OT: Numbers 26:52-28:15
I'm a "big picture" type of person. As such, it is really hard for me to talk about the small picture if I feel like I don't get the big one. Also, if given the choice, I would always rather discuss the big picture than the small one. So that's what I'm doing today.
I have many "small picture" thoughts (on Israel not being a meritocracy; on the "extra" Levite clans; on God's policy with Zelophehad's daughters), but my "big picture" thought came while reading about the daily sacrifices in chapter 28. It struck me yet again how much work had to go into simply maintaining a relationship with God. The priests had to offer two animal sacrifices a day just to be in right standing with God. If they failed to do this (or failed to do any of the other billion things), then the relationship was ruptured. This, friends, is a high maintenance relationship. A relationship between a holy God and sinful man takes a lot of effort to maintain.
Which is why it is absolutely amazing that Jesus totally maintains it for us. There is no more worrying about "right standing" with God. We don't have to do the maintenance. You might be thinking, "But yeah, we do. There are all sorts of things we do to maintain our relationship with God, like Bible study, loving our neighbor, prayer, etc." My answer is, "Nope." That's not what is maintaining our relationship. Our relationship is maintained by Christ. What we do is enjoy it. We don't have to work to keep a relationship with God. No, we do what we do because we have a relationship with God. We don't work in order to be saved; we work because we are already saved. Our deeds are not the burnt offering; they are the thanks offering. The freewill offering. (Whatever, I'm still not great with knowing my offerings:)).
I know that this is not new ground. I'm pretty sure Paul and Luther and a bajillion other people already covered this for us. But every time it hits me, and I mean really hits me in my soul, it is such a revelation. Christ truly did bring us freedom. I happened to research freedom in Christ today for other reasons, and the Scriptures emphasize that He brought us freedom from sin, freedom from human regulations, freedom from the Law, from condemnation, etc. There is no more worry about our standing with God. Amazing.
NT: Luke 3:1-22
Today, John the Baptist begins his ministry. His message, while good, strikes me as once harsher than Jesus' and less radical. He calls the people, "brood of vipers," and warns them of their impending doom should they not repent (7-9). He pictures Jesus as on one big housecleaning mission, ready to separate the wheat from the chaff--and to burn the chaff in "unquenchable fire" (16-17). In other words, John does not play around. Everything about him is harsh: his lifestyle, his word choices, his message to the people and to Herod. However, he is also oddly not as demanding as Jesus ultimately would be. John is actually fairly reasonable in his instructions. He says that people with two tunics should share with those who have none, and people with food should do the same. That makes sense. He also has pretty reasonable standards for tax collectors and soldiers. The love to which Jesus would call his followers in the Sermon on the Mount was much more radical. And yet, Jesus also seemed less harsh, though he could be pretty harsh to people like the Pharisees. They make for an odd contrast.
It makes me wonder how much John understood about the big picture. I have no doubt that he acted and spoke just like God wanted him, too, and that he did a great job as the "voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord'" (4). Good job, John:)! But at the same time, he seemed a little unsure about Jesus when he was locked up in prison. He even sent messengers to Him saying, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" He asked this even after Jesus was pretty clearly revealed to him as the Christ during Jesus' baptism. So it sounds like John had a partial mental picture of Christ, and that he gave a partial message of what life in the Kingdom of God looked like. Christ completed that message.
I'm glad our Bible bolded verses 1-2, because that ensured that I would catch the end of verse 2. There, David asks God to "lead me to the rock that is higher than I." What a wonderful request. How insightful. That is the beauty of God, isn't it? That He is bigger than us. So many times during the day, I come to the end of "myself," and yet I find that there is more work to be done. In those times, I pray the rudimentary equivalent of "lead me to the rock that is higher than I." Take me to a place that is more than I am, where I can see further than where I can now, where the ground beneath my feet is stronger and higher and safer. Give me Your strength, and Your vision, and Your love. I want to live my life securely on that rock that is higher than I.
Love it, David!
Because I'm a woman, I latched onto verse 16: "A kindhearted woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth." Besides the obvious, literally true interpretation of this verse, I wondered if there was a poetic significance in the choice of "woman." After all, women didn't get much respect in those days, and so choosing to talk about a "kindhearted woman" getting respect probably served as even a sharper contrast between her and the ruthless man. If it had been a "kindhearted man," that wouldn't have been as crazy a contrast, see? I mean, of course, a good man would get respect. But this proverb tells of a woman getting more respect than a man, which was just a little bit crazy back then.
But I also loved the proverb itself. I know that women want love, and men want respect...but women want respect, too:)! (And I'm sure men want love.) Plus, this week, a very kindhearted woman has been on my heart, and my respect for her is sky-high. So this proverb brought her to mind, which is always a good thing.