Someone to Intervene

In the most ancient book of the Bible, Job appears as something of a rarity. Someone who is blessed exceedingly with wealth and yet reveres God, living a life beyond reproach. He is not even Jewish. What is perhaps more striking still is his role as a priestly intercessor. He wastes no time mediating between his adult children and God, all of the time.

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:1-5 ESV)

In this way, the story of Job anticipates the Christ.

Consequently, [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25 ESV)

Father, thanks for Jesus, the sinless Saviour, who lives to constantly mediate at Your side on our behalf. He saves us totally so we can get up close and personal with You. Make us like Job — like Christ — ready to step in between others and You, to plead for forgiveness for them. May the riches of Your blessings not prevent us from living reverent, blameless lives of upright obedience to You, shunning evil.

I was the Cupbearer

Ever feel like your role in life is insignificant or inconsequential? Take note of the progression of the following passage. First, Nehemiah is deeply moved when he learns of the plight of his people. This prompts him to beseech God through fasting, prayer and confession. Then we find out Nehemiah is just your run-of-the-mill, humble, unassuming servant, in the role of cupbearer to a foreign king.

And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king. (Nehemiah 1:3-11 ESV)

The rest of the book regales us with how God utilises Nehemiah, and his ordinary job, to bend a foreign ruler to God’s will, making the king favourably disposed to God’s people. In God’s hands, Nehemiah becomes, in large part, the answer to his own prayer, aiding to restore his people’s fortunes.

Father, move us to have compassion regarding the plight of our fellow man, both for those who are enemies of Jesus and for those who suffer for His namesake. In Your hands, no one is useless but all of us can be used mightily for Your purposes—to extend and bolster Your kingdom—whatever our station in life. Thanks for Jesus who, though He was King, came to serve, especially by reversing our fortunes. Thanks for keeping Your covenant promises. Help us uphold Your commandments. You can turn a cupbearer into so much more.

Forty: Hardship, but also Revelation

The number ‘forty’ in the Bible is associated with judgement and trials. God sent rain for forty days and nights in the days of Noah and the flood (Genesis 7:4, 12). Israel was made to spend forty years in the wilderness for their failure to obediently capture the land God had promised to them (Numbers 14:33). Jesus also spent time in the wilderness (forty days), being tested by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11). And, although Satan gets to sift us like wheat, we remain under the protection of Jesus’ prayer:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV)

Forty also relates to revelation. Moses was with God up the mountain for forty days and nights, where he experienced God’s glory and received the Law (Exodus 24:15-18ff). After His resurrection, Jesus spent forty days among His disciples teaching them regarding God’s kingdom (Acts 1:3).

Father, You do not allow wickedness to go unanswered, but execute just punishment. Thank You that, even though we must suffer at times, Jesus has shielded us from Your coming wrath. Thanks for Jesus who, though tempted, was without sin and that by trusting in His death and resurrection we get to participate in Your kingdom. Your name be praised for the faith-sustaining prayers of Your Son in the face of hardship. Reveal to us more and more of Your glory and Your kingdom through the ministry of Your Christ.

Twelve Included

God, from small beginnings, transformed a forlorn and childless Abraham and Sarah into a formidable nation. Enacting His initial agreement to an extent with the twelve sons of Abraham’s grandson, Israel (Jacob), giving rise to twelve tribes.

Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s servant: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram. – Genesis 35:22b-26 ESV

In the end there were thirteen tribes, sort of, with Joseph’s sons becoming the heads of the two half-tribes: Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:3-5). How fitting, then, that from among these tribes Jesus appointed and trained twelve Disciples, investing His authority with them to begin bringing about the ultimate fulfilment of God’s initial agreement, where all Christians are considered Abraham’s children—God’s children—saved through their witness and testimony by the work of the Holy Spirit.

And [Jesus] called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. – Matthew 10:1-4 ESV

Judas, due to his betrayal, was later replaced by a thirteenth Apostle, bringing their number back up to twelve (Acts 1:15-26).

