Edzell Church

Published by Wayne Pearce  · 8th January 2022

Tomorrow, I’m going to invite my congregations to join me in a Bible reading challenge. And wonder if Facebook friends would also like to join me in committing to reading consecutively through the Bible with one chapter of the Old Testament and one of the New Testament scriptures daily. And so, we will begin at Genesis 1 and Matthew 1 this coming Monday. The daily readings could be divided into morning and evening. Some may wish to use an audio version of the Bible which are available online. I tend to use the ESV but you can use whatever version of the Bible you like.

I will post the chapters to be read daily and will invite folks to comment ‘read’ or something similar as an incentive to continue daily.

I know that some friends already daily read the Bible. Others regularly do so. However, many today do not and that includes many church members. And yet the Bible is a treasure trove of wisdom and reveals the way, the truth, and the life. It is to be a lamp for our feet and light for our path. A small commitment on our part will therefore be richly rewarding. Go on, join me. I challenge you.

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Bible Challenge: Day 1

Readings: Genesis 1 & Matthew 1

Beginning! Here we are taught that God is eternal - self-existent and self-sufficient. He is Creator, Designer, Ruler, Benefactor and Redeemer, and so much more. He is faithful and good and is with us in Immanuel, who is Jesus, the Christ, the Word made flesh, the Saviour of the world.

Something to ponder! How significant do you think it is that 'man', male and female, were made in the image and likeness of God?

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Bible Challenge: Day 2

Reading: Genesis 2 & Matthew 2

God rested on the 7th Day and surveyed his glorious and wonderful creation. He blessed that day as holy, meaning special, sanctified, and set apart, so that humanity, in turn, could rest and recharge their physical, mental, and spiritual batteries, so to speak, and rejoice in their Maker and Benefactor. While we no longer keep the 7th Day as holy, our need remains the same. And so, like the Wise Men in Matthew 2, each Lord's Day (and at other times) we seek the living and loving God in and through Jesus, the Son, whom we worship.

We are also reminded today that we are relational beings. Made for a relationship with God and one another that is rooted and built up in love. It was not good for man to be alone. While we benefit from quiet moments, and time apart, we are social beings made and called to share in one another's gifts and graces. God made man, male and female. Equal before him and yet complementary. Family and fellowship are the building blocks for the blessing of society.

Something to ponder! What do you think the Wise Men's gifts at Matthew 2:11 say about Jesus and his mission and message?

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Bible Challenge: Day 3

Reading: Genesis 3 & Matthew 3

Here we read of The Fall. Of man’s defiance and rebellion and its grave consequences. Here we encounter deception and death and the breakdown of relationships with God and one another, and man’s (male and female) resultant banishment from Paradise. Here we encounter the shame of sin and God’s salvation by grace. Here we find the promise of the Son of the woman who would come in the fulness of time to put right what had been put so badly wrong. Here we encounter the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, yet found in the New Testament scriptures, John the Baptist, who went out into the wilderness to prepare the way for the coming of the Son, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the second Adam, the Lord and the Saviour of the world.

Something to ponder. What is repentance? And why should it accompany faith?

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Bible Challenge 4

Reading: Genesis 4 & Matthew 4

In Genesis 4 we witness the steadfast love and goodness of God and the resultant joy associated with the gift of children and the development of the family and fellowship, of work, of culture, and of humanity’s dependency on God and interdependency on one another. Man, male and female, were made for a relationship rooted and built up in love for God and one another as image bearers of God. Alas, however, here we encounter the dysfunctional, distressing, and deadly effect of the fallen nature. Here ego and envy lead to murder and misery. It is no coincidence that ‘I’ lies in the heart of sin!

Here too, we discover how at the beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus, the second Adam triumphed over the Tempter and temptation in the wilderness. He did so by trusting in God and adhering to his revealed will or word, unlike the first Adam and his descendants. Jesus, the Light of the world, has come to drive out the darkness, to re-establish life over death, and to exemplify love for God and neighbour. Here he calls his first disciples to follow him, thereby initiating the new creation which is the culmination of this New Covenant (Testament) era. And so, we pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.’

To ponder! What does it mean to follow Jesus?

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Bible Challenge: Day 5

Reading: Genesis 5 & Matthew 5

Genesis 5 contains the genealogy of Adam and Eve to Noah and his sons via Seth. It reveals the longevity of those that lived in the pre-Flood (antediluvian) period but also records their deaths resultant of The Fall and the fallen nature. The wages of sin is death! It also highlights the exceptional character and experience of Enoch who walked with God in the beauty of holiness and love. And who was received into heaven without experiencing death. In Matthew 5 we encounter the beginning of the Lord Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount with its beatitudes and its call to similarly walk before God and neighbour as true image bearers of God. This is the way and witness to the blessed life. It is a call to a more excellent way for followers of the Way. It is a call to God’s beloved children to walk in holiness and love as imitators of God in Christ.

To ponder! What does it mean to be salt in an unsavoury environment and light in a dark world?

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Bible Challenge: Day 6

Reading: Genesis 6 & Matthew 6

If yesterday, in Genesis 5, we read of the generations from Adam to Noah through Seth, today, tragically, our theme in chapter 6 is degeneration and depravity leading to judgement. We discover that there was a decrease in lifespan towards the close of that era. The length of time of the pre-flood world is evidence that God is long-suffering and gracious. And yet the world turned its back on God and his way of faith, hope, and love and embraced evil which reached its zenith in the days of Noah. Noah, however, stood out like a burning candle in the dark, as a man of faith, righteousness, and integrity. God called him to build an ark for himself and his family. He was about to judge and condemn the wicked world in a flood but would preserve them for a fresh start.

In Matthew 6, the Lord Jesus teaches his people to similarly exemplify the righteous or godly life. That is, the life of holiness and happiness. We are here taught about humility and honesty, about our relationship with and reliance on God, and about our need to have confidence in his word and be committed to him. Here we are taught how to pray and practice the faith. Here we learn about forgiveness and fellowship. Here our Lord and Saviour implicitly communicates the way of faith, hope, and love.

To ponder! Do we follow the way of the Lord or the way of the world?

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Bible Challenge: Day 7

Reading: Genesis 7 & Matthew 7

Genesis 7 records the story of The Flood and of Noah and his family’s deliverance by God’s grace from the waters of judgment. It is a story that we are all familiar with. Noah and his family, the ark and the animals are the staple of Sunday school stories, artwork, and songs. They were preserved by God’s mercy for a new start in the post-Flood world. It is worth noting, nevertheless, that God instructed Noah, provided the means of escape, and shut them in (v.16). Noah, we might say was saved by grace through faith, and his household. The ark in this regard acts as a metaphor that foreshadows the salvation and new creation that is to be found in Jesus Christ. As Augustine of Hippo once rightly wrote: ‘the New was in the Old concealed. The Old is in the New revealed!’

In Matthew 7 the Lord Jesus warns us against the folly of hypocrisy. He reminds us that we are not simply to talk the talk, but we are to walk the walk. We are called to acknowledge and accept God’s authority. We are to seek God. We are to bring our needs and the needs of others before him in prayer. We are to invoke his name, implore his grace, intercede for others. We are to listen and learn that we might apply his Word. This is how we do the will of our Father in heaven. This is what it means for follow Jesus. We are to eschew gullibility and exercise wisdom. We are to build our lives on a stable and secure foundation. The Christian call is to faithfulness and fruitfulness. This is God’s will for our lives. Jesus is our ark! We are signed and sealed in him for eternal security.

To ponder! Are we building our lives upon the Rock?

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Bible Challenge: Day 8

Reading: Genesis 8 & Matthew 8

In Genesis 8 we read of God’s amazing grace in the abatement of The Flood, and the fresh start provided to Noah and his family, and of God’s promise to never so judge the earth. Here we encounter God’s command or commission to be faithful and fruitful and fill his creation. And yet, unlike the original Paradise which was lost or the new heavens and earth that is still to come, we are taught that this world continues in a fallen state. And that is why faith and repentance must be a way of life.

In Matthew 8 we are taught that God is with us in his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. He is our Helper and Healer in this fallen world with its trials and troubles, worries and woes. God is with us and for us in Jesus. He will never leave us, nor forsake us in the storms of life. Rather he calls us to place our faith in him and follow him. He is Lord and Saviour.

To ponder! Faith not only routes us to but roots us in Jesus. Do we have this grace of faith?

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Bible Challenge: Day 9

Reading: Genesis 9 & Matthew 9

In Genesis 9 we read of God’s commission and covenant to Noah and his descendants which was signed and sealed in the rainbow. Here we are taught about God’s provision and promise, and about man’s dominion and dignity in this fallen world. While the image and likeness of God in man has been stained and sullied by sin it nevertheless remains. And so, we read of the introduction of the ultimate punishment for those guilty of wilful murder. Here moreover we are instructed about Noah’s folly, and the resultant curse on Canaan and blessing on Shem which will have great significance for their posterity, as we shall see later in the Bible.

In Matthew 9 the Lord Jesus continues to heal, preach, and teach in the region of Galilee. Here he further reveals his authority, power, care, and compassion for the good of fallen humanity. Here we read of his effectual call to Matthew who will become a faithful disciple and apostle in the New Testament church. Jesus came to save sinners and to exemplify love for God and neighbour. His name literally means ‘God saves’, and Jesus is the Saviour of the world. Here we are therefore taught about the importance of forgiveness, faith, and of what it means to follow Jesus as true image bearers of God. We are here reminded of our need of and reliance upon God’s saving grace which is ours in and through Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. Herein the Gospel, the Good News, that God calls us to believe and bear witness to for Love’s sake.

To ponder! How do we follow Jesus?

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Bible Challenge: Day 10

Bible Reading: Genesis 10 & Matthew 10

Genesis 10 charts the descendants of Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth after The Flood. God had commanded man to multiply and so fill the earth and here we have the compliance of Noah’s posterity. Here we read of growth and development of different languages, clans, and nations through time. And here an implicit explanation for the advancement of distinct and different cultures and customs. Understanding these developments helps us better grasp the significance of the story about the Tower of Babel tomorrow, and passages like Revelation 7:9 which describes the church triumphant as a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands (Rev.7:9).

Matthew 10 marks the founding of the New Testament Church in Jesus’ choice and call of twelve men, which has it antecedent and parallel in the twelves patriarchs and tribes that comprised Israel in the Old Testament era as we shall see in the weeks to come. They are given a delegated and unique authority from the Lord Christ as specially trained by him and as eyewitnesses of his earthly ministry, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. Here they are given their first mission to proclaim the Kingdom of Love to the children of Israel. The Lord Jesus forewarns them of the cost of service to God and humanity. The Good News will not only divide opinion but will encounter vociferous and violent opposition and oppression by some opponents of God’s Christ. Jesus urges his followers to fear not and be faithful to be fruitful. He is with them. Their help is in the name of the Lord who made the heavens and the earth. Rich will be their reward.

To ponder: What does it mean to take up our cross and follow Christ?

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Bible Challenge: Day 11

Bible Reading: Genesis 11 & Matthew 11

Genesis 11 records the foolish and futile resistance and rebellion to God’s command to go fill the earth and multiply. It is implied that a sizeable number of Noah’s posterity wilfully defied God. They united in the capital city of Babel and built an impressive and imposing tower that reached into the heavens. The Tower of Babel was a symbol of their pride, power, and defiance. Their words “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…” have their parallels in the words of the serpent and ‘you will be like God’ in chapter 3 or in the account of Lucifer found in Isaiah 14: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! 13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ 15 But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.” Consequently, God dispersed them and confused their language so that they no longer communicated and so acted conceitedly in concert. The remainder of the chapter records and introduces us to Shem’s descendant, Abram, whose story begins in chapter 12.

In Matthew 11 we find confirmation that Jesus is the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy and hence of God’s promise and faithfulness. John the Baptist was the forerunner who came to prepare the way for the coming of Messiah. Jesus is God’s ‘Christ’ (Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah), the Son of the woman foretold in Genesis 3, the Son of God, the Word made flesh. John was the culmination and greatest of the Old Testament prophets who heralded the dawn of the New Covenant age. The Lord Jesus also teaches his people about the fickleness of popular opinion and the foolishness of those who reject God’s Christ and who will ultimately regret their decision. The Lord Jesus here explains that he alone reveals the Father and is the way to the Father. He bids all come to him for rest which includes reconciliation, redemption, and renewal. All are invited to believe, be, and belong in and through him whose yoke is easy and burden light.

To ponder! What does it mean to come to Jesus?

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Bible Challenge: Day 12

Bible Reading: Genesis 12 & Matthew 12

Genesis 12 records God’s call to Abram to leave his country, kith, and kin and follow God by faith. God is hereby making or renewing his covenant with fallen humanity through Abram and his posterity concerning his Seed. Great is God’s faithfulness. Abram will be the father of Israel through whom God will establish a unique people to reveal himself, his law of love, and humanity’s need of a Saviour. Abram is called to trust and obey God. He must hear and heed God’s promise of blessing in a numerous progeny and a bountiful land and so act upon it. Abram is taught what it means to walk by faith. And so, Abram, along with Sarai his wife, and Lot, his nephew, respond in faith. We read of how Abram set up an altar and worshipped the Lord in the Promised Land. His faith, however, was tested by a famine. It is surely noteworthy that he did not return to his native land for refuge but travelled to Egypt where he prospered under Pharoah’s patronage and protection. There, nevertheless, his faith momentarily failed but God used Abram’s deceit to teach him an important lesson that provoked repentance and a return to the land of Canaan.

In Matthew 12 Jesus reveals himself as Lord of the Sabbath. He corrects the misconceptions and misinterpretations that were common among the religious people of his day. The day of rest Jesus implicitly teaches was given not only to be a holy and happy day but also a day for healing. And therefore, he heals a man with a withered hand in a synagogue on the Sabbath Day. His teaching and action, nevertheless, arouse the enmity of the Pharisees who begin to conspire against him. Jesus reaffirms that he is the One prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 42. And teaches the people about the significance of his person and ministry, and of the need to receive and rest in him whom the Spirit reveals. The Lord Jesus will not only bring justice to the nations, but he will judge the wicked. The children of God, he makes clear, are those that do the will of his Father in heaven. They bear good fruit and walk before God and one another in love.

To ponder! What is the will of our Father in heaven?

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Bible Challenge: Day 13

Bible Reading: Genesis 13 & Matthew 13

Genesis 13 reveals Abram’s return to the Land of Promise and of his praising God for his protection, provision, and promise. Abram glorified God and expressed his gratitude to God for his grace and mercy. We also detect God’s providential hand in the separation of Abram and Lot and Lot’s choice of the Jordan Valley to settle in and work. He made his choice based on what he saw. Possibly echoing Adam and Eve in chapter 3 where we read: So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Abram, by contrast, relied on faith and was rewarded by God’s revelation of the land that he and his posterity would inherit, even though the Canaanites and Perizzites still occupied the said territory. Abram settled at Mamre where he established a place to worship the LORD.

Matthew 13 begins with Jesus’ Parable of the Sower and explanation of its meaning. The seed to be sown is the word in scripture concerning the Word Incarnate but not all who hear the word will receive it and go on to show themselves faithful and fruitful by God’s grace. God’s people are called to bear good fruit in loyal and loving service to God and others. There follows the Parables of the Weeds and its explanation. Teaching us that judgement belongs to the Lord, and that he will separate the good from the evil at the end of this age. Until that time the wheat and the tares, the righteous and the unrighteous must live alongside one another in this fallen world. It is a reminder to us that our world is not perfectible and should act as a warning against utopianism. Similarly, in the Parables of the Hidden Treasure, the Pearl of Great Value, and of the Net, Jesus teaches the invaluable and immortal nature of God’s Kingdom which all are invited to pursue and be citizens of by faith in King Jesus. The chapter concludes with Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue of his hometown of Nazareth where people recognise and marvel at his wisdom and wonderful works but who nevertheless reject him due to their unbelief.

To ponder! What does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ?

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Bible Challenge: Day 14

Bible Reading: Genesis 14 & Matthew 14

Genesis 14 describes a period of tribal hostilities and clan warfare in the region of the Holy Land and the surrounding localities. The kings or territorial rulers had banded together into two hostile camps. Abram’s nephew Lot was taken captive when Sodom was captured, conquered, and pillaged. When Abram is told of Lot’s enslavement and dispossession, he responds by gathering and leading an armed force against King Chedorlaomer and his allies. Abram subsequently defeats Lot’s captors, rescues his nephew and his family, and others, and restores their possessions. He receives a blessing from Melchizedek (meaning King of Righteousness), the King and High Priest of Salem (Peace) in the name of God Most High. Bread and wine are given in thanksgiving and Abram gives a tenth of everything to him. We will later encounter Melchizedek in the Book of Psalms and in the Letter to the Hebrews where he is portrayed as a type of which Christ is the antitype. His person and ministry foreshadow that of the Lord Jesus. Abram declines remuneration or reward from the King of Sodom to avoid any indebtedness. Rather, he is indebted and reliant on God’s amazing grace.

Matthew 14 records the unjust and evil execution of John the Baptist. A victim of Herod the tetrarch’s pride and Herodias’ revengeful and callous cruelty. Jesus’ popularity, nevertheless, continues to grow. Here we find the familiar story of his feeding the five thousand with only five loaves and two fish in a desolate place near Bethsaida on the North-East side of the Sea of Galilee. This episode or event reveals Jesus’ care, compassion, and capability. The uniqueness and power of his person are similarly disclosed when he appears to his terrified disciples as they journey home on the raging, stormy sea. Jesus appears to them walking on the water and uses the incident to teach Peter and the other apostles about their need for faith. It is a faith that looks to, learns from, and leans upon Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Jesus even demonstrates his authority over the wind and the waves, prompting Peter’s confession, ‘truly, you are the Son of God’. The chapter concludes with multitudes of people in the region of Gennesaret bringing their sick loved ones to Jesus to be healed.

To ponder! It’s not so much great faith we require but faith in a great God!

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Bible Challenge: Day 15

Bible Reading: Genesis 15 & Matthew 15

Genesis 15 provides an account of God’s covenant with Abram. It is a reaffirmation of God’s promise to him of a great progeny and of a specific land – a land flowing with milk and honey, but a land as yet still occupied by numerous tribes. We note God’s amazing grace in the encounter. God not only takes the initiative, but he makes a unilateral covenant with Abram and his seed. Abram, nevertheless, is called to trust and obey the LORD. Verse 6 records that Abram ‘believed the LORD, and he counted it to him for righteousness.’ He was justified by faith which will have huge significance to New Testament writers as we will see in time. Despite his advanced years and Sarai, his wife is beyond the age for bearing children, they will have a son. God promises Abram a long life and a peaceful death. We note too how God foretells that Abram’s descendants will suffer enslavement for some 400 years in a foreign land but will return to the Land of Promise by God’s mighty grace.

Matthew 15 begins with the Lord Jesus exposing the hypocrisy of Pharisees and scribes who nullified the teaching of God’s word by replacing it with their own commands and traditions. He makes clear that fallen humanity has a heart problem and that no amount of ritual washings and other rites can cleanse a person. ‘For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.’ And that is why in the Old Testament scriptures God promised his people a new heart and a right spirit in the New Covenant which Jesus came to ratify and seal. Jesus then heals the daughter of a Canaanite woman in the district of Tyre and Sidon, whose persistent petitions displayed her faith in him. Anticipating the Great Commission and the Good News to be proclaimed to everyone, we are implicitly taught that Jesus is Lord and Saviour not only of the Jewish people but of the Gentiles too. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. Jesus returns to Galilee where he teaches and heals numerous people who glorify the God of Israel. The chapter concludes with a demonstration of Jesus’ compassion in the feeding of 4000 souls in a desolate place with a mere 7 loaves and a few fishes. The leftovers teach us that God’s grace and goodness are never ending in Jesus.

To ponder! What is communicated by the ‘heart’ in this passage and elsewhere in the Bible? It is not a reference to the physical organ that pumps blood around our bodies per se but is to be taken for the centrality of our beings and the source of our affections, emotions, thoughts, and will.

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Bible Challenge: Day 16

Bible Reading: Genesis 16 & Matthew 16

Genesis 16 tells the sorry story of Sarai and Hagar. Sarai realising that she was well past the normal age for conceiving and bearing a child persuaded Abram to father a child with Hagar her servant who would act as a surrogate. We therefore read of Abram’s failure of faith and hence of his compliance and its sad consequences for all concerned. Abram rationalised away faith and God’s promise, momentarily failing to grasp that with God nothing is impossible. And so, Hagar becomes pregnant with Abram’s child and becomes haughty in her relations with Sarai. As a result, Sarai becomes resentful, and Abram turns a blind eye to Sarai’s harsh treatment of Hagar who in turn flees into the wilderness of Shur. In her distress, an angel of the LORD appears to Hagar and tells her to return and submit to her mistress, Sarai. She is to call her son, Ishmael, which mean ‘God hears’. Hagar marvels at God who is all-seeing and all-knowing (omniscient). God promises that her offspring will be numerous. Abram was 86 when he fathered a child by Hagar.

In Matthew 16 Jesus is confronted by Pharisees and Sadducees. They are determined to discredit him. They desire to lay an accusation against him with a view to having him condemned. They demand that Jesus show them a sign from heaven. The Lord Jesus, however, knowing what is in their hearts, refuses to dance to their discordant tune. He tells them that it is ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah’ pointing to his then future death and resurrection. Jesus uses the occasion to warn his disciples to beware of the leaven (sin) of the Pharisees and Sadducees. At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks his disciples who they thought he was. Peter makes his revelatory confession of faith, ‘you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ The Lord Jesus promises to build and empower his church which will triumph over the forces of darkness. Jesus foretells his death and resurrection and rebukes Peter for contradicting him. He provides a brief explanation of what will follow his resurrection with reference to judgement and glory. He tells his disciples that they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him.

To ponder! What does Jesus mean when he calls his people to take up their cross and follow him?

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Bible Challenge: Day 17

Bible Reading: Genesis 17 & Matthew 17

In Genesis 17 God reveals himself to Abram who is now 99 years old. God says to him, ‘I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless.’ Herein God is reminding Abram that nothing is impossible for God who is all-mighty (omnipotent). Faith believes and responds accordingly. Abram is to walk by faith in the beauty of holiness, trusting and obeying the LORD. God reiterates his covenant promise of a numerous offspring from which nations and kings will come. And God here adds the covenant sign and seal of circumcision for Abram and all male children belonging to his house in their generations. God assures Abram that the time has come for him to father a male child with his wife, Sarai, whom he is to name, Isaac, meaning ‘he laughs’. Recalling Abram’s response to God’s revelation. God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, meaning ‘father of a multitude’, and Sarai’s to Sarah which means princess given her role as mother of a nation in God’s providential plan of redemption for the world.

Matthew 17 begins with the Transfiguration. The Lord Jesus reveals his divine glory to Peter, James, and John on a high mountain. He was ‘transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.’ That Moses and Elijah appear is not only a reminder that our individual identities are not lost at death, but they represent the Law and the Prophets which bear witness to the Lord Christ. The bright cloud is a symbol of God’s presence which was familiar to Old Testament saints and those reared in the scriptures. The apostles hear God the Father re-affirming ‘this is my Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.’ The Lord Jesus tells his disciples to keep the vision to themselves until after his death and resurrection when they will proclaim his person and work near and far. He reaffirms that John the Baptist was the herald who came to prepare the way for him. And he did so in the spirit and manner of Elijah as foretold in the Old Testament scriptures. On returning from the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus is met by adoring crowds. He heals the son of man who was possessed by an evil spirit. and admonishes his followers for their lack of faith. He again foretells his coming death and resurrection. The chapter concludes at Capernaum with Jesus teaching Peter an invaluable lesson about his person and power in the miraculous provision of the drachma tax from a fish’s mouth.

To ponder! ‘The New (Testament) was in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed.’

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Bible Challenge: Day 18

Bible Reading: Genesis 18 & Matthew 18

Genesis 18 records the triune God’s appearance to Abraham by the oaks at Mamre. Abraham responds with humility and hospitality. Despite their advanced years, Sarah will have a son to Abraham within the year, whom they are to name Isaac. Eavesdropping at the tent door, Sarah laughs inwardly expressing her incredulity but God aware of her reaction, assures Abraham that he is about to fulfil his promise to him. God further reveals his purpose for Abraham and his descendants, and indeed all called to walk by faith, that they are chosen to ‘keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice’. God, moreover, is about to judge Sodom and Gomorrah for their sin which is described as ‘very grave’. The remainder of the chapter contains Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Gomorrah. He prays that the cities may be spared if but 10 righteous souls be found within their walls! The LORD mercifully consents, but alas…

In Matthew 18, Jesus taking a little child, teaches his disciples about the need for trust and humility in the kingdom of God. The Lord Jesus points out the reality of temptation but warns of the serious consequences of sin. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, he implicitly reminds his followers that God has come not to condemn, but to seek and save the lost. Jesus then communicates the disciplinary procedure if wronged by a fellow Christian. The purpose is restored relationships through confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. We note that the church is only involved if the person wronged cannot get redress on his/her own or with witnesses present. The unrepentant are to be treated like non-believers by the church. The chapter concludes with the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant where the Lord teaches the importance of forgiveness and a willingness to forgive those that sin against us when they seek forgiveness. As he taught his people to pray: ‘forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’. This is the way to restoration and renewal.

