Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

Iron sharpens iron

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Right in his own eyes

Sunday, June 21, 2020

We live in strange times.  For my lifetime up to this point, at least, the focus in the church has been on doctrine surrounding worship and salvation.  This has been for two reasons—first, those were the main problems the church faced; and second, we pretty much all agreed on the basic standard of right and wrong already.  Our nation, taking most of its moral cues from the Bible, mostly agreed, and so we were left to argue over finer points, which are nonetheless important.  Who would have thought, a month ago, that there would be widespread questions over whether stealing, for example, was right or wrong?  There was theft, of course; but the great majority, in both the church and the world, could easily agree that it was wrong, even if they might have disagreed on precisely why.

I’ve held off talking about this because there were other things more pressing than this to address, and because I wanted to take some time to develop my understanding of worldly events, and to think about God’s Word on the matter.  With that done, it’s no longer time to remain silent, and I’m afraid this is becoming a pressing concern that the church should be ready to meet.

We live in a society that no longer agrees on right and wrong.  The groundwork for this rift was laid a long time ago, with some maintaining that the things God clearly says are sinful are, well, sinful, and others saying that such attitudes are hateful, intolerant, and directly contrary to God’s Word, or that God’s Word doesn’t matter, or that God doesn’t exist, and we get to make up our own rules.  Let’s consider an example of a world without enforcement of any of God’s rules.  If you’ve never read the last five chapters of the book of Judges, there’s no better time than now to do so.  They are not G-rated, or even PG-13; they paint a grisly picture of life without some enforcement of God’s basic moral rules.

It begins in chapters 17 and 18  with a story of theft within a family, giving way to idolatry and a perversion of the priesthood, after which the author gives a helpful note to explain how events got this ridiculous: “In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg 17.6).  The guy behind all of that nonsense, Micah, ends up being victimized, in turn.  What he had built is stolen from him, by a marauding band of fellow Israelites, who then go and murder an entire city for the express purpose of leaving the land God had allotted to them, and taking these poor people’s home for themselves.  There’s no one to mourn these “quiet and unsuspecting” people (18.27) as the tribe of Dan sets up its own city, as well as an idolatrous shrine.  Lovely.

Shifting gears, we see some more awful behavior in chapter 19, prefaced with a reminder that “there was no king in Israel” at the time (19.1).  This time a nameless Levite has a falling out with his concubine (by the way, for some reason he had a concubine rather than a wife…), and then in the course of reconciling, his father-in-law coaxes him into a five-day party, which raises the question, don’t these guys have anything useful to do?  The Levite finally sets out on his journey home with his…girl (e.g. v3)…as evening falls, which does not seem like a stupendously responsible decision.  They pass the town of Jebus, not wanting to stay there because it’s full of (*shudder*) Gentiles, and eventually reach the Benjaminite town of Gibeah.  The Israelites of that town then attempt to force themselves sexually on the nameless Levite, who, in a despicable act of cowardice, throws his concubine to these animals, who proceed to, um, mistreat the poor girl, to such an extent that she dies.  How’s that no-enforcement thing looking?

Believe it or not, it gets worse—the Levite (the girl’s “master” according to 19.27) dismembers her body and sends these gruesome postcards to the 12 tribes of Israel.  The entire nation is, on the bright side, outraged at this incident, and so after some tribal back-and-forth and escalation, they determine that the logical reaction is to exterminate the tribe of Benjamin, which, call me crazy, seems excessive.  In the ensuing war, at least 65,000 men are killed, and that doesn’t take account of the death toll within the towns, of which it is reported, “all the towns that they found they set on fire” (20.48).  In the aftermath, someone notices that no one came to help from Jabesh-gilead, in the eastern territory of Manasseh, and so, of course, they slaughter that entire town for the crime of not helping them slaughter several other towns.  They do spare the 400 young girls they find there, in order to give them forcibly as wives for the few remaining Benjaminites whose tribe they just finished massacring.  This isn’t enough to ensure the tribe doesn’t die out completely, and so “the elders of the congregation” (21.16) settle on a plan of community-sponsored rape.  The whole thing leaves me feeling like I could use a shower.  Lest we forget, the author helpfully reminds us, as the chapter, and indeed the book, ends: “In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21.25).

