Together, we serve
to know Christ
and to make Christ known
for the glory of God

3 May 2019

Acts 6

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’
This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
Stephen seized
Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called) – Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia – who began to argue with Stephen. 10 But they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.
11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, ‘We have heard Stephen speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’
12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.’
15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

‘we will give our attention to prayer…’ (verse 4)

In a church like TCC, as in the Early Church, there are all sorts of pressures calling our attention: real needs, felt needs, physical and material needs, as well as the spiritual needs of God’s people.

We thank the Lord for the way in which we are able to help the needy in our church. We thank the Lord for giving us the resources to be of practical help to many.

Here in verse 4 we see how the leaders of the Early Church prioritised: they prayed. And their prayers were obviously informed by God’s Word. This is an important point for us to dwell on today because we want to become a more of a praying church than we were a year ago. We want to speak to God about people before we speak to people about God. We want to know Christ better. We want to make Christ known more than we did a year ago. Let us take heed of the importance of prayer in the Early Church and remember how God heard and answered those prayers – after all, it is through God’s faithfulness that He worked through the first Apostles that we are here today!

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us not just to agree that prayer is important for us as individuals, and as a corporate body of believers – but help us to pray! Please forgive us our prayerlessness.  Help us to put our faith into action as we thrust our dependence on You, devoting ourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Amen.

2 May 2019

Acts 5

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that is the price.’
Peter said to her, ‘How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
The apostles heal many
12 The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought those who were ill into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing those who were ill and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
The apostles persecuted
17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 ‘Go, stand in the temple courts,’ he said, ‘and tell the people all about this new life.’
21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin – the full assembly of the elders of Israel – and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 ‘We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.’ 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.
25 Then someone came and said, ‘Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.’ 26 At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,’ he said. ‘Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.’
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead – whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.’
33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: ‘Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.’
40 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

The story of Ananias and Sapphira serves as a solemn reminder to the importance of honesty and integrity. They lied to the church and to the Holy Spirit and they paid for it with their lives. We read verse 4 says ‘You have not lied to man but to God.’ 

The men of TCC are reading and discussing ‘Disciplines of a Godly Man’ by Kent Hughes. A couple of Fridays ago, the topic of integrity came up. These comments are loosely based on that talk and discussion.

When we see our deceptions not just as little white lies, and not just as little untruths against each other, but rather as lies against God, we will see the seriousness of the problem. Honesty and integrity goes far beyond just a simple question of lying or not. The Church needs people who not only refrain from blatant lying, but are free from hypocrisy.

Some questions we MUST regularly ask ourselves are: Do we follow through with what we say? Are we faithful? Do we do what we say?

While integrity may be costly, it also has its rewards. It produces good character. And as we are known as men and women of character, we are reflecting God’s glory. And when we are people of integrity, the world can’t help but take notice. The other great benefits are having a good conscience (which helps in so many areas) as well as greater intimacy with God.

So…stop lying, deceiving, being hypocritical, not following through, and not taking a stand. We must be ‘committed listening doers’ of God’s Word. Please God, we strive to be committed to the truth that His Word is the standard by which we live. Please God, we don’t even give the devil a foot-hold.

Prayer: Our Father in Heaven please help us by Your Spirit to take heed of your Word – all of Your Word. We pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

1 May 2019

Exodus 34

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain.’
So Moses chiselled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’
Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshipped. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘if I have found favour in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.’
10 Then the Lord said: ‘I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you. 11 Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 12 Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. 13 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. 14 Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
15 ‘Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. 16 And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.
17 ‘Do not make any idols.
18 ‘Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.
19 ‘The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock. 20 Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons.
‘No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
21 ‘Six days you shall labour, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the ploughing season and harvest you must rest.
22 ‘Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year. 23 Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel. 24 I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.
25 ‘Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Festival remain until morning.
26 ‘Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.
‘Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.’
27 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.’ 28 Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant – the Ten Commandments.
The radiant face of Moses
29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterwards all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.
33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

The verses from today’s reading that gripped me are verses 29-30: ‘When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.’

It grips me because it shows what happens to a person after he or she has met with God. Moses ‘was not aware that his face was radiant’. What a testimony of the power of God to change someone!

Have you met God? The question is not whether you ‘gave your heart to God’, neither is it ‘I asked Jesus into my life’ but rather…the question is whether you have personally, sincerely, miraculously, met God Almighty? And the follow-up question is ‘does your way of life show that to be true?’ Are you walking and living in a way that is evident that you have met God through His Son? Can others see the radiance of your countenance?

We may not be much to look at, we may not do extraordinary work for Christ and His Gospel, but, we must be conducting ourselves in a manner that is worthy of the Gospel. As we strive daily to do that, others will see the ‘radiance of our face’ as we reflect the Lord Jesus Christ in our daily living.

