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Waiting for our King to Return

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This past week in our lesson we considered how we are to live as we are Waiting for Our King to Return. Over the past nine weeks, we have seen that God’s word is not simply a disconnected set of random pieces of literature by unrelated authors. Though it covers broad ground in terms of genre, writing style, authorship, chronology, and content, every chapter and book also contributes to the story of God who created a people for His glory and for relationship with Him, and who is at work to redeem them and restore them to fellowship with Himself after they (we!) broke fellowship with Him through our sinful rebellion. Because of His great mercy and compassion, man’s sin was not the end of the story.

We’ve learned that God’s word is His revelation of himself to us, that all creation was created by God as good, that man’s willful sin destroyed that goodness, and that God has been working throughout history using various means (patriarchs, oppressors, priests, judges, kings, prophets, and then some!) to point us to our need for salvation and to fulfill His promise to provide the One who would accomplish that salvation: His son, Jesus Christ. Since the accomplishment of our salvation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has been about the business of building His church on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets (Eph. 2:20), with Christ as the cornerstone; he is this in both his completed work on the cross and his present, active intercession on our behalf at the right hand of the Father. Not only that, but he returned to the Father that he might send us a helper, the promised Holy Spirit of God, to indwell us. No longer slaves to sin, we have new identities as children of the living God! Consider just some of what scripture says is true of us who believe in Christs’s work on our behalf:

– You are a new creation. (2 Cor. 5:17)
– You are (part of) a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession. (1 Peter     2:9)
– You are a living stone being built up with other believers into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5)
– You are redeemed and forgiven according to the riches of God’s grace. (Eph. 1:7, Col. 1:14)
– You are sealed with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of your inheritance in Christ. (Eph. 1:14)
– You are seated with Christ Jesus in the heavenly places. (Eph. 2:6)
– You are the workmanship of God, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and created for good     works which God prepared beforehand. (Eph. 1:4, 2:10)
– You are a child of God. (John 1:12, Gal. 3:26, Romans 8:16)
– You are a friend of Jesus. (John 15:15)
– You are justified by faith and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
– You are a member of the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:27)
– You are a child of God and a fellow heir with Christ (provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be     glorified with him). (Romans 8:17)
– You are God’s temple and God’s spirit dwells in you. (1 Cor. 3:16)
– You are blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Eph. 1:3)
– You are an ambassador for Christ, reconciled to God through Christ and entrusted with the message of     reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18-20)
– You have in Jesus Christ a high priest who is able to sympathize with your weakness and lives to make  intercession for you. (Heb. 4:14-15, 7:25)
– You are welcomed and encouraged to approach the throne of grace with confidence to receive mercy and find   grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)
– You have boldness and access [to God] with confidence through faith in Christ. (Eph. 3:12)
– You have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the beloved Son of   God. (Col. 1:13)
– You have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
– You are born again of imperishable seed through the living and abiding word of God. (1 Peter 1:23)
– Your old self was crucified with Christ so that you are no longer enslaved to sin; you are set free from sin.  (Ro.   6:6-7)
– You are not subject to condemnation in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
– You have eternal life. (John 3:16, 1 John 5:13)
– Your new self is created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:24)

This isn’t even an exhaustive list! But what do we DO with it? Are we simply to bask in the enjoyment of our new identity? Of course not! We are to live and walk in it!! Courtney Doctor has reminded us that the story of redemption is an unfolding drama in which we are not merely observers, but participants. Consider the bullet-pointed truths above essential truths and traits that you and I need to embody to play our part as we go about our work of “faithful improvisation.” If we need to know the background on our role, this is a good start! All that we say, do, and think as we participate in this drama should flow from God’s declaration in his word of who we ARE by faith in Jesus Christ.

So how do we go about living and walking in our new identities?

– We give ourselves to being conformed to the image of Christ. (Romans 8:29)
– We present our bodies as living sacrifices, being transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may be   able to discern what is the will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
– We proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
– We put off the sins that belong to our old nature, and put on the qualities of the new nature that is ours in Christ.   (Colossians 3:5-17, Eph. 4:17 – 5:21)
– We walk by the Spirit, not gratifying the desires of the flesh, but bearing the fruit of the Spirit in all of our   relationships and circumstances. (Gal. 5:16-26)
– We take care that our words are truthful, not corrupting, crude, or foolish, and that they build up, fit the   occasion, and give grace to those who hear them. (Eph 4:25, 29, 5:4)
– We are prepared and look for opportunities to give a reason for the hope that we have, doing so with gentleness   and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
– We are quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
– We love, serve, submit, obey, look to the interests of others as well as our own, cultivate gratitude, pray, rejoice,   contribute to the needs of the saints, love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, confess our sins, consider   those whose faith is weak, put no hindrance in the way of a brother (or sister), show hospitality…

There is plenty to do, dear sisters, but this doing is wholly unlike us attempting to tackle our never-ending to-do lists! It is a result of walking in the freedom and identity that Christ has provided for us; it is our response to Christ Jesus, our savior. Consider Jesus’s invitation:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”                       (Matthew 11:28-30)

So…

Pursue reconciliation, remembering that the most solid ground for human reconciliation is our reconciliation with God through Christ.
Pursue peace, recognizing that the only peace in which we can have complete confidence is peace with God, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Pursue the flourishing of others, desiring them to flourish for eternity through salvation, which confers blessing upon blessing for both this life and the one to come.
Pursue holiness, righteousness, faith, and love. Pursue your Savior, who pursued you first, and proclaim him by speaking the truth of Him to all!

The 50 Most Important Days in the History of the World – A Summary of Lesson 8

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In Lesson 8, Courtney Doctor walked us through the time from Jesus’ crucifixion to Pentecost. It’s kind of staggering to stop and think about all that occurred in this brief period of 50 Days. Why would she claim that this span of time, barely a blip, chronologically, on the radar screen of history, contains THE most important days in all of history? Let’s look:

Crucifixion:
Jesus’ death on the cross bought us back from slavery to sin and death, paying the purchase price, or ransom, for our redemption. (Mark 10:45) He died in our place that, by faith, we might be clothed in his perfect righteousness before the Father and be reconciled to him. (2 Cor 5:18-21) Jesus’ sacrifice was essential to pay the penalty for our sin; his perfect obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane, facing down the agony of bearing our sin and enduring the wrath of God that was due it, undid and redid what took place years before in the original garden, Eden. By agreement with God the Father, Jesus willingly (for the joy set before him! Hebrews 12:2) set aside honor, glory, and perfect, unbroken fellowship with the Father that sinners (his enemies) might be made righteous and granted unhindered access to God. (Isaiah 53, Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19-22)

