I like to read through the Bible every year and in doing so read a passage from the Old Testament, a passage from the New Testament and one from Psalms or Proverbs each day. I follow the Bible In One Year plan and this looks at Old Testament passages chronologically rather than in the order they appear in the Bible, and because of this, I have ended the year reading from Nehemiah. With Christmas carols still reverberating in my mind, I read this verse today: ‘Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.’ (Neh 13:2)
The incident Nehemiah is referring to is found in Numbers 22-24, a passage about Balak and the prophet Balaam, whom Balak hired to curse Israel and who ended up blessing them. In the midst of these prophecies we find one pointing ahead to Jesus (Num 24:17); the whole incident – including the story about Balaam’s donkey whose spiritual perception was greater than his master’s! – reminds us that God is able to take all our obstructiveness, sinfulness and sheer stubbornness and still get HIs own way! Nehemiah’s words have far greater meaning than just this one incident. All throughout history God has been turning the curse into a blessing. As we end 2019 and enter into a new year and a new decade, we can be confident He will continue to do this. (Rom 8:28)
The popular carol ‘Joy To The World’ contains a verse that is not always sung (but should be!) In this verse, we sing, ‘He comes to make his blessings flow/ Far as the curse is found.’ Jesus came into the world to make God’s blessings available to each one of us. Though our world is cursed from Adam’s first sin, God is able to turn the curse into a blessing. We can face whatever the enemy throws at us secure in the knowledge that our God turns curses into blessings and brings good from evil. We may not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.
It’s fitting that the last day of the year is also a birthday for one of our members! We enjoyed celebrating this early tonight.
Lamentations is not an easy book to read.The nation of Israel had been carried off in exile because of their persistent idolatry, rebellion and disobedience and each chapter tells of the anguish and heartache of God’s people (Lam 1:1-4), a heartache made worse because this was brought about by God Himself (Lam 2:7, 17). Nonetheless, even in this anguish, God’s loyal love and faithfulness remain true (Lam 3:22-23).
We may well live in times of anguish and sorrow, but God wants these things to drive us further towards Him as we learn to pray with persistence and perseverance. Jesus taught us to ask, seek and knock (Matt 7: 7-8) and told a parable to remind us to always pray and never give up (Luke 18:1-8).
Our human tendency is to give up easily, to expect instant answers from God and to feel discouraged if He does not work immediately (if not sooner!) Jesus gave us this parable to remind us that persistence in prayer – percussive drilling – is required if we are to reach the living water of God. Prayer can release the water of God’s river; it can access God’s blessings on our lives, on our churches, on our communities and on our country. But the kind of prayer which does this is not something which is perfunctory – carried out with a minimum of effort or reflection. It is agonising prayer full of tears – and that is something we shy from.
God wants to give us His heart of compassion and love, however. (Ezek 11:19-20, Ezek 36:26-27) We need to ask God to soften our hearts so that we can feel His compassion and weep with His tears. (‘Soften My Heart’, Graham Kendrick) Then God can lead us to a new level of prayer where we pray with passion and fervour and tears for His revival and for people to come to know Him. May we not only access God’s living water in new ways and experience God’s abundant life in our own lives and in our own families but also learn to take our spiritual weapons and pray with percussive drilling, with persistence and perseverance, until we see God move by His Spirit in power and revival, bringing many people to faith.
“The tears stream from my eyes, an artesian well of tears, until you, God, look down from on high, look and see my tears. (Lam 3:49-50, The Message)
These verses from Lamentations 3 continued our series ‘The Wells of Salvation’, looking at how God wants us to develop persistence in prayer. An artesian well is a source of water that does not need pumps at all. This type of well seems to defy gravity because the pressure that builds up between layers of rock gets relieved when the water finds a path to the open air. The water is naturally filtered because it passes through porous rock as it seeps into the Earth to reach the aquifer, and then the water is accessed by drilling so that you don’t have to manually or mechanically haul the water up from the depths. In some cases, if the pressure is great enough, the water bursts forth like a fountain, and that becomes a geyser such as is found in some parts of the United States or Iceland, for example.
The first known artesian well was drilled in 1126 by a group of monks in Artois, France – and that’s why they’re called ‘artesian wells’ (‘artesian’ is the adjective from the place name ‘Artois’). They used a bore, a rod with a sharp end, to penetrate a layer of impermeable rock to reach an aquifer. They persistently drummed into the rock with this bore until they eventually broke through the rock and water came gushing forth. Because the rock filters the water, the water which they eventually found was pure and safe to drink and these kinds of water sources are found in many different places all over the world.
This reminds us of two truths:
This water is naturally present in our world. There is ample water for all the world, provided by God, and this natural truth applies to our spiritual lives too. When Jesus talked about rivers of living water flowing from within us (John 7:38), there is no sense that there are any restrictions or limitations to these rivers. There is no lack in God; we will never suck Him dry, so to speak.
God’s abundant supply does not mean we sit by passively and do nothing. Of the monks in Artois, it is written, ‘Their percussive drilling — just hammering on the end of the bore — broke through the rock with sheer human force.’ So the water is there, given to us as a gift from God, but the means these monks used involved hard work, brute force, and probably took quite a long time. God wants us to learn to pray with perseverance and tears, that as we sow with tears, we may reap with songs of joy. (Ps 126:5)
Christmas celebrates the coming of Jesus Christ in human form, Jesus the Messiah, God’s Anointed One. Many Jews have put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, but many still do not believe He is the Messiah or that He has fulfilled any Messianic prophecies. Garry spoke this morning on some of the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Jesus which can encourage us to see that He is indeed God’s anointed and chosen One.
In Luke 24, Jesus gave probably the best Bible study ever, showing how the Messiah had to suffer before entering into His glory (see Luke 24:25-27). He spoke many times about this subject (e.g. to the woman at the well in John 4:25-26 or when He spoke of fulfilling Isaiah 61, a passage that heralded the Messiah’s arrival). When Peter proclaimed that He was the Messiah, Jesus did not refute this claim or rebuke him (Matt 16:16-17). Instead, His birth, life and death demonstrated the fulfilment of many Old Testament prophecies:
The Messiah would be a descendant of David (see 2 Sam 7:12-16), fulfilled in Luke 1:26-33.
The Messiah would be greater than David (see Psalm 110), also see Luke 20:41-44
The Messiah would be preceded by Elijah (Mal 4:5); see Jesus’s response to John’s disciples in Matt 11:11
The Messiah would be a prophet (Deut 18:15); see Matt 13:27, Matt 21:11
The Messiah would be born of a virgin (Is 7:14); see Matt 1:22-23.
The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); see Luke 2:4-7
The Messiah would know sacrifice and die (see Dan 9:24-26)
We can be secure in our faith because that faith rests on facts and on the fulfilment of so many prophetic words about the Messiah. There are promises still to be fulfilled, but we can be sure that God will bring these to pass as well (see 2 Pet 1:16-19).
At our Christmas Day service, we looked at Matt 2:1-12 and the subject of ‘Precious Presents’. Most of us are familiar with the idea that the gifts brought to Jesus by the wise men or Magi have a symbolic meaning: gold representing the fact He was born to be King, frankincense emphasising His priestly role in offering Himself as a a sacrifice and myrrh looking ahead to His death and burial. But these gifts can also have meaning for us too.