Easter Vigil: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26; Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13; Psalm 46; Genesis 22:1-18; Psalm 16; Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21; Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18; Isaiah 55:1-11; Isaiah 12:2-6; Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6; Psalm 19; Ezekiel 36:24-28; Psalms 42 and 43; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 143; Zephaniah 3:14-20; Psalm 98; Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Matthew 28:1-10
In the beginning, there is love, eternal love, the love of God.
‘Genesis’ means ‘beginning’. These opening verses challenge us to get our priorities right - (a) The priority of God (Genesis 1:1). God comes first. Before anyone else is mentioned, He is there. (b) The priority of God’s Word (Genesis 1:3). God is the first to speak. Before any human word is spoken, there is the Word of the Lord. (c) The priority of God’s Spirit (Genesis 1:2). All was ‘empty’, all was ‘darkness’, yet the ‘Spirit of God’ was at work, and transformation was set in motion. Here, we have God’s priorities, set out in the Bible’s first three verses - Putting God first and listening to His Word, we are to pray for the moving of God’s Spirit, ‘hovering over’ our lives to transform them. For those who make God’s priorities their own, there is a promise of great blessing (Psalm 1:1-2). It is the great blessing of knowing Jesus Christ, our Saviour, as ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23).
God speaks, and it is done (Genesis 1:3, 6-7, 11). God is pleased with what He has done (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12). This is the pattern of God’s original creation. It is to be the pattern of our life as a ‘new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). God speaks to us and we say, ‘Your will be done’ (Matthew 6:10). We say, ‘let it be to me according to Your Word’ (Luke 1:38). God looks on such obedience, this ‘walking in the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:16, 22-23), and He sees that it is ‘good’ (Micah 6:8). In these verses we read of the separation of the light and the darkness, the separation of the waters and the dry land, and the fruitfulness of God's creation. There are lessons for us here. We are to ‘walk in the light’ (1 John 1:7). We are to let the Spirit's ‘living water’ flow in us (John 7:39-39). Walking in the light, letting the living water flow - this is the way of fruitfulness.
The Bible’s opening chapter is a great hymn of praise, emphasizing that all things have been created for the glory of God (Revelation 4:11). Nothing can be permitted to distract our attention from the Lord. He alone is worthy of worship. The creation of the ‘lights’ makes no reference to the sun and the moon. These were worshipped by neighbouring peoples. They are not gods. They are simply ‘lights’. Our worship is to be given to God alone. The waters teemed with living creatures. The land produced living creatures. Here, we have a picture of life. There is life where the living water of the Spirit is flowing freely among God’s people (Ezekiel 47:5-9). This water brings life to the land (Ezekiel 47:12). Moving with the flow of God’s Spirit, we are to pray that ‘the water of life’ will flow freely ‘for the healing of the nations’ (Revelation 22:2).
We now come to the creation of humanity, male and female. Our creation is described in a distinctive way - created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). We are different from the rest of creation. We have been given dominion over ‘all the earth’ and ‘every living creature’ (Genesis 1:26, 28). We are different from God. He is the Creator. We are His creation. Created in God’s image, we have been created by Him and for Him. Though we have sinned (Genesis 3, Romans 3:23), now - in Jesus Christ - we have begun to live as a new creation (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10). The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1) and that ‘all things were created by Him and for Him’ (Colossians 1:16). This is the Saviour who is at work in us, enabling us to live as a new creation! Creation has been ‘completed’ (2:1). Salvation will be completed (Philippians 1:6)!
In the end, there will be love, eternal love, the love of God.
‘His love endures for ever’. This is the great message contained in every single verse of this Psalm. It’s a message worth repeating - over and over again! God’s love is an everlasting love - ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ (Jeremiah 31:3). God’s love is an unfailing love - ‘My unfailing love for you will not be shaken’ (Isaiah 54:10). Let us ‘give thanks’ to God for His love (Psalm 1-3, 26). In His love, the Lord has provided for us ‘an everlasting salvation’. His ‘salvation will last for ever’ (Isaiah 45:17; 51:6). We must not be like those who refuse to love the Lord - ‘Pharaoh... great kings... mighty kings ...’ (Psalm 136:15, 17-20). Those who reject God’s love will not receive ‘eternal life’. Their future will be very different - the ‘raging fire that will consume the enemies of God’ (John 3:16-18; Hebrews 10:26-27).
When you see a rainbow, remember there is love, eternal love, the love of God.
