The Lord speaks to us directly through his Word, and we are called to listen to it and obey it. But he also tests us through his works, and, like Rehoboam, we are often tempted to respond in the wrong way to our circumstances. We can learn from his example, but our ultimate hope is that the long-awaited descendant of Rehoboam always responded in the right way to both the works and Word of his Father, and his grace and power will enable us to do so as well.
As we continue through a rough transition between two polarizing and flawed presidents, we read of Solomon, who was quite flawed himself, yet is presented in Chronicles in a seamless transition between two ideal and highly popular kings who led Israel through the golden age of its history. Above all his other qualities and accomplishments, Solomon is shown to be a model ruler because of his attention to the temple, where he leads the people in sacrificing and praying to the LORD, foreshadowing the truly perfect king and high priest to come.
The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 probably is not anyone’s favorite Advent passage. But it was included for at least two important reasons. First of all, it demonstrates that Jesus was a descendant of both Abraham and David, and therefore had a legitimate claim to the throne of Israel. But the long list of names, along with the failures of so many of them recorded in the Old Testament, helps us to better understand how long, and through how many unworthy sons of David, God’s people had been waiting. As the end of the chapter explains, the reason for the wait is that a very particular Son of David was needed. Only the One who was also “Immanuel” (God with us) could truly “save his people from their sins.” As we wait for the second coming of Jesus, we too need to be reminded that only he can deliver us from our own sin and death, and only he brings justice, righteousness and peace to the world.
There is nothing wrong with asking questions. In fact, in this week’s New Testament reading, Jesus explains that his kingdom disciples should be humble, like little children. As any parent knows, one thing little children do is ask lots of questions! But as we mature as God’s children, we need to learn to ask better questions. In our sermon passage, Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive a brother who sins against us. Jesus answers the question, but then he tells a parable that answers two more important questions concerning why and how we should forgive others. Only when we understand the answers to these two questions will we be able to make sense of and put into practice Jesus’ answer to the “how many times” question.
Jesus’ offer of rest for the weary and burdened is among the more well-known and cherished verses in Scripture. The context of his invitation, in Matthew 11-12, along with the context of our current circumstances, provide us an opportunity to think about what Jesus is offering, how we experience it, and why we should come to him for rest. Although we may sometimes prefer to complain about our burdens or pridefully display our weariness as a badge of honor, when we consider what Jesus means by a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light, we will realize that it is far better to come to him, submit to him, learn from him and be refreshed by his gracious presence.
There seems to be a bit of irony in the book of Jonah. In chapter 1, it is the pagan sailors, not Jonah, who show us what true fear of the Lord looks like. In chapter 3, the wicked, violent Ninevites believe God and turn from their sins after what may have been a very short message from a prophet with a checkered past. In our New Testament reading, Jesus points out the irony of the fact that the Jewish people, who saw themselves as more receptive to God’s Word than people like the Ninevites, do not believe Jesus and turn from their sins, even though Jesus is an infinitely more faithful and competent prophet than Jonah, which he will ultimately demonstrate by fulfilling the sign of Jonah in more miraculous way.
When rebellious Jonah is rescued from the sea by a giant fish, he confesses that salvation is of the Lord, implying that God delivers people from trouble as he pleases. As we study Jonah’s prayer more closely, we will find both encouragement and correction for our own prayers in the midst of distress, especially as we consider the One whose cry for help went unanswered for our sakes.
People often refer to themselves or others as “God-fearing,” perhaps without really thinking about what that means. Jonah 1 shows us what it means to truly fear the Lord, but the example doesn't come to us from the Israelite prophet, Jonah; it comes from a group of pagan sailors, who take seriously God's majesty, his mercy and his mission.