To ponder! Why is humility important in the Christian life?

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Bible Challenge:

Bible Reading: Genesis 19 & Matthew 19

Genesis 19 tells the story of God’s righteous judgement upon Sodom and Gomorrah for their grave and gross sin. God’s sends two angels to Sodom and Lot persuades them to accept hospitality at his home. While there, men of the city formed a mob and attempted to forcibly gain access to Lot’s home intent on raping his guests, affirming in their very action, God’s verdict on their depravity. Lot’s reaction in his plea to take his daughters instead rightly gives us deep cause for horror and consternation but without condoning his response, it is worth noting the almost sacred obligation to show hospitality and protect guests under one’s roof in the ancient world. And the guests were God’s messengers. The angels respond by blinding and confusing their attackers. They show mercy to Lot and his family who are spared punishment but must immediately flee the city. Permission is given for them to resettle in Zoar. God then destroys the two cities by sulphur and fire. Tragically, Lot’s wife possibly reluctant to leave Sodom, looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt, like those poor citizens caught in the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius at Pompeii in AD79. The chapter concludes with the tragic tale of Lot’s drunkenness, the deceit of his two daughters, and his incestuous relations with them and the resultant origins of the Moabites and Ammonites whom we will encounter later in the Old Testament story as enemies of Israel.

Matthew 19 begins by explaining that the Lord Jesus has left Galilee and is now in Judea. He attracts large crowds wherever he goes. He is challenged by Pharisees about marriage and divorce. Jesus reminds them that God instituted marriage at the beginning, and the union of husband and wife is meant to be for life. Divorce, Jesus explains, is a concession to the fallen nature and should only be permitted in exceptional circumstances. Jesus also explains to his disciples that celibacy is a gift given only to some of his followers. Moreover, he corrects his disciples for rebuking parents who had brought their children to him to bless. For ‘to such belong the kingdom of heaven.’ The chapter concludes with the sad story of a rich young man who approached Jesus and asked ‘what must I do to have eternal life?’ In his response, Jesus is not teaching that salvation is by keeping the Law but rather he points the young man to the Moral Law (The Ten Commandments) which shows how to love God with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. While the young man believed that he had kept the law and was consequently good, Jesus shows him on the contrary that he loved his possessions and prosperity, and no doubt the power and position that accompanied them, more than God which is a form of idolatry. Rather than give these things up and follow Jesus, the man leaves full of sorrow. And Jesus uses the occasion to teach his disciples that salvation is of grace. It is a gift to be received rather than a reward to be earned. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Jesus promises that God will reward his people for their faith and faithfulness.

To ponder! What are the purposes of the Moral Law?

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Bible Challenge: Day 20

Bible Reading: Genesis 20 & Matthew 20

Genesis 20 tells the sorry story of Abraham and King Abimelech. It acts as a warning of the serious consequences that can result when fear triumphs over faith. Abraham’s folly, in other words, endangers the welfare of others. Having failed to learn from his past deception with Pharoah, Abraham, fearing for his life, again persuades Sarah to tell Abimelech, the King of Gerar, that she is his sister rather than his wife. Abimelech takes Sarah to be his wife but before consummating the marriage God appears to Abimelech in a dream. God tells the king, ‘return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.’ Abimelech does so and confronts Abraham with his sinful deception which has brought sterility upon the king’s house. Abimelech nevertheless enriches Abraham and Sarah and grants permission to dwell in the land. Abraham in response intercedes for Abimelech and his household, and God grants his prayerful request.

Matthew 20 begins with the Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard. Jesus here reminds his followers about the nature and significance of God’s grace and generosity. ‘So the last will be first, and the first last’. He then for the third time foretells the purpose of his going up to Jerusalem. He will be betrayed, condemned, beaten, crucified, put to death, and yet will rise again. The mother of the apostles, James and John, then makes a request to Jesus that he appoint her sons to prominent positions at his side in his coming kingdom. The Lord Jesus responds by explaining that this gift of position and prestige is not his to give but belongs to the Father’s. He adds that the way to greatness and glory in God’s kingdom is by humility and service. The chapter concludes with Jesus restoring the sight of two blind men outside of Jericho who persistently plead with him to open their eyes. Their faith in who he is as Lord and Son of David is not only revealing but proves richly rewarding. After their sight is restored, they follow Jesus.

To ponder! Grace = God’s riches at Christ’s expense.

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Bible Challenge: Day 21

Bible Reading: Genesis 21 & Matthew 21

Genesis 21 charts God’s faithfulness to Abraham and Sarah in the conception and birth of their son, Isaac. Reminding us that God fulfils his promises. His word is trustworthy. Despite their advanced years, the passage reminds us that man’s extremity is but God’s opportunity. Abraham has the covenant sign and seal of circumcision applied to Isaac when he is eight days old in obedience to God’s command. He also holds a great feast when the boy was weaned. Concerned that Hagar and her son to Abraham, Ishmael, pose a considerable threat to Isaac’s welfare and inheritance, Sarah banishes them. In her despair, an angel of the LORD appears to Hagar in the wilderness of Beersheba, provides sustenance and assures her that son will live to be the progenitor of a great nation. The chapter concludes with Abraham’s treaty with Abimelech at Beersheba. There wrongs are righted, restitution is made, and they agree to live in peace and harmony with one another. Abraham there worships the LORD, the Everlasting God.

Matthew 21 begins with an account of the Lord Jesus’ triumphal entry marking the beginning of what has come to be known as Holy Week. King Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a beast of burden in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. Crowds line the road, and waving palm branches, a symbol of national identity and victory, they volubly and in unison proclaim, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus, however, has come to suffer and die, and rise again. He understood that his Cross must precede his Crown. He then enters the Temple and provokes a mixture of praise, resentment, and fury, by expelling those that conveniently bought and sold animals and exchanged money therein. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” He proceeds to heal the sick, but the praise lavished on him only makes the chief priests and scribes even more indignant. The following morning on route to the city he curses a fig tree, a symbol of Israel, for its fruitlessness. And uses the occasion to teach his disciples about faith and prayer. Back in the Temple, he is confronted by the religious rulers who demand to know by whose authority he so acts and teaches. Jesus confounds them by asking them a question about the baptism of John. The chapter concludes with Jesus deploying the parables of the Two Sons, and the Tenants to expose the hypocrisy, corruption, and wickedness of the religious establishment who foolishly condemn themselves by their rejection of God’s Christ – the Chief Corner Stone in God’s Church.

To ponder! What sort of fruit does God look for in his people?

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Apologies but Storm Corrie left us without electricity and so I could not post this yesterday.

Bible Challenge: Day 22

Reading: Genesis 22 & Matthew 22

In Genesis 22 God tests Abraham’s faith. The patriarch is instructed to offer his son in sacrifice to God on Mount Moriah. Abraham trusts God and complies with his command. However, just as Abraham is about to strike the fatal blow and ritually slaughter Isaac, the child of promise, God intervenes via a heavenly messenger. God provides a substitute in the form of a ram whose horns are caught in a thicket of thorns. Hebrews 11 states that ‘By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back’ (Heb.11:17-19). While many readers concentrate upon, and question the ethics of Abraham’s action, the story’s primary focus lies in God’s gracious provision of a substitute and what is symbolised and typified therein. For Moriah is Calvary. The lamb points us to the Lamb of God who will be sacrificed for the sin of the world. The thicket of thorns possibly points to his crown of thorns reminding us that God’s Christ bore the curse of the Fall on the Cross. Abraham’s faith results in God’s grace and blessing. God makes provision. The chapter concludes with the names of Abraham’s brother, Nahor’s sons.

Matthew 22 begins with Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding Feast which contains an implicit condemnation of the religious authorities and their supporters for their rejection of God’s Christ, King Jesus, and his ways. It communicates God’s gracious invitation to all but also includes a sad reminder that while many are called few are chosen. The same crowds that praised Jesus on his entry to the Holy City will within a few days be baying for his blood and shouting, ‘crucify him, crucify him’. Jesus is then confronted by Pharisees and Herodians conspiring against him. They seek to entrap him with a question of whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, but Jesus confounds them with the sagacity of his reply. Then a group of Sadducees similarly attempt to snare him with a hypothetical and hyperbolic question about a woman that had married seven times. Whose wife they demanded to know would she be in the resurrection? The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection and so their question was anything but a genuine query! Once more Jesus defeats their ruse with his wise response. He goes on to summarise the Moral Law (The 10 Commandments which were originally written on two tablets of stone), in response to the question ‘what is the greatest commandment?’ His response, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself” echoes the teaching of the Old Testament and provides the perfect summary of the two tables of the Law. The first four commandments focus on our relationship with God and the remaining six on our relation to one another. The chapter concludes with the Lord Jesus exposing the theological ignorance and arrogance of his enemies by a simple, yet profound question: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” How would we respond?

To ponder! Jesus saves us so that we can keep his law of love.

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Bible Challenge: Day 23

Bible Reading: Genesis 23 & Matthew 23

Genesis 23 chronicles the death of Sarah and Abraham’s resultant grief and his subsequent negotiations with Ephron, the son of Zohar, and other Hittites concerning a burial plot for Sarah’s remains. Sarah died at Hebron in the land of Canaan which God promised to Abraham for his descendants. She died at the ripe old age of 127. Although greatly respected throughout the land as a ‘prince of God’, Abraham was yet a sojourner and a foreigner. He respectfully secures the field and cave of Machpelah from Ephron which was located to the east of Mamre in the Promised Land. Turning down Ephron’s gift of the land so as not to be indebted to him or any other Hittites, he pays the full 400 shekels of silver market value for the plot. Therein we witness God fulfilling his promise to Abraham and his house or people. God is faithful.

Matthew 23 details the Lord Jesus’s Seven Woes concerning the Scribes and the Pharisees for their failure to practice what they preached. They talked the talk but did not walk the walk! Jesus condemns their haughtiness and hypocrisy, their callousness and conceitedness, their carelessness and corruption, their greed and lack of grace. They are blind guides. Their religion is a cover masking raw calculating ambition and pride. They are misusing and abusing their office for personal gain and glory rather than service to God and the people upon whom they lay heavy burdens. They neither love the LORD nor their neighbour. Jesus’s words are a warning to us all! The chapter concludes with the Lord’s lamentation over Jerusalem and those that wilfully cut themselves off from God’s love gift of salvation in their rejection of Jesus Christ, the Saviour. As the Prophet Hosea lamented, ‘O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself’ (Hos.13:9).

To ponder! He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

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Bible Challenge: Day 24

Bible Reading: Genesis 24 & Matthew 24

In Genesis 24 Abraham sends a faithful servant back to his homeland and kindred to secure a bride for Isaac, his son. Abraham’s servant consequently travels to Nahor in Mesopotamia and prayed to the LORD to guide him and grant him success in his quest for love’s sake. He specifically asks God, ‘Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.’ And God swiftly answered his prayer when Rebekah, a relation of Abraham’s, does so. The servant bestows gifts upon the young woman, gives thanks to God, and returns with her to her father’s home. There they are met by Laban, her brother. Abraham’s servant explains the purpose of his visit and subsequently Bethuel, Rebekah’s father, and Laban agree that she should accompany the servant back to Hebron to be Isaac’s wife. Rebekah gives her consent. Gifts are bestowed upon the family. God is praised. And joyous hospitality follows. The following day Rebekah and the servant travel back to the Land of Promise and are providentially met by Isaac who takes Rebekah to be his wife and loves her dearly.

In Matthew 24 the Lord Jesus foretells the coming destruction of the Temple and the end of the Old Testament age. Not one stone will be left standing upon another. And that is what happened within a generation (AD 70) as Jesus had said. His disciples ask him “when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” The remainder of the chapter therefore contains Jesus’ response. He forewarns his followers that imposters will come, that they will face dangers, tribulations, and persecution in a chaotic and convulsive world. But they are to remain faithful and proclaim his gospel near and far. Jesus tells his disciples that when they see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the Prophet Daniel standing in the holy place they must immediately flee to the mountains for their lives. The coming of the Son of Man will herald seismic religious and political change which the Lord Jesus frames in Old Testament apocalyptic imagery and symbol which was familiar to his hearers. Jesus concludes by telling his followers that the exact timing of these events is the preserve of the Father and that they must remain alert, vigilant, and devoted.

To ponder! ‘…I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’’ (Isa.46:9-10).

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Bible Challenge: Day 25

Bible Reading: Genesis 25 & Matthew 25

Genesis 25 begins with a record of the children that Abraham fathered with Keturah after Sarah’s death. His inheritance nevertheless went to Isaac, the child of promise. Abraham died at the ripe old age of 175, and his remains were laid to rest with due decorum by his sons, Isaac and Ishmael, alongside Sarah’s in the cave at Machpelah, east of Mamre. God blessed Isaac who settled at Beer-lahai-roi. There follows a list of the sons of Ishmael who ‘settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria.’ The chapter then focuses on the birth of Isaac and Rebekah’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob. God tells Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” Esau was born first with Jacob clutching his heel. Esau grew to become a skilled hunter while his brother displayed a more homely and reserved character. We are told that Isaac loved Esau because of the game he brought home while Rebekah loved Jacob. The chapter concludes with Esau, exhausted from a hunt, selling his birthright to his brother for a boll of stew which caused deep and lasting resentment. His descendants, the Edomites will show themselves enemies of Israel.

In Matthew 25 the Lord Jesus continues to teach his disciples of the need to remain ever faithful and watchful. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, he compares 5 wise virgins who were prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom with 5 foolish ones who were caught unready when he returned and were subsequently shut out of his kingdom. In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus similarly taught his followers of the need to be fruitful as well as faithful. Christians are to use the gifts and graces that God has bestowed upon them for the glory of God, and for the good and growth of themselves and others. In this parable those who had been given 5 and 2 talents prove productive with what they had received returning an additional 5 and 2 talents respectively. They in turn each hear the welcoming words of their master: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ By contrast, the servant given 1 talent entertained harsh thoughts of his master and therefore buried it returning nothing for his master’s investment. Consequently, he is cast out as a worthless servant. The chapter concludes with the Lord Jesus’ teaching on the Final Judgement. He will then sit upon his throne and judge the world in righteousness. He will separate people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. The righteous will inherit eternal life, while the wicked will go into eternal punishment. Hence, he powerfully reminds his followers of the need for a faith that works through love.

To ponder! For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love (Gal.5:6).

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control… (Gal.5:22-23).

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Bible Challenge: Day 26

Bible Reading: Genesis 26 & Matthew 26

Genesis 26 begins by telling us that there was a famine in the days of Isaac which compelled him to seek sanctuary from Abimelech, the King of Gerar. There the LORD appeared to him and bid him remain in that land rather than take refuge in Egypt. God restates the covenant that he made with Abraham and promises to bless Isaac and his posterity who will receive the land for their inheritance. Like father, like son! Fearing for his life, Isaac tells his host that Rebekah his wife is his sister. Thankfully, providence ensures that no harm ensues, and Isaac is later compelled to confess his folly to King Abimelech. Isaac worked the land, the LORD blessed him, and he prospered. He gained flocks and herds and many servants, and the Philistines grew to envy and fear him. Asked to leave the land of the Philistines he settled in the Valley of Gerar but a dispute required him to move again until he came to Rehoboth. For now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” The LORD again appeared to him. This time at Beersheba where God once more reassures him and reiterates his promise. There Isaac digs a well and builds an altar to worship the LORD and give thanks for God’s faithfulness and goodness. King Abimelech visits Isaac and they make a treaty for their mutual peace and prosperity. The chapter concludes by informing us that when Esau was 40 years old, he married two Hittite (Canaanite) wives who were to prove a source of bitterness to Isaac and Rebekah.

In Matthew 26 the conspiracy of the religious authorities to kill Jesus intensifies and reaches a climax at the High Priest’s palace. The Lord tells his disciples that his betrayal is imminent and that he will be crucified. He is anointed with expensive ointment for his death and burial by a woman at the home of Simon the former leper at Bethany which was a short distance from Jerusalem. Judas Iscariot visits the chief priests and egregiously agrees to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Jesus shares the Passover meal with his disciples in an Upper Room in the Holy City that was prepared for the occasion. There he informs them that one of them is about to betray him. He identifies Judas Iscariot whom we are told elsewhere flees into the darkness. Jesus then institutes the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for his followers to keep them focussed and feasting by faith on his person and saving work - his body and blood. After singing a hymn, (Psalms 113-118 were sung at the Passover), Jesus and his disciples make for the Mount of Olives where he tells them they will shortly scatter traumatised and fearful. He responds to Peter’s rebuttal by telling him that he will deny knowing him three times before the rooster crows.

At Gethsemane, Jesus says to his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” He then earnestly prays: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Three times his disciples fail to keep watch, but the hour of his passion has arrived along with his betrayer. Judas Iscariot appears with armed members of the Temple Guard and betrays the Lord with a kiss. Peter draws his sword to defend Jesus from the soldiers, but the Lord forbids him. Making clear that this is God will. The scriptures must be fulfilled. His disciples flee. Jesus is violently seized and taken to the palace of the High Priest where the Council is hastily convened contrary to the Jewish law. False testimony is given against him but to no avail, compelling the High Priest to intervene: “I adjure you by the living God,” he cries, “tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” At Jesus’ response the High Priest tears his robes and denounces him as a blasphemer. The Council readily concurs and calls for Jesus to be put to death. They spit upon him and beat him in their hatred and inhumanity. Peter, sitting in the courtyard outside is identified by a servant girl as one of Jesus’ disciples. Afraid, three times he denies knowing Jesus before the rooster crows. Recalling Jesus’ words, he flees and weeps bitterly.

To ponder! For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes (1Cor.11:23-26).

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Bible Challenge: Day 27

Bible Reading: Genesis 27 & Matthew 27

Genesis 27 outlines the deceit played on Isaac and Esau by Rebekah and Jacob and its considerable consequences. Isaac is now in his dotage; his eyesight is very poor, and his health is failing. He is conscious that death cannot be far off. He asks Esau, his eldest son to go and hunt him game and prepare a delicious meal which he will consume before giving his blessing to Esau as his successor. Rebekah, however, was within earshot and hatches a devious plan to supplant Esau and ensure that Jacob receives the blessing instead. She persuades Jacob to take two young goats from their flock and prepare a meal for Isaac. Because Esau possessed hair on the back of his hands, arms, and neck, she takes the hides of the slaughtered animals with their hair, prepares them appropriately and places them on Jacob. Isaac somewhat confused, while hearing Jacob’s voice is convinced that it is Esau after touching the hair on the back of his hands. He subsequently falls for their ruse and gives his blessing to Jacob thinking it was Esau. “May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” On Esau’s return the deception is exposed but the blessing has been given and cannot be revoked. Esau in a rage, pledges that he will kill Jacob in revenge after his father’s death. Rebekah is informed and convinces Jacob to flee and find refuge with Laban, her brother, in Haran, until such times as Esau’s desire for vengeance is dissipated. The chapter ends with Rebekah complaining to Isaac about Esau’s wives and expressing her hope that Jacob does not marry a Hittite woman like his brother did.

Matthew 27 begins with Jesus being handed over to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, by the religious authorities. Judas Iscariot, overwhelmed with guilt for his betrayal of Jesus returns the 30 pieces of silver he had received to the chief priests and elders and afterwards hangs himself. The money is used to purchase the potter’s field for the burial of strangers. It is subsequently named the Field of Blood after Judas’ betrayal of ‘innocent blood’. Then we read of Jesus’ encounter with the Roman Governor. Jesus is silent before him in fulfilment of Isaiah 53:7. Pilate realises that it was envy that provoked the action and demands of Jesus’ enemies. And his conviction is confirmed by his wife who warns him not to harm Jesus. Therefore, taking advantage of an established custom at the Feast he offers to release a prisoner and gives the crowd the choice between Jesus and Barabbas, a notorious criminal. Prompted by the religious rulers, the crowd choose Barabbas and in a frenzy call for Jesus to be crucified. Pilates washes his hands of the matter and the crowd cry out ‘his blood be on us and on our children.’ Pilate then orders Jesus to be scourged and crucified. He is stripped, mocked, and beaten by the Roman soldiers who dress him in a purple robe and push a crown of thorns into his scalp. Struggling to carry his cross on the Via Dolorosa (the way of suffering) due to the scourging and beatings and resultant loss of blood, Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross to Golgotha. Jesus refuses wine mixed with gall to numb his pain and suffering. He is crucified at 9am, the time of the morning sacrifice, and a sign is fixed above his head that mockingly declares ‘This is Jesus, King of the Jews.’ Two criminals are crucified either side of him representing the saved and the unsaved (the wheat and the tares, the sheep and the goats) He is decried and derided by the chief priest, scribes and elders standing nearby.

At 12 noon, darkness falls until 3pm, the time of the evening sacrifice. Then Jesus cries aloud ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ as he bears the sin of the world. The he cries out one last time (it is finished, cf. John 19) and yields up his spirit. The Temple of the curtain is torn in two, the earth shakes, and rocks split apart. Dead saints rise from their tombs. A centurion observing all declares, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’ We are informed that ‘Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee’ have followed Jesus and witnessed the horrific events. Joseph of Arimathea gains permission from Pilate to take, prepare, and bury the body of Jesus in a new tomb that he owned. Jesus is laid therein, and a huge stone is placed in front of the entrance. The chief priests and Pharisees, aware of Jesus’ claims and fearing his disciples might steal his body, get permission from Pilate to seal the stone and station a guard at the entrance to the tomb.

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Bible Challenge: Day 28

Bible Reading: Genesis 28 & Matthew 28

Genesis 28 begins with Isaac’s advice to and blessing upon Jacob prior to the latter’s departure for Paddan-aram. Echoing Rebekah, Isaac tells his son not to marry a Canaanite woman but rather he is to go and seek a bride from his mother’s brother, Laban’s daughters. Esau, aware of his father’s advice to and blessing of his brother, marries a daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son. The remainder of the chapter tells the story of Jacob’s dream. On route to Haran, Jacob camped and lay down to sleep with a stone for a pillow. While he slept, he dreamed of a ladder that reached into the heavens with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. And the LORD God revealed himself and renewed the Covenant promise that he had made with Abraham and Isaac with Jacob. When he awakes, Jacob is conscious of God’s presence and declares: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Jacob takes the stone he had slept upon, sets it up as a monument and pours oil upon it in a ritual act naming the location Bethel, meaning House of God. He vows to God pledging: “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

Matthew 28 documents the triumphant and joyous conclusion to the Lord Jesus’ earthly ministry in his glorious bodily resurrection and his Great Commission to his church. After the Sabbath, early in the morning on the first day of the week (Sunday), Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to Jesus’ tomb. They are confronted with an earthquake and then encounter an angel of God who sits upon the stone which had been used to seal the entrance to the tomb. He tells the women that Jesus has risen and shows them the place where his body had been laid. He then commands them to go tell the apostles and other disciples the good news and to make for Galilee where Jesus will meet them. On their way to tell the disciples they meet the risen Jesus whom they worship. On receiving news that Jesus has risen the chief priests bribe members of the guard to say that his disciples had stolen his body. The Gospel ends with Jesus appearing to his apostles and the church on a mountain in Galilee. He declares: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

To ponder! How are we fulfilling Christ’s commission today?

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Bible Challenge: Day 29

Bible Reading: Genesis 29 & Mark 1

Genesis 29 tells the story of how Jacob came to marry Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel. Jacob, the deceiver himself is deceived but God will use the ruse, as we will see, to bring to fruition the foundation of a nation that will be the children of Israel. Near to reaching his destination, Jacob stops at a well where flocks of sheep were regularly watered. There he providentially encounters Laban’s youngest daughter, Rachel, and returns with her to her father’s house. Laban warmly receives him and invites him to stay. Jacob falls in love with the beautiful Rachel and asks Laban for her hand in marriage. Laban agrees but insists Jacob must work seven years as the price for his daughter’s hand. At the end of the period Laban throws a feast but dupes Jacob into unknowingly taking Leah, his eldest daughter rather than Rachel in marriage. Jacob is compelled to work another seven years to receive Rachel as his bride too. We are told that Laban gave Zilpah, one of his household servants, to Leah, and Bilhah to Rachel, the significance of which will be revealed later. Jacob favoured Rachel but the LORD took pity on Leah and she bore Jacob, four sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, while Rachel remains childless.