Prayer: Lord, please help me today to live and work as one who has been forever changed by You. Father, please may I reflect Christ to every person that I come into contact with today – whether face-to-face on the phone, or text message, in writing, or email message. Help me, by Your Spirit, to make Christ known. Amen.

30 April 2019

Exodus 33

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, “I will give it to your descendants.” I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.’
When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites, “You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.”’ So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments at Mount Horeb.
The tent of meeting
Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the ‘tent of meeting’. Anyone enquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshipped, each at the entrance to their tent. 11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young assistant Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.
Moses and the glory of the Lord
12 Moses said to the Lord, ‘You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, “I know you by name and you have found favour with me.” 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you. Remember that this nation is your people.’
14 The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’
15 Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?’
17 And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.’
18 Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’
19 And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’
21 Then the Lord said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’

‘Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee’ is a line from a popular hymn of days gone by written by Augustus Toplady in 1763. Wikipedia tells us that ‘traditionally, it is held that Toplady drew his inspiration from an incident in the gorge of Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills in England.’

I suggest that the greater inspiration could very well have come from Exodus 33.21 because it describes exactly what the Lord God has done for those who have trusted in Him. Moses wants to see God’s face, the Lord says he can’t see the face of God and live but…God still provides a way. Dwell on verses 21-23 and marvel on this grace!

Prayer: Thank You our Father in heaven, for the promise of Your presence with us in the same way as You promised Your presence with Your people as they were making their way to the land flowing with milk and honey. Thank You that You kept that promise despite their failure to trust You. Lord, we pray that as we grasp the truth that You have hidden us in Christ, we might rest completely in Him as you take us, not to a better earthly place, but to heaven and eternity to be with You forever. Amen.

29 April 2019

Exodus 32

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered round Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods[a who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’

Aaron answered them, ‘Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods,[b Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.’ So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterwards they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

‘I have seen these people,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.’

11 But Moses sought the favour of the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance for ever.”’ 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, ‘There is the sound of war in the camp.’

18 Moses replied:

‘It is not the sound of victory,
    it is not the sound of defeat;
    it is the sound of singing that I hear.’

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

21 He said to Aaron, ‘What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?’

22 ‘Do not be angry, my lord,’ Aaron answered. ‘You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, “Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” 24 So I told them, “Whoever has any gold jewellery, take it off.” Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!’

25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughing-stock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, ‘Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.’ And all the Levites rallied to him.

27 Then he said to them, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbour.”’ 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, ‘You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.’

30 The next day Moses said to the people, ‘You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.’

31 So Moses went back to the Lord and said, ‘Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.’

33 The Lord replied to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.’

35 And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.

This well-known story of the golden calf shouldn’t just remain a well-known story, but must remind us of the seriousness of sin and rebellion against the Lord and His servants – in this case, Moses. Of course the hero in the story is, and will always be Yahweh.

‘They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded…’ (verse 8)

‘now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them’ (verse 10)

Sin is very serious indeed and the consequences are equally serious. We may not build a golden calf as God’s people did in their impatience, but we do at times go ahead of the Lord and far too easily ‘do it my way, now’. As we see in today’s reading, that is exactly what is offensive to God Almighty and He can only do one thing about it: punish the sin severely!

Too often we take for granted the Lords’s mercy as seen in verse 14: ‘the Lord relented and did not bring on His people the disaster he had threatened’; because we forget that He has also promised that ‘when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin’ (verse 34).

Prayer: Our Father in heaven, thank You for this reading today and for the warning it shouts at us convicting us of truth. Please continue reminding us by Your Spirit of Your holiness and justice especially during the times when we are tempted to do things our own way, in our own time. Help us to wait on You. Help us to trust You as You have revealed Your will in Your Word. Help us not just to be readers and hearers of Your Word, but doers also. In the Name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

27 April 2019

Prayer: Almighty Father, You have given Your only Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant that we may put away the old principle of corruption and wickedness, and always serve You in purity and truth; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

26 April 2019

Acts 4

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.
The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is
‘“the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.”
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 ‘What are we going to do with these men?’ they asked. ‘Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.’
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’
21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.
The believers pray
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord,’ they said, ‘you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
‘“Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.”[c
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
The believers share their possessions
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there was no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 4 records a prayer (verse 24-30) following trying circumstances. Peter and John healed a crippled man in the name of Jesus and incurred the wrath of the Jewish leaders. The Sanhedrin might utter warnings, threats and prohibitions, even try to silence the church; but their authority was subject to a higher authority still. They too are answerable …

… to the God who ‘made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them (verse 24).’ God pre-existed all and is the source of all things. He made it and He owns it … this is HIS world! Nothing happens outside His sovereign rule … He prescribes what He prescribes and permits what He permits to fulfil His plans and glory. And we are accountable ultimately to this God alone … not to men, whoever they are or however powerful they are.