Here, we pick up on the words of Genesis 7:16 - ‘the Lord closed the door behind them’. What was going on outside of the ark is contrasted with the haven of salvation inside the ark. What was it that made the ark a place of salvation? - The Lord. What is it that makes Jesus Christ the Source of our salvation? - God has given Him the Name that is above every name, the Name of our salvation (Philippians 2:9-11; Acts 4:12). From the ark, we learn of (a) the one way of salvation - The ark had only one door. Jesus is ‘the Door’ which leads to salvation (John 10:9); (b) the eternal security of salvation - All were safe inside the ark. In Christ there is eternal security (John 10:28); (c) the absolute necessity of salvation - Outside of the ark, there was certain death. Refusal to come to Christ for salvation leads to judgment: ‘How shall we escape...?’(Hebrews 2:3).
Following the flood, we have this simple yet striking declaration: ‘the ground was dry’ (Genesis 8:13). Safe from judgment! This is the message which comes to us from the Cross: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). The judgment has fallen upon Christ. We are no longer swept away in the judgment. We can stand on solid ground: ‘On Christ the solid Rock I stand’ (Church Hymnary, 411). He is our Support in ‘the whelming flood’. God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ship’ (Genesis 8:15). We are in Christ. He is the Source of our salvation. God has brought us into Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). He does not bring us into Christ solely for our own benefit. We are sent out to be fruitful (Genesis 8:17; John 15:16). We are to ‘abide in Christ’. This is the way of fruitfulness (John 15:4-5). We are not sent out alone. Strengthened in ‘the ship’ (in Christ), we step out with Christ and for Him.
‘When you see a rainbow, remember God is love’. The rainbow reminds us of the gracious promise of God (Genesis 9:13-15). If the love of God is revealed in the rainbow, it is more fully revealed in the Cross: ‘We sing the praise of Him who died, of Him who died upon the Cross... upon the Cross we see in shining letters. ‘God is love’, He bears our sins upon the tree. He brings us mercy from above’. When we read the Old Testament stories, we must learn to see their place within the fuller Story, the Story of God’s salvation: ‘I will sing the wondrous Story of the Christ who died for me’. This is the greatest Story of all - ‘the Story of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love,... the Story of wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin’. ‘This is our Story. This is our Song, praising our Saviour all the day long’. This is ‘the Story to tell to the nations’ (Church Hymnary, 258, 381, 132; Mission Praise, 59, 744).
Be still and know that there is love, eternal love, the love of God.
‘Be still, and know that I am God...Shout to God with loud songs of joy’ (Psalm 46:10; 47:2). In our worship, there is to be both quiet trust and loud praise. We read the great words: ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble’ (Psalm 46:1). God’s Word brings peace - ‘in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength’. We must not keep God’s blessing to ourselves. We must share it with joy - ‘Sing to the Lord...let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare His praise in the coastlands’ (Isaiah 30:15; 42:10-12). The Lord is to be ‘exalted among the nations’. He is not only ‘our King’. He is ‘the King of all the earth’ (Psalm 46:10; 47:6-7). ‘Father (Jesus/Spirit), we love You. We worship and adore You. Glorify Your Name in all the earth’(Mission Praise, 142).
In Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, we see love, eternal love, the love of God.
Here, we see Abraham in his relationship with the world (Genesis 21:22-34) and his relationship with the Lord (Genesis 22:1-14). Abraham deals honestly and wisely with the pagan king, Abimelech, who acknowledges Abraham's closeness to God - ‘God is with you in all that you do’ (Genesis 21:22). We are to be honest and wise in our relationship with the world (Romans 12:17; Colossians 4:5; Ephesians 5:15; 1 Peter 2:12). Our relationship with the world is to be grounded in our relationship with God. In the testing of Abraham, we catch a glimpse of ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). Christ is the Lamb whom God will provide (Genesis 22:8). In Genesis 22:14, we read, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided’. On Calvary’s hill, Christ died to bring us to God, so that we might learn to live for Him in this world (1 Peter 3:18; 2:24).
After the renewal of God’s promise (Genesis 22:15-18), Abraham went to Beersheba (Genesis 22:19). He returned to the place where he had ‘called...on the Name of the Lord, the Everlasting God’ (21:33). This is a good ‘place’ to be, the ‘place’ of calling on the Name of the Lord, the Everlasting God. As we read of the death and burial of Sarah, we must remember this: the Lord is the Everlasting God. The death of Sarah took place in God's time. Her death signified that her work had been done. She had mothered the child of promise. Beyond the death of Sarah, there was the continuing purpose of God. The cave at Machpelah (23:19-20) became the burial place for Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah. We see the continuity of history, and we thank God for His continuing faithfulness down through the generations.