Now we await the day when the elect among the Jews (symbolised by 12x12x1000) along with every chosen Christian (beyond number) are gathered before Jesus:

And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel…
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, – Revelation 7:4-9 ESV

Forward Thinkers

At the end Luke chapter 9, just after Jesus has suffered rejection from some Samaritans and just prior to Him commissioning 72 disciples to expand His Kingdom, we have some pretty confronting interactions between Jesus and three of His would-be followers. Today I just want to hone in on the third.

Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:61-62 ESV

To me, this man’s request seems quite reasonable, commendable even. After all, he just wants to go and say goodbye to the members of his household before leaving them behind to follow Jesus. I mean, what could be the harm? Although, I guess his close relatives might try to talk him out of it. “Just how well do you know this Jesus character anyway?” So Jesus’ response can seem complementary or harsh, depending on whether you decide that this man is a shining beacon or a cautionary tale. In any case Jesus’ point is not lost.

We can all imagine a farmer attempting to guide a plow while getting distracted by something behind him. We can also picture the crooked furrow he would leave behind and we can even anticipate the knock on effect of added difficulty for sowing and reaping. Or to modernise the image a bit, looking in the rear view mirror is handy when you are backing up your car but obsessing with it when you are moving forward is bound to end in disaster. Working for God’s kingdom demands we focus our attention on what is ahead, not on what lies behind.

Sadly, for some of us, following Jesus will mean separation or even estrangement from our families, though it is rare in western civilisation. Now that may seem like too steep a cost but we must weigh it against what Jesus says elsewhere, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). That is an exceptional return on your investment. A hundred times what you’ve given up, and life without end.

The passage in Luke calls to mind someone who infamously turned back in the Old Testament. She is slighted in the history of God’s people where her is name omitted. She is known only as “Lot’s wife” in Genesis 19. After being warned specifically not to look back or even stop (she was meant to be fleeing God’s judgment) she was drawn back to the fleeting pleasures of this life which incur God’s wrath. Her judgment was instantaneous as she was transformed into a pillar of salt. Which, I’m quietly confident, isn’t what Jesus had in mind when he said to be salt and light. All of us, then, are called to leave behind our old sinful way of life, of which we should be ashamed, but how does Jesus wants us to move God’s kingdom forward exactly? I think the answer comes just a couple verses later in Luke:

And he said to [his disciples], “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. – Luke 10:2

Earnest prayer to the Lord of the harvest. Primarily we move God’s kingdom forward on our knees. So, let’s pray.

Father, we eagerly ask You to propel forward-focused workers into Your harvest field. We are ashamed of our sin that provokes Your wrath and we thank You for Jesus who bore Your anger in order to shield us. Help us leave behind everything, including our sin, that prevents us from following Jesus wholeheartedly and may we never look back. When we have Christ we are more than compensated for anything we have to give up. We seek first Your Kingdom, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Top Ten

It is no coincidence that the greatest countries in the world to live in are those most heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian values. In mercy and judgment, God gifted His people Israel with one commandment for each of the ten plagues He severely chastised Egypt with (Exodus 7-12).

And God spoke all these words, saying,
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.” – Exodus 20:1-17 ESV

These rules for living have never been improved upon, although Jesus distilled them down to just two guidelines, borrowed from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18):

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37b-40

Lord, to cherish You above all else is to abide by Your first four commandments, and to love all others as much as we love ourselves will prevent us from transgressing the remaining six. Thank You Jesus that when You walked this earth You upheld the Law and the Prophets in perfection, that when we trust in You You clothe us in Your right standing before God. By Your Spirit, enable us to please You by keeping Your commands, and so stand out as a source of good in this world.

The Significance of Seven

Of all the numbers that are significant in the Bible, ‘seven’ is arguably the most important. As a number symbolising fullness, completion or perfection, many consider ‘seven’ to be God’s number. This goes some way in explaining why the number of the beast (and of a man) is 666, a constant falling short of God and His perfection (Revelation 13:18).

