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Day 258

Every Crisis is an Opportunity

Wisdom Psalm 107:23-32
New Testament Galatians 2:1-10
Old Testament Isaiah 36:1-37:38

Introduction

President John F. Kennedy once remarked that ‘when written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.’ Every crisis is, at the same time, an opportunity. Crises are often caused by unexpected difficulties.

All of us have problems. Many of us will face crises. How do you respond to a time of trouble, danger or unexpected difficulties in your personal life? How do we respond to unexpected difficulties in the church or in our nation? What do we do when we are ‘at [our] wits’ end’? (Psalm 107:27). What do we do when the ‘truth of the gospel’ is at stake? (Galatians 2:5). How do we respond to ‘a black day’ in our lives? (Isaiah 37:3, MSG).

Wisdom

Psalm 107:23-32

23 Some went out on the sea in ships;
        they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the Lord,
        his wonderful deeds in the deep.
25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
        that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
        in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
        they were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
        and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
        the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
        and he guided them to their desired haven.
31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
        and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
32 Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
        and praise him in the council of the elders.

Commentary

Cry out to the Lord in prayer

There may be times in your life when you face major storms. A ‘tempest’ seems to blow and the waves are ‘lifted high’ (v.25). Your courage melts away (v.26b) and you reach your wits’ end (vv.26–27). You hit an unexpected storm and cannot work out how to get out of it.

This psalm tells you how to respond. The people:

‘… called out to God in [their] desperate condition;
    he got [them] out in the nick of time' (v.28 MSG).

God is never late, never early. He is always on time!

‘He stilled the storm to a whisper;
    the waves of the sea were hushed
… he guided them to their desired haven’ (vv.29–30b).

When God answers your cry for help don’t forget to thank him:

‘So thank God for his marvellous love,
    for his miracle mercy to the children he loves’ (vv.31–32, MSG).

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the many times you have heard me and rescued me. I cry out to you today for help in my own life and for the church in this nation.

New Testament

Galatians 2:1-10

Paul Accepted by the Apostles

2Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4 This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

6 As for those who were held in high esteem —whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism —they added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. 8 For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

Commentary

Use skill, diplomacy and courage

As we saw yesterday, sometimes we may be tempted to look down on other parts of the church, other denominations or other Christians and wish they were more like us! ‘If only they did things more like us they would be ‘proper’ Christians or ‘better’ Christians!’ In thinking like this we are, in effect, denying that faith in Jesus is enough.

This is what was happening to the churches in Galatia. They were being told that their faith in Jesus was not enough. If they wanted to be ‘real’ Christians, they needed to be circumcised.

The early church was facing an unexpected crisis and the apostle Paul had to use every ounce of his courage and determination, combined with skill and diplomacy, to avoid a damaging division and split in the church.

Paul wants to make clear that he acted under the guidance and activity of the Holy Spirit: ‘I went in response to a revelation’ (v.2). Paul was convinced of the validity of the gospel he preached, but was also concerned for unity: ‘I did this in private with the leaders… so that our concern would not become a controversial public issue’ (v.2, MSG).

He took with him two friends: Barnabas and Titus. Barnabas was a Jew and Titus was a Greek (an uncircumcised Gentile). For a first-century Jew there were two kinds of people in the world: Jewish and Greek (circumcised and uncircumcised). Circumcision was a sign that marked out a Jew, in accordance with God’s command (Genesis 17:9–14). It signified God’s covenant with his chosen people.

Yet, Paul chose Titus as one of his companions. ‘Significantly, Titus, non-Jewish though he was, was not required to be circumcised’ (Galatians 2:3, MSG). Paul’s point in this section is that the Jerusalem apostles (James, Peter and John) agreed that the good news of Jesus Christ was for everyone: Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised.

Paul was forced to defend the ‘freedom we have in Christ Jesus’ (v.4). True freedom is only found through faith in Christ. The necessity of circumcision for justification before God would ‘make us slaves’ (v.4).

If they had yielded to the demands for circumcision of Gentile converts, they would have denied the very essence of the gospel. The purpose of this letter was to explain ‘the truth of the gospel’ (v.5). Paul wanted to demonstrate that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of Moses.

The meeting in Jerusalem was to resolve the circumcision question. The ruling reached was one of the most important ever made in the history of Christianity. The decision here prevented a ruinous division within the church. The crisis had become an opportunity.

Not only was the issue resolved, but also the gospel preached by Peter and Paul was firmly established as being one and the same (v.6). The leaders in Jerusalem recognised that Paul’s apostleship bore all the marks of God-given authority.

Peter and the others accepted Paul and agreed a division of responsibility – Paul for the non-Jews and Peter for the Jews. The same gospel would be brought to two different spheres by different people. They shook hands on it as a sign that the agreement would be honoured (vv.7–9). This was a monumental moment for the early church.

The parties had a sensible and detailed discussion about their differences. Paul refused to be overawed, although those he met were ‘reputed to be pillars’ (v.9). This was, after all, quite a group to take on! James had presumably already become leader of the Jerusalem church. Peter and John were both members of Jesus’ inner circle.

A pleasing agreement was reached. Paul seems to have acted with respect and courtesy despite being a determined man conscious of a special task. He would not allow opposition from without, nor discouragement from within, to stop him from doing what he was called to do.

The only condition that the Jerusalem leaders stipulated caused no problem for Paul: ‘to remember the poor’ (v.10). The church must always prioritise the poor and disadvantaged in society.

Prayer

Lord, please give me the skill, diplomacy and courage that the apostle Paul had. Help us, like Paul, to embrace the entire church of Jesus Christ.

Old Testament

Isaiah 36:1-37:38

Sennacherib Threatens Jerusalem

36In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. 2 Then the king of Assyria sent his field commander with a large army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. When the commander stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field, 3 Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went out to him.

