them. He would revive them and put his Spirit within them. Just as it was with the vision of the bones, the work God would do in Israel would be miraculous and therefore would cause the people to know whose hand was behind this. Then the people would know God is the Lord for only God could save them from death and gift them with life.

This chapter describes the work of God for a nation in exile and suffering from their sins, but the miracle of turning death to life is described as well in the New Testament. I find that Ephesians 2 parallels this in some ways.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:1-10

Like the dry bones, we were dead. What could the bones do to restore flesh and life? Nothing. As a people dead in our sins, how could we save ourselves? We lived according to the sinful ways of the world, like the people of God in Ezekiel. They acted just like the nations surrounding them and suffered discipline for their disobedience. Likewise we are described here as children of wrath, just like the rest of mankind. But God rescues us in both situations and it is not because we deserved it. I see two reasons, first that God is merciful and loving to his people.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…

Imagine reading that passage and ending before this verse. It is a dire situation. That is a pretty big “but” that comes to our aid. The situation was dire as well for the people in exile. In both, all hope is lost if not for the intervention of a gracious God. It is and has always been “by grace you have been saved.”

The other reason that God would do such a thing is that it fits in with his perfect plan. In Ephesians we see lines like, “so that in the coming age he might show immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” and “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Ezekiel is full of the line, “that you may know that I am the Lord your God.” God’s work for the whole house of Israel is a testimony to his character and his grace and he wants the people to know, and he wants the world to know. We are chosen not to merely enjoy a blessing, but to also carry a great responsibility in God’s plan for this world.

God saves us from our sin and he raises us up with Christ. He does so because he has a plan for us. That plan is one of blessing, surely. But it blessing to be shared. His saving us is not a result of good works, but it is part of a plan that God prepared beforehand that leads to good works for his sake.

It is only because of God’s grace could we receive such mercy and love. Like dry bones, we could not bring back life. Even if we could somehow restore flesh and sinews, we still would lack life–the breath of God within us. Fortunately his plan did not call for us to remain dead. His plan was for us to have a life where we walk in his ways. This plan bought us back from death, restored us, and raised us to life with and because of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Video Overview of Ephesians with NT Wright

If you wanted to hear an overview of Ephesians before you sat down to read it, or better yet, if having already read it, you wanted to hear someone’s thoughts on the letter and be reminded of what you just read, take a look at this video.

In it NT Wright runs through the entire book of Ephesians in about 15 minutes. Although I’d hesitate to say, as it is titled, that this is a quick tour of Ephesians given that you could probably read the whole book in just about that same amount of time.

Year in the Bible, Q2 Week 4

We now begin another wonderful week of reading God’s Word. I hope you enjoyed the way, in just one week, we finished the letter to the Galatians. Certainly there is plenty to study in a book like that, but it packs a punch when you read straight though. We almost finished Judges, which we’ll do this week as it only has a few more chapters. Then on top of finishing Judges, we’ll begin and end both Ruth and Ephesians.

Map of the 12 Tribes to help give you the context for Judges. Click for full size.

But do not be overwhelmed. We have may four books this week (Judges, Ruth, Ephesians, Psalms), but no one book has that many chapters. Figure out a good way to read them, and might I suggest not trying to each a little bit every day. That may be confusing.

The great thing about having four this week is that we can really build momentum. When we can start to build a longer list of books we’ve read, it makes me excited to see all we’ve done. God has given us each of these books and all of the Scriptures are useful for us today, so what a blessing to have journeyed through as many as we have.

So I hope you share such excitement and enter this week with an anticipation that God will continue to speak to you as you make your way to the end of three more books of the Bible.

If as you are reading you have thoughts to share, pass them along. And let me know if you’d be OK if I then share them here.

A Great Mystery of the Faith

Acts 22 recounts a message delivered by Paul. He had been before the tribune asking for permission, and receiving it proceeds to speak to fellow Jews.

The crowd appears to listen intently, all the more because Paul speaks in Hebrew. He tells of his stirring conversion, meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus. He then was taken in by Ananias, received back his sight, and was given the call to be a witness. Paul repented and was baptized.

Paul is commanded in a vision to flee from Jerusalem, because the people there will not accept his testimony. Paul knows that people remember the role he took in persecuting the church, even standing by approvingly as Stephen was marytred.

St Paul Preaching in Athens, Raphael – Preaching to the Gentiles.

The crowd was listening throughout all of Paul’s message, but in verse 22 it says that at his last line they raised their voice and called for him to be cast out. What could he have said that would cause them, after listening throughout his message so intently, to turn so quickly?

In verse 21 Paul says that God commanded him to, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”

Paul’s opponents will tolerate his words up to the point that he claims God calls him to go to people unlike themselves. They appreciate that he is like them, that he is from a place like them, and that he speaks a language like them. They do not appreciate that he is ministering to “the other.” Their vision is so clouded and their understanding of God’s intent so narrow that they cannot hear the good news of Paul’s message.

God’s love for the gentiles is described as the core of a great mystery of our faith, revealed to us now. We now know how great is this new word that Paul speaks of in his letter to the church in Ephesus. I, a Gentile, for one am thankful for the ministry of Paul, as called by God, and need to follow suit to seek out not only others who are like me, but to bring the gospel to others.

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Ephesians 3:1-6