Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Well: February 3-7

The Well: February 3 – 7

February 3: Genesis 47, 48

Jacob and his sons, and their entire clan have been rescued from starvation, and brought to Egypt. Here we see the continued blessing from God on Jacob. The best land in Egypt is given to the clan and they prosper during the same period that found the Egyptians having to sell both their possessions and themselves to Pharaoh in order to stay alive.

Joseph’s trials, at the hands of his brothers, have turned out to be the very plan of God to bless the clan of Jacob. They have been brought to a place where they will grow into the nation that God promised to Abraham.

Despite their prosperity in Egypt, Jacob recognizes that it is not his home. He will not allow his sons to bury him there. The promise that he extracts from them is meant to show a final maturity in him. He has come to recognize that Canaan – the land God has promised to him and his children – is his home, the land of promise, the land so connected with God’s promise to make of them a nation from whom will come the “he” to deliver the world from the brokenness of sin. Jacob understands it now, and Moses lets us understand this by beginning to use the name Israel interchangeably with Jacob in these final chapters.

In a scene very much reminiscent of his own appearance before Isaac many years before, an aged Jacob now welcomes Joseph and his two sons – Ephraim and Manasseh – and grants the sons a blessing. And like Jacob’s gaining of the blessing from Isaac, Jacob engages in some surprises. He stretches out his hands and grants the younger son – Ephraim – the position of honor. This is highly unusual, but we have come to expect such things as we have traced the promise through Jacob rather than Esau, his older brother and firstborn. This also sets us up to understand that God is in charge, and when he chooses Judah (Abraham’s 4th son) instead of Reuben, Simeon, or Levi, we recognize that God works according to his plan, and is not bound by human wisdom or tradition.

Prayer: Gracious Father, today I realize that you have granted me your blessing, through your Son Jesus Christ. Because of him I am accepted and forgiven and empowered to walk as your child. Thank you for drawing me to yourself, for opening my eyes to my sin and your grace. Lord, may everything I do today reflect that fact that I am yours, and you are mine, forever! In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

February 4: Genesis 49, 50

Today we finish the great book of Genesis. In it we have seen the establishment of the world, and the people of God, and the promise of God that will eventually bring deliverance to all creation in the person of Jesus. We’ve traced the beginnings of the promise, and will see its continued fulfillment in the coming Old Testament books.

The book ends with two significant “tie downs” to the themes we’ve already seen being traced through its chapters. First, in chapter 49 we see each of Jacob’s sons stand before him to receive a “blessing” from him. This blessing, granted to each of the sons, continues to declare the theme of God’s promise to restore what was lost in Eden through a people that will emerge from Abraham.

The individual blessings speak about what will happen to each of the brothers “in days to come.” Jacob is peering into the future, and pronouncing it.

As soon as we hear Reuben’s – the firstborn – blessing, we realize we are not going in the traditional direction. He is cursed for his sexual defilement of his father’s concubine. Simeon and Levi are grouped together and are disqualified as well for their treachery in Shechem.

Judah is the first to receive a substantive blessing. Here we see him elevated, and symbolized as a lion (The Lion of Judah). Vs. 10 is a prophetic declaration of the future Davidic kingly line.

All of the individual blessings are short compared to those of Judah, and Joseph. As we have seen, these two brothers occupy central stage in the unfolding drama of the final section of Genesis. Joseph appears as a “type” of the Messiah who is rejected by his brothers, sold into death, rescued by God and raised to a place where he can deliver his people. But, in the end, it is Judah who is chosen to be the line of promise. Through Judah will come the house of David, and from David’s line will come Messiah – Jesus the Christ.

Prayer: Father, thank you for preserving the story of Genesis. In this great book I have traced your sovereign care for your creation, and the promise of deliverance for your people. You have proven yourself to be faithful, even when circumstances seemed insurmountable. Lord, work your ways in me, that I might be faithful to you today, through the power of your Spirit who lives in me. In Jesus Name, Amen.

February 5: Matthew 1, 2

Today we begin the Gospel of Matthew. Tradition is strong that the author was one of the 12 disciples whose calling to leave the business of collecting taxes to follow the Lord is found in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:13-17 and Luke 5:27-28). The book itself seems aimed at Jewish readers as seen in the numerous times Old Testament events and teaching are mentioned.

Matthew’s reason for beginning with a genealogy is apparent. Given that his theme will be the appearance of the Kingdom of God, it is necessary to demonstrate the “kingly” stature of Jesus as descended from David. The title in vs. 1 gives it directly. Jesus is “Jesus Christ (Messiah) the son of David.”

There are some interesting facts about Matthew’s genealogy: There are 4 women mentioned, which was highly unusual for that day (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah). Of them two are non-Jews. Of Jacob’s 12 sons we see Judah as the one through which the Messianic promise will be fulfilled. Matthew clearly distinguishes Judah as preeminent through the phrase “Judah and his brothers.”  Both Perez and Zerah are mentioned since they are twins, but the promise line runs through Perez, the second born.

The supernatural conception of Jesus is set forth without apology, and the character of Joseph as a righteous man is clear. What they and their culture may view as disgraceful is actually the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) originally made to Isaiah himself, and now seen as transcending that historical situation to speak dramatically to the plan of God.

