Day 79

God is Good - All the Time

Wisdom Psalm 35:19-28
New Testament Luke 3:1-22
Old Testament Numbers 9:15-11:3

Introduction

Of all the prisons Pippa and I have visited around the world, this was the worst. It is in Lusaka, Zambia. The prison was built in 1950 for 250 men. Today it holds over 1,300. The cells, which were built to hold 50, are now home to over 150 men. They are locked in these cells from eight o’clock at night until eight o’clock in the morning. There isn’t enough room for all of them to lie down at the same time. They have to take it in turns. The stench and the heat in those cells must be almost unbearable. If the prisoners do not have AIDS or tuberculosis when they enter the prison, they are likely to become infected soon after.

The cells surround a courtyard, which is at the centre of the prison. We held a service there. Maybe because there was nothing else to do, virtually every one of the inmates attended. The service was led by a man who had been awaiting trial for four years. He was a Christian pastor who was accused of some minor offence (for which the penalty in England would probably have been a small fine, had he been convicted). Though he may well have been innocent, this man had been languishing in a prison for four years, unconvicted, without trial, not knowing when he would be released – if ever.

I will never forget his opening words as he began to lead the service: ‘God is good – all the time.’ Here was a man who had absolute confidence in the goodness of God, not because of his circumstances but in spite of them. He knew and had experienced the goodness of God in the midst of great suffering. As a result, even though he found himself in the appalling conditions of this prison, he followed Jesus’ example and ‘went around doing good’ (Acts 10:38).

As John Wesley said, ‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.’

Wisdom

Psalm 35:19-28

19 Do not let those gloat over me
  who are my enemies without cause;
do not let those who hate me without reason
  maliciously wink the eye.
20 They do not speak peaceably,
  but devise false accusations
  against those who live quietly in the land.
21 They sneer at me and say, “Aha! Aha!
  With our own eyes we have seen it.”

22 Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent.
  Do not be far from me, Lord.
23 Awake, and rise to my defense!
  Contend for me, my God and Lord.
24 Vindicate me in your righteousness, Lord my God;
  do not let them gloat over me.
25 Do not let them think, “Aha, just what we wanted!”
  or say, “We have swallowed him up.”

26 May all who gloat over my distress
  be put to shame and confusion;
may all who exalt themselves over me
  be clothed with shame and disgrace.
27 May those who delight in my vindication
  shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, “The Lord be exalted,
  who delights in the well-being of his servant.”

28 My tongue will proclaim your righteousness,
  your praises all day long.

Commentary

In all things God works for your good

Let’s be honest. Not everyone is good. Some people hate without reason and act maliciously (v.19).

There is a great contrast running through this passage between the difficulties that David is facing from those around him, and the goodness of God. The Message version brings out this contrast by using the word ‘good’ four times, but in very different contexts:

1. Beware the ‘no good’ crowd

There will be times in your life and in the life of your community when you come under attack from those who are ‘cooking up gossip’ (v.20, MSG). ‘They do not speak peaceably, but devise false accusations’ (v.20). David says, ‘No good is going to come from that crowd’ (v.20, MSG).

2. Having a ‘good time’ is not always good

David speaks of this crowd’s ‘good time’ (v.24, MSG). These people are having ‘a party at [David’s] expense’ (v.19, MSG). They hate him for no reason: ‘winking and rolling their eyes’ (v.19, MSG). They think they are having ‘a good time’ but, actually, what they are doing is not good.

3. God works everything for good

‘God is great – everything works together for good for his servant’ (v.27, MSG). God takes even the bad things that are done to you and are said about you and uses them for good: ‘In all things God works for the good of those who love him’ (Romans 8:28).

4. Tell the world how good God is

David ends this psalm by celebrating God’s goodness. He writes, ‘I’ll tell the world how great and good you are, I’ll shout Hallelujah all day, every day’ (Psalm 35:28, MSG).

Prayer

Lord, help me to remember your goodness and trust in the ‘good things’ that you have stored up for me.

New Testament

Luke 3:1-22

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

3In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

  “A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
  ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
  5 Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
  The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
  6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely —be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

19 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20 Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

The Baptism and Genealogy of Jesus

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Commentary

Goodness comes from repentance and the Holy Spirit

The good news is based on solid historical facts. This is no fairy story or myth. ‘In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea… the word of God came to John…’ (v.1-3)

People are sometimes surprised to see John’s message described as ‘good news’ (v.18) – it can seem very negative to us! Yet the word of God is always ‘good news’. The word of God came to John the Baptist in the desert (v.2b). It is a message of ‘repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (v.3b). Repentance means changing your mind – turning away from sin and towards God. Repentance is good; it is liberating. It leads to freedom and forgiveness.

Repentance should lead to ‘good fruit’ (v.9). John the Baptist says, ‘Produce fruit in keeping with repentance’ (v.8). What is this ‘good fruit’? ‘Good fruit’ includes both social justice and personal morality. Interestingly the examples given all relate in some way to work and money. What does goodness look like?

1. Generosity

Those who can afford it should support those who can’t: ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same’ (v.11).

2. Honesty

John tells the tax collector, ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to’ (v.13).

3. Contentment

John tells the soldiers, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay’ (v.14b).

John is not just a preacher of social righteousness. He says of Jesus, ‘He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire’ (v.16b). Fire symbolises purity (Numbers 11:1–3), power and passion. As Jesus prayed, ‘the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”’ (Luke 3:21–22).

