After All – Job 42. RBT Notes, 31st January

If Leviathan can look down on God’s creation in his effortless power (41.34), how much more the Lord Himself? He looks, He sees, He remembers. And yet He does all of it, not in superior haughtiness, but in the deepest love and compassion. This is our God. And this is the message of Go. Job is always in control. He never needs to explain Himself to His creation, but He is working out good and wise plans for it, and at the heart of them is the good of His people.

Job now opens his mouth. He has to speak. But what can he say? The God whose justice he’s clung onto in desperate hope, he now meets, in all of His overwhelming grandeur. What would you say? Surely even the best of our worship, and our strongest moments of faith, are the flimsiest responses to a God whose glory we have seen in Christ, but have barely begun to understand? The God we know, after all, inhabits ways which are “too wonderful for us to know” (v.3).

One day we will open our mouths to God. Will we argue, complain, rage, or question? No. We will confess that He is the Lord, and we will bow down in worship. Our eyes will see Him (v.5). We will be satisfied, and delighted, as we lay ourselves before Him, and hear His voice.

Heaven is the home of all of our lasting happiness. Job received his reward for his faith in this life. Almost fairytale-like, he receives his prosperity again, lands, livestock, wife and children, old age and grandchildren (vv.10-16). And there’s a thought here: remember those friends, with their angle-grinding theology of sin and judgement which they attacked Job with, and for which God blames them (vv.7-9)? Well, after God Himself showed them that they were wrong, He gives them a ringside seat to His own sort of retribution.This is not the punishment of Job’s so-called sin, but the overflowing generosity of His reward for Job’s faithfulness in all of his trials. Satan is conquered, bad theology is slaughtered, Job is vindicated, God reigns, and declares His rule of love to the world. One day all of creation will see the rule of love in Christ, and all will sing Hallelujah.

 

A Prayer to Pray 

Lord God Almighty, Your ways of grace are too wonderful for me. And yet, they are all mine in Your Son. Teach me to treasure and hold all that You have given me in Him. Teach me also to let go of those things which are gifts for a season, however precious. And keep my heart strong, that I might look ahead with increasing excitement to the gift above all else, Your waiting Son. Amen.

 

Worship – Nehemiah 12. RBT Notes, 14th December

Priests and Levites have a serious job to do. As men called to serve at the temple, that job involved cleaning it, guarding it, receiving and managing the gifts of the worshippers, praying for the people, offering up their sacrifices to God, and teaching the people God’s Word. Why does Nehemiah give us these lists of priests and Levites? Because under God, he was building a new community. And for that community to stand and to thrive, they needed to know and to relate to God according to His Word. So these men are not some luxury – they are an essential part of a community living in fellowship with God.

Today, it’s not that we’ve done away with priests; instead, we have the Great Priest, Jesus Christ. He does for us everything which these ancient priests were called to do, but could never do perfectly, as He did. He teaches us the Word of God by His Spirit, He brings our sacrifices of praise and obedience to God, and makes them acceptable in His sight. And gloriously, His once for all sacrifice on the cross is the sacrifice which washes us clean of all of our sins. As Hebrews says, we have a great High Priest!

What does our High Priest do? Hebrews 2.10–13 says that Jesus brings us into God’s presence, makes us holy through His sacrifice, and leads us in the worship of His Father. As v.11 says, He is not ashamed to call us His brothers. And so, prefiguring that worship, in our chapter we hear of priests leading their people around the city walls in joyful worship together (v.8, 24). The second half of the chapter is a powerful and challenging scene of community praise. And let’s learn from it. God’s people are overwhelmed with God’s grace and goodness. They have to worship, it’s the natural overflowing of grateful hearts. And what a witness it is!

God loves a church worshipping and singing of His glory. The world needs the witness of the church focused in praise and thanksgiving. We may speak many words about God; but if our worship is cold, how is the world to know if we believe our words or not? Public worship declares the power of the Gospel to the world, and shows the integrity of our hearts to God. True worship is the sign that we are being truly transformed by the Gospel, in the power of the Spirit.