Resurrection:
Jesus is not the only good man in history to die – even for the sake of another. But Jesus is the ONLY perfect man to die on behalf of another, and the ONLY one who is BOTH fully God and fully man. Though Jesus’s death is clearly unique in what it accomplished, his death is not the end of the story. As Courtney Doctor notes in our study (p. 142), it’s highly likely that we’d have missed the miracles of Jesus’s virgin birth, sinless life, and atoning death if we’d been alive when they took place. “But at the moment of the resurrection,” she says, “everything changed.” In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul tells us that it is “of first importance” that Christ DIED for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, was BURIED, was RAISED on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he APPEARED to Cephas (Peter), and the twelve disciples, and then to more than 500 others. Jesus appeared physically – in a resurrected body. Jesus’s resurrection is the ground of our hope of eternal life; apart from it, our faith is in vain! (1 Corinthians 15:14-19) 1 Corinthians 15 gloriously spells out the mystery and victory of the resurrection. Resurrection is not only something Jesus did when he conquered sin and death. It is also part of the victory he has secured for us! We, too, have been – and will be – resurrected to new life, according to 1 Corinthians 15 – not just spiritually, but physically, as he was.

Ascension:
While Jesus’s death and resurrection are certainly central to the story of redemptive history, there is still more to his life and work beyond these events. After Jesus’s death and resurrection, his disciples asked him “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Even those closest to him, who had walked alongside him in his public ministry and been promised a significant role in the building of his church (Matthew 16:13-20), had yet to understand Jesus’s mission. They would understand soon, though! Acts 1:6-11 indicates that after Jesus answered their question, “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” Verse 11 tells us that Jesus was taken into heaven, and will come again in the same way his disciples saw him go. Hebrews tells us what Jesus is actually, presently doing in heaven. We learn that he is seated there at the Father’s right hand as our great high priest who has offered his perfect sacrifice once for all, thus securing an eternal redemption for us. (Heb. 9:12, 10:12). We learn that he “always lives to make intercession” for those who draw near to God through him. (Heb. 7:25) The kingdom that Jesus came to restore was a greater kingdom than even his closest disciples could imagine while he was still with them! Jesus’s ascension marked the return of the king to his throne, as well as the entrance of the perfect high priest into the Holy of Holies. (Ephesians 1:20, 2:6)

Pentecost:
Back in Lesson 4 we discussed the concept of covenant, and saw that it encompasses the commitments to which God binds himself and to which he calls his people. While most of God’s covenants were between himself and his people, theologians speak of one specific covenant that occurred only within the members of Godhead: the covenant of redemption. In the covenant of redemption, the Father planned the way of salvation, the Son committed himself to accomplish that plan and the Spirit gave himself to effectively apply it in the lives of those who would be saved. While you won’t find “Covenant of Redemption” as a passage or chapter heading in scripture, the evidence of these commitments and their fulfillment are evident throughout its pages. In John 16, Jesus assures his disciples that it is to their advantage that he go away, so that he might send them the helper, the Holy Spirit. Shortly after Jesus’s ascension, we see the Holy Spirit descend upon the people of God in a powerful way. In Acts chapter 2 the Holy Spirit fulfills the promise of Ezekiel 36:26-27, in which God says he will remove his people’s hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh, putting his own Spirit within them, to cause them to walk in his statutes and obey his rules. At Pentecost, the believers were “all together in one place” when a sound “like a mighty rushing wind” filled the house and “divided tongues as of fire” appeared and rested on each one. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Others in Jerusalem “from every nation” heard in those “other tongues” their own language – despite the fact that those speaking were Galileans. (Acts 1:7) Peter, in the power of the Holy Spirit, stood and boldly proclaimed and explained the work of God in Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit being witnessed:

“‘This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing….Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (from Acts 2)

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Romans 8:11

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16

Sweet sisters, the Holy Spirit of God dwells in you who by faith have been reconciled to God through His son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. So how do we live while we are waiting for our King to return? I hope you’re being encouraged and edified as you consider that very thing in this week’s lesson.

The Hero Arrives – A Summary of Lesson 7

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In Lesson 7 we looked at JESUS, the hero of scripture!

We talked about Jesus being the Second Adam (Romans 5:12-19, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49).

-The first Adam’s disobedience brought death to all men; the “second Adam’s” obedience brought life to all who would believe in him.
-Robert A. Peterson, in Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ, says “Adam ruined his race. Jesus rescues his.” (p. 474)
-Satan won the conflict with the first Adam. Jesus, the second Adam, crushed the head of the serpent and won the victory over sin and death (Gen. 3:15).

-Adam’s disobedience brought the curse to all men. Jesus’ perfect obedience redeems us from the curse.

We looked at Jesus as the Reconciler. (Romans 5:10-11, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, Ephesians 2:16)

-Courtney Doctor reminded us that we are, in the truest sense, saved by works: the perfect works of Jesus Christ.
-Reconciliation is necessary when a relationship has been disrupted.
-What is broken in our relationship with God is not simply and only that we don’t understand how very much He loves us. To understand how much our Heavenly Father loves us, we must have a sense of all that our sin breaks, defiles, stains, and rips apart. We cannot understand the good news of Jesus’s reconciling work if we don’t understand the depth and gravity of our sin and wonder at the unimaginable length to which God has gone in Christ to address our sin and reconcile us to himself.
-The reconciliation that Christ worked for us by giving himself on the cross gives us peace with God. (Romans 5:1) That peace is the starting point not only for our vertical relationship (with God), but all of our horizontal relationships, as well (with one another).

-As reconciled children, we have been entrusted with “the message of reconciliation.”

We considered what it means that Jesus is our Redeemer. (Colossians 1:13-14, Romans 3:23-24, Galatians 3:13-14, Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 9:12-15)

-A redeemer is one who pays the purchase price of redemption – the ransom – for another. (Mark 10:45)
-Redemption is necessary where one is captive or hostage. Redemption is necessary for sinners, because they are enslaved by sin. (John 8:34)
-One who has been redeemed is no longer a slave to sin, but is freed to offer the the Lord obedience from the heart.

(Romans 6:15-23)

We discussed Jesus’s being the Perfect Sacrifice. (1 Corinthians 5:7, Hebrews 9, 10:1-18)

-Christ is our Passover Lamb, by whose blood we receive eternal life. (prefigured in Exodus 12)
-The sacrificial system of the tabernacle and the temple required ongoing, repeated sacrifice for sin. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice was made ONCE for ALL; not referring to a universal salvation of all mankind (in contradiction to the clear testimony of scripture), but to the perfection and finality of Christ’s sacrifice of His own body and blood as sufficient payment for the sin of all those the Father has given to the Son. (See John 6, 17)
-Atonement of sin requires sacrifice. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words indicates that the corresponding NT words are “propitiation” and “mercy seat.” It goes on to say this of propitiation:
“It [the word “propitiation”] is never used of any act whereby man brings God into a favorable attitude or gracious disposition. It is God who is ‘propitiated’ by the vindication of His holy and righteous character, whereby, through the provision He has made in the vicarious and expiatory sacrifice of Christ, He has so dealt with sin that He can show mercy to the believing sinner in the removal of his guilt and the remission of his sins….Through the ‘propitiatory’ sacrifice of Christ, he who believes upon Him is by God’s own act delivered from justly deserved wrath, and comes under the covenant of grace.” (p. 493)
-Propitiation is an atoning sacrifice (Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary).