Our hope of eternal glory comes from love, eternal love, the love of God.
‘Thou wilt show me the path of life; in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore’ (Psalm 16:11). In this earthly life, there are many difficulties. For all of God’s people, there is something better still to come. We must look not only at the things which are happening now. We must look also to the glory which is yet to come. Our hope of eternal glory is based on Christ’s resurrection. David’s words (Psalm 16:8-11) are quoted by Peter in connection with ‘the resurrection of the Christ’ (Acts 2:24-33). ‘Christ has been raised from the dead...at His coming those who belong to Christ...will be raised imperishable’ (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 52). ‘The Lord is my chosen portion...Therefore my heart is glad’ (Psalm 16:5, 9). Is this your testimony? Choose Christ and be glad.
In the redemption of Israel, we see love, eternal love, the love of God.
God had redeemed His people. He was with them, and He was about to reveal His saving power in a mighty way (Exodus 14:13-14). There is judgment as well as salvation (Exodus 14:30). Looking to neither the ‘right’ nor the ‘left’, we must look to the Lord (Exodus 14:21-22). Rejoicing in ‘the great work’ He has done, our faith ‘in the Lord’ grows strong (Exodus 14:31).
God has given us a song to sing. We have a song to sing. It is a song of redemption - God has redeemed His people; a song of thanksgiving - we give thanks for God's redemption; and a song of hope - we look forward to the complete fulfilment of God's redemption. This is not only a ‘song of God’s people’. It is also the song of Moses, a personal song. This is worship - not a mere formality, but worship which arises from the depths of Moses’ heart. Deeply moved by the grace and glory of God, Moses pours his heart out to God in worship: (i) He praises the God of grace - ‘my strength... my song... my salvation’ (Exodus 15:2). (ii) He praises the God of glory - God triumphs ‘gloriously’ (Exodus 15:1). His ‘glorious’ power is demonstrated in His ‘glorious’ deeds (Exodus 15:6, 11). (iii) Worshipping this God of grace - the redeeming God (Exodus 15:13) - and glory - the reigning God (Exodus 15:18) - , we say, ‘You are my God, and I will praise You’ (Psalm 118:28). Let us worship God - personally as well as publicly.
In the prophet’s words, we hear the Word of love, eternal love, the love of God.
The Word of God is spoken - ‘Seek the Lord while He may be found...’ (Isaiah 55:6-7). No one seems to be listening. What are we to do? We must remember God’s promise: ‘My Word will not return to Me empty’ (Isaiah 55:11). We do not see all that God is doing. He is doing much more than we realize - ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts...’ (Isaiah 55:8-9). We may be feeling very despondent - ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything’ (Luke 5:5). The Lord still comes to us with His Word of encouragement: ‘You shall go out with joy...’ (Isaiah 55:12). Before there is joy, there may be many tears. When there seems to be nothing but disappointments, we must remember the Lord’s promise: ‘Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy...’ (Psalm 126:5-6). We must not ‘judge before the time...’ (1 Corinthians 4:5).
‘I will praise You, O Lord... God is my Salvation... The Lord is my Strength and my Song...’ (Isaiah 12:1-2). May this be our personal faith – this is what the Lord means to me – and our public testimony - making Christ ‘known among the nations’, telling ‘all the world’ what the Lord has done for us (Isaiah 12: 4-5).
Be wise. Open your heart to love, eternal love, the love of God.
Hoping for ‘good luck’, some people expect good things to happen to them - all the time! God says, ‘Seek wisdom. Be ready for the hard times’. Wisdom comes from God. He speaks to us with words of wisdom (Proverbs 2:6; Proverbs 8:6-8). Wisdom is not only for ‘kings and rulers, princes and nobles’. It is for everyone who loves the Lord (Proverbs 8:15-17). Wisdom calls us to choose good rather than evil, life rather than death (Proverbs 8:13, 35-36; Hebrews 5:14; Deuteronomy 30:19). The way of wisdom is the way of happiness (Proverbs 8:32-34). Our path may not be paved with gold. Wisdom is better than ‘silver, gold and jewels’ (Proverbs 8:10-11). Christ is our Wisdom. Receiving Him, we receive wisdom. Growing in Him, we grow in wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2:6). As you rejoice in Christ, remember: ‘He who wins souls is wise’ (Proverbs 11:30). Don’t keep Wisdom to yourself. Share Christ with others.
