Day 13

Divine Acceleration

Wisdom Psalm 9:1-6
New Testament Matthew 10:32-11:15
Old Testament Genesis 27:1-28:22

Introduction

A few years ago, Pippa and I were asked to speak at a conference in Somerset, southwest England. The journey from London should have taken about three hours. However, it was a really hot day and ahead of us a hay wagon had caught fire and spilled its load across the motorway, which had melted as a result. We were stuck, almost stationary, for five hours. It was such a relief when, finally, it was time to accelerate.

There are times in our own personal lives, church life and ministry when it feels like we are stuck and unable to move at any pace. At other times, openings begin to appear and it is ‘time to accelerate’.

God is the God of acceleration. He is able to speed things up at a much faster rate than is humanly possible.

Wisdom

Psalm 9:1-6

For the director of music. To the tune of “The Death of the Son.” A psalm of David.

    1 I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
        I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
    2 I will be glad and rejoice in you;
        I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.

    3 My enemies turn back;
        they stumble and perish before you.
    4 For you have upheld my right and my cause,
        sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.
    5 You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
        you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.
    6 Endless ruin has overtaken my enemies,
        you have uprooted their cities;
        even the memory of them has perished.

Commentary

Expect opposition

Acceleration may lead to increased opposition. The higher the profile you have, the more criticism you can expect. God’s people have always faced opposition. David faced many ‘enemies’ (Psalm 9:3–6). Opposition and enmity is extremely painful and difficult. However, in Christ you are promised that ultimately you will overcome.

We see a foretaste of this in the psalm for today. David praises God for the victory: ‘I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High. My enemies turn back…’ (vv.1–3).

We still live in a hostile world. Jesus warned, ‘Don’t think I’ve come to make life cosy’ (Matthew 10:34, MSG). Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t be surprised by opposition.’

Be peacemakers (5:9,38–48). You are called to break the cycle of retaliation. Nevertheless, opposition may come even from those who are very close to you (10:34–36).

Millions of followers of Jesus around the world are facing physical persecution today simply because of what they believe. Some face opposition, repression and discrimination from governments at a local or national level.

You may not face opposition like this in your life, but you should expect some opposition – whether from the media, friends and family who do not understand your faith, or work colleagues who disagree with what you stand for.

Prayer

Lord, in the face of opposition, I will praise you with all my heart. I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you (Psalm 9:1–2a).

New Testament

Matthew 10:32-11:15

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

    “‘a man against his father,
        a daughter against her mother,
    a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law —
        36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Jesus and John the Baptist

11After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.

2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

    “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
        who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Commentary

Embrace sacrifice

Jesus calls on his disciples to be willing to sacrifice everything for his sake: ‘Anyone who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (10:37). Your love for Jesus should exceed even the greatest love you have for those closest to you.

Jesus continues, ‘Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it’ (vv.38–39). Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul meant when he urges us ‘to offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice’ (Romans 12:1).

This is the way in which you discover God’s will for your life, ‘his good, pleasing and perfect will’ (v.2). If you want God to use you more, if you want to accelerate, you must be willing to embrace this kind of sacrifice.

Nothing you do in the service of Jesus is wasted. Jesus says, ‘Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing’ (Matthew 10:42, MSG).

Martin of Tours (AD 316–397) was Bishop of Tours, France, from AD 371. One very cold night, riding on horseback, he passed a beggar. Martin got off his horse, tore his robe in two and gave half of it to the beggar. That night, Martin had a dream in which he saw Jesus wearing the robe that had been torn in two on his shoulders. When asked where it had come from, Jesus replied, ‘My servant Martin gave it to me.’

In the immediate context in Matthew, the sacrifice Jesus is referring to may be simply being identified with him in a hostile world. He says, ‘Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven’ (vv.32–33).

‘Acknowledging’ Jesus can lead to opposition and difficulties. For many of the first disciples it literally meant taking up their cross and following him (v.38), even to death. For us the cost may be different but we are called to the same radical commitment to Jesus.

Prayer

Lord, help me to be willing to take up my cross and follow you. Today I offer you my body as a living sacrifice.

Old Testament

Genesis 27:1-28:22

27When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.”

“Here I am,” he answered.

2 Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. 3 Now then, get your equipment—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. 4 Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”

5 Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the Lord before I die.’ 8 Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9 Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10 Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”

11 Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. 12 What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.”

13 His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.”

14 So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. 15 Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. 16 She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17 Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made.

