The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-four)

Acts 10:37-38

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (NIV).

One of the difficulties of presenting biblical teaching in a survey form, like this series about the Holy Spirit, is the presentation of teaching without an adequate understanding of the context. The message of the Bible is the story of God’s glory in Christ through salvation by judgment. Please invest some time in reading Acts 10:17- 48 to grasp the immediate context of this greater story. In his message to his Gentile audience, Peter had to familiarize his audience with the narrative of the Bible to show how God acted in Christ to bring salvation to all nations. Peter explained as an eyewitness how he saw Jesus as he fulfilled God’s plan for his glory. We must never forget this underlying purpose. It is God’s story that we need to listen to and then accept by faith in Christ. We do not read verses merely to collect information. We listen to the Spirit of God speak through chosen men to tell God’s message. As this happens, we learn truth about God and ourselves that can transform us. Peter was not giving an informational talk but one that was transformational. Again, I urge you to read the passage.

What are the Four Gospels? They are God’s written testimony to what God did in his Son to save his people to glorify his name. In the Gospels, we read of God the Son in true humanity coming to set up a new humanity from the wreck of the old creation. It is not by accident that John and Mark start their Gospels with words referring to this “new beginning”. John, more profound and theological, starts from the time of the first creation and briefly sketches history up to the entrance of the Son. Mark, more powerful and direct, drives the point home immediately. Matthew and Luke, after setting the arrival of the Son in history, refer to the purpose of God in the coming of the Son as announced in the Old Testament Scriptures (Matthew 4:12-17; Luke 4:16-21). Part of the purpose of the Old Testament Scriptures is to show the wreck that human sin has made of everything and our absolute need for a better Redeemer, a better Mediator, and a better Priest than occurred in the wreck of the ages past.

My point in mentioning this is to open up the practical importance of this article. Diamonds are very beautiful, but to enjoy their beauty people set them in place—in a ring, on a necklace, or some other kind of jewelry. The Lord Jesus Christ is the surpassing diamond. And the Father has provided the jewelry of the Gospels to enjoy his beauty until we see him face to face. You and I need to know that the Son of God, in fulfillment of the Father’s purpose, came to set up a radically new age in history. The Bible, like the facets of a diamond, speaks of this great change in various ways: the new creation, the new age, the kingdom of God, and the new covenant. We need to know that God has made us part of this by his grace to us in Christ. And we need to know that to live in this new age involves living by faith in the crucified, risen and ascended Christ in the Holy Spirit poured out on us. Here Peter presents the power of the Spirit of God during the earthly ministry of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are part of something glorious! Since we are, we should listen well. And we should live accordingly.

Grace and peace, David

Thoughts on Leviticus (Part Two)

img_3270Leviticus 9

And Moses said, “This is the thing that the Lord commanded you to do, that the glory of the Lord may appear to you” (Leviticus 9:6 ESV).

Leviticus presents the worship and way of life of God’s old covenant people. The time of the law or old covenant occupied a specific period in the history of redemption. It started at the giving of the law covenant at Sinai after the exodus from Egypt. It ended with the great events of the gospel: Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and pouring out of the Spirit on Pentecost. God’s people under the law were required to live under its rituals and regulations. We look at that time from the perspective of its fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah. Or, perhaps I should say, we ought to look at them that way. But do we know enough about that time to understand what God was doing during the working out of his plan in redemptive history?

Exodus tells the story of God setting his people free from slavery in Egypt, the formation of Israel as his covenant people, the giving of the law covenant, and the building of the tabernacle. It was at the tabernacle that the sacrifices listed in Leviticus 1-7 had to be offered. Leviticus 8 tells us about the consecration of Aaron and his sons to offer the sacrifices of the law. Here we see the binding together of the priesthood and the law as referred to in Hebrews 7:11-12.

This brings us to Leviticus 9. The significance of this chapter is overlooked, because we forget or fail to consider the larger story of God. When God gave the law, he caused his glory to shine (Exodus 19-24). After the people had sinned with the golden calf, Moses pleaded that he would let him see his glory (Exodus 33). When the tabernacle was set up, the Lord’s glory filled it (Exodus 40:34-38). In our text at the start of this article, Moses told Aaron and his sons that the Lord had promised an appearance of his glory to them. The living God had committed to make known his glory through their worship. People could know that the God of glory was with them. He was in a covenant relationship with them. The glorious God had accepted them as his people.

