Monday, December 31, 2012

Overview of the Four Gospels

Happy New Year's Eve! I am spending a day in prayer, as per my tradition, to review the last year and pray about the upcoming one, but I wanted to give you an introduction to what we will be doing in YEAR THREE of the BBC!

We are embarking on a wonderful journey through the New Testament tomorrow, beginning with Jesus. I have two options this year. One is to go through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ chronologically or go through each separate gospel account. Both journeys will land you at the resurrection by Resurrection Day! The choice is up to you. 

Here is the chronological book club: Gospel Harmony Book Club .  

All the posts for the two book clubs correspond so if you are doing a straight read through the gospels in the Bible Book Club, sometimes you will have read the post for that event in a previous gospel. If that is the case, skip it or review it. 

All of the gospels are the story of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, but they each emphasize different things. Here is an overview adapted from The Life Application Bible, p. 1937:



Matthew
Mark
Luke
John
Jesus is . . .
Promised King
Servant of God
Son of Man
Son of God
Targeted readers were . . .
Jews
Gentiles, Romans
Greeks
The World
Themes
Jesus is the Messiah because He fulfilled Old Testament prophecy
Jesus backed up His words with action
Jesus was God but also fully human
Belief in Jesus is required for salvation
“I AM”
The writer was a . . .
Teacher
Storyteller
Historian
Close disciple of Jesus and theologian
Greatest emphasis is on . . .
Jesus’ sermons and words
Jesus’ miracles and actions
Jesus’ humanity
The principles behind Jesus’ teaching and relationship

Matthew 

This gospel was written by the Apostle Matthew, who was a Jewish tax collector. Notice all the references to coins! 

Matthew wrote this gospel for a Jewish audience that awaited the Messiah who was to be the "son of David, the son of Abraham." That is why it starts off with a genealogy of Jesus' connection to David. It also has many quotes from the Old Testament. If you have been in the Bible Club, especially Year Two, you will recognize many of these Old Testament references from the prophets. Matthew emphasizes much of Jesus' talk about the Kingdom since Jesus is the promised King. Matthew has 1071 verses. 

Mark

The gospel "according to Mark" was added later by a scribe around A.D. 125. So, it is technically written by an anonymous person, but there is much evidence that points to Mark as the author. He was not an eyewitness, but he was a close associate to an eyewitness, Peter. He wrote down what Peter said but not always in chronological order (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3. 39. 15). It is almost certain he is the John Mark mentioned in Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37, 39; Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24; and 1 Peter 5:13. He was a Jewish believer who lived in Jerusalem with his mother, Mary, in the early days of the church where their home was a meeting place (Acts 12:12).

This gospel was written in Rome primarily for Roman Gentile believers. That is why there is no genealogy and only a few Old Testament reference.  He includes no genealogy. It is quick and fast paced, highlighting Jesus' power and authority through works rather than his words. He is seen as the servant who came to seek and to save those who were lost (Mark 10:45). You will notice the key word "immediately" repeated 39 times in the New American Standard translation; thus illustrating the action of the gospel.  Mark is the shortest of the four gospels with only 678 verses and is the most chronological of the four accounts. I love to study Mark with non-believers!

Luke

Luke's books (Luke and Acts) make up 28 percent of the New Testament. He is mentioned in Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:14; and Philemon 24. He is part of the "we" in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; and 27:1-28:16. He was a Gentile and physician (Colossians 4:10-14). He claims to be a historian (Luke 1:1-4) who carefully researched his material. It is believed he wrote it between A.D. 58 and 60. 

Luke takes us consecutively through the days of Jesus as the Son of Man, fully human but fully God. Luke was careful to point out that Jesus was the fulfillment of the things written in the law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. It seems he wrote this book primarily for Gentiles because he frequently explained Jewish localities (4:31; 8:26; 21:37; 23:51; 24:13) and he traced Jesus' genealogy all the way back to Adam (3:23-38) indicating that Jesus represented all of mankind and not just the Jews. Jesus preached to the Gentiles because of his rejection by Israel. Luke also used the Septuagint for quotes from the Old Testament. Since this is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is believed that Greeks were his specific Gentile audience. Luke is the longest book with 1151 verses.

