Week 2 – Bible and History
In the second week we think more about the prophets – Why? Because they were trying to see where God was in the world, and what God was calling people to do. How is God at work in history? What is judgement, and is God merciful? What about other people?
As people deep in prayer they were given insights, pictures, understanding including glimpses of what God would do in the future. For the God of then had a plan for the ‘then’ and the future, to bring in his Kingdom, on the Day of the Lord.
And we too live in the real world of ‘now’ but have faith in and hope for the Kingdom which is to come, not as passive spectators, but active in the world today.
Friday 2.5 – Chosen for others
Abraham was called and promised blessing, but also, that, through him, all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12).
In the Exodus, others joined the Hebrews in the escape, and were made welcome if they wished to join (Ex 12: 38).
There are also some harsh and hard passages where the enemy groups are to be killed – there is something here about keeping true to God and not compromising but these are hard, hard passages.
Do they become a bit easier when we discover some individuals from these enemy groups affirmed as Godly heroes and heroines. Rahab is a Canaanite and Ruth is a Moabite, but they are part of the ancestry of Jesus (see Matthew ch 1).
We have seen the call to be holy, to be set apart for God as a key theme in the Old Testament, and we understand it today – Christians are called to live holy and good lives, to live by God’s commandments, and that will set us at odds with the ways of many around us.
The call to be holy meant, for the Old Testament Israelites not intermarrying as that would mean taking on some of the culture and gods of the other family; it meant not mixing with their religious practices, or compromising, and so the call was to keep separate. This came to be seen in a whole mix of laws, key ones including circumcision for men, the keeping of the Sabbath and some complex food rules (kosher food), not least because blood was considered to contain the life of an animal so it had to be drained before eating.
But this call to be separate, different, holy, was not a call to impose on others; unlike Christians and Muslims, Jews do not tend to be mission-minded seeking converts.
Because at the heart of their faith, of the Old Testament faith, is this sense that they are called to bring God’s blessing on others. Over the centuries we begin to find the idea that, in the fulness of time, God will call all people to gather on his “mountain”, that the Temple will be
‘a house of prayer for all people’,
that God will call people from all nations. This is mustard seed which grows to have the birds nesting in its branches.
Jesus was born a Jew, in the land which God had promised to Abraham, and he grew up a Jew, circumcised and attending the Sabbath and the great Festivals.
In his ministry he focused on the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ – not because they were more important but because the message is for them first.
In John 12, we have the image of the seed having to fall into the ground and die before it can grow and bear much fruit. While Jesus came to teach, to heal, to show signs of what Kingdom life is, he was born and lived, to demonstrate and make real that God has taken our sins, and has also proved that the promise of new life is not vague or theoretical.
And the seed, once fallen, dead and growing anew, does bear fruit across the world, as the first Christians share the good news with others, in the surrounding towns, wider afield, to Rome, with an Ethiopian who happens to be travelling near Philip and who is exploring the writings of Isaiah.
Even in Jesus life, a bit like with Rahab and Ruth in the Old Testament, the good news cannot help but be shared wider, to a Roman Centurion whose slave is ill, to a Phoenician woman, to a tormented man in Gadara.
Always the message is – you are chosen to take the message on; you are given grace so that you will share it; you receive mercy so that you offer mercy.
The church exists for the good of others, both to help and care but even more to share the truth of God, the promise of God, the invitation of God.
Being called by God does not make us better or more special except that we are to share this news.
In the Old Testament the pattern is mostly that others will come to Jerusalem, will come to us. But after the resurrection the key word is ‘Go!’ We are to go to others with the good news, we are to spread out so people wherever they are can discover the good news. Christianity came to England possibly within a few decades of Jesus death. Thomas, the apostle may have taken the gospel to Iran and India. Thank God.
And the anointed one, the Messiah, chosen if you like above all others, is the ‘Man for Others’; love received, is then to be shared, not stored, to be given on not held. The one who seeks to save their life will lose it, but the one who loses their life, for Jesus sake, for the gospel, will save it.