Sunday 4th February – Psalm 43
1 Vindicate me, my God,
and plead my cause
against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
deceitful and wicked.
2 You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?
3 Send me your light and your faithful care,
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
4 Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.
5 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
This is another Psalm asking God to vindicate the Psalmist because there are deceitful and wicked people who are oppressing him. He is also questioning God’s lack of action saying “Why have you rejected me?”(v2). Perhaps there are times, like the Psalmist, when you have felt annoyed or even angry at God; in those circumstances it is good to seek out passages like this which show us that even though we feel deserted it doesn’t mean we are.
The Psalmist tells God, “You are my stronghold” and then goes on to ask God to send his light and truth to him. Older people brought up on the Scottish Metrical Psalms will remember Verses 3-5 of this Psalm to the Tune Invocation – “O send thy Light forth and thy Truth, let them be guides to me”
When we feel down it is to the place of worship with others that will bring us light and help. Going it alone never helps. The Psalmist concludes not by questioning God but with a question to himself, “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” and answers his question with a response, “hope in God for I shall yet praise him, my Saviour and my God” (v5). Hope comes when we praise God.
READINGS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
If you don’t have a bible at home you can find the readings on a website such as www.biblegateway.com or an app such as YouVersion
Monday Matthew 2:13-18
Throughout the whole of the Old Testament, since God’s promise to Abraham, the old Serpent of Genesis, the Devil, sought to stamp out the promise which implied wiping out all of Abraham’s children of promise. By the time we come to the fulfilment, the arrival of the Messianic King Jesus, his fury grows to a frenzy. This King must not survive and in order to make sure he sends his murderous troops to kill ever boy under two. Warned by an angel however the family escape to Egypt which will provide a temporary home for them just as it did for the family of Jacob during the widespread famine. When Herod died however they returned and Mathew highlights the fact that that was mentioned prophetically by Hosea (11:1)
The killing of the children, called the slaughter of the innocents, isn’t ignored though and Matthew returns again to the Old Testament with the quotation from Jeremiah (31:15) about Rachel weeping for her children. Rachel who was Jacob’s favourite, died in childbirth giving birth to her second son and said that his name would be “son of my sorrow” (Ben-oni), Jacob however said no, he would be “son of the right hand” (Benjamin) but on the human side it was a sad episode.
Years later when the Israelites were led captive to Babylon they passed Rachel’s tomb on the way into exile and the prophet Jeremiah gave vent to their feelings of loss in, “Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not”. The women of Bethlehem mourned the loss of their children however, in the midst of loss, God’s Messiah was saved in the flight down to Egypt.
Tuesday Mathew 2:19-23
After the death of Herod an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to return to Israel which he did although bypassing Bethlehem where Jesus was born and heading North to the Galilee area because Archelaus was now ruling in the South. Archelaus was a son of Herod the Great and he began to assert sovereignty over the Southern part of his Father’s Kingdom even before Caesar had confirmed him as a King. Following another dream in which he was warned about the danger of Archelaus, Joseph took his family to Nazareth and Mathew says this fulfilled what was said through the prophets that he would be called a Nazarene.
There is no direct Old Testament reference to Nazareth and it is more likely that he is referring to the fact that Jesus would be looked down upon as those from the North were because of their rather mixed backgrounds. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth” said Nathanael when Philip invited him to come and meet Jesus (John 1:46) and that links with passages such as Isaiah who spoke of the Messiah as one who was “despised and rejected by men” (Is 53). All along the way Matthew wants his Jewish readers to see that he is not introducing a new person unconnected with their past history but one who was the fulfilment of all their destiny.
Wednesday Mathew 3:1-12
John the Baptist appears on the scene suddenly, as if from nowhere, just like Elijah did in the Old Testament (1 Kings 17:1) and he comes with a message of judgement but also a call to repentance. The Greek word for repentance (metanoia) means to change the mind but in a way that also means a change of the direction of one’s life. Matthew says that John came as a fulfilment of Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 40:3-5.
He lived an aesthetic life and many people went to hear him and were baptised by him in the river Jordan. The Jordan was the symbolic entrance or gateway into the promised land. After freedom from Egypt the people crossed the Jordan and entered the land. Summoning the people back John was declaring that they still needed to enter the Kingdom of God and confession of their sins was where it began.
