In the End – Micah 7. RBT Notes, 28th November

The end has come. Micah sees God’s judgment fall on His disobedient people, as they are given over to their sin. Micah feels like a man expecting harvest, only to find the leftovers noone wants (v.1). His society is wasted – violent, vicious, corrupt, godless, perverted (vv.2-6). God has given them over to what their hearts lust for. This is His judgment, then as well as now.

This is our society. For His people, complaining achieves nothing. Capitulating to its values brings God’s displeasure. We are called to the daily discipline of going back to God in Christ, seeking Him, trusting Him, going deeper into His Word, and resting in His power: “I watch in hope for the Lord” (v.7). Then, rather than complaining about our world – and possibly not really actually caring about it – we start to feel deeply for our lost world, to pray for it, and to long to bring the Gospel of grace to it: “my God will hear me” (v.7).

With that prayerful attitude comes a strength of conviction. We depend on Him as never before. Yes, we become more aware of our own sins (vv.8-9), we also become more and more aware of the the awesome power of God, both to come in forgiveness and restoration, and in final judgment (v.10). Living with God is not easy, and sometimes far from comfortable: but living with Him is living in reality. And only a fool wants to live in his own pretend world.

For those who come to the Cross, and live close to it, there is a world of mercy to enjoy. Evil will be judged and grace will overflow to those who confess their sins (vv.11-13). Grace will triumph, as the Spirit will draw men and women to the exalted Saviour, Jesus Christ (vv.14-17). Just marvel at the scope of this anticipated grace, which makes pagans into believers, and snakes into servants (vv.16-17).

And finally, revel in the glorious declaration of all that God is in Jesus Christ, in vv.18-20: He is forgiving, and so merciful and compassionate. He is the triumphant destroyer of all of our sins. His love and promises are utterly faithful.  His Kingdom shall never end. His is the power and the glory, for ever. Amen.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord God, mighty Lord, majestic Saviour, loving Shepherd of Your sheep, thankyou for this vision of Your immense power, and Your transforming love. Lord, I confess that I need Your transformation. Teach me to love You, to feel my need of Your grace moment by moment. As as I tremble before all that You are, empower me to take Your Gospel word to those who need to discover Your compassion in Your Son. Amen.

This God Speaks – Amos 1. RBT Notes, 1st June

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1.     God is a pussycat; God doesn’t really care about justice; faith is a waste of time. How does this chapter challenge those false positions? Which challenge do you especially need?

2.    God’s judgment ranges throughout all the nations who opposed Israel. Is His response to their violence mean, vicious, or just, and why?

3.    How does God’s care and jsutice for His people encourage you to press on in faith in Christ?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Sovereign Lord, what You declare, You will bring to pass. Give me grace to beleive Your promises, and to show my belief by persevering obedience to Your Son. Teach me to be one who trembles at Your Word, and to love it all of my days. Amen

Relentless – Ezekiel 21-22. RBT Notes, 15th January

Are you sad, yet? We desperately try not to be. Oh, in our lowest moods, we might reach for a melancholic CD which we can howl along to in private. Music understands us, it seems, and sometimes it seems to help to prolong the dark moods we all fall into. But seeking out misery? Who wants to do that?

We avoid sadness. We try to keep things positive, light, cheery and upbeat. Let’s listen to our happy songs, keep positive company. Let’s laugh.

And let’s read the favourite bits of our Bibles. Let’s got to well-worn passages, treasured books, full of assurances, affirmations, and all things positive. Let’s avoid Ezekiel, and the other books we don’t know, or (privately) mistrust.

This is why reading through the Bible is a discipline. If we are committed to reading through all of Scripture, we will hit the sad passages. We’ll hit books like Ezekiel, which is overwhelmingly a difficult and a sad book. There are great, hope-filled parts in it (we’ve not got to them, yet), but there’s no denying that Ezekiel is hard. Not hard as in, hard to understand; but hard as in, hard to stomach. Too much gloom, too much sadness.

If you’re not sad, yet, then let’s read on. Ch.’s 21-22 are full of more doom and gloom. Ch.21 is all about swords. It’s actually about one sword, God’s, drawn against the Temple itself (vv.3-5), and about to strike the good and the bad indiscriminately, bringing such devastation that it would be read as an act of God.