… to the God who ‘spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant (verse 25).’ Having established His presence in and through creation, God speaks (Genesis 1) … whether to Adam and Eve or the Patriarchs; or through the Prophets and Kings (David) to Israel; or, in these last days, through the Living Word (Jesus) to the disciples; and now through the Written Word (the Bible) to you and me. Our God is not mute like the idols but is a speaking God. So we can know Him and relate to and with Him.

… to the God who ‘had decided beforehand [what] should happen (verse 28).’ Even though the nations rage, peoples plot in vain and the kings and rulers conspire – seen ultimately in the conspiracy between Jews and Gentiles to kill Jesus; nothing catches God by surprise. Even though they were expressing their own rebellious impulses and doing what they wanted to do; they were doing what God’s power and will had decided beforehand should happen! Even when we do exactly what we want to do … somehow, within our personalities and circumstances and choices and actions, we work out what God decided beforehand should happen!

This is our God … the God who makes and speaks and decides! That’s why we can have great confidence not just to pray to Him but to pray with boldness and confidence – He made us and cares for us; He knows us and loves us; and He will always choose for us what is for our eternal good and His eternal glory!

Prayer: Sovereign Lord, help us to recognise You as both the Creator God who rules and reigns over all things; but also as the personal and loving Father who longs for relationship, who cares for us and who knows what we need before we ask. Help us to remember that nothing happens unless You have decided beforehand it should happen. Make us mindful of this especially when things don’t go as we think they should. Help us to seek You in those times to see how, even then, You are working for our eternal good and Your eternal glory. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

25 April 2019

Acts 3

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, ‘Look at us!’ So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognised him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Peter speaks to the onlookers
11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: ‘Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.
17 ‘Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.”
24 ‘Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. 25 And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.”[b 26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.’

‘…why does this surprise you?’ (verse 12)

That’s what Peter asks in the wake of a man, lame from birth, being healed in Jesus’ name. Is there anything too hard for God to do through Jesus? If He can raise Jesus from the dead – the very Jesus that ‘they’ handed over to be killed; if He can fulfil ‘all’ the promises made to their forefathers and prophecies given through their prophets; if He can accomplish all these marvellous things … then why wouldn’t He be able to heal the lame in Jesus’ name?

Peter asks it in such a matter-of-fact way that he assumes his hearers (and we the readers) will concur – it’s no surprise that God can do this! He is great and majestic; He is wise and gracious; He is faithful and true; He is powerful and mighty. Nothing is too hard for Him – neither raising the dead, nor healing the lame; neither saving sinners, nor refreshing the weary. And if God can do all this, if God has done all this through Jesus, how can we not ‘Repent then and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out and times of refreshing may come from the Lord (verse 19)’?

Peter’s simple question is a wonderful pointer to the greatness of God and for us to respond to Him in repentance and faith; living lives that point others to His greatness too.

Prayer: O great God, glorify yourself in all the earth. Though we are so small and you are so grand, help us to magnify Your name. Help us to make Your name and the nature of Your grace larger and easier for people to see. Help us to live and to worship in such a way that we become like magnifying glasses through which our neighbours and co-workers and children and friends can see You come into focus in ways they may not have seen before. When people ask for an explanation of the hope we have, give us the words to answer thoughtfully and well. When people wonder out loud who Jesus is and why He matters, help us to reply in words that will echo the sweetness of Your gospel. Help us to magnify Your name, O Lord, so that You may be glorified in all the earth.  Amen.

Adapted from the Worship Source Book (Baker Books, 2013) page 193

24 April 2019

Exodus 20

And God spoke all these words:
‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
‘You shall have no other gods before[a me.
‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 ‘Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 ‘You shall not murder.
14 ‘You shall not commit adultery.
15 ‘You shall not steal.
16 ‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
17 ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’
18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not let God speak to us or we will die.’
20 Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’
21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
Idols and altars
22 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites this: “You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.
24 ‘“Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honoured, I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. 26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.”

Just a quick observation on this well-known chapter.

Well-known because it contains the Ten Commandments … a fixture in many churches’ aesthetics and a topic regularly taught from many pulpits. Ten Words that God gave to help His redeemed people live in right relationship to Him. Rightly accompanied by an appropriate response of fear from being in the presence of a holy God.

But notice how the chapter both starts and ends with God’s self-identification (verse 2 & 22) followed by a call to have no other God but Him (verse 3 & 23). One would have thought this obvious given who He is and what He has already done for them … but it seems that God considers it necessary to repeat – ‘have no other gods before me!’ I can only think this is because God knows their hearts – how hard-hearted they are and how quickly they forget His grace and goodness to them. They are easily distracted and easily tempted to worship another (that is no god at all!)

Sadly, we are no different from them! We too quickly forget God’s salvation and rescue in Jesus; we quickly forget God’s grace and goodness even just a few days after celebrating Easter. We too are so easily tempted to bow to the gods of this age – naturalism, relativism, subjectivism, and materialism! We too are prone to forget God and pursue idols made in our image.