Mark 1 commences with the words: ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ which succinctly and wonderfully encapsulate the substance of the book. Gospel means good news. This is the good news about Jesus whose name literally means ‘God saves’. He is the son of Mary but also the Son of God – possessing two natures in One glorious person. He is God’s Christ, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah, meaning God’s appointed and anointed Prophet, Priest, and King who was to come in the fulness of time. Mark has no nativity account but begins with the ministry of John the Baptist who was sent as foretold in the Old Testament scriptures to prepare the way for God’s Christ. John called people to repentance and baptism in the River Jordan. He proclaimed the One whose sandal he was not worthy to stoop down to untie, who would baptise with the Holy Spirit. John baptises Jesus and ‘he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit at the outset of his earthly ministry. He is the second Adam who has come to keep God’s covenant and put right all that was put so badly wrong in the Fall. The wilderness reminds us of the Fall. There Jesus remains faithful to God by resisting Satan’s temptations unlike Adam and Eve at the beginning. After John’s arrest, Jesus calls the people of Galilee to repent and believe the gospel. He calls his first disciples; Simon (Peter) and Andrew, James and John to follow him and become fishers of men. He teaches in the synagogue at Capernaum on a Sabbath Day and heals a man with an unclean spirit. Staying at Peter’s home, he also heals Peter’s mother-in-law who was ill with a fever. Word quickly spreads about Jesus’ remarkable teaching and healing power. Therefore, at sundown, when the Sabbath ends many people are brought to Jesus for healing and crowds gather outside Peter’s home. Before sunrise, next morning, Jesus retires to a quiet place to pray, teaching us the importance of making time for prayer. He then goes throughout Galilee preaching, teaching. and healing. Chapter 1 concludes with Jesus curing a leper who contrary to the Lord’s instruction bears testimony near and far so that Jesus’ popularity rapidly grows and spreads throughout the region.

To ponder! The Christian call is to follow Jesus.

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Bible Challenge: Day 30

Bible Reading: Genesis 30 & Mark 2

Genesis 30 continues with the theme of the origins of the children of Israel (Jacob). It begins with Rachel lamenting her barrenness. She persuades Jacob to father surrogate children with her servant, Bilhah. Consequently, the union of Jacob and Bilhah bear two children: Dan and Naphtali. Leah has ceased bearing children and therefore she similarly persuades Jacob to father children with her female servant, Zilpah, resulting in the births of Gad and Asher. Later when Reuben is grown up, he takes mandrakes to his mother Leah. Rachel trades her bed with Jacob to Leah for the mandrakes. Leah subsequently again conceives and bears a further two sons in turn who are named Issachar and Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah. Then we read ‘God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. 23 She conceived and bore a son and said, “God has taken away my reproach.” 24 And she called his name Joseph, saying, “May the LORD add to me another son!” After Joseph’s birth, Jacob demands to be released from his obligation to Laban. The time has come to return home with his sizeable family and household. Laban acknowledges his indebtedness to Jacob and agreement is reached that Jacob will take as his wages the black, speckled, and spotted lambs and goats from Laban’s flock. Laban, however, again attempts to deceive Jacob by removing the said animals from his flock in advance. Jacob nevertheless outsmarts him and leaves the wiser and the wealthier for it.

Mark 2 begins with Jesus’ return to Capernaum. Crowds gather to see and hear Jesus and to have him heal their loved ones. As a result, Peter’s home is full of people. A paralytic man is carried to the house by four friends, but they cannot gain access due to the throng. However, such is their faith in Jesus and their love for their crippled friend that they get access via the roof and lower the paralytic to Jesus who rewards their conviction, confidence, and commitment by healing him. Jesus uses this episode to teach about faith and to reveal the source of his authority and power. Afterwards, near to the seashore, Jesus encounters Levi (Matthew), the son of Alphaeus, a tax collector for the Roman authorities. Tax collectors were despised by the religious for their service to Rome and by the people because they made a fortune by charging interest. Jesus, however, effectually calls Levi to follow him. Later Jesus is confronted by certain scribes of the Pharisees who demand to know why he fellowshipped with sinners and tax collectors? Jesus tells them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Then Jesus gives an explanation as to why his disciples did not fast like the Pharisees or the followers of John the Baptist. He says, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” The chapter concludes with the Pharisees accusing Jesus and his disciples of breaking the Sabbath. Again, Jesus corrects them by pointing out that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Thereby revealing his authority and sagacity.

To ponder! Only sinners need a Saviour.

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Bible Challenge: Day 31

Bible Reading: Genesis 31 & Mark 3

Genesis 31 continues with the story of Jacob’s departure from Paddan-aram and his uncle Laban. God communicates his will to Jacob in a dream that the time has come for him to return to his kindred and the Land of Promise. Despite being cheated by his uncle ten times, God has providentially provided for Jacob and blessed him with wives and children and prospered him materially. Fearing the acrimony of Laban, Jacob’s flees with his family and livestock only to be pursued by Laban. God warns Laban not to harm Jacob, whom he confronts in the hill country of Gilead. Rachel’s theft of household goods remains undetected. And Jacob and Laban erect a memorial stone and make a covenant (agreement) of mutual peace and goodwill before God. The chapter ends with Laban’s departure after kissing and blessing his grandchildren and daughters.

Mark 3 begins with Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath Day asking his religious accusers, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” Their silence, however, betrays their malice and ignorance. Jesus, angered and grieved at the callousness of those that were supposedly spiritual shepherds of God’s people proceeds to heal a man with a withered hand. This provokes the Pharisees into conspiring with Herodians (Hellenistic Jews) to destroy him. Jesus withdraws to the coast and vast crowds from Galilee and Judea and beyond gather to hear him and be healed, declaring “you are the Son of God”. Jesus commands them not to advertise the fact, for the time of his passion was yet to come. Jesus then called his followers to join him on a mountain where he appoints twelve apostles to preach and cast out demons. These men, except for Judas Iscariot, will be the founding fathers or pillars in the New Testament church. They will teach authoritatively of what they have seen and heard from Jesus. On returning home, Jesus is met by adoring crowds, but some members of his family are dismissive of him. Scribes appear and accuse Jesus of being possessed by an evil spirit. He refutes their egregious claim and warns them that ‘whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”’ The chapter closes with Jesus telling a crowd of people that “whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother”. What is the will of God but to believe on Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, whom the Father sent. In him, we receive the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, ‘Abba, Father’.

To ponder! In and through Jesus we become the beloved children of God and are called to walk before him and one another in love.

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Bible Challenge: Day 32

Bible Reading: Genesis 32 & Mark 4

Genesis 32 sets the scene for Jacob’s reunion with Esau his brother after his grave betrayal of him some twenty years previously. Jacob encounters angels of God on route and names the place, Mahanaim, meaning ‘this is God’s camp’. Jacob sends messengers ahead to his brother in Edom in the hope of gaining his acceptance and approval. On hearing that Esau was on his way to meet him, Jacob fears the worst and takes the precaution of dividing his household, possessions, and livestock. He prays to God for deliverance, pleading God’s grace and mercy. And then sends servants ahead with a substantial gift of livestock in the hope of appeasing his brother. That night Jacob crosses the Jabbok with Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, Bilhal, and their children. Alone, he strives with God in prayer. We read that he wrestled with a man until the breaking of day. The man is to be taken for a Theophany or Christophany, an Old Testament revelation of the pre-incarnate Son. He puts Jacob’s hip out of joint but Jacob refuses to let him go until he blesses him. Jacob is renamed ‘Israel’ because he had striven with God and with men and prevailed. Jacob names the place Peniel saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

In Mark 4, the Lord Jesus teaches from a boat a great crowd gathered by the seashore. He begins with the Parable of the Sower and tells the people that the seed is sown liberally but it only bears fruit in good soil, some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold and some hundredfold. He afterwards explains the purpose of his teaching in parables and the meaning of this actual one. The seed sown is the word (the gospel). Some immediately reject it. Others receive it joyfully but when faced with trials and troubles quickly fall away. While some prefer the things of this world more than the Christ who is proclaimed therein. However, many accept it, and are productive and prosper. Jesus then goes on to remind his disciples of the purpose of their call. That is, of their need to utilise their gifts and graces to be faithful and fruitful. And this teaching he reinforces in the parables of the growing seed and the mustard seed. The Kingdom of God is like the seed sown. It grows in stages or order, often imperceptibly but then it is evident, until eventually comes the harvest. The mustard seed is tiny and yet it grows into a sizeable tree and so it is with the kingdom of God. The chapter concludes with Jesus and his disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee when a storm arises. His disciples are terrified and call to Jesus who is sleeping in the stern. ‘“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”’

To ponder! “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

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Bible Challenge: Day 33

Bible Reading: Genesis 33 & Mark 5

Genesis 33 records the reunion of Jacob and his brother Esau, whom he had robbed of his birth right and blessing many years past. Jacob, seeing his brother approaching with 400 men, and fearful for his life and the lives of his wives and children, divides his family and servants between Leah and Rachel, hoping that in the event of an attack some may escape. Rachel and Joseph are possibly last on account of Jacob’s favouritism. On Esau’s arrival, Jacob bows down to the ground seven times to show contrition. Esau, however, unexpectedly, embraces his brother, kisses him, and weeps with emotion. Jacob’s family courteously introduce themselves and bow before Esau. Jacob then presents gifts which Esau initially refuses but is persuaded to accept by his relieved brother. They part company. Esau heads back to Seir while Jacob firstly settles at Succoth. Finally, he makes his way to Shechem in the Land of Promise, where he purchases a plot of land from the sons of Hamor. There he pitches his tent and builds at altar to give praise to the God of Israel.

In Mark 5 Jesus and his disciples have crossed the Sea of Galilee to the land of the Gerasenes. There he encounters a man possessed by evil spirits and who had consequently been ostracised from Gerasene society. He had been forced to live among the tombs at a local burial ground. He had often been shackled and chained but had repeatedly broken his bonds. Evidently, people were afraid of this poor soul who endlessly cried out and cut himself. ‘And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7 And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”’ Jesus commands the evil spirit/s whose name is Legion (meaning many) to come out of the man. The evil spirits are banished to nearby pigs who rush down the hillside into the sea and are drowned. The herdsmen fled to the city and told the people what had happened. They in turn gather to see the former demon possessed man, sitting, clothed, and in his right mind and they are amazed and afraid. Remarkably, they appear to place a higher premium on the financial loss of the pigs rather than the miraculous healing, and they plead with Jesus to leave their country. The man who had been healed and made whole asks to accompany Jesus, but the Lord tells him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” The man therefore travelled throughout the Decapolis (10 cities in the region) telling others what Jesus had done for him and all marvelled.

On returning to Capernaum, Jesus is met by Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue who implores him to heal his daughter who is near to the point of death. On route to Jairus’s home, crowds throng Jesus and a woman who had been haemorrhaging blood for many years reaches out in faith and touches Jesus’ garment. She is immediately healed. Jesus identifies the woman and says: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Just then, one of Jairus’s servants appears with the sad news that his daughter has died, but Jesus, overhearing, says, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus, takes Peter, James, and John to the house where they are met with people mourning the loss of the young girl. Jesus assures them that the child is not dead but sleeping. He then takes her parents into the room and taking the child by the hand says to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Immediately, the girl arises and gets to her feet to the amazement, relief, and unmitigated joy of all. Jesus bids them not to advertise the miracle and to give the girl something to eat.

To ponder! Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! (Ps.133:1).

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Bible Challenge: Day 34

Bible Reading: Genesis 34 & Mark 6

Genesis 34 concerns the rape of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob and Leah, and the resultant violent revenge of her brothers. She was raped by Shechem, the son of Hamor, the Hivite. He was a prosperous and powerful figure and is described as a prince in the land. Desirous of Dinah, he forcefully seized, defiled, and humiliated her. And afterwards, besotted, seeks her hand in marriage. Jacob when told, initially holds his peace but his sons when they hear the news are indignant and enraged. Hamor approaches Jacob and his sons with a view to securing Dinah as a wife for Shechem. He offers a substantial bride-price in return. Additionally, he seeks a general agreement that would allow marriages between the children of Israel and the Hivites (Canaanites). The sons of Jacob contrive to agree on the condition that all the Hivite males are circumcised. Three days after the Hivites are circumcised and still recovering from the painful procedure, Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, slaughter them all, including Hamor and Shechem, the rapist. They plunder the city and appropriate the livestock. Jacob when told fears the vengeance of other Canaanites and Perizzites living in the region, but Simeon and Levi remain unrepentant.

In Mark 6 Jesus has travelled to his hometown of Nazareth and is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath Day. The people are astonished at his teaching and wisdom. And yet aware of his background and knowing his family they take offense and reject him. They thereby fulfil the adage that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’! Jesus responds by saying that “A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” Marvelling at their unbelief, he departs and teaches in the nearby villages. He then sends out the twelve apostles with authority to preach repentance, cast our evil spirits, and heal. They are to travel in pairs and rely on God’s grace for provision. Jesus is hereby preparing them for the Great Commission prior to his ascension. Meanwhile, Herod, when he hears of Jesus’ ministry fears that Jesus is John the Baptism risen from the dead. Herod had John imprisoned and executed to satiate Herodias, his wife’s murderous hunger for revenge after John had condemned their adulterous relationship.

After the disciples return to Jesus, they seek rest in a desolate place. However, such was Jesus growing popularity that their location was soon known, and large crowds gathered. Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them. When the hour is late and the people are hungry, Jesus has compassion on them and miraculously feeds 5000 with five loaves and two fishes. ‘And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.’ The twelve baskets symbolise the 12 tribes that comprise the children of Israel, indicate that there is an abundance of grace in Jesus for all the Israel of God. Jesus then dismisses the crowd and sends his disciples to Bethsaida by boat ahead of him while he retires to pray. While making a difficult crossing against wind and tide, a violent storm arises between 3am and 6am, leaving the disciples greatly afraid. However, Jesus appears to them walking on the water. He reassures them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” He joins them and the raging winds and torrential waves cease, leaving his followers astounded by his authority and actions. On making land in the region of Gennesaret, Jesus is thronged by crowds. He travels throughout that region teaching and healing the sick.

To ponder! Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Rom.12:19).

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Bible Challenge: Day 35

Bible Reading: Genesis 35 & Mark 7

Genesis 35 begins with God’s command to Jacob to move to Bethel with his family. This was the place where he had encountered God when he had fled from his brother, Esau. There he is to settle and build an altar to worship the LORD. Jacob obeys God but prior to setting off, he buries the foreign gods (idols) that members of his family had accumulated next to a Terebinth tree close to Shechem. These likely included the idols that Rachel had stolen and hidden from her father. God judged and distracted the surrounding peoples who might have hampered Jacob and his household’s departure. On arriving at Bethel, Jacob and his family worship God. Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, dies shortly thereafter and is buried under an oak tree. God appears to Jacob again reminding him of the significance of his change of name to Israel. God renews his Covenant with Jacob and his progeny. Jacob and his heirs, in turn, are to be faithful and fruitful. Rachel gives birth to Benjamin after a complicated labour and sadly dies shortly afterwards. She is buried on the way to Ephrath which is Bethlehem. Then follows a list of Jacob’s twelves sons. The chapter concludes with Jacob’s reunion with his elderly father, Isaac, at Mamre, and the latter’s death shortly thereafter. He is buried by his sons, Jacob and Esau.

In Mark 7 Jesus is again accosted by Pharisees and Scribes who demand to know why his disciples were failing to keep the religious traditions and rites of their forebears. Their accusation has reference to the ritual washings that were a regular feature of Pharisee piety. Jesus condemns their hypocrisy citing God’s word from the Book of Isaiah. He tells them “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” He points out to his detractors that they placed a higher premium on their traditions than they did on God’s word. Indeed, they made void the word of God by their traditions. And he gives an example to prove his point. He then calls the people to him and explains to them that the cleansing that God requires and works in people by his grace is internal rather than external. Defilement lies within rather than out-with. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Jesus then travels to the land of Tyre and Sidon where a Gentile woman pleads with him to remove an evil spirit and heal her daughter. While Jesus’ earthly ministry was primarily to the lost sheep of the House of Israel (the Jewish people), the Syrophoenician woman’s faith and persistence are rewarded. She returns home to find the demon gone from her child. The chapter ends with Jesus in the region of the Decapolis. A deaf man with a speech impediment is brought to Jesus to be healed. The Lord ‘put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.’ Jesus charges the man and those with him not to proclaim his healing power, but they defiantly and enthusiastically spread the word near and far. And more people marvel at God’s grace in Jesus.

To ponder! ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Ps.119:105).

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Bible Challenge: Day 36

Bible Reading: Genesis 36 & Mark 8

Genesis 36 contains a genealogical record of Esau’s descendants. Jacob’s brother, you will recall, married two Canaanite women and a daughter of Ishmael. With them he fathered five sons and prospered in the land of Canaan. However, after Jacob’s return from Haran with a large household and sizeable flocks of livestock to pasture, familial and territorial considerations compelled Esau to move and settle in the land of Seir which is Edom. There his family grew and flourished. And the remainder of the chapter lists the generations of Esau and their dwelling places. From Esau descended chiefs and kings of Edom.

Mark 8 begins with Jesus having compassion of another great crowd of people who were hungry having been with him three days. Jesus takes seven loaves and a few fishes and feeds a multitude numbering four thousand. All ate and were satisfied and seven baskets full were left over. Again, symbolising the abundance of grace in Christ for Gentiles, as well as Jews. Afterwards, Jesus and his disciples travel to the region of Dalmanutha. There he is confronted by argumentative Pharisees who demand a sign from heaven from him. The Lord tells them that no such sign would be given to that generation. On the other side of the Sea of Galilee, he tells his disciples to beware of the leaven (sin) of the Pharisees and Herodians. And he asks then if they understood the significance of the twelve and seven baskets full of bread and fish left over after he had fed the five thousand and four thousand respectively.

At Bethsaida, Jesus heals a blind man. This functions as an acted parable. For Jesus opens the eyes of the understanding of his followers. Jesus is teaching them in word and by example. At Caesarea Philippi in response to his question “Who do people say that I am?”, Peter professes ‘you are the Christ.’ ‘Christ’ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Messiah’, having reference to God’s appointed and anointed Prophet, Priest, and King foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus tells him to keep this knowledge to himself for now and then proceeds to inform his followers that the Son of Man ‘must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.’ He goes on to rebuke Peter for contradicting him. The chapter concludes with Jesus teaching a crowd that included his disciples. He says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life[ will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.” He warns them that those that are ashamed of him and who reject him, he will similarly reject when he comes in the glory of his Father with his holy angels.

To ponder! Amazing grace, how sweet the sound! That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found. Was blind, but now I see.

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Bible Challenge: Day 37

Bible Reading: Genesis 37 & Mark 9

The primary focus of Genesis 37 is Jacob’s youngest son, Joseph. We are taught that Jacob loved him best and showed him favouritism. He presented him with a robe of many colours to the envy of his other sons. Joseph in turn was aloof and supercilious which he displayed in the bad report he gave to his father of his stepbrothers. Such behaviour only added to their resentment of him. Joseph had a dream in which their sheaves bowed down to his one. He then shared it with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, who understanding the symbolism therein that they should serve him were indignant. He then had another dream in which the sun, moon, and stars similarly bowed before him. Again, he shared it with his father and brothers who understood what the figurative language meant. Consequently, his father rebuked him. ‘Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?”’ Moreover, his brothers’ jealousy and resentment intensified. Later Joseph is sent by Jacob to seek out his brothers who were pasturing the flocks near Shechem. He finally locates them at Dothan. When his brothers saw him approaching, they conspired to kill him, but Reuben’s intervention saved Joseph’s life. Instead, they stripped him of his multi-coloured robe and threw him into a pit. Just then a caravan of Ishmaelites passed by on their way to Egypt with gum, balm, and myrrh to trade. Judah persuaded his brothers to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites from whom they received 20 shekels of silver in return. They took Joseph to Egypt. Joseph’s brothers returned to their father with Joseph’s bloodied robe and cruelly tell Jacob that Joseph was devoured by a wild animal. Jacob is grief-stricken and inconsolable. Meanwhile, the Midianites have sold Joseph to Potiphar who was a leading officer in Pharaoh’s army.

Mark 9 begins with the Transfiguration of Jesus. The Lord takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain and there he reveals his divine glory. Moses and Elijah appear before him, representing the Law and the Prophets which point to Christ. And the Father’s voice is heard from the glory cloud “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Afterwards, Jesus commands his apostles to tell no one what they had seen and heard until after his death and resurrection. He then answers a question about an Old Testament prophecy about the coming of Elijah, who would prepare the way for Messiah. Jesus explains that he did come, referring to John the Baptist. Jesus then admonishes his followers for their lack of faith after they had failed to cast out an unclean spirit from a child.

He tells them, ‘All things are possible for one who believes.” At that the father of the child cries out in desperation, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Jesus, compassionately, casts out the evil spirit and presents the boy healed and whole to his father. He tells his disciples that such evil spirits can only be banished by prayer, reminding them of their dependency on God’s grace and power.

Jesus then again foretells his betrayal, death, and resurrection. On returning to Capernaum, Jesus asks his disciples what they had been arguing about on the road. Knowing that they had been disputing over who was the greatest, Jesus ends their silence by teaching them an important lesson about greatness in his kingdom. He tells them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” He then takes a child and says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” He makes clear that the Christian call is to humble, faithful, and loving service. Answering the Apostle John who had been disturbed to see and hear a man casting our demons in Jesus’ name, Jesus tells him that those who are not against him are for him. The chapter concludes with the Lord Jesus warning his followers of the seriousness of sin and its grave consequences. He tells them to be salt of the earth and to be at peace with one another.

To ponder! Prayer is impotence crying out to Omnipotence.

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Bible Challenge: Day 38

Bible Reading: Genesis 38 & Mark 10

Genesis 38 tells the salacious story of Judah and Tamar and reads something like a Hollywood Movie script. Judah fathered three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. When Er reached adulthood, Judah chose Tamar as a suitable wife for his eldest son. Er, however, was wicked and the LORD put him to death. We are not expressly told that he had mistreated Tamar, but it seems likely given the judgement that came upon him. She was childless when she became a widow. Therefore, Judah told Onan, “Go in to your brother's wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” This ancient tradition known as Levirate Marriage was later enshrined in Jewish Law (Deut. 25:5-10). It was designed to protect inheritance rights and provide for widows. Onan understanding that the child would not be his in a legal sense deceived Tamar and his father. Consequently, the LORD also put him to death. Judah therefore tells Tamar to return to her father’s house and wait for his youngest son, Shelah, to come of age. Given the deaths of his two other sons, Judah, however, was naturally reluctant to recall Tamar when Shelah reached the age of maturity.

Sometime after Judah’s wife died, he travelled with his friend, Hirah, the Adullamite, to Timnah, to shear his sheep. Tamar, smarting over the fact the Shelah had grown up but had not given his hand to her in marriage, exchanged her widow’s garments for a veil and awaited Judah at the entrance to Enaim which was on route to Timnah. Judah, thinking she a prostitute solicited sex from her. She agreed for the cost of a young goat but insisted that Judah should pledge his signet, cord, and staff until she received payment. Tamar thereby conceived a child by Judah. When Judah sends his friend back to Enaim with the young goat to exchange for his pledge, he returns with the news that there was no prostitute there. They agree to keep the matter secret to save face. Three months later Judah discovers that Tamar is pregnant. He is outraged and demands that she be put to death for immorality. Tamar, however, sends Judah’s signet, cord, and staff back to him and asks that he identify them. Judah is exposed and ashamed and declares, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” Tamar’s life is spared. She has twin boys named Perez and Zerah who struggled together to be born first. From the former’s line will come David and eventually his son and Lord.

Mark 10 begins with the Lord Jesus in the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. Crowds have gathered and some Pharisees seeking to discredit him ask if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus directs them to the Law of Moses and points out that at the beginning God meant marriage for life. ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’’ Divorce he insists, is evidence of hardness of heart. It is a consequence of the Fall and the fallen nature and is therefore permitted in exceptional circumstances. Jesus next rebukes his disciples for preventing parents from bringing their children to him to bless. “To such”, he says, “belong the Kingdom of God”. Then comes a rich young man wanting to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. He did not understand that salvation is of grace. Jesus points him to the Law but exposes thereby his love of money. He loved his wealth and the possessions, prestige, and power that came with it more than God. Disheartened, he goes on his way sorrowful. And Jesus teaches his followers how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of God because no one can perfectly and perpetually keep the Law (except One!). “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Salvation is of grace. It is a gift from God in Jesus, the Christ. The Lord Jesus goes on to teach his disciples that they will nevertheless be rewarded for their faith and faithfulness. “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Jesus then for the third time foretells his betrayal, passion, death, and resurrection. James and John ask to sit at his side in his coming kingdom. Jesus points out that it is not in his gift but the Father’s. And goes on to remind them that ‘whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”’ The chapter concludes with Jesus healing a blind beggar called Bartimaeus at Jericho, who persevered by faith in calling upon Jesus to open his eyes. Jesus says, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And he immediately recovered his sight.

