4.1.14

Seventy Sevens

"Seventy weeks [sevens] are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place [one]." Daniel 9:24
 The "seventy sevens" of Daniel are a matter of much confusion and debate. However rather than shy away from this difficult passage, I think it has an important message.

One obvious interpretation is that the "weeks" or "sevens" represent seven years. As Daniel was prophesying around 500 years before the birth of Christ, and 7 times 70 is 490, this is not insignificant. In fact if you pick out the important points from the passage, you see that Daniel is given a message from the angel Gabriel concerning the coming of an anointed one who will put an end to sin and fulfil all prophecy. It's not too difficult to join the dots and work out that he is being told about Jesus!

However as with most prophetic numbers in scripture the importance is not so much the exact numeric value as the meanings behind the numbers.

Context too is very important. It is significant that Daniel's answer about the "seventy sevens" is given in response to a question and a prayer concerning one "seventy."

"In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years." Dan 9:2
Daniel asked a question of God concerning one seventy - that represented the restoration of the Jewish people from exile in Babylon. God answered this question, but went much further, talking about not just the one seventy, but a seven times seventy, a fullness of restoration that would be not just for one ethnic group but a restoration of all peoples from their captivity to sin. The anointed one who would come would not just fulfil Jeremiah's prophecy, but all the prophecies of scripture!

How often are our questions of God too small? We are concerned about our own blessings and prosperity when God wants to lift our eyes to see how we fit into his big plan for the whole world, that the blessings we have in Christ might be a blessing for all those around us.

Next, it is important to let scripture interpret itself. Seventy sevens is a theme that has been introduced before.
Lamech said to his wives:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain's revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech's is seventy-sevenfold.” Gen 4:23-24
This Old Testament motif of vengeance, is the same that Jesus takes and transforms to represent a fullness of forgiveness.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Mt 18:21-22
It is in Christ that the seventy sevens are fulfilled and the judgement of God that kept all men exiles in sin is transformed by the cross to be a means of forgiveness and restoration for all peoples to restore the relationship with God.

Since we have received such a great forgiveness let us not go back to the old way of vengeance and unforgiveness against our brothers. But forgive in the same measure that we have been forgiven.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Ro 12:17-21

19.6.13

Attainable!

I was reading Ephesians 4 again today, and I was struck by the phrase. "Attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." And in particular the word, "Attaining!"

Reaching fullness in Christ is not an impossible dream, but an intended design. It is attainable, because it is what Christ has purposed for his church.

BUT... it is not something that we can attain on our own. That was never the design. It is only attainable in the corporate setting of the church. No one individual can ever represent the fullness of Christ. It even takes five types of ascension ministry gifts to represent the nature of Christ's gift to his body. But we each have a measure of Christ's grace and a unique portion of his gift.

We need each other. To reach the fullness of the head requires a fullness in the working of the body. Ephesians 4 talks about the maturity requirement of both "every part" and "every joint". "Each part working properly" is not enough. We also need "every joint with which it is equipped." It is a connected body where the members have concern for each other and work together in love that takes us closer to the "attaining" we are destined for.

24.6.12

It Takes Two

And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Ex 25:18

It's amazing the detail you can see in even a very familiar passage of scripture. I was reading this passage about how God instructed the mercy seat to be made, the place where his glory would be manifest, where he would speak to his people. It struck me that there needed to be two cherubim of gold.

Even in the case of heavenly beings, there still needs to be a plurality to display the glory of God.

Making God's glory known has always been a corporate activity. Right from the Garden God said, "Let us make man in our image." He made them. Male and female. Adam and Eve. Two human beings to bring God's rule and display his glory in the earth.

When Jesus sent out the disciples to preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out the demons to demonstrate that the kingdom of God was at hand, he sent them out in twos.

Right the way through to the final book of the bible, where in Revelation we read of God's "Two Witnesses." It has always been God's plan and his purpose to display his glory through a people. Not individuals, but community. Even if that community is just two or three.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Mt 18:20

Too often the church is seen as just the staging post for individuals' mission out in the world. The place where they come in, get blessed up, and then sent out again as individuals. We need to capture again the wisdom of God. That it is now, through the church in all it's manifold variety in unity that God desires to display his glory.

On our own we can still demonstrate the love and compassion of God. But to display his glory... that takes two! (or more!)

Looking forward to meeting with City Church Coventry this morning. To know him better and to better make him known.

16.1.12

Just a thought

Faith is pushing the door and believing it will open. Wisdom is knowing when to move on to the next door.

20.12.11

The Look of Love

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. (Mark 10:21a)

How do you react when you notice a deficiency in a brother or sister in Christ? Anyone can be a critic, and there are plenty around! But that is not the way that Jesus reacted. When the rich young ruler came to him, he saw a man whose life was in the grip of the love of money. Yet his first reaction was one of love. He saw beyond the man's limitations and saw the man himself.

