Judges is one of the hardest books in the Bible to read - it is meant to be. The story of Judges is about the downward spiral of God’s people away from obedience and blessing and into disobedience and curse. It seeks to show what happens when “everyone does what is right in their own eyes”. The people are weak, they are ruled by petty chieftains and tyrants, morality is forfeit, faith is polluted and the promise land is a ruin. The conclusion is meant to be obvious: we need a King sent from God. We need someone to fight for us and we need someone to rule over us and that person needs to be good.
In chapter 9 we meet one of the long list of petty tyrants to rule over God’s people. Abimelech is the bastard son of Gideon. Gideon (also referred to as Jerubbael) was a sort of proto-monarch; he ruled over the people but he rejected the title of king. His concubine however, did not share her lover’s humility. She named her son Abimelech, which means “my father is king”. This was a young boy who was raised with whispers of grandeur. When he was full grown he led a plot to murder all the full blood sons of his father and to take over the rule of God’s people. He butchered them all - except for one. A young boy named Jothan escaped and he spoke a prophetic fable over his half brother and his rabble army. We know it as “Jotham’s Fable”. The point of the fable is fairly obvious. Ruling over the people of Israel is a worthless ambition - the people can’t be ruled! They are unruly! And therefore they have chosen a worthless person to rule over them and he will be their ruin.
The rest of the chapter shows the accuracy of that prophetic word. People who seize power in violence and blood rarely rule with justice and wisdom. Abimelech is a fool and a hothead. He takes excessive vengeance against any real or perceived threat. In the end, he is killed by a woman who drops a stone upon his head.
And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads, and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal. (Judges 9:57 ESV)
Acts 13 is one of the most important chapters in the Bible in terms of what it tells us about missiology and Gospel preaching. Whole books can and have been written on this topic but for our purposes we will restrict ourselves to the following 8 observations:
1. Notice where the first missionaries were chosen from: the leadership core of the sending church. (Verse 1). Paul and Barnabas had been the teaching pastors at the church in Antioch. They were “on staff” as it were before they were sent out. There is a principle here that we should recapture: if you wouldn’t hire them as pastors, then don’t send them as missionaries. Further, the missionaries you send should have the same qualifications as would apply to elders in the church.
2. Notice how the particular missionaries were selected. “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting.” “Then after fasting and praying”; (verses 2-3). It was a corporate process that was rooted in worship and prayer. They didn’t “apply” - they were identified and sent.
3. Notice what they did as soon as they arrived on the field. “When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the Word of God”; (verse 5). They didn’t dig wells, start a literacy program or open a clinic. The emphasis was on the Word of God preached.
4. Notice how briefly they stayed. In verse 12 we are told about the first convert in Cyprus. The proconsul believed for he was “astonished at the teaching of the Lord”. Then notice verse 13: “Now Paul and his companions set sail”. It is remarkable how briefly they stayed and who narrowly they conceived their mission. They did not stay long enough to “transform the culture” or “build the kingdom” rather they seem to have stayed only long enough to establish the Gospel and then they set sail. If we read forward through chapter 14 it seems that having established the Gospel in a variety of towns and cities they then went back over the same ground once more in order to appoint elders. 14:23 says “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed”. They planted, they organized and they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
5. Notice the content of the Gospel that was preached. In verses 16-41 we have a summary of Paul’s sermon in Antioch of Pisidia (not Antioch in Syria). He begins with a basic recitation of Old Testament history. He talks about the Exodus, the Judges, Samuel and David. He connects the coming of Jesus to the Old Testament promises of God. He says that Jesus is the long awaited Son of David (verse 23). He talks about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (verses 26-36) and he says that the point of all this was so that “through this man forgiveness of sins” might be offered to all. His Gospel message was rooted in the Old Testament promises, focused on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and directed toward the central problem of human sin.
