Day 49

Your Love Letter

Wisdom Psalm 22:22-31
New Testament Mark 3:31-4:29
Old Testament Exodus 23:1-24:18

Introduction

Thankfully, there have been very few times since our relationship began that I have been apart from my wife Pippa. However, before we were married, there was a period of three weeks when I was away. In those days, without email or mobile phones, our only way of communication was by letter.

I wrote every day. She wrote every day. I remember so well the feeling of intense excitement and joy when I saw the handwriting on the envelope and knew that a letter from Pippa was inside.

I would quickly take the letter and go off to a quiet place by myself to study it! The actual letter wasn’t valuable, but the fact that it was written by the person I love made it so precious to me.

The Bible is a love letter from God to you. What makes the Bible so exciting is not the book itself, but the fact that through it we encounter the person we love. The whole Bible is about Jesus. The New Testament is obviously about Jesus. However, Jesus said of the Scriptures that were available in his lifetime (that is, the Old Testament): ‘These are the very Scriptures that testify about me’ (John 5:39).

Wisdom

Psalm 22:22-31

22 I will declare your name to my people;
  in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
  All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
  Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
  the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
  but has listened to his cry for help.

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
  before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
  those who seek the Lord will praise him—
  may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
  will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
  will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
  and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
  all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
  those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
  future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
  declaring to a people yet unborn:
  He has done it!

Commentary

Proclaim the victory of Jesus

This psalm, which starts off with despair and suffering (v.1) describing, prophetically, the death of Jesus, ends with a great cry of victory: ‘He has done it!’ (v.31). God ‘has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help’ (v.24).

This victory will lead to people all over the world turning ‘to the Lord’ (v.27). All the nations will bow down before him (v.27b). This victory will be proclaimed: ‘They shall come and shall declare his righteousness to a people yet to be born – that he has done it [that it is finished]!’ (v.31, AMP; John 19:30).

Not only does the resurrection of Jesus bring great victory, it also brings about a familial intimacy. The word translated ‘my people’ (in Psalm 22:22) is an intimate one, referring to close companions, and it is usually translated as ‘brother’ or ‘relative’. In the New Testament, the writer to the Hebrews specifically relates this to our relationship with Jesus (Hebrews 2:11–12). Jesus declares to us, his people, that he is in our midst, and sees us as his brothers and sisters, part of his family.

Prayer

Lord, thank you so much that you have listened to my cry for help (v.24). Today again I cry for help…

New Testament

Mark 3:31-4:29

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

The Parable of the Sower

4Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,

“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

A Lamp on a Stand

21 He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? 22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”

24 “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

The Parable of the Growing Seed

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Commentary

Embrace the words of Jesus

Jesus sees you as part of his close family. He wants all of us to have the closest possible intimate relationship with him – like a brother or sister or mother (3:31–35).

In this passage we see that this relationship is nurtured through the word of God, both by hearing the word and by putting it into practice: ‘Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’ (v.35).

Jesus speaks about the power of his own words, which are the words of God. Much of his teaching comes to us in stories. Everybody enjoys a good story. The meaning of a ‘parable’ is contained within the story. People go to sleep during abstract preaching but wake up for a good story. A story has the power to get through to us before our defences come up.

The parable of the sower shows the power of words to change lives. If you ‘hear the Word [and] embrace it’ (4:20, MSG), you will be like ‘seed sown on good soil, [who] hear the word, [and] accept it, and produce a crop – some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown’ (v.20). You will ‘produce a harvest beyond [your] wildest dreams’ (v.20, MSG).

We see again and again on Alpha the extraordinary power of the words of Jesus to totally transform lives and make them fruitful. There is a multiplication as people bring their friends to hear the words of Jesus.

If the words of Jesus do not have any effect, then the fault lies with the hearer. At times, my life is so shallow that his words do not take root (vv.4–6). At other times, problems in my life or opposition (‘trouble or persecution’, v.17) take me away from a close relationship with Jesus. At other times still, ‘the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful’ (v.19).

