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Devotional Reflections Week of Jan. 1, 2017

 

As part of a devotional series we are doing at Vineyard of Harvest, we are looking to finish the New Testament, Genesis, Exodus and Ezra in 180 days. Here are thoughts on the first two chapters of Matthew.

Chapter 1:
v. 19 – Joseph is a man of action and considerate – reminds me of Boaz (v3) who is the redeemer figure in the book of Ruth. God likes to place people of action around us – administrative folks 🙂 – I’m reminded that their journey can often lead to a crisis of taking action in the face of sorrow. Let’s pray for these people to have encouragement from the Holy Spirit to keep persevering.

Chapter 2:
vv. 1-5 – Herod fits nicely into a trope repeated throughout history and literature: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NiceJobBreakingItHerod. If he had studied Greek mythology he would have known that trying to stop prophecy only seems to accelerate its fulfillment. He is a reminder that history repeats itself and does so at the expense of those foolish enough to gamble on the belief that might makes right.

vv. 13-18 – These scenes are played out in a much more epic scale in Revelation: https://lifehopeandtruth.com/prophecy/revelation/revelation-12/ and fits in with the man-trying-to-beat-prophecy theme in vv. 1-5. The tragic part of the story though, is v. 16, when the children are ordered to be killed, echoing the story of Moses and intimating that Moses, another prominent figure in the Messiah-deliverer tradition, was an image of Jesus. One has to wonder, was the tragedy necessary at all? Is God in a sense condemning innocent people to die to protect his perfect plan? I would like to pose this question for interpretation: Were people to attempt to pose their will on God and resulted in the death of many children, would it paint an image of God as a deity removed from parenting his children or as one who is ready to correct and discipline? In other words, if God were to intervene in every war, power struggle, disease epidemic and save every child without any effort from us, without any way of informing his people that life is frail and should be treasured, would that make him more or less benevolent?

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Devotional Reflections Week of Jan. 8

Thoughts on Matthew 15 & 16:

Chapter 15: Thoughts on vv1-20. I found this question on quora.com:

What is the best way to destroy a belief system if you knew that belief system is certain to destroy all of its adherents and cause great suffering?

One could say that Jesus attacked the belief system of the Pharisees because he knew it was leading people astray and doing the work of Satan. The question remains though, was Jesus trying to destroy the belief system of the Pharisees, or was his criticism aimed more to his disciples and their instruction (vv. 16-20)? Furthermore, do we still perpetuate the same belief systems of the Pharisees that would anger Jesus if he visited us today? A historical gut reaction would say: Orthodox Judaism is exactly the same as what existed in the time of Christ, so yes, it still does exist. Perhaps a more appropriate answer would be: any belief system that stipulates self-preservation of the system as the sole reason for its existence. This is indeed something worthy of wrath. A good way to rephrase this would be: “You’ve got some messed up thinking when you think your highest calling is to make sure your way of living is perpetuated”. When God created the Law, wasn’t it designed so that He could bless the Nation of Israel and in turn bless all of Creation? It had nothing to do with making sure that there were enough people around to keep enforcing His rules. The primary goal of it all was to destroy evil. Destroying evil can be done without a self-perpetuating system. What it needs is hearts committed to destroying evil. The Pharisees missed the point entirely and Jesus instead pointed to a better way: he died to demonstrate his love for his followers. His goal in all this? Destroy evil. His challenge? Do the same.

What’s the best way to destroy a destructive belief system? Submit to it in defiance. In doing so, you turn the rules of the belief system on itself. Think MLK, Ghandi, Joan of Arc, the story of the 47 Ronin (Chūshingura). Thus we see a contrast in the way the Pharisees taught and the way Jesus taught. Pharisees: do as I say, not as I do; it’s better for one scapegoat to die rather than having our oppressors wipe us out. Jesus: I do what I say and die for it; I challenge you to do every single word of what you say if you believe it keeps you from getting wiped out. Jesus’s remarks about what comes out as defiling is case in point: evil is stored in the heart and perpetuated when people assent to it.

So how did the Pharisees end up assenting to evil when they were so focused on pleasing God the whole time? This is the question we want to answer and gets at the heart of why destructive belief systems still exist. It goes back to the idea of the self-perpetuation of destructive belief systems. The Pharisees’ main goal was proselytes, converts (Matthew 23:15). They were so afraid of having their culture wiped out, that they assumed that God’s calling and promise to make a great Nation meant a great National Culture. Unfortunately, this is a common error we fall into as humans. Pax Romana, The Middle Kingdom, The Caliphate, The American Dream. What’s so attractive about all these ideas? They promise Heaven on Earth, the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams, achievable within our lifetime. It takes a real wakeup call to realize: Our greatest hopes and dreams do not exist in what we can see, hear, taste, smell or touch. Just as defilement birthed from within, so does salvation. The story in vv.21-28 brings up the stark contrast. The woman does see Heaven on Earth, but she already knows it within her, when she confesses her need for salvation from Christ, and it is upon her confession of dependence on God that brings her daughter healing.