Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 13 January 2022:
Note: Here is a short video overview of Genesis 12-50 — https://youtu.be/VpbWbyx1008
Genesis 11:4 — Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
The story of the tower of Babel describes the age-old pattern of destructive sin where people who reject the Sovereignty of God in their lives seek to glorify themselves and build for themselves worldly kingdoms rather than serving the LORD as part of the Kingdom of God. This spirit of humanism (sometimes couched in religious terms) is at the heart of global governments today, which all war against the will of God. Ultimately, since the Fall, there has been only two kingdoms, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man which rebels against the God’s Kingdom in futility. Everyone on earth will choose whether they will serve God in His Kingdom or self in the doomed kingdom of man. There is no third alternative.
- Psalm 2:1 — Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
- Psalm 9:17 — The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.
- Psalm 9:19 — Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you!
- Psalm 9:20 — Put them in fear, O LORD! Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah
- Psalm 10:16 — The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land.
- Psalm 18:49 — For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing to your name.
- Psalm 22:28 — For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.
- Psalm 33:10 — The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
- Psalm 33:12 — Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
- Psalm 47:8 — God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
- Psalm 59:8 — But you, O LORD, laugh at them; you hold all the nations in derision.
- Psalm 72:11 — May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!
In the pursuit to “be like God (Genesis 3:4),” the people sought to use their shared language, values, and technology to essentially create their own heaven on earth. However, God in His great mercy thwarted their efforts because He knew that ‘nothing would be impossible for them,’ in other words, there would be no limit to the evil they would do. Without restraints in pursuit of godless objectives, mankind would have rapidly disintegrated into hell on earth. Today, technology and globalization offer mankind the opportunity to construct a virtual Tower of Babel and a global system which promises to solve the problems of our sinful, broken human condition. Keep Genesis 11 in mind when we get to the Book of Revelation at the end of the year.
We too can seek to build our own towers of Babel in our lives, seeking to make a name for ourselves rather than serving God as we were created to do. In His love, mercy, and grace, God will often thwart our construction of self-centered towers and will destroy our idols, though we might not see His disruptions and demolitions as acts of love. God would have nothing get in the way of your unity with Him. What are you building and why?
- Psalm 127:1 — Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
- Luke 6:47-49 — Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.
A good question to ask yourself regularly is “Why am I doing what I am doing?” Is what you are doing God-centered or self-centered? Remember, even religious activities or deeds of service can become self-centered when we seek (usually subtly or unconsciously) to glorify self rather than God or to achieve righteousness rather than humbly receiving righteousness through Christ alone and proclaiming the grace of God before others. Also remember that even though you may have committed to build an alter to the Lord (Genesis 8:20; Genesis 12:2) rather than a tower to self, you build one stone at a time, and the temptation always remains to turn the alter into a tower. Fidelity is sustained one decision at a time. Never forget: it’s not about you. God blesses us so we can glorify Him and be a blessing to others.
- John 14:13 — Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If your self-examination is honest, you will likely recognize that your motives are mixed – you are motivated in part to serve God and in part to serve self. Why? Because you are not yet perfected in love but rather are still growing into Christ-like character. Repent where needed, abide in God’s love and grace, and pray that God will continue to grow you in Christ-centeredness.
Matthew 9:10-13 – And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
“Jesus reclined at table…. [with] many tax collectors and sinners.” The Pharisees were livid with Jesus for his close, personal relationship with these tax collectors (reclining at table was a demonstration of deep affection). Tax collectors were hated by the Jews because tax collectors (also Jews) not only gathered taxes for Rome but also skimmed off the top for themselves (traitors and thieves of their own people). Yet, Jesus had gone so far as to pick Matthew (also known as Levi, perhaps a former Levite who sold out his heritage) the tax collector to be one of His inner-circle disciples!