-Courtney Doctor reminds us that “it wasn’t an easy or cheap solution. It was costly beyond comprehension. But, because the Lamb of God willingly placed himself on the altar, his sacrifice was acceptable and pleasing to the Father. And the glorious result is that you and I are cleansed from all our unrighteousness. Permanently. Completely. Finally.” (From Garden to Glory, p. 132)

We saw Jesus as the Conqueror. (1 Samuel 17, 1 Corinthians 15:54-56)

-On Day 5 we looked at the story of David and Goliath. It is not a children’s story about using courage and faith to slay the giants in our lives, however much we might appreciate the thought. You and I probably aren’t intended to see ourselves in David. We’re the Israelites, cowering in fear, defeated at the very prospect of battle before it has even begun. David, as Israel’s conqueror and king, while a REAL conqueror and king in a REAL time and place, ALSO pointed forward to one who would come after him as the ultimate conqueror and king. Our ultimate conqueror and king wins the victory FOR us, defeating our greatest enemy – sin and death.

-Just as the Israelites went from cowering in fear to pursuing their enemies and plundering their camp after the victory was won for them (1 Samuel 17:11, 51-53), you and I are the beneficiaries of a victory won on our behalf that allows us, too, to successfully fight against our enemy and enjoy the spoils won for us by our conqueror, Jesus. (From Garden to Glory, p. 135) Not only that, but we, too, can be considered the plunder of Christ’s victorious battle against our enemy, Satan. (Colossians 1:13, Matthew 12:29) The ESV Study Bible notes on Matthew 12:29 state that “Jesus has come to plunder [the strong man Satan’s] house and rescue people for the kingdom of God” (p. 1845)

And in the video, we heard, as well, that Jesus is our Legal Substitute.

-In our video, Courtney Doctor painted the picture of God as a righteous judge, reminding us that “a good judge is bound to justice.”
-God’s perfectly just character and settled hatred for sin presents us with a serious problem, because you and I, outside of Christ, are guilty and subject to condemnation. Our justly deserved sentence for our sin is death.
-We are wholly and fully guilty, and there is NO defense for our guilt. There is no “hard labor” or restitution we can offer to atone for ourselves and make payment for our sin.-Exodus 34:6-7, while declaring God’s mercy and forgiveness, makes plain that He “will by no means clear the guilty.” God, in His justice, cannot and will not ignore or minimize sin.
-Courtney said in the video, “It is not that God’s mercy overcame His justice. It’s that his justice and mercy are perfectly met at the cross. He did NOT overlook sin…He fully placed all our sin on His son. Justice was met as mercy was given.”
-Isaiah 53 speaks of Christ, our substitute. Read it all right now, if you can. Here’s a portion, to whet your appetite:

“He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)

Substitute, conqueror, sacrifice, redeemer, reconciler, rescuer, representative (second Adam). Hallelujah! What a Savior!!

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
Full atonement! can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
It is finished! was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious king,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

A Dwelling Place for the King

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At the very beginning of the story of God’s word, when all was right with the world, God dwelt harmoniously with his people in a perfect relationship marked by peace and purity. “Naked and unashamed” characterized not only Adam’s and Eve’s relationship with one another, but with the God who made them.

Then sin disrupted that perfect goodness, introducing self-consciousness, separation, and shame, and bringing it into every relationship thereafter, between man and man, and man and God.

As we trace the story line forward, we see that ever since man broke God’s good world with sin in an act of “cosmic treason,” God himself has been at work to redeem and restore what man broke in his rebellion. God has done that by binding himself in covenant commitments to his people, pursuing them over and over again to call them to himself, give them a good work to do, and remind them that they are His and will remain so, because He cannot and will not be untrue to his promises. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

Though the hope embedded in this good news of God’s promise and pursuit carries us forward in anticipation, we cannot help but see that the problem presented by sin is pervasive and ongoing. How can a holy God be reconciled with an unholy people? If sin is not a problem, God is not holy, righteous, and just. If sin is as big a problem as it seems to be, God can never again dwell with man, and man can never again live in joyful fellowship with God. Though we know, this side of the cross, what (or more accurately who) the remedy has proven to be, we must carry with us an awareness of the gravity of the situation  – our situation – to appreciate the miraculous and merciful nature of our rescue and redemption. And, as we study, it is also helpful for us to remember that in the days chronicled by the Old Testament, God’s people, Israel, didn’t have the fulfillment of the “who” that we enjoy today.

As Courtney Doctor mentioned in our video this past week, we zoomed way out to 30,000 feet and covered a great swath of historical and chronological ground in our lesson – about 1500 years’ worth.  Our “flyover” surveyed the following:

-In God’s giving of instructions for the tabernacle – its structure, its rules, and its rituals – God communicated once again not only his holiness, but his desire to dwell among his people. “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.” (Exodus 29:45-46)

-The establishment of the tabernacle in all of its beauty AND in its regulations both conveyed God’s holiness and protected his people from that holiness.

-“The irony of the tabernacle is the agony of redemptive history. By its very form this structure communicates God’s desire for cohabitation. But the increasing restriction of persons – and the elaborate systems of sacrifice and mediation even for those approved persons – communicated the legacy of sin, separation.” (Sandra L. Richter, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry Into the Old Testament)

-The glory of God is the manifestation of his presence. It is, as Lindsay said on Tuesday, “splendor with substance.” Where God’s presence is, there his glory is, as well. In the tabernacle, miraculously, the Holy God of the universe, in all his glory, graciously condescended to live in a tent in the wilderness that he might dwell with his people.

-Moving forward, from the tabernacle we looked (very briefly) at the time of the Judges, during which God’s people Israel, after initially refusing to obey by going into the Promised Land, finally entered into it. They also entered into a recurrent pattern of “sin, slavery, supplication (crying out), and salvation.” (From Garden to Glory, p. 111)

-We saw God raise up judges (deliverers) to rescue them out of their oppression, only to see them fall back into the cycle over and over again. The deliverers, though provided by God, could not fully and finally deliver God’s people from the oppression of their ultimate problem: sin.

-Looking back over God’s covenant commitments, we remember his promise not only of offspring, a great nation, and a great name from Abraham’s lineage, but also kings (Genesis 17:6).