Why anyone would think that some sort of rule-free, communal paradise is a viable option, is beyond me.  Humanity tried that once—you can read about it in Genesis 3 and 4.  In those sorts of situations, someone always brings evil into it, and it’s not long before Paradise descends into hatred and violence, where the only moral code is to do what you want at others’ expense.  That’s not God’s way—“every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart” (Pr 21.2).  In fact, we could go farther: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Pr 14.12 & 16.25).  Jesus has promised us a return to Paradise.  We can see its firstfruits in the church he established, and can glimpse from afar what awaits us after this life.  As long as we live in a fleshly world, evil will reign, and we must stand against it.  But take courage, and as you stand for God’s Word on what is right, look forward to the day “when all things are subjected to him” (1Co 15.28).

Jeremy Nettles

What's in your heart?

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Jesus constantly dealt with hypocrites, most of whom simply didn’t like that he didn’t praise them or uphold them as the paragon of righteousness; and what’s perhaps most infuriating about them is that they’re willing to go to amazing lengths to try to discredit him, focusing in on whatever minuscule breach of etiquette they can pin on him, or even on his followers, in order to delegitimize his authority or righteousness. 

One of the standout encounters of this sort is found in chapter seven of Mark’s Gospel, when the Pharisees notice that some of Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating.  We’ve all gotten used to life with COVID-19, and so perhaps empathize a bit with their complaint, but of course they’re not concerned about external effects eventuated by lackluster hygiene—they’re just mad that the “tradition of the elders” (v5) is being ignored.

I’ve written about this text before in the last few months, focusing somewhat on the good aspects of these traditions, but this time I’d like to pay more attention to Jesus’ response, and apply that standard to us.  He deftly swats down the initial complaint, calling out the hypocrisy, and the fact that tradition is a far lower standard than God’s commandment; but he’s not done there.

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” (Mk 7.14-15)

This would seem like lunacy to his audience of Jewish disciples, because of course their entire system of ritual purity focused on the external, with detailed instructions about how to avoid defilement, and what onerous steps had to be taken in order to be considered “clean” after a defiling event, such as coming into contact with a dead body, becoming infected with various dermatological ailments, eating unclean foods, having a baby, or even simply participating in various required aspects of worship that led to ritual defilement.  Even though God acknowledged that many of these acts weren’t avoidable, there’s a general stigma against even taking the action that would lead to becoming ceremonially unclean, which is particularly easy to see with respect to the dietary code in Leviticus 11, where the terms are “clean” and “unclean” just like the rest, but they’re commanded, “You shall not eat” the unclean foods (e.g. Le 11.8).

Yet, here Jesus says the opposite, even to the point that Mark includes a helpful commentary on his teaching, “Thus he declared all foods clean” (Mk 7.19).  Of course, this is because of what Paul says in Colossians:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Co 2.16-17)

Jesus is explaining to them more fully, at the proper time, what the Law was meant to teach them about holiness—that it is delicate, that it is easily tainted, that it must be carefully guarded and deliberately cultivated; and that our everyday actions in even the most mundane situations put us in danger of defiling ourselves.

In, or Out?

However, those shadows were not the substance, and the substance gives us freedom, while simultaneously applying a more stringent standard on us.

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mk 7.20-23)

If we’re honest, we’ll admit that there is darkness within our hearts, however much we wish it weren’t there, try to eradicate it, or simply pretend it isn’t so.  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Je 17.9).  Our hearts are complicated, more complicated than we ourselves even understand, and within the labyrinth are corners, walls, and even entire hallways that remain hidden in the shadows ruled by the “the cosmic powers over this present darkness” (Ep 6.12).  If left to our own devices, we’d all succumb to that darkness and let it enslave us, while telling ourselves that we are really the ones in charge.