18 He went to his father and said, “My father.”

“Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”

19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”

20 Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”

“The Lord your God gave me success, ” he replied.

21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.”

22 Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. 24 “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked.

“I am,” he replied.

25 Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.”

Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.”

27 So he went to him and kissed him . When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,

    “Ah, the smell of my son
        is like the smell of a field
        that the Lord has blessed.
    28 May God give you heaven’s dew
        and earth’s richness —
        an abundance of grain and new wine.
    29 May nations serve you
        and peoples bow down to you.
    Be lord over your brothers,
        and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
    May those who curse you be cursed
        and those who bless you be blessed. ”

30 After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. 31 He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, “My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”

32 His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?”

“I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau. ”

33 Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed! ”

34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”

35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

36 Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”

37 Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?”

38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud.

39 His father Isaac answered him,

    “Your dwelling will be
        away from the earth’s richness,
        away from the dew of heaven above.
    40 You will live by the sword
        and you will serve your brother.
    But when you grow restless,
        you will throw his yoke
        from off your neck.”

41 Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

42 When Rebekah was told what her older son Esau had said, she sent for her younger son Jacob and said to him, “Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you. 43 Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran. 44 Stay with him for a while until your brother’s fury subsides. 45 When your brother is no longer angry with you and forgets what you did to him, I’ll send word for you to come back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?”

46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.”

28So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. 2 Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” 5 Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.

6 Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman,” 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. 8 Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; 9 so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.

Jacob’s Dream at Bethel

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. ”

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth. ”

Commentary

Enjoy the challenge

Apparently, Formula 1 racing drivers have to be exceptionally fit and physically strong because of the forces exerted on their bodies during the race.

If we want to see acceleration in the advancement of the kingdom of God, Jesus says it will need forceful people (Matthew 11:12). (Some translations use the word ‘violent’ instead of ‘forceful’. However, most commentators prefer this translation and positive interpretation.) These are people who are not put off by opposition or the need for sacrifice. In fact, they enjoy the challenge.

As we look back in church history there are many examples of men and women who inspire us by their passionate, dynamic and proactive lives. They have been used to change the world. Throughout history, the kingdom of heaven has been advancing as forceful, Spirit-filled people lay hold of it.

Jesus says, ‘From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful people lay hold of it’ (Matthew 11:12). The context of these words is that John the Baptist, in prison, is asking if Jesus is the one prophesied about. In effect, Jesus replies by saying, ‘Look at the evidence’ (vv.4–5).

Jesus goes on to say that John the Baptist was the greatest person who ever lived before Jesus and his church (v.11). John the Baptist was the last of the old covenant prophets (v.13). We see many examples in the Old Testament of these ‘forceful’ men and women (v.12).

Jacob was a forceful man. Later we will read of how he was forceful in a good way, determined to know God’s blessing (see Genesis 32:22–32). However, in today’s passage, we see how his forceful nature led him into wrongdoing. He was absolutely determined to get his father’s blessing. He knew how important it was, but he ended up using deception in order to get it (chapter 27).

Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, was also a forceful woman. Not only did she show favouritism to Jacob, but she was also involved in the conspiracy to deceive Isaac. The end result is a spectacular family feud, the consequences of which lasted for centuries.

It is a fairly unedifying tale and we can be left wondering what to make of it – it certainly does not present itself as a good example to follow!

Despite everything, God’s plans and purposes continue to be worked out. His promises to Abraham and his descendants continue. They are passed on to Jacob (28:13–15), exactly as God had promised before the brothers were born (25:23). If everyone had acted openly and honourably a lot of grief and heartache might have been avoided.

Almost everything about these stories and these people is flawed – and yet God still manages to work through them. I find it such a relief to know that a perfect God can use imperfect people.

God blessed Jacob. His father, Isaac, gave him his blessing (28:3–4). Later on, God spoke to Jacob in a dream. He sees a ladder that reaches from earth to heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending it (v.12). There is an open way between heaven and earth for all of us. God tells him, ‘All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go’ (vv.14b–15a).

God used these forceful men and women: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel. But Jesus says none of them were as great as John the Baptist. And John the Baptist is not as great as the least of the followers of Jesus in the days of the kingdom of heaven – and that includes you!

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you are with me and watch over me wherever I go. Help me to be counted amongst those forceful people enjoying the exhilaration, excitement and challenge of a life spent following Jesus.

Pippa adds

Genesis 27

Deceit and lies don’t do much for family unity.

Verse of the Day

Genesis 28:15

‘I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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