To ponder! Following Jesus necessitates loving service to others.

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Bible Challenge: Day 39

Bible Reading: Genesis 39 & Mark 11

Genesis 39 tells the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. You will recall that Joseph had been sold by his brothers to the Ishmaelmites, who in turn had sold him to Potiphar, who was a prominent officer in Pharaoh’s army. The LORD was with Joseph who showed himself to be conscientious, trustworthy, and productive in the service of his new master. Consequently, in time, he was entrusted with the oversight of Potiphar’s household. The LORD blessed him and his labours and as result all prospered. Potiphar’s wife, however, was attracted to Joseph and made advances towards him, urging him to lie with her. Joseph’s refusal only intensified her desire for him. But Joseph would not break Potiphar’s trust. He told her, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Nevertheless, on an occasion when they were alone in the house, Potiphar’s wife made a physical advance. Joseph fled leaving her holding his garment. Incensed that Joseph had rebutted her, she cried out and made false accusations of attempted rape against Joseph. Potiphar was enraged and had Joseph incarcerated. ‘But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.’

Mark 11 begins with Jesus’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Preparations are made and Jesus rides into the capital on the first day of the week sitting upon a colt. Herein marks the beginning of Holy Week. Here is the Servant King who came to serve and give his life a ransom for many. Crowds lines the road up to the Holy City. Many lay their cloaks on the road in front of him in an act of homage, while others wave palm branches, a symbol of national identity and triumph. Here is the King of the Jews who is no other than the King of kings, and Lord of lords. The crowds adoringly shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus enters the city and its Temple. Here is the God-man in their midst! The following day coming from Bethany, Jesus curses a fruitless fig-tree, a symbol of contemporary Israel. He cleanses the Temple declaring, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” Later, while passing the fig tree that he had cursed and seeing that it had withered, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach his disciples about the importance of faith, prayer, and forgiveness. On returning to the Temple, Jesus is confronted by the religious rulers who demand to know on whose authority he had so spoken and acted. Jesus confounds them however by asking his own question. “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” Their resultant silence exposes their duplicitous and calculating nature. Jesus leaves without answering their question.

To ponder! “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the LORD. He is with you in giving judgment. 7 Now then, let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the LORD our God, or partiality or taking bribes.” (2Chron.19:6-7).

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Bible Challenge: Day 40

Bible Reading: Genesis 40 & Mark 12

Genesis 40 begins with Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker being imprisoned for an offence against the ruler of Egypt. The captain of the guard appoints Joseph to attend them while in his custody. One morning Joseph finds both men disheartened and enquires as to why they were downcast. Both confide to having had a dream, but they did not understand its meaning and there was no interpreter at hand to explain it to them. Joseph, confident that God would grant him understanding of the dreams, said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” And so firstly, Joseph interprets the cupbearer’s dream explaining that he would be released from confinement back into Pharoah’s service within three days. Joseph therefore asks the cupbearer to recommend him to Pharaoh’s and draw the ruler’s attention to the miscarriage of justice that has led to Joseph’s imprisonment. The chief baker then similarly asks Joseph to interpret his dream also. Joseph tells him that unlike the cupbearer, he will be hanged within three days and birds will feast on his flesh. On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, the cupbearer was restored to favour as Joseph had rightly said. And the baker was executed by hanging. The chapter concludes ‘Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.’

Mark 12 begins with Jesus’ condemnation of the religious authorities in the Parable of the Tenants. He exposes their hypocrisy and murderous intent. Quoting Psalm 118, Jesus tells them that ‘the stone the builders rejected’, referring to himself, ‘has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes.’ The rulers rightly perceive that Jesus is speaking of them but afraid of the people, they depart to plot his destruction. Then Pharisees and Herodians are sent to entrap him. They ask him ‘if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not.’ Jesus, once again reveals their duplicity and leaves them dumbfounded by his response. Showing them a coin, he says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” Then come the Sadducees (the priestly party) determined to gain kudos for discrediting him. They ask a hyperbolic question on the theme of the resurrection which they themselves rejected. Jesus tells them that they neither know the scriptures, nor the power of God. He assured them that God was not the God of the dead but of the living. Responding to a question from a scribe as to which is the most important commandment, Jesus cites the Shema (Deut.6:4) and summarises the two tables of the Moral Law encapsulated in the Ten Commandments. We are to love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves. The questioner agrees, and Jesus tells him that he is not far from the kingdom of God. Jesus moves on to teach in the Temple, quoting Psalm 110, he implicitly applies it to himself. He was David’s son and Lord. Additionally, he warns the people to beware of the pretentiousness, ambition, and avarice of the scribes. The chapter concludes with Jesus sitting opposite the treasury and contrasting the sacrificial giving of a poor widow with many rich people.

To ponder! What does it mean to love God?

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Bible Challenge: Day 41

Bible Reading: Genesis 41 & Mark 13

Genesis 41 records Joseph’s release from incarceration and his meteoric rise to prominence and power in Egypt. The chapter begins with Pharaoh, disturbed and dispirited by two dreams that he did not understand. He summoned his magicians and sages, but none of them could interpret his dreams. His chief cupbearer, however, recalled how Joseph, the young Hebrew, had accurately interpreted his dream and the dream of the chief baker while they were in custody two years back. And so, Joseph, shaved, washed, and re-clothed was called and presented to Pharaoh. Joseph revealed the meaning of the ruler’s dreams, telling him that God was forewarning him what he was about to do. Joseph explained that “There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 30 but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe.” Joseph therefore advised Pharaoh to set aside provision in the years of plenty to alleviate the shortages and danger of starvation during the famine. He suggested that Pharaoh appoint a ‘discerning and wise man’ and regional overseers to implement and manage the operation. Consequently, Pharaoh chooses Joseph and gives him authority over all in his kingdom. The symbols of office, power, and prestige are conferred upon Joseph by Pharaoh, who also provided Joseph with a wife in Asenath, the daughter of his High Priest. Joseph at thirty years of age therefore finds himself Lord of all Egypt, and in the prime of life. His marriage is blessed with two children, whom he named Manasseh and Ephraim. During the years of plenty, Joseph laid up stores for the coming famine. So that when it hit as foretold the people were dependent upon Joseph for relief.

Mark 13 mirrors Matthew 24 and foretells the coming destruction of the Temple, and Jerusalem, and the wicked people of that generation. Jesus tells his disciples that not one of the great blocks of stone that comprised the Temple’s outer walls would be left standing upon another. Peter, James, John, and Andrew ask him privately when this grave judgement will fall, and he warns them against being led astray and urges them to keep alert. He tells them that they will face hardships and hatred for Love’s sake but assures them that if they persevere, they will be saved. When they see the abomination of desolation [Roman ensign?] standing in the Holy Place they are to flee to the mountains for safety. Jesus then explains in figurative or apocalyptic language that seismic change is coming when the Son of Man appears on the clouds with great power and glory. He will send out his angels (messengers) to gather in his people. Using the metaphor of a fig tree, he says, ‘Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.’ The chapter ends with the Lord telling his followers that no one knows the exact day and hour but the Father. Therefore, they must “Be on guard, [and] keep awake.”

To ponder! I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth (Ps.121:1-2).

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Bible Challenge: Day 42

Bible Reading: Genesis 42 & Mark 14

In Genesis 42 we read that the famine Joseph had foretold for Egypt had also badly impacted the land of Canaan. Jacob therefore hearing that there was grain available for sale in Egypt sends ten of his sons to purchase some to avert starvation. He keeps Benjamin, his youngest son, Joseph’s brother, at home with him, fearful that harm might befall him as it did Joseph. Jacob’s sons appear before Joseph who is governor of all Egypt and in charge of the purchase and distribution of foods. He immediately recognises them and remembers his dream that they would bow before him. They did not, however recognise him. And so, Joseph plays a ruse on his desperate brothers who had sold him into slavery. He accuses them of being enemy spies and puts them to the test. One of the brothers must go home and return with Benjamin. The rest are placed in custody for three days. On the third day Joseph tells them: ‘“Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, 20 and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.”’ Burdened with guilt for what they had done to Joseph, Reuben interjects that they were being punished for their wicked action years earlier in their betrayal of their brother. Joseph hearing them speak weeps but turns away to conceal his emotion. Simeon is confined and the others return to the Land of Promise with grain. On reaching their lodging place on route home, one of the brothers discovers the money used to purchase the grain in one of the sacks where the animal fodder was kept. They fear God’s judgement. On returning home they tell Jacob everything but despite Reuben’s pleas, Jacob is reluctant to let Benjamin return to Egypt with them.

Mark 14 begins two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The religious authorities are conspiring how they might capture and kill Jesus. At Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem, in the home of Simon the former leper, a woman generously and lovingly anoints Jesus for his forthcoming death and burial. Meanwhile, Judas Iscariot was bribed by the religious rulers to betray Jesus. Preparation has been made for Jesus to share his final Passover meal with his disciples in an Upper Room in Jerusalem. That evening at the Passover, Jesus informs his close followers that one of them will betray him and that there will be grave consequences for that man. He then instituted the Lord’s Supper as a perpetual sign and seal of God’s grace to his people through the body and blood (person and sacrificial work) of Christ. After singing a psalm (113-118 were sang at the Passover Feast), Jesus foretells his disciples fearful flight and Peter’s denial. From the Upper Room they travel the short distance to Gethsemane where Jesus asks his followers to watch and pray. He prays “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” His disciples fail to watch and pray, and he tells them to beware for ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’. His hour has arrived. Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus with a kiss and the armed Temple Guard that he has brought with him violently seize Jesus. The disciples flee as foretold. Jesus is taken to the High Priest’s residence where the religious authorities have gathered to condemn him. Peter follows from a distance and waits in the courtyard warming himself by a fire. False accusations are made against Jesus to no avail. Therefore, clearly infuriated, the High Priest, the chief inquisitor, demands to know, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus gives affirmation and tells them “And you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” He is dramatically condemned for blasphemy and subsequently spat upon and beaten by the religious rulers and their guards. Peter meanwhile denies knowing Jesus three times before the rooster had crowed twice just as Jesus had prophesied. He breaks down and weeps.

To ponder! For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes (1Cor.11:26).

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Bible Challenge: Day 43

Bible Reading: Genesis 43 & Mark 15

Genesis 43 records the reunion of Joseph and his fbrothers. The famine was severe throughout Canaan. And after the grain supplies purchased from Joseph, whom they had not recognised, were consumed, Jacob again commands his sons to go back to Egypt for further rations. Judah points out that they cannot return without also taking Benjamin with them as the Egyptian Governor (Joseph) had insisted. Judah makes a pledge for Benjamin’s safety. Jacob reluctantly relents and tells his sons to take gifts to the Governor with double the money so they could return the sum found in the animal’s fodder sack. Fearing the worst, he hoped in God’s mercy. When they arrived in Egypt, Joseph called his steward to prepare a feast and sent an invitation to his brothers to join him at his home. They, however, anxious, and afraid, approached tentatively, thinking the Governor was going to enslave them and acquisition their possessions. Joseph’s steward, on the contrary, cuts short their apologies and says, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Simeon was then restored to them, and they were shown hospitality while they awaited the Governor’s entrance. When Joseph arrived, they presented their gifts to him and bowed before him in an act of homage. Joseph enquires after their father and is compelled to leave the room to conceal his emotions when seeing his younger brother, Benjamin. Food was then served according to Egyptian custom. Joseph shares his table with his brothers and showed favouritism to Benjamin. Nevertheless, all drank and were merry.

Mark 15 begins with Jesus being handed over to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, by the religious authorities to be sentenced to death. Pilate recognises Jesus’ innocence and is therefore amazed at his silence. Unknown to Pilate, Jesus is therein fulfilling Isaiah 53:7, ‘He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.’ The Governor nevertheless seeking to spare Jesus, takes advantage of an annual custom, in offering to release a prisoner at the Feast. He gives the crowd the choice of Jesus or Barabbas, a notorious criminal. They choose the latter and prompted by the religious authorities cry out for Pilate to crucify Jesus. He is therefore scourged and led away to be crucified. Jesus is mocked and beaten on the way to his crucifixion. Due to the toll of heavy beatings and resultant blood loss from the scourging, Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry Jesus’s cross to Golgotha. He is crucified at the time of the morning sacrifice between two criminals. And a sign is fixed above his head which reads, ‘The King of the Jews.’ He is ridiculed and reviled by his enemies observing the macabre scene. At 12 noon darkness descends. And at 3pm, the time of the evening sacrifice, Jesus echoing the words of Psalm 22 cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” as he bears the sin of the world. Afterwards he breathes his last and the centurion standing nearby declares, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Woman disciples who had followed him from Galilee observe his crucifixion and burial. Joseph of Arimathea courageously secures permission from Pilate to bury Jesus’ body. He takes Jesus down from the cross, wraps his body in a new linen shroud, and lays him in a new tomb. He rolls a stone to seal the entrance to the tomb. The chapter concludes with Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joseph, watching these final duties.

To ponder! And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him (Mk.15:17).

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Bible Challenge: Day 44

Bible Reading: Genesis 44 & Mark 16

In Genesis 44 Joseph tricks and tests his brothers. His goal is to be reunited not only with them but with his father also. Therefore, he instructs his steward to plant the money that his brothers had used to pay for new supplies of grain back in their refilled grain sacks. And he further orders a silver cup to be planted in Benjamin’s grain sack. Next morning as the brothers make for home, they are stopped and searched by Joseph’s head steward, who accuses them of repaying evil for good. The search not surprisingly uncovers the money, and additionally the cup is found in the youngest brother’s possession. Grasping the seriousness of the situation, Judah pleads for the life of Benjamin for the sake of his father, Jacob. He points out that his failure to return home with Benjamin would likely result in his father’s death due to grief. Judah therefore supplicates Joseph’s high-ranking steward, “Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”

Mark 16 begins with the glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the tomb. On the first day of the week (hence the Lord’s Day), Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Salome went to the tomb only to find the stone rolled back and a heavenly messenger awaiting them. He tells them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” Alarmed and astonished, the women flee. Mary Magdalene (and the other Mary) encounters the Risen Jesus and immediately afterwards runs to Peter and the other apostles to share the amazingly good news. The apostles are unconvinced. Jesus similarly appears to a couple of disciples on the road to Emmaus which account is expanded upon in St Luke’s Gospel as we will read in time. Later Jesus appears to the eleven apostles who are sharing a meal and rebukes them for their unbelief and hardness of heart. He then gives them the Great Commission. “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Signs of his presence and power will follow among his people. These are given to affirm his authority and the authenticity of the Good News proclaimed in his name. Afterward, the Lord Jesus ascends into heaven where he sits at the right hand of God, the Father.

To ponder! All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Mt.28:18). What do Jesus’ words mean to you?

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Bible Challenge: Day 45

Bible Reading: Genesis 45 & Luke 1

In Genesis 45 Joseph finally reveals his true identity to his brothers. He weeps loudly as he does so. His brothers’ initial reaction is one of dumbstruck dismay. Joseph however swiftly allays any fears of repercussions for their betrayal years earlier. He tells them, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph then urges them to return home and tell their father, “Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’” Joseph embraces Benjamin and kisses him and then all the brothers in turn. When Pharaoh is informed, he responds positively with rich provision of foodstuffs, money, and livestock for Joseph’s family. The brothers return home and share the good news with their father, Jacob. He is initially doubtful but is convinced by their enthusiasm and the gifts they have brought home. “It is enough”, he says, “Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”

Luke 1 begins with a dedication to Theophilus which name literally means ‘friend of God’. Then follows the birth narratives of John the Baptist, the forerunner, and Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. The angel Gabriel reveals to Zechariah, a priest, that his prayers have been heard and his wife Elizabeth will conceive and bear a child, who will be great before the Lord. “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Six months later Gabriel similarly appears to the Virgin Mary at Nazareth. She was engaged to Joseph who was a descendent of King David. He tells her “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.” She will supernaturally conceive and bear a son who is to be called Jesus, meaning ‘God saves’, for he will save his people from their sins. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” The angel allays the Virgin’s bewilderment by assuring her that she will miraculously conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary, the second Eve, responds, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

There follows the joyous scene of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth her cousin. Elizabeth moved by the Spirit declares, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Then follows Mary’s song, the Magnificat, called after her words, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” Three months later John (the Baptist) is born to Elizabeth and is circumcised and named by his father Zechariah in obedience to God’s command. Thereafter, Zechariah regains his speech and there follows his song or prophecy, referred to as the Benedictus. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” And looking at his son, he adds, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways”. The chapter ends by informing the reader that Zechariah’s son, John, grew strong, both physically and spiritually.

To ponder! And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom.8:28).

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Bible Challenge: Day 46

Bible Reading: Genesis 46 & Luke 2

In Genesis 46 Jacob (Israel) travels from Canaan to settle in Egypt with all his household, including his children and their children and all their possessions. He stops on route at Beersheba to worship the LORD, and God offers his reassurance. “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. 4 I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph's hand shall close your eyes.” There follows a list of names of Jacob’s descendants who settled with him in Egypt. They numbered seventy in total excluding his son’s wives. The reminder of the chapter records Joseph’s resultant emotional reunion with his father, Jacob, at Goshen. Jacob says to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” Joseph then instructs his brothers and wider family that when Pharaoh calls them and asks them what their occupation is they are to reply that they are keepers of livestock rather than shepherds for every shepherd is an “abomination to the Egyptians”.

Luke 2 records the birth narrative of Jesus. He is born at Bethlehem as foretold in the Old Testament scriptures. He is wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger because there was no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph. An angel appears to shepherds watching their flocks by night and reveals the good news of great joy that is for all people. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” A heavenly choir praise God singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” The shepherds make their way to Bethlehem and locate the baby Jesus, with his mother, Mary, and Joseph. They return to their flocks glorifying and praising God for what they had been so privileged to see and hear. On the eighth day, Jesus was circumcised and so named. At the time of purification according to the Law, Jesus was presented at the Temple. Sacrifice was made in thanksgiving to God. Simeon, an elderly priest, who had longed for this day, reverently declared, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” While Mary and Joseph marvelled in response, Simeon blessed them and further foretold, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” An aged prophetess, called Anna, who regularly worshipped at the Temple gives thanks to God for Jesus and proclaims him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. The family return home to Nazareth, where Jesus grew and become strong. Filled with wisdom, the favour of God was upon him. The chapter concludes with the story of Jesus having attained the age of twelve, and accompanying his family to the Temple to commemorate and celebrate the Feast of the Passover. On the return journey it is discovered that Jesus is missing. His family return to find him in his Father’s House (the Temple) astounding the teachers of the Law with his theological understanding and knowledge. The final verse simply states, ‘And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man.’

To ponder! ‘But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.’ Should we not do likewise?

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Bible Challenge: Day 47

Bible Reading: Genesis 47 & Luke 3

In Genesis 47 Joseph informs Pharaoh that Israel and his dependents and descendants had now arrived in Goshen. Pharaoh summons five of Joseph’s brothers before him and reaffirms his promise of granting them the best land to live and work. Pharaoh grants them charge of his livestock. Then Joseph presents his father Jacob to Pharaoh. Afterwards he settles his father and family in the land of Rameses and provides them with food. We then read of how the famine had exerted a heavy toll on the people of the land. Having exhausted their finances on purchasing food from Joseph, they then were compelled to exchange their livestock for food. And after the animals were gone and there was no end of the famine, they were forced to surrender their landholdings and their very freedom, becoming servants to Pharoah and the Egyptian State. Only the priesthood was exempt because it enjoyed the patronage of Pharaoh. As a result, the people pledged to give one fifth of the produce of their lands to Pharaoh in perpetuity. Israel, nevertheless, stayed in Goshen. ‘And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. 28 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years.’ The chapter concludes with Jacob obtaining from Joseph his promise to bury his father’s bodily remains in the land of promise rather than Egypt after he died.

Luke 3 records the preparatory ministry of John the Baptist who at God’s appointed time ‘went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’ He did so in fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecy found in the Book of Isaiah. He was “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

He urged the people to repent and be baptised. He urged them to bear fruit in keeping with their profession of faith, and of the consequences of their failure to do so. He urged the people to be holy, honourable, and honest. He made clear that he was not the Christ whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. Messiah was coming and would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John, who was the herald and forerunner, baptised Jesus in the River Jordan to mark the onset of our Lord’s earthly ministry. He saw the Spirit descend upon him in the form of a dove, a symbol of peace, pointing to the Prince of Peace, who would make peace through the blood of his cross. And he heard the voice of the Father from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” John was soon afterwards imprisoned for reproving Herod the Tetrarch’s for his adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife, Herodias, and for other wicked acts. We are informed that Jesus was around thirty years of age when he began his earthly ministry. There follows the legal genealogy of Jesus via Joseph down to Adam, the son of God.

To ponder! “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” (Hos.12:6).

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Bible Challenge: Day 48

Bible Reading: Genesis 48 & Luke 4

In Genesis 48 Joseph presents his two sons to his dying father, Jacob, to bless. Both Manasseh and Ephraim were born in Egypt, but they too are heirs of the covenant promises of God. Jacob is weak and his sight is now impaired. Joseph therefore brings his two sons forward to his father at his request. Jacob (Israel) expresses his thankfulness to God. He says, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” Joseph bows before God and his father in a show of respect and then presents his sons for his father to lay hands on and bless. Israel however crosses his hands to give the greater blessing to Ephraim, the younger. He blesses them before Joseph with the words, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” In the process, Joseph notices that his father has placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head and seeks to reverse the order, but Israel assures him, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.”

He then explains that he is about to die and reassures Joseph that God is with him and will bring him back to the land of promise. Israel bequeaths land to Joseph that he had won from the Amorites.

Luke 4 begins with the Temptation of Jesus. He is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to confront and defeat the Evil One at the outset of his earthly ministry. Here is the Second Adam who will remain faithful to God, his word, and covenant, unlike the first Adam. He resists the Devil’s lures of prestige, power, and possession by remaining faithful to his Father and his mission. His cross must come before his crown and glory. Jesus then returns in the power of the Spirit to the region of Galilee where he teaches in the synagogues. At Nazareth, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 and declares, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The congregation marvel at his teaching. Jesus answers their questions and responds to their scepticism, born of familiarity, by recourse to scriptural examples. They force him from the synagogue, however, and attempt to throw him off a cliff. Jesus then travels to Capernaum where on the Sabbath Day he amazed the people with his teaching in the synagogue there. He also heals a demon-possessed man. Notably, the evil spirit understands that he is the ‘Holy One of God’. On returning to Simon Peter’s home, he discovers Simon’s mother-in-law sick and heals her. When the Sabbath ends crowds with sick loved ones gather outside the house. And Jesus heals them. He silences the evil spirits who declared you are ‘the Son of God’. Before dawn Jesus sought a quiet place to pray. The chapter concludes with Jesus in the region of Judea where he preaches good news in the synagogues.

To ponder! ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding’ (Pro.9:10).

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Bible Challenge: Day 49

Bible Reading: Genesis 49 & Luke 5

Genesis 49 provides an account of Jacob gathering his twelve sons to his death bed to bless them before he breathes his last. Reuben, the eldest, he describes as preeminent in dignity and power but as unstable as water. Simeon and Levi will be divided and scattered in Israel on account of their cruelty, violence, and murder. On the contrary, ‘the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.’ Zebulun shall settle by the sea and be a haven for sailors. Issachar will carry burdens and be strong. Dan shall judge the people. Gad will pursue raiders. Asher shall yield royal delicacies. Naphtali is likened to a wild doe that bears beautiful fawns. Joseph shall be fruitful and agile. God’s rich blessing will be with him. Benjamin is likened to a ravenous wolf. These brothers represent the twelve tribes of Israel, the foundation of a nation that will settle in the Promised Land. After blessing each of his sons in turn, Jacob commands that his bodily remains be buried alongside Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Leah’s in the cave ‘in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place.’ Jacob then breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

Luke 5 begins with Jesus by the lake of Gennesaret where he calls his first disciples to come follow him. Simon, James, and John were fisherman. Jesus demonstrates his power and wisdom to them by filling their empty fishing nets to their amazement. He then bids them follow him to become fishers of men. They leave everything to follow him as disciples who will become apostles and founding fathers of the New Testament church. Sometime afterward Jesus heals a leper who cried to him, ‘“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.’ News spread of Jesus’ miraculous power and his popularity grew to the extent that he had to seek out desolate places to pray. Then follows Luke’s account of Jesus’ healing the paralytic man whose friends had lowered him to Jesus through the roof because they could not gain access to the house on account of the throng. ‘And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”’ As a result, some scribes and Pharisees accuse Jesus of blasphemy. For only God can forgive sins! Jesus responds by declaring that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. Jesus then effectually calls Levi (Matthew), a tax collector to follow him. Levi throws a feast in celebration at which Pharisees and scribes are present. They complain that Jesus and his disciples are eating and drinking with sinners. Jesus tells them however that “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” The chapter concludes with Jesus explaining why it was inappropriate for his disciples to fast like others did while he was with them.

