Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Tuesday, 25 January 2022:
Genesis 23:19-20 — After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. The field and the cave that is in it were made over to Abraham as property for a burying place by the Hittites.
Genesis 23 records the death and burial of Sarai, the mother of many nations, the only woman in the entire Bible whose years of life are numbered (127), signifying how important she is to God’s plan. Today’s readings briefly mention that Abraham “mourned” and ‘wept’ for Sarai, but we can only imagine how painful this was for him, having lost the love of his life – words simply cannot describe it. Yet, Abraham demonstrated what it is to mourn as a person of faith, a person with eternal hope:
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 — But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
The story in Genesis 23 continues, “And Abraham rose up from before his dead,” and immediately set out to negotiate a burial plot for his wonderful bride, which is surprisingly the focus for the rest of the chapter. This not unsignificant chapter doesn’t focus on the life of Sarai, and it doesn’t highlight Abraham’s grief; rather it focuses on Abraham’s negotiation with the Hittites for a field and a cave in Canaan. Why? Abraham is demonstrating that his faith and hope is greater than his grief by intentionally placing the body of his beloved in the future promised land. Rather than wallowing in grief, Abraham rises up, acts upon, and invests in God’s eternal plan, which includes a great, victorious reunion for Abraham and Sarai one day. The Bible focuses on this land deal rather than the loss of Sarai because God’s eternal promise makes the temporary sorrow of death a minor part of the story –
- Psalm 63:3 -- Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. - 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 -- So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. - Philippians 1:21 -- For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. - Luke 23:43 -- And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” - 1 Corinthians 2:9 -- But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— - 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. - Isaiah 26:19 -- Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. - Hebrews 11:16 -- But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
The Israelites had not taken possession of the promised land of Israel yet, but Abraham’s actions demonstrated his faith that God’s word is certain. He didn’t just plant a flag in Canaan to signify an eventual return, he planted what he held most dear on this earth, his wonderful wife, and his faith would be mirrored later by Jacob and Joseph who both made their families promise to take their bones “to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Genesis 50:24) In today’s readings, Abraham describes himself to the Hittites as “a sojourner and foreigner among you,” but he lived with the understanding that one day, his people would be the owners. Likewise, the Bible says of us that we are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) on this earth, but we are to live with the knowledge that Christ will return and restore all things to Him, and we will reign with Him on a new earth –
- Revelation 5:10 — And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.’
- Revelation 20:4-6 — And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
- Daniel 7:27 — Then the kingdom and dominion, And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.”
- Zechariah 14:9 — And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be— “ The LORD is one,” And His name one.
- 1 Corinthians 6:1-3 — Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?
- 2 Timothy 2:12 — If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.
Let us not only grieve and mourn as those who have unshakable faith and hope, let us also live as those who know “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 10:7) Let us proclaim the sovereignty of the LORD of Lords and King of Kings, Jesus Christ, and let us live out the motto, “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” And “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Matthew 17:19, 20 — “The disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’ He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith.’”
A man requests that Jesus heal his son, a boy suffering from seizures that the disciples could not heal. Jesus’ initial response is somewhat shocking: “’You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you (Matthew 17:17)?’” Why did Jesus respond with such harsh words? To understand his rebuke, you have to go back to Matthew 10 where Jesus gave the disciples the “authority” to “proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons,” and to freely give what they had received (Matthew 10:7-8). However, despite the authority and power given to them by the Son of God, the disciples failed to heal this boy, thereby proclaiming a message which was seemingly powerless. Why did the disciples fail? It wasn’t because God had not empowered them, it was because they had “so little faith (Matthew 17:20 – Mark 9:29 also states that they failed to pray – see James 5:15 for the connection).”