6. Notice the target audience. Paul spoke first in Jewish synagogues and then when the message was rejected, as it generally was, he went to the Gentiles, following the pattern and command of Christ. Paul said to the Jews who were resisting him “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside… behold we are turning to the Gentiles”; (verse 46)
7. Notice the interplay between human agency and Divine Sovereignty. After detailing the remarkable energy and industry of the apostles in going, preaching, pleading and praying, nevertheless the text makes it clear that the will of God in salvation remained primary. “And as many as were appointed to eternal life believed”.
8. Notice what the apostles did once the Gospel was generally rejected in a particular area: “They shook the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium”.
It was the job of the prophet to speak truth to power. In chapter 20 Jeremiah was sent to rebuke Pashhur the Priest. He said:
And you, Pashhur, and all who dwell in your house, shall go into captivity. To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely.” (Jeremiah 20:6 ESV)
When priests did not properly shepherd the people of God; when they spoke soothing nonsense instead of Scriptural truth, they received a warning from the prophet. Likewise when the king did not act with justice and equity, he too receive a visit from the prophet. In Jeremiah 22 the king is told:
Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people. But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation. (Jeremiah 22:3–5 ESV)
Speaking truth to power does not make a person popular. Jeremiah was beaten, he was put in jail and he was cast in a pit. Spiritual and political leaders do not always like to be told the truth but that is part of the role given to the Old Testament prophets and that is a role that the church - a prophetic community filled with the Holy Spirit and guided by the Word of God - must continue to play even today. Romans 13:1-6 says that government authorities are ministers of God - he ordained them and therefore he demands from them certain standards of justice. Consider for example some of what Jeremiah is sent to say to the rulers of his day:
Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3 ESV) Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 22:15–16 ESV)
Leaders are required to enforce justice, care for the poor and encourage moral behaviour. If they don’t, they should hear about it from God’s people.
(Pastor Jody wrote an excellent reflection on Mark 8 back in February. Find it below.)
This chapter highlights the theme of spiritual blindness. It is also the turning point in Mark’s gospel. From here all the events quickly move toward the cross.
Thousands of spiritually hungry Gentiles from the Decapolis gathered around Jesus. At the end of three days they were physically hungry and Jesus had compassion on them.
Though the disciples had already seen Jesus miraculously feed the 5000 men (Mark 6:30-44), they failed to look to him as the one who could yet again supply the needs of the multitudes. Jesus wanted people to see he was the Bread of Life, the Father’s miraculous, generous supply from heaven. The bread was also a metaphor of his suffering. As the bread was broken so would his body (1 Corinthians 11:24).
The disciples were confused about what Jesus meant by the “leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15). They were slow to understand and Jesus exposed their condition saying:
“Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17-18)
To illustrate, in Bethsaida, a blind man was brought to Jesus. Jesus performed a two-step miracle of sight recovery. At first the man saw in a distorted manner but then his sight was fully restored.
Peter was clear about Jesus’ identity. This was a result of God touching his spiritual eyes. Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ. Peter however was blind to Jesus’ need to as the Christ to suffer. He needed a healing touch on his eyes. He needed to see what salvation would cost and what it would mean to follow Jesus to his death.
We need the healing touch of God’s Spirit on our lives. May our prayer be, “Lord touch my eyes so that in an increasing measure I see you more clearly and understand what it means to lose my life and follow you.”
Associate Pastor Jody Cross
Our heavenly Father, thy kingdom come! We still need a King to rule over us. We need a King sent from God - we need Jesus! Come Lord - and come quickly! While you should tarry help us to continue in the mission that you gave us. Help us to make disciples by preaching the Good News of what you have done in Christ to secure our redemption. Speed the preaching of this Gospel to every tribe, tongue and nation. Raise up people from our midst who would go from this place and finish the mission in advance of your coming. Show us who to send, show us where to go and where to lend our strength in this great battle. Help us to shine the light and to serve as salt in a rapidly decaying world. For your glory and the salvation of your people we pray in Jesus’ Name; Amen.
Pastor Paul Carter N.B. RMM Roundup assumes the Bible reading guide also known as “The M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan”. You can find a single page version of the 1 year plan here: http://www.edginet.org/mcheyne/year_classic_single_letter.pdf and a version of the 2 year plan here: http://www.edginet.org/mcheyne/year_carson_a4.pdf