Lest we forget, God is a jealous God and calls us to have no other gods before Him. Pray that today we will worship Him and Him alone, fleeing all others, bowing to none but Him.

Prayer: O great God, give us eyes and minds and hearts for You alone. Help us to see You in your greatness, Your goodness and Your grace; and so worship You alone. Guard our hearts from drift and desire. Protect us from wandering or straying towards the idols and false gods all around us; especially those created in our own minds and own image. Help us to walk before You alone in faithful obedience and holy service. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

23 April 2019

Exodus 19

On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt – on that very day – they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’
So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said.’ So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.
The Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.’ Then Moses told the Lord what the people had said.
10 And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Make them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, “Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death. 13 They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.” Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they approach the mountain.’
14 After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. 15 Then he said to the people, ‘Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.’
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. 19 As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.[c]
20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, ‘Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.’
23 Moses said to the Lord, ‘The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, “Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.”’
24 The Lord replied, ‘Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them.’
25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.

I love this chapter because it is a great reminder that grace precedes law, election precedes status, and holiness precedes religion!

The nation of Israel has arrived at Mount Sinai after leaving Egypt. God reminds them of all that He has already done: ‘I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself’ (verse 4). God acted in grace to deliver them from slavery and captivity and bring them to Himself. Now, Israel is to respond by obeying Him and keeping the covenant (no doubt the covenant with Abraham at this stage!). But note that grace (deliverance) precedes law (obedience) … they are carried before they are commanded! The law was never a means of deliverance, but to teach the delivered how to live in gratitude to the Deliverer. It teaches Israel how to live in response to the freedom they received through redemption; how to live as God’s people under God’s reign.

As they do, they will show the world their status as God’s people – His ‘treasured possession’! Of course, they are His not because they chose Him but because He chose them – ‘although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ (verse 5-6). Their status as God’s ‘treasured possession’ is not derived from anything intrinsic to them, not from anything special or significant about them or even their actions. Their status is derived from God’s choice of them to be His own. They are simply benefactors of grace, God’s grace – therein lies their status and significance.

Having been ‘carried’ and chosen, Israel are consecrated. That is, they are washed, cleansed and set apart by God and for God (verse 17). They are to be a ‘holy nation’ – a nation set apart for God, to serve Him alone. And yet, there are no formal religious structures or practices in place yet – these will follow shortly … but they are not here yet! Which means holiness doesn’t flow from religious practices or observances (as good as they are) but from being set apart for God, from being in right relationship with Him.

It’s easy to see how these lessons are still important for us today. Remember that our obedience must flow our deliverance by Jesus, rather than be the means to earn deliverance. Our status too comes from God’s work of adopting us as His children and calling us His children, rather than any merit of our own. And our holiness must be found in deep, personal relationship with God before it finds any expression in religious observance, lest the latter simply be empty ritual.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You that You take the initiative to carry us in salvation, choose us as Your children and consecrate us for Your service. Help us, as Your sons and daughters in this world, to show we are Yours through our faithful obedience to You and Your Word and through our holy service of You and Your kingdom.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

22 April 2019

Exodus 17

The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, travelling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarrelled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’
Moses replied, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?’
But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?’
Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.’
The Lord answered Moses, ‘Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.’ So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the Lord saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
The Amalekites defeated
The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.’
10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.’
15 Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. 16 He said, ‘Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.’

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us not to take for granted Your gracious hand of deliverance – but to stand in awe at Your mighty acts of salvation; especially in the shadow of this past Easter weekend.

Mindful that we have very real and practical needs, please don’t let them distract us from the goodness we’ve already received from You or let us grow entitled, embittered or quarrelsome in any way because of them.

Help us, in our moments of need and desperation, not to doubt Your goodness or Your generosity; and not to put You to the test like the Israelites did in the wilderness. Rather, help us to remember that ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things,’ (Romans 8:32) in accordance with Your glory and our eternal good.

Thank You that You did provide water for thirsty people; that You provided Living Water, Your Son, for the spiritually thirsty; and that You continue to provide for our physical needs today – knowing what we need even before we ask for it.

Help us to always walk in thankfulness, faithfulness and obedience before You.

In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

20 April 2019

Genesis 4

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.’ Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel also brought an offering – fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’
‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’
10 The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.’
13 Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’
15 But the Lord said to him, ‘Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.’ Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.
19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.
23 Lamech said to his wives,
‘Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
    wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
    a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
    then Lamech seventy-seven times.’
25 Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, ‘God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.’ 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.
At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.

Prayer: Grant, Lord, that as we have been baptised into the death of Your dear Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continually putting to death our sinful desires we may die to sin and be buried with Him, and that through the grave and gate of death we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for his sake who died and was buried and rose again for us, Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

19 April 2019

Acts 2

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’
Peter addresses the crowd
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 ‘“In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
22 ‘Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:
‘“I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.”
29 ‘Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
‘“The Lord said to my Lord:
    ‘Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.’”
36 ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
38 Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41 Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
The fellowship of the believers
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The coming of the Holy Spirit fulfilled a promise made through the Old Testament prophets nearly 600 years earlier, and confirmed by Christ both during His ministry (John 14:15-21) and before He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:4-5, 8). In this second chapter of Acts, at just the right moment in God’s long plan of redemption, He pours out the promised Holy Spirit, filling all the believers who make up that very first church, with the most wonderful results.