To ponder! these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (Jn.20:31).

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Bible Challenge: Day 50

Bible Reading: Genesis 50 & Luke 6

Genesis 50 begins with Joseph’s mourning his father’s death. He orders Jacob’s body to be embalmed which process took forty days. The Egyptians also mourned in a show of respect for Joseph and his father. Afterward, Joseph gained permission from Pharaoh to take Jacob’s bodily remains back to Canaan to be buried there as he had promised his father. Therefore, Joseph, his brothers, and adult members of their household, accompanied by Egyptian dignitaries, officials, and servants travelled to Mamre in a sizeable funeral procession. In keeping with custom, they made great lamentation. The Canaanites hearing their mourning at Atad beyond Jordan, renamed the place as a memorial. After the burial of Jacob with his fathers, all returned to Egypt. Fearing now that their father was dead that Joseph would exact his revenge on them for selling him into slavery many years earlier, they concocted a story. They claimed that their father had left a message prior to his death pleading that Joseph might forgive their transgression. Therefore, his brothers bowed before him and sought his mercy. In response, Joseph wept and reassured them. “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” The chapter concludes with Joseph’s death in Egypt at the age of 110. He lived to see Ephraim’s children to the third generation and the children of Machir, the son of Manasseh be counted as his own. Joseph informed his brothers that God would resettle them in the Promised Land. And he made them pledge to transfer his remains from Egypt when that day arrived. Joseph’s body was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Luke 6 begins with Pharisees questioning Jesus over the legality of his disciples’ plucking ears of corn on the Sabbath Day. Jesus corrects their erroneous assumptions by recourse to the scriptures. He furthermore tells them that “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” On another Sabbath, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand in a synagogue to the consternation and fury of his religious detractors. Afterward, Jesus ascends a mountain and prays before calling his disciples to him. He chooses twelves, whom he names apostles. On descending the mountain to a level place, Jesus them instructs his followers and a great crowd that had gathered before him in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins with four beatitudes, followed by four woes. He then instructs his people to love their enemies and do good to all. He tells them to “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” He then goes on to teach them about judging others. They are not to condemn others but be willing to forgive. They are to avoid hypocrisy by repenting rather than scolding others for their infractions. Jesus says that a “good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil”. The chapter concludes with Jesus likening the person who hears and heeds his word to someone who builds his house on a solid foundation. Jesus is the Rock on which we build for stability, security, and strength.

To ponder! This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him (Ps.18:30).

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Bible Challenge: Day 51

Bible Reading: Exodus 1 & Luke 7

The Book of Exodus begins by recording the names of Israel’s sons that settled in Egypt with their families. They totalled 70 in number and from them the people of Israel ‘were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.’ In time however a new king and regime began to raise concerns about the Israelites loyalty to the Egyptian State. They feared that in the event of war Israel’s number and prosperity could be turned against them. So, Pharaoh ordered taskmasters to afflict the Israelites with heavy burdens. And in time Hebrew forced labour built the store cities of Pithom and Raamses. And yet the children of Israel continued to flourish, and so Pharaoh ruthlessly made them slaves, appointing them to hard service with mortar and brick. He then commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all male Israelite babies, but those women they feared God more than man and defied the royal diktat. And the descendants of Jacob continued to multiply and thrive. Finally, exasperated by the midwives’ failure to execute his order and their resultant excuse, Pharaoh commanded all the people to cast every male child born to the Hebrews into the River Nile but spare their daughters.

Luke 7 begins with Jesus healing the servant of a centurion. The officer who was known for his integrity and generosity in funding the building of a local synagogue sent elders of the Jews to supplicate Jesus. As Jesus approached his home, the centurion sent friends to say to the Lord, “just say the word and let my servant be healed.” Jesus marvelled at his response and told a crowd that had gathered, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent to Jesus returned to the house, they found the servant healed. Next, at Nain, Jesus restored to life the son of a poor widow who had died and whose body was being carried to the place of burial. Jesus touched the dead son and said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And he did so. ‘Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”’ And news, unsurprisingly, spread near and far. Then messengers came from John the Baptist seeking reassurance that Jesus was God’s Christ, the Messiah prophesied, whom John preceded to prepare the way. Jesus tells them to go back to John and tell him: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Afterward, Jesus addresses a crowd about the ministry of John. And declares that John was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets and yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than him. He condemned the fickleness of that generation that criticized and scolded John for his austerity and yet also Jesus for his generosity and willingness to sit and drink with tax collectors and sinners. Later at the home of a Pharisee, a woman described as a sinner appeared as the company were dining together and taking perfumed ointment, she anointed Jesus with it while weeping and kissing his feet in an act of devotion to the consternation of the Pharisees present. Jesus uses her extravagant gesture to teach Simon an important lesson about forgiveness and indebtedness, and about gratitude for grace. Jesus tells the woman “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Prompting those present to ask among themselves “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”

To ponder! Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph.4:32).

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Bible Challenge: Day 52

Bible Reading: Exodus 2 & Luke 8

Exodus 2 begins with the birth of Moses who was of the tribe of Levi. When he was born, his mother hid him from harm but after this was no longer possible, she crafted a basket, made it waterproof, and laid baby Moses in it and placed him among the rushes at the side of the Nile. Moses’ older sister was posted to observe her younger brother. Pharaoh’s daughter found the child and took pity upon him. Through the intervention of Moses’ sister, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted the child and unknowingly employed Moses’ mother to raise him. ‘When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” When Moses became a young man, one day he came across an Egyptian violently mistreating a Hebrew slave and he intervened killing the Egyptian. Discovering that Pharaoh had heard what Moses had done, he fled Egypt to Midian. There he went to the rescue of a priest’s daughters who had been prevented from watering their flocks by certain shepherds. Moses was consequently shown hospitality by Reuel, the priest in question, and in time married Zipporah, his daughter. Their union bore a son whom Moses named Gershom because “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” Sometime later, when there was a new Pharaoh on the throne of Egypt, the children of Israel cried to God to deliver them from slavery and oppression. And God heard their groaning, and remembered the covenant that he had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. ‘God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.’

Luke 8 begins with Jesus proclaiming the good news of the kingdom in many towns and cities. He attracted huge crowds wherever he went. He was accompanied by the 12 apostles and Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s chief steward, and Susanna, all of whom he had healed of evil spirits and infirmities. Then follows the Parable of the Sower which Jesus taught to a large crowd. Afterwards he explains the purpose of parables and the specific meaning of the Parable of the Sower to his disciples. He makes clear that their responsibility is to sow the seed of the word liberally. His word however will only germinate and bear much fruit in “honest and good hearts.” He then teaches them the importance of using their gifts and graces. Telling them, “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” When informed that his mothers and brothers had arrived, he states that his mother and brothers are those who hear and heed the word of God.

Sometime afterward, on the sea of Galilee, Jesus calms a stormy wind and raging sea in response to the terrified cries of his disciples. Teaching them thereby an invaluable lesson about faith and about his person and power, which is the source and sum of faith. Jesus and his followers sail to the country of the Gerasenes where he drives ‘Legion’ from the Gerasene demoniac, leaving the formerly deranged and ostracised man sitting, clothed and in his right mind. Tragically, the locals more concerned about the herd of pigs that perished in the sea than the poor demon-possessed man restored to newness of life, beg Jesus to depart their region. The man healed however goes throughout the country proclaiming Jesus. The chapter concludes with Jesus restoring to life Jairus’s 12-year-old daughter and healing a woman who had suffered loss of blood for 12 years. The passage begins with Jairus, the ruler of a local synagogue, begging Jesus to heal his daughter who was at the point of death. On route to Jairus’ home the fringe of Jesus’ garment is touched by the woman with the discharge of blood who in desperation reaches out to Jesus in faith for healing. She is healed immediately and identifying her, Jesus says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” At that point, news comes that Jairus’ daughter has died, but Jesus, hearing says, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” And taking Peter, James, and John, along with Jairus and his wife, and ignoring the mourners, Jesus enters the room where the girl lay. Taking her by the hand he commands her to rise. She did so and received some food to the amazement, relief, and delight of her parents and others.

To ponder! What difference can faith make to our lives?

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Bible Challenge: Day 53

Bible Reading: Exodus 3 & Luke 9

Exodus 3 records Moses encounter with God in the burning bush. Moses was shepherding his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian’s flock when he came to Mount Horeb. The Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire amidst a bush. Note the use of the definite article ‘the’ Angel of the Lord. Herein we have a Christophany or Theophany, an appearance of the preincarnate Christ, the Son of God. The bush was burning but it was not consumed. And as Moses gazed into the bush, God called his name, “Moses, Moses”. God tells him, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” God declared that he was the God of Moses’ forebears, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He informed Moses that he had heard the cries of the enslaved children of Israel in Egypt. He knew about their suffering and was about to liberate them and lead them to a good and broad land, one flowing with milk and honey, that was occupied by Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. God tells Moses to go back to Egypt and confront Pharaoh with a view to leading the children of Israel out of slavery. God then reassures Moses, who was naturally hesitant, “I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” God then tells Moses “I AM WHO I AM.” He is the self-existent and self-sufficient God, infinite, eternal, and immutable. God further tells him, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God goes on to give assurance to Moses that the people will hear and heed him but he must tell the elders of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ God explains that Pharaoh will have to be compelled by a mighty hand. And so, God will strike fear into the Egyptian with wonders and judgements after which Pharaoh and his subjects will let the Hebrews leave. They will do so with many possessions.

Luke 9 begins with Jesus sending out his apostles to preach the gospel and heal the sick in his name. They are to take nothing with them but rely on God’s gracious provision. At this time Herod the tetrarch was perplexed to hear news of Jesus’ ministry. He thought that Jesus was John the Baptist, whom he had put to death, risen from the grave. After the return of the apostles from their mission which was preparatory to the Great Commission, they gathered at Bethsaida where Jesus taught the people and healed the sick. He went on to miraculously feed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fishes. All ate and were satisfied and 12 basket-full of broken pieces were leftover reminding the children of Israel that there is plenteous grace in Jesus. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ of God.

Jesus then declares to his disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” He goes on to instruct them “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Furthermore, he assures them that there were those standing before him who will not die before seeing the Kingdom of God come in power. Eight days later, he took Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray. He is transfigured before them displaying his divine glory. Moses and Elijah appear before him representing the Old Testament Law and Prophets that point to Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. A cloud then appears, and the voice of the Father is heard declaring, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” The following day Jesus heals a boy with an unclean spirit that the disciples had failed to exorcise in his absence. Jesus admonishes their lack of faith. And the crowd present marvels at the majesty of God. Jesus afterwards, once again foretells his coming betrayal and death. He teaches his disciples about greatness through service to others. And that those not against him were for him. Rejected by a Samaritan village, he rebukes James and John who want him to call down fiery judgement upon it. The chapter concludes with the Lord reminding his disciples about the cost of following him. “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

To ponder! What place the cross in the Christian life?

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Bible Challenge: Day 54

Bible Reading: Exodus 4 & Luke 10

Exodus 4 begins with God providing further reassurance to Moses who doubted that anyone would believe or listen to him. So, God gave him signs to use to authenticate that God had sent him to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and slavery. God tells him that if they still do not believe, he is to take water from the Nile which will become as blood on the dry ground. Then Moses further tried to excuse himself from God’s call and commission. He says, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” But God again insists that he will be with Moses and teach him what to say. Moses continues to object and pleads that God send someone else. God admonishes Moses but appoints Aaron, Moses’ brother to speak on his behalf the words that God conveys to Moses.

Moses returns home, gains Jethro’s blessing, and sets off with his wife and children for Egypt equipped with the staff that God had given to him. God commands him to tell an intractable Pharaoh ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” On route to Egypt, fearing God’s judgement due to Moses’ failure to apply the sign and seal of God’s covenant to his sons, Zipporah circumcises the boys and touches Moses’ feet with their foreskins in a symbolic act. She says to her husband, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” The chapter concludes with God directing Aaron to go into the wilderness to meet Moses. They embrace and then Moses instructs Aaron in the word of God he was sent to communicate. So, they together go and gather the elders of Israel and Aaron speaks the word that God had delivered to Moses. ‘And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.’

Luke 10 begins with the Lord Jesus sending out 72 disciples who are to go into every town and village in pairs preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing people. They are to rely on God’s grace. Jesus tells them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Jesus then pronounces woe upon Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for their rejection of God’s Christ. The 72 disciples sent out to proclaim Jesus Christ then return rejoicing in their triumph over the forces of darkness and in the power of Jesus’ name. Jesus consequently thanks the Father in the Holy Spirit and declares, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Then follows The Parable of the Good Samaritan which Jesus taught in response to a question by a lawyer about who his neighbour was that he was compelled to love by the Moral Law? Jesus teaches that we are to show compassion and be merciful to all. The chapter concludes with Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary, where Martha was much distracted by serving their house guests. She asks Jesus to order her sister to lend her a hand, but Jesus insists that Mary, her sister, had chosen the better portion for she had prioritised sitting at the feet of Jesus where she listened and learned from his teaching.

To ponder! This is my beloved Son, listen to him (Mk.9:7).

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Bible Challenge: Day 55

Bible Reading: Exodus 5 & Luke 11

Exodus 5 begins with Moses and Aaron confronting Pharaoh on God’s behalf and declaring, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.” Pharoah, however, responds, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Pharaoh furthermore feeling offended at the request, calls his taskmasters and insists that heavier burdens be laid on the children of Israel. They were no longer to be supplied with the straw necessary for making bricks and their output quota was to be increased. Complaints or a failure to comply was to be met with physical beatings. Israelite pleas to Pharaoh fell on deaf ears. And so, frustrated, and fearful they turned on Moses and Aaron because they said, “you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” The chapter concludes with Moses crying out to God, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”

Luke 11 begins with Jesus teaching his disciples to pray in response to a request from the Apostle John. He provides them with a model prayer as a helpful example containing as it does the component parts of prayer which includes, adoration, confession, supplication, and intercession. Jesus tells them, “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” He assures them of the Father’s love and goodness and consequently they will pray in the Holy Spirit. After exorcising an unclean spirit that had rendered a man mute, Jesus’ detractors accuse him of being in league with Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Jesus wisely refutes their wicked accusation and tells them, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus then warns them about the danger of an unclean spirit which if allowed to return after being expelled will makes things worse than at the first. In response to a woman who volubly said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Jesus goes on to condemn that generation as evil and insists that no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” Jesus bids them let their light shine. He teaches that “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.” The chapter ends with Jesus pronouncing a series of woes on the Pharisees and scribes for their hardness of heart, hypocrisy, and hatefulness. The blood of the Old Testament martyrs will be required of that generation. The scribes and Pharisees continue with their attempts to discredit him.

To ponder! “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come” (Lk.11:3).

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For Sunday

Bible Challenge: Day 56

Bible Reading: Exodus 6 & Luke 12

Exodus 6 begins with God’s response to Moses’ lamentation. “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.” God reminds Moses of the covenant he made with his forebears, and that he is God Almighty. He retells Moses that he is conscious of the suffering of the children of Israel and has heard their cries for deliverance. And he will set them free and lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey. God therefore instructs Moses to go tell his people he is about to redeem them with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgement. “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.” Moses thus communicated God’s good news to his fellow Israelites but due to their ‘broken spirit and harsh slavery’ they remained unresponsive. So, God commands a reluctant Moses to go back to Pharaoh and convey his revealed will. There follows the genealogies of Moses and Aaron. The chapter concludes with Moses’ words, “Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips. How will Pharaoh listen to me?”

Luke 12 begins with Jesus warning his disciples of the leaven (sin) of the Pharisees which was hypocrisy. Jesus tells his friends to fear God rather than man. He bids them acknowledge him before others. For those who deny him will themselves be denied before the angels of God. His disciples are to rely upon the Holy Spirit but those that blaspheme against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Jesus then tells a crowd that had gathered to him the Parable of the Rich Fool who had laid up treasures to relax, eat, drink, and be merry, without thought for God and eternity. He then goes on to tell his followers to be anxious for nothing but in faith trust in God for his gracious provision. They are to seek first his kingdom trusting that the other things like food, drink, and shelter, will follow. Jesus says to his people, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And goes on to further say that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Additionally, Jesus instructs his disciples to stay alert for they know not the hour or day of his second coming (Parousia). In response to Peter’s question as to whom this teaching applied, Jesus replies with a parable about a faithful and wise manager and his servants and concludes with the words, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Jesus insists that he has not come to give peace on earth but rather division. For many, sadly, will reject him and rail against the faith. The chapter ends with Jesus’ warning all to rightly interpret the times and make good judgements.

To ponder! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

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Bible Challenge: Day 57

Bible Reading: Exodus 7 & Luke 13

Exodus 7 records Moses and Aaron’s encounter with Pharaoh and the resulting first judgement upon Egypt. The LORD communicated his will to Moses and said, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land.” God however will harden Pharaoh’s heart. And the ruler of Egypt will remain defiant. And so, the LORD will multiply signs and wonders through the instrumentality of Moses and Aaron who are 80 and 83 years of age at this point. God will deliver his people and lead them to the Promised Land by great acts of judgement. When Pharaoh asked them to authenticate that their message was from God, Aaron threw his staff on the ground, and it became a serpent. In response, Pharaoh summoned his wise men, sorcerers, and magicians and they emulated Aaron’s action, but Aaron’s staff consumed their ones, symbolising God’s power over the gods of Egypt. Pharaoh’s heart nevertheless remained hardened, and he refused to listen to God’s word delivered by his servants with signs and wonders. Therefore, in compliance with God’s revelation, Moses confronted Pharaoh in God’s name and struck the River Nile with his staff and it turned to blood, polluting the water supply and killing the fish therein, so that it stank. Pharaoh, nevertheless, remained recalcitrant. The chapter concludes by telling the reader that seven full days passed after the LORD had struck the Nile.

Luke 13 begins with Jesus teaching people that they had to repent or they would perish. Then follows the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree in which Jesus teaches the vital importance of fruitfulness, that is using the gifts and graces received from God faithfully and productively (See John 15:1-11, Galatians 5:22-23). Afterward, while Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath Day, he heals a woman who had suffered from a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was immediately and miraculously healed, and she glorified God. Rather than rejoicing in this gracious and compassionate act, however, the ruler of the synagogue castigated Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Such was the legalistic mindset of the Lord’s enemies. Jesus rebukes the ruler for his ignorance and hypocrisy. And then goes on to liken the kingdom of God to a mustard seed which starts out small and seemingly insignificant but grows into a mighty tree that provides shelter for the birds of the air. Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem teaching in many towns and villages on route. He instructs the children of Israel, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” They must do so by repentance and faith in this time of salvation before the door is locked and judgement comes upon them and they hear the grave words of Jesus, saying, “Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” Nevertheless, Jesus alludes to the incorporation of the Gentiles iinto his kingdom by concluding that “people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

To ponder! Thinking on the respective ages of Moses and Aaron in today’s reading reminds me of the words of the psalmist! ‘The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 13 They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. 14 They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, 15 to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.’ Never let anyone tell you that you are too old to serve the LORD. There is no retirement age in God’s church.

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Bible Challenge: Day 58

Bible Reading: Exodus 8 & Luke 14

Exodus 8 covers the second, third, and fourth plagues unleashed on Egypt because of Pharaoh’s obstinacy and defiance of God. The chapter begins with God telling Moses to return to Pharaoh with God’s command to let his people go that they might serve him. Non-compliance, however, brings a plague of frogs from the Nile as threatened. Pharaoh then summons Moses and Aaron and pleads with them to intercede with the LORD to take away the frogs. Pharaoh promises his obedience if God does so. God did so, but Pharaoh exploiting the respite ‘hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.’

Therefore, the LORD told Moses to instruct Aaron to strike the dust of the earth with his staff which he did resulting in gnats swarming all over the land. Pharaoh’s court magicians were stumped and conceded “This is the finger of God” but Pharaoh refused to hear and heed God. Moses was sent back to Pharaoh from God to warn him that if he will not comply then a plague of flies will be unleashed upon Egypt with the notable exception of Goshen where the children of Israel dwelled. “Thus I will put a division between my people and your people.” The Egyptian ruler feigned conformity in response to Moses’ pleas but again he hardened his heart and refused to set God’s people free.

Luke 14 begins with Jesus healing a man with dropsy at the home of a ruler of the Pharisees on the Sabbath Day to the consternation of his detractors. Jesus, nevertheless, exposes their folly and leaves them dumbstruck. He goes on to teach those present the Parable of the Wedding Feast in which he emphasises the need for humility. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus then teaches his host the importance of giving hospitality in expectation of nothing in return. And subsequently adds the Parable of the Great Banquet in response to a comment from a guest who says, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Jesus teaches them that there was a man who held a banquet and sent out his servant to invite his guests but they each in turn made excuses. And so, the host ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And finding there was room for more, ‘the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” Later, addressing a crowd that had gathered to him, Jesus taught them the priority and cost of discipleship. He concludes by telling them, “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” We must walk the walk as well as talk the talk!

To ponder! “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

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Bible Challenge: Day 59

Bible Reading: Exodus 9 & Luke 15

Exodus 9 picks up where chapter 8 leaves off with God sending Moses back to Pharaoh demanding the liberty of the Hebrews to serve the LORD. Non-compliance will result in a severe plague upon all Egypt’s livestock, including horses, donkeys, camels, herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. Those belonging to the children of Israel, however, will be spared the judgement to powerfully demonstrate the sovereignty of Israel’s God. The following day Egypt’s livestock was struck down and was decimated but the Hebrews was spared. Yet, Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to relent. And so, God instructed Moses and Aaron to take soot from a kiln and throw it in the air before Pharaoh and it produced a plague of boils on man and beast and yet again Pharaoh continued in his obstinacy. Again, the LORD sent Moses back to Pharaoh urging him to comply lest a plague of very heavy rain and hail be unleashed on the country. God however, reveals his grace and mercy to Pharaoh through Moses, “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. 16 But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” This time while Pharaoh took aversive action, he nevertheless, remained recalcitrant. And the LORD sent heavy hail with thunder and lightning over all the land apart from Goshen. Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron in response and confessed, “This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. 28 Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God's thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.” Tragically, however, when the rain, hail, and thunder ceased, Pharaoh sinned and hardened his heart and reneged on his promise to let God’s people go.

Luke 15 begins with Pharisees and scribes complaining that Jesus received and ate with sinners. Jesus responds by sharing the Parable of the Lost Sheep and concludes by telling them that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” To reinforce his point, he adds the Parable of the Lost Coin, followed by the Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son. Therein he conveys the ego-centric nature and folly of sin in the example of the younger son. It is worth nothing that sin has ‘I’ at its heart! The younger son demands and receives his inheritance from his father, which he indulgently and decadently squanders in a distant land. He is left impoverished and debased, compelled to eat the leftover pods that were fed to pigs which were declared unclean animals by the Old Testament Law. He then repents and believes. He confesses his sin and returns to his father’s home. Repentance is a turning from and a turning to. Faith, which accompanies it, is marked by confidence, conviction, and commitment. Thus, the younger son comes to his senses, he recognises his folly, and sets out back home to his father (repentance) trusting that he would be shown grace and mercy (faith). As he approaches home full of trepidation, he is met by his father running to meet him with his arms open wide ready to embrace him. Herein is symbolised the love of God. The father instructs his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.’ The older brother, however, is angered, resentful, and jealous at his father’s response. The father does not admonish him but rather reassures him with the gracious and loving words, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

To ponder! Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit (Ps.51:10-12).

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Bible Challenge: Day 60

Bible Reading: Exodus 10 & Luke 16

Exodus 10 begins with God informing Moses that he had hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and his servants to reveal his power and glory to the children of Israel. And as a sign for future generations. Moses and Aaron therefore approached Pharaoh once again and demanded in the name of the LORD that he humble himself before God and set at liberty God’s people to serve him. Otherwise, God was going to unleash a plague of locusts to consume what was not destroyed by the rain and hail. This time, Pharaoh’s fellow Egyptian servants also pleaded with him to relent and free the Hebrews. Pharaoh swithered but stubbornly refused to fully comply and as a result Moses stretched forth his hand and God unleashed a great east wind with swarms of locusts that consumed all the remaining fruits and vegetation over the whole land, leaving it barren and desolate. Pharaoh again summoned Moses and Aaron and confessed his sin to the LORD and sought forgiveness. The LORD then sent a mighty west wind which blew the locusts off the land into the sea. But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not let God’s people go. So, God instructed Moses to stretch out his hand once again, and there was darkness over all the land for three days except for Goshen where the children of Israel lived. Pharaoh relented in part but again showed himself recalcitrant. He commanded Moses, “Get away from me; take care never to see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” 29 Moses said, “As you say! I will not see your face again.”

