Who would be King? 2 Samuel 15. RBT Notes, 19th October

Pity Absalom. Born into privilege, he was also born in notoriety, the son of David and Bathsheba. He had to endure the rape of a sister, and was guilty of the murder of his brother. He knew exile, and then, once returned, he had the pain of never being properly reconciled to his father. Add to this prince’s troubles the frustration of seeing that his father wasn’t doing his job, and that there was no job for him to do. So what was ‘normal’ for Absalom? And what would you do, if you were Absalom?

He was restless, and probably very insecure. He wanted to make an impact, and probably deep down, wanted his country to thrive, seeing that his father’s once strong leadership had given way to reclusive indecision. He forms a plan to win over his countrymen (vv.1-6), and is a great success (v.6).

Success brings contempt, even of his own father. The Hebron trip is a ruse, probably to achieve what he had planned all along. He steals two hundred unsuspecting men to his cause, and also steals David’s main advisor (vv.11-12). Surely David must come out of his palace fighting?

No. David flees. One unsubstantiated report, and the king goes to pieces (vv.13-14). His whole entourage leaves Jerusalem. Note three scenes the historian lingers on, concerning Ittai, Zadok and Hushai (vv.19-37). What we learn about each is that they are brave, and eager to do the right thing for their King. Their bravery effectively shows up the lack of heart and courage this king has. We must wait for another king, who, though betrayed by one He loved, walked up the Mount of Olives. Unlike David, He didn’t flee His responsibilities, but went outside the city in order to meet them. He fought for those who made themselves His enemies, and conquered for them by dying. This is bravery, and this is our King.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord Jesus Christ, King, Conqueror, Saviour, I embrace all that You are for all that I need. Thankyou for Your most brave dying love. Like insecure and proud Absalom, how often my heart rises against You. Teach me the joy of trusting surrender to Your love. Amen.

Grace to Rule – 2 Samuel 14. RBT Notes, 18th October

“The righteous are as bold as a lion” (Prov.28.1). Since his disastrous failure with Bathsheba, David has lost courage and resolve. His boldness went with his righteousness, and others are filling the vacuum. Step up Joab, and Absalom.

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Joab has shown his impatience with his master before, and will show it again. He is tired of this stand-off between the king and his son, so he engineers a reconciliation – of sorts (vv.1-3). The historian relays in great detail the scene of the woman and David with her carefully-prepared story (vv.4-20). Just as with Nathan’s story after the adultery and murder, David is reeled in again. The effect of this exchange is less to show that David is merciful, and more to show that David is a pawn of others more decisive than he is.

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That indecisiveness even continues when Absalom returns to Jerusalem. This handsome young man was used to the king’s attention, and probably, everyone else’s (vv.25-26), so when the reconciliation seems impossible, he engineers things so that Joab is forced to bring him to the king (vv.28-32).

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Don’t be fooled. David is less the merciful king, more the cowardly one. He avoids heart-wrenching decision about justice for his son, and meekly kisses him and signals his favour. Forgiveness is a great virtue, but cowardice is a reproach for God’s people.

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A Prayer to Pray

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Father, You are a great God, and greatly to be praised. Life is so confusing, and relationships are so complicated. As I look to you I can be wise, and brave. As I look to myself I am foolish, and afraid. Lift my eyes, Lord, and strengthen my heart to live well, to Your praise. Amen.

Courage to Confess – Acts 22. RBT Notes, 25th March

It’s the old story. And the old story is the new story, the ever-present, glorious, transforming story. It’s the story of how you came to know that grace that saves you. The story doesn’t save you, the memory and the feelings about it don’t save you. Jesus saves you, and whether your awareness of Him was sudden or very gradual, that story of grace should be always fresh and captivating. Because Jesus is.

It’s the same for Paul. But Paul knows that he’s speaking to very hostile people. He’s not expecting to see the handkerchiefs coming out, as the tears appear, or the requests to hear more. He’s fighting for his life, seeking to show hard-hearted people that he’s not the heretic and trouble-maker they are convinced he is. He’s also fighting for his Lord, trying to show them that Jesus is no imposter, but the Promised Messiah.  He is the Lord who met the persecuting Saul, threw him to the ground, blinding by the Lord of Glory, and led Him to repentance and new birth through faith.