Peter stands up and preaches the gospel, using the scriptures to interpret everything that has happened to Jesus, warning the hearers and pleading with them, and finally calling on them to repent and be baptised. The believers devote themselves to the apostles teaching, to sharing fellowship together, and to prayer. They also show practical care for each other’s needs. In all respects, this is a vibrant and fully functioning church, devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It seems to have sprung out of nowhere. Before Christ ascended, the apostles were still asking if He was about to restore the kingdom to Israel, the same misunderstanding they had shown during much of His ministry. Ten days later, filled with the Spirit, Peter is articulating the gospel with truth and power.

Prayer: O Heavenly Father, how we thank You for Your Holy Spirit who fills us just as He filled those first believers. We pray that like them, we will devote ourselves to sound doctrine, to prayer, to Christian community and to works of justice and mercy, putting the gospel first in our lives and living each day by the strength of Your Spirit in us. Thank You for all the promises You have given throughout the scriptures – we find such joy and encouragement as we see them fulfilled, confirming in our hearts that You are the God who is faithful, and that every word You say is trustworthy and true. All praise and glory to You, our great God and Saviour. Amen.

18 April 2019

Acts 1

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’
Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’
He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’
Matthias chosen to replace Judas
12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, ‘Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.’
18 (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)
20 ‘For,’ said Peter, ‘it is written in the Book of Psalms:
‘“May his place be deserted;
    let there be no one to dwell in it,”
and,
‘“May another take his place of leadership.”
21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.’
23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’ 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Today’s passage chronicles the birth of the church, and we can easily miss the significance of this moment as we read the narrative. Christ has ascended before the watching disciples, having promised to send the gift of the Spirit, who will give them the power to be His witnesses everywhere. Although it’s the first time they are without Christ in their midst, He has taught them well, and Peter knows what to do – he goes to the scriptures and quotes the Psalms as authority to seek a replacement for Judas, so that the number of the apostles will be restored to twelve, the same number first appointed by Christ (Mark 3:14). He also knows what qualities the replacement must possess, and although this is the apostolic qualification, the ground is already laid in this first small church for the principle of leadership qualification that we later see in Titus and elsewhere.

How remarkable that from the moment Christ ascended into heaven, His church came into being, and has continued to grow ever since then as believers have shared the gospel, and as the Spirit has worked in the hearts of unbelievers everywhere. The early church was by no means perfect, and neither is ours today, but it is Christ’s gathered people, His treasured possession for which He will one day return.

Prayer: Thank you Father God that You prepared Your church from that very first day when Christ ascended to be with You in heaven, and You have preserved it ever since then. Thank you that we are part of your church where we can grow as believers, serve according to the gifts You give us, be taught from the scriptures, learn from the godly example of others in the body, and persevere to the very end as we encourage one another to stand firm in the faith.

O Lord, we know we could not walk this road on our own – how we bless You and praise You for giving us the church, and we pray that You will strengthen our commitment to be active and useful members of our own local church. Help us to always be obedient, humble, kind and loving as we seek the good of our brothers and sisters in the body, doing everything without grumbling or complaining, all for the glory of Christ, who is the head of the church. Amen.

17 April 2019

Exodus 16

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.’
So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?’ Moses also said, ‘You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.’
Then Moses told Aaron, ‘Say to the entire Israelite community, “Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.”’
10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked towards the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.
11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 ‘I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, “At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.”’
13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: “Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.”’
17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.
19 Then Moses said to them, ‘No one is to keep any of it until morning.’
20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.
21 Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. 22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much – two omers for each person – and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. 23 He said to them, ‘This is what the Lord commanded: “Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.”’
24 So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. 25 ‘Eat it today,’ Moses said, ‘because today is a sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. 26 Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.’
27 Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. 28 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? 29 Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.’ 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
31 The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: “Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.”’
33 So Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.’
34 As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, that it might be preserved. 35 The Israelites ate manna for forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan.
36 (An omer is one tenth of an ephah.)

Prayer: Gracious Father, just as You preserved Your people in the desert and provided for their needs, so we pray that You will help us not to be anxious about anything, but to come to You every day in prayer, committing all our needs to You and thanking You as we remember all You have done in our lives.

When we face difficult times, we pray for Your peace to guard our hearts and our minds against doubt, against worry and against fear. Heavenly Father, Your peace is beyond anything we can understand, able to uphold our spiritual stamina and give us the grace to stand firm and never give up the Christian walk, even if our problems remain. We put our trust in You, the sovereign Lord of the universe who loves us, to preserve us until the day of Christ Jesus. Yours, in whose name we pray. Amen.