Luke 16 begins with Jesus teaching his disciples the Parable of the Dishonest Manager. He teaches by this example that “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” Jesus makes clear that a person cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve both God and money (mammon). The Pharisees are highly critical of Jesus’ teaching due to their love of money. But Jesus assures them that while they might fool the people, God’s knows what is in their hearts, and his Law will condemn them. Jesus then adds teaching about divorce and remarriage before concluding the chapter with the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man lived luxuriously while Lazarus, plagued by sores, waited at the rich man’s gate for scraps. When the poor man died, he was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and found himself in torment in Hades. He was able to look up and see Abraham and Lazarus at his side. He therefore calls to Abraham for mercy and to Lazarus to come to his aid but the gulf between the two is a great chasm which is fixed forever. He begs that his family be warned but is told, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” Moses and the Prophets is another way of saying the Law and the Prophets or the Old Testament scriptures.

To ponder! …I do not want the holy church proved by human documents but by divine oracles (Augustine of Hippo).

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Bible Challenge: Day 61

Bible Reading: Exodus 11 & Luke 17

In Exodus 11 God communicates his will to Moses, explaining that he was about to unleash one final plague upon Pharaoh and his kingdom. After which he will let God’s people go. The Hebrews are to ask for gold and silver from their Egyptian neighbours as a recompense for their enslavement. By this time Moses was greatly respected among all in Egypt. He declared, “Thus says the LORD: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, 5 and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle.” Great lamentation will follow throughout the nation like there had never been before, but no one will dare lay a hand on the children of Israel. The people will nevertheless urge them to leave. Despite the grave warning, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he refused to listen.

Luke 17 begins with Jesus warning his disciples “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” He goes on to teach them about the seriousness of sin and its consequences, and of the need for repentance and forgiveness. In response, the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith. The Lord then teaches them an important lesson about duty and responsibility as those called to serve. On route to Jerusalem in the border region between Galilee and Samaria, Jesus passes through a village and is met by ten lepers who cry out to him for mercy. Jesus tells them to present themselves to the priests, and as they trust and obey him, they are cleansed of their leprosy. One of those healed was a Samaritan. He alone turned back, and praising God aloud, fell in thanksgiving at the feet of Jesus. Jesus says to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Asked by Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus declares that it “is not coming in ways that can be observed”. The chapter concludes with Jesus expanding upon this theme to his disciples. They are not to allow themselves to be misled by others pointing to visible signs of his coming. Jesus forewarns his followers to be always in a state of readiness, but he emphasises the sudden nature of his coming in judgement upon that generation.

To ponder! We walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor.5:7).

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Bible Challenge: Day 62

Bible Reading: Exodus 12 & Luke 18

Exodus 12 records the institution of the Passover. God instructs Moses and Aaron who will in turn direct the children of Israel. Each household or a combination of households is to sacrifice an unblemished lamb on the fourteenth day of the tenth month. They are to apply some of the blood to their door frames and then consume the roasted lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They are to eat in haste and leave nothing. For the LORD will pass through the land of Egypt that night and strike all the firstborn, both man and beast in judgement. He will thereby definitively demonstrate his power over the gods of Egypt. However, ‘The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.’ They are afterwards to keep the Passover Feast annually as a memorial to God’s gracious deliverance. Thereafter follows the details of how they are to keep the week-long feast with its preparatory ritual of removing all leaven from their homes, eating unleavened bread for a week, and culminating in the Passover meal which typified and anticipated Jesus, the Passover Lamb, sacrificed for the sin of the world. So, Moses instructed the people, who responded by worshipping God and keeping his commands. The LORD struck down the firstborn of Egypt, resulting in great lamentation throughout the land. Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and told them “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!” The children of Israel, six hundred thousand men in number, in addition to women and children, therefore plundered Egypt and journeyed from Rameses to Succoth. They had dwelt in Egypt for 430 years in total. There follows God’s command as to who was eligible to keep and share the Passover.

Luke 18 begins with the Parable of the Persistent Widow where Jesus teaches his disciples to continue in prayer and not lose heart. Such perseverance, endurance, conviction, and confidence are marks of faith. He then told them the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector to emphasise the importance of humility before God and others. He reminds them that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Afterward, Jesus admonishes his disciples for preventing parents from bringing their children to him to be blessed. For to such belong the kingdom of God. Then Jesus exposes the misconceptions and misplaced devotion of a rich ruler who did not understand his need of grace and who loved his wealth more than God. He then assures his followers that “no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” Then for the third time Jesus foretells his forthcoming betrayal, suffering, death, and resurrection in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies. The chapter concludes with Jesus healing a blind beggar on his approach to Jericho. Responding to cries for mercy, Jesus says, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And so, it is metaphorically speaking, with all who believe on Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

To ponder! Faith routes us to and roots us in Jesus.

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For Sunday

Bible Challenge: Day 63

Bible Reading: Exodus 13 & Luke 19

Exodus 13 begins with the LORD commanding Moses to consecrate to God every firstborn male child and beast among the children of Israel. Then Moses addressed the Israelites in readiness for their journey to the land of milk and honey. He instructed them to remember to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread culminating in the Passover Meal, saying, “And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt. 10 You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year.” Similarly, Moses went on to explain that “Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem” as a memorial to God’s saving grace in Egypt when he spared the firstborn among the children of Israel. God led his people out of Egypt by way of the wilderness and the Red Sea. Moses also took Joseph’s bones for burial in the Promised Land. And the LORD went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Luke 19 begins with the conversion of Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector, who climbed a sycamore tree on the outskirts of Jericho to see Jesus. Zacchaeus then showed hospitality to Jesus, and became holy, humble, and honest as evidence of God’s transforming grace. He promised to generously give to the poor and make restitution to anyone he had defrauded. Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus then taught the people the Parable of the Ten Minas and hence of the importance of using one’s gifts and graces productively in service to God and others. He summarises its teaching by saying, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” He also makes clear that his enemies will face grave judgement. Then follows the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on the first day of the week (the Lord’s Day) and the beginning of what has come to be called ‘Holy Week’. Preparations have been made. The time has come. And Jesus rides into Jerusalem sitting on the foal of a donkey in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. Despite the efforts of some Pharisees to silence the crowd, the throng shout in unison, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Jesus, however, as he approaches the Holy City, weeps, and declares, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Jesus’ words were fulfilled within the generation when a Roman army sacked the city and slaughtered the people in AD70! On arriving in the capital, Jesus drives the sellers and money changers from the Temple, condemning the authorities for turning God’s house of prayer into a den of robbers. He teaches the people therein, while the religious authorities devise how they might destroy him.

To ponder! Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zech.9:9).

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Bible Challenge: Day 64

Bible Reading: Exodus 14 & Luke 20

Exodus 14 records God’s deliverance of the children of Israel through the Red Sea and his destruction of Pharaoh and his army. God gave command to Moses to have his people encamp where they would be in full view of Pharaoh. God knew that Pharaoh would pursue them, and the LORD was determined to demonstrate his glory and sovereignty over Pharaoh and his gods. And so, Pharaoh regretting his decision to let the children of Israel go, gathered his charioteers and army, and pursued the Hebrews, as God had foretold. The Israelites were terror-struck at the sight of Pharaoh and his army approaching them. They cried to God for deliverance and criticised Moses for his leadership, fearing they were to perish in the wilderness on the point of an Egyptian sword.

Moses, in response, urged them, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” God then instructed Moses to tell the people to advance. He was to lift his staff and the sea would part before them. The Egyptians will pursue them, but the LORD will not permit them to lay a hand on his people.

God was present to protect them and to display his power. Moses therefore stretched out his hand over the sea and a great east wind blew and parted the sea, and the people advanced over dry land. The Egyptians followed them, but God intervened causing panic among Pharaoh’s forces. Again, the LORD commanded Moses to stretch forth his hand over the sea. He did so, and the sea returned to its normal course and overwhelmed Pharoah and his army. ‘Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.’

Luke 20 begins with the religious rulers challenging Jesus’ authority in the Temple where he had returned to proclaim the Good News. He leaves them speechless by responding with his own question about the source of John the Baptist’s authority. He thereby exposes their deceitfulness. Jesus then taught the Parable of the Wicked Tenants leaving his enemies in no doubt that he was referring to them. Referencing Psalm 118, Jesus tells them, “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

The scribes and chief priests therefore seek to entrap him with a question about paying taxes to Caesar, hoping to accuse him before either the people or Caesar depending on his response. Again however, Jesus confounds and silences them with his reply. “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” Afterward, Sadducees similarly attempt to get the better of Jesus with a hyperbolic question on the theme of the resurrection. Jesus not only exposes their folly but also their ignorance, rendering them silent before him. He then poses his own question based on Psalm 110. “How can they say that the Christ is David's son? 42 For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 43 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ The chapter concludes with Jesus warning his disciples to beware of the proud and hypocritical scribes.

To ponder! "The Psalms are the steady, sustained subcurrent of healthy Christian living" (NT Wright).

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Bible Challenge: Day 65

Bible Reading: Exodus 15 & Luke 21

Exodus 15 contains Moses’ commemorative and celebratory song. It is a hymn of praise to God for his glorious deliverance and redemption of the children of Israel and for his triumphant judgement on Pharaoh, his army, and the gods of Egypt. Moses sings, “The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him.” He reflects on the LORD’s steadfast love and redeeming grace and recounts the tragic demise of Pharaoh and his forces in the Red Sea. And concludes with the victorious words, “The LORD will reign forever and ever.” Then the prophetess, Miriam, who was Aaron’s sister, led the women in song with tambourines and dancing in a joyous procession. Afterward, Moses guided the people into the wilderness of Shur. Without water and thirsty, on the third day they discovered water but it was bitter and so they named the place Marah. Frustrated and dehydrated, the people complained to Moses who in turn cried to the LORD. God answered his prayer by making the water drinkable and he added a statute and rule for Israel. He declared, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.” The people thereafter arrived at Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees. There they made camp. The numbers twelve and seventy carry symbolic significance in the Bible. Twelve reminds us of the twelves tribes which in this context communicates the abundance of supply for all God’s people. And seventy, comprising as it does two perfect numbers speaks of perfection and completeness. Moses will later appoint seventy elders to oversee Israel. Similarly, Israel will much later spend seventy years in captivity in Babylon.

Luke 21 begins with Jesus commending a poor widow for her generous offering at the Temple. He then goes on to foretell the coming destruction of the Temple. Not one stone will be left standing upon another! In response to his disciples’ question, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” Jesus warns them to be on their guard lest they be led astray. He forewarns them of wars, earthquakes, famines, disease, and persecution and consequently urges them to persevere, assuring them of salvation. Jesus further specifically warns them that when they see Gentile armies approaching Jerusalem they must flee to the mountains for safety, which prophecy was fulfilled within a generation in AD70. Deploying figurative, or apocalyptic language and symbolism, familiar to readers of the Old Testament, Jesus foretells seismic change will take place when the Son of Man comes in power and great glory. To reinforce his teaching, he tells them the Parable of the Fig Tree and concludes, “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Jesus again urges his followers to remain awake, alert, disciplined, and diligent. And the people filled the Temple to hear him teach.

To ponder! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (Ps.27:14).

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Bible Challenge: Day 66

Bible Reading: Exodus 16 & Luke 22

Exodus 16 begins with the children of Israel setting off from Elim into the aptly named wilderness of Sin located between Elim and Sinai. There the people grumbled against the leadership of Moses and Aaron accusing them of putting their lives at risk due to hunger. The LORD however tells Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” And so, Moses and Aaron communicated this good news to the people who would encounter God’s glory in his gracious provision of manna from heaven. They similarly made God’s stipulations known and warned the people that their criticism and complaints against Moses and Aaron were essentially grumblings against the LORD whose messengers and servants they were. Aaron then addressed the people and the glory of God appeared in a cloud and the LORD again communicated his will to Moses.

In the evening quails covered the camp and, in the morning, dew lay on the ground which left a residue of flake-like substance that the people were to eat. They called it manna and likened it to coriander seed made into wafers that tasted like honey. There was enough for everyone who were charged not to take more than they could consume. ‘But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.’ Double provision was to be gathered and was miraculously preserved to ensure the sanctity of the Sabbath Day. Nevertheless, some people defied the command. And the LORD admonished Moses for their failure. And so, the people rested on the Sabbath Day. The LORD also commanded Moses who in turn told Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations.” The people of Israel would eat manna in the wilderness for forty years.

In Luke 22 the religious authorities are plotting Jesus’ death as the Passover approaches. Judas Iscariot, seduced by Satan, accepts a bribe to betray Jesus. On the day of Unleavened Bread when the Passover lamb was sacrificed preparations were made for Jesus to commemorate the Passover with his apostles. There in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, he kept the feast with his followers and instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Then Jesus said, ‘But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.’ Afterward, Jesus intervened in a dispute among his disciples about who was the greatest and who would sit where in his coming Kingdom. He points out that the way to greatness in God’s kingdom is through humble service but assures them of their reward. He then, and despite Peter’s protestation, foretells Peter’s threefold denial. He assures his disciples that the scriptures must be fulfilled, and they go out to the Mount of Olives to pray. He bids them watch and pray that they enter not into temptation.

Jesus then separates himself from them and prays, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.’ Shortly afterward, Judas Iscariot appears with the Temple Guard and betrays Jesus with a kiss. There follows the miraculous healing of the servant of the High Priest whose ear had been sliced off by Peter’s sword. Jesus forbids resistance and yet is forcefully taken into custody. He is taken to the residence of the High Priest where the religious establishment is awaiting him. Peter bravely follows but when questioned at a fireside in the courtyard, denies even knowing the Lord, just as Jesus had foretold. He leaves, weeping inconsolably. Meanwhile, Jesus is mocked and beaten by the guards in readiness for his interrogation. At dawn, the Council makes accusations against him and condemns him as a blasphemer.

To ponder! Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1Cor.5:7-8).

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Bible Challenge: Day 67

Bible Reading: Exodus 17 & Luke 23

In Exodus 17 the people continuing their journey towards the Promised Land find themselves without water at Rephidim. Consequently, they complained and quarrelled with Moses who responded, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” His words however, fell on deaf ears. The people, fearing that they and their livestock would perish from dehydration grumbled even more and grew hostile towards Moses. Moses therefore sought the LORD’s guidance and God instructed him to lead the people to Mount Horeb where he was to strike a rock with his staff and water would spring from it. Moses did so before the elders of Israel and named the placed Massah and Meribah because the people had tested and quarrelled against the LORD. When Amalek attacked the children of Israel, Moses commanded Joshua to gather men to fight. Moses would stand on the hilltop with his staff in his uplifted hands and intercede with God for their deliverance and victory. Whenever Moses held up his hands in prayer, Israel prevailed, but when he lowered them Amalek advanced. Therefore, when he got weary, Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on either side. Joshua and his fellow Israelites triumphed by dusk. Afterwards, God instructed Moses to write down the account and recite it to Joshua. There they built an altar and called it ‘The LORD is my banner’.

Luke 23 begins with Jesus being dragged before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, by the religious authorities, who no longer accuse him of blasphemy but of sedition and treason. They did so, understanding that this charge carried the death penalty if found guilty. Pilate therefore, asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus responds, “You have said so.” Pilate sees through the ruse of the religious authorities and declares “I find no guilt in this man”, but these rulers become more urgent and strident in their accusations and demands. Pilate, reluctant to comply, and discovering that Jesus was a Galilean, orders that Jesus be tried by Herod (the Tetrarch) who enjoyed jurisdiction over Galilee under Roman overlordship. Herod questions Jesus at length, while the chief priests and scribes maliciously malign Jesus from the side-lines. So, Herod and his guards treat Jesus with contempt. They mock him and dress him in clothing fit for a king and send him back to Pilate, who reaffirms that Jesus has done nothing worthy of the death penalty. But the people, stirred up by the religious establishment, make choice of a criminal over Jesus and loudly cry ‘crucify him, crucify him.’ To keep the peace, Pilate relents, and Jesus is sentenced to death by crucifixion. Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry Jesus’ cross to the place of execution. Many women weep and mourn on the Via Dolorosa but Jesus bids them grieve for the judgement coming upon that generation. Jesus is crucified at Golgotha with a criminal on either side of him, representing the saved and the unsaved, sometimes metaphorically referred to as the sheep and the goats, or the wheat and the tares. Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, while soldiers cast lots for his clothing, and others scoff and mock him. A sign is placed above his head which reads, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ While one of the criminals rails on Jesus, the other seeks mercy. Jesus promised him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” At midday, darkness covers the scene until 3pm in the afternoon, the time of the evening sacrifice. The curtain concealing the Holy Place in the Temple is torn in two, and Jesus yields his spirit to God. Joseph of Arimathea receives permission from Pilate to bury Jesus’ body in a new tomb. Wrapping Jesus’ body in a shroud he lays him in the tomb and seals the entrances with a huge rock. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was approaching. Certain women followers of Jesus observe his crucifixion and burial and are determined to return with spices and ointments to anoint Jesus’ remains after the Sabbath.

To ponder! You have set up a banner for those who fear you, that they may flee to it from the bow. Selah 5 That your beloved ones may be delivered, give salvation by your right hand and answer us!

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Bible Challenge: Day 68

Bible Reading: Exodus 18 & Luke 24

Exodus 18 records Moses' reunion with Jethro, his father-in-law, along with his wife and two sons, and Jethro’s wise advice to Moses to delegate authority and responsibility. Having heard what God had done for Moses and the children of Israel, Jethro sent word to Moses and then travelled with Zipporah, Gershom, and Eliezer to meet him at Mount Horeb. There before Moses, Jethro praises God for his glory, greatness, and grace. And they offered sacrifice and worshipped the LORD. The following day, observing the demands placed on Moses by the people inquiring of God and seeking counsel and justice, Jethro offered sage advice. He told Moses, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” And so, Jethro advised Moses to continue in his role of intercessor and mediator between God and the people, but he urged him to choose “able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times.” Weighty matters, he suggested, should be brought to Moses but less significant issues should be left for others to judge. Thereby, others would share and bear Moses’ burden. He concluded, “If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” Moses did as his father-in-law suggested. And Jethro returned home to Midian.

Luke 24 begins with Jesus’ glorious resurrection. At dawn on the first day of the week, the women who had observed Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial went to his tomb to anoint his body. They encountered two men (angels) in dazzling apparel who tell them that Jesus has risen just as he foretold. Amazed, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James, and others rush to share the good news with the eleven apostles in Jerusalem. While doubting, Peter swiftly investigates and finds the tomb empty, except for the linen shroud Joseph had wrapped Jesus’ dead body in, and he marvelled. That same day Jesus appeared to two dispirited and dejected disciples on the road to Emmaus. Questioning them, they told him all that had happened, but they failed to recognise him. Jesus responded, ‘“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.’ Later, as Jesus broke bread, blessed it, and gave it to them, their eyes were opened and they recognised him and declared to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” They returned to Jerusalem and as the women did, they shared the glad tidings with the apostles and others. Jesus then appears to them and fellowships with them. And they all rejoice and praise God. Jesus again points them to the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies concerning his life, death, and resurrection and that repentance and forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem. Jesus bids them stay in Jerusalem until they receive the promise of the Father, the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The chapter and with it, Luke’s Gospel, concludes with Jesus’ ascension into heaven. ‘And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.’

To ponder! What does the resurrection of Jesus Christ mean to you?

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Bible Challenge: Day 69

Bible Reading: Exodus 19 & John 1

In Exodus 19 the children of Israel have camped below the slopes of Mount Sinai while Moses climbed the mountain to meet with God. There the LORD communicated his will to Moses to herald to the people. God asks them to remember what he had done for them in delivering them from slavery in Egypt and of his judgement of Pharaoh and his kingdom. God said, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Moses told the people and they, in turn, pledged their trust and obedience to God. The LORD foretold his appearing in a cloud (theophany) and that the people would hear his voice and believe that Moses was his messenger and mediator. And so, Moses told the people to sanctify themselves in preparation for an encounter with God on the third day. Stipulations were given on the pain of death. On the third day, Moses led the fearful people before the LORD. There was thunder, lightning, thick cloud, and the sound of a trumpet. Then LORD appeared on Mount Sinai, called Moses, and instructed him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest he break out against them.” Moses did as he was told.

John 1 begins with the divinity of the eternal Word, the Son of God, who became flesh in the person of Jesus, the Christ. He dwelt among us, revealed God’s glory, saving grace, and truth. He was God’s agent in the creation of all things. ‘All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.’ He is the source and spring of life and light. Next, the focus switches to the ministry of John the Baptist as the forerunner who came to bear witness to the Light. The author of this Gospel is the Apostle John who points out that God came to his ancient people in the person of Jesus, but they (generally speaking) did not receive him. Indeed, they rejected him. However, all who did receive and believe in him became children of God by grace. There follows the testimony of John the Baptist who came to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord as foretold by the Prophet Isaiah. John called the people to repent and be baptised in the Jordan River. When Jesus approached him, he loudly declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’” When John baptised Jesus, he saw the Spirit of God descend upon him like a dove, a symbol of peace. He told the people that Jesus was the Son of God. Thereafter, Jesus calls his first disciples who will become apostles. Andrew was the first to follow Jesus. He immediately told his brother, Simon (Peter), “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus who in turn calls him to follow him. Next, Jesus called Philip, who in turn informs Nathanael. Nathanael doubted that anything good could come out of Nazareth, not knowing that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. When Jesus saw him, he said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” The chapter concludes with Jesus assuring Nathanael that he “will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

To ponder! “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.” Jesus reveals the Father.

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Bible Challenge: Day 70

Bible Reading: Exodus 20 & John 2

Exodus 20 contains the Moral Law in the form of 10 Commandments communicated to Moses by God and written on two tablets of stone. They summarise how to love the Lord God with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love one’s neighbour as oneself. The Moral Law was originally written on man’s heart at creation for God is love, and man, male and female, was made in the image and likeness of God. Sadly, however, that image and likeness was stained and sullied by the Fall. And so, the law shows us our need of grace, and points us to the Saviour and our need for sanctification. The goal is love – for God and others. Note how grace precedes law. God introduces his commandments by saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The gift of salvation comes before sanctification. Help before holiness. We do not make ourselves well and then approach the Physician! There follow the 10 Commandments. The first four show us how to demonstrate our love for God, and the remaining six teach us how to love our neighbour. They are in a negative format but that does not negate the positive counteraction which is implicit therein. Therefore, we love God and our neighbour not only by eschewing wrongdoing, but by positively doing good. Moses sought to reassure the children of Israel who observed the signs and wonders on Mount Sinai and who therefore kept their distance from God. He said, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” Then the LORD instructed Moses to teach the people as God’s prophet. Israel was prohibited from making images of God out of silver and gold like the nations around them did. They are to be given instruction on building altars and making sacrifices to God which anticipate and point to Jesus. And God promises to be with them and bless them.

John 2 begins with Jesus and his mother, Mary, as guests at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. There, Jesus miraculously turned water into wine at the prompting of his mother. This John describes as a first sign pointing to his greatness, goodness, and glory. The new wine, furthermore, anticipates the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old. His disciples believed in him. And along with his family, they returned to Capernaum where they stayed for a few days. At the Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem in observance of the Old Testament Law. At the Temple, he encountered people selling animals for sacrifice and money changers. Making a whip of cords, he drove them from the building admonishing them, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” When asked for a sign to confirm his authority for so acting and speaking, Jesus declares, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The authorities take him to mean the literal Temple, but Jesus is referring to his own body and hence to his death and resurrection. Many claimed to believe in Jesus when they saw the signs he was doing, but Jesus knew what was in their hearts refused to entrust himself to them.

To ponder! For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart (1Sam.16:7).

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Bible Challenge: Day 71

Bible Reading: Exodus 21 & John 3

Exodus 21 begins with general laws on the treatment of Hebrew slaves (indentured servants). This type of slavery was common in the ancient world. Slaves were to be given their freedom after 6 years of service. Those who loved their master were given the option to remain in servitude and were subsequently marked out for life. Married slaves were to be released together when the time came, and certain protections and rights are here legislated for women servants. There follow various laws anent murder, assaults and cursing against parents, theft, and violence towards others which carried the death penalty. Thereafter additional laws

on the treatment of slaves and pregnant women enshrine the principle of an ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.’ Then come laws for redress from death or injury of or from livestock. The chapter concludes with laws of restitution.