All of this must be astonishing to the ears of the crowd. But Paul then says something they really can’t handle: Paul was, he claims, commissioned by Israel’s Messiah to go to the pagans (v.21). As soon as he says that, the riot’s back on. And why? Well, it’s obvious: they demand that God be their God, and noone else’s. And the irony! Even though Paul tells them that this God took human flesh as Jesus of Nazareth and was crucified, their shock is less in that fact, more in the fact that He wants to reach the Gentiles. The scandal of it!

For the second time, then, Paul is snatched from their fury (vv.22-4). Things then suddenly escalate; not that the crowd can get any more angry – they can’t – but Paul takes his demand for justice to the highest level, as he asserts his Roman citizenship. Crazy Syrian though he might be, he is also a subject of Caesar, and he is going to use the privileges of that status.  To be continued.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Father, never let me tire of the story of Your saving grace to me and how I came to encounter it. Lord Jesus, make me a willing vessel of Your transforming grace. And may I have less far bothered about the reaction to Your Gospel, and have a far deeper concern to speak it. Amen.

 

5.10.17 Imperial War Museum Battle of Broodseinde. File of men of the 8th East Yorks going up to the line.
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Imperial War Museum
Battle of Broodseinde. File of men of the 8th East Yorks going up to the line.

The Jerusalem Road – Acts 21. RBT Notes, 24th March

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They’re going to Jerusalem, and troubles are going with them. Remember another Servant of God, Who went to Jerusalem, and wouldn’t be dissuaded? Paul is travelling as His Master did, to serve the world with God’s truth. He listens to the Spirit-given warnings through different believers (vv.4, 11), but he is convinced that it is to Jerusalem he must go, even if that means imprisonment or death (v.13).

If Paul were realistic about the storm he was walking into, then so were the believers already in the city. They thought hard about how to damp down the rumours and lessen the inevitable conflict with both the Gospel’s enemies, as well as those converts to Christ who were still wedded to their Jewish traditions. So they propose that Paul take some young men to the temple for purification rites (v.24). Was Paul happy to do this? Probably not! But for the sake of the Gospel, he does, and undergoes the rite himself (v.26). Sometimes you have to go backwards in order to go forwards.

And sometimes, it just looks like you’re going backwards. Paul is recognised by some Jews from Asia, and immediately the match is lit, and thrown into the tinder. Whether they actually believe that he is defiling the temple with non-Jews, or whether this is merely a convenient peg on which to hang their hatred, is unimportant. They’ve got their man, and they want his blood (vv.27-31).

The Romans soldiers are on guard, and so is the Lord of heaven and earth. Paul is snatched from the crowd (vv.32-36), but not from their threats. Never one to shy from danger, or from opportunity, Paul is now going to put his life on the line once more, as he addresses them. If he’s going, he’s not going quietly!

You don’t have to feel brave. You don’t have to feel confident. You don’t need “God’s peace in your heart”. When trials come you need to remember the Gospel, and to speak the Gospel. That means when they hate you, and your heart is banging against your ribs. That also means when you feel that what you’re about to say might shorten your career, or your relationships, or even your life. Jesus lost His friends, His career and His life for the Cross. Paul is standing ready to do the same. Are we?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I hate trouble, and I love my comforts. Break me out of my petty, self-serving circles! Open my eyes to the needs and the opportunities which are right before me, and make me the disciple You want me to be, true and bold. In Your Son’s name, Amen.

Truth and its Enemies – Acts 19. RBT Notes, 22nd March

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The Unstoppable Gospel  (vv.1-22)

 The Gospel is controversy. We mustn’t forget that. The claim that God has made Himself known in the God-Man Jesus Christ is one that should shock the world. In Ephesus we see the shock waves of God’s powerful Gospel.

 The key to understanding this episode is to realise that these men who experience the Spirit in this dramatic way were not true Christians until this point. Luke is not teaching us that the Spirit coming upon them was a “second blessing” – no, this is the first, brilliant blessing of the new birth. Telling God you feel wretched about your sins is not salvation, but coming to Jesus is. And this they do, complete with tongues and prophecy (vv.4-7)!