Some questions, then. Do we turn up to worship casually? Do we allow ourselves to be distracted or to distract others during worship? Do we stay at home, fellowshipping with the TV remote control? All of these temptations should be firmly rejected by the true children of God. God is looking for those who worship Him in spirit and in truth. It appears that He had such worshipers that day on the city walls in Jerusalem. Does he have such a worshiper you?

 

A prayer to pray

Lord, You have my heart. Please bring forth from it a song of humble, contented, joyful praise. And please give me a love for worshipping You with my brothers and sisters, increasingly aware of and amazed by the fact that I worship in the presence of the One Who is not ashamed to call me His brother, by His love. Amen.

Confession is Good – Nehemiah 9. RBT Notes, 9th December

Don’t skip over this chapter. It looks grim, of course: “on the twenty fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads” (v.1). Sackcloth has rather gone out of fashion these days. So has confession. In fact, corporate prayer and gatherings of all sorts are also out of favour in the Christian world. But read this chapter closely. Its values may be counter to the Christian culture we live in at the moment. We might discover that our values are wrong. There is much to learn here.

They start with confession. Confession is not good for the soul. Confession is, literally, life-bringing. Confession doesn’t save us from our sins – only Jesus does that – but without confession there can be no salvation. So they listen to God’s Word, and confess their sins in the light of it (vv.2-3). How can they (and how can we) expect God to be serious in blessing us if we are so casual with the sins which offend us?

And then the priests lead the community in praise (vv.5-37). This whole lengthy prayer is a confession of who God is – majestic, worthy of honour (vv.5-6), the covenant-making Lord of His people (vv.7-8), the God who redeemed their forefathers from Egypt and led them through the wilderness (vv.9-15). But focus on God for any time, and we find ourselves facing up to who we are: Israel continually resisted God. The priests’ prayer alternates between great declarations of God’s goodness, generous love and patience with His people, and confessions of the hard-hearted arrogance of His people. Did they deserve His love? Absolutely not. “But in Your great mercy You did not put an end to them or abandon them, for You are a gracious and merciful God” (v.31).

The climax of the prayer is the admission that nothing has changed. God is the same, and His people are. Importantly, the priests recognise that life is very, very tough for this returning community. Even though they have returned from exile, it doesn’t feel like it to them. They are still being exploited, and missing out on the peace and plenty they long for. “We are in great distress” (v.37) – and they know that it is down to their sins.

Can you speak of God’s unfailing goodness to you? Can you speak of you unfailing ability to forget, resist and avoid the Lord? It’s painful, isn’t it, but it’s probably near the truth. God’s children, filled with His spirit as we are, are still disobedient and foolish. “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (Jam. 5.14). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1.9). He will.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Merciful Father, nothing escapes Your eyes. I am a sinner. But I barely know it, and even when I do, I am so slow to grieve, to confess, and to delight in Your grace. Make me sensitive by Your Spirit to the things I want and do which displease You. Teach me a ready confession, and give me an eager grasp on Your grace. Amen

And Joy Everlasting- Nehemiah 8. RBT Notes, 8th December

The wall’s up, and people’s heads are soon down in the stuff of life. Houses need to be built, wells dug, orchards planted, fields ploughed up and sown, children looked after and taught. And on and on. Life is never still, never without its demands, and there are never enough hours in the day. Busyness is as old as time, and our lack of time.

In life’s busyness we fight for time. We must fight for the time to listen to God’s Word. If we don’t, the thistles and thorns of work and worry will choke our souls. Our souls need time, time for the Word. The jobs will have to wait, and some jobs need a careful and principled neglect.

So God’s people come together (8.1). Ezra is called to bring out the Law of Moses, and to read it before the community, and what a reading, from dawn to lunch! Also, what a rapt attention (v.3). People know that these are not just words – they are, as Moses said, “your life” (Deut. 32.47).