Many have misinterpreted these verses to suggest that Jesus accepted or condoned sin as ‘no big deal’, and many have used these verses to justify their own complacency with sin and compromise with the sinful world. However, though Jesus invites all sinners to repentance, Jesus was NOT hanging out intimately with unrepentant sinners; He was fellowshipping affectionately with repentant sinners who desired to commit their lives to Him. The other Gospel accounts give us greater details behind this story:
Luke 3 tells us that, when John the Baptizing was baptizing, “Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.’” (Luke 3:12-14)
Then Mark 2:15 points out, “Many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.” These tax collectors were among those who had repented, trusted in Jesus, and decided to follow of Jesus. Sinners, yes, but repentant sinners who had turned away from sin and to the Lord in order to follow Him. Luke tells another story about a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus who also proclaimed repentance and life commitment to Jesus while dining with Him — “’Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:8-10)
- 2 Corinthians 6:14 — Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
- Psalm 26:4-5 — I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.
- 1 John 1:6, 7 — If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
James 4:4 says, “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Is Jesus a friend of the world? While the word “world” in the Bible can refer to the physical universe and people in general (Hebrews 1:2; John 13:1; 1 John 4:9), it most often refers to the humanistic, ungodly systems, mindsets, lusts, and attitudes that are at odds with God (Matthew 18:7; John 15:19; 1 John 2:15-16). Perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible is John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) God loves those in the world so much He sent His Son into the broken world to save sinners and has invited them out of the world, offering them a new eternal life in Christ. However, this is an invitation for sinners to join Him, not Jesus accepting an invitation to fellowship with the sinful world – “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20) Jesus who loves those in the world is certainly no friend to the world (the community of sin), though He lovingly invites all sinners out of the world into friendship with Him. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20) “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14) Many tax collectors and sinners opened the door to eat with Jesus. Ironically though, the Pharisees, the religious leaders, refused to recline with Jesus.
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Remember the Beatitudes? The Pharisees could not see that they were sick and unrighteous sinners too, like all people. They didn’t feel “poor in spirit” (recognizing their spiritual bankruptcy) or mournful (repentant of their own sins); they did not hunger and thirst for righteousness because they had filled up on self-righteousness (empty calories); therefore, they were not merciful, nor were they pure-hearted peacemakers. On the contrary, they were hard-hearted, mean-spirited accusers of others, no friends of God. They were not guilty because they condemned usury and extortion (as should be done for sake of justice), they were guilty because they condemned sinners — to them these tax collectors were unforgivable – as if forgiveness was theirs to give rather than God’s to give. Remember previously in today’s readings the scribes said, ““This man is blaspheming,” because Jesus said to a paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:1-8) Though they understood that forgiveness belongs to God and were ready to accuse Jesus of blasphemy, they refused to see their own hypocrisy in refusing to forgive as if they had such authority.
Jesus then points out that these ‘experts of the law’ didn’t really understand the law at all, partially quoting Hosea 6:6 which reads in full, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” These Pharisees knew how to do church but didn’t know God. And more than anyone else, these religious leaders should have understood that all people are sinners and God is eager to forgive the truly repentant:
- Psalm 14:2, 3 – The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
- Psalm 86:15 — But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
While the Pharisees refused to accept their spiritual bankruptcy, repent, and receive immeasurable, unmerited riches in Christ, many tax collectors and sinners did. Jesus will later offer this parable to the chief priests and elders who challenged Him:
- Matthew 21:28-32, The Parable of the Two Sons — “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
Jesus’ greatest prayer was/is that we would abide in (to dwell in, live in, or remain in) His love, apart from the world, and that we would experience perfect fellowship with Him and with others in His love:
- John 17:9, 14-19, 20-23 — I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours…. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth…. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
True love and unity can only be found in Christ. Only those who truly appreciate God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness will respond to others with true mercy, grace and forgiveness. Those who truly appreciate God’s love will truly love others accordingly. Those who don’t wont. “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47) Also, those who are truly ‘amazed by grace’, will be compelled to proclaim the gospel of grace through faith in Jesus to others.
As humble, forgiven Christians who are spiritually bankrupt apart from the unmerited riches bestowed upon us by Jesus Christ, we must judge sin with a truly fearful and loving heart for the sinner, desiring their repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, while guarding ourselves against compromise and corruption – “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” (Jude 22, 23) “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33) “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) — 13 Jan 22: Today, proclaim a unity and peace which can only come through Jesus Christ. Share the Gospel with at least one person today.