Jesus says elsewhere that if we gave our own lives the same level of scrutiny that we give to others we would have enough "plank-like" work to keep us busy before we considered having a go at anyone else! But even if we reach anywhere near Christ-like perfection, this doesn't give us licence to throw the first stone. Our motivation should always be one of love.

Love doesn't put people down to make itself look bigger or better. Love doesn't try to score points at someone else's expense. Love takes no delight in keeping someone down. Love sees the best; believes the best; wants the best for the one loved. God is love. Jesus is the "Agapeton" - The Beloved or the Agape-one - the perfect expression of God's covenant Agape love.

Next time you see a brother or sister who falls short (locally or in Christ's wider body), don't look with the eyes of a critic. Look with the eyes of Christ. Before you speak make sure you look and love.

13.12.11

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh [continued]

"You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. A cubit shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth. It shall be square, and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And you shall make a moulding of gold around it." (Exodus 30:1-3)

The Lord said to Moses, "Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh 500 shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, 250, and 250 of aromatic cane, 24 and 500 of cassia, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, and a hin of olive oil. And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil." (Exodus 30:22-25 ESV)

The Lord said to Moses, "Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you." (Exodus 30:34-36)

In this one chapter of Exodus, chapter 30, where God informs Moses the procedure where the priest may enter into the presence of God himself, we encounter the Magi's gifts again. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. I believe this reveals the most significant and prophetic aspect of these three gifts: They relate to the presence of God himself!

Even in the previous passage relating to Solomon we can see imagery that is rich with symbolism of the presence of God himself. The column of smoke in the wilderness and the golden "seat" transported on two poles. Strong parallels with the presence of God above the ark during the time of the exodus.

Before Jesus came to die, he came to live and fulfil the prophecy of Immanuel - God with us. Jesus was (and is!) the very presence of God in the midst of his people in a way that the ark and the temple could only foreshadow. God himself became flesh and dwelt among us. The Magi's gifts were thus also a fitting prophetic declaration that now one greater than the temple was here!

Frankincense was made into incense used by the high priest when he entered before the presence of God.

Myrrh was made into the holy anointing oil used on God's prophets, priests and kings.

Gold was used to cover everything in the temple that communicated the glorious presence of God himself.

Jesus came as our great high priest to bring us back into the presence of God. He came as the Christ - the anointed one - to live a life full of the power of the Holy Spirit. He came as king and to reveal the glory of God the father.

But there is still one more truth to unlock. For the true message of Christmas is not the gifts the Magi gave to the Christ, but the gift God in Christ gave to the world. The gold, frankincense and myrrh are also prophetic of the gifts that Christ still gives to us.

He has opened up the way for us to come freely into the presence of God. He has poured out the Holy Spirit for us to live in his anointing. He has given us authority to demonstrate the glory of his presence - his here and now kingdom rule on earth as it is in heaven. Frankincense, myrrh and gold - given by Christ to all those who have called on his name.

Have a wonderful Christmas.

12.12.11

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11 ESV)

'Tis the time of year when thoughts turn to all things Christmas. Family, turkey dinners, shopping, carols, fir trees, tinsel and of course the tableau of the baby in the manger - the greatest gift ever given - that of God himself who so loved the world that he gave his only son.

We all know the story of the wise men / kings / magi who came from the east to worship the baby king, and of the three gifts they gave. The way the bible records these gifts shows that they were clearly significant.

Conventional wisdom states that the gold was a gift for a king, and the other two fragrant gifts were to prepare him for burial. Perhaps so. He certainly was the king who was born with a mission to die. He came to take upon himself the punishment that we deserved so that all might be forgiven freely by his grace if they accept him as Lord.

But perhaps there is more here to dig out. Even if the death symbolism is correct, I certainly doubt it was what the Magi had in mind. They went to lengths to save him from Herod's machinations. Even his own disciples who had been with him three years struggled to grasp the significance of his death until after the resurrection. As always the best reference to biblical imagery and symbolism is the bible itself. So what does the bible say about gold, frankincense and myrrh? Where else do we find these three together in the scriptures?

One description I believe is highly significant is that of Solomon, the Son of David, riding out of the wilderness in his kingly glory:

What is that coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of a merchant? Behold, it is the litter of Solomon! King Solomon made himself a carriage from the wood of Lebanon. He made its posts of silver, its back of gold, its seat of purple; its interior was inlaid with love by the daughters of Jerusalem. (Song of Songs 3:6-7a,9-10 ESV)

This would certainly fit with the messianic expectation surrounding God's promised king. He would be the son of David, like Solomon, smelling of myrrh and frankincense and seated on gold. This was how many people received Jesus, especially those who were looking for deliverance: "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!" or those who were looking for a restoration of the kingdom of Israel, "Hosanna to the son of David!"

Jesus may have been born in a manger, but the Magi recognised that this was God's chosen king. The promised son of David come to bring deliverance and restoration whose kingdom rule would never end.

But this is not the only place these three are found together. There is I believe an even more significant occurrence in the temple of God itself...

[Continued here]