God’s Word brings joy and sorrow. Joy, in that we see the grace of God once more; but sorrow, in that we see how we disobey that Word, consciously and unconsciously. The people praise God with their preacher (v.6), but there are tears, too (v.9). Maybe this community was feeling as they needed to the weight of God’s anger which had swept their parents’ generation off to exile as the punishment for their sins.

Nehemiah, like any good leader, is alive to the feelings of his people. He speaks up, with tender words, and wonderful counsel. He knows that God is a God of grace. He knows that the joy of the Lord – joy shared and tasted by grace – is our only lasting and real strength (v.10). He calls his people to rest and rejoice.

This is the true joy of God’s Word. Are you experiencing it? When our hearts enthrone the Lord as He truly is, and bow before Him, relying on His mercy alone in Christ, there is always joy. Faith comes through hearing God’s Word, and through understanding it. Ezra had devoted himself to being an expert student and teacher of Holy Scripture (Ez. 7.10), and he and Nehemiah were totally committed to the people grasping the grace of God in His Word. What servants. In fact, apostolic ministry has exactly the same mandate, to be workers with God’s people for their joy (2 Cor. 1.24).

Enjoy the scenes of festivity in vv.12-18. The community celebrates the feast of tabernacles – the first time for many years (centuries, in fact, v.17). They are rediscovering the joy of being God’s people, and obeying His Word. God has no other will for our lives. We should have no other ambition, either.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord God, what a world of joy awaits me as I bow before You. What a world of misery I stumble through when I focus on myself. Lift my eyes, my heart, my mind, Father, to Your care and loving authority in my life. Teach me to tremble at Your Word. Amen.

Why we worship – Psalm 99. RBT Notes, 20th May

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1.    God loves righteousness, and making people righteous (vv.1-5, compare Romans 3.25-26). Would you want any other God? If not, what will you say to the Living God?

2.    God gives His Word through His appointed leaders (vv.6-7). How is God speaking today, and are you listening (compare Hebrews 1.1-4)?

3.    In what ways will you worship God tomorrow, as a fitting response to who He is?

 

A Prayer to Pray

God of Heaven, Saviour of the world, I love You. You are the Lord Our Righteousness, and I glory in all that You are. Help me to trust You, and to find my joy in You. Amen.

Heaven’s Song – Revelation 5. RBT Notes, 8th February

And God said, “let there be worship, and there was worship”. When God the Spirit opens the eyes of sin-blinded people to see His glory in the face of Jesus Christ, the result is worship. This is God’s will, and it is the joy and ultimate purpose of every redeemed life. We can’t help ourselves from worshipping!

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John’s vision of God’s community is of a people enraptured with the glory of God, falling down in awe-filled joy before His majesty (ch.4). Now John sees the Lamb, central to all of God’s purposes. He bears the symbols of power (enthroned with multiple horns and eyes, vv.6-7). The leaders of God’s people bring their prayers to Him (v.8). They worship the Lord of all the nations, and of all the angelic company (vv.9-12). His is the glory nee day all creation shall acknowledge (v.13).
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We worship Him because He is God’s Lamb, slain as a sacrifice for our sin (v.6). Nothing and no one can save us, but Jesus alone. And we worship Him because He is God’s Leader. The scroll image takes us back to Ezekiel’s scroll (Ezekiel 2.9). The vision here teaches us that no one but Jesus can open up God’s purposes, be they to judge or save, curse or bless. Jesus is the Lord. And He has triumphed (v.5).
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This vision urges us to join heaven’s worship. Worship is not escapism, it is reality. Do it – it’s what you were created and redeemed for.
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A prayer to pray.
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Lord God, who will not worship You, or give You the glory for Your saving love in Christ? Fill my heart with admiration for Jesus, and grow my excitement about His lordship. May praise for Him be my life theme. Amen.