16 April 2019

Exodus 14

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to camp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. Pharaoh will think, “The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.” And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.’ So the Israelites did this.
When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, ‘What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!’ So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians – all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops – pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians”? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’
13 Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’
15 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.’
19 Then the angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other; so neither went near the other all night long.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, ‘Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.’ 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing towards[c] it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen – the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

Hardness of heart is a fearful thing. In Exodus 14 we see that the Israelites are free, but once again Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and he musters his entire army to hunt them down and bring them back into captivity. We read that it was the Lord who hardened the heart of Pharaoh when he says to Moses ‘And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.’ (verse 4)

An arbitrary act of God? No, because earlier in Exodus after the plague of hail, when Pharaoh had apparently repented, Moses had understood the reality. ‘But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the Lord’ (Exodus 9:30). Pharaoh would not believe, in spite of all he had seen of God’s truth, his power and his sovereign rule, and God gave him over to hardness of heart.

Many still respond to God’s message with hard hearts, but let us not be discouraged. Look to the apostles – Paul said that he became all things to all people as he sought to find common ground, so that by any possible means he might save some. He did whatever was needed and went to the most extraordinary lengths to take the gospel to those who hadn’t heard. And commenting on the expectation of the Lord’s return, Peter said that He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. This doesn’t imply universal salvation, but shows God’s loving heart for the lost. He is long suffering, allowing time for unbelievers to hear the gospel and respond in faith, for as the prophet Ezekiel tell us, He takes no pleasure in their death. So let us be encouraged and take every opportunity to tell why we follow Jesus.

And what about our own hard hearts? Sometimes we read the scriptures and say ‘Oh no, that’s not me’ with just a touch of pride or self-righteousness. As much as we mourn hardness of heart in others, let us keep watch over our hearts so that they always remain tender to the work of the Spirit in us, and so that none of us will be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Instead, let us remember that final command of Jesus before He ascended into heaven, His commission to go and make disciples of all nations – even the hard hearted.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the gospel of Jesus Christ that has saved us and given us a glorious hope for eternity. Give us tender hearts for the lost, those in our own families who don’t serve You as Lord, those at work or in our communities whose hearts are hard towards the truth. Work in them by Your Spirit we pray, and use us to talk about Jesus wherever You’ve placed us, for Your glory and for the eternal joy of all who will believe. Amen.

15 April 2019

Exodus 13

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.’
Then Moses said to the people, ‘Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast. Today, in the month of Aviv, you are leaving. When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites – the land he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey – you are to observe this ceremony in this month: for seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the Lord. Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders. On that day tell your son, “I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.
11 ‘After the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your ancestors, 12 you are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord. 13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.
14 ‘In days to come when your son asks you, “What does this mean?” say to him, “With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.” 16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.’
Crossing the sea
17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ 18 So God led the people around by the desert road towards the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.
19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.’
20 After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. 21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

God’s plan to redeem the Israelites from slavery is first revealed in Exodus 3 when He speaks to Moses from the burning bush and instructs him to go to Pharaoh and call on him to release the Israelites. How unlikely it seemed then – but here in Exodus 13, the Israelites are free, and it’s clear to everyone that with a mighty hand, it is the LORD who has brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. God wants the Israelites to remember this, to remind themselves of His great salvation, to tell their children about it, and to think about it and speak about it all the time. After what they had witnessed, they certainly had a remarkable story to tell, of their sovereign and almighty God, I AM, who had prevailed on their behalf.
But we have an even more amazing story to tell – of God Himself coming in human likeness, and dying in our place, to rescue us from slavery to sin and death. Not just a salvation for the Israelites, but for all who will put their trust in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Do we keep reminding ourselves of what God has accomplished for us with His mighty hand? Do we tell our children why we follow Jesus? Does the gospel occupy our thoughts? What do we talk about, what do we read, what do we value, what is the burden of our conversation? As we go on, may our lives show more of Christ and less of the world.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, just as You called on the Israelites to remember their great deliverance from slavery, help us to always remember our own deliverance from sin, and to be thankful. You gave Your own son, Jesus Christ, as our Passover lamb, and His blood rescues us from sin and death. In thankfulness, may we submit to Christ as our Lord and follow Him as our true example of obedience and humility. We place no confidence in ourselves to accomplish this alone, yet we know that we can do all these things because you are at work in us, giving us both the desire and the ability to do what pleases You. Help us to live this way today, we pray. Amen.

13 April 2019

Genesis 3:7-19

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’
10 He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’
11 And he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?’
12 The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’
The woman said, ‘The snake deceived me, and I ate.’
14 So the Lord God said to the snake, ‘Because you have done this,
‘Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring[a and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.’
16 To the woman he said,
‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labour you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.’
17 To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,”
‘Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
   and to dust you will return.’