John

As one of Jesus' 12 disciples, John gives a first-hand account of Jesus. John's gospel was the last to be written, probably about A.D. 85-90, after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and before John's exile on the island of Patmos. It is written to both a Jewish and Greek audience. 

This book is unlike the other three "synoptic" gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Over 90 percent of this book is not found in the other three. It does not contain a genealogy or any record of Jesus' early years. It does not include the temptation (Matthew 4), transfiguration (Matthew 17), or appointment of the disciples (Mark 3). There is no account of the parables, ascension, or Great Commission. It is really relational in nature. It is the only place where the Upper Room Discourse (and subsequent teaching on the Holy Spirit) Jesus gave to his disciples is recorded (John 14-17). 

This gospel is unique in that John tries to prove that Jesus is God in the flesh, born to die as a sacrifice for our sin. He does this by including the seven "I am" statements by Jesus:

1) I am the Bread of life (6:35)
2) I am the Light of the world (8:12)
3) I am the Gate for the sheep (10:7,9)
4) I am the Good Shepherd (10:11,14)
5) I am the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)
6) I am the Way and the Truth and the Life (14:6)
7) I am the true Vine (15:1, 5) 

A major part of the Gospel (2:1-12:50) contains seven "Signs" that point to Him as the Messiah: 

1) Changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana (2:1-11)
2) Healing the officials son in Capernaum (4:46-54)
3) Healing an invalid at the Pool of Bethesda (5:1-18)
4) Feeding the 5,000 near the Sea of Galilee (6:5-14)
5) Walking on the Sea of Galilee (6:16-21)
6) Healing a blind man in Jerusalem (9:1-7)
7) Raising Lazarus from the dead in Bethany (11:1-45)

This is supported by the purpose of the book stated in 20:31, "but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

A key word in this verse as well as the whole gospel is "believe" (pisteuō).  It occurs 98 times!  Another way that John is unique is that 40% of the book is devoted to the last week of Jesus' life (John 12-20:25).  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Readings in the New Testament

If you want to start next year's readings early, here are the gospel readings leading up to the birth of Jesus. BUT remember they are in reverse order so go to the BOTTOM of the page and read UP to get the whole story in chronological order!

CHRISTMAS GOSPEL READINGS

If you are starting with this pre-Christmas reading and opting for the GOSPEL HARMONY BOOK CLUB instead of the BIBLE BOOK CLUB, we will see you on January 6th!

If you are not doing the Gospel Harmony Book Club, you can still do the pre-Christmas readings and have a little bit of review when we start the BBC on January 1. :)

Regardless, have a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

You are Done with the ENTIRE Old Testament!

BibleBookcase

You read the last of 929 chapters and 23,261 verses of the Old Testament. It is half the Bible Book Club shelf, but it is roughly 70% of the entire Bible! It has been a challenging read over the last two years, and I am proud of you for your diligent reading of God's Word.

Next year, we will be in the New Testament and finish the last 30% of the Bible. You have the option of starting with the story of Jesus tomorrow since it is Christmas or waiting to start on January 1. You also have the option of reading the Gospels separately or combining them in a chronological story of the life of Jesus through the Gospel Harmony Book Club


The New Testament is a much slower pace with many breaks over the course of the 11 months. We will finish by Thanksgiving and then do a review. 

CONGRATULATIONS!

Put Malachi Back on the Prophets Shelf

BibleBookcase

We are done with the entire prophets shelf! WOOHOO! Three more days of Psalms, and we will be done with the entire Old Testament!


Malachi 3:7 - 4:6 - Obey and Fear God

LINK: Malachi 3-4

BACKGROUND

Fifth Message - Obey God (3:7-12)

One way the people did not obey ("return to") God was by not giving a 10th of their grain, fruit, animals, or money to the Levites who in turn were to give a 10th to the priests (Leviticus 18:21-32; 27:30-34; Nehemiah 13:5). Every third year a tithe was brought to local leaders to give to the poor (14:28-29). It was an act of worship to the Lord and went back even before the time of the Mosaic Covenant when Abraham tithed to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7). During Malachi's time, the people had neglected giving to the Lord (Nehemiah 10:34-39; 13:10). They had "robbed" God of His due, but they were being robbed because they missed out on the blessings! In addition, they were not a testimony of trust to the surrounding nations (3:12). It was a lose-lose for everyone concerned. 