The end of the chapter records the historical event of this fulfilled promise. Aaron made the prescribed offerings, as the Lord had commanded (Leviticus 9:8-22). Read that passage like you were there watching. What would happen next? And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces (Leviticus 9:23-24). Some truths to think about:

  • Moses and Aaron went in the tabernacle after they had done what the Lord had commanded. The ministry of the priests had begun, and there was access to God.
  • When they came out of the tabernacle, they blessed the people. This was an event for the whole covenant community.
  • Next, the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. God kept his promise. Later through Isaiah, the Lord God made another promise of the appearance of his glory through his Son. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 40:5).
  • God answered by fire from heaven. Later this would happen at the dedication of the temple (2 Chronicles 7:1) and when Elijah opposed the false prophets (1 Kings 18:38).
  • The response of the people was praise and worship

In the new covenant, we also experience the glory of God. On Pentecost, tongues of fire appeared to the church and rested on every member. The Spirit of God had been poured out on the people of God. Now, we are in Christ, our new covenant with God. We have surpassing glory (2 Corinthians 3:10) and the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us (1 Peter 4:14), the whole new covenant community. Do we respond with praise and worship?

Grace and peace, David

An Unexpected Meeting

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Luke 1:11-17

We are exploring the idea that the early verses of Luke provide the setting for the Christmas story and for the whole story of God’s glory in Christ that Luke publishes. In the previous article, we saw the historical setting and the old covenant setting. God worked out his message in real history and consistent with his covenant dealings with Israel. Next, we see that the narrative contains the unexpected ways of the Lord.

And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him (Luke 1:11-12 ESV).

The angel of the Lord completely surprised Zechariah, by his appearance in the temple. Because of the relatively compact narrative on the Scriptures, we tend to think that meetings between angels and humans were common, supposing people in Bible met with angels once a month. That simply did not happen. Most people lived their lives and never met an angel. Hundreds of years might pass even in Israel without an angelic encounter. The nearest in time interaction between a human and an angel recorded in the Bible before this event was with Zechariah the prophet, who lived almost five hundred years before Zechariah the priest. When the angel of the Lord appeared in the temple, Zechariah had no previous experience with meeting and talking with an angel. This appearance prepares the stage for the unexpected appearances of angels to Mary (Luke 1:26-27) and to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-14). When you read through Luke, you will discover the Lord doing many unexpected actions. (I won’t list these in the hope that you will read them yourself. The joy of discovery is important in the learning process!) Notice also the true to life reaction to the sudden, unlooked for, appearance of the supernatural. Zechariah was troubled and afraid. Compare the like response to the angels and to the Lord in Luke’s account of Christ’s resurrection (24:4-5, 36-37).

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth (Luke 1:13-14 ESV).

The angel surprised Zechariah with good news. People who long for children will pray for them. God sent the angel to encourage the priest with answered prayer. We confess our dependence on the Lord when we pray. Joy happens when God answers our requests! Many times we have heard others rise to praise God for answered prayer. The angel also told the priest the gender of the child, apart from the need for an ultrasound. Their son was on the way. They would also be spared the effort of looking through lists of baby boy names, because God had named him. God also promised joy and gladness for the parents. Long years of waiting would end in joy.

“For he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:15-17 ESV).

His child had an unanticipated mission. He would be the forerunner of the Messiah! While they prayed for a child, they would not have dreamed that their son would be given this important spiritual task. John would be the one foretold by Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 40:3-5). By the Holy Spirit, he would have a part in turning many to the Lord. Luke will write about how the Lord would use many men and women in the Lord’s mission. God’s call of grace and power would come to them to do what they never expected to do. For example, read the stories of Philip, Barnabas, and Paul in the Acts.

For us, are ready to do unexpected things for the Lord? Perhaps you are middle aged or even old now. Your life seems to be moving on at a slow and unspectacular pace. But God can step into your life and call you to reach others for Christ and to spread the knowledge of the glory of the Lord in unexpected places. Are you ready?

