When Rivers clap their hands – Psalm 98. RBT Notes, 19th May

1. Read vv.1-6 three times. Then ask yourself, could you love a God who could smash you to pieces? Why? Why not?

2. Heaven loves God’s holiness (v.6). Why does Man prefer idols? Which idols are you tempted to worship at the moment?

3. What are the commands and comforts of vv.10-12? How do they make you feel about being a Christian?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, You are awesome. Your holiness is overwhelming, and should damn me. Your mercy in Your Son is overwhelming, and has saved me. Teach me never ever to be lukewarm, for You are worthy of the fire of my love. Amen.

 

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The Blessed and Only Ruler – and you. Psalm 82. RBT Notes, 2nd May

1.  Who is God speaking to? Actual ‘gods’, or the powerful in society (v.1)? What does that say about how God expects secular rulers to behave, then?

2.   What is God’s commission to these people, and what are His charges against them (vv.2-4)?

3.   What is the current reality of even the most powerful unbelievers, and what is their destiny (vv.5-8)?

 

A Prayer to Prayer

Sovereign Lord, I am the arrogant man. I am the one who so naturally wants to use others for my comfort, and advancement. I am the man who ignores the cries of the hurting and the oppressed. Forgive me for the many ways I spurn Your Lordship. Please give me a vision of Your great majesty and majestic compassion in Your Son, and commission me afresh to serve all in His Name. Amen.

 

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The Reckoning – Revelation 17. RBT Notes, 22nd February

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Now we meet the prostitute. This is a familiar Old Testament motif, used to show the faithlessness of God’s Bride, His covenant people. John isn’t referring to the true Church, but to those who profess to belong to God but who are faithless to Him. The same chapter spells out that the prostitute is a city. She is figuratively called Babylon (v.5), but her identity is not a secret – John identifies her as “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (v.18). She is Jerusalem. She has forfeited her Husband, the Lord God, and united herself to raw, godless power – Rome. She has become a willing captive of the Beast, and has draped herself with the finery Rome offers (vv.3-4). She has stopped loving God, and now serves Satan, as she persecutes the church.
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People don’t want to see this meaning in these verses today, any more than John did, so the angel spells out that it really is these two cities who are working together to destroy the church (vv.6-14). But as John is shown, the Beast will turn on the harlot (v.16). And he did. Rome’s patience with Jerusalem ran out, as Jesus foretold, and in AD70 she was destroyed by the Romans.
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False religion and secular power always has and always will persecute God’s servants. The worst thing we can do with persecution is to be surprised about it. The next worse thing we can do is to despair in face of it. God’s judgement is coming on all persecutors, whether it comes quickly, slowly, or at the end of the age. We trust Him, and we remember to pray for our enemies.
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A Prayer to Pray
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Lord God, who will not fear You, and bring Your glory? Teach my heart to trust in Your justice when I see evil around me. Keep me from both despair and fear, and fix me upon Your promises in Christ. Amen.

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.