In John 3, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, curious to know more about Jesus, came to him at night. He probably awaited nightfall to avoid criticism and possible condemnation from his fellow Pharisees if he was to be seen with Jesus. He asks, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus tells him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus mistakenly interprets Jesus’ words in a literal manner, but Jesus corrects him, pointing out that he was speaking of spiritual regeneration. Jesus furthermore alludes to his divinity, mission, and mediation by drawing Nicodemus’ attention to the Son of Man who like the serpent in the wilderness (see Numbers 21) must be lifted up for the salvation of others, which anticipates and foretells his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. There follows, possibly the best-known verse in the Bible where Jesus declares, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus makes clear that he has come not to condemn the world but to save it. He is the Light that has come into the world to dispel the darkness. And yet many will prefer the darkness because their works are evil. Afterward, Jesus and his disciples travel to Aenon near Salim in the Judean countryside where John the Baptist was baptising. There Jesus’ disciples also baptised people that repented and believed. John the Baptist bore witness to Jesus saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease… He who comes from heaven is above all.” The chapter concludes with the revealing statement, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.’

To ponder! What does it mean to be born again?

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Bible Challenge: Day 72

Bible Reading: Exodus 22 & John 4

Exodus 22 continues with various laws of restitution designed to recompense victims of injustice. Understandably they deal primarily with agrarian cases. They are also preparing the children of Israel for statehood when they take possession of the Promised Land. Unlike the Moral Law these national laws were applied to Israel during the Old Testament period. Nevertheless, reading through these laws provides us with an invaluable insight into God’s will for his ancient people. Moreover, they often contain principles that are still applicable. Then follows from verse 16 various social justice laws. The purpose of these laws is to reinforce Israel’s status and calling as a people sanctified and set apart to love God and neighbour as a witness to the world. They are a people consecrated to God. And with that comes not only rights but also responsibilities.

In John 4, Jesus, while travelling to Galilee from Judea, passes through Samaria. There at Jacob’s well near Sychar he encounters a Samaritan woman who had come to draw water. It was midday, and hence the hottest time of the day, which is possibly suggestive that the woman was an outsider in her society. Jesus engages her in conversation and asks her for a drink. He goes on to tell her, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus reveals the woman’s past and in response, she calls him a prophet. She goes on to point out the religious differences between Samaritans and Jews. Jesus responds by telling her that salvation is of the Jews and the hour was at hand “when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Jesus further assures the woman that he is the Messiah both Samaritans and Jews awaited. When Jesus’s disciples appear, however, they marvel that he is speaking with a Samaritan woman. The woman however returned to the town and urged the people to come to meet and judge whether Jesus was the Christ. The disciples meanwhile were urging Jesus to eat some food to which he replied, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Many Samaritans believed because of the woman’s testimony. Jesus was persuaded to stay a couple of days and many more believed after meeting and hearing Jesus teach. They declared Jesus the Saviour of the world. Jesus afterward returned to Galilee where he received a warm welcome. The chapter concludes with Jesus healing an official’s son at Capernaum. ‘The official in desperation pleaded with him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed Jesus and went on his way.’ It was at that very moment, he later discovered, that his son began to recover. This was the second sign pointing to God’s grace and greatness in Jesus.

To ponder! There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise (Gal.3:28-29).

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Bible Challenge: Day 73

Bible Reading: Exodus 23 & John 5

Exodus 23 continues with various laws designed to perpetuate harmony, peace, and prosperity among the children of Israel. They are not to slander, spread misinformation, or pervert the course of justice. They are to assist one another, helping in the rescue and recovery of livestock. They are to protect the poor and guard against bribery and corruption. They are to be empathetic to refugees because they to were sojourners in Egypt. They are to let agricultural land rest and lie fallow on the seventh year. They and their livestock are to rest on the Sabbath Day. They are to avoid all other gods. Three religious feasts are mandated for Israel annually: the Feast of Unleavened Bread culminating in the Passover; the Feast of Harvest; and the Feast of Ingathering. Among the cultic laws they are prohibited from using leavened foods with their blood sacrifices; they are to offer the best of their firstfruits to the LORD; and they are not permitted to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. There follows God’s promise to guide his people to the Land of Promise by his Angel (messenger). He will protect and prosper them but they in turn must hear and heed his word. God will remove the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites for their sin but Israel must take care to avoid the allure of their gods by destroying their statues and symbols. God says, ‘You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. 26 None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.’ God promises his protection against the dispossessed enemy nations. He assures his people that they will possess the land given to them by God, but they must not enter into agreements with these nations or their gods, or permit them to dwell again in the land “lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

John 5 begins with Jesus healing an invalid at a pool next to the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. The man, paralysed for thirty-eight years, was miraculously transformed. Jesus commanded him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk”, and he did so. However, it was the Sabbath Day, and when some legalistic religious observers saw the man carrying his bed (mat) they admonished him for breaking the Sabbath law. Later, Jesus approached the man in the Temple who in turn pointed out Jesus to his accusers. They arrogantly and foolishly, therefore, persecuted Jesus as a lawbreaker. The Lord answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working”, but this made them even more determined to kill him as they perceived he was ‘even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.’ There follows Jesus’ address to his adversaries. He points out his unique relationship to and with the Father, who loves him. The Son has come to do his Father’s will and greater works will follow. And just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son does likewise. The Father, moreover, has handed over judgement to the Son that all people may honour him. Jesus declares, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Jesus assures them that even the dead will hear his voice. He tells them not to marvel “for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” The chapter concludes with Jesus condemning the ignorance of his religious antagonists for their failure to heed the testimony of God through the ministry of John the Baptist and God’s abiding word in the scriptures. Jesus declares, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

To ponder! but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (Jn.20:31).

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Bible Challenge: Day 74

Bible Reading: Exodus 24 & John 6

In Exodus 24 God confirms his covenant with Israel. He summons Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders to draw near and worship him. Again, Moses communicates God’s word to the people. And Moses also wrote down all the words of the LORD. He furthermore built an altar at the foot of the mountain and twelve pillars symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel. After making sacrifice, Moses took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded by declaring, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took some of the blood of the sacrifices offered to God and applied it to the people saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Then Moses accompanied by Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders ascended the mountain where they encountered God. They beheld God and ate and drank. Moses, assisted by Joshua received two tablets of stone with the law and the commandment which God had given to them. The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai and cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day, God, whose appearance was like a devouring fire, called to Moses who ascended the mountain and was covered by the cloud. He was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

John 6 begins with Jesus and his disciples on the far side of the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him and after teaching his followers, he miraculously fed the crowd numbering five thousand with five barley loaves and two fishes. After everyone had ate and were satisfied, they collected twelve baskets full of fragments which symbolised the abundance of God’s grace for all the Israel of God. ‘When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving that the people wanted to make Jesus king, he withdrew from them. That evening as Jesus’ disciples were crossing back over the Sea of Galilee a storm arose and the sea became dangerously rough. Jesus appeared to his fearful disciples walking on the water. He told them not to be afraid and stilled the storm and sea. At Capernaum, Jesus told the crowds, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Jesus told them that to do the work of God is to believe on him and goes on to declare, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” He further makes clear that it is the will of the Father that all believe on him for eternal life. Responding to his detractors at the synagogue, he says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” He reiterates that he is the true Bread of Life and “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” His opponents, however, familiar with his family background and taking his figurative language in a literal sense continue in unbelief. Additionally, many disciples also found what Jesus was saying hard to accept. He admonishes them for taking offense and makes clear that they require God’s grace. Many abandoned him but Peter responding for the apostles and close disciples said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus reveals that one of them has an evil spirit and will betray him, referring to Judas Iscariot.

To ponder! I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them (Hos.11:4).

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Bible Challenge: Day 75

Bible Reading: Exodus 25 & John 7

In Exodus 25 God calls those whose hearts are moved to make contributions towards the construction of a Tabernacle and an inner sanctuary for worship. It will symbolise God’s dwelling in their midst. They are to provide ‘gold, silver, and bronze, 4 blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats' hair, 5 tanned rams' skins, goatskins, acacia wood, 6 oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 7 onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece.’ They are to build it according to God’s exact directives. There follow instructions for the construction of the Ark of the Covenant. It is to be made of acacia wood and overlaid with the purest gold. It is to possess rings and poles so that it is not touched in transport. It will contain God’s testimony to Israel. The mercy seat will top the ark containing two gold cherubim facing inward on either side. ‘There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.’ The ark is a type of which Jesus Christ is the antitype and fulfilment. Additionally, the craftsmen are to make a Table with the same materials for the bread of God’s presence, again symbolising the Bread of Life, along with plates and dishes for incense, and flagons and bowls for drink offerings. An ornate golden lampstand is similarly to be made with three branches on each side with cups and utensils. It will bear witness to the Light of the World.

John 7 begins in Galilee with the Feast of Booths approaching and Jesus’ brothers challenging him to go through Judea publicly declaring his glory and demonstrating his greatness in good works. Although they themselves did not yet believe and were aware that the religious authorities were plotting to murder him. In response, Jesus tells them “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” Jesus, nevertheless, in accordance with the law, goes to Judea to keep the Feast. People there are speaking about him, but no-one did so openly because of fear of the authorities. The religious rulers marvelled when he taught in the Temple with authority and wisdom and yet had not been formerly trained in theology. Jesus assures them that “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” He furthermore condemns their hypocrisy, theological error, and evil in seeking his death for healing on the Sabbath. He tells them, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement.” While the authorities looked for an excuse to arrest him, they could not because his time had not yet come. Many, nevertheless, believed Jesus. Therefore, the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him, but he confounds them. On the final day of the Feast, Jesus declares, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” He was referring to the Holy Spirit who would be poured out upon the church after his ascension. Jesus’ words cause division among the people. Some think he is a prophet, others recognise that he is God’s Messiah, while others want him arrested and put to death. The chief priests and Pharisees accuse the officers sent to arrest Jesus of being deceived and blame those people who believe on him of theological ignorance. Nicodemus intervenes, however, and says, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

To ponder! Jesus is the true ark, the Tabernacle of God’s abiding presence.

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Bible Challenge: Day 76

Bible Reading: Exodus 26 & John 8

Exodus 26 contains God’s instructions for the construction and furnishing of the Tabernacle which was a portable Temple. It will be replaced by the solid and settled stone structure at Jerusalem in the reign of King Solomon, David’s youngest son. It symbolised God’s holy dwelling amidst his people and taught the children of Israel important theological truths about God and how he was to be approached and worshipped. The instructions are clear and require little if any commentary other than to say that one is struck by the rich colours and beauty of its curtains and furnishings as well as its symmetry and the symbolism in its design. Most noteworthy is the directive ‘And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy. 34 You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place. 35 And you shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table, and you shall put the table on the north side.’ The Tabernacle conveyed important information about God in much the same way that later Gothic Cathedrals were Christ-focussed and Christ-centred in their design and purpose.

John 8 begins with Jesus teaching the people in the Temple at Jerusalem. While there, the scribes and Pharisees drag a woman before him who had been caught in an adulterous relationship. No mention is made of her male partner. The scribes and Pharisees are less concerned with the intricacies of the Old Testament law than they are determined to discredit and entrap Jesus. While the law of Moses had made adultery a capital offence, by the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry such lethal punishment was reserved to Caesar’s representatives. Had Jesus agreed with the scribes and Pharisees, they could have accused him of sedition and rebellion to the Roman authorities, had he upheld Roman Law, they hoped to accuse him of antinomianism (anti = against, nomian = law) and possibly heresy. Jesus, however, writing in the sand with his finger, symbolising God’s giving of the Moral Law, says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, from the eldest to the youngest, they left, leaving the woman with Jesus, who tells her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it.

Sometime afterward, Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” This infuriated the Pharisees who accuse him of falsehood, but Jesus reaffirms that the Father bears testimony to him. He further adds, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” Jesus adds, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” By contrast, he assures his followers, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The chapter concludes with Jesus furthermore condemning his enemies who staked their claims on their Abrahamic heritage and inheritance. He insists that they have the Devil for their father because they were seeking to kill him and would not acknowledge the truth. They in turn apply the sectarian card by accusing Jesus of being a Samaritan and then adding that he was demon-possessed. Jesus rebukes them pointing out that “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus words enrage them to violence. They picked up stones to throw at him, but he escapes their fury.

To ponder! ‘So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’

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For Sunday

Bible Challenge: Day 77

Bible Reading: Exodus 27 & John 9

Exodus 27 continues God’s instructions for the construction of the furnishings of the Tabernacle. The altar is to be made of acacia wood and overlaid with bronze with horns on each corner and with loops and poles for portability. Then follows the dimensions and pillars of the court of the Tabernacle with its hangings of fine twined linen. The base of the pillars are to be bronze with silver hooks and fillets. ‘For the gate of the court there shall be a screen twenty cubits long, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, embroidered with needlework.’ The utensils and pegs are similarly to be made of bronze. The chapter concludes with God telling Moses to command the Israelites to provide pure beaten olive oil for the lamp which is to burn continually and be maintained by the priests as a sign of God’s presence. It is to stand in the tent of meeting outside the veil ‘that is before the testimony’.

In John 9 Jesus heals a man born blind. He is asked by his disciples if the blind man’s impairment was a judgement for his sin or the sin of his parents. Jesus replies, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus then proceeded to anoint the blind man with mud mixed with saliva. He told him to wash it off in the Pool of Siloam. He did so and he returned seeing. People understandably marvelled and the formerly blind man was presented to the Pharisees. They were divided in their opinion of Jesus. Because Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath Day some denounced him, but others defended him. Some of the religious leaders questioned whether the man had ever been blind and so his parents were called and interrogated. Aware of the opposition to Jesus, and fearful of reprisals, the formerly blind man’s parents affirm that their son was blind from birth and that he can now see, but they did not identify Jesus as his healer. Rather, they insisted the rulers ask their son. So, the former blind man is again brought before the religious rulers who accuse Jesus of being a sinner. The man tells them, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” Dismissing the man, Jesus’ detractors once again only managed to expose their arrogance and ignorance. Afterward, Jesus sought out the man and responding to Jesus’ question if he believed in the Son of Man, he confidently confessed, ‘“Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” The chapter ends with Jesus telling his antagonists that their guilt remains.

To ponder! ‘Amazing grace. How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found. Was blind, but now I see.’

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Bible Challenge: Day 78

Bible Reading: Exodus 28 & John 10

Exodus 28 contains detailed instructions on the liturgical garments to be worn by the priests serving in the Tabernacle. They are described as holy garments designed to express glory and beauty. They include a breast piece, an ephod, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash which were to be made of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. The names of the twelve sons of Israel were to be engraved on two onyx stones, enclosed in settings of gold filigree, attached to the shoulder pieces of the ephod with two chains of pure gold. The breast piece was to be adorned with four rows of precious stones. The first row was to comprise sardius, topaz and carbuncle stones. The second an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond. The third a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst. And the fourth a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper stone. These were to represent the children of Israel and were to be set in filigree gold engraved with the names of each tribe. ‘So Aaron (the High Priest) shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD. 30 And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron's heart, when he goes in before the LORD.’ Then follows instructions for the blue robe with pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet yarns around its hem with bells of gold. ‘And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the LORD, and when he comes out, so that he does not die.’ Additionally, they were to make a plate of pure gold with the inscription, ‘Holy to the LORD’ engraved on it and have it fastened to the High Priest’s turban. ‘It shall be on Aaron's forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.’ Embroidered coats, sashes, caps with linen undergarments were to worn by those ordained and consecrated to serve as priests.

In John 10 Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd and begins by pointing out that there is only one way to enter the sheepfold. He “who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.’ Jesus is the door of the sheep. He says, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”, referring to his forthcoming death and resurrection. He speaks of other sheep (Gentiles) not of this fold (Jews) who will also hear and heed his voice so that there will be one flock (the church) and one Shepherd (the Lord Christ), anticipating the Good News and the Great Commission. He makes clear that it is the Father’s will he has come to do. Again, his teaching causes a stir and division among his hearers. It is the Feast of Dedication and while in the Temple precincts Jesus is pressed for an answer whether he is the eagerly anticipated Messiah. ‘Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”’ Jesus’ response sparks outrage and accusations of blasphemy, and some hastily pick up stones to throw at him. Jesus, however, admonishes them and affirms that he and the Father are one before evading their attempts to have him arrested. He travels to the place where John had baptized people in the Jordan River to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry and there many believe on him.

To ponder! The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

3 He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

forever.

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Bible Challenge: Day 79

Bible Reading: Exodus 29 & John 11

Exodus 29 contains detailed instructions for the consecration and ordination of priests. Designated unblemished livestock are to be offered for sacrifice with unleavened bread and wafers smeared in oil. The priests are to be anointed with oil poured on their heads. The laying of the priest’s hands on the head of the animal to be sacrificed symbolised the peoples’ association with it and hence the substitutionary nature of the offering. Bulls were to be offered for sin offerings and rams for burnt offerings. The rites and rituals related to the different sacrifices are clear and precise with the application of blood to the altar and priests anticipating the supreme and ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. And so, “this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight” – pointing to Jesus’s crucifixion at the time of the morning sacrifice and his death at the time of the evening one. The chapter also itemises portions reserved for the priests serving in the Tabernacle. It ends with God’s promise to meet his people there. It is a special place sanctified for his glory. God says, “I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.” God now dwells with his people in the body of Christ the true and everlasting Temple of God.

John 12 begins at the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus at Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem. The Passover is fast approaching, and Jesus is preparing for his Triumphal entry to Jerusalem, and his passion, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. While Martha is serving, Mary her sister, anoints Jesus with expensive oil and wipes his feet with her hair in an act of loving homage. Jesus rebukes Judas Iscariot who complains that the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. He says, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” Discovering Jesus’ whereabouts, a large crowd gathered prompting the chief priests to plot the murder of Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead. The next day marked Jesus’ triumphal entry into the Holy City sitting upon the colt of a donkey in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. Cheering crowds lined the route into Jerusalem waving psalm branches and declaring, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” The religious rulers were indignant that so many people were welcoming and following him. Hellenistic Jews also sought Jesus who told them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He assured them that all who served him will be honoured by the Father. He then added, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Jesus assures them that when he is lifted up upon the cross he will draw all people to himself. He bids them believe in the Light that they might become sons of light. Many however, continued in unbelief while others secretly believed but because of their fear of the religious authorities they dared not profess Jesus publicly. The chapter concludes with Jesus declaring, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” He was given the name Jesus, after all, because he will save his people from their sins.

To ponder! Behold, how good and pleasant it is

when brothers dwell in unity!

2 It is like the precious oil on the head,

running down on the beard,

on the beard of Aaron,

running down on the collar of his robes!

3 It is like the dew of Hermon,

which falls on the mountains of Zion!

For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,

life forevermore.

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Bible Challenge: Day 80

Bible Reading: Exodus 30 & John 13

Exodus 30 begins with instructions for the construction of the altar of incense for the Tabernacle. It is to be made of acacia wood and is to be overlaid with gold. Like the other furnishings for the Tabernacle, it must have rings and poles for portability. It is to be placed before the veil leading to the ark of the testimony and the mercy seat. Aaron and his successors are to burn fragrant incense upon it daily, representing the prayers of God’s people. Once a year the high priest will make atonement for it with the blood of the sin offering. ‘It is most holy to the LORD’. Then God instructed Moses to take a census of the people. All adults over the age of twenty were to pay a half shekel ransom (tax) for the maintenance of worship. Next, God issued instruction for a bronze basin and stand for the ritual cleansing of the priests serving the Tabernacle which was to be situated between the tent of meeting and the altar. The chapter concludes with detailed instructions listing the ingredients and measures to be applied in the production and application of the oil that was to be used in the anointing and consecrating of the priests and the Tabernacle furnishings as well as the incense used in Tabernacle worship. The misuse and misapplication of these items carried the serious penalty of excommunication.

John 13 begins in the Upper Room where Jesus and his disciples have gathered to commemorate and celebrate the Passover. The Evil One has entered the heart of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus who is conscious that his hour has arrived. Removing his outer garments and taking a towel and pouring water into a basin, Jesus stoops down and begins to wash his disciples’ feet in an act of humble loving service. He responds to Peter’s objections by telling him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Peter then eagerly consented. Afterward, Jesus asks them if they have understood what he had done to them? He tells them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” He goes on to reveal that one of them is about to betray him as foretold in the scriptures. While the revelation troubles his apostles and prompts John to ask Jesus, “Is it I, Lord”, Jesus identifies Judas Iscariot by handing him a morsal of bread. While the other apostles do not immediately comprehend, Judas abandons the Light for the dark and goes out into the night. Jesus declares, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” He further declares, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The chapter concludes with Jesus telling Peter that he would deny even knowing him three times before the rooster crows!

To ponder! If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1Cor.13:1-3).

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For Thursday

Bible Challenge: Day 81

Bible Reading: Exodus 31 & John 14

Exodus 31 begins with further instructions for building and beautifying God’s Tabernacle. He has bestowed upon certain individuals the requisite gifts and graces for the work. And so, God has chosen and filled Bezalel from the tribe of Judah ‘with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, 4 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 5 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.’ And similarly, he has called and equipped Oholiab from the tribe of Dan to assist and oversee others in the construction of the Tabernacle, its furniture, furnishings, as well as the priestly garments, anointing oil, and fragrant incense, as God commanded. Moses is also told to “speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.” It was a sign and regular reminder that God was their Creator, Lawgiver, and Benefactor. Profanation of the Sabbath was decreed a capital offense for the children of Israel. After communicating his will to Moses on Mount Sinai God gave to him ‘the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.’

John 14 begins with Jesus telling his disciples not to be troubled and afraid. He is going to his Father’s house where he will prepare a place for them. He will come again and take them to himself. In response to Thomas’s question, he assures them that he is the way, the truth, and the life. And that no one can come to the Father except through him. To know Jesus is to know the Father. He tells Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” And adds, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Jesus assures them if they love him and demonstrate it by keeping his commandments, the Father will send them another Helper, the Spirit of Truth to enlighten, empower, and encourage them for faithfulness and fruitfulness in their ministry. Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” While he must shortly leave them, physically speaking, he will be always with them by his Spirit who will guide and direct them, and authorise and authenticate their apostolic witness. The chapter concludes with Jesus telling them, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.”

To ponder! ‘What God requires of us he himself works in us, or it is not done. He that commands faith, holiness, and love creates them by the power of his grace.’ (Matthew Henry).

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Bible Challenge: Day 82

Bible Reading: Exodus 32 & John 15

While Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving God’s law and instructions for worship, the Israelites grew impatient. They gathered to Aaron and insisted, “make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron foolishly complied and after receiving the requisite gold jewellery from the people, he had it melted down and fashioned into a golden calf. He set up an altar before it and made a proclamation, declaring, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” And so, the following day they presented burnt and peace offerings, and ‘the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ In response, the omniscient LORD told Moses that his people had corrupted themselves. He said, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” Moses interceded for the people and implored God to remember the covenant he had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. And the LORD mercifully relented. Therefore, Moses took the two tablets of the testimony and made his descent down the mountain. He was enraged when he saw the golden calf and the people dancing before it. Throwing the two tablets of stone against a rock he broke them, a symbol of Israel’s breaking God’s holy law and the promise they had made to him. Moses incinerated the gold calf, scattering its ashes on the water which he then commanded the people to drink. He then admonished Aaron for his complicity. However, rebellion broke out in the camp which prompted Moses to stand in the gate and ask, “Who is on the LORD's side? Come to me.” The sons of Levi gathered to him, and he commanded them to put the rebels to the sword. Some three thousand were put to death as a result. Moses subsequently reassured the sons of Levi that God would bless them for their valiant service. The following day Moses addressed the people and told them, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” He therefore pleaded for God’s forgiveness but the LORD sent a plague upon the people for their sin.

In John 15 Jesus uses the symbolism of a vine to teach his followers an invaluable lesson about living in communion with him. He declares, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Jesus urges his disciples to abide in him which is by faith. Just as the purpose of vine branches is to bear fruit, so it is with Christians. And just like a vine branch broken off from the vine stops bearing fruit and slowly withers and dies so it is, spiritually speaking, with those that fail to abide in Christ. Without him he tells them they can do nothing. Moreover, it is the Father’s will, and for his glory, that they bear much fruit. Jesus has chosen them for this very purpose. To do so, Christians must love God and keep his commandments. Jesus adds, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” He then goes on to command his followers to love one another as he loved them. He no longer calls them servants but friends. He then informs them that they will be hated by the world for his sake. He says, “A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” The world’s unjustified hatred of God will fuel the persecution of his followers. However, Jesus assures his people that the Helper, who is the Spirit of truth, will comfort them and enable them to continue communicating the gospel and bearing much fruit.