By the way, the New Testament does not specify a 10th of our income, but I tend to think it teaches that we give EVERYTHING (Acts 4:31-35; 2 Corinthians 9:6-12; Galatians 6:6; Philippians 4:14-19).

Sixth Message - Fear God (3:13-4:6)

This message is parallel in many ways to the fourth message (2:17-3:6) regarding the question of God's justice and prosperity of the wicked. The people were whining that it was futile to serve God because they gained no benefit. Part of this question has already been answered in the fourth message stating that the arrogant and evildoers would be punished in the day of the Lord and the faithful remnant would be blessed.

Now the focus shifts to the faithful remnant who feared God from their heart rather than ritual aimed at gaining something for themselves. A "scroll of remembrance" of their reverent and obedient response was written before God to remember them. They would be spared in the Day of Judgment.

The faithful remnant are given a final promise that is so beautiful and closes our study of the Old Testament prophets with such hope and opens the way for the fulfillment of many promises and prophecies in the New:
But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. (Malachi 4:2)


Because of the tender mercy of our God,

With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)

AMEN!

REFLECTION

As I type, I am listening to the Christmas Carol "O Come All Ye Faithful," and the connection to this passage is not lost on me; the "word of the Father" that was prophesied from of old has appeared in the flesh. So, come, all you who are faithful, come and adore Him!

What a lovely feeling of satisfaction to come to the end of this Old Testament journey. When I got the idea to do this, I jumped first and then asked, "What was I thinking?" This has taken hours of work, but it has brought me more joy than you can ever imagine. It has brought me to my knees in worship and praise, and it has anchored me to the Ancient of Days like never before. 

God always carved out time for me to study, meditate, write, and pray even when our life was hectic.  But then again, when we are too busy for God, then we are TOO busy! This is my offering of praise to our God. I have given to you with joy, and I hope you have been blessed. 

The hardest work is over. YEAR TWO is the toughest, and you have finished the course. Congratulations! 

So, let's continue to press deep into the heart of God as we press on to the New Testament. Let us be found part of those who "revere His name" with every part of our being!

APPLICATION

Spend time meditating on the final two verses in the background section and press into Him in worship and prayer.

PRAYER

Praise, honor and glory belong to You. We thank You for not leaving us without guidance. You have given us Your Word to guide us into all truth. Thank You for the Old Testament that teaches us about Your character and ways and our need for mercy and forgiveness that comes through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Guide us this day we pray. Amen.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Malachi 2:10 - 3:6: Be Faithful and Hope in God

LINK: Malachi 2 & 3 

BACKGROUND

Third Message - Be Faithful (2:10-16)

This message is different in that it doesn't have an initial statement or charge followed by a sarcastic question but has three questions. It is directed at the men who callously divorced their faithful wives in order to marry younger pagan women (Ezra 9:1-4; Nehemiah 13:23-31). This disregarded the Law (Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:3-4) and threatened the religious training of children. By being faithful to the wives of their youth, they were being faithful to God.

Fourth Message - Hope in God (2:17-3:6)

Israel was acting as if they had no God to believe in or hope for. They questioned God's justice. because the wicked prospered (Job 21:7-26; 24:1-17; Psalm 73:1-14; Ecclesiastes 8:14; Jeremiah 12:1-4; Habakkuk 1). God points to a time of justice when He will send His messenger, whom Jesus explicitly identified as John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 1:76), who will prepare the way (Isaiah 40:3; John 1:23) for the "messenger of the covenant." This is the Messiah, Jesus!

The rest of this message speaks of the "day of the Lord" which will be a day of judgment of the whole world (Isaiah 2:12; Joel 3:11-16; Amos 5:18-21; Zechariah 1:14-18) and the time of Jesus' second coming. He will be like a refiner's fire that burns away dross from metal ores and launderer's soap that will cleanse and purify (Mark 9:3; Revelation 3:5) the Levites so they offer clean sacrifices. He will judge the rest of the nation and purge it of sorcery, adultery, perjury, oppression of workers, widows, and orphans, and mistreatment of aliens. While it is a day of judgment for those who reject Him, it will be a day of comfort and joy for the faithful as they look forward to an eternity in His presence!