“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6).” We are justified by faith in Jesus (Romans 3, Galatians 2) and must live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).” We must be fully confident that we are children of God through Jesus (Galatians 3:26), that Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20), that in our sinful weakness we can rest in God’s grace (Hebrews 4), and that God shields us, strengthens us, and works through us with His mighty power (1 Corinthians 4; 2 Corinthians 1:24, 2 Corinthians 4; Ephesians 6; 1 Peter 1:5). It is through faith that we learn true love, faithfulness, and obedience as we “walk in the footsteps of faith” (Romans 1:5, 4:12; Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Timothy 5). It is through faith that we conquer kingdoms, administer justice, and overcome the world. (Hebrews 11:33; 1 John 5:4)
The Bible tells us to “examine [ourselves] to see whether [we] are in the faith; [we are to] test [ourselves]. Do [we] not realize that Christ Jesus is in [us]… (2 Corinthians 13:5)?” Jesus told us to “seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).” Upon his authority over everything in Heaven and on earth, and with His assurance that He is “with [us] always, to the very end of the age,” Jesus commanded His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20).” So how are we doing fulfilling this Great Commission of sharing the Gospel and discipling believers? Pray that God will give you the faith to serve as a faithful ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) so one day you will hear, “‘Well done, good servant! (Matthew 25:21, 23)”
Matthew 17:26 — “Then the sons are free.”
In Capernaum, the tax collectors ask Peter if Jesus planned on paying the temple tax. They were referring to the tax mentioned in Exodus 30:11-16 – “Each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord…. Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary half a shekel as an offering to the Lord. Everyone who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord’s offering. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the Lord’s offering to make atonement for your lives. You shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for your lives.” Some translations of Matthew 17:24 say 2 drachmas and others say half shekel, but they are both the same amount. This tax amounted to one to two days wages for an average worker. Historians say that pious men paid this tax annually.
Jesus responds to the query with a question to Peter, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.” Jesus declares that He and his disciples are exempt from the temple taxes because they (we) are sons of God, and “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” (Matthew 12:6) The King covers the expenses of His children who are heirs of the Kingdom. Our debt and our “ransom” have been paid in full by Christ on the Cross and in Him, we are now children of God and heirs of the Kingdom —
- Mark 10:45 — For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
- 1 Timothy 2:6 — Who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
- Revelation 5:9 — You [Jesus] were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
- 1 Corinthians 7:23 — You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.
- John 1:12-13 — But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
- Galatians 3:26 — For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
- Romans 8:16 — The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God….
- Ephesians 5:1 — Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
- Philippians 2:15 — That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world….
- Galatians 4:7 — So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
- James 2:5 — Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?
We have incredible riches and freedom in Christ. May God “give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” (Ephesians 1:17, 18)
Note that even though Jesus makes it clear that He and His disciples are exempt from the temple tax, He pays it anyway, in order “not to give offense to them,” (v. 27) to prevent causing a barrier to the Gospel. Jesus displays the same principle Paul describes in Romans 14 of surrendering Christian liberties for sake of the less mature in faith.
Also, note that although Jesus pays the taxes, He does so miraculously, further demonstrating His authority and power over all creation and the power of God to provide. Whatever we have is provided to us by God, and whatever we give can be restored by Him miraculously and more beyond measure. This story is like the one in Luke 20 where the scribes and the chief priests ask Jesus whether it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus replies, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” What is He saying? “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:7) However, pay proper respect and honor to God first, to whom all is owed! Give to God what is God’s – everything! “What shall I render to the LORD For all His benefits toward me?” (Psalm 116:12) “Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational (logical, intelligent) act of worship.” (Romans 12:1, Amplified Bible)
Jesus used every opportunity, even paying taxes, to share the Gospel, and He was careful not to let anything stand in the way of the Gospel message. How will you use the opportunities you have today to share the Gospel?
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) — 25 Jan 22: Today, show proper respect and graciousness to others, but don’t miss the opportunity to communicate the truth of Jesus and His Lordship over all creation. Don’t focus on what is being demanded of you; focus on how you are glorifying God through your response. Proclaim the Gospel in word and deed.