“Groan on, Ezekiel” (v.6).And he will groan, as his message is about the immanent overthrow of Judah and Jerusalem (vv.11-17). Worse still, the sword of the Lord will actually be seen in the hands of the King of Babylon. A just God, well, that is the stuff of Jerusalem’s Confession of Faith; but a just God putting His judgement in the hands of a pagan king is more than they can handle (vv.18-24 – and just witness Habakkuk’s agonies at this situation).  God is relentless.

rapid race of night street

Again, God’s charges are laid out against Jerusalem (ch.22). Her leaders are called the “leaders of Israel”, itself a grim irony, as Israel as a nation is already no more, and these leaders are in the last moments of what little power in Jerusalem they have. Whether idolatry, murder, social abuses, sexual impurity, Sabbath breaking, financial corruption, the Lord sees, knows and judges (vv.2-13). Noone will be left in any doubt about who’s in charge when God judges (v.16).

Ezekiel’s prophesy couldn’t be more terrifying: people literally melted in the coming siege (vv.21-22), just retribution on the sins of a society collapsing under the weight of its own wickedness (vv.23-29). And no one cares except God, and His care is only now working in judgment. (vv.30-31).

So there you go. More sin, pain, terror, threat, doom. And we’re only halfway through the book! Stay with it, though, as there are some exhilarating chapters to come, prophesying the reign of God through His Messiah. For now, watch the temptation to stand back from these chapters. Don’t – they teach you who God is. If you say you’re a Christian, you say that you love and know this God. There isn’t another one. And if you skim over wrath, you will fail to see the Cross in its glories. The Cross is where God took His sword up against our wickedness. That is relentless judgment, as it is relentless love.

Responsibility – Ezekiel 18. RBT Notes, 13th January

The soul that sins will thrive. Life without God is the best life. Once we can get rid of the ghost of God, once we can shake off that old rumour of a God looking down on us, who needs to be pleased, or appeased, then we can start to live. The sooner we shut our Bibles, close our minds to the notion of objective right and wrong, and start living for our own dreams, then the freer and the happier we’ll be. What are we waiting for?

Ask the people of Ezekiel’s time, and they will tell you, “we tried that”. The people of Jerusalem and Judah knew all about liberty. They had long since ditched the Sunday School lessons, and embraced the fun and freedom of their pagan neighbours. The thing is, it’s done nothing for them. They are sitting there in the open-prison of exile. And it’s no fun. Maybe they should have listened to the preacher, or read their Bibles, instead of making up their minds about The Big Questions by just copying everyone else. Like so many people, the Judeans mistook fun for freedom, and all they got for it was guilt.

Guilt is a horrible thing. No one rests easy when loaded with guilt, whether it’s imagined or real. And people who don’t feel guilty are furious at those who insist that, actually, perhaps they should do. Ch.18 sees Ezekiel defending God’s ways to the exiles, and insisting that God is just, and that – though they deny it – these people are actually guilty before Him.

5366688_orig“It wasn’t our fault”, is the refrain Ezekiel keeps hearing from his countrymen in their exile (v.2). They’re being punished, they insist, for the sins of their forefathers. Are they angry, indignant that they’re suffering and it’s all somebody else’s fault; or are they resigned to their fate, just insisting that life’s not fair and there’s nothing anyone can do about it? Either way, they’re sure that their lives are not a problem of their own making.

“Not so”, God replies, “the soul who sins is the one who will die” (v.4). And Ezekiel will make the case that, far from being the helpless victims of someone else’s sins, they are bearing punishment because they also bear guilt.

As a priest, Ezekiel is a man trained in the Law and its ways. Hear the lawyer in him, then, as he speaks for God. He gives them Case Law, and offers examples of three different lives, all from one family. One man lives righteously, and is blessed in doing so (vv.5-9). His son lives the opposite life, and as he meets the reward of the same Just God, so is punished (vv.10-14). It’s simple, fair, and a powerful example to Ezekiel’s hearers: the Judge of all the earth will always do what is right.

That does not mean, though, that a life that’s begun well might not go to ruin, nor that a wicked life might not be transfigured by repentance and transformation (vv.21-29). God is righteous, So when people point a finger at God, they better be careful in case they end up pointing the finger back at themselves.

In fact, that’s exactly what we should do. “I have sinned” is a good place to begin dialogue with God. “Repent” (v.30) isn’t a command to wallow in guilt, or play a misery game with God. It’s a command to deal with guilt, or rather, to allow God to deal with guilt. Our guilt is real, actual, enslaving, joy-robbing,  and hell-deserving. Deny it, or justify it, and it will kill you, slowly but surely. Come to Jesus, and find it met, atoned for, washed away. The power is His, the coming is yours. That’s your responsibility.

The soul that repents will live, and thrive. Try it.