REFLECTION/APPLICATION

Those who are faithful to Him have hope for the future and have no need to fear when He comes again. Are you faithful?

PRAYER

Lord, You are a faithful, covenant-keeping God. Teach us to be faithful to You. We praise You for the hope we have in Jesus, and it is in His name we pray. Amen.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Malachi 1:1 - 2:9: Respond to God's Love and Honor Him

LINK: Malachi 1 & 2

Try reading the whole book of Malachi in one sitting. It took me 11 minutes to read 55 verses.

If you have not already done so, please read the "Introduction to the Prophetical Books." 

BACKGROUND

Book of Malachi

Most scholar agree that Malachi was written around 450-430 B.C. He was a contemporary of Nehemiah who returned to Jerusalem in 444 to face many problems that Malachi addressed in his oracle. Some of the problems included:

1) Intermarriage with Gentiles (2:10-11; Ezra 9:1-2; Nehemiah 13:1-2, 23-28)
2) Lack of support for the Levites (3:10; Nehemiah 13:10)
3) Oppression of the poor (3:5; Nehemiah 5:4-5)

Malachi's name means "My messenger." This is appropriate since the name "LORD Almighty" occurs 20 times. Of the 55 verses, 47 are spoken by God - the highest proportion of any of the prophets (85%).

He writes in a very different style from the other prophets. He introduced each of his six messages by a charge or command addressed to the people and five out of six of the times follows them with sarcastic questions introduced by "But you say (ask)" (1:2, 6-7, 13; 2:14, 17; 3:7-8, 12). Then, he offered proof that each charge was correct. He confronted the apathetic Israelites and applied the Mosaic Covenant to problems of neglect and outright disobedience. His message is similar to the other prophets: covenant blessings require covenant faithfulness!

Malachi 1:1 - 2:9

First Message - Respond to God's Love (1:2-5)

God loved Jacob and chose him to be the one through whom the nation of Israel and the Messiah would come. The people of Edom were descendants of Esau. See Genesis 25:19-26. God loves his people even when they ignore and disobey Him.

Second Message - Honor God (1:6-2:9)

The priests had dishonored God by offering their insufficient sacrifices (Leviticus 22). They were casual, lazy, impure, and disobedient by not following the Law. God's command was that they honor Him or they would be cast out of service in order to purify the line of Levi (Levites were God's ministers in the tabernacle and temple. See Numbers 1:47-54; 18:19,21.).

Also, Malachi prophesies about a time when Gentiles "from every place" (a better translation of 1:11) will worship God (Isaiah 11:3-4,9; Daniel 7:13-14, 27-28; Zephaniah 2:11; 3:8-11; Zechariah 14:9, 16) and His name will be great among the nations (another "bottom line" verse).

OUR RESPONSE

The Lord said through Jeremiah, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness" (Jeremiah 31:3). Do you believe that He really loves you?

Jesus said, "He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him" (John 14:21). How have you loved God by your obedience today?

PRAYER

Lord, You have loved us with an everlasting love and drawn us with lovingkindness. We want to respond to Your love by loving and obeying You. Guide us. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Put Psalms Back up on the Old Testament Poetry Shelf

They were spread out over the entire first two years of the Bible Book Club. I hope you enjoyed reading them in their historical context!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Psalm 135 & 136 - Praise and Thanksgiving

LINK: Psalm 135 & 136 
(soak in these over the next two days) 

BACKGROUND


Psalm 135


As a perfect follow up to Psalm 134, this is a psalm that calls on the people, priests ("house of Aaron" in 135:19), and Levites ("house of Levi" in 135:19) to praise Him from Jerusalem ("Zion").  It praises God for His greatness by recalling the past. He refers to Exodus 12:12; Numbers 21:21-25; and Joshua 12:7-24. 


The introductory phrase "Praise the Lord" is in this psalm and Psalms 146-150. This phrase is the English transliteration of the Hebrew word, halelû-yāh, which is a compound word combining the Hebrew words, hālal, meaning "shine/praise," and yāh, which is a contracted form of Yahweh, the personal name of God and most frequent designation for Him in the Hebrew Scripture (5321 times). 