Grace and peace, David

When God Seems Distant in a Broken World

SAMSUNGPsalm 10:1-11

As already remarked, Psalms Nine and Ten are companion songs or perhaps they were originally one psalm. As David meditated on God’s rule and the life of his people in a fallen, broken world, he presented two sides of reality. In Psalm Nine, David looked at God’s rule and supremacy over all, even when people are oppressed and afflicted. Next, in Psalm Ten his focus is on the suffering of people in this broken world. David wrote this psalm for God’s people in their worship and praise, and unlike much of contemporary Christendom where everything has to turn out “right” in our view, David willingly made known the heartache and pain of brokenness. People do not need religious fantasies.  We need to hear the truth about God and our brokenness. Then we will be prepared to understand and rely on God’s answer.

David had a privileged position in the purposes of God. The Messiah or God’s Anointed One would come from his line. He could face the future with some degree of certainty. Though this was true, David had to live through his then present, hard circumstances. This will always be the life of people of faith. We have great hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, but we have difficulties in this present, broken world. “It is a function of the Psalms to touch the nerve of this problem and keep its pain alive, against the comfort of our familiarity, or indeed complicity, with a corrupt world” (Kidner, Commentary on Psalms 1-72).

David opens Psalm Ten with a question about God’s inaction during times of trouble. Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (10:1 ESV). I’m sure we have all experienced David’s mood and have most likely uttered words like this to God. This is what life is like in a broken world. We dare to think that the Lord is standing far away from us, and when that doesn’t arouse him, we become bolder and accuse him of hiding himself. The living God is not playing a cosmic game of hide and seek with us. Yet we can feel like he is. The Holy Spirit, who inspired David to write these words, is not afraid of our worries or our brashness. He informs us that it is all right to state matters from our limited point of view. When two people can talk out their problems, we say that they have a healthy relationship, though the discussion might be painful. I am not hinting that we should be irreverent; my point is reality. It’s part of the boldness that belongs to everyone in God’s family. I make this point because I have heard a few people confess that they were angry with God. I have seen too many hide the pain of their hearts behind “church smiles”. We can tell the Lord what we think and feel about situations.

Next, David describes the condition of evil people that are a major problem in our broken world. He paints a general picture. Thankfully, not everyone manifests all these characteristics. But they do provide sketches of people who oppose God and his people.

  • They oppress the weak (10:1). Notice the vivid imagery. They plan (“schemes”) their downfall and pursue (“hunts down”) them to ruin. Wicked people despise weak people. They are targets for their own enrichment or for displays of their own power.
  • They brag about what they crave in their hearts (10:3a). This is ugly. Self-satisfaction at the expense of others is a way of life for the wicked. Think of the sex slave traders, the con artists, the identity thieves, and dishonest salespeople. Oh, and what about financial institutions that charge exorbitant fees and interest? Those profiting from such schemes laugh about their abuse of others.
  • Their values are reversed (10:3b). The wicked person blesses the greedy and reviles theLord (NIV). Greed is a serious sin (Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:10). The wicked congratulates those who exploit others, and at the same time slander the Lord.
  • They have no room for God in their thoughts (10:4). Their view of reality is limited by their own senses, experiences, and opinions. They are too pride to seek God; they do not even want to consider God, because they grossly over exaggerate their supposed intellects. “We’ve got everything figured out. Needing God or gods is an indication of foolishness.” Yet a simple list of what they don’t understand could fill thousands of web pages. Here is the root of atheism or functional atheism. People have no room for God in their thoughts, nor do they desire to have room for them. We’ll see why in the next verses (10:5-11).

Invest time in reading this section. Any successful professional sports team understand the opposition. In order to reach out to people with the good news of Christ and salvation, we must know their condition.  Then we can speak with wisdom and compassion.

Grace and peace, David

Ruth’s Surprising Conversion

IMG_1100Ruth 1:16-18

Last time we saw that Naomi’s words forced Ruth and Orpah to face the real consequences that their intended return to Israel could lead to. Naomi painted her situation in bleak terms; there was no hope of her providing husbands for them, which was very important in the ancient world. In addition, Naomi said that God was strongly against her. As Orpah heard all this, she made the sensible, but ungodly choice of returning to Moab and forfeited the spiritual blessings that could have been hers. Ruth, however, made the godly and kind choice by deciding to stay with Naomi. But Naomi did not seem pleased with Ruth’s choice. Now what will Ruth do?

In this section, we hear Ruth speak for the first time, and her words are majestic and poetic. Naomi had been telling Ruth to return to Moab. Ruth responded with a command of her own. She told Naomi to stop pressuring her to leave her. Ruth had become a believer in the true and living God, and she wanted Naomi to realize that great change.