Goodness is one of the characteristics listed by St Paul as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Through the Holy Spirit we experience God’s goodness. What God said to Jesus, he says to you:

1. Enjoy being a child of God

God says to Jesus, ‘You are my Son’ (Luke 3:22). Through Jesus you can call God ‘Father’. While Jesus’ sonship is unique, the apostle Paul writes that God ‘sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts’ (Galatians 4:6). You are given this same experience of being a child of God – by adoption. This experience is vital for your identity, confidence and security.

2. Experience God’s love

God says to Jesus, ‘You are my Son, whom I love’ (Luke 3:22). Now, as Paul writes, ‘God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us’ (Romans 5:5). The Holy Spirit gives you an experience of God’s goodness and love for you.

3. Expect God’s pleasure

God says to his son Jesus, ‘With you I am well pleased’ (Luke 3:22). When the Spirit of God dwells in you, your life becomes pleasing to him (Romans 8:8–9).

As you experience God’s love and goodness poured into your heart by the Holy Spirit, the good fruit of the Holy Spirit will grow.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you love me as your child and that you take pleasure in me. Help me to live a life of generosity, honesty, contentment, and to bear good fruit.

Old Testament

Numbers 9:15-11:3

The Cloud Above the Tabernacle

15 On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. 16 That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. 17 Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. 18 At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19 When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. 20 Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. 21 Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. 22 Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. 23 At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses.

The Silver Trumpets

10The Lord said to Moses: 2 “Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out. 3 When both are sounded, the whole community is to assemble before you at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 4 If only one is sounded, the leaders —the heads of the clans of Israel—are to assemble before you. 5 When a trumpet blast is sounded, the tribes camping on the east are to set out. 6 At the sounding of a second blast, the camps on the south are to set out. The blast will be the signal for setting out. 7 To gather the assembly, blow the trumpets, but not with the signal for setting out.

8 “The sons of Aaron, the priests, are to blow the trumpets. This is to be a lasting ordinance for you and the generations to come. 9 When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the Lord your God and rescued from your enemies. 10 Also at your times of rejoicing—your appointed festivals and New Moon feasts —you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the Lord your God. ”

The Israelites Leave Sinai

11 On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the covenant law. 12 Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. 13 They set out, this first time, at the Lord’s command through Moses.

14 The divisions of the camp of Judah went first, under their standard. Nahshon son of Amminadab was in command. 15 Nethanel son of Zuar was over the division of the tribe of Issachar, 16 and Eliab son of Helon was over the division of the tribe of Zebulun. 17 Then the tabernacle was taken down, and the Gershonites and Merarites, who carried it, set out.

18 The divisions of the camp of Reuben went next, under their standard. Elizur son of Shedeur was in command. 19 Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai was over the division of the tribe of Simeon, 20 and Eliasaph son of Deuel was over the division of the tribe of Gad. 21 Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy things. The tabernacle was to be set up before they arrived.

22 The divisions of the camp of Ephraim went next, under their standard. Elishama son of Ammihud was in command. 23 Gamaliel son of Pedahzur was over the division of the tribe of Manasseh, 24 and Abidan son of Gideoni was over the division of the tribe of Benjamin.

25 Finally, as the rear guard for all the units, the divisions of the camp of Dan set out under their standard. Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai was in command. 26 Pagiel son of Okran was over the division of the tribe of Asher, 27 and Ahira son of Enan was over the division of the tribe of Naphtali. 28 This was the order of march for the Israelite divisions as they set out.

29 Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place about which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised good things to Israel.”

30 He answered, “No, I will not go; I am going back to my own land and my own people. ”

31 But Moses said, “Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes. 32 If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us. ”

33 So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest. 34 The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.

35 Whenever the ark set out, Moses said,

  “Rise up, Lord!
    May your enemies be scattered;
    may your foes flee before you. ”

36 Whenever it came to rest, he said,

  “Return, Lord,
    to the countless thousands of Israel. ”

Fire From the Lord

11Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2 When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. 3 So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the Lord had burned among them.

Commentary

God has promised to give you good things

Moses told his father-in-law, ‘The Lord has promised good things’ (10:29). He urged him to come with them, ‘We will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us’ (v.32).

Moses, together with God’s people, had experienced so much of God’s goodness. God had guided them with ‘cloud’ and ‘fire’ – symbolising his presence (9:16). This is but one example of the goodness that is seen throughout the history of the people of God.

Despite God’s goodness to them, his people ‘complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord’ (11:1). On another occasion in the wilderness they also grumbled about their leaders – Moses and Aaron (Exodus 16:2). Sometimes, when we forget the goodness God has shown us, we complain about our situation and can even blame our leaders. But wherever possible, leaders need our support and encouragement.

Remember God’s goodness to you, especially in Christ, who is the ‘high priest of the good things’ God gives (Hebrews 9:11). Complaining keeps you captive, whilst remembering God’s faithfulness sets you free. Praise, thanksgiving and worship are the antidote to complaining and grumbling.

Prayer

I praise you, God, for all your goodness to me – for the good news of Jesus, for your forgiveness, for your love for me, for the Holy Spirit and the love of God poured into my heart, for the fact that you delight in me and rescue me. Thank you, Lord, for all your blessings, for your provision, freedom, friends, family and every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. ‘God is good – all the time.’

Pippa adds

Numbers 11:1–3

‘Now the people complained about their hardships… [God’s] anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.’

I don’t think God likes complaining. This is quite a warning. I’m going to be a little more careful in future!

Verse of the Day

Psalm 35:27, MSG

‘God is great – everything works together for good for his servant.’
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References

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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