4 The field commander said to them, “Tell Hezekiah:

“‘This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? 5 You say you have counsel and might for war—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? 6 Look, I know you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him. 7 But if you say to me, “We are depending on the Lord our God”—isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, “You must worship before this altar”?

8 “‘Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses —if you can put riders on them! 9 How then can you repulse one officer of the least of my master’s officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? 10 Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.’”

11 Then Eliakim, Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don’t speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall.”

12 But the commander replied, “Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the people sitting on the wall—who, like you, will have to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine? ”

13 Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! 14 This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you! 15 Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’

16 “Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, 17 until I come and take you to a land like your own —a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards.

18 “Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Have the gods of any nations ever delivered their lands from the hand of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? 20 Who of all the gods of these countries have been able to save their lands from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”

21 But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.”

22 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said.

Jerusalem’s Deliverance Foretold

37When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord. 2 He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 3 They told him, “This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the moment of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. 4 It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the Lord your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.”

5 When King Hezekiah’s officials came to Isaiah, 6 Isaiah said to them, “Tell your master, ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7 Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.’”

8 When the field commander heard that the king of Assyria had left Lachish, he withdrew and found the king fighting against Libnah.

9 Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the king of Cush, was marching out to fight against him. When he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word: 10 “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.’ 11 Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? 12 Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my predecessors deliver them—the gods of Gozan, Harran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath or the king of Arpad? Where are the kings of Lair, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah?”

Hezekiah’s Prayer

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

18 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. 19 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 20 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God. ”

Sennacherib’s Fall

21 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word the Lord has spoken against him:

“Virgin Daughter Zion
    despises and mocks you.
Daughter Jerusalem
    tosses her head as you flee.
23 Who is it you have ridiculed and blasphemed?
    Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes in pride?
    Against the Holy One of Israel!
24 By your messengers
    you have ridiculed the Lord.
And you have said,
    ‘With my many chariots
I have ascended the heights of the mountains,
    the utmost heights of Lebanon.
I have cut down its tallest cedars,
    the choicest of its junipers.
I have reached its remotest heights,
    the finest of its forests.
25 I have dug wells in foreign lands
    and drunk the water there.
With the soles of my feet
    I have dried up all the streams of Egypt. ’

26 “Have you not heard?
    Long ago I ordained it.
In days of old I planned it;
    now I have brought it to pass,
that you have turned fortified cities
    into piles of stone.
27 Their people, drained of power,
    are dismayed and put to shame.
They are like plants in the field,
    like tender green shoots,
like grass sprouting on the roof,
    scorched before it grows up.

28 “But I know where you are
    and when you come and go
    and how you rage against me.
29 Because you rage against me
    and because your insolence has reached my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
and I will make you return
    by the way you came.

30 “This will be the sign for you, Hezekiah:

“This year you will eat what grows by itself,
    and the second year what springs from that.
But in the third year sow and reap,
    plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
31 Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah
    will take root below and bear fruit above.
32 For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant,
    and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

33 “Therefore this is what the Lord says concerning the king of Assyria:

“He will not enter this city
    or shoot an arrow here.
He will not come before it with shield
    or build a siege ramp against it.
34 By the way that he came he will return;
    he will not enter this city,”
        declares the Lord.
35 “I will defend this city and save it,
    for my sake and for the sake of David my servant!”

36 Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! 37 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.

38 One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.

Commentary

Bring to the Lord the ‘impossible’ situation

Have you ever been taunted or mocked for your faith in God? ‘Do you really think that God is with you?’ they say. ‘Isn’t it just your imaginary friend?’; ‘Do you really think that trusting in God is going to do you any good?’ This is the way God’s people have been taunted throughout history.

The people of God faced an unexpected attack. This is such an important incident that it appears three times in the Bible (see 2 Kings 18; 2 Chronicles 32). Sennacherib, King of Assyria, was attacking Jerusalem with a huge army. His minions were taunting the people, ‘On what are you basing this confidence of yours?’ (Isaiah 36:4). They were being taunted and ridiculed for their faith in God.

It must have seemed to be an impossible situation – no one else had ever been delivered out of the ‘hand of the king of Assyria’ (v.18). But they did not answer the taunting. Sometimes the best response to criticism is keeping a dignified silence: ‘But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.”’ (v.21).

King Hezekiah responded to the crisis by tearing his clothes, putting on sackcloth and going into the temple of the Lord (37:1). He sent for the prophet Isaiah. Hezekiah said, ‘This is a black day. We’re in crisis’ (v.3, MSG). Hezekiah asked Isaiah to pray (v.4).

Isaiah responded by saying that God’s message was: ‘Don’t be upset by what you’ve heard... I personally will take care of him’ (vv.6–7, MSG).

When Hezekiah received a threatening letter, he went up to the house of the Lord, ‘spread it out before the Lord’ and prayed: ‘O Lord Almighty… you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God… Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God’ (vv.14–20).

Isaiah sent him a message, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to me… I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant!’ (vv.21,35)

God heard the prayer of Hezekiah and Isaiah and he rescued and delivered his people (vv.36–38).

Prayer

Lord, the name of Jesus is no longer honoured in our society. Would you pour out a spirit of prayer and supplication on your people so that we may turn to you in prayer. Hear our prayer and deliver us in this time of crisis.

Pippa adds

Galatians 2:10

‘All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.’

I am eager to remember the poor too, but occasionally I feel too overwhelmed to know what to do, or too preoccupied or disillusioned by someone taking me for a ride. But we must not be put off, but, as the Bible says, to keep remembering the poor.

Verse of the Day

Isaiah 36:7

We are depending on the Lord our God.
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References

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

John F. Kennedy in a speech to the Convocation of the United Negro College Fund on April 12, 1959

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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