Psalm 136


This psalm is similar to Psalm 135. Yahweh's loyal love (ḥeseḏ) is mentioned 26 times in the response portion of what might have been a responsive antiphonal reading with the people saying these words together after a leader had read the first "Give thanks" and "to Him" lines. Maybe it was the psalm read in Ezra 3:11? The response is similar to Psalm 106:1; 118:1-4. It is often called "The Great Hallel" by Jewish rabbis (See posts for Psalm 111-113; 115-117).  This kind of response was also sung at the dedication of Solomon's temple (2 Chronicles 7:3,6) and when Judah was attacked by Moab and Ammon during King Jehoshaphat's reign (2 Chronicles 20:21). 


This loyal love (ḥesedis special for His covenant people. The word includes His love, kindness, mercy, and faithfulness all rolled into one great word!   


The fact that God is referred to as "the God of heaven" (136:26) gives indication that it might have occurred after the exiles returned to Jerusalem since this was a title attributed to him often in Ezra (1:2; 5:11-12; 6:9-10; 7:12, 21, 23) and Nehemiah (1:4; 2:4). 


The Scarlet Thread of Redemption

There are many historical references to the Exodus when He delivered His people from bondage (Exodus 15:16). This exodus is a picture for all of us of our deliverance from the bondage of sin through Jesus (1 Peter 1:18-19; John 1:29; Ephesian 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 4:12).  


How fun to be reminded of this as Christmas (and our Bible Book Club New Testament reading) fast approaches!


REFLECTION/APPLICATION/PRAYER

Christmas is a time for worship! So, pray and worship through these Psalms! They do not take long to read, but they have so much to contemplate that I want you to do it slowly, going deeper in prayer. 


I realize that I keep telling you to soak and pray through the psalms, and I have not reminded you that I have resources for helping you do that.


Here is a downloadable handout that I created that combines both of the above in a front to back document:

Tools for Meditation and Study with Application and Carol's Additions 


Here are things I added to this handout that you might like to try:

1) Write a Poem


2) Write a Song


I have posted a few Michael Card songs as we have studied Genesis. Many of his songs were written after he would meditate on a passage from his pastor’s sermon. During the week, he would write a song and teach it to the congregation on the following Sunday. I have done this periodically throughout my life with the Lord, and those songs are so meaningful to me now. For example, here is a poem based on Psalm 23 that I set to music back in 1982 when I was lonely and living in Spain:

I can feel the love of God surround me as I go;
Through peaceful fields, by waters still, on high paths and on low.
The things I fear all disappear; each snare each enemy!
God’s love directs my every step, surrounds me and sets me free.
3) Illustrate

You may NOT be artistic, but this shouldn’t stop you from trying this fun way to meditate on Scripture. My old roommates and I would meditate this way together, and we would decorate the walls in our stairwell with our art work! Years later, I did it with my children as we “meditated” through The Beginner’s Bible when they were 3 & 5. It was so fun. Break out the colored pencils or crayons and enjoy God’s presence in pictures. Use color and creativity and even get others involved!


Another variation of this is to use magazines pictures and cut and paste your meditations or take a picture in nature that illustrates your meditation. I know many of you take great pictures too!


4) Pray Responsively


Praying through the Scriptures brings the Word to a personal level. We can read a small portion and respond back in prayer. John 15:7 says that if we abide in Him and His words abide in us we can ask whatever we wish and it shall be done for us. Praying Scripture is definitely His will. Here is an example of praying Colossians 3:12:



"Lord, thank You for choosing me and making me holy and beloved because of Jesus. Because I am beloved by You, I want to love others with that love! Please help me to put on my 'love clothes.' I want to be compassionate, kind, humble, and gentle with my kids. Give me patience as Paul interrupts me while I type this" (Paul was five years old when I wrote this. He is better now.).
The psalms are great to pray through alone or with a friend! The first devotional time I ever had with my discipler in college was praying through a psalm.  Take turns reading a couple of verses and then responding to God in prayer.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Psalm 128, 130, 134 - Blessings of the Pilgrim

LINK: Psalm 128, 130, 134

BACKGROUND



"Joy, which is the small publicity of the pagan,
is the gigantic secret of the Christian.
G.K. CHESTERSON

Read yesterday's post if you need a reminder about the "Songs of Ascent." 