For Jews, the seventh day of the week was to be set aside for contemplating God. They were, as an entire nation, to take a break from the ordinary humdrum routine of the working week to reflect on their history, the fact that God flexed His muscle and released them from slavery in Egypt in spectacular fashion.

“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” – Deuteronomy 5:12-15 ESV

Presumably in order to reinforce this sabbath teaching, the Genesis creation account is fashioned around a seven-day week, with God Himself upholding the pattern of resting on the seventh day after creating everything in six days. This seventh day is notably described without “evening and … morning” which rounds out each of the previous six days. This points us inexorably towards God’s future eternal rest in Heaven.

Seven also features in the New Testament, perhaps nowhere as prominent as in Revelation with seven churches; seven spirits; a scroll with seven seals; seven trumpets; and seven angels with seven plagues in seven bowls. Jesus, when quizzed by Peter, urged us to forgive a brother not seven but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:21-22). There were seven baskets of leftovers after Jesus fed the 4000 from seven loaves of bread and a few small fish, indicative of a God of abundance (Matthew 15:32-38).

Father, You are perfect and complete, when we have Jesus we lack nothing. Thanks that Jesus has procured for us Your rest without end. Help us offer forgiveness as freely as You’ve offered us in Christ, releasing us from our bondage to sin in spectacular fashion by the cross. Thanks for not being a miser, You did not even withhold from us Your only Son, You treat us with such lavish abundance.

Three Days

Even though Jesus had just openly healed a man with a withered hand, right in their religious gathering place no less (Matthew 12:9-14), the upper echelons of Jewish society demanded Jesus prove His credentials as the Messiah by performing a miracle on cue.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered [Jesus], saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:38-40 ESV)

The only proof anyone needs that Jesus is the long awaited ‘Son of David’ — our rightful King — is that He was resurrected after three days in the grave. It took Jesus three days to change the world. In Jesus we vicariously make the arduous three day trek out of the clutches of the tyranny of slavery.

Then [Moses and Aaron] said [to Pharaoh], “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” (Exodus 5:3)

Father, we are sorry for being evil and adulterous, for wanting You to perform for us. Thank You that in Jesus we encounter You. His sacrifice released us from slavery to sin and brings us to Your holy mountain, into Your presence. In Jesus we escape Your judgment.

One and Three Are One

Faulty math? Despite accusations to the contrary, Christianity is monotheistic. That is, on the point that ‘there is only one God,’ Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all in agreement. This claim accompanies the first and greatest commandment in the Hebrew Scriptures:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” — Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (ESV)

The Koran often forbids the joining of gods with God. Yet Christianity maintains that Yahweh the Father, Christ Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit are all God. Math would dictate that that makes three gods. Enter the profound mystery of the doctrine of the Trinity. Three, yet one. The New Testament, perhaps most clearly, demonstrates this doctrine in Jesus’ instructions to His disciples in Matthew 28:19,

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”

The keen observer will note the intentionality in Jesus using the singular “name,” as opposed to “names,” for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, indicating their unity. The inseparable oneness of the Father and the Son can also be observed in John 10.

Father, Son and Spirit, You are our One God. May our love for You be undivided and without peer, may we love You with all our being. Thank You Jesus, for paving the way (via the cross) to bring us into the mysterious bond of unity between You and Your Father. By Your Spirit, help us draw others into this deeply intimate relationship.

Build God’s Kingdom

It is important to keep building God’s Kingdom in the face of heckling, being ridiculed or looked down upon. If the King “is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” — Nehemiah 2:17-20

According to Jesus, only those who keep their eyes fixed on the job at hand will feel at home in God’s Kingdom.

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” — Luke 9:62 ESV

Father and King, strengthen our hands so we can persevere in good work of building Your Kingdom, whatever difficulties we might face. Thanks for Jesus, in Whom we gain a share in Your Kingdom, the New Jerusalem. May You delight to see us prosper.