The actual birth of Jesus is not described seemingly because Matthew’s purpose for writing demands other material be given to the reader. The visit of foreign royalty, the Magi, shows that Jesus, while born in lowly circumstances, was himself royalty.

Their appearance before Herod provokes him to action and the decree to slaughter the babies threatens to undo what God has done. But, like their forefather Jacob and his family before them, Joseph and Mary and Jesus are “rescued” from danger by travelling to find refuge in Egypt. The themes of Genesis are still being recounted in the lives of those through whom the ancient promise of Messiah will now be fulfilled.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, help me not to marvel at the birth of Jesus only during Christmas. May every day be filled with awe at your love, that you would give your only Son to deliver me from bondage to sin. Lord, help me to take every advantage of the opportunities you send my way today, that through my life you may be glorified. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

February 6: Matthew 3, 4

As you read these two chapters you probably noticed several times (thinking of chapters 1,2 as well!) that use was made of Old Testament texts. Matthew’s audience was most certainly primarily Jewish, and his presentation that Jesus was the Messiah would carry no weight if it could not as well be shown that his life was a fulfillment of several Old Testament prophecies.

The coming of John the Baptist as the “forerunner” is an important element for Matthew. John’s message is a proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. His job is to announce the coming of the King so that the people will be prepared to welcome him correctly. That John dresses and acts like Elijah of old only enhances his position and proclamation.

Like most Old Testament prophets, John illustrates his message with a ritual. In this case, it is baptism. At the time, there were three distinct places a person could be “ritually cleansed”: The Temple ritual at Jerusalem was in full swing, while the exiled community of Qumran offered ritual cleansing as well. But Jesus, knowing that his choice would communicate identification eschewed both Qumran’s community and the religious establishment of Jerusalem in order to identify with John’s message. And at his baptism, Jesus is announced to be the Son of God by the Father. In this event we see the triune God acting in concert: Father, Son, and Spirit.

The temptations brought to Jesus by Satan provide his readers with a poignant comparison with Adam. Unlike the first Adam who succumbed by disobeying God’s Word bringing death and brokenness, Jesus – the second Adam – overcomes Satan’s temptation with the Word. This catapults Jesus into public ministry.

The calling of twelve disciples must remind us of the twelve sons of Jacob from whom the nation of Israel came. Israel’s great purpose was to bring forth the Messiah. Now the Messiah will bring redemption to the world through the spiritual offspring of Abraham … the church (Galatians 3:29).

Prayer: Dear heavenly father, once again I am in awe of the way you oversee all things. Thank you for showing me the great plan of redemption that brought Jesus to our world, and to me. I know that I don’t deserve your love, but I also know that your love for me has changed my life. Father, keep me ever grateful for your forgiveness, and grow my faith and knowledge of you that I might be more useful for your kingdom, through Jesus my Savior, Amen.

February 7: Matthew 5, 6

Jesus’ public ministry was immediately able to draw great crowds. His authoritative teaching and his ability to heal all manner of diseases made him an immediate sensation. People travelled distances (4:25) just to see and hear him. Here we see that his mighty works have given him a certain validation among the people. They want to hear what he has come to say.

The teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5-7 is known as The Sermon on the Mount and describes Jesus’ first recorded exhortations to the people of his day. It took place in a natural theatre on the slope above the Sea of Galilee. While the specific audience was his disciples, it is clear that he intended the large crowd to eavesdrop as well.

At first glance it is easy to see that the teaching of Jesus has great parallel to the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. He ascends a mountain, and begins giving instruction to his disciples and the crowd. His teaching begins with a list of specifics known as the Beatitudes, just as Moses first received the Ten Commandments. He goes on to speak about the Law using the formula “You have heard … but I say …” five times in chapter 5. But Jesus is clear: he has not come to abolish the Law or Prophets (the teaching of the Old Testament) but rather to bring their teaching to its intended fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. He is here asserting that he is a Law-giver, and the people – like Moses – would do well to recognize his position and follow his pronouncments.

The religious leaders of Israel had for years piled thoughts and interpretations on the Old Testament to the place where the original intent of God had become largely obscured. Like an oak table that has been painted, and varnished and painted time and again, the Law must be loosed from its layers of human tradition. This is what Jesus does.

Chapter six presents Jesus’ ethical guidelines for living worthy of God’s heart, as revealed in chapter 5. He specifically speaks to the religious activities of the day, but impresses the audience with the need for heart-felt sincerity toward God. Helping the poor, praying, and fasting are considered but the principles extend to all the areas of human endeavor. The summary is this: Seek the things of God and the Kingdom first. Make his righteousness your focus, and find your security in him.

Prayer: Father, today I ask that you would help me to be “poor in spirit”, to realize that you are great, and I am fully dependent upon your grace, mercy, and strength. Keep me from thinking more highly of myself than I ought to think, but also to consider rightly the position you’ve given me in this world, the privilege I have of knowing you, and the partnership you’ve called me to in displaying your truth and love in my world, through the Spirit of God who dwells in me, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.


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