Through the Bible in a Year – January 23

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 46-47; John 19; Psalm 32

Our Psalm today requires much by way of meditation – that prayerful ‘chewing’ upon the Word in prayer that brings forth Life. For it is a text of truthfulness. Scripture throughout bears witness to the Truth – sometimes it is veiled, the revelation of Christ does not lie on the surface for all to see – but occasionally it is seen in all its glory. In other places, as in this Psalm, we are led into truth. The Psalmist declares, ‘Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven’. He then speaks of his own experience which has led him to this happy realisation – how he was wasting away in trying as our forebears did of old in the garden, to hide the reality of his life from God. But then he comes into the Light – we may well say he comes to Christ – and learns the blessed release of Openness, of Truthfulness.

As we first meditate upon the ‘Proposition’ – happy are those whose sins are forgiven – it may well be alien to us. We may accept it as the Word of God, but it is alien. It is a Fact which we accept in trust, but we have not yet become acquainted with it – we have not ourselves experienced this truth. We may not yet have come to the point where the fact of our own existence in its sinfulness has been any burden to us. But as He comes close to us, this state of affairs cannot pertain, we must either come to the light or flee ever deeper into the darkness. As he becomes ever more clear the crisis comes to a head.

And so Everything is brought to the point of Judgement. We see in Pilate a growing panic as the one who Is the Truth stands before him – the conflict between Light and Dark is exposed – the Light is brought out once more and the darkness os revealed for what it is – a refusal to come into the light. “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ We cannot bear the light!!!

Pilate comes to see that for all his worldly power – he cannot do the right – he is given a choice – he is told where his authority comes from, but he refuses to step into it. He does not believe.

It is in this supreme revelation of the Truth of our existence in Christ, that the door to our forgiveness is thrown open wide. As Death is brought out into the open, Life is poured out.

As we wrestle ourselves with God, as had Jacob, who now in a most extraordinary turn, blesses Pharaoh, all this is brought to the fore in our lives. The Truth of Christ is made present to us, and we too have the opportunity offered to us of the fullest healing of who we are.

Truth is revealed to be Personal – a Person – the one who sets us free.

“Blessed are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

Happy are thoseĀ  . . . in whose spirit is no deceit – who have stepped out of darkness and into light

Who know Christ, and are themselves Known, Apprehended, and Freed by Him


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 14

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 29-30; John 11:1-27; Psalm 19

Throughout the story of the Patriarchs there are rich elements which are as much comedic as anything – perhaps none less than the deceits between the deceiver Jacob and Laban, as they wrestle with one another (a foreshadowing of the life of Israel with the LORD). Not least in the wonderful set up of Jacob having laboured for seven years for Rachel, to wake up and find Leah in the marriage bed . . . Again there are common themes. Marriage within the broader family, the well, the two spouses echoing Hagar and Sarah, one barren the other blessed – yet as before the one who is barren finally gives birth to a ‘saviour’ in Joseph as Sarah had borne Isaac, the one who dies, yet he lives.

We would no doubt wish for a tidier picture – a neater engagement – a more moral story – but then of course it would truly bear little relevance to the story of our lives. However strange the story of the patriarchs is to us culturally, those who inhabit it are as recognisable to us as those who look us in the mirror. We can only wonder that the Holy One deigns to work out his purposes through frail human flesh. Wonder, and Worship. And certainly our reading from John blows all our senses of moral and right to the four winds

Wonder and Worship – perhaps the pre-eminent Christian posture – is all that we can do before the telling of the story of the death of Lazarus. We cannot hope that God will work in the messiness of our lives, if we hope at the same time he will dance to our tune. There is no neat and tidy healing for Lazarus. The Healer delays. His ways are not our ways. We would not come to save folk like ourselves. He does. We cannot but rush to try and help, he does not. What we do avails little. His Purpose overarches everything. His words leave us staggered. I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

That which is humanly impossible – coming to save faithless deceivers – refusing to do the obvious ‘Right’ thing. All we can do is worship and follow. We cannot see the way – Faith alone is an adequate response. “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, The Son of God, the one coming into the world”