Through the Bible in a Year – January 22

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 44-45; John 18; Psalm 31

I hope that as we have journeyed thus far, I have encouraged you to seek the deep patterns in Holy Scripture, that this book is of a whole, that past present and future are found in a single line, or even a word.

John in particular is always most careful with his words – it is as though years of reflection upon the Glory of God in Jesus Christ, of resting upon his breast has enabled him to distill all of that Glory into almost every phrase. And so we come once more to where we began – to a garden – which Jesus and his disciples enter.

Of course That garden, the one of old had had set at it the cherubim and a sword flaming to guard the way to the tree of life.

So the one who Is in himself Life – the root of Jesse – who will be born upon the tree enters this garden. He enters The Garden – the path is not blocked – a Gate has been made. We note that He, with his disciples do not bring any torches, for the Light is still with them.

Then in ghastly parody, comes the betrayer, with soldiers and priests – with their own ‘flaming swords’ and there is a confrontation. One somewhat akin to that of Dagon with the Ark of the Covenant in Samuel – the Ark above which rose the cherubim – whose very presence threw the parodic god of the Philistines to the ground.

Thus the revelation of Glory which the darkness cannot overcome, the one who dwells among the cherubim, The one who Is and who watches over The Gate for the sheep, throws all the darkness to the ground. The darkness cannot overcome it, even in This moment..

Through the Bible in a Year – January 21

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 42-43; John 17; Psalm 30

The seventeenth chapter of John’s gospel reveals the very heart of the gospel – that we might know the Father and the Son. We so often express salvation in terms of being ‘saved from’, like Lot’s wife we are to ready to look behind. That which we are saved from is not worth a moments consideration. Rather the work of Jesus is to reconcile us to God, not in some forensic sense, but to restore the realtionship which our first ancestor knew – of profound intimacy and love – “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them” And that as we are drawn into that by the love of God in Christ, so we are as his people drawn together in such love, ‘that the world may know’

Jesus at prayer – read this – meditate upon it – respond in praise and adoration – and abide in this Love

Through the Bible in a Year – January 20

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 41; John 16; Psalm 28-29

The strange and mysterious story of Joseph now takes a dramatic turn for the better. Now even Pharaoh is troubled by dreams. We note how often in the Scriptures, the powerful are threatened by their dreams whilst the weak are given strength. And, the cup bearer remembers that there is one who can tell dreams, but he is no magician – of the sort which will one day deceive in order to imitate the plagues – no, Joseph would not deceive, “It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favourable answer”. In Joseph’s continuing integrity and honesty, displayed in his faith in the one who alone lifts up the lowly, who exalts the humble and meek – is his story continued. Joseph throughout is one who sees. A prophet in the true tradition who is alert only to what God is about.  And in Joseph we see a foreshadowing of the one who will be exalted to the right hand of the majesty on high, precisely because he only does and speak of that which he sees his father doing.

The theme of Christ’s identification with his church continues and other themes are drawn in to the whole. We are reminded that the disciples are drawn into the closest association with their Lord. They, his sheep, know his voice – in contrast to the world which knows neither the Father, nor His Son. What is more, even though for a while they will weep and mourn – whilst the World rejoices – even though they will be scattered and leave Him to the way that they cannot now follow, they are to know that the Father is with him. Knowing he and the Father are one they may ask with confidence anything in his name, as he himself asked the Father to glorify his name, and the Father spoke to his request. It is asking in the knowledge that Jesus and his Father are one that is the source of the abundant Life and complete Joy which the disciples will know.

Here is no pale Christology. Here is Life and Hope. John would have us under no illusion about the relationship of Jesus of Nazareth to God. As the Prologue lays out the Cosmic dimensions of the relationship of the living Word to God, yet in intimate terms (It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known) – so over and over again Jesus speaks of the Father, His Father, and the Father of all those born from above. The intimacy of God and the only begotten is revealed in breathtaking detail, and as we read, and behold, we too are drawn into the joyous love of the Father for the Son

Through the Bible in a year – January 19

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 39-40; John 15; Psalm 26-27

Through our reading in John today, we encounter a theme of great significance. Jesus’, the one who did not trust himself to men, for he knew what was in them – identifies himself with his church, the gathered disciples. The nature of that identification is of unimaginable depth – that which will cause Paul to exclaim, NOTHING will be able to separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The surety of this identification is found in the eternal security of Jesus’ identification with the Father. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”

Out of this unalterable eternal Love that is God, springs Life in the True vine. The vine, of old the symbol of God’s life bearing fruit amongst his people, the Kingdom. As we read the story of God’s people in Genesis, of the travails of Jacob’s offspring, wondering how on Earth God will work salvation through such unlikely material, we must needs hear the words of Christ – “I am the true vine . . . I am the true vine” – a constant flow of life giving water. Jesus identifies with Israel and in speaking to the disciples, the church. And this identification is profound. I am the vine, you are the branches. I am Life! I am Your Life!