When we repent of sin, as Jesus tells us over and over again that we must do, we are, in a sense, filling another of those dark corners with the light of Christ, exposing their secrets for what they are, and replacing them with truth, love, and God’s glory.  It’s all too easy to pin our eternal fate on a single “come to Jesus” moment, and while there is a clear turning point, demonstrated by the many events of baptism and conversion preserved and explained for us in the book of Acts, we must not stop there.  This is to be a lifelong process of conforming more and more closely the image of God’s Son (Ro 8.29), constantly examining and testing ourselves (2Co 13.5), never sitting back in satisfaction with our own cleanness.  “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Pr 4.23).

Jeremy Nettles

Mob Injustice

Sunday, June 07, 2020

We recently studied Pontius Pilate at River Ridge.  While the story of the man himself is instructive, one aspect of the story that really stands out to me is how readily he is swayed by the mob.  The historical record offers some pretty strong clues as to why this is, but even without those the Bible makes it clear that a) he knew Jesus was innocent; b) he knew the mob was both dangerous and fickle; and c) he based his decision, not on justice, but on whatever would appease the crowd.  It is with disapproval that the earliest Christians remember his part in the story. While acknowledging that his role had been to further “whatever [God’s] hand and [God’s] plan had predestined to take place” (Ac 4.28), they portray Pilate as one of the Gentiles who raged, plotted in vain, and “gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed” (vv25-26, citing Ps 2.1-2).

The mob is even worse, of course.  Jesus tells Pilate “he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” (Jn 19.11b).  They are the driving force, not Jesus, and not Pilate.  Yet even they had been hijacked by a small cadre of ideologues who bent the mob to their own will.  As Mark tells us, the greater part of the crowd had gathered, not to demand Jesus’ execution, but to request the release of a prisoner, because “at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked” (Mk 15.6).  Perhaps it’s Pilate’s naïveté showing through, but more likely he knows enough about Jesus and his following that he simply assumes they will be asking for this harmless, innocent teacher, suggesting to them in verse 9, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”

But no—the society’s supposed moral betters had already gotten to them.  “The chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas” (v11), a rebel, “who had committed murder in the insurrection” (15.7).  Note that Mark doesn’t say he was suspected of committing murder, or that he was awaiting trial for murder, but that was in fact guilty of that offense.  Yet, having been primed by these self-righteous snakes, the mob goes right along in asking that he be put back on the streets of Jerusalem, among their wives, children, friends, and businesses.  It’s obviously not in their own best interests even from a fleshly perspective, but they made the mistake of listening to the lies  spread by those who supposedly stood for justice and righteousness.

“So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (Mk 15.15).  He knows justice is not being served.  He knows this is due to the “envy” (v10) of an elite few.  Still, he bows to the mob, and gives them what they think they want.  Pilate was not a God-fearing man, but was appointed by God for a purpose:

There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. (Ro 13.1b-4a)

Jesus says the same to Pilate’s face, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (Jn 19.11a).  Pilate failed in this purpose, and while he preserved his political power for a while, he also made himself guilty, by going along with the mob.

I suppose it’s obvious why I’ve been thinking about these events a lot lately, and perhaps as you read it you’re trying to determine what is my political angle.  I don’t know that I have one—I just can’t get past the moral catastrophe that has unfolded in every major American city over the last two weeks.  There’s been so much rotten behavior, from so many sources, fueled by pent-up stress and cabin fever after we all locked ourselves away for two months, and fanned into flame—figuratively, by the same sort of self-righteous, cynical snobs as those who smugly celebrated after murdering Jesus; and literally, by a morally bankrupt mob, devoid of the conscience that would have barred most of the individuals from such acts, if only they weren’t egged on by truly reprehensible instigators.