To ponder! the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Gal.5:22:23).

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Bible Challenge: Day 83

Bible Reading: Exodus 33 & John 16

Exodus 33 begins with God commanding Moses to continue the journey to the land he had promised to his forebears. He promises to send an angel to lead them and he himself will drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, and Jebusites. It is a land flowing with milk and honey. However, God declares that he will not go among them ‘lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” When they heard, the people mourned, removed all ornamentation, and set off from Mount Horeb. Therefore, Moses pitched the Tent of Meeting outside the camp. When he entered the tent, a pillar of cloud descended, and the LORD spoke with Moses ‘face to face, as a man speaks to his friend’. The people would then worship at the door of their tents. Afterward, when Moses returned to the camp, Joshua was left behind to guard the Tent of Meeting. Moses also pleaded with God to graciously reveal himself and his ways that he and his fellow Israelites might be faithful and find favour again with God. “For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” Moses asked to see God’s glory. ‘And the LORD replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And so, God assured Moses that he would be sheltered in the clefts of a rock and covered by the hand of God and would then be given a glimpse of his back.

John 16 continues Jesus’ discourse recorded in the previous chapter. He reiterates that the apostles and disciples will face persecution and even martyrdom for their faithfulness. He also assures them, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment”. The Spirit will guide them into all truth and glorify Christ. Anticipating his crucifixion, death, and resurrection, Jesus tells them, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” He tells them that their sorrow will be turned to joy and whatever they ask the Father for in his name he will give it to them that their joy may be full. Jesus assures them of the Father’s love for them and that he is returning to the Father. The hour is fast approaching when they will be scattered but he will grant them his peace. The chapter concludes with the Lord Jesus urging his followers to take heart because he has overcome the world.

To ponder! To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified (Isa.61:3).

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For Sunday

Bible Challenge: Day 84

Bible Reading: Exodus 34 & John 17

In Exodus 34 the LORD commands Moses to prepare another two stone tablets to replace the ones he had broken. Moses followed God’s instructions and God revealed himself to him once more on Mount Sinai. ‘The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Moses then worshipped God and pleaded with him to show mercy and grace by forgiving Israel’s sin and restoring the fellowship that had been consequently lost. The LORD then renews his covenant with them and promises to do awesome things before them and for them. He will drive out the sinful inhabitants of the Promised Land, but the children of Israel must take great care not to enter into any agreement with them. They are to remove their places of worship lest they become a snare to them. And they are prohibited from intermarrying with them. They are forbidden to make images of gods. They are to keep the Feasts of Unleavened Bread with the Passover, and the Feasts of Weeks and Ingathering that God appointed for them. ‘And the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.’ When Moses returned to the people, his face was aglow. Aaron and others were afraid, but Moses communicated the word of God to them and then veiled his face. And so, afterward, when Moses met with God, he unveiled his face and veiled it again when he passed on God’s revelation to the Old Testament church.

John 17 contains Jesus’ high priestly prayer to his Father in heaven. He prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Jesus has accomplished the work his Father sent him to do. He has fulfilled the Law. He has kept God’s covenant as the second Adam which he will sign and seal with his precious blood.

Jesus has revealed the Father and his will to those given to him by the Father and they have been faithful except for the son of destruction (Judas Iscariot) that the scripture might be fulfilled. Jesus moreover intercedes for his followers, that the Holy Father will be with them and bless them and that their joy might be full. He asks the Father to guard them from the Evil One and adds, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Jesus, moreover, prays for those who will believe the apostolic revelation and that his church may be united in loving communion with God and one another in and through him. He expresses his desire that they may eventually be with him and behold his glory. Jesus’ prayer concludes, “O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

To ponder! Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Heb.7:25).

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Bible Challenge: Day 85

Bible Reading: Exodus 35 & John 18

Exodus 35 begins with Moses addressing the children of Israel and reminding them of God’s command to keep the Sabbath Day holy and of the grave consequences for disobedience. He then reminds them of the command to make financial and other material contributions for the construction, adornment, and maintenance of the Tabernacle and the worship of God. And adds, “Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded” before listing the items, furnishings, and garments required. After the congregation departed there returned all those whose hearts and spirits had been stirred by Moses’ address. Men and women alike made their freewill offerings and provided the necessary gifts and graces for the construction of the Tabernacle. The chapter ends with Moses urging the people to see how the LORD has provided the necessary talents, treasures, and time for the completion of his place of worship.

John 18 begins with Jesus leading his disciples to a garden by the brook Kidron. Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer, who knew the place well, leads armed soldiers from the religious rulers to arrest Jesus by force. Jesus willingly reveals himself to the soldiers and agrees to accompany them if they let his disciples go. Peter, determined to defend the Lord Jesus cut off the ear of Malchus, the High Priest’s servant, but Jesus tells him, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” Jesus then heals Malchus, which incident is recorded in the synoptic gospels. The Lord is taken to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was the high priest that year. Peter follows and denies knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crows, as foretold. Meanwhile, Jesus is interrogated by Annas who demands to know more about Jesus’ disciples and his teaching. Jesus responds by telling him,

“I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” An officer of the Temple Guard strikes Jesus in response. And Annas hands him over to Caiaphas to continue the inquisition. From there, Jesus is dragged before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, who demands to know what charge had been made against him. He tells the religious authorities to try Jesus themselves, but they insist otherwise because their Jewish courts no longer had the power to pronounce the death penalty. And they were determined to have Jesus put to death. Pilate then asks Jesus if he is the King of the Jews? Jesus tells him, ‘“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”’ Pilate openly declares that he can find no fault in Jesus, and in keeping with a custom that a prisoner is released at the time of the Passover, he offers to free him. But incited and stirred on by the religious leaders, the people choose a criminal, Barabbas, instead.

To ponder! “What is truth?”

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Bible Challenge: Day 86

Bible Reading: Exodus 36 & John 19

Exodus 36 provides a record of the construction of the Tabernacle. It begins, ‘“Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whom the LORD has put skill and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded.”’ They received the necessary materials from the contributions made by the people who continued to make freewill offerings daily until there was sufficient materials for the completion of the work. There follows a detailed description of the construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishings in accordance with the instructions given by God and communicated to the children of Israel by Moses.

John 19 begins with Jesus being flogged on Pilate’s order. A crown of thorns is pressed into his scalp by soldiers who beat and mock him. Pilate has a purple robe placed on Jesus and declares to the bloodthirsty crowd, “Behold the man!” The chief priests and the officers associated with them cry out’ “crucify him, crucify him.” Jesus tells Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” Pilate attempts to have Jesus spared and set free but the religious authorities insist, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” And so, Pilate wishing to avoid having his reputation tarnished by political turmoil, again asks the crowd before handing Jesus over to be crucified. They crucify Jesus outside the city walls at Golgotha. Criminals are similarly crucified either side of him, which symbolise the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares, the saved and the unsaved. Pilate orders an inscription to be nailed to the cross above Jesus’ head which reads, in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ Soldiers cast lots for Jesus garments, while his mother, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stand at the foot of the cross. Jesus addresses his mother, saying, “Woman, behold, your son!” and the apostle John saying, “Behold, your mother!” ‘And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.’ Jesus added ‘I thirst’ before finally crying out, “It is finished.” He has accomplished and completed his mission. He bows his head and gives up his spirit. In fulfilment of the scripture, none of his bones are broken (to hasten death) but his side is pierced with a spear and out pours blood and water symbolising salvation and life, justification, regeneration, and sanctification. Joseph of Arimathea receives permission from Pilate to bury Jesus’ body. He is helped with the final duties by Nicodemus, who had visited Jesus by night. They bury Jesus in a nearby tomb and seal its entrance.

To ponder! “It is finished!”

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Bible Challenge: Day 87

Bible Reading: Exodus 37 & John 20

Exodus 37 continues with detailed descriptions of the construction of the furniture for the Tabernacle made in conformity to God’s will and delivered through Moses. There follows the making of the Ark of the Covenant of acacia wood and overlaid in purest gold. It was placed in the Holy of holies where the atoning sacrificial blood would be sprinkled on its mercy seat once a year by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. In it, Moses would place the two Tablets of Stone with the Ten Commandments written by the finger of God. Then follows the Table crafted out of the same materials with its vessels of pure gold. Plates and dishes for incense, and bowls and flagons for drink offerings. Next follows the seven-branched golden lampstand (menorah) with its intricate adornments of cups, buds, and blossoms and its tongs, trays, and utensils of the finest gold. The chapter concludes with Bezalel similarly crafting the altar of incense with its rings and poles. ‘He made the holy anointing oil also, and the pure fragrant incense, blended as by the perfumer.’

John 20 begins with the Lord Jesus’ glorious resurrection on the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene finds the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid empty and speedily shares the news with Peter, who accompanied by John, finds the tomb as Mary had said. The linen burial cloths and face-covering with which Joseph and Nicodemus had dressed Jesus' body lay folded within. Believing but not fully comprehending they return home. Mary stood weeping at the tomb and peering in saw two angels who asked her why she was weeping. Turning around, conscious of someone’s presence, whom she mistook for the gardener, Jesus asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” When Jesus says her name, she lifts her head and sees that it is Jesus who has risen from the dead. He tells her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary, filled with joy, runs to the apostles and conveys the gloriously good news. That evening, Jesus appears to his apprehensive apostles and says, “Peace be with you.” He shows them his side and the marks made by the nails in his hands, and declares, “As the Father has sent me, even so, I am sending you.” He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Thomas who had been absent when Jesus appeared to the disciples remained skeptical but eight days later Jesus appears to him also, and says, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The Gospel according to John concludes by informing the reader, ‘these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’

To ponder! The word in scripture reveals the Word Incarnate.

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Bible Challenge: Day 88

Bible Reading: Exodus 38 & John 21

Exodus 38 continues with the construction of the furniture and furnishings for the Tabernacle. Bezalel and others make the altar for the burnt offerings out of acacia wood overlaid with bronze with its rings and poles and horns on each corner. They also crafted its utensils: pots, shovels, basins, forks, and firepans. Then afterward a bronze basin and stand were made for the women that served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. Thereafter follows the construction of the court with its multiple hangings of fine twined linen, solid bronze bases, adornments of silver, and striking embroideries made out blue, purple, and scarlet threads. The chapter concludes by acknowledging the contributions of Moses, Bezalel, and Oholiab in the construction of the Tabernacle, and the quantities of gold, silver, and bronze freely given by the children of Israel.

John 21 begins with Jesus appearing to his followers at the Sea of Tiberius. His disciples had been fishing but had caught no fish and Jesus called them and told them to cast their net to the right-hand side of their boat and their net was soon filled. In response, John said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” It was breakfast time and Jesus fellowshipped with them. He ‘came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.’ Afterward, Jesus asked Peter three times ‘do you love me?’ in response to Peter’s earlier three-fold denial. He bids Peter feed his sheep and lambs, assuring him thereby that he was fully forgiven. Jesus goes on to foretell Peter’s martyrdom for love’s sake. He urges him, “Follow me.” The chapter, and with it the Gospel according to John, ends with John’s personal testimony in which he debunks a misunderstanding that had emerged among the early church. He concludes by stating, ‘Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.’

To ponder! “Follow Me!”

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Bible Challenge: Day 89

Bible Reading: Exodus 39 & Acts 1

Exodus 39 contains a record of the making of priestly garments for the high priest and others ministering in the Holy Place. The ephod comprised gold, blue, purple, and scarlet threads with fine twined linen. Onyx stones, set with gold filigree and engraved, adorned the shoulder pieces to remind Israel of her special status before God. Similarly, the breast-piece with its four rows of precious stones of sardius, topaz, carbuncle, emerald, sapphire, diamond, jacinth, agate, amethyst, beryl, onyx, and jasper, enclosed in gold filigree, and with the names of the twelve tribes engraved and held in place with chains and rings of gold was a work of art. Thereafter follows details of the robes made of blue, purple, and scarlet threads with their decorative bells and pomegranates hanging from each hem. Coats, turbans, caps, undergarments, and sashes of the same colours were also produced. A gold plate fixed to each turban was engraved with the words, ‘Holy to the LORD’. The chapter ends with a summary of the finished works and concludes, ‘And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, so had they done it. Then Moses blessed them.’

The Acts of the Apostles is volume two of St Luke’s history of Jesus’ earthly ministry continued through his church in the power and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And so, Acts 1 begins, ‘In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.’ After giving his church the Great Commission, Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit who would enlighten, equip, and energise them for their mission to the world. They are to be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, and throughout Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. After Jesus had told them these things, he ascended into heaven in a cloud. ‘And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”’ Returning to the upper room in Jerusalem from Olivet, the eleven apostles devoted themselves to prayer with the women disciples, Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his brothers. Then Peter addressed the church numbering about 120 souls and reminded them that the scriptures had been fulfilled in Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus and subsequent death. It was therefore needful to re-establish the full complement of apostles, numbering 12 as the new spiritual Israel. “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” Two candidates were proposed – Barsabbas and Matthias. They prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” They cast lots, and Matthias was chosen. The casting of lots was not prescriptive but rather was designed to emphasise that Matthias was God’s choice.

To ponder! And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt.28:18-20).

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Bible Challenge: Day 90

Bible Reading: Exodus 40 & Acts 2

Exodus 40 provides a record of the construction and consecration of the Tabernacle. The LORD commanded Moses to erect the Tabernacle and to arrange its furniture and furnishings as instructed on the first day of the first month. “Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it may become holy.” Then Aaron and his fellow priests must ritually wash before being anointed and ordained for ministry therein. “And their anointing shall admit them to a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.” All was done in accordance with God’s instruction and Moses oversaw the completion of the works. Then the cloud indicating God’s presence covered the tent of meeting, and ‘the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle.’ The cloud’s absence was a sign to the children of Israel to move location. They were not permitted to up-camp while the cloud remained. ‘For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.’

Acts 2 begins with the church gathered at Pentecost when God anointed them with the Holy Spirit as promised. ‘[S]uddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.” They were each filled with the Spirit and were able to speak in foreign languages to communicate the Good News to people from numerous countries and regions that had assembled in Jerusalem to commemorate and celebrate Pentecost. Folks were amazed and astounded to hear the apostles and other disciples proclaiming Christ. “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Some listened intently while others mockingly accused the Christians of being drunk.

Peter, standing with his fellow apostles, addressed the large crowd, and declared they were not drunk as some thought but rather they were the recipients of the Holy Spirit as prophesied in the Old Testament Book of Joel. This marked the last days and was a time of seismic change when God’s people shall proclaim God’s word and willingly serve him. And all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Peter, therefore, preached Jesus Christ. He spoke of his person and mighty works. He proclaimed his death and resurrection in accordance with the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. He quoted Psalm 16 as foretelling the death and resurrection of Jesus, David’s son and Lord. Peter, moreover, spoke as an eye-witness and alluded to Christ’s ascension, authority, and mediation at the right hand of God the Father. He quoted Psalm 110 as similarly foretelling Jesus’ lordship. He concluded his sermon with the words, “Let all the house of Israel, therefore, know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Many responded positively and asked what they should do. Peter told them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Some three thousand do so in response, and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers, as members of Christ’s church. The church was united in worship, work, and witness, and enjoyed the grace of God and the goodwill of many people.

To ponder! ‘We do not want a church that will move with the world. We want a church that will move the world.’ (GK Chesterton).

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Bible Challenge: Day 91

Bible Reading: Leviticus 1 & Acts 3

Leviticus 1 begins with the LORD communicating his will to Moses for Israel from the Tent of Meeting concerning how he was to be worshipped by his people. Burnt offerings were to be livestock without blemish anticipating Jesus who was without sin. Instructions were separately given for bulls, sheep, goats, turtledoves, and pigeons. The laying on of hands emphasised the vicarious or substitutionary nature of the sacrifice, again pointing to Jesus who died for the sin of the world. The priesthood was directed to apply the blood of the sacrifice. ‘And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.’

Acts 3 begins with the apostles Peter and John making their way to the Temple for morning prayer. At the Beautiful Gate which was one of the entrances to the Temple precincts, they encountered a man lame from birth. Peter said to him, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” The man did so and to the amazement of onlookers entered the Temple with them walking, and leaping, and praising God. At Solomon’s Portico Peter courageously but courteously and with conviction addressed the crowd that had gathered. He makes clear that it was the healing power of God in Jesus’ name that healed the lame man. He points out that they had not only denied the Holy and Righteous One, but they had murdered the Author of Life. However, he adds that they had acted in ignorance and therefore directs all to faith in Jesus. “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” Peter declares that God’s promise of the Prophet in Deuteronomy 18:15 is fulfilled in Jesus and backs up his statement by recourse to other Old Testament scriptures. He concludes, “You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

To ponder! “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Deut.18:15). “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Mt.17:5).

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Bible Challenge: Day 92

Bible Reading: Leviticus 2 & Acts 4

Leviticus 2 provides detailed instructions on the grain offerings to be made in the Tabernacle. These must be made of fine flour and be offered with oil and frankincense. The ‘priest shall burn this as its memorial portion on the altar, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. 3 But the rest of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the LORD's food offerings.’ Baked grain offerings brought to the Tabernacle had to be made with unleavened ingredients mixed with oil. All offerings were to be made with salt. ‘You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.’ If making a grain offering of firstfruits to the LORD it had to contain the fresh ears, be roasted with fire, and be crushed new grain.

Acts 4 begins with the religious authorities having Peter and John arrested for preaching the gospel. Not only were they enraged that the apostles were preaching Jesus whom they had put to death with Roman consent, but they were annoyed that many were believing the Good News. And so, we are told that the church grew to around 5000. Peter and John were arraigned before the council of religious rulers including the high priest, Annas, Caiaphas, and members of their family, who demanded to know, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Peter, filled with the Spirit, as Jesus had promised, courageously declared to their inquisitors, “let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” The boldness of the apostles surprised the authorities who had dismissed them as uneducated Galilean fishermen. Nevertheless, they could not deny that the lame man was now able to walk. After conferring in private, the council prohibited Peter and John from continuing to preach and do good works in Jesus’ name. The apostles boldly replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” After threatening the apostles, the rulers let them go fearing the reaction of the populace if they were to impose a harsh penalty. Peter and John returned to their fellow apostles and the wider church who gave thanks to God in praise and prayer. Citing Psalm 2, they prayed in unison, “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” The place where they prayed was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. The church was one in heart and mind, united to Christ the Head, and they shared their possessions. Barnabas sold a field and gave the proceeds to the church. And the apostles preached the gospel with remarkable power and God’s great grace was on all the church.

To ponder! “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.

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Bible Challenge: Day 93

Bible Reading: Leviticus 3 & Acts 5

Leviticus 3 contains instructions for peace offerings. As with burnt offerings the sheep or goat presented from the herd is to be without blemish. The giver is to lay hands upon the animal and sacrifice it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. And the priests shall sprinkle its blood on the altar and shall offer the fat covering its entrails, and the two kidneys with their fat. It was to be burned on the altar on top of the burnt offering to make a pleasing aroma to the LORD. Moreover, ‘It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood.’

Acts 5 begins with the harrowing story of Ananias and Sapphira who foolishly tried to deceive the church. They sold property and feigned to give all the proceeds to the church while retaining a sum for themselves. Peter confronted Ananias and said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” In response, Ananias suddenly and unexpectedly fell down dead. Three hours later, unaware of what had happened to her husband, Sapphira was similarly confronted by Peter with the same tragic result. And great fear came upon the whole church when news spread of what had happened to the couple.

The apostles taught at Solomon’s Portico at the Temple, healed the sick and exorcised evil spirits, and their reputation continued to grow among the populace. However, the religious authorities, envious of the high esteem in which the apostles were held by the people had them arrested and incarcerated again. The apostles were miraculously released from prison and were told by God’s angel (messenger) to “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” The apostles were soon rearrested and put on trial before the council. The high priest berated them, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” But Peter and the other apostles boldly declared, “We must obey God rather than men.” The shared the Good News concerning Jesus. This only enraged the council further who but for the wise intervention of Gamaliel, a Pharisee and respected teacher of the law, desired to put the apostles to death. The apostles were beaten and released with a stern warning not to preach, teach, or heal in Jesus’ name. The chapter concludes, ‘Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.’

To ponder! And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams (1Sam.15:22).

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Bible Challenge: Day 94

Bible Reading: Leviticus 4 & Acts 6

Leviticus 4 contains laws pertaining to sin offerings. If a priest unintentionally sinned he was to offer an unblemished bull. He was to present the bull at the Tent of Meeting, lay his hands upon it, symbolically transferring his guilt thereby, and then sacrifice it. ‘And the anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it into the tent of meeting, 6 and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the LORD in front of the veil of the sanctuary.’ Then he was to apply some blood to the horns of the altar of fragrant incense and pour the rest at the base of the altar of burnt offering. He was to remove the fat from the entrails, along with the kidneys, liver, loins, and burn the remains of the animal outside the camp. Then follows a similar protocol for the collective unintentional sin of Israel. The elders, as representatives of the people (congregation) were to lay their hands on the sacrificial offering. Moreover, a leader that unintentionally sinned was to offer a goat, while a common person was to offer a female goat or a lamb. ‘And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven.’

Acts 6 begins with the establishment of deacons in the early church. The office originated after a dispute arose between Christians of Hellenist (Greek or Gentile) background and those of Hebrew heritage over the distribution of aid to widows. The apostles declared, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The church complied and chose seven able men full of faith and the fruits of the Spirit. Consequently, God’s word continued to spread, and more and more people believed on Jesus, and even members of the priesthood became ‘obedient to the faith.’ The focus for the remainder of the chapter turns to Stephen, one of the seven chosen, who was ‘full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.’ A contingent of the synagogue of the Freedmen was antagonistic towards the Good News proclaimed by Stephen. They ineffectively disputed with him and accused him of blasphemy. They stirred up others, including elders of the people and scribes and had him seized and dragged before the council where they made false allegations against him. They stipulated, ‘“This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.’

To ponder! preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2Tim.4:2).

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Bible Challenge: Day 95

Bible Reading: Leviticus 5 & Acts 7

Leviticus 5 highlights certain transgressions that called for confession and the offering to the LORD from the flock a female sheep or goat for a sin offering. ‘And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.’ For those unable to provide a lamb, two turtledoves or pigeons were an acceptable alternative, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. For those that could not afford turtledoves or pigeons, a tenth of an ephah of fine flour would suffice. No oil or frankincense was to be added to it. The remainder went to the priest. There follow laws for guilt offerings also communicated to Moses by God. For those that committed a breach of faith and unintentionally sinned ‘in any of the holy things of the LORD’ that person was to offer a ram without blemish, valued in silver shekels ‘according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering.’ He also had to make restitution and give to the priest an additional fifth who shall make atonement with the guilt offering. The same applied to those who broke the LORD’s commandments.

Acts 7 provides a record of Stephen’s apologia or defense of the Christian faith and his subsequent martyrdom. Stephen responded to the high priest’s accusation by preaching Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of God’s covenant promises in the Old Testament period. Beginning with Abraham whom God called out of Mesopotamia and vowed to give his descendants the Promised Land, Stephen focused upon the sovereignty, faithfulness, and goodness of God in fulfilling his promises through Isaac, Jacob, and his children. And goes on to show how God was with his people in Egypt and came to their rescue as promised in the days of Moses. He retells the story of Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush and the significance thereof and of the Exodus that followed. ‘This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers’, foretelling Jesus, God’s ultimate and supreme Prophet, as well as Priest and King.

Stephen reminded the religious authorities of the folly of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai and in the wilderness which had its parallels in their own persecution of Christ’s servants. He recalls God’s presence with his people down through the centuries starting with Joshua who led Israel over Jordan and into the land flowing with milk and honey to the days of David and his son Solomon who built the Temple. Quoting Isaiah 66, however, Stephen reminds the religious rulers that God is not confined to man-made structures. He concludes his defense by boldly declaring, ‘“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” The council was enraged by these words, but filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen ‘gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” They attacked Stephen and stoned him to death outside the city. Among the approving antagonists stood a young man called Saul who will soon become a new creation through an unexpected encounter with the Risen Jesus. Before breathing his last, Stephen called out, ‘“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.’

To ponder! Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (Heb.1:1-4).

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Bible Challenge: Day 96

Bible Reading: Leviticus 6 & Acts 8

Leviticus 6 contains instructions for those that sinned against God and their neighbour by deceit, theft, oppression, or false witness. Repentance was to be demonstrated in restitution. The aim was to restore harmony in relationship with God and one’s neighbour. A ram without blemish was to be offered from the flock, or its equivalent for a guilt offering. “And the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty.” There follow the LORD’s commands communicated via Moses for Aaron and