Friday, January 11, 2008

Beginning to Read with M'Cheyne

One of the helpful things about a Bible reading plan like M'Cheyne's is that the reader is immersed in four different areas of Scripture at once. In January, the calendar takes one through Genesis (chapters 1-32), Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (chapters 1-8), Matthew, Mark (chapters 1-3), Acts, and Romans (chapters 1-3).

One of the advantages of this variety is that one may observe the unity of the Bible quicker than consecutively reading through from Genesis to Revelation (although there's nothing wrong with that approach!). My wife and I have thoroughly been enjoying the private readings in our time alone with the Lord and the family readings in our time together. Once or twice a month I would like to post some reflections from one or more readings the calendar includes in that month. These will not usually be comprehensive summaries of the readings, but thoughts on certain key points. In addition, this could be a place where others who are reading through the Bible on M'Cheyne's plan could post comments reflecting on passages from the month.

Right away, the Bible shows us some key things about God and ourselves. God is the uncreated Creator. He is so powerful that He speaks and things come out of nothing. Everytime God speaks, it says "and it was so." He is good and wise and provides habitats and food for his creation. He creates spaces and then fills them. He makes promises and fulfills them (the readings in Ezra, Matthew, and Acts are replete with references to fulfillment). We have a faithful God who creates by His Word and keeps His promises.

He creates mankind out of the dust of the ground. But He makes Adam and Eve "in His image" to reflect His glory, to be fruitful and multiply, and to have dominion over the creation. Yet man rebels and spurns God's warning against disobedience. A curse comes on the earth and life as we know it (marriage, childbearing, and work being affected immediately) is changed forever. Death is now certain for man, and so the genealogies repeatedly say "...and he died," with the exception of Enoch, who walked with God and was taken by Him.

The definition of the kingdom of God advanced by writers like Graeme Goldsworthy and Vaughan Roberts seems to be seen early on in the Scriptures. What they call "God's people in God's place under God's rule enjoying God's blessing" is seen early on. When God created the world and placed Adam and Eve on the earth, they walked with Him in the garden of Eden, obeying Him and enjoying His blessing. But their disobedience changed all that. When deciding to make the rules themselves, they were banished from the garden and life was cursed. Yet there was hope for a return, as the promised seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent one day (Gen. 3:15, the first prophecy of the coming Redeemer, Jesus Christ). The rest of the Bible is about that return to being God's people in God's place under God's rule enjoying God's blessing, and aspects of that theme are present in the other passages of this month.

The story of Abraham is a cornerstone in setting the stage for the drama of redemptive history. Although there were instances and foreshadowings of God's redemptive plan in the early chapters of Genesis (such as the promise of 3:15, the taking of Enoch, and the salvation of Noah's family), things really start to unfold in Genesis 12. God calls Abram (later Abraham) to go into the land that He will show Him and promises to make him a great nation and give him a multitude of descendents. Abram had already started toward Canaan with his father, after they left Ur of the Chaldees, but God appeared specifically to Abram after his father's death to call him to the land. It is quite interesting that the very place God calls Abram from is in the area to which his descendents are later exiled for their disobedience (Chaldea/Babylon).

It is in Abraham, and ultimately, in Christ through whom all the promises of God are yes and amen, that all nations will be blessed. And Matthew recognizes that in the genealogy he gives of King Jesus, as the lineage is ultimately traced back to Abraham. He introduces the King, Jesus, who tells us with divine authority how God's people must live in order to enjoy the fullness of God's blessing (chapters 5-7).

In Ezra, we read of the exiles returning to the land. These were Jews who had been in captivity in Babylon, a consequence for them failing to worship God alone when they were in the promised land. But now God was granting mercy to go back and restore His public worship and live as His people again.

In the second chapter of Acts, we see at Pentecost a reversal of the confusion of languages that took place in Genesis 11, as everyone hears God's Word in their own language. People had been scattered because of their rebellion, but now God was saving people of different languages through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This, of course, is a prelude to the day that God's people from every tribe and tongue will be gathered to praise God in heaven (Rev. 5:9; 7:9).

That leaves us to ponder this question: are we headed toward the promised land of God or toward exile? There are only two ways to live and only two final destinations for eternity. Either we are trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone or we are trusting ourselves. Christ was the God-man who was a sinless sacrifice for sinners, Who rose from the dead and lives forever and who is coming back to judge the world in righteousness. Everyone who trusts Him is accepted by God, but those who reject Him are rejected by God and will be forever banished from God's blessing. While God's people will enjoy His blessing forever in the new heaven and earth, those who reject Christ reject a place in the people of God who lovingly live under God's rule in God's place and enjoy His blessing forever. For those who die without Christ, this life is as good as it gets, because eternal conscious torment in the lake of fire is their destiny. But for those of us who are trusting Christ, this life is the worst it gets. We have much to look forward to in the age to come, and we have much to whet our appetites as we continue to read His Word this year. May this privilege of reading help you and me to live as much as possible as faithful, loving subjects of the King here and now so that we may enjoy Him all the more when we see the kingdom in its fullness.


Jason Button said...

Excellent devotional thoughts, Doug! Thank you for posting this. I'm following the Bible Reading Plan in the Literary Study Bible which has me in Genesis, 1 Chronicles, Psalms, and Luke. I'm seeing some of what you are seeing by reading smaller portions in various parts of the Bible.

I, also, like the way you phrased your question, "are we headed toward the promised land of God or toward exile?"

Keep on writing. This has been a blessing to me!

Glorygazer said...

Thanks, Jason. What are some particular themes you're noticing that run through the various sections?

Jason Button said...

Doug, This morning I posted some comments here that include a glimpse into a particular theme that has captivated me.

In particular, I've been struck be a contrast between the weakness and arrogance of men and the longsuffering, loyal-love of God. Abraham, although we see him as the father of all who believe in God, was weak and naturally skeptical. However, God called him, taught him, and nurtured him in faith. David, too, had a heart for God, but continued to show his weakness through some very immoral deeds. Yet, his heart remained tender to the chastening of the Lord who remained loyal to David. The disciples also had to be gently borne along to faith. This is reflected in the Psalms, especially in the first two sections which are predominantly lament psalms. The psalmist has to come to terms with his own weakness and God's strength. These laments show us this process from trouble, to petition, to confidence in God, and finally to praise to God.