The Old Testament is a wonderful gift from God to us. It is wonderful that we have this record — so ancient, so fascinating. These were the Scriptures of the earliest Christians — who turned to them to understand what God had done in their midst in Christ. It was the context of these Scriptures in which Jesus himself had taught — to a community shaped by it’s stories and laws and prophecies and poetry.
And if anything is central to the Old Testament itself, it is the first five books.
No doubt the material we currently know as the books of Moses (or the Pentateuch, or the Torah — that is, Genesis through Deuteronomy) were assembled and edited in the period of Israel’s exile in Babylon — they became especially valuable to the people in the times of the exile and then the re-establishment of the nation — they served to teach the people who they were in the light of their history as the people of YHWH. But, the stories themselves go back much further. The people of Israel knew themselves to be a nation that had been delivered by God from Egypt — and the exile, no doubt served as a time to gather those stories together. (more…)
God of the covenant,
in the glory of the cross
your Son embraced the power of death
and broke its hold over your people.
In this time of repentance,
draw all people to yourself,
that we who confess Jesus as Lord
may put aside the deeds of death
and accept the life of your kingdom. Amen.
From the “Preface” to: Zechariah Taft, Biographical Sketches of the Lives and Public Ministry of Various Holy Women (1825):
“Such were the high church principles, and the prejudice of education, of that eminent servant of Jesus Christ, the Rev. John Wesley, that for a season, he could scarcely give the right hand of fellowship, to any Labourers in the Lord’s Vineyard, that had not received Episcopal Ordination. But when he was fully convinced, that God had owned the labours of pious laymen in his community, he encouraged them to proceed. And he never molested any pious female, who was subject to discipline and order, in his Societies for calling sinners to repentance; but when fully satisfied that God had owned their labours, he gave them encouragement. This is evident in his conduct towards Mrs. Gilbert, Mrs. Johnson, Miss Bosanquet, Miss Mallet, Mrs. Crosby, Miss Hurrell, and some others. Indeed he could not have done otherwise according to his own reasoning in his Sermon “against Bigotry.” His argument throughout that Sermon is, that the conversion of sinners is the work of God, and whoever is the instrument of doing this work, is the servant of God. And we must not forbid such a one. His words are (Mark ix. 38, 39) (more…)
Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace; including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him. All these imply some tendency toward life; some degree of salvation; the beginning of a deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God. Salvation is carried on by convincing grace, usually in Scripture termed repentance; which brings a larger measure of self-knowledge, and a farther deliverance from the heart of stone. Afterwards we experience the proper Christian salvation; whereby, “through grace,” we “are saved by faith;” consisting of those two grand branches, justification and sanctification. By justification we are saved from the guilt of sin, and restored to the favour of God; by sanctification we are saved from the power and root of sin, and restored to the image of God. All experience, as well as Scripture, shows this salvation to be both instantaneous and gradual. It begins the moment we are justified, in the holy, humble, gentle, patient love of God and man. It gradually increases from that moment, as “a grain of mustard-seed, which, at first, is the least of all seeds,” but afterwards puts forth large branches, and becomes a great tree; till, in another instant, the heart is cleansed, from all sin, and filled with pure love to God and man. But even that love increases more and more, till we “grow up in all things into him that is our Head;” till we attain “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
— John Wesley, Sermon #83: “On Working Out Our Own Salvation.”
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I think sometimes preachers, commentators, and theologians give in too easily to the temptation to get behind the story of Jesus rather than reading it for what it is . The way the story is told cues us to the meaning the gospel writers saw in the story. It is story-telling that we encounter in the Gospels, not some kind of scientific history writing. The story has a point. That’s why the gospel writers tell it.
In addition, people often too quickly attempt to harmonize and explain. And, I think the temptation is strong in this passage. (more…)