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, in tender love towards mankind You sent Your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to become man and suffer death on the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of His great humility. Grant that we may follow the example of His suffering, and also be made partakers of His resurrection; through Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

12 April 2019

Luke 24

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’ Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.


On the road to Emmaus
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognising him.
17 He asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, ‘Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’
19 ‘What things?’ he asked.
‘About Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.’
25 He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further. 29 But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.


Jesus appears to the disciples
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, ‘This is what is written: the Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’


The ascension of Jesus
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

Prayer: Dear Father God, our hearts leap with joy and worship as we read this incredible truth that Jesus conquered death and the grave could not hold Him. Thank You that Jesus is alive and seated at Your right hand in heaven. Thank You that our hearts are encouraged when we read the Old Testament Scriptures that testify of Your great plan of salvation.

Please open our minds so that we can understand the Scriptures. Help us to be true and willing witnesses of Your plan to save people from all nations. Help us not to keep this great truth to ourselves, but rather to look for opportunities to share Your message of love and power with those who don’t know You. Father, we praise You for Your wonderful plan of salvation. Amen.

11 April 2019

Luke 23

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.’
So Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied.
Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man.’
But they insisted, ‘He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.’
On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.
When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends – before this they had been enemies.
13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.’ 
18 But the whole crowd shouted, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’
22 For the third time he spoke to them: ‘Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.’
23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
The crucifixion of Jesus
26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” 30 Then
‘“they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’
    and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’”
31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?’
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’
42 Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
43 Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’
The death of Jesus
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.
47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’ 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
The burial of Jesus
50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

What a terrible injustice has been recorded in these verses! See how the accusations against Jesus just keep on getting more and more insistent whilst Pilate keeps on insisting that he finds no guilt in Jesus.

Accusations against Jesus increase:

‘…they began to accuse…’ (verse 2)

‘…they insisted…’ (verse 5)

‘…vehemently accusing…’ (verse 10)

‘…shouted, “Away with this man!”‘ (verse 18)

‘…kept shouting, “Crucify him!”‘ (verse 21)

‘…with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified…’ (verse 23)

Yet Pilate finds no guilt in Jesus (verses 4, 14, 22) neither does king Herod (verse 15). This is very important because it tells us the Jesus’ death on the cross was not for any sin or crime of His own. His death was a substitutionary death – the innocent for the guilty. This is so well illustrated by the substitution that took place in Pilates court – Jesus, who had been found innocent, was handed over to be crucified, whilst the guilty Barabbas got to go free.

Jesus’ crucifixion was no ordinary crucifixion. Rome crucified thousands of Jews. But Jesus was a Jew that Rome did not want to crucify – Pilate wanted to release Jesus (verse 20 cf. 16, 22) because He was innocent.

Jesus died so that Barabbas can be saved; Jesus died so that criminals can have eternal life (verse 43); Jesus died so that His accusers and crucifiers can be forgiven (verse 34); Jesus died so that forgiveness of sins can be proclaimed to all nations (Luke 24:47); Jesus died so that you and I (anyone) can be saved and reconciled to God (Romans 5:8 cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Jesus died a substitutionary death – the innocent for the guilty.

What a wonderful injustice has been recorded in these verses!

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, we are so grateful for Jesus Your only Son who died a substitutionary death for us. Thank You for Your amazing love, that while we were Your enemies, Jesus died for us so that we can be saved and reconciled to You. Help us to seek to know You more and more through Your Word and help us to worship You in lives of thanksgiving and service. Amen.

10 April 2019

Exodus 12

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, ‘This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbour, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door-frames of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire – with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
12 ‘On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
14 ‘This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord – a lasting ordinance. 15 For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day until the seventh must be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat; that is all you may do.
17 ‘Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. 18 In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. 19 For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And anyone, whether foreigner or native-born, who eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel. 20 Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.’
21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the door-frame. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. 23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the door-frame and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.
24 ‘Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, “What does this ceremony mean to you?” 27 then tell them, “It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.”’ Then the people bowed down and worshipped. 28 The Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.
29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.
The exodus
31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.’
33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. ‘For otherwise,’ they said, ‘we will all die!’ 34 So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. 35 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The Lord had made the Egyptians favourably disposed towards the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.
37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38 Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 With the dough the Israelites had brought from Egypt, they baked loaves of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.
40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt[b was 430 years. 41 At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt. 42 Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honour the Lord for the generations to come.
Passover restrictions
43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘These are the regulations for the Passover meal:
‘No foreigner may eat it. 44 Any slave you have bought may eat it after you have circumcised him, 45 but a temporary resident or a hired worker may not eat it.
46 ‘It must be eaten inside the house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. 47 The whole community of Israel must celebrate it.
48 ‘A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. 49 The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.’
50 All the Israelites did just what the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 And on that very day the Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.

