Wednesday, January 27, 2021

January 26 - Genesis 28, Matthew 19

 Key verse: Genesis 28:12

Big idea: In the beginning, Heaven met Earth.

On the run from Esau. Jacob left the promised land and began working his way north to Haran (Ha-RON), the city where Abraham's family had settled many years before and which was apparently named after Abraham's brother (the father of Lot). This does not seem like the steady forward march of progress: the heir is going backward! Like many of us, he was not yet prepared to receive the blessings God had already secured. His sin drove him away from the land of his inheritance and he would not return until he was a changed man. 

Jacob stopped for the night at a place called Luz, about twelve miles north of Jerusalem. He didn't know it, but Abraham had been to the same place (Genesis 12). He set up a rock as a pillow (the source of the line "my rest a stone" in Nearer, My God, to Thee, a hymn which is drawn largely from this passage) and fell asleep. In his dream, God revealed a staircase that stretched down from Heaven and rested on the Earth, with angels going back and forth between. God Himself was at the top. The world was sinful and God no longer walked with people as He did in the Garden of Eden, but He has not completely cut humanity off from Himself. He continues to bring His blessings down through these angelic mediators and speaks to the children of Abraham.

The Lord promised Jacob that he would return to this land and that, achieved by deception or not, the blessing of Abraham would be passed onto him. When Jacob awoke, he named the place Bethel (Beth: House, El: God) and set it as an altar. By calling this place the house of God and the gate of Heaven, He recognized that a Temple was not something any human could create from their own grit. He had been in a holy place without even knowing it! Our access to God is all of grace. The tower of Babel 
(Babylon is a similar word that means gate of the gods) could not ascend to the heavens, but God provided a bridge between his people and himself here.  We don't reach Him, we simply recognize and honor the place He has come down to us. 

All of this is interesting and important. But why am I spending time on it in such a short survey of the Old Testament? In John 1, Nathanael becomes one of Jesus' first disciples. Verses 50-51 are worth quoting in full: "Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." Nathanael had been impressed by a miracle, where Jesus had seen him when it was physically impossible, but Jesus predicted that he would see something far greater: when angels ascended up and down the Son of man from Heaven. Jesus, by alluding to the events at Bethel, claimed that He is the true House of God, the true place where Heaven and Earth collide, and the true way to Heaven. Jesus is Jacob's ladder, and we will either ascend to God on this way He has provided or not at all.

Discussion idea: How does learning the Old Testament background help you to understand the New Testament better? Why do you think Christians tend to neglect the Old Testament?
Prayer focus: Thank you, God, for providing a way for us to be where you are, even though our own strength could never accomplish it. Thank you for sending your Son to be raised up on a cross so that we might be lifted to You.

Key verse: Matthew 19:26

Big Idea: In God’s Kingdom, the impossible is possible. 

Matthew 19 is a chapter full of overwhelming demands. First, a group comes to Jesus to ask about divorce: under what conditions can a man leave his wife? The Master’s response is unflinching. Marriage is not a human act but a divine one. When a man leaves his father and mother, God makes him one with his wife. What God has put together, people should not separate. From the permission for unfaithfulness and Paul’s discussion of abandonment, we can say that a Christian may only dissolve their marriage when their partner has already broken it. The disciples, maybe half-jokingly, said it was better to never marry at all if there was no escape clause. But Jesus agreed with them. Some people are given a special gift of singleness, but those who did marry entered into a holy union. The demand seemed impossible. 

Later, a wealthy young man came to Jesus to ask what he needed to do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In response, Jesus listed the fifth through ninth commandments and the summary: love your neighbor as yourself. Enthusiastic (perhaps at the absence of the tenth one), the rich young ruler claimed he had done it all and asked what else he lacked. Jesus came at the tenth commandment indirectly. Rather than asking if he had been covetous, Jesus asked the man to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor. This seemed impossible and the man went away sorrowful. 

Of course, salvation is not by charitable donation. Jesus, in the same tradition as Nathan rebuking David through a story, used a specific situation to expose the man’s heart. When they were alone, Jesus told the disciples that it was very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom. This was shocking to the disciples who assumed that a rich person must be especially favored by God. How could anyone be saved if a rich person could not? They were right in a sense. It is impossible for any sinner to enter the Kingdom. But God is in the impossible business.

No part of our lives or our ministries can be done in our own power. Raising a family, leading a church, or even coming to Christ personally are all beyond what we could ever do. But God does not call us to gather up the strength to climb some mountain. Instead, He calls us to trust Him and let His power work through us. The one who raises the dead and made the stars with His voice is the One who loved us enough to die for us. With Him, the impossible is possible. 

Discussion Idea: In what areas of your life do you have to trust God? Are you guilty of human-sized goals to avoid the need for faith?

Prayer Focus: Pray for God’s perspective. Problems that seem insurmountable or temptations that seem overwhelming are nothing before the might and wisdom of God. 

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