And that identification of Christ with the disciples draws them into all it means to be his – to be so caught up in Him that we are caught up in what he is doing, and all that that means. His life, his Joy, his suffering. Not only does Christ draw us into his self identification with the Father, now also the world turns its gaze upon the disciples and sees Christ “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you . . . Whoever hates me, hates my Father also”

The hatred of the world for God, for Christ and for his people is not a comfortable one for us to sit with. Either we have known it and the pain of it – or else we perhaps cannot conceive how it is possible. The Good News is not universally welcomed – we must be wary of carving ourselves another gospel, which fits the wisdom of the world, lest we find ourselves removed from the vine, as our lives produce not the fruit of the Kingdom of Christ, but the fruit of the Prince of this world.

Our Genesis story, reveals some of this in its working out.  ‘The Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man’ Yet in the next minute all turns to dust and he finds himself in prison, and what is more having interpreted the dream of the cup bearer, forgotten. The cup bearer does well in the terms of the world – he forgets the one who has done well in the story of God’s life. ‘How is it’, Scripture often asks, ‘that we may do good and yet suffer so’. The answer given plainly by Jesus, the man who is crucified in revealing the perfect will of God, and in the story of Joseph, is that there Is evil in the world which infects the human heart and so seeks to destroy life. ‘They hated the light . . .’

This is the hatred of which Jesus speaks [Jn 7:7] – the evil still at large in the world, in small petty ways, such as the action of Potiphar’s wife, and in large ways, wherein the human king takes it upon himself to be Lord of Life and Death over his servants. An evil which is revealed fully as the Light comes into the world, the one who comes only that they might have Life. This final revelation is at the Cross – brightest of lights – the Son of man is glorified – ‘truly they hated me without cause’ Hate drawn out – hate exposed – that we might know the Light and Live in it.

Through the Bible in a Year – January 18

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 37-38; John 14; Psalm 25

Psalm 25 is perhaps one of the most beautiful Psalms of the devoted heart – the heart of a Saint. Which is what we are – yet we flee from the thought. How might we truly embrace that which Christ died and lives to make us?

Early in the Genesis story we were introduced to the grandeur and seriousness of human existence. Something which our age has little time for – we are too rushed to allow our Lives to flourish – always transplanted from place to place, thought to thought, Experience to experience. Inattentive to the one who Attends. No way that we can hear and see that which is Beyond us and little time for those who would suppose there might be more.

Here in New Zealand it is said “we don’t like tall poppies” – they get cut off, don’t begin to imagine that you might amount to saintliness, remember your place. “Here comes the dreamer . . .”

How readily we tear Joseph down. In an age marked by suspicion of the text all we can see is the tall poppy. so he is accused of arrogance and pride – yet all the text tells us is that he has dreams and tells his brothers. It is interesting what our interpretation of the text tells us about ourselves, if we would but attend.

And again there are so many layers to this story as we read it against the whole sweep of Scripture. For they come against him at Dothan. Dothan where the Assyrians will one day come against another dreamer, Elisha. Another one whose eye is open to Salvation and who like Joseph prefigures the ‘one who is to come after’. Joseph will be taken to Egypt – he ‘dies’ so that his brothers might live, and immediately we read of Judah and Tamar. We read of a land shorn of tall poppies, a land where all there is is shame. Shameful acts Exposed. There is no longer a dreamer. There are no longer Saints in the land – no longer a vision of anything better. Famine will come and the people perish.

Joseph attends – he is faithful. He is taught by the Spirit, and led into saving truth for the benefit of all his kin.

“In a little while, the world will not see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live”

Dare we risk dreaming?

“Redeem Israel O God, out of all its troubles”

Through the Bible in a year – January 17

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 35-36; John 13; Psalm 23-24

Yesterday we noted how John only draws the disciples into the narrative as he needs them. Always the focus is Christ and it perhaps comes as some surprise to us to realise that we have got so far through the gospel and only hear the words of Peter for a second time. “Lord where are you going”. Jesus’ reply to Peter speaks deeply of the significance of His work that he will accomplish in ‘doing the will of the one who sent me’. “Where I am going, you cannot now come”

John’s focus is not discipleship, for we cannot now go where Jesus goes – he is The Way. At this point in the narrative he has not yet gone. It is only the completed work of Christ, Crucified and Risen that makes possible the life of the disciple. He is the door. His Life must be as it were laid open. He does it all.