I’ve been very saddened to see so many lives destroyed, so many people who worked hard and did their best to build something, suffered through the economic drought of the pandemic, and then watched all their labor go up in smoke, or out the door in the hands of thieves, or simply dashed in pieces because a mob was angry and they happened to be the closest target.  It’s tough to watch.  Every element of the story, from the incident that provided the spark, to the smoldering ruins, breaks my heart to see.  But it’s not the first time this has happened, even in this country, and although it may get much, much worse, it may also get much, much better.  That’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves.

There are other mob scenes in the Bible, and they’re all instructive as we try to process this and move forward.  But I’d like to wrap up with the one that occurred in Ephesus, led by a group of people who felt their economic fortunes were looking bleak, and exacerbated by racial hatred between Gentiles and Jews.  Eventually, a nameless, low-ranking public official steps in and addresses the crowd.  He soothes the specific fears of the instigators, and then closes:

“If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

Every town should have such a clerk.  This guy isn’t even a Christian, but he shows a basic awareness of right and wrong, practical foresight, and the guts to put his own life on the line for what’s right, and for the common good.  How much better could you do?

Jeremy Nettles

Listen to Him

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The transfiguration of Jesus is an episode in the Gospel that almost feels like a dream to us.  Jesus performed a number of miracles, but the great majority of them fall into a couple of categories—healing, and demonstrating mastery over nature.  On top of that, there are a handful of instances in the Gospels when the Father gets involved, speaking from heaven or altering natural phenomena, but it’s rare.  We’ve perhaps gotten used to the miracles by this point—not to be irreverent, but Jesus does them so often that they become for us a bit commonplace.

And then there’s the transfiguration.  Before that, he feeds people, teaches people, walks on water, heals people, teaches people, people, feeds people, and teaches people some more; then all of a sudden, he’s on a mountain somewhere, talking to two dead guys while shining like the sun and being shrouded by a shiny cloud that talks.  Then he heals some more, teaches some more, sends his disciples out to teach, heals some more…Clearly, one of these things is not like the others, and we’re perhaps left feeling the way we do in a dream, when we can’t keep up and process all of the sensory input we’re receiving, and struggle to recall it later.  In fact, although by all available evidence this happened in the physical world, Jesus even refers to it as a “vision” as he is telling “heavy with sleep” (Lk 9.32) Peter, James, and John to keep it quiet for the time being: “as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead’” (Mt 17.9).  Yet, although it remains somewhat fuzzy, its immediate witnesses weren’t allowed to mention it, and we can’t explain or fully understand everything that occurred, there’s surely a reason this episode is shared with us.

Where?

We don’t know exactly where this took place.  The authors of the Gospels tell us it happened on “a high mountain” (e.g. Mt 17.1), but that isn’t very specific.  The most serious of the many proposed locations are Mount Tabor and Mount Hermon, but really, it isn’t all that important beyond what we’re told—it’s a mountain.  Why?  Because it juts into the sky, getting closer to heaven, in a manner of speaking.  There’s a long history and tradition surrounding God and mountains, for example Moses’ several meetings with him on Mt. Sinai, as well as Mt. Nebo; the Temple Mount also fits in here going all the way back to Genesis 22, and of course the Israelites’ unauthorized use of “high places” to worship God, as wells as idols, subscribes to the same notion.  So, when Jesus ascends a mountain and encounters these two heroes of the Old Testament, as well as the Father himself, it’s both symbolic of proximity to God, and a reference to the many other encounter like this one.

When?

The transfiguration took place “after six days” (e.g. Mt 17.1), which is not particularly helpful without knowing the context, but what’s more important is knowing the overall story arc, and this incident’s place on that arc.  It follows right after Peter confessed his belief that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (e.g. Mt 16.16), and Jesus’ pronouncements not only about the church he would institute, but about his own coming death and resurrection.  After this point, while Jesus continued much of the same teaching and healing as before, he also foretold twice more that he would die and rise, and it was shortly after this that he “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9.51), setting off the cycle of events culminating in that death and resurrection.  There’s much left to the story, but the transfiguration is a turning point, after which the story focuses on coming closer and closer to the purpose for which Jesus came to earth.