There were some – the religious Pharisees and Sadducees – for whom he had harsh words (v7-10) but he also stated that he was just a forerunner of one who was to come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire and that his work would be a threshing one to separate the good from the bad. Entry into the Christian life comes with a fearsome edge.
Thursday Mathew 3:13-17
Could Jesus say the Lord’s prayer (“… forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”)? The message of the Bible is that Jesus was without sin (“tempted in all points such as we are” Hebrews 4:15,16) and we’ll see that in the next chapter. So why did Jesus insist on his baptism despite John’s hesitance? Jesus just says “it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness” (v15). Notice he says ‘us’, in other words this affected both of them, it was right for John, in obedience to being the forerunner, and it was right for Jesus, because he was accepting a role of representation of sinful men.
Jesus came to be the perfect penitent taking our place before God and offering himself as our substitute. When the baptism was done the Holy Spirit descended like a dove which was the symbol of peace and of the new life just begun, a reminder of the dove which came to Noah after the flood as the signal that it was OK to exit the ark, devastation and death was past (Genesis 8:11). On top of this came the voice from heaven, the Father’s voice, saying “this is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (v17). Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all shown as being at one in attesting Jesus as the One who was to come.
Friday Mathew 4:1-11
Right after his baptism in the Jordan in which he was standing with us and for us, Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by the Devil. It was a return to the Garden of Eden, though now a desert, in which Jesus, like Adam, was going to be tempted to disobey his Father.
The first temptation was to do with his physical needs just as Eve was tempted to look at the apple and consider its deliciousness (“good for food, pleasing to the eye and desirable”). The temptation was to use his power to turn stones in to bread to satisfy his need. It is just like our temptation to satisfy our needs, yet Jesus replies that the life of Man is not sustained by need satisfaction but by the word that comes from God. The satisfying of our needs will never satisfy our souls because we are designed to have life with God.
The second was for magical power to counteract the normal laws of nature. There is always an attraction to have power over nature, not through the work of the hands but through supernatural connection with powers not Earthly. Though miraculous things do happen through prayer we are not meant to seek after connections with higher powers that give us the attention of the magician. Take note of Simon Magus who wanted to pay Paul for the power to bestow the Holy Spirit upon people (Acts 8:18,19)
The third temptation was an outright bribe. The Devil told Jesus he could have the whole world if he would bow down and give the glory to him. ‘Worship me and everything is yours’ was the encouragement. This is the most awful temptation, it is the selling of one’s soul, it is entering the dark palace of the Enemy and giving eternal service.
To each and every temptation Jesus answered with the Word of God in the scriptures, Adam and Eve didn’t think back to what God had said but accepted the temptation that God did not have their best interests at heart – the directopposite of faith in him.
Saturday Matthew 4:12-25
After the temptations in the wilderness, Jesus now leaves what has been his home town of Nazareth and moves to live in Capernaum which Matthew tells us was a fulfilment of a prophesy of Isaiah about that area. The background of this area of Israel is that, being in the North, they were the first people to feel the hard edge of the Assyrians as they drove down from the North and took people captive. The darkness of captivity was being replaced with the good news preaching of Jesus about the coming of the Kingdom of God. (v17).
Next in Matthew’s account is Jesus calling of his first Disciples. Who was first doesn’t matter so much as to who they were, they were fishermen and Jesus used that occupation as a picture of what they would do. Fishing isn’t like deer hunting or big game hinting, when you drop a net down you don’t know what you will catch, you can’t see and can’t know what you will bring up and thus it is with the evangelism of the Church. We can’t target people that we think will be a good catch, that is up to the Holy Spirit, we just have to drop the good news of Jesus and that net of the gospel will bring some up. What these fishermen knew about this call of Jesus we don’t know but they were obedient to the call and went with him into a future they would find out about as they went.
Jesus then embarked on a teaching ministry in the synagogues of the area around Galilee and large crowds came to see him. He taught proclaiming good news of the kingdom (of God) and healed people who were sick. He was telling that the new realm of God had arrived, God was ruling in his realm and people were experiencing the feel of the new kingdom in the healings. The healings were not meant to be the centre of Jesus’ ministry but signs pointing to what he was bringing in.