What were the basic parts of Ruth’s conversion?

First, Yahweh (the Lord), the true and living God, became her God. Ruth words referred back to God’s promise that forms the basis of his covenant with his people (Genesis 17:7-8; Exodus 6:6-7; Leviticus 26:12; cf. Jeremiah 11:4). When God is your God, he is your boss, your rescuer, your provider, and your confident expectation. You trust and depend on God alone. You acknowledge God’s right to direct the world and your life in conformity with his goals and purposes (Job 2:10). Ruth’s confession showed that she had the same spirit of faith that Abraham had, and in some ways, hers was more remarkable. She left her native land for the Promised Land, but without any promise of land or assurance of God’s blessing that led Abraham out. She went to Israel without spouse or possessions or servants (which Abraham had) toward an unclear future as a widow in a foreign land with another widow. What was the core of Ruth’s faith? She had tasted and seen that the Lord is good; she knew that a person is blessed if he or she takes refuge in him (Psalm 34:8). She delighted in the Lord, not in his gifts.

Second, Yahweh’s people became her people. Ruth changed her “people group” from Moabite to Israelite. When you trust God, you become part of his people. It’s a package deal (cf. 1 John 4:7-8). In Ruth’s day, God’s people were Israel; in our day, it’s the church, Christ’s new assembly, his body and his bride. So Ruth threw in her lot with people whom her native people had formerly opposed. This has happened throughout history when anyone puts his or her faith in the true God. That might turn your former people against you. Depending on the time period, you could be called such hated names as Christian, Anabaptist, Reformed, fanatic, schismatic, Holy Roller, Bible thumper, fundamentalist, born again, etc. You see, people hate real change—a change of worldview and way of life—and so they despise anyone who stands for real change. Ruth had to “count the cost”. She faced an uncertain future as a widow with no apparent way of support among a people that she did not know. She is an example of the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 8:21; 10:37; 19:29).

Too often, God’s people prove to be a disappointment. Some witty Christian put it this way. “To live above, with saints in love, that will indeed by glory! But to live below, with some saints I know—well, that’s a different story!” Or as another wrote more seriously, “So too we may often find the Lord’s people to be a disappointing bunch, exhibiting fewer of the fruits of the Spirit than we would like… Yet flawed as the people of God are, if the Lord is to be our God then his people must be our people, too” (Duguid). When you hang around any true Christian long enough, you are going to see the sad, disgusting work of remaining sin (the flesh), as well as the better fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Third, Yahweh’s promises became her hope. It is easy to pass over Ruth’s reference to burial, until we remember burial customs of that time. (Consider the burial customs of the patriarchs in Genesis.) People were buried with their people, in whatever hope they had of an afterlife. “Given the intimate connection between land and deity in the ancient Near East, and the importance of proper burial for a restful afterlife, this was the ultimate commitment in the ancient world” (Duguid). So then, Ruth cut all ties with her past, including death and burial. She illustrates the kind of commitment Christ requires of his followers (Luke 9:57-62).

In summary, Ruth’s conversion touched all the dimensions of her life: in regard to geography, all locations; in chronology, from the present to the future; in theology, from idols to the living God; and in genealogy, from the Moabites to the Israelites. She committed herself to a new way of life. Though Ruth did not know it, her conversion would result in her becoming part of the line of David and of Jesus Christ. Her conversion was part of a much bigger story than her own.

Grace and peace, David

The Lord Plans the Way Back

IMG_0982Ruth 1:6-9

In this series we worship the Lord as we listen to his word to us in the book of Ruth. The book is one of the festival scrolls of the Jews. We call it the “scroll of kindness”. In our current text from Ruth, we encounter the idea of kindness for the first time. The Lord speaks to us about kindness, and so may his kindness toward people and our kindness to one another fill our lives.

In the opening section of this story, we have read of the tragic events that came into Naomi’s life. A famine struck her native land, and her husband Elimelech decided to take Naomi and their two sons to the foreign land of Moab, in order to attempt to provide for them. However, everything went wrong in Moab! First, Elimelech died. Next, Naomi’s sons married Moabite women, which because of the law and given the history of Israel and Moab was not a godly marital decision. And then, both of Naomi’s sons also died within ten years of arriving in Moab. So, Naomi was left with the triple of burden of being a widow, childless, and lacking any honorable means of financial support. Her condition appeared to be hopeless!