In Proverbs 9:5, there is a Gospel invitation: ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed’. We eat bread. We drink wine. We remember our Saviour (Matthew 26: 26-29). ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Proverbs 9:10). ‘This sounds so old-fashioned’- so the world tells us. ‘The fear of the Lord’- This is something we must not forget. If we do not fear the Lord, we will forget Him. If we forget Him, we are fools. What is foolishness? Is it a lack of education? No! - It is a lack of obedience. When we do not ‘honour’ God, we are ‘without sense’. ‘Claiming to be wise’, we show that we are ‘fools’. If we are wise, we will keep ‘going straight on the way’, looking always to Jesus Christ who is the true and living Way. He leads us from ‘the depths of hell’ to the heights of heaven (Proverbs 8:13-18; Romans 1:21-22; John 14:2, 6).
In creation and Scripture, we see love, eternal love, the love of God.
God reveals Himself in creation and Scripture. He speaks through His created world. He speaks through His written Word. God is always speaking. He is never silent. Through His created world, God is speaking to us - every day, every night. He is showing us His glory (Psalm 19:1-2). He makes us aware of His presence. He whets our appetite for His written Word. The Scriptures lead us to Christ. Through faith in Him, we receive salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). Christ is the high-point of God’s revelation. He is the living Word (John 1:1, 14). The testimony of the Psalmist - ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul’ (7) - becomes real for us through faith in Christ - ‘I came to Jesus...My soul revived and now I live in Him’ (Church Hymnary, 212). Make it real. Come to Christ. Come alive in Him!
Through Christ, God looks upon us with love, eternal love, the love of God.
‘I will look on you with favour’ (Ezekiel 36:9). Through Christ our Saviour, God looks upon us with favour. Here are some words which will help you to rejoice in the ‘wonderful grace of Jesus’ which is ‘greater than all my sin’, the ‘wonderful grace of Jesus’ which ‘reaches me’. ‘Let me introduce you to a friend called Grace. Doesn’t care about your past or your many mistakes. He’ll cover your sins in a warm embrace. Let me introduce to a friend called Grace’. ‘His grace reaches lower than your worst mistake and His love will run further than you can run away’. ‘He believes in lost causes when common sense would just give up. He believes in lost causes and changes people with His love. There’s nobody too far gone, no one beyond His reach. He believes in lost causes ‘cause He believed in me’. Let Jesus be your Joy!
May your soul be lifted up by love, eternal love, the love of God.
Three times, the question is asked, ‘Why are you downcast, O my soul’. Three times, the answer is given, ‘Put your hope in God’. Three times, there is the response of faith: ‘I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God (Psalms 42:5, 11; 43:5). Often, we are filled with questions. We must bring our questions to God. We must learn to listen for His answers. The Lord is speaking to us. Are we listening? God speaks to us through His Word. Are we taking time to read His Word? He wants us to come to Him with the prayer, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening’ (1 Samuel 3:8-10). Listen to the Word of the Lord. Let His Word be your Guide: ‘Send forth Your light and Your truth, let them guide me...’ (Psalm 43:5). ‘Deep calls to deep’ (Psalm 42:7) - Let ‘the Spirit’ show you ‘the deep things of God’ (1 Corinthians 2:10).
When the Spirit breathes upon us, we receive love, eternal love, the love of God.
It was ‘a valley of dry bones’ (Ezekiel 37:1-2). Then, the Lord changed everything - ‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’ (Ezekiel 37:5). What a difference the Lord makes! ‘Breathe on me, Breath of God. Fill me with life anew’ (Church Hymnary, 103). What happens when the Spirit of the Lord breathes new life into the Church of God? - ‘The Church that seemed in slumber has now risen from its knees and dry bones are responding with the fruits of new birth’. ‘Holy Spirit, we welcome You. Let the breeze of Your presence flow that Your children here might truly know how to move in the Spirit’s flow... Holy Spirit, we welcome You. Please accomplish in us today some new work of loving grace, we pray. Unreservedly, have Your way. Holy Spirit, we welcome You’ (Mission Praise, 274, 241).
On the Lord’s pathway of victory, we see love, eternal love, the love of God.
