Broken

I have broken covenant, but Christ died to mediate a new covenant

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Read: Deuteronomy 9

Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people. (Deuteronomy 9:6)

When I looked, I saw that you had sinned against the LORD your God; you had made for yourselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. … So I took the two tablets and threw them out of my hands, breaking them to pieces before your eyes. (Deuteronomy 9:16a, 17)

Reflect:

God’s love does not depend upon the righteousness of his people. It never has. This is just as well, because God’s people have never been completely righteous from their own efforts.

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Sculpture of Hathor as a cow, with all of her symbols, the sun disk, the cobra, as well as her necklace and crown. Original photo by Gérard Ducher, Wikipedia Commons

Moses had only just received the written copy of the law of the covenant from God when the people of Israel broke that covenant. They worshipped an idol, a golden statue of a calf that Aaron had made, reminiscent of the false Egyptian goddess Hathor (see right).

Israel had literally broken the covenant, so Moses broke the stone tablets upon which the words of the covenant were written. Talk about an object lesson!

Thankfully, Moses did what the Israelites most needed: he interceded on their behalf in prayer to God, asking God to avert his wrath from his people, and not destroy them for their sin.

The truth is, I’m a stiff-necked person as well. I’d be in the same position as those Israelite idol-worshippers if it wasn’t for Jesus. Jesus is my mediator before the throne of God.

Romans 5:6 reassures me, “Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:8 adds, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

crux:

I have broken covenant, but Christ died to mediate a new covenant.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You make covenant and you keep covenant,
and when your people break covenant
you reconcile us with your righteousness.

Thank you for your loyal love for your people.
Thank you that, though I was an ungodly sinner, Christ died for me.
Thank you that Christ has mediated a new covenant whereby I am justified by his righteousness, in spite of my stiff-necked nature.
Thank you.

Please keep me from idols.
Keep me from worshipping your creation when I should be worshipping my Creator.

Help me to recognise idols for what they are when I see them:
When I see “healing crystals” for sale in some craft market, may I remember you are my Healer.
When I’m tempted to look for “validation” in feedback from others (my boss, my PD trainer, my husband, my Bible study small group, the likes on this blog), may I remember that you are my Judge.
When I seek satisfaction in my To Do List and my “accomplishments”, may I remember that you are my Joy.

May I worship only you and your Son who died for me when I was nothing but an ungodly sinner.

Amen.

 

Squirm

Those who have sinned must repent; those sinned against must forgive

Read: Matthew 18

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. … If they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15a,17b)

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Reflect:

All eyes must have turned to Matthew, the ex-tax collector, as Jesus gave his advice for dealing with unrepentant sinners. No matter how much Matthew squirmed, though, he still recorded Jesus’ words in his gospel.

Jesus gave three steps of increasingly public rebuke before increasing authority for drawing a sinner’s attention to their own sin. This process gives people an opportunity to recognise and admit their own sin. There’s a reason the saying “blind to their faults” is a saying. Then this person is able to repent privately instead of letting the matter go public.

But ultimately, an unrepentant sinner needs to experience some earthly penalty, or they will go on unrepentant towards the ultimate penalty of all, hell. In this case, social exclusion (from the church) provides a punishment that will hopefully be recognised as the metaphor it is; symbolising the exclusion from God’s presence that an unrepentant sinner risks. Social exclusion such as not eating with the person and not entering their house, while still allowing for public conversation, has the benefit of shielding brothers and sisters in the church from the harm that the sinner’s behaviour might wreak.

Matthew chose to place next in his gospel Jesus’ advice for how often one should forgive sin. Now it’s Peter’s turn to squirm. “Seventy-seven times,” Jesus says. He’s not just multiplying Peter’s suggested seven times by eleven. Rather, Jesus is making reference too the story of Lamech the murderer (Genesis 4:19-24)* who killed instead of offering forgiveness for personal injury, and claimed seventy-seven times vengeance.

As outrageously unrepentant as Lamech was for his crimes, so you are to be just as outrageously forgiving of another’s crimes against you, Jesus seems to say.

crux:

Those who have sinned must repent; those sinned against must forgive.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

“Against you only have I sinned” … yet I have hurt and wounded many with harsh words and hard deeds. I repent of my sin. Please forgive me LORD. Make a clean heart within me and change my ways.

Please allow others in my church who are close to me to observe my sin and rebuke me for it. Make me humble enough to accept such rebuke and be corrected.

LORD, I don’t want to be like Lamech, desiring vengeance. Make my heart soft and tender, eager and willing to forgive. Please help me to love my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with the forgiveness that covers over wrongs, for your glory.

Amen.

 

* For this insight I must thank Lois Tverberg and Ann Spangler, authors of Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus (2009, Zondervan) pp. 38-39, which I am currently reading.

Acknowledge

I go to the Scriptures to learn to acknowledge God

Read: Matthew 9

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)

Reflect:

The Pharisees did not understand why Jesus had come. He was going about as a rabbi, calling people to be his disciples with the words, “Follow me” (9:9). Yet this Jesus was not selective, not discriminating in his choice of disciples as other rabbis must have been. Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector – a greedy Roman collaborator, the Pharisees probably thought – to follow him. The crowds who heard Jesus preach and saw him heal were filled with awe (9:7). If Jesus was setting himself up as a Rabbi among rabbis, why was he choosing a tax collector to be his disciple, then eating with Matthew’s notorious, deplorable associates?

The answer lay in Jesus’ mission. Jesus was there to help, so he met with those needing his help.

In response to the criticism of the Pharisees, Jesus quoted Hosea, who prophesied to an unrepentant people, to show that God values mercy (help for the helpless) above religious artifice. But Jesus’ rebuke was even more pointed than the obvious point that the Pharisees were unmerciful and unrepentant and in need of his help. He told the Pharisees to go and study this passage from Hosea.

If the Pharisees had gone to the writings of Hosea, they would learn that the passage called God’s people to acknowledge him:

“Let us acknowledge the LORD;
Let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains.” (Hosea 6:3)

The LORD had appeared, he had come to them: like winter rain for a parched land, like a doctor to the desperately ill, like a rabbi to the untaught rabble. The LORD had come to offer mercy and the Pharisees were too self-righteous, too enmeshed in their interpretation of the Law to acknowledge the God who fulfilled that Law.

crux:

I go to the Scriptures to learn to acknowledge God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I acknowledge you. You are God. Father, Son and Spirit. You are the LORD, the I AM, Yahweh.

I acknowledge Jesus Christ. I accept he exists and admit he is true.

I also acknowledge that I am a sinner in need of Jesus to justify me.

Thank you that Jesus called Matthew to be his disciple. Thank you for calling me to be Jesus’ disciple also.

May I follow Jesus as I read, reflect on and respond to the words Matthew wrote about his rabbi. May I learn, as Matthew learned, to acknowledge my God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, my Saviour.

May I, like Matthew, open my house with hospitality so that others may come and meet Jesus and learn to acknowledge him as God.

Amen.