Psalm 128 


This is a psalm about family. Blessings and prosperity are a result of our fear and obedience to God.


Psalm 130

This is not only a Song of Ascent but also the sixth of seven penitential psalms (others are Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 143). The first four are attributed to David, but the last three are anonymous. It is a sincere expression of sorrow for sin and assurance of the Lord's forgiveness as we confess. It is perfect for entrance into the temple. 

Psalm 134

As the last of the fourteen Songs of Ascent, the pilgrims have arrived in the sanctuary and address the priests and the Levites, the watchmen who are serving in the temple. Arriving at their destination, the only response is worship and sharing blessings from Zion (Jerusalem).  The group of psalms following Psalm 134 will be all about praising the Lord.

REFLECTION/APPLICATION
Which does your home most closely resemble: (a) the eye of the hurricane, or (b) the hurricane itself?
Psalm 128 describes a family scene, with father, mother (the fruitful vine), and children (olive plants) assembled around the table. It's a picture of tranquility, harmony, and stability. And at first it may be a scene you have trouble envisioning in your house. (As one harried housewife described it, "Getting my kids to sit still at the dinner table is like trying to nail jelly to the floor!")
But don't miss the point of the psalm. The psalmist is not trying to turn your dining room into a setting for Better Homes and Gardens, but rather to show you the path to true happiness in the home. Even in the midst of chaotic schedules, you can find satisfaction and stability as a family if you will keep uppermost these three things: reverence (fearing the Lord, v. 1a), obedience (walking in His ways, v. 1b), and perseverance (laboring to make it work at any price, v, 2).
This evening, call a family council to discuss ways to put Psalm 128 to work in your home. God has a blessing for your family if only you will follow the blueprint. Will you commit yourself to reverence, obedience, and perseverance in your home? 
(The Daily Walk, June 26, 2008, p. 32) 
I love this: keep reverence, obedience, and perseverance uppermost!

How is it going in your home? 


There is an excellent book that helps you write out a blueprint for your family written by the late Stephen Covey, Seven Habit of Highly Effective Families.


PRAYER

Pray through these three psalms for your prayer time today!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Psalm 121-123 - The Pilgrim's Protection and Plea

LINK: Psalm 121 - 123

BACKGROUND


Over the next two days, we will finish up the Songs/Psalms of Ascent. Here is a review of these special psalms from a previous post: 



An Introduction to the Songs of Ascent

Psalm 120 - 134 are part of a group of Psalms called the "Songs of Ascent" or "Pilgrim Psalms."  "Ascent" is from a root which means "to go up," as ascending a stairway.  They were sung by Jewish travelers on their way up to the temple in Jerusalem for the three annual feasts (Exodus 23:14-19; 34:22-24) - Passover in spring, Pentecost in early summer, and Tabernacles in the fall. Jerusalem was the highest city in Palestine at 2,600 feet above sea level. So, the pilgrims spent much of their time ascending to the city and then ascending the steps to the temple. Jesus family was taking the journey to Passover in Luke 2:41-52.


Each psalm is a "step" along the journey. The Mishnah (the writings on Jewish tradition that was compiled in AD 200) states that the fifteen psalms correspond to the fifteen steps that led up from the Court of Women to the Court of Israelites in the temple.


Psalm 120 begins in a hostile, distant land, Psalm 121 is the journey through the hills to Jerusalem, and Psalm 122 is their arrival! The rest of the psalms are about moving toward and up the ascending steps to the temple while contem
plating various characteristics of God. While on the journey, the pilgrims would contemplate the blessings of walking with God.

What a beautiful picture! Eugene H. Peterson writes in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society :

But the ascent was not only literal, it was also a metaphor: the trip to Jerusalem lived a life upward toward God, an existence that advanced from one level to another in developing maturity -- what Paul described as "the goal, where God is beckoning us onward -- to Jesus"(Phil 3:14). (p. 18)
Psalm 121 

This may have been an antiphonal psalm where a leader on the pilgrimage would recite the first two verses, and the group would answer with the next two, back and forth until the end.  The Hebrew word, šāmar, is repeated six times in only eight verses but is translated "keeps, keeper, protect, and guard" in the New American Standard Version. 