The Psalmist prays, ‘Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord’ (Psalm 143:9). He is not concerned only about his own welfare. He is concerned about the glory of God: ‘For Your Name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life’ (Psalm 143:11). How does God lead us in victory? How is He glorified in our lives? He brings to us the teaching of His Word - ‘Let the morning bring me Word of Your unfailing love’ (Psalm 143:8). He gives to us the strength of His Spirit - ‘May Your good Spirit lead me in good paths’ (Psalm 143:10). Through His Word and Spirit, God shows us His ‘unfailing love’. He enables us to say, ‘You are my God’, ‘I have put my trust in You’ and ‘I am Your servant’. He ‘shows us the way we should go’. He ‘teaches us to do His will’. He gives us victory over our ‘enemies’ (8, 10, 12).
In the story of God’s salvation, we see love, eternal love, the love of God.
In Zephaniah 3, we have a story of sin - Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! She has not obeyed His voice. She has not accepted correction. She has not trusted in the Lord. She has not drawn near to her God’ - and a story of salvation - ‘Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment. He has turned back your enemy... The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will renew you in His love. He will rejoice over you with singing’ (Zephaniah 3:1-2, 14-17). The story of our sin is full of sadness. The story of God’s salvation fills us with gladness - ‘Rejoice and be glad! The Redeemer has come’ (Mission Praise, 573).
Let us worship God: our response to love, eternal love, the love of God.
‘Exalt the Lord our God... Make a joyful noise to the Lord’ (Psalms 99:5, 9; 98:4, 6; 100:1). We are to worship the Lord with joy. We are to glorify God. We are to enjoy Him. In our worship, we must never forget the holiness of God: ‘He is holy!... The Lord our God is holy!’ (Psalm 99:5, 9). In our worship, we rejoice in the love of God: ‘His steadfast love endures for ever... He has done marvellous things!’ (Psalms 100:5; 98:1). The God of ‘awesome purity’ loves us with the most perfect love of all: ‘No earthly father loves like Thee...’ Let us worship Him with holy fear and heartfelt love: ‘O how I fear Thee, living God, with deepest, tenderest fears... with trembling hope and penitential tears! Yet I may love Thee too, O Lord, Almighty as Thou art, for Thou hast stooped to ask of me the love of my poor heart’ (Church Hymnary, 356).
Living as a new creation: our response to love, eternal love, the love of God.
(a) ‘We know that our old self was crucified’ (Romans 6:6) - What a great thing God has done! He has made you ‘a new creation in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). (b) ‘Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:11) - Believe it. This is what the Lord has done: ‘you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit... the Spirit of God dwells in you... Christ is in you... the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you... His Spirit dwells in you’ (Romans 8:9-11). (c) ‘Yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life’ (Romans 6:13) - Act upon it’. ‘Walk in newness of life’ (Romans 6:4). Live as those whom God has made new. We are ‘not under law but under grace’ (Romans 6:14). Keep your eyes fixed on the Saviour and your obedience will be Gospel obedience and not merely legal obedience.
At the Cross of Christ, we see love, eternal love, the love of God.
‘The Lord is high above all nations... Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high?... Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, who turns the hard rock into springs of water’ (Psalms 113:4-5; 114:7-8). The Lord is greater than we could ever imagine. There is no greatness like the greatness of the Lord. All human greatness cannot even begin to compare with the greatness of God. His greatness is not only the greatness of His power. It is also the greatness of His love. When we sing, ‘How great Thou art’, we sing not only of His power - ‘Thy power throughout the universe displayed’. We sing also of His love - ‘And when I think that God His Son not sparing, sent Him to die - I scarce can take it in, that on the Cross my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin...’(Mission Praise, 506).
In the resurrection of Christ, we see love, eternal love, the love of God.
The resurrection declares Christ’s victory over evil, the triumph of His love. There is no need for fear: ‘He has risen’- His ‘perfect love casts out fear’ (Matthew 28:5-6; 1 John 4:18). There has to be a new beginning in faith. First, there was a new beginning ‘in fact - Christ has been raised from the dead’ (1 Corinthians 15:20). Christ has won the victory over the grave. Christ has taken the sting out of death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). Between the new beginning in faith - making disciples (Matthew 28:19) - and the new beginning in fact - Christ’s resurrection - , there is worship (Matthew 28:9). The fact is not dependent on our feelings. ‘He has risen’ (Matthew 28:6-7) - the fact stands, even when many doubt and few worship (Matthew 28:17). As we worship, we are strengthened in faith, strengthened for our task. We are to invite people to come to the place where ‘they will see’ Jesus (Matthew 28:10). We are to ‘make disciples’ (Matthew 28:19). Run and tell - with great joy (Matthew 28:8)!