-Though Israel demanded for herself a king to be “like all the nations” around them (1 Samuel 8:4) God rejected the king Israel chose for herself (Saul), placing upon the throne of Israel, David, a man after his own heart. God covenanted with David as he had with Abraham so long before. In 2 Samuel 7:16 God tells David, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” (for more on God’s  instruction to Israel regarding kings, see Deuteronomy 17:14-20.)

-David’s son Solomon began well, reigning with wisdom from God and building a magnificent and glorious temple for God’s dwelling place, but his kingdom was not only not eternal, his reign didn’t even end well. Shortly after his death, Israel was divided into two kingdoms, which enjoyed the rule of very few God-honoring kings over hundreds of years. Eventually, Solomon’s temple was destroyed and God’s people were taken into exile in Babylon and Assyria for their disobedience to God’s commands. (See 1 Chronicles 9:1, Ezekiel 39:23, and many other scriptures that discuss the exile of God’s people.)

-Besides patriarchs, priests, judges/deliverers, and kings, God also sent prophets to his people to remind them of His words and warn them of the consequences of rejecting his good commands for their welfare. Though called by God, in some instances, to outrageous displays intended to impact God’s people and help them see the absurdity and wickedness of their ongoing rebellion, the prophets, just like the priests, judges, and kings before them, were unable to effect the obedience of God’s people. Even their living pictures could not open Israel’s spiritual eyes or soften the hearts of God’s people sufficiently to right their relationship with Him.

-The news isn’t all bad. The latter part of the Old Testament records some promising developments. But even the restoration of God’s people to the Promised Land and the rebuilding of the temple reflect more loss than glory. As the history of the period covered by the Old Testament draws to a close, we are left with a rebuilt temple that is a shadow of its former glory, a people not wholly regathered and reestablished, and a nation that is no longer sovereign, but subject to national powers ruled by pagan kings. God’s people, as a nation, are a people in decline, diminished in stature and glory in the world. God’s people are not the “kingdom of priests” he had called them to be.

400 years of silence. Waiting. Longing. Hope. And surely, as well, its faltering. In the years beyond their return from exile, God’s people waited for the one who had spoken these words to them:

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses….”

But how? And when?

A Kingdom of Priests

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I am so grateful for our discussion on Tuesday! Trying to understand the “big picture” of God’s story is no small task, is it? We’ve covered a lot of territory and big ideas: creation, kingdom, mission, covenant, sin, obedience, redemption, blessings, curses, law…and those are just (some of) the concepts! We’ve also touched on the attributes of God: his holiness, righteousness, covenant loyalty (hesed love), sovereignty, wisdom, immanence, transcendence, mercy, and grace (which is by no means an exhaustive list). And we’ve looked at the framework provided by God’s covenant promises to particular individuals and to the nation of Israel as his called and chosen people. From beginning to end, God’s word tells the story of Him pursuing a people for himself in love to rescue and redeem them from sin by binding Himself to them in covenant.

Michael Horton says that “A covenant is a relationship of ‘oaths and bonds’ and involves mutual, though not necessarily equal, commitments….Some biblical covenants are unilaterally imposed commands and promises; others are entered into jointly [with the terms of the covenant always specified by the greater party]. Some are conditional and others are unconditional.” (Introducing Covenant Theology, pp. 2-3)

In the garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve a beautiful place to enjoy pure and perfect relationship with himself, his creation, and one another. These gifts endowed to them by God as creator, king and father were subject to only one condition: that they not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, lest they die. (Genesis 2:16-17) We know that our first parents did, in fact, eat of the fruit, and in mercy were cast out of the garden, barring their way to the tree of life and sparing them an eternity of sin and separation from God.

But even in the announcement of curse and consequence for the serpent, Eve and Adam, God provides a first whisper of hope in the promise of offspring. One will come, born of woman, who will bruise the serpent’s head. The craftiness of the serpent is no threat to the wisdom of God. (Gen. 3:15)

Beyond the garden, sin increased to the point that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”(Gen. 6:5) In mercy and judgment God sent a flood to destroy the earth and everything in it, judging sin but sparing a remnant for himself in faithfulness to his promise of redemption. When God told Noah to build an ark he also said “I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife and your sons wives with you.” When the waters receded, God again bound himself by oaths and commitments to Noah and his offspring, placing the burden of responsibility upon himself and giving the rainbow as a sign of his promise to never again destroy the entire earth with a flood. Man’s call to vocation as an agent of God’s mission was confirmed in God’s restatement of the original creation mandate given to Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.”

The episode at the Tower of Babel shows us that man’s sin and rebellion continued unabated after the flood. Though man stubbornly refuses to submit to God as Loving Father and Sovereign Lord, God (again and always) deals with sin and keeps the course of His covenant commitments. God will not allow man’s sin to come to its full fruition at Babel for man’s glory, but will call out from among the descendants of Seth and Shem one whom he will bless with a great name for his own purposes and glory in the greater world. God promises Abram offspring, land, and blessing, once again, through covenant, unilaterally in Genesis 12 and 15, and with specific stipulations for his people in Genesis 17.

As we trace the line of people and promises through the patriarchs, we come to the oppression and slavery of the Hebrew people (the nation of Israel) in Egypt. Genesis 15:12-14 shows us that God had their slavery – and their rescue – in view from the very beginning. Exodus 2:24 says that God “remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” When God remembers, unlike you and I, he doesn’t recall something forgotten, but moves to act on the promises he has made. When God’s people call upon him to remember, they are asking him to work on their behalf according to his promises. And this is what we see him do in the book of Exodus.

Our lesson summary makes several important points to bear in mind:

– The exodus of Exodus is the pivotal event of the Old Testament, as it sets a pattern of God’s redemption.

– God’s people were taken out of slavery to be His treasured children. (Ex. 19:5-6) [Note that God promised this rescue according to his covenant relationship in making many “I will” statements to Moses in Ex. 6:1-8, and followed through on this promise despite the fact that the people of Israel did not listen to Moses when he told them of God’s gracious intention.]

– The goal of salvation is relationship and flourishing.

– God calls his children to participate in his mission of redemption by being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

– The law of God is for the flourishing of God’s people.

In the Exodus, God rescues and redeems his people Israel according to His promise (covenant) to their forefathers, giving them a fresh start in freedom from slavery and in relationship with him, and calling them to particular obligations as a holy nation because of what he had already done for them. God punished Egypt for enslaving his people, protected his people as he brought them through the wilderness, brought them to himself, and is now preparing to present them with His law. It is wholly appropriate for the God who rescued and redeemed His people to call them to covenant faithfulness and declare the terms of their obligations to Him. As Michael D. Williams reminds us, “…the vocation and obedience to which God calls his people are always responses to his gracious, elective action.” (Far as the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption, p. 135)

The nation of Israel was called, and rightly so, to be God’s treasured possession among all the peoples of the earth, a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Exodus 19:5-6) that in keeping the Law of God, the people of the nations of the land they were entering would say of Israel “this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deuteronomy 4:6) Under the terms of the Mosaic covenant, God’s law was provided not only for his people’s good and protection, but to guide their conduct in such a way as to point to the Lord their God. Though blessings and consequences (curses) were promised to the nation of Israel through their obedience or disobedience, the Mosaic covenant was not a departure from God’s gracious plan, but a distinct episode within it. We struggle with the “if clause,” of Exodus 19:5, though, don’t we? Because we know what God’s people will do. Or rather, what they will fail to do.