Same Gospel, different city. Paul gets to work, dealing with opposition from Jewish quarters, and setting up ministry so effectively that the Word of the Lord spreads throughout the province (vv.9-10).  So powerful is his ministry of word and deed that many are healed, and some try to imitate him (vv.11-16). In this occult-gripped city, some converts literally burn millions as they put their old lives to the flame (vv.17-19). Only the Gospel can cut people free from fear and greed. Are you enjoying its power?

 

 Money talks – and riots  (vv.23-40)

Whilst these converts gladly leave their false gods and filthy money, others are desperate to cling onto theirs. Do the metalworkers love their goddess, or the profit her worship brings (vv.23-28)? The evidence is that the Gospel is bad for their business, and so their fanatical behaviour which follows appears religious, but is actually driven by financial concerns. Nothing changes. Empty religion can never capture hearts, though sadly money can.

Things quickly escalate, and a riot is suddenly on the verge of erupting. One quick-thinking official clearly has an eye on his own career, as well as the city’s future, so manages to speak reason and disperse the crowd (vv.35-41).

The point is made, though: the Gospel is an almighty affront to our values, comforts and, well, just about everything else! People can ignore it, mock it, or riot over it, but the Gospel challenges everything, and everyone. God’s truth always will.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord God, by Your Spirit You are speaking truth to the world in Jesus. Forgive me when I lose heart because people ignore it. Forgive me, too, when I try to give a Gospel without offence, in the mistaken hope of winning friends for myself, or followers of it. Help me to be live and speak with integrity, and give me confidence when I face opposition and great joy when I see true response to Jesus. Amen.

Speaking for the Gospel – Acts 7. RBT Notes, 8th March

Wouldn’t you just rather keep your head down? You’re a busy person, and you’ve got a fruitful ministry at church: why not just keep pressing on, and sharing the Gospel with those who want to hear it? Isn’t the lions’ den a place for, well, lions?

God raises up men and women who refuse to take the easy path. Take Stephen, a man full of His Spirit. Hauled up before the authorities, he doesn’t give the easy answers so that he can get back to church and a quiet life; instead, he gives the truth of the Gospel, and in doing so he lays down his life.

What he tells the court is a brilliant and convicting exposé of the hearts of Old Testament Israel through the ages. We don’t expect this sort of defence, but its point is to show, as Stephen says at its climax (vv.51-53), that those who claim to be God’s people have always resisted God’s Spirit and His appointed leaders, just as they are now resisting the reign of His Christ. Here are the key notes:

Abraham: a wanderer, who was told that his descendants would be ill-treated.

Joseph: abused by his own brothers, and buried in Egypt along with them.

Moses: who cheated death as a baby, and later escaped arrest in Egypt. Commissioned by God to return and lead out his countrymen, he himself was rejected by them in the desert.

And then God Himself: despite all He did for His people, He was rejected. And so He “turned away” from them. (v.42). Even when God in His mercy caused His people to flourish again under Solomon’s reign, and the Temple was built, God would not be contained in that House.
What an indictment. Stephen is showing that, despite all of God’s faithfulness, God’s people have always been prone to the exact opposite. Now as he says, not content with killing God’s prophets, they are guilty of the blood of God’s Son (vv.51-53). They have no reason to be proud, but every reason to be broken-hearted before God.

But they’re not. What follows is blind fury (vv.54-8.1). Maybe Stephen always knew it was coming. Certainly, he’s steadfast in his faith in his Glorious Master. Let the world kill him, it can never kill God’s truth.

We need grace for our feeble hearts. We need the power to stand firm, and to speak up. Who knows what Saul is living in our streets, or sitting at a desk in our workplace? Who knows how God can use your courageous discipleship – however costly to you – as a saving witness to life in Christ?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord Jesus, I so often want You, without Your way. I want a crown of self-fulfilment in this life far more than I want the crowning of Your words in heaven, “well done, good and faithful servant”. Lord Jesus, receive my cowardly spirit, and give me the bold fullness of your Spirit. Amen.

 

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