This is the very first Passover that the Israelites experienced and they were instructed to never forget it, but to keep reminding themselves, their children and future generations of this great event. The blood of the lamb had a very significant role in the first Passover – when the Lord saw the blood on the doorposts, He passed over that house, and the sons of Israel were spared from death.
Every year after the Exodus, when Israel celebrated the Passover, the lamb would now have the significance of both instruction and remembrance. They were to to instruct their children regarding the significance of the Passover meal and they were to remember that God brought them out of slavery with His mighty hand.
Today we are only days away from remembering the fulfilment of this event – Good Friday. This is the day Jesus went to the cross to die for us and take God’s wrath that was meant for us. Jesus died during the Passover Festival as our Passover Lamb, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

Just as the Passover lamb in Exodus 12 spared the Israelites from God’s angel of death, in the same way we are spared from God’s wrath because, Jesus, our Passover Lamb has been slain for us.

As we approach Easter this year, when we remember the sacrificial death of Jesus and His glorious resurrection, let us instruct our hearts, our families and our friends accordingly; as we remember that God has saved us, rescued us, and delivered us from the power of sin and death, bringing us into His glorious light where we now live with newness of life and enjoy everlasting life with Jesus, our King and our Saviour.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for Passover. Thank You that You saved Your people from the death angel through the blood of the Passover lamb. Thank You that You sent Jesus to die on the cross as the Lamb to save us from sin and death and reconcile us back to You.

Help us to remember Your great act of love – that You gave Your Son as the sacrificial Passover Lamb so that we might live. Help us to remember this every day and to respond accordingly. Thank You for reminding us of Your love today as we read Your Word. Amen.

9 April 2019

Exodus 11

Now the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbours for articles of silver and gold.’ (The Lord made the Egyptians favourably disposed towards the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.)
So Moses said, ‘This is what the Lord says: “About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt – worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.” Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, “Go, you and all the people who follow you!” After that I will leave.’ Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.
The Lord had said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you – so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.’ 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.

Prayer: Dear Father God, we come before You with reverent fear as we acknowledge that You are all-powerful and that You have the power to turn our hearts in whatever way You would choose. You turned the hearts of the Egyptians towards the Israelites and You hardened the heart of Pharaoh.

Lord, soften our hearts and turn our hearts towards You. Turn our hearts to seek Your will. Turn our hearts away from worthless things. May our delight and desire be in You.

Help us today to seek Your presence. May we be drawn into closer relationship with You every day.

Thank You that You love us; teach us to love You more. Amen.

8 April 2019

Exodus 10

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord.’
So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians – something neither your parents nor your ancestors have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.”’ Then Moses turned and left Pharaoh.
Pharaoh’s officials said to him, ‘How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the Lord their God. Do you not yet realise that Egypt is ruined?’
Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. ‘Go, worship the Lord your God,’ he said. ‘But tell me who will be going.’
Moses answered, ‘We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the Lord.’
10 Pharaoh said, ‘The Lord be with you – if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil. 11 No! Let only the men go and worship the Lord, since that’s what you have been asking for.’ Then Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.
12 And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over Egypt so that locusts swarm over the land and devour everything growing in the fields, everything left by the hail.’
13 So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the Lord made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts; 14 they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again. 15 They covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail – everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt.
16 Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you. 17 Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the Lord your God to take this deadly plague away from me.’
18 Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. 19 And the Lord changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea. Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt. 20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.


The plague of darkness
21 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand towards the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt – darkness that can be felt.’ 22 So Moses stretched out his hand towards the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. 23 No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.
24 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, ‘Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.’
25 But Moses said, ‘You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the Lord our God. 26 Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshipping the Lord our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord.’
27 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go. 28 Pharaoh said to Moses, ‘Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.’
29 ‘Just as you say,’ Moses replied. ‘I will never appear before you again.’

Prayer: Dear heavenly Father, thank You that You have displayed Your power in rescuing Your people from slavery in Egypt. Thank You that You are sovereign over all things and every situation. Thank You that we can know You as our God and that You show Yourself to be powerful in all things and in all situations.

We thank You that we can trust You to do as You have promised and that we can know that You are in control of everything – even natural things like the locusts and the wind – and even when things may look like they are out of control.

Forgive us for the times when we are stubborn and want to do our own things in our own way. Forgive us for not always trusting You. Help us to be obedient to Your Word and to humble ourselves before You and to trust You more. Make us more confident in You, our God, and our Deliverer. Amen.

6 April 2019

Genesis 3

Now the snake was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’
The woman said to the snake, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”’
‘You will not certainly die,’ the snake said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’
10 He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’
11 And he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?’
12 The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’
The woman said, ‘The snake deceived me, and I ate.’
14 So the Lord God said to the snake, ‘Because you have done this,
‘Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.’
16 To the woman he said,
‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labour you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.’
17 To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,”
‘Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.’
20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.
21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live for ever.’ 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

We beseech You, Almighty God, to look in mercy on Your people: that by Your great goodness they may be governed and kept safe evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen