Thursday, February 19, 2009

Luke 6:27-36 - The Call to Show Divine Mercy

In relation to one's enemies, Jesus gave the following commands:
  1. Love them;
  2. Do good to them;
  3. Bless them;
  4. Pray for them;
  5. Willingly suffer a greater disadvantage for their benefit if put to the task.

He explained that disciples should exceed sinners in their manner of loving. He gave two incentives and one reason for so doing: first, our reward would be great; second, we would be sons of the Most High; and third and most importantly, for our Father is kind and merciful to the ungrateful and evil and we are to emulate him. The words are "Be merciful even as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:34). These words rings with familiarity with the following:

  • Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48);
  • Be holy, for I am holy (1 Peter 1:16).

The context of the Matthean text is similar to this passage of Luke - to exceed sinners in their manner of loving. The Petrine text urges its readers to set themselves apart from their former sinfulness.

It will hurt everything in me to love enemies, especially those who hate me. I will experience vulnerability to hurt. Yet, there are things that I can do first to mitigate those fears. I can purpose to bless and to pray. I hope that in a meeting, I will not be thought hypocritical. I guess I should quit worrying about what people will think of me and just trust God enough to do exactly what he says and leave to him to deal with all my insecurities.

Christ has called us to be merciful. This actually puts us in a position of strength that we can absorb and accommodate those in a position of weakness. So my enemies are in fact weak and I am commanded to pity them. Give me grace, Lord, to dare to take you at your word here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Genesis 44:14-34 - Judah's Transformation

Judah, the fourth born of Jacob, eventually gained ascendency in Jacob's family, exceeding Reuben the firstborn and Joseph the beloved, to become the one through whom the Messiah would come. It was he who incited his brothers to sell Joseph away to the Midianites (Genesis 37:26). They all (save Reuben who was not present) listened to him (Genesis 37:27, 29), suggesting that he had some amount of leadership and influence over his brothers. He must have been a rugged shepherd and hardened man, perhaps frustrated with a weak-minded older brother, Reuben, who slept with his father's concubine (Genesis 35:22), and with rash-spirited Numbers 2 and 3, Simeon and Levi, who killed the Hivites in revenge for Shechem's rape of Dinah (Genesis 34:26-31). But his hardness of heart and spirit caused him to live for himself. He left his family to marry a Canaanite woman and have three sons by her (Genesis 38:1-5). His first two sons died under the hand of God because of their wickedness (Genesis 38:7, 10), suggesting poor fathering on Judah's part. But he only blames Tamar as the accursed woman on whose account every one of her husbands dies, completely blind to his own sins. He would not give Shelah, his youngest son, to her, despite his promise, for fear that he too might die while married to her. In the words of Waltke, the biblical account showed that only two things mattered for Judah: sex and offspring.

In the end, he was deceived by Tamar. When he realised that it was he by whom Tamar was pregnant, he recognised his own sinfulness. Presumably, he repented for he did not continue with Tamar (Genesis 38:26). In time, when Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy grain, it was Judah who guaranteed Benjamin's safety (Genesis 43:8-9) and Jacob accepted that pledge (cf. Reuben's in Genesis 42:37). It was Judah who pleaded with Joseph to spare Benjamin and therefore Jacob's life at his own expense (Genesis 44:33-34). Judah came round.

God works in mighty, mysterious ways. He would make his children face their own sins and humble them, in order that they might arise unto greatness, not of their own doing but of the Lord's. Why did Reuben, Simeon and Levi not repent? But what does it matter for us who have the benefit of hindsight - who do we want to emulate?

Lord, the chastening is painful and wearying to the soul but I guess you are also deepening me where I have been shallow. Grant me the perseverance to follow you through and emerge a better, stronger, meeker person.

Conflict is a curious gift because it sharpens us, demanding grace and forgiveness... Someone without frictional relationships is indeed a poor soul, for we are best formed in the crucible of conflict.
~ Glenn T Stanton, 'Up for Debate,' in CT, January 2009, p.41.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Hebrews 1:1-2:4 - God Has Spoken Through His Son

I preached on this passage yesterday. These were my findings:

  1. Hebrews is a sermon, not a letter. In this passage alone, there are at least two significant clues why it is: (a) it lacks the usual details about author's name, identity of audience and salutation that are found in practically all of the other epistles in the New Testament; (b) it refers to recent divine revelation having been transmitted "en huio" ("by a son" or "by one who is Son") and then goes on to give seven credentials of such a person, as if intending that the audience necessarily should conclude that this person is the Son of God, the mark of public speaking. If the identity of this person had been specific and definite, then listing his seven credentials would have been redundant and purposeless.
  2. The point of this passage has less to do with Jesus being superior to angels than with our duty to pay more careful attention to what we have heard lest we drift away - the angels references are a distraction to this main message. Hence, I wish the NIV Bible's chapter heading for Hebrews 1 was different. It's not inspired writing anyway but it distracts no less.
  3. The audience probably comprised Jewish Christians of ancient Rome who struggled with remaining faithful to Christ in the light of the prevailing prejudice and persecution and being tempted with reverting to Judaism. The haunting question that is asked is: Is Jesus worth betting everything that we have on to follow him?
  4. In this day and age, we may not face death for being Christians but we face compromise, temptation and fear of being marginalised by popular opinion. What has God said to us through his Son?