Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost; Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 or Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46
“The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
‘The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms’ (Deuteronomy 33:27): This is no guarantee of peaceful tranquillity. For Israel, there was conflict. ‘Saved by the Lord’, Israel had found true happiness. Still, there were ‘enemies’ to be ‘thrust out’and ‘trampled down’ (Deuteronomy 33:27, 29). Knowing the blessing of God’s salvation is no guarantee that life will be easy. When the enemies of the Gospel see a believer intent on glorifying the Lord, they do all they can to create problems. We have ‘enemies’ in ‘high places’ (Deuteronomy 33:29; Ephesians 6:12). Their argument is not with us. It is with God. If God’s work is to do well, there needs to be spiritual leadership. Moses had led God’s people in his day. Joshua was to take his place (Deuteronomy 34:9). Moses was important. Joshua was important. The Lord is more important - ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31).
‘Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations... From everlasting to everlasting, You are God’ (Psalm 90:1-2). The Bible begins with the words, ‘In the beginning, God...’ Before the world began, there was God - ‘the eternal God’. He is ‘the high and exalted One’. He is the God ‘who inhabits eternity’. He is the God ‘who lives for ever’. He has no beginning. He has no end. He is ‘the beginning and the end’. Our life on earth has a beginning. It has an end. Trusting in ‘the eternal God’, we rejoice in His precious promises - ‘The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms’; ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’; ‘The free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’(Genesis 1:1; Deuteronomy 33:27; Isaiah 57:15; Revelation 21:6; Jeremiah 31:3; Romans 6:23).
Saved by the eternal God, let us walk with Him in holiness, love and joy.
Holiness and love - the two belong together (Leviticus 19:1, 18, 34). God calls us to live a life of holiness, a life of love. Through His Spirit - the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love - , He enables us to live this life. We need His promises. We need His commands. Take them both together - not one without the other! Promises without commands - We take God for granted, we presume on His blessing. Commands without promises - Our 'obedience' becomes a legalistic thing which has nothing to do with the Gospel of grace. We are to 'be holy... before Him in love' (Ephesians 1:4). 'The holiness without which no one will see the Lord' (Hebrews 12:14) is to be accompanied by the 'love' without which we are 'nothing' (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). The Lord has redeemed us: By His grace, we shall 'be holy... in love' (Leviticus 19:34, 36).
The first Psalm contrasts two ways - the way of the Word and the way of the world, the way of blessing and the way of judgment. Encouraging us to build upon the solid foundation of God’s Word, the opening Psalm sets the tone for what is to follow. To whet your appetite for the Psalms, here are some early lessons: stability in the Lord (Psalm 1:1-2); service for the Lord (Psalm 2:11); salvation of the Lord (Psalm 3:8); sanctification from the Lord (Psalm 4:4-5); singing to the Lord (Psalm 8:4); strength in the Lord (Psalm 9:9). These are some of the blessings promised to those who ‘delight in the law of the Lord’ (Psalm 1:1-2). With a God like this - full of so much blessing for us - what else can we do but rejoice in Him?
The blessing of the eternal God comes to us when we open our hearts to Jesus.
If God is to be glorified through the preaching of His Word, there needs to be more than the ‘words’ of the preacher. There needs to be ‘the power of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Good preaching is not a matter of ‘plausible words of wisdom’. We must look for ‘a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (1 Corinthians 2:4). When the Spirit is at work, there is effective communication, leading to a life-changing encounter with God. ‘When you received the Word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers’ (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Don’t let God’s Word ‘go in one ear and out the other’. The ‘message’will do you no good if you don’t hear it ‘with faith’ - ‘Today, when you hear His voice, harden not your hearts’ (Hebrews 4:2; 3:15).
The Pharisees had failed. The Sadducees had failed. Now, ‘they come together’ (Matthew 22:34). There were differences between them, yet they were prepared to lay aside their differences and join forces in their common opposition to Jesus. They were trying to get Him to set one commandment above all the others. They would then say that He had insufficient respect for the other commandments. Jesus answered them wisely: Love - for God and our neighbour - embraces all the commandments. They have fired questions at Jesus. Now, He puts a question to them (Matthew 22:42). He seeks to raise their thinking beyond the human level - Jesus is not merely ‘the son of David’ (Matthew 22:42). He is the Son of God. Greater than all of the great men, He is ‘our Lord and our God’(John 20:28). No more trick questions. Give the answer of faith: ‘You are... the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16: 16).