Psalm 119:105-112; Isaiah 55:10-13; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 11:16-30; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm, it is the longest chapter in the Old and New Testament, and, as you would expect, it has the most verses and words. The 176 verses are divided into 22 sections. In the original Hebrew, each chapter is assigned a letter forming an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet (this is not visible in our English versions). Psalm 119 also has two of the more recognizable verses in the entire Bible – ‘Happy are those whose way is blameless,’ (v. 1), and ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,’ (v. 105).
The entire chapter is a proclamation of a life lived on the foundation of God’s truth. The Psalmist is not just applying God’s truth to the ‘churchy’ aspects of life, but to our entire life.
If you have time read the entire chapter, let the resolute nature of the Psalmist words sink in – ask yourself ‘Have I have freed truth to touch every area of my life?’
Also, this Psalm begins the thread that will string through all of our verses for this week. And, one more ‘also’, the message title this week is, ‘Deeply Rooted’ – consider that title as you read through the passages.
As is the case with the prophets, their messages are usually multi-layered – meaning that it would have been appropriately interpreted by the listeners to be a prophesy that would be fulfilled in their lifetime, but there was also a much larger vision prophesy that would be fulfilled long after their lifetime. Isaiah, as is true of most the other of the Old Testament prophets, their longer term prophesies would also be multi-layered foretelling the coming Messiah as well as the subsequent second coming of the Messiah (Jesus).
We have spoken much of the prophetic mission of Isaiah, he warned the people of the coming devastation of their land, the destruction of their capital city of Jerusalem, their natural and man made resources, their temple, and every aspect of their lives. This would take place through their own ‘turning away from God as well as the Babylonian conquest, exile to slavery, dissolution of their nation, and the end of life as they knew it. They did not listen to Isaiah, just as they did not listen to Jeremiah, and they continued to ‘go their own way’, to ‘go astray’.
Our Isaiah passage today is a moment of hope as Isaiah prepares the people, after almost seven decades in exile, for their return home. Isaiah uses the imagery of precipitation on the land and the positive growth that comes from that water. He also uses the various aspects of nature, God’s creation, to paint the exiles a picture of their coming deliverance. The picture is one of celebration, not just of the people, but a jubilant exaltation of God by humans and nature – all of God’s creation.
As you read this small passage take a moment to contemplate the significance of the words used in verse 11 – this catalyst of this celebration will be a return to, and of, God’s truth, his word. Also, do the same with verse 13, which gives the fruit that comes from God’s word as opposed to the fruit of living life our own way, on our own terms apart from God.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.Paul (Romans 8:1)
This is a remarkable tone change for the apostle Paul in his letter to the churches at Rome.
Chapter 8 of Romans, marks Paul’s emergence from the ‘Shadowlands of the gospel – where he has detailed ‘the darkness into which the light of the Gospel has shone and the challenge that that light has to stay bright.’Professor L. Ann Jervis, Professor of New Testament at Wycliffe College, Toronto
It is here, on the periphery of the shadows, that Paul proclaims what he has said before, but now, after the darkness of addressing sin and the Law, there is now a greater confidence in his voice.
‘For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.’Paul (Romans 8:2)
As he speaks in this passage of the Law, Paul has now enlarged his focus. The law is no longer just the covenantal agreement between God and the Israelites, but now the law also touches on their (our) entire reality. What is right and wrong, what is truth and what are lies? Paul does not attempt to mislead the believers into thinking that their sin problem is behind them. He reminds them that, in their reality, they will still have the issue of sin, but that the key is to remember how they live, not for the flesh but for the Spirit. They live because Christ died their death. He is their (our) resurrection.
We read this passage last week, however, since it fits perfectly with our readings for this week, I have added it back in. I am repeating the primer from last week.
In the prior chapter, Matthew 10, we witnessed Jesus send the apostles out, but with a caution about most of the people they will engage. They were going out on a compassionate mission to heal, cure, and release – and the were warned that there was going to be outrage and confrontation from those that are being helped. Then, as we turn to chapter 11, Jesus is asked the question, by John the Baptist, asking for confirmation that Jesus is the coming Messiah. Jesus responds by bemoaning the mistreatment that has been given to John while affirming that John, was the messenger sent to prepare the people for Jesus, the Messiah.
Then, after Jesus has been critical of the powers that be, he begins to call out his entire generation. He accuses them of having truth right in front of them, yet, refusing to listen or accept. In a fashion reminiscent of the response of the Israelites to Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jesus confronts this generation for listening to only that which they want to hear.
’John came neither eating nor drinking, and yet, about John, they said ,He has a demon’; and that Jesus came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’Jesus (Matthew 11:18-19
Jesus is confronting their identity, what they value, and, how they are determining what is true. The truth is that they their identity is dependent on the moment, their value is zero even though their presentation is of arrogance, and that, actually, they are not trying to find out what is true, they are very comfortable with the philosophy that anything that goes along with their own agendas politically and religiously, is what they accept as truth.
Jesus calls them to himself. He confirms that his identity is in God and truth is easier way to follow; a truth that trusting God actually frees us.
Consider how you might see and interpret this passage, in this time of Sickness, Turmoil, and the approaching Elections, differently than you would have last January.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Our Matthew 13 passage is two select sections of this chapter. You may wonder why we have skipped a section of this story – the reason is that this chapter can be very frustrating and aggravating. This is a very easy chapter to come away with a very confused image of Jesus.
For instance, the disciples ask Jesus why he keeps speaking to the people in confusing parables. This chapter is basically one parable after another. Jesus responds by saying:
“Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’Jesus (Matthew 13:11-15
Now, go back and read these five verses again, but with the knowledge that when Jesus, or Isaiah, is talking about people not receiving, not seeing, not hearing, not understanding – the statement is that they are doing this by choice. For many, they have been rejecting truth for so long that they are now callous, they are close to being unable to receive, see, hear, understand, again, this is by their own choice. Remember Jesus’ confrontation of the people in our other Matthew passage – Jesus called out an entire generation who refused to receive, see, hear, and understand truth.
Secondly, Jesus is going after the ‘evil people’ with a great veracity. This could seem like a contradiction of Paul’s letter to the Romans about grace, except when we read what came before this Matthew chapter. In chapter 12, we see Jesus attacked by the religious leaders for healing on the Sabbath and then when he frees a demon possessed man, they say that Jesus is from Satan. The ‘evil’ that Jesus is addressing is those who pretend to be faithful followers of God but in reality they are not – they are in collusion with the politicians and together they are abusive to the people. The people trust them because of their position but in the end, Jesus says they are weeds that will need to be pulled at harvest (see Matthew 13:24-30).
In our select verses for today we see the story of the seeds that are sown, some in good soil and some in bad and not so good soil. As you read consider what you are – Are you the sower or the soil…or are you both. Also, as you read and think about the soil, think back to the mission Jesus sent the apostles out on to free the oppressed, heal the sick, cure diseases, and, while you have been there, tell the people that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Can you find a relationship of the apostles mission and the soil in this story?