Key verse: Genesis 11:7
Big idea: In the beginning, God scattered the people.
Genesis 11 is the final chapter of Genesis' opening act. For the last time in the Old Testament, God deals with all of humanity at once, before the dramatic transition is made to Abraham and his descendants as the key which will rescue everyone else. Mankind has already been divided from each other and from God by sin, but the Lord's master rescue plan requires dividing them physically, choosing one nation, and from that nation saving the world. The 10th chapter outlines the descendants of Noah, but instead of fulfilling their mandate to fill the Earth as God's representatives, they decided to build a city and a tower for their own glory instead. God's response was that if they had decided to do so, they would be perfectly capable, "this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do."
God loves us too much to allow us to succeed at the wrong thing, so He confounded their language and their plans. Like casting Adam and Eve from the Garden, so they would not live forever in their sinful state, God was protecting them from themselves. But this division was not meant to be forever. On the day of Pentecost, God called on His people to build a church for His glory, not their own. Rather than people trying to build a tower to Heaven and having their language scattered, Heaven came down and united their languages (Acts 2:1-4). But God's solution is not a return to uniformity, with all of the people speaking one language. Each group in Acts 2 heard their own language. Incredibly, we look forward to the day when every tongue praises him in overlapping harmony (Revelation 7:9). God scattered us in nature, but in the cross we are brought back together again.
Discussion idea: How does Pentecost reverse the effects of Babel beyond simple language? How is the denial of the command to be fruitful and multiply linked with the empowering to witness in the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Great Commission?
Prayer focus: Ask God to make you an instrument of peace, bringing people together not through an astroturf uniformity, but the unity of the gospel.
Key verse: Matthew 9:6
Big Idea: The miracles of King Jesus demonstrated His royal authority.
Writing about authority in 2021 is clearly a delicate task. Our society is asking fundamental questions about the presence and the use of power, and answers vary radically. But the first century was no less tenuous. The Roman Empire and Jewish leaders alike deserved the condemnation Ezekiel had given to wicked rulers centuries before: “As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock; (Ezekiel 34:8).” But a new King is now on the scene, full of grace and truth, and He is prepared to demonstrate that His authority is legitimate and total.
At the beginning of our chapter, a paralyzed man was brought to Jesus on a stretcher. Jesus saw the faith of the man and those who brought him and said the one thing no one was expecting: “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.” Two things stand out here. First, Jesus demonstrated His priority of the soul over the body. Second, Jesus shows that He believes He has the right to forgive sins, which is God’s prerogative alone.
The Pharisees’ response is perfectly reasonable. This kind of talk is blasphemy! They wonder, “Does [Jesus] think he’s God?” and Jesus replies to their thoughts. He asks an interesting question: “Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’?” To prove that He has the authority to do the thing they could not see, He does something they can see: He gives the paralyzed man the strength to stand. The people were amazed, but did not really understand the significance of what Jesus had done, and only thought of Jesus as an especially blessed man. The Pharisees understood the importance of Jesus’ claim, but did not worship Him.
How do the Pharisees explain this away? We only find out at the end of the chapter, after He has continually demonstrated His power over disease, sin, and death itself. They claim that He is casting out demons by the power of the devil. They see His power – the ability to act – but reject His authority – the right to do so. The miracles were wasted on them because they did not recognize them as the divine stamp of approval on Jesus. But how do we respond? Do we cherish Jesus for what He can do for us, or do we worship because what He can do reminds us of who He is?
Discussion Idea: Was there any miracle which Jesus could have done to persuade the Pharisees? Can a miracle convince a skeptic today?
Prayer Focus: Pray that we will not see God’s blessings for their own sake, but will see them as pointers to God’s heart.