Rick Phillips says this:

“The record of the Bible is one of human failure; we think especially of Israel’s failure to keep the Law. For Abraham to have the offspring God promised, those offspring had to keep the conditions, which they did not. But here is how God himself fulfilled the condition of obedience – by sending his own Son as the true Israel to keep the Law in our place. Jesus fulfilled the covenant condition of obedience for us. He fulfilled the Covenant of Works Adam broke; he fulfilled the Law that Israel transgressed. Now he offers to credit his obedient righteousness to our account, under the covenant of Grace, if only we will believe on him. Faith, now, is the condition of our salvation. And this also is fulfilled by God as the Spirit gives his people the saving gift of faith (Eph. 2:8-9). To fulfill his unconditional promises, God satisfies his own conditions through the work of Jesus Christ and his effectual grace ministered by the Holy Spirit. In this way, God has a people who truly love and serve him while all the glory belongs to him alone.” (“Is God’s Covenant Conditional?” Internet article accessed here.)

God not only establishes the requirements of the covenant, he also fulfills them!! What he requires he provides. Let’s not be too quick to move on from that. If the very thought doesn’t catch your breath, pray that the Holy Spirit would work that reality and its ramifications deep into your heart and mind.

So what should we do with what we’re learning? Is there anything here for us to apply, or is this simply a history lesson until we come to the New Testament? While our understanding and application need to be guided by all the things we discussed at the very beginning of our study (genre, setting, context, original audience, etc.) scripture is still, in its entirety, God’s revelation of himself to us. Learning about our Heavenly Father always presents us with truths to consider and apply to our own hearts, minds, and actions.

One specific thing that came up during our discussion time is our relationship to the law as those under grace

(Romans 6:15). As our study outlines and we talked about in class, God’s law is a reflection of his character and was given for our flourishing. Obedience is clearly important. Yet it is evident from our discussion time that it’s challenging to articulate exactly how that plays out in the life of a believer without stumbling toward one ditch or another. God’s faithfulness to his commitments is never dependent upon us. Yet how we live and respond to our Heavenly Father matters. Michael Horton says, “In the covenantal thinking we find in Scripture, there is no such thing as true knowledge without love and obedience.” (p. 9 Introducing Covenant Theology) Elsewhere he says, “The Law no longer represents God as Judge, but God as Father to the justified.” You and I, as children of God by faith in his son, are justified: made right with God. “The law tells God’s children what will please their heavenly Father. It could be called their family code.” (Nathan W. Bingham, The Threefold Use of the Law)

Let’s remember our adoption, walk in the good of every blessing that is ours by it, and seek to glorify and enjoy our gracious Father by walking in the way he has called and enabled us to go.

If you have an interest in reading the article Overview of the Bible: A Survey of the History of Salvation that I mentioned last week, you can access a PDF here. (With many thanks to Cindy for bringing that link to my attention!)

The Heart of Our King

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The pace is picking up a little bit now, as we move forward through scripture and look at some key events and themes in its grand narrative. In Lesson 4 we looked at the Heart of Our King. Specifically, we looked at how God’s everlasting love for his children is expressed through covenant, what that means, and the first few instances in which it appears in God’s story.

If God’s response to sin was merely punishment, scripture could end after Genesis 3:19, and 3:15 could be removed, for there would be no good news of one who would come to bruise the serpent’s head, no good news of one who would come to be bruised for your sake, and for mine. Since we know that scripture clearly does not end with Genesis chapter 3, there’s obviously more to the story! And that more is the unfolding, increasingly revealed picture of a God who pursues a people in love to rescue and redeem them from sin to be their God and to dwell among them, restoring (wholly by his own gracious initiative) what was lost and broken by man’s rebellion in the garden.

Our hope is in the unchanging LOVE of God. In Deuteronomy 7:6-8 God told his people Israel that they were his treasured possession, whom he had chosen and loved not due to any might or strength (or merit) of their own, but because he had set his love upon them and was keeping the oath (covenant) he had sworn to their fathers. If you wonder whether there’s biblical warrant for applying these verses to us today, consider Ephesians 1:3-8, which similarly indicates that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him, in LOVE predestining us for adoption as sons (daughters) through Jesus Christ.  Jeremiah 31:3 proclaims the word of the Lord to his people in exile as a result of their rebellion (sound like a theme?): “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

God’s LOVE compels him; his COVENANT binds him. That’s what Courtney Doctor emphasized in Day 2 of our study. She says, “Covenant is the way that God goes about accomplishing his purposes – he makes certain promises to his people and then he binds himself to those promises,…knowing that he will be the only one who will be faithful and keep the covenant. Our faithful God enters into a binding relationship with unfaithful people.” (From Garden to Glory: A Bible Study on the Bible’s Story, pp. 75, 76) God’s binding himself to his promises is good news for us, because he cannot lie and his character does not change! (Numbers 23:18, Hebrews 6:13-20) If you’ve read back through Genesis 15 carefully, you have likely noted what Abram was doing while God was “cutting covenant” with him. I hope it encourages you to realize that God’s promise did not depend upon Abram’s commitment to it, but his own! This will be important to keep in view as we continue through our study.

In Days 3-5 of our study, we looked more closely at God’s covenant commitments to both Noah and Abraham. Though God has one mission in redeeming his people and establishing His kingdom, he is accomplishing this mission through many covenants, each of which builds upon the one before it and expands our understanding of who God is. Michael D. Williams says that “Genesis tells the story…of the pervasive spread of sin in the world. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, they took the fruit of their disobedience with them. After sin broke into the Garden (Gen. 3), it broke out into the whole world (Gen. 4-11).” (Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption, p. 84)

The flood of Genesis 6-7 shows both God’s righteous judgment against that sin, and his great mercy and faithfulness to his own promises. Though “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and…every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,…Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” In our discussion time, we talked about the connection between Noah’s blamelessness in Gen. 3:9, and the word favor that we see in v. 8. Noah was not a sinless man, but by God’s grace, he was called righteous, and we see that he was obedient to God’s command to build an ark. Speaking of the story of the worldwide flood, Michael D. Williams says, “Sin and judgment is at best only half the story….The point is rather to communicate God’s resolve to redeem in spite of fallen man, and that sin cannot thwart the promise made in the Garden. It is about grace, that God will protect the seed of the woman and will affect his plan to redeem in spite of sin’s power and allure. Like all of Scripture, the story is about the faithfulness of God.” Genesis 9 records God’s post-flood blessing of Noah and his sons, a blessing that shares many elements of God’s original blessing of our first parents in the garden. How encouraging this is! Despite the pervasiveness of sin and the necessity of judgment, God still blesses and establishes his covenant with man. God is indeed faithful to his promises.