In the pilgrims' journey, God "keeps" us from all harm. There were apostate Jewish shrines on the hills outside of Jerusalem where pagan gods were worshiped (2 Kings 16:4; Jeremiah 3:23; 13:27; 17:2; Hosea 4:11-13). This psalm affirms that God is higher than any of them! He created the hills!


Psalm 122


The superscription of this psalm attributes the authorship to David, but it fits with the time of Ezra and Nehemiah when the exiles ascended to Jerusalem!


David refers to "going up" according to ordinances/statutes. This probably refers to the three Jewish feasts I mentioned in the introduction to the Songs of Ascent. He asks the people to pray for the peace and security of this great city. 


Psalm 123


The psalm lifts his eyes toward God and pleads for mercy. 


REFLECTION


We are all pilgrims on a journey toward God, and I love the image these psalms project!



APPLICATION/PRAYER


Your application is to pray responsibly and personally through these psalms. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Psalm 119 - God's Word

LINK: Psalm 119 (soak in and pray through this psalm for the next three days)

BACKGROUND 


This psalm is the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible. It focuses on the Word of God and its importance in the life of the believer. It is to be obeyed, shared, followed, kept, observed, used as a judgment between right and wrong, our authority for living, and looked to for promises!


It is written in an acrostic form with the first line of each eight sentence paragraph beginning with one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. 22 letters x 8 verses per paragraph = 176 total verses. 


The anonymous psalmist uses many ways to describe God's Word (each a little different in the different translations we all may be reading from):
Law - tôrâh  
Testimony - ‘ēḏâh 
Way(s) - darak, derek 
Path - ’ōraḥ 
Precepts - piqqûḏîm (found only in the psalms and always plural) 
Statutes - ḥūqqîm (in the psalms, it is always plural) 
Commandment(s) - miṣwâh
 Judgment(s)/Ordinances - mišpoṭ 
Word - dāḇār 
Saying/Promise - ’imrâh

(Some do not count "ways" as a synonym for God's Word, but I have included it in the list)
All of the synonyms for God's Word are mentioned in one form or another in all but seven verses of this wonderful psalm: 84, 90, 121, 122, and 132. 

If you were not convinced of the importance of immersing yourself in the Word of God before reading Psalm 119, I hope you are now!


REFLECTION

I memorized and took to heart Psalm 119:9, 11 many years ago:



How can a young man keep his way pure? 
By keeping it according to Your word.  


Your word I have treasured in my heart, 
That I may not sin against You.

I prayed through this psalm for the first time in 1980. I did not know that all those different words were about one thing: God's Word. I hope my list helped you. I was a young believer wanting to really learn to love God's Word.  I am still learning. 

I have prayed many times through each line of Psalm 119 for myself and for those God have given me to help grow in Christ since that first time in 1980. The Word of God is ESSENTIAL for growth. We need to treasure it in our hearts and take it in every day. 

How important is God's Word to you? It is my prayer that God will establish His Word in you, and He will bear fruit through you as a result!

APPLICATION 
Over the next three days, pray through this psalm and plead with God like the psalmist did! This is about 59 verses a day. 

PRAYER

Lord, Establish Your word to Your servant, as that which produces reverence for You (119:38). Amen. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Psalm 111-112 & 117 - A Praise Package

LINK: Psalm 111-112, 117

BACKGROUND 


All three of these psalms break out in jubilant praise to God focusing on aspects of His character. 


Psalm 111 & 112


Both these psalms are similar in structure and theme. They both include phrases from other psalms and proverbs. They are both alphabetical psalms called acrostics that follow the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. 


Psalm 111 focuses on God's care and goodness and praises His righteousness. He had redeemed His people from slavery in Egypt. Reverence for Him is the beginning of wisdom. This psalmist would praise God in front of others. Ancient versions of this psalm place it around the time of Haggai and Zechariah. 


Psalm 112 highlights some of the advantages of reverence for and obedience to the Lord. He concludes by saying that the righteous will be exalted but the wicked will become powerless and perish. 


Psalm 117


This is a very short praise song and part of a group of Hallel songs (Psalms 113-118). These songs were sung at the three "great" festivals of Israel, when every male was to come to Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16). Those three festivals were Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. They were also sung at other holy days. Psalm 113-114 were sung before the Passover meal, and  Psalm 115-118 were sung afterwards. 