Many people, including religious or spiritual people, would simply collapse at the terrible blow that Naomi received. There are various ways this personal collapse can happen:

  • Some might abandon belief in God completely and criticize him angrily
  • Some might withdraw into a hermit-like shell of bitterness
  • Some might reinvent their religious beliefs, like denying God’s sovereignty or seeking ways to manipulate God by works and rituals to regain his blessing
  • Some might seek to ease their pain through alcohol and drug use
  • Some might turn to crime to provide for themselves and/or to seek revenge on God and others for their terrible condition
  • Some might commit suicide or make a suicide attempt to gain pity from others

However, Naomi did not give into despair. She did not run from the true and living God in this desperate hour of her life. Instead, she ran toward God with continued belief in his rule over all things and with the deep pain that fills her life. So then, this is a helpful message from God for us to listen to in these uncertain, tragedy-filled days in which we live.

Let’s begin with a great idea. God’s grace is active at the darkest times (1:6a). The Lord took the initiative. The Lord continued to work out his plan, the story of his glory in Jesus Christ. We must keep this in mind, or else we reduce the narrative parts of the Bible to mere moralistic lessons. Naomi’s problems and pain filled her life. But the account is in the Word, not merely to tell us about a woman who endured, and so somehow to inspire hope; instead, it tells how the living God took Naomi into his story as part of the path to Jesus the Messiah.

God set his plan in motion, before Naomi had any reason to hope. For years, she had not heard any hopeful news from her native land, Israel. But at the moment of her worst circumstances, God was already at work to change her life forever and to pursue the goal of his great story. At the loss of her sons, her thoughts were focused on her grief and needs. She had no idea that God was at that same time at work to help her.

She was still in Moab when good news came to her. The Lord did not wait until she was on the way back. No, he set in motion the process that would lead to her return to God and his people. Many times when we are flooded with sorrows and trials, we cannot see or fail to see how God is already at work for his glory and our good. This is part of our weakness as humans, but God knows our weaknesses and does what it takes to draw us to him or back to him. This is a good reason to worship the Lord!

The Lord came to the aid of his people, or more literally, “to take note of or look after”. When God takes note of people, it can be either in a positive or negative sense in the Old Testament Scriptures. Here it is plainly positive, as in Genesis 21:1; 50:24-25; Exodus 3:16; 4:31; 13:19; 1 Samuel 2:21; Psalm 8:4; Jeremiah 15:15; 29:10 Zephaniah 2:7; Zechariah 10:3.

God is in charge of providing food for his creatures (Psalm 145:15-16; cf. Matthew 6:11). Usually God uses what we call “natural means”, but he oversees the whole process and acts in positive or negative ways to give us food. Notice the worldview of the God’s word. It does not say things like, “the weather changed,” or “the raiders left”, or “there is an upturn in the economy”. Instead, the Holy Spirit emphasizes God’s activity. Here, God took note of the suffering of his people from the famine and he sent them bread. We need to restore a deliberate, conscious recognition of God’s care for his creatures. Food comes ultimately from God, not from the grocery store.

The person who believes in God will see God’s action in our present situation. Only if you see God at work now can you pray for his mercy for a recovery. “It is concentration on the Great Cause which teaches us to live by faith” (Atkinson). Look at each day as part of the process in which he acts toward the end of the story of his glory in Christ.

Grace and peace, David

Ideas in the Scroll of Kindness

IMG_0839Ruth 1:1-4:22

Today, let’s think about ideas to watch for in this short story that is part of the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. As each appears, there are links forward and back in God’s revelation of his person and purposes. The Lord wants us to grasp these, so that we worship him for all that he has accomplished in our salvation in Christ.

We need to know the general way of life under the law (or old covenant). God’s people lived under the law for approximately fifteen hundred years. The law is good, because it provided a way for God to live among his people. But we ought not to glamorize it, since it was a way of life ruled by law (cf. Acts 15:10). Now we live in a better covenant and Christ is our leader by the Spirit, and God lives in us.