There is great power in vulnerability. Jesus says, ‘For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open’ (4:22). We are not meant to keep things hidden or concealed in our lives. It is far healthier to bring them out into the open. We may impress people by our strengths, but we connect with them through our vulnerabilities.

Jesus goes on to stress over and over again the importance of words and of hearing his words: ‘Be careful what you are hearing. The measure [of thought and study] you give [to the truth you hear] will be the measure [of virtue and knowledge] that comes back to you – and more [besides] will be given to you who hear’ (v.24, AMP).

The more time you invest in studying and applying God’s word to your life, the greater benefit you will experience. Make this a high priority. Give time to embracing the words of Jesus and you will not regret it.

The parable of the growing seed shows that once the words of Jesus have been planted in your life, you can expect to bear fruit. You reap later. You may need to be patient while you wait for the harvest. But you can be sure that if you keep on sowing the seed, you will reap far, far more than what you have sown. The harvest will come (v.29).

Prayer

Lord, help me not only to hear your words but also to speak them to others and see the extraordinary power of the word of God to transform my life and those around me.

Old Testament

Exodus 23:1-24:18

Laws of Justice and Mercy

23“Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.

2 “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, 3 and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.

4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.

6 “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.

8 “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.

9 “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.

Sabbath Laws

10 “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.

12 “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.

13 “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.

The Three Annual Festivals

14 “Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.

15 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.

“No one is to appear before me empty-handed.

16 “Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.

“Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.

17 “Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.

18 “Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast.

“The fat of my festival offerings must not be kept until morning.

19 “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.

“Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.

God’s Angel to Prepare the Way

20 “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. 21 Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. 22 If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. 23 My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. 24 Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. 25 Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, 26 and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.

27 “I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. 28 I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. 29 But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.

31 “I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. 32 Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. 33 Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.”

The Covenant Confirmed

24Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, 2 but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.”

3 When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” 4 Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.

He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.”

8 Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.

12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”

13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”

15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Commentary

Be a minister of the covenant of Jesus

God’s relationship with his people was defined by the covenant (the agreement between God and the people) on Mount Sinai. In the covenant relationship, God committed himself to his people and asked them to respond by committing themselves to him. He called them to live lives that would keep them close to him in this covenant relationship.

In particular, we see how high on God’s agenda are the issues of justice and poverty (23:1–12). In many parts of the world it is almost impossible for the poor to get justice. People are often thrown in prison on false charges with little or no redress. Some legal systems are dominated by bribery. If only these words were adhered to: ‘Do not deny justice to your poor... Have nothing to do with a false charge... Do not accept a bribe’ (vv.6,8).

It is really hard to go against the crowd and the culture. But it is no defence to say, ‘Well, that’s the culture – everybody does it – so there’s no alternative.’ God says, ‘Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong... Do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd’ (v.2).

Covenants in the ancient world were frequently ratified by the eating of a meal (‘they ate and drank’, 24:11). The covenant is sealed by the shedding of blood. Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant’ (v.8).

The prophets foretold that one day there would be a new covenant written not on tablets of stone (v.12) but on our hearts (for example, Jeremiah 31:31–34). Jesus explained to his disciples how this new covenant was going to be made possible through his blood (Mark 14:24). You celebrate this new covenant through a meal each time you receive Holy Communion and hear the words: ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood’ (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

Under this covenant all of your sins are forgiven (Hebrews 9:15) and you have a relationship with Jesus that goes on forever (13:20).

Through Jesus you are a minister of the new covenant (2 Corinthians 3:6). The old covenant ‘came with glory’ (v.7). The ‘glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai… a consuming fire’ (Exodus 24:16–17). St Paul writes, ‘Will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? … And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:8,18).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that as I read the Scriptures I encounter Jesus. Lord, help me each day, as I listen to your words and meet with you, to grow in my love relationship and to reflect your glory.

Pippa adds

Mark 3:31–35

At first glance, I find this passage difficult. It sounds as if Jesus is discarding his real family. But what he is actually saying is that everybody who believes belongs to his family. And his mother and brothers believed in him and were followers to the end.

Verse of the Day

Exodus 23:20

‘See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared’
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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 quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

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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