REFLECTION/APPLICATION/PRAYER

There is nothing like the psalms to help you focus on all of God's wonderful attributes. Do not just read these Psalms but praise through them today!  It is perfect preparation for Christmas!!!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Psalm 107 - Thankfulness of the Redeemed

LINK: Psalm 107

BACKGROUND 


Psalm 107:1 - 150:6 are BOOK V of the book of Psalms. Of these 44 psalms, 15 are by David (108-110; 122; 124; 131; 133; 138-145), one is by Solomon (Psalm 127), and the other ones are anonymous. We will be covering the remaining anonymous ones for the next ten days. 


Psalm 107


This psalm was written to celebrate the return of the exiles from Babylon. He had redeemed them from captivity, and that gives them reason to sing! 


There are four different types of people in distress who are described in this psalm that could refer to both God's faithfulness to his people from the bondage in Egypt and the Babylonian Captivity: 


1) Wanderers (107:4-9)
2) Prisoners (107:10-16)
3) Sick (107:17-20) 
4) Storm-tossed (107:23-30)

APPLICATION/PRAYER

God has redeemed us! Maybe you feel like you are in one or more of the categories above. Pray through Psalm 107 today.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Psalm 146 & 147 - Praise Practice for Heaven

LINK: Psalm 146 & 147

BACKGROUND 


The last five psalms (146-150) are called the "Hallelujah Psalms" because they focus on pure praise of the LORD. The beginning phrase of all of them is "Praise the Lord"! This is the English transliteration of the Hebrew word, halelû-yāh, which is derived from the Hebrew words, hālal, meaning "shine/praise," and yāh, which is a contracted form of Yahweh, the personal (covenant) name of God and most frequent designation for Him in the Hebrew Scripture (5321 times). 

Psalm 146


The psalmist vows to praise God for his whole life. He is the only one we can trust in 100% for everything. God's help is contrasted with man's help which is not 100% trustworthy! The psalm mentions many things for which God should be praised: His creation, truth, judgment, provision, healing, protection, and eternal reign! 


Psalm 147 


This psalm is considered a "post-exilic" psalm because of the phrase "He gathers the 'banished/outcast/expelled/exiles" of Israel (147:2; Nehemiah 1:9). 


Many commentators believe this was the psalm Nehemiah read during the celebration and dedication when the people finished rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (compare 147:2, 12-14 with Nehemiah 12:27-43). 


It starts and finishes with an exhortation to praise God who cares for all creation, creatures, and His people! 


REFLECTION 

Love this acrostic for praise:

Publicly 
Recounting the 
Acts of the 
Incomparable
Sovereign of 
Eternity 
Praising and adoring God 
is the noblest part
of the saint's work on earth,
as it will be his chief employ 
in heaven
(Daily Walk, June 30, 2008, p.35)

So why do we not do it constantly? What hinders us from pure praise every day of our lives? As I sit here in prayer this morning, I hear "lack of focus."  So, I will go with that. 

I must go with that! Since writing that last line, my family has all gotten up, and it has been a flurry of packing for our annual camping trip with two other families. In addition, my computer shock wave player keeps crashing because of unresolved problems between Google and Norton, a barrage of emails have come in begging to be responded to, and I was distracted by business. 


Everything clamors for our attention and keeps our focus off of the God who made it all (including the people who made Google and Norton and invented email and computers). 

What is a person to do? 


Focus on an ancient God in a 21st century world takes intentionality.  Just like those Olympic athletes that I have been watching this summer (yes I am completing the December posts in August due to a busy fall coming up). They achieved greatness through constant training and practice. We are in training and practice for heaven, and we need to learn to focus on the God we will be with into eternity! 


APPLICATION 


How intentional are you to make praise a daily part of your life? Why don't you set some clear and specific "praise" goals for the coming year? You may not win a gold, but you will certainly be blessed beyond measure!  


My application for today is to go outside RIGHT now and praise God in the beautiful sunshine (remember I am writing this in August, but we can praise Him on a cold December day by a warm fire too!). 


PRAYER

Draw us into focused praise of You, Lord. Amen.