Monday, December 17, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 50-57 and Matthew 3-4

Psalm 50 – “The Lord, the Mighty One, is God, and he has spoken; he has summoned all humanity from where the sun rises to where it sets” (50:1)

“Our God approaches, and he is not silent. Fire devours everything in his way, and a great storm rages around him. He calls on the heavens above and earth below to witness the judgment of his people” (50:3-4)

And then he gives His judgment: “’O my people, listen as I speak. Here are my charges against you, O Israel: I am God, your God. I have no complaint about your sacrifices or the burnt offerings you constantly offer. But I do not need the bulls from your barns or the goats from you pens. For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine” (50:7-11).

God does not NEED “things” of any kind. “Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God and keep the vows you made to the Most High” (50:14).

Psalm 51 – “Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins . . . For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night” (51:1-3).

“Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me” (51:4-5).

“Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (51:7).

“Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you” (51:10-12).

“You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (51:16-17).

Psalm 52 – “Why do you boast about your crimes, great warrior? Don’t you realize God’s justice continues forever?” (52:1)

But as strong as the warrior might be, God “will strike [him] down” (52:5).

“The righteous will see it and be amazed. They will laugh and say, ‘Look what happens to mighty warriors who do not trust in God. They trust their wealth instead and grow more and more bold in their wickedness.’” (52:6-7).

“But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God. I will always trust in God’s unfailing love” (52:8)

Psalm 53 – “Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! God looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!” (53:1-3).

I would not be so dismissive of those who say there is no God – not in the world today. I have known a good many very good people. We are wed to ideas we have gotten from science and from our amazing capacity to see into the cosmos in a way earlier people have not. But the same incredible capacity to think and observe and know was always in “man” and I think religion arises from that same resource, but the tools were not physical technologies or principles; they were not machinery and computer codes. The tools were insight, imagination, spiritual tools that were as meaningful to our development as all these more pragmatic tools. We are dust, but we are dust endowed with miraculous spiritual resources. Our God is the source and nourishing stream for all those resources.

But some day “Terror will grip them, terror like they have never known before. God will scatter the bones of your enemies. You will put them to shame, for God has rejected them” (53:5).

Psalm 54 – “Come with great power, O God, and rescue me! Defend me with your might. Listen to my prayer, O God. Pay attention to my plea” (54:1-2).

“But God is my helper. The Lord keeps me alive! . . . I will sacrifice a voluntary offering to you; I will praise your name, O Lord, for it is good” (54:4-6).

Psalm 55 – “Listen to my prayer, O God. Do not ignore my cry for help! Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles” (55:1-2).

“Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking. Oh, that I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest. I would fly far away to the quiet of the wilderness” (55:6-7).

The city’s “walls are patrolled day and night against invaders, but the real danger is wickedness within the city. Everything is falling apart; threats and cheating are rampant in the streets” (55:10-11).

It is not the threat of ordinary enemies that the writer fears; it is the intrigue of friends. “What good fellowship we once enjoyed as we walked together to the house of God” (55:14).

“I will call on God, and the Lord will rescue me. Morning, noon, and night I cry out in my distress, and the Lord hears my voice. He ransoms me and keeps me safe from the battle waged against me, though many still oppose me” (55:16-18).

“For my enemies refuse to change their ways; they do not fear God. As for my companion, he betrayed his friends; he broke his promises. His words are as smooth as butter, but in his heart is war” (55:19-21).

“Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall” (55:22).

Psalm 56 – “O God, have mercy on me, for people are hounding me. My foes attack me all day long. I am constantly hounded by those who slander me, and many are boldly attacking me” (56:1).

“But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you” (56:3).

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book . . . This I know: God is on my side!” (56:8-9).

“I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me? . . . For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping. So now I can walk in your presence, O God, in your life-giving light” (56:11-13).

Psalm 57 – Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy! I look to you for protection. I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by” (57:1).

“I am surrounded by fierce lions who greedily devour human prey—whose teeth pierce like spears and arrows, and whose tongues cut like swords” (57:4).

“My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises! Wake up, my heart! Wake up, O lyre and harp! I will wake the dawn with my song. I will thank you, Lord, among all the people. I will sing your praises among the nations. For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds” (57:7-10).

Matthew 3 - Matthew turns to the figure of John the Baptist. As in Mark and Luke, he preaches a message of repentance and tells the people that the “kingdom of heaven has come near” (3:2). He is connected immediately with Isaiah’s prophecy as in Mark—“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness.”  

Matthew, like Luke, has John telling people they must “bear fruit” and not presume that because they are Abraham’s descendants, they have some automatic favor of God. Matthew does not go into the question of what they must DO. He also has John telling people that one is coming after him who will baptize with “the Holy Spirit and fire” (3:11).
The baptism by John is recounted. Here the writer says John “would have prevented” Jesus from being baptized and has Jesus acknowledging John’s reluctance a bit by saying, “Let it be so now. . .” (3:15).

Here as also in Mark the appearance of the dove is said to be “to him,” leaving open the possibility that it represents a more personal opening to him than a public demonstration of God’s favor on him. But undercutting this, the voice says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased”, a more audience-oriented way of making this known. Both Mark and Luke have the voice address Jesus: “You are my Son. . .”

John Meier’s A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, makes the point that eschatological ideas that Jesus expresses here in verses 11-12 and elsewhere, probably came from the teaching of John the Baptist. Jesus subjects himself to the Baptist’s rite of baptism and is an adherent of his views in many ways, He perhaps grew apart as time went on, but talk of the end of time in the near future remained part of his thinking.

Matthew 4 -The Temptation of Jesus by the devil – the story is much as it is in Luke. The three temptations are the same—to turn stones into bread; to take possession of all the kingdoms of the world; to demonstrate that God’s angels will protect him. But in Matthew the order of the temptations is different from Luke; he is taken to the pinnacle of the Temple second and told to throw himself down.  The kingdoms of the world come last here. And at the end, Matthew puts the little bit about the angels waiting on him, which is really all that Mark says about Jesus’ time in the desert.

When Jesus hears that John has been arrested, he moves from Nazareth to Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee (so that the prophesy of Isaiah 8:23 to 9:1) might be fulfilled. Luke here has a public appearance in Nazareth before he leaves there in which he basically castigates the Jews for having not been responsive to God’s prophets in the past (see Luke 4:14-30). There he meets Simon and Andrew fishing, and he tells them, “I will make you fishers of men” (4:20). He also recruits the Zebedee brothers.
He begins his ministry proclaiming the good news, curing diseases and casting out demons, gathering a great following.
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