Who?

The usual members of the cast are standard equipment at this point, but the other two, Moses and Elijah, are quite surprising, not least because they’re dead—well, sort of.  Moses had died before Israel entered the promised land, and God buried his body somewhere secret (De 34.5-6); but Elijah was taken up into heaven without experiencing death (2Ki 2.11).  In fact these two events happened in the same area, just east of the Jordan River opposite Jericho.  There are other similarities between Moses and Elijah, from their meetings with God on Mt. Sinai to their crossing bodies of water on dry land, to their relationship with Israel’s thirst.  But perhaps most important to the transfiguration is their status as representatives.  In broad terms, Moses stands for the Law, and Elijah stands for the Prophets—the whole of God’s word to Israel.

Why?

In this, the reason and purpose are made clear.  Peter’s dumbfounded, cringe-inducing input at seeing all of this is to say, “let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mk 9.5).  It’s obvious that he attaches some kind of religious significance to these proposed tents, perhaps in line with the Feast of Tabernacles.  Since he proposes a tent for each one, it’s as if he’s exalting Jesus, implying that he holds him in the same regard as even Moses and Elijah—high praise, indeed!  Yet, “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’” (Mt 17.5).  And that’s pretty much the point of this whole thing, both for them and for us.  We may hold Jesus in high esteem, but does he have any equals in our minds?  The Father gave his endorsement of his Son’s teaching, the next step in fulfilling, superseding, and annulling the old way of doing things.  For us, it’s probably now the Jewish Law and Prophets that need to be subordinated to Christ, but whatever else we might hold in high regard, whatever else we might consider authoritative.  These things may still be good, but they are nothing in comparison to God’s own Son.  Let’s make sure we are listening to him.

Jeremy Nettles

Be Strong and Courageous

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The exhortation given in the title is a strange curiosity.  It appears about thirteen times in the Old Testament (depending on the translation), and most of them occur within the space of a few weeks.  Then, it’s brought out in seemingly dire or uncertain situations, using the same Hebrew phrase in an almost formulaic pattern; yet rather than becoming a tired, old standard, we only see it used these few times.

It begins in Deuteronomy 31, as Moses is wraps up his long address to the nation of Israel, which functions as a history, a sermon, a pep-talk, and a farewell speech all in one.  As he tells them his leadership role is about to pass to Joshua when the nation crosses the Jordan to encounter a new set of obstacles, he tells them: “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (v6).  Immediately after this, he shifts his focus away from the nation and onto their future leader, Joshua, telling him also,

Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. (vv7-8)

Then, he repeats it again in verse 23 of the same chapter.

Apparently, God wanted this to leave a lasting impression on Joshua, because he takes those words he’d so recently put in Moses’ mouth, and and speaks them directly to Joshua, just after Moses’ death: “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Jos 1.5-6).  After giving Joshua this reassurance of his blessing and presence, he also tells Joshua what is involved in carrying out this mandate, telling him, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (v7).  Just in case Joshua didn’t get the picture from all of this, he repeats the refrain once more in verse 9, so that Joshua is left with four points to take away from what God has told him: 1) I know it’s scary to have lost your leader and to take over as his untested, unproven replacement; 2) I know it’s scary to risk your life and the lives of your people fighting against an entrenched enemy with no earthly allies; 3) but I will be with you and give you the same success I gave to Moses; 4) if you will trust me and keep my commandments even when it seems to you there’s a better way.

God isn’t the only one strengthening Joshua with this exhortation—the people, who had been told the same thing by Moses just a short time before, and who had witnessed Moses telling Joshua twice to “be strong and courageous,” remind him of that commission once more as they express solidarity with him as their new leader:

“All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.” (vv16-18)

This time, it serves as a vote of confidence, acknowledging that they’re following the New Guy into some of the most risky and consequential actions of their nation’s history to date, and reassuring him that they feel the stress to, but consider that they’re all in this together, and will not abandon or rebel against him.