The problem of sin was not solved by the flood, however. The very next episode in the narrative after the flood is the tower of Babel. Genesis 11:4 records these words spoken by the people of the land of Shinar: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Williams says, “Thus the trajectory from the Garden to Babel moves from the illicit promise of moral autonomy in the serpent’s lie to a full-blown culture of godlessness in which every human energy is employed in the ‘ultimate act of rebellion – the total denial of God in the absolute assumption of self-sufficiency. This is sin in totality, with finality.'” (Far as the Curse is Found, p. 85, quoting B. Davie Napier, From Faith to Faith, p. 56.)

God’s grace, man’s sin, God’s grace, man’s sin. It’s a recurring pattern, isn’t it? Williams says “At the heart of the pattern of sin and grace lies the fact that God remains ever faithful to his covenant promises even though man proves himself faithless to the covenant.” (Far as the Curse is Found, p. 89)

In Genesis 12, and then again in Genesis 15, we see God calling and covenanting with Abram (later renamed Abraham). Williams points out that God promises to Abraham what He opposed at Babel. “Abraham’s greatness will be conferred by divine grace, not wrested from the world as the Babelites attempted to do. Blessing will come only from the Word of God.” (Far as the Curse is Found, p. 110) Abram is promised offspring in Genesis 13 and 15, another important term to trace through scripture, as we first saw it in God’s promise of Genesis 3:15. As often occurs in scripture, there are both immediate and future realizations of God’s promises. Abraham will be the father of many nations, as promised, and all the families of the earth will be blessed through him. But this will involve more and extend further than Abraham will ever realize in his earthly life.

Referring back to Genesis 3:15, our study book points out that “the first promise given is that there will be a descendant of Adam – a man, a human being – who will crush the head of the enemy.” This one who was promised, who would be the fulfillment of all the covenants, would be fully man, but not ONLY man. He would also be fully God. God is the one who both initiates and fulfills his covenants.

So what should we do with what we are learning? It is right and good to rest and trust in the truth that God is faithful to his promises as a covenant maker and covenant keeper as he works to rescue and redeem from sin a people for himself. But we should also note that when God covenants, he also calls and commands. God calls us to vocation in and obedience to Him.

So will we believe God, as Noah did, and Abraham? Will we follow where he leads us through His word, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense or appear to be the wisest course of action in man’s eyes?

Will we pursue a walk of blamelessness – making every effort to trust and obey, and to repent when God graciously shows us our sin?

Will we praise God for his faithfulness not only to His covenant promises, but also to us as his people? Will we seek to reflect and represent him well as his image bearers, testifying of His mercy?

Eden, the flood, Babel – each of these shows us that sin is not without consequence. Is there any unfaithfulness in us that grieves us today? Are there seeds of self-sufficiency or self-made glory that we might need to see and repent? Our Heavenly Father/King is gracious and merciful. He called and covenanted with his children in the garden before their rebellion, and has done so ever since. He still blesses us in order to make us a blessing, allowing us to participate in His work in His world. I am praying for each of us that we will respond to God’s gracious initiative with love, obedience, and faith, trusting Him to work out his promises in us as He has been faithful to keep and work them out in His world.

 

But Then an Evil Serpent…

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“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” C. S. Lewis

I have always appreciated this quote. I think Lewis does an effective job of concisely communicating the sense of longing that causes us to chase after satisfaction and fulfillment, and the futility of the pursuit. But as I consider the quote in light of our study of Genesis 1 and 2, I realize that he was probably off target on the last bit of it. If we understand Genesis 1-3 correctly, we recognize that we don’t long for another world, but for the world that we presently inhabit before it was wrecked and ruined by sin.

Genesis 1-2 explains the origins of our longing: we were created to inhabit God’s very good creation of perfect harmony, purity, and peace not only as subjects of the High King of Heaven but also as the children of a good and loving Father. In that perfect world for which we were created, there was NO SHAME (Gen. 2:25), and no grief, because there was NO GUILT.

Genesis 3 introduces us to the origins of our grief and sense of loss: SIN. What is sin? The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines sin as “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” I appreciate how Michael D. Williams’ words help us to understand the nature of sin. In Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption, he says,

“The law is the personal God’s declared will for his creatures. To violate it is to rebel against God himself. Consequently, Scripture often describes sin in relational terms. Sin is man’s betrayal, desertion, faithlessness, breach of covenant relationship, and treachery, directed against a personal God. (p.66) In essence, sin is man’s flight from God.” (p. 65)

Sin is not impersonal. It is relational.

Set against the perfect goodness of God’s design, and the opportunity man was given to live in eternally harmonious relationship with Him and one another, we see clearly that sin doesn’t make sense. It is irrational, absurd. As we talked about in our lesson, sin is an intruder.

Throughout the first two chapters of Genesis, Adam and Eve had known ONLY goodness from God: they enjoyed God’s perfect and generous provision, had a good work to do, a beautiful garden to tend and keep, and relationship with God and one another marked by intimacy and uninhibited openness. God’s words to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17 give both abundant provision and a single, solitary prohibition: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (emphasis added)

The remainder of Genesis 2 describes God’s creation of woman, and his bringing her to the man, culminating with the words “and the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”  While the last verse of Chapter 2 describes the pinnacle of human purity and peace, Chapter 3 introduces us to a new character and opens with an entirely different tone.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

No. That’s not what God actually said at all. But the serpent’s words planted seeds of doubt and distrust in Eve’s mind. God had given Adam and Eve every tree of the garden but one. God had been abundantly lavish in his provision, and if we read Genesis 2:17, we see that what he had withheld was a knowledge of evil. A good and loving parent withholds that which would harm the child!

But here we see the insanity of sin play out in Eve’s actions. She has every reason to trust God, and no reason to doubt him. None, that is, but the serpent’s word. It is interesting to note that in her reply to the serpent, Eve adds a prohibition not recorded in God’s words from Gen. 2:17.

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” (Genesis 3:2-3)

Eve’s reply introduces the possibility that the serpent’s suggestion has influenced her perception of God. Having used his cunning to hint at a malignancy in God’s character, he now openly challenges and contradicts God’s word.

“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4b-5)

Here the serpent holds out the shining fruit of Eve’s desire – and of ours as well. Rather than living under the perfect protection of God as king, and the perfect provision of God as father, Eve is enticed by the serpent’s suggestion that she can be autonomous, independent, like God. Why live under ANY prohibition, why submit to even a good and loving king/father if we can enjoy the freedom of self rule?

We know from Genesis 3:6 -7 that Eve took a closer look at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When she did so, she “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, [so] she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”

Sin brought shame. And shame drove Adam and Eve to hide, and to blame. Sin devastated all that was good and pure and right in Eden. The gravity and burden of loss in Genesis 3 is crushing. But God does not allow his children to hide in their shame and sin without pursuing them. As the scene unfolds, we are introduced to another aspect of who God is: righteous judge. God calls to the man and his wife, and pronounces a sentence upon each of the guilty parties (including the serpent!). Sin is never without consequence, and it is responsible for all of the brokenness of humanity and creation that we see around us today. God didn’t only deliver a sentence in Genesis 3, though. He said one would come who would bruise the head of the serpent, whispering the first hint of the gospel even amidst the devastation in the garden. And he made Adam and Eve garments of skins and clothed them. He covered their nakedness, and their shame, and sent them from the garden to keep them from partaking of the tree of life, and thus prevent them from living in a state of sin forever.

“The gospel is the story of God covering his naked enemies [rebels], bringing them to the wedding feast, and then marrying them rather than crushing them.” Ed Welch

In summary, consider our “take aways” from last week’s study:

– Our enemy always tempts us to doubt God’s word and God’s goodness

– There is no rational answer for sin; it is absurd and makes no sense in light of God’s goodness.

– Sin leads to shame and hiding, but God call us out and covers us.

– Curse is not God’s ultimate answer to sin; redemption is.

– It is the mercy of God not to leave us in the state of sin forever.

I am praying for each of us this week, that the Lord will shape our understanding of sin and help us, who are in Christ, to enjoy the grace of walking in joyful obedience to our Father. Psalm 19: 7-14

Once Upon a Time…

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When we hear the words “once upon a time,” we know that what’s coming next is an introduction. Generally, an introduction that includes the concept of beauty, calm, order, or peace – or maybe all of the above! Whether it’s the character(s) we encounter, or how the setting is described – or perhaps both – “once upon a time” usually precedes a depiction of something good and beautiful and right. Something that is as it should be. We all know from experience with fairy tales that the depiction of the kingdom as a place of goodness and beauty doesn’t endure much beyond the introduction. In most cases, a problem or conflict is described pretty quickly thereafter. But that’s jumping ahead a bit.

This past week, we looked at the “once upon a time” of scripture’s story in Genesis 1 and 2, which shows us the goodness of God both in and toward his creation. In Genesis 1 we see God creating all things by speaking them into existence. Using the repeated pattern “And God said…, And it was so,” Genesis 1 introduces us not merely to a king, but to the High King of the Universe. We are not told that he is the king; we are shown in the depiction of sovereign decree. A king speaks, and his words become law. God speaks, and light exists. Matter is created, set in order, gathered and separated to form heaven and earth, land and sea. God speaks and vegetation springs forth. Sun, moon, and stars are set in the heavens to preside over days, seasons and years. Birds, fish, sea creatures, and living creatures of all kind inhabit the earth. All because God spoke, and it was so. Another repeated refrain echoes through Genesis 1, as well: “And God saw that it was good.” In God’s culminating act of creation, man, male and female, is created in the image of God, blessed, commanded to be fruitful and multiply, and given dominion (authority from God to fulfill his mission) over the other created beings. God’s work of creation is complete, at this point, and declared “very good” in its entirety. (Genesis 1:31) Thus we are introduced to God as king, and the kingdom over which he rules as creator. As king and creator, God is worthy of our obedience.

Fortunately for us, “king” is not the only image of God scripture provides. While we might agree conceptually with the notion that a king’s subjects owe him allegiance and obedience, our knowledge of earthly kings probably doesn’t inspire us to offer that obedience joyfully and unreservedly – nor should it, in many cases. It certainly wouldn’t have done so for the Hebrews, who as the first audience of Genesis, had been cruelly oppressed by Pharaoh as slaves in Egypt. As Courtney Doctor noted in our study book (p. 36), “The kingdom is affected by the virtue of the king.”  The Hebrew people knew this from their experience under Pharaoh, but in hearing Genesis 1, they see more clearly that the God of creation – the God who had called them to be his people – is still (and always) the sovereign king over that creation. The High King of Heaven is not the king of their oppression, but of their rescue! He is not like the kings of man.

Though we will see the image more fully and clearly unfold as we continue our study, even in the garden kingdom of Genesis 1 and 2, we see glimmers of another aspect of God’s relationship with man: God is also our Father. Just as our knowledge of earthly kings might affect our heart’s inclination or disinclination toward obedience, our experience of earthly fathers may give us pause (or pain), as well. But, “when God refers to himself as Father, he is referring, not to our experience of fathers, but to the kind of father we were created to have….your heavenly Father is perfect in his love in every possible way. (p. 42)” We see God’s fatherhood in four specific aspects: presence, provision, protection, and parameters. God is not a deadbeat dad, an absentee father, or worse. Understanding and trusting God as the perfect Father our hearts long for is essential to our understanding of who he is and how we are to relate to him. Though kings and fathers alike are to be obeyed, though kings and fathers alike bear responsibility toward their subjects and children, we do not look for a king to love his subjects in the way that we expect a good father to love his children. Yet scripture speaks plainly of God’s enduring, abundant compassion, tenderness and love toward those who are His. Stop and ponder this for a minute. The God of all creation, the High King of Heaven is and longs to relate to us as our perfect, loving Father!

Whether as a parent, a child, or a keen observer of humanity, I’m sure you’ve realized that having a job to do as a member of the family is more meaningful than simply existing. Every character has to have a purpose in the story. Being the good Father that he is, God didn’t create us simply to exist; he calls us to participate in his work in the world as members of his family and his image bearers. We are to resemble and represent him as we exercise dominion over the creation as he commanded. The authority we’ve been given is not an authority of autonomy, but of stewardship. We answer to the High King of Heaven, who is our Father, as we do the work he has given us to do. Courtney Doctor describes that work, God’s mission, as “the establishment of his Kingdom in all the earth (p. 51).” Simply put, as God has made himself known to us, we are to make him known throughout the earth!

So how are we doing, ladies?

-Are you submitting yourself to the High King of Heaven in obedience?

-Do you entrust yourself (your relationships, your needs, your concerns, your fears) to your loving Father in humility, trusting Him to care for you as you cast your anxieties on Him?

-Are you enjoying and engaging your Father in relationship?

-Are you growing in resemblance to Him as you do so?

-Are you making him known in your arenas of influence and dominion?

We have the protection and provision of a great King, the love of a good Father, and a good work to do as his image bearers and representatives. I’m praying he’ll help us to more fully understand and walk in His light and truth this week!

Cliff’s Notes: A Framework for Understanding

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If you’re reading this on the web and would like a copy of our study calendar and schedule, please email Tracie at womenscareteam@harborchurch.org. This week we’re completing Lesson 2, “Once Upon a Time” for our meeting next week. The lessons don’t actually take that long, but if you’re finding it difficult to find that “chunk” of time you’re looking for, I encourage you to start into your study by reading pages 35 and 36. Then, when you get your next few minutes in the day, read through Genesis 1, or Genesis 1 & 2. Once you’ve done that, you’re prepared to answer the questions for Day 1, and can jot those answers two or three at a time as you have a few minutes to do so.

I know “finding time” (isn’t that a curious expression?) to study is challenging when your calling in life includes work responsibilities and/or making yourself available to provide love and care for others through scheduled activities, interruptions and unexpected hiccups in the day’s routine, but I promise that a little bit of strategizing is worth the effort. If you’re like me, and your vision of a perfect “quiet time” includes actual quiet, calm, and enough time to get through the entire lesson, you might rarely have a “perfect quiet time!” But I hope you will join me in endeavoring to let go of perfect and work toward pursuit. Be encouraged: you’ve already started by committing to this study!

Most of us are unlikely to go without eating for days because we simply can’t find time to grab a bite. Whatever is going on in our lives, we’re probably managing to get calories into our bodies somehow, and I’m quite certain we’re not relying on the ones we consumed a few months ago to pull us through and meet our nutritional needs. Yet how often do we view Bible study that way? Jesus calls himself the bread of life; his word is spiritual food for us! If you and I are trying to make do on last month’s time in God’s word, it’s quite likely we’re spiritually malnourished. Jesus won’t love us more because we’re working to prioritize time in his word, but I am confident that we will come to love him more if we do! So I am grateful that we are leaning into pursuit together. I trust we’ll all be better off for it.

Yesterday in our time together we covered Lesson 1, “Cliff’s Notes.” If you’re not familiar with them, Cliff’s Notes are a series of pamphlets that summarize and provide basic analysis of common works of literature. Though some among us might confess to making use of Cliff’s Notes instead of reading the book (don’t do that for your Bible study!), their purpose is not to replace study of the original work, but to enhance it by providing a framework for understanding. Some books are hard to read. But if we have a basic summary, and can identify key themes, we can more readily make sense of the individual chapters.

Lesson 1 helped us to identify a few essentials of scripture:

-Its primary author is God, though his chosen vehicle was “men [who] spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)

-Its setting is history – real time, real places, real people, and real events.

-The primary genre of scripture is historical narrative, though it makes use of many other genres in telling the story of God’s work in the world on our behalf.

-God’s purpose in giving us his word is to reveal himself to us in love, that we might respond to him in relationship and receive eternal life in Christ.

In the video we watched together, Courtney Doctor pointed to our need for God’s revelation, and that it is above all, an act of grace.

While scripture tells us that certain attributes of God are evident in creation by God’s general revelation, that which is made available and should be evident to all in the world God made (Romans 1:19-20), general revelation is insufficient to show us our need for a savior, or to tell us all that God desires to reveal to us about who He is and who we are in relationship to him. In scripture, we have God’s special revelation, his specific revelation of his nature, his character, and his work in and purpose for his creation. Within scripture, we see these things most fully and clearly in the work and person of Jesus Christ. While we cannot know all that there is to know about God from scripture (because he is unsearchable, inscrutable, and incomprehensible), we can delight in the reality that God loved us enough to make himself known to us that we might have sufficient knowledge to respond to him in repentance and faith unto eternal life and fellowship with him.

A few things to remember about special revelation from the video:

-The word of God is not just a revelation from God, but a revelation of God. It is not a to-do list, but a love note!

-ALL of our knowledge of God is dependent upon God’s revelation of himself to us.

-God’s special revelation is a “gracious condescension” in which he stoops down to accommodate our “slight capacity” to comprehend him.

How amazing is it that the infinite, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent God of the universe would pursue you and me in love to reveal himself to us?! I am praying for each of us that our wonder will be increased and our affections kindled as we consider and review this amazing story of God’s work in his world.

Introduction Day – From Garden to Glory: A Bible Study on the Bible’s Story

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Last Tuesday in our time together we heard the word STORY quite a bit. It’s there in the subtitle of our book: A Bible Study on the Bible’s Story.

What do you think of when you hear the word “story?” Several years ago, I taught two-year-olds as a member of a Bible study class. In our training, we were encouraged NOT to use the word “story” so we wouldn’t confuse these little ones. “Stories,” to two-year-olds, are most often fun, fictional tales accompanied by bright illustrations, aren’t they? They’re often outlandish or silly. And, of course, they’re not true.

While scripture does present us with a story, I assure you that everything we find in its pages is true. Referring to scripture as a story does not cast a shadow on its reliability as truth, but points us toward the fact that it presents us with a narrative arc. When we first learned to write stories, our teachers taught us they had to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Further along in our education, we might have learned a more sophisticated version of this general structure. Simply stated, this included exposition, complication or conflict, rising action, climax, and conclusion. I’m sure you can see where I’m headed with this. While scripture is no work of fiction, it is indeed a story in the highest and truest sense. It has all the essential elements, and the knowing the grand story of scripture gives us a framework for understanding how the varied books, authors, and genres we encounter within it contribute to the big picture. It also shows us that scripture, by design, has a purpose, and a point! It isn’t just a random collection of varied writings of different genres by a group of people separated by time and space.

We talked a bit yesterday about how knowing the story gives us much-needed perspective. I can follow the turn-by-turn directions of a GPS, but they make a lot more sense to me if I’ve consulted Google Maps and checked out the satellite view of my route ahead of time. I can put together the pieces of a puzzle, but I MUCH prefer to do so with the picture on the lid as a reference! Whether this is our first experience learning the meta-narrative of scripture or a refresher course, each of us will benefit, I’m sure, from a studied consideration of God’s story. As Christians, such perspective is essential, because this is not only God’s story, but OUR story, as well.

I appreciate Courtney Doctor’s words from her video introduction, reminding us that our part in this story is not performance, but faithful participation. Using the words of author and seminary professor Michael D. Williams, she encouraged us to realize that we are heirs of the story, actors in it, and bearers of it.

With her, my prayer is that through this study we will…

-love scripture more

-see more clearly our purpose in God’s plan

-be captivated by the love of our Heavenly Father, and

-respond to God’s gracious and lavish affection with increased love and faith

As I might have said to those little ones many years ago, “This is God’s word. Everything in it is true.”

I hope you enjoy your first week of study, and are blessed as you lean into the work of understanding the true word of our infinite, inexhaustible God as He has revealed himself to us.