The story of Ruth is about an extended family within God’s people Israel. God (Yahweh, the Lord) made a covenant with Israel at Sinai, and the lives of his covenant people were under the supervision of the law (Torah). The law influences and guides the story of Ruth with its regulations about gleaning, the task of the kinsman-redeemer, and marriage. The question about inheriting the land was important in the old covenant, and also in this story. What we will see in this story is very ordinary people facing very ordinary struggles of life, like food, marriage, children and property. (Is anyone reading this affected by real estate issues?)

The story of Ruth occurs during the time when the Judges ruled (Ruth 1:1). It was a time of turmoil and religious declension. There was famine, foreign oppression, civil war, and danger on the streets. People were living in disregard of God and his laws. But these terrible times were not utterly faithless times. God still had a remnant, chosen by grace (Romans 11:5), and in this story we read about the life of that struggling remnant.

Surprising contrasts – As you read Ruth you will notice many contrasts; for example, Ruth and Orpah, Ruth and Naomi, Ruth and Boaz, Boaz and the unnamed relative, God’s purposes and human plans, grief and joy, and for one more, emptiness and fullness. The Spirit of God wants us to view these contrasts and to learn from them.

We must see the place of kindness and redemption in the story of God’s glory. The book of Ruth highlights both these ideas. We will look carefully at them when we come to them, but as you read and reread Ruth, listen to what God is saying.

A great theme is the providence of God. How beautifully this story illustrates the truth of Romans 8:28 and 11:33-36! What do we mean by God’s providence?

  • It is God’s present activity in the world. God creates, and then he rules his creation to achieve the story of his glory in Christ. The Philadelphia Confession of Faith (1742) put it this way. “God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy” (Chapter 5.1). About a century earlier, the writers of the First London Confession wrote: “God in His infinite power and wisdom, doth dispose all things to the end for which they were created; that neither good nor evil befalls any by chance, or without His providence; and that whatsoever befalls the elect, is by His appointment, for His glory, and their good” (Article V).
  • In providence God proclaims that God is here, God cares, God rules and God provides, all according to his holiness, wisdom and love.
  • In Ruth we read of no miracle or special word from the Lord, yet we discern his unseen hand active throughout the entire story. People make choices, not on the basis of mystical guidance, but against or within the boundaries of God’s word. When they acted correctly, they acted in wisdom and by trusting God for the outcome. In other words, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz lived like you and I must live—according to the Scriptures and by faith. However, sadly unlike our typical responses, they recognized God’s activity. So then, this book is an invitation to become properly spiritual.

These are hard and uncertain times. The economic future for many is bleak, families are in turmoil, horrific violence spreads like a plague, and addictive sins are destroying lives. Our time is like the days that the judges ruled, as people turn from the living God to false gods, and enter into an increasingly desperate meaninglessness because of their foolish choices. Is there hope in such a time? Yes, there is, and that is one reason we need the message of Ruth in our dark hour. Please read the book of Ruth at least four times this week. And as you read, worship the Lord, as he teaches you about his full and flawless worth and glory.

Grace and peace, David

The Scroll of Kindness

IMG_0870Ruth 1:1-4:22

Hello my friends! Today, we begin a new study in the always precious and valuable word of God. Our subject is the book of Ruth, which is by a general consent an extremely well-written love story. Yet you can see that our title for this opening article is “the scroll of kindness”. Why such a title? And why is there such a book in the Bible, God’s written word?

First of all, let us think more generally about the Holy Scriptures (the Holy Writings). When we come to the Bible, we must come to it in conformity with what it presents itself to be. If we fail to do this, we will not profit from it. But what does the Bible tell us about itself? Here are five basic perspectives:

  • It is the word or message of the living God, which means it is sufficient and authoritative for what we believe and how we are to live (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  • It is true (John 17:17; cf. Titus 1:2)
  • It is a Christ-focused message (Luke 24:27, 44-47); its ideas and the way of life it presents are structured according to Christ
  • It is spiritually profitable (Psalm 19:7-11)
  • It must be listened to with faith in God (Hebrews 4:2)

Therefore, we must look at Ruth (meaning the book in the Bible) from the vantage point of all these perspectives. Here is an example from the first perspective. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

  • Teaching – what does Ruth contribute to knowing about God and his ways and the good news of Jesus Christ?
  • Rebuking – what areas of our thoughts, ideas, attitudes and actions does Ruth show us that need godly change?
  • Correcting – how can Ruth promote restoration and healing in our lives?
  • Training in righteousness – how does Ruth prepare us to serve Christ and others better?