The impression all of this was supposed to make on Joshua clearly lasted.  We find him, some time later, in the midst of the war of conquest, repeating the same words back to his people, as the opening stages of the war wrap up with astonishing success, ushering in a series of campaigns that we only see in summary in chapters 10 and 11 of Joshua.  During this transitional period of the narrative, at a point when God has demonstrated his faithfulness, Joshua has demonstrated his leadership, and the people have demonstrated their obedience—all the things that had been somewhat in question before—Joshua propels them on to the next phase of the conquest by saying, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight” (Jos 10.25).  It’s a deliberate reminder of what Moses had said, what God had said, and what the people themselves had said, before all this started, and a confirmation that all parties had been faithful to their promises, and should continue to be.

Later

After this, it disappears for several hundred years.  The next time we see it is in Psalm 27.14, where David considers some of the same themes present in Deuteronomy and Joshua, then closes by saying, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”  He’s added a poetic flair to it, but at its core this is the same Hebrew phrase, and he says the same thing again in verse 24 of Psalm 34, after a similar expression of trust that God will keep his promises to those who keep faith with him.

David is also the source of the next pair of times this phrase shows up, in a strikingly close comparison to the way Moses began the whole thing.  As he prepares to hand the reins over to his son Solomon he says, “you will prosper if you are careful to observe the statutes and the rules that the Lord commanded Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Fear not; do not be dismayed.”  He deliberately recalls the words of God in Joshua 1.7, while playing out a similar scenario as in Deuteronomy 31.  The longtime leader of the people is passing the torch to someone untested and unproven, and David clearly sees the similarity to Moses and Joshua, and hopes Solomon will succeed him as worthily as Joshua succeeded Moses.  Lest he (or we) forget, David tells Solomon this same thing a bit later, in the presence of the assembled representatives of Israel: “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished” (1Ch 28.20).  One can’t help but notice that, this time, he’s deliberately included even more of the words of Moses to the people and to Joshua.

It appears once more, after another few centuries, this time in the mouth of Hezekiah, whose name means “the Lord strengthens,” using the same root as appears in the phrase that has been our focus.  He puns on his own name while referring back to Moses and Joshua again, telling a nation paralyzed by fear of an invading Assyrian army, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him” (2Ch 32.7).  In the face of gigantic army of pagan evildoers, he subtly reminds his people of another time in their history when they fought against overwhelming numbers, and overcame through God’s help.

Today

Of course, these words apply to us at all times, considering the work we do in building a spiritual dwelling for God on earth, and the spiritual war we fight against the devil and his minions, the constant frailties and shortcomings that hamper our efforts and set us back, our lack of confidence in the flesh we all inhabit, and the unseen nature of God’s greatest promises to us.  Today, however, they apply to us all the more, because of the war we’ve been fighting against the pandemic.  This has often left us uncertain and afraid, perhaps even in dread.  But especially now, as our communities begin to open the doors and take small steps back toward the way things were before the virus hijacked our lives and livelihoods, the transitional nature, the untested, unproven leaders and methods, the risks, and the moral imperatives, all come together to create a similar scenario to those in which various Israelites were told, “be strong and courageous.”  We would do well to heed these words, too, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Ro 8.15), “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2Ti 1.7), and Jesus has the power to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb 2.15).  We are sons of God, and he loves us and delivers us both from sin and, eventually, from death as well.  And, we have work to do.  This doesn’t mean we should jump willy-nilly into the fray, throw caution to the wind, and welcome the virus into our open arms (and lungs).  But it does mean that we should remember what’s really important, keep our eyes on the joy set before us, continue to take reasonable precautions to preserve our own lives and the lives of others, especially those who are more vulnerable, and otherwise be careful to do according to all that the Lord has commanded us.  We all knew going into this time that it wouldn’t last forever, and although it’s not over yet, we’ve reached the proper time to carefully venture into the world again.  As we do so, let’s be strong and courageous.

Jeremy Nettles

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