Tuesday, February 9, 2021

February 9 -Exodus 3, Matthew 28

 Key verse: Exodus 3:8

Big idea: God came down out of Heaven to rescue Israel.

"Omnipresent" is one of the most important theological terms at our disposal. Its meaning, at least on the surface, is as simple as looking up that "omni" means "all." It is also plain that no one who takes Scripture seriously can deny that God is all-present (Psalm 139:7-10, Jeremiah 23:24, Matthew 28:20). If God is everywhere all the time then He was in Pharaoh's palace, with the Hebrew slaves being beaten at the construction sites, and with the Native Americans on the other side of the world. But there are also tantalizing passages like Genesis 11:5-7, where God "comes down" to the Tower of Babel to judge the people there, or Genesis 18:21 where He did the same in Sodom. On the other hand, God promised to go personally with Jacob to Egypt (Genesis 46:4). 

In a true sense, God is everywhere all the time, but He also chooses to be in certain places in a more intense way at certain times. Coming down is obviously a metaphor, a spiritual reality put into terms we can comprehend, but it shows us that God is paying particular attention to a person or place. In Exodus 3, God has come down. Like an open-air Temple, the presence of God descended on a bush on Mount Horeb (another name for Sinai) and told Moses that he was standing in a holy place. God has come down to judge the Egyptians and to lead the Israelites out. He has come down to commission Moses for His task. 

This same terminology will be used later in Exodus, when God descends on Sinai to give Moses the Law. But these descents are all imperfect and partial. God cannot be revealed completely, because human beings are unable to survive the experience (Exodus 33:20). But God had a greater plan, for when He would come down all the way. He descended to the Earth, not as shining glory (what later rabbis would call the Shekinah), but as a baby in a manger. He came down not for a few moments as a bush that burned and was not consumed, but fully took on humanity without His divinity consuming it. He lived a full life, truly died, and truly rose again to give us access to God. The great rescue that began with the burning bush is simply a foreshadowing of the greater rescue we have in Christ.

Discussion idea: What are the limitations of the language of God "coming down"? What does it tell us, and what is it unable to get across?

Prayer focus: Lord, thank you for coming down to me, when I could never get to you. 

Key Verse: Matthew 28:19

Big Idea: Jesus the King sends us out to bring people in.

Matthew 28 is the triumphant conclusion of the story of Jesus’ earthly life. He came to bring in the Kingdom but was rejected by the very people He came to liberate. Although He healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons, the people failed to recognize Him. Jesus came to be the Messiah, the Christ, of Israel, but we crowned our King with thorns. Rejected by the religious and secular elites alike, Jesus hung on a cross and cried out - forsaken by God Himself. Bearing the sins of the world, Jesus died alone.

But on the third day, everything changed. Death could not hold the One who is the Life, and He rose again. The angel rolled away the stone so that people could see He had risen. Our faith does not rest on philosophical theory, but historical fact: the tomb was empty! Rising again, He reclaimed all of the glory He had temporarily laid aside for His ministry. He reclaimed His eternal Kingdom. No longer did He tell His disciples to go to the nation of Israel alone, but to the whole world. All authority in Heaven and Earth is His - and as the rightful King, His people were to take the good news of His Kingdom from East to West.

The old petty tyrant of sin was defeated, and our guilt expunged by the ultimate sacrifice. Master Death is dead because Jesus Himself made the path to life. Sorrow, fear, and pain have lost their realm and are swallowed up by hope. Our ancient slave drivers have passed away: a new King has come, and He is (in the words of the Jesus Storybook Bible) is making all the sad things come untrue. He did not come with swords or armies, but alone, seeking righteousness, mighty to save. This is our message: liberty to the captives and joy to the mourners. As the old hymn says: “Send the Light!” 

The world is dark today. COVID-19, injustice, political division, and global superpowers breathing threats all shake our security. As a pastor, I am always thrilled to find out that everyone knows how I should navigate this new landscape except me. But of course, the truth is that none of us know how to handle this brave new world, and the chaos of our personal lives only adds fog. But the message we bring supersedes all of those concerns. Jesus has beaten death! No oppressor can claim us when the true King has freed us. 

We can do many good things. Feeding the hungry and defending the orphan and the widow are essential manifestations of our love, but we should never lose sight of our commission: take the message out to the people who are still in chains, that they can come into God’s family. We announce that message to them (the true King is here!), let them publicly identify as Jesus’ servants through baptism, and teach them how to live the way He taught. But it all begins with going to those outside and bringing them in.

Discussion idea: Have you ever been lonely and had someone reach out to you? What did that feel like? Have you ever reached out to someone who alone? What makes us do that, or not do that?

Prayer focus: Pray for a specific person who needs to be saved, or for a saved person who needs the encouragement to continue walking with God. Write their initials on a small piece of paper or a sticky note to be reminded to pray for them for the next week.

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