With these ideas in mind, let us continue with a brief overview of Ruth. First, let’s think of a few general facts.

The author and date of writing of Ruth are unknown. Ideas vary widely, even among evangelical Christians. It is not a subject worth troubling one’s mind about too much, as long as you accept it as part of God’s word.

Ruth is an historical short story. It is named after one of the three main characters of the book. Ruth (the person) is mentioned only once in the New Testament Scriptures (Mt 1:5). The plot moves along by the actions and interactions of the three main characters. In chapters two through four, each in turn takes the initiative: Ruth, Naomi and finally Boaz. If you study the plot carefully, you will find that it seems to be a story about Naomi. (Due to space constraints, I will not demonstrate this now. Read Ruth for yourself this week and you will see this!) So then, if it is a story about Naomi, why is it called Ruth? To find the answer is to discover the purpose of the book.

The book of Ruth has always been accepted by God’s people as canonical—part of God’s word. But there are two divergent opinions about its place in the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures, which had three major divisions in ancient times: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (cf. Luke 24:44 for Jesus’ use of this general division). Our English Bibles are arranged differently: Law, History, Poetry, Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets. However, from the time of the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures called the Septuagint, Ruth was placed after Judges, and so we usually think of it as one of the books of History. Regretfully, this might distort the view of some about the book, assuming that it is a mere appendix to the larger book of Judges.

The older arrangement of the Hebrew people placed Ruth among the Writings, and within the Writings, it was considered one of the five festival scrolls. (Remember that the word was originally written on scrolls, not in book form.) Over time in Jewish worship, one of the five festival scrolls was read at each of the five major festivals. Ruth was usually read during the Feast of Weeks. The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to view each of these festival scrolls (Ruth, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther) from the standpoint of “promise and fulfillment” in regard to the story of God’s glory and to see each as a necessary contribution to our worship of God.

I encourage you to read Ruth on your own. Try reading it four times this week, making your own notes as you read. If you have a question, please contact me, and I’ll seek to answer it at some point in the blog or answer you directly.

Grace and peace, David

The Triumph of God’s Plan

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Isaiah 42:9

God reminds people of what he had done already. Often we see this in the Scriptures, as in the Psalms of salvation history (Psalms 78, 105, 106, etc.) God retells his story, so that we can have confidence in him during our present trials. Since we are his people also, we can meditate on his mighty works and his purpose in them and live in our situations with a godly perspective. Whatever has happened to God’s people previously happened because of his prophetic word, precious promises, and solemn covenants.

Now, in this Servant Song, Yahweh leads them into the future, into what he will accomplish in and through his Son, who is his Servant. He tells them this before these things happen, so that they can recognize that this is the word of the Lord (Isaiah 44:6-8; 45:20-23; 46:9-10). God announces that new events will occur. These are the events of Christ and his new and better covenant that he has just declared (42:6-7). And so God’s people can expect greater things. This is what happened when Jesus Christ came, lived among people, taught us, died for sinners on the cross, was buried, was raised to life on the third day, ascended into heaven, and poured out the Holy Spirit on all who believe. The newness includes God’s ultimate triumph when he makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).

God’s announcement of these new events is intended to lift up the Lord Jesus Christ before us in our thoughts and ideas. God wants us to have a radical change of mind about the Lord Christ and to trust in him for the light and liberation of salvation. He wants us to have Christ as the center point of our relationship with him, instead of spiritual experiences, performance of rituals, activity in church programs, or obedience to commands. Christ is our covenant. For this reason the Father asserts his glory, the glory of the One who chose and sent the Servant, that we might have a higher view of the Lord Jesus Christ. Are you among those who have repented and believed? How does this glorify God? He is greatly praised in the salvation of his chosen people (Ephesians 1:3-14). God is also glorified when his people live in conformity with his plan rather than human opinions. Is Christ your functional covenant in the way you relate to God? Strangely, too many seem to prefer to relate to God through rituals or rules or some other supposed path of spirituality. The Lord Jesus is our great high priest and mediator (Hebrews 4:14; 9:15) and he is our covenant, and so the Father wants us to draw near to him through his Son (Ephesians 2:18). Don’t miss God’s way, because you’re too involved with what other people tell you.

Grace and peace, David