Today, in a series of parables or encounters, Jesus tells us what a disciple’s attitude and behaviour towards God should be like. First, the parable of the ‘Persistent Widow’: Always pray and don’t give up! Perseverance even works in a selfish human situation, so it is well worth persevering in prayer to God, who always has our interests at heart and with due urgency!
Our attitude towards God should also be one of humility and a reliance upon his mercy and grace, rather than relying upon our own good deeds. The Pharisee compared himself favourably with others and asked for a reward; the Tax Collector compared himself only with God and cried for mercy. Mercy gets you over the line!
Babies and young children: what can they teach us about being a disciple? Mainly, dependence on their parents and a lack of concern with what others think about them – is my guess. A young child is not embarrassed about asking for help or letting you know when he/she is upset. They are ‘real’ and ‘humble’. That is the main characteristic for a relationship with a Heavenly Father too.
The same attitude was shown by the blind beggar sitting by the roadside: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”, he cried out, twice. When Jesus asked him what he wanted, he was straight to the point: “I want to see”, he replied. He believed that Jesus could and would heal him. And the very first thing he saw in his life was the Son of God! What else could he do after that, except become a follower of the one who healed him! Gratitude is one of the most honest and productive attitudes of our heart.
DEUTERONOMY 28 and 29
“the Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young” – Deuteronomy 28:49-50 – Who does this remind you of? It could have been Assyria or Babylonia; both empires took parts or all of Israel into exile. It might have meant Rome – with the Eagle as its logo – which did an even better job of Jewish dispersal. It most reminds me of Nazi Germany, the self-styled new Roman Empire, again with the Eagle as its standard. Cruelty, complete lack of compassion, and an Antichrist-style menace; these marked out the attacks on the Jewish people for two and a half thousand years. And all because they refused to obey the commands of the Lord and to hold fast to him.
The Blessings and the Curses are nearly symmetrical in format and are mirror-image consequences of Israel’s possible responses to God. However, the Curses go into much greater detail and depth in this chapter, unsurprisingly, given the choice that Israel ultimately made – and God’s foreknowledge of it. They fall into three categories: illness and infertility, food and farming disasters, and civil unrest and defeat in war. This summed up in Deuteronomy 28:47-48: “Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.”
What message does this have for us, his church, today? Firstly, it underscores firmly that God means what he says, and will follow this through with firm action. Secondly, whilst an individual’s salvation may be eternally secure, the destiny of a local church on Earth is certainly NOT; read chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation and ask yourself how many of those seven churches now remain. Consider what the verse in Revelation 2:4-5 means: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” My understanding of scripture and church history is that, just as the nation was removed in the ways described in Deuteronomy 28, so the Holy Spirit is capable of removing a local church that fails to be a true light of the gospel and that disobeys the teachings of scripture. Whether we are referring to a congregation, a missional community, or an entire denomination, it would appear that a poor witness to the gospel is regarded by God as worse than no witness! Churches and denominations that once walked with the Holy Spirit but now do not, will find that they quickly wither and die, and eventually disappear from the land of the living. Having a reputation for once being alive does not cut it with the Living One; only rapid recognition of a church’s decay, followed by repentance can achieve restoration of that lampstand.
Back to Israel. In 29:4, God recognises that Israel is only equipped to obey the letter of the Law, and not really to discern its heart. And in verses 19-21, individuals who think that they can do as they like and hope that God will overlook them amongst so many – had better think again! Also, as prophesied in 29:23, the whole climate of the land changed when Israel was exiled in 70 AD, and apparently was restored to fruitfulness during the 20th century when the Jewish Diaspora started to return. Interesting!
Finally, in Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. There is much to do with his purposes and plans that the Lord chooses not to reveal to us – and there is no point our complaining about this and attacking God’s character from our positions of ignorance. Let us deal entirely with what has been revealed in his Word – which is a lifetime’s work!