Exodus 33:12-23 • Psalm 96:1-13 • Isaiah 45:1-7 • Matthew 22:15-22 • I Thessalonians 1:1-10
God and Moses are, once again, in a conversation. It is a very interesting dynamic that exists between these two, especially as we add this particular element of the relationship. Moses is feeling alone in his mission of leading the people, and he voices this to God by saying that he (Moses) does not yet ‘know God.’ On this side of the story, this is a difficult thing to grasp – Moses has seen God deliver and rescue the people, he has witnessed God’s power, he has partaken of very intimate conversations, and still, he does not feel like he knows God. Moses asks to see ‘God’s glory.’
God’s response is to visibly ‘show’ Moses all that he is capable of handling, he gives Moses a glimpse. But the real revelation for Moses is that God reveals his glory by giving Moses his name, ‘THE LORD,’ and that he is ‘Gracious’ and will be gracious and act with mercy.
This is all that Moses needed, it was enough.
‘Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless his name.’
How do we sing in a time when singing can pass along a virus. The Psalmist uses a common means of proclamation, even more in that time than now. Music is, and has been, a very powerful tool for communication as well as manipulation. I have a friend who discovered early on that her autistic son was calmed by the music of the group Coldplay – Coldplay quickly became the music of choice in their home and vehicle. Music is very personal, it can stir us, it can pump us up, it can silence us, it has the power to move us. This is why the Psalmist proclaims to sing your testimony, your faith experience.
So, what do we do when we cannot sing? How do we continue to express our faith experience, journey, and belief? It is a question that needs to be considered even when we are able to freely sing (and without a mask)?
Of course, it also leads to the question, ‘would we be blessing God if we were to recklessly choose to sing, and sing without a mask, knowing that it potentially can be harmful to others?
Approximately 150 years before the Persian King Cyrus defeated the Babylonians – so, before the King was even born, Isaiah wrote that Cyrus would be anointed by God to free the Israelites from the exile and slavery. This was even before Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed exiling the people to Babylon. It is one of the most verified, and amazingly detailed, prophesies of any of the prophets. It is all the more interesting to think that this man, not a worshipper of Yahweh, a foreigner, not even yet born, who would be the King of of a country that had no prominence yet, was already anointed to be the deliver of the Israelites.
Think about it, Isaiah, who was calling the people back to God with warnings of a coming catastrophe that would not even visibly impact the generation he was speaking to – is now telling them their deliverer will be this non-Jew, unknown and unborn ruler of a country that had little significance…it is little wonder that Isaiah had so much trouble getting anyone to listen to him!
For us, it is really an amazing prophesy that challenges so many of our ideas of who can, and is, used by God. It also is an comforting assurance to us that God is at work long before we even think we need to cry out to him.
This Isaiah passage is often misused and abused by religious people to justify their support for ethically and morally questionable leaders. This misuse is one of the dangers of using scripture when scripture does not really apply – it actually become a manipulation of God’s truth but also an even greater manipulation of the listeners.
For just 7 verses, this passage could take us all day to discuss. We could focus on the weird grouping of those who are questioning Jesus, the awkward response/request of Jesus to their question, the implications of Jesus response to politics and religion, the response of the questioners to Jesus’ reply, or the implications of the coin itself (and there are probably even more relative rabbits holes in which we could descend).
So, we are just going to have some basic points going into this passage.
- This is the last week of Jesus’ life before the cross, he is still in the temple, and he is still entertaining the questions of the various groups of religious leaders.
- The group that approaches him at this time are a combined group of Pharisee and Herodians. This is a group that could only get together if they felt that they shared a common threat (consider our look at ‘same’ versus ‘mob’ mindedness from this past Sunday – video link is on our web site). The Pharisee were very strict in their view that nothing of Herod, or the political system, should be permitted to creep into the Jewish religion. The Herodians were the opposite, they were supporters of King Herod.
- Jews used the Shekel but they were forced to use the Roman coin (denarius) for many financial exchanges, this would have been a very sensitive point for the Pharisees who saw this coin with the image of Ceasar and the inscription of ‘Son of God’ under as horrible. Also, the Israelites were forced to pay a temple tax whenever they came to the temple, this was all part of the delecate collusion between politics and religion, this tax was given to the religious establishment to pay the priest and other officials. So, the Jews, who felt that anything Roman was evil and oppressive, had to pay this evil coin to enter their temple. Also, ask yourself if it is extra interesting that one one of these religious officials were carrying such an evil object?
I Thessalonians 1:1-10
This week is the first of our five weeks looking at I Thessalonians, which is wonderful as it is a book of encouragement. We are living in a time when encouragement is probably the most needed thing for all of humanity. It was needed by the folks at Thessalonica as well. This passage could also be claimed as an answer to the questions that are posed in our primer for the Psalm passage for this week. The Thessalonians are persecuted, they have to be careful of their actions and anything drawing attention to themselves and their faith – therefore, singing is probably not an option for them either. Yet, we see that their faith is known far beyond their community. Consider how they sang even though singing was beyond prohibitive.