Peter is revealed as utterly helpless. He cannot even bring himself to allow Christ to serve him in washing his feet. He who as yet cannot be the passive recipient of service must learn that he can only receive Life. It is Gift. It cannot be grasped, the way to that tree was barred to the sons of Adam.  Most especially, here he cannot grasp what it is to be a disciple. He cannot live as a disciple. He cannot take up his cross, he cannot lay down his life. For as yet he has no life of his own to lay down. The life of the disciple of Jesus is the Life of the Risen Christ set free in the world at his resurrection. There is no other Life, there is not other Way, there is no other Truth. It is Gift. It cannot be grasped.

“You have laid a table before me . . .”

Through the Bible in a year – January 16

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 33-34; John 12: Psalm 22

John’s gospel takes a different track in so many ways, not least in how the Evangelist not only portrays the disciples, but also in how he introduces them into the text. In John, the Risen Christ is pre-eminent. This gospel trains us to look, and to Behold the One who Is from of old. Thus the disciples are far less to the fore than in the synoptic gospels. The focus of John is not on what it means to be a disciple – nowhere does Jesus enjoin us, ‘whoever would be my disciple . . .’ So it is with a horribly jarring note than in the midst of the revelation of Beauty, as Mary takes a pint of pure nard to anoint Jesus feet, there is also revealed human ugliness in the person of Judas. It is as if the Revelation of Jesus separates sheep from goats in his very being. And Judas, we are told was a thief.

Of all the commandments, the one that comes last is oft forgotten, but it is far from the least. Indeed the command ‘Thou shalt not covet” in many ways summarises all the Law. The story of the deceiver Jacob is from the first one of ‘Grasping’ – as footnotes in our bibles remind us, deceiver is figuratively ‘one who grasps the heel’. Deceit is used as a means of control and this is worked though in Jacob stealing the Blessing of Isaac and this seed continues to bear bad fruit in increasing quantities. Enmity between Jacob and Esau spreads to the wider family. Laban deceives Jacob and takes seven years service from him – Jacob grasps Laban’s flocks – and all this grasping at an increasing cost. Yesterday we read how Jacob coveted the blessing of the angel of the LORD and how he paid the price of his physical health. Now the brokenness spreads beyond the bounds of family. We read on to the terrible story of Dinah and how she is ‘taken’ by force, and then desired and how this covetous lust drives the Shechemites to a form of madness – thinking they can take all of Israel’s flocks, they pay a price in their flesh ‘receiving in their own persons the due penalty’. But Israel, grasping ever tighter, deceives all the more, and as before with Laban, and as will be with Pharaoh, those who were made to pay an unjust price plunder their hosts [note by the way, the back story of a false hospitality].

Thus it is that the King of Israel will cap all covetousness having been given everything by God, when he murders to ‘get’ Bathsheba.

It is no pretty picture. If you wanted to write a religious book, you would not tell these stories. It is sobering and humbling to hear these stories as the people of God – these stories humble us. And leave us with no pretensions that we can save ourselves. The one thing we cannot Grasp, the fruit of the tree of Life – Salvation. Grasping from the first we come in the light of these stories to the apprehension that we have ourselves sold our birthright.

Our situation is in the terms we have written for ourselves, hopeless. Yet One comes among us as Light. Not as a moral guide, not as Example, but Life. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified – that all who look to him might be saved.

Our Psalm today is of course the Prayer of Jesus from the cross. He becomes the only One in history to be forsaken of God, that we who chose so foolishly at first might never be so forsaken. He does not grasp, He Offers His life to God, and in so doing he offers his Life to us who have no life of our own.

Through the Bible in a Year – January 15

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 31-32; John 11:28-57; Psalm 20-21

In a sense what follows next in the story of Jacob foreshadows the Exodus. Jacob has entered the territory of Laban under one set of terms and found himself indentured. Yet as the Israelites plunder the Egyptians who first gave them hospitality and then enslaved them, so  Jacob plunders Laban and makes off, only to be pursued. The story parts company with the Exodus at this point, and in one other key respect – for in the story of the Exodus that is to come, God is more clearly to the forefront of the liberation. And in coming to the water, it is not the advancing Egyptians that strikes fear into ‘Israel’, but the angel of the LORD.

In the same way that the crossing of the Red Sea will irrevocably mark Israel as God’s chosen people, so Jacob is marked as he crosses the ford of the Jabbok at Penuel ‘ as the sun rose upon him . . . limping because of his hip’.

It is in this encounter with the Living God – which turns death to Life – one is encountered in the darkness of night – a voice breaking through into our consciousness like the sound of many waters – “Lazarus! Come out!”

How then can we ignore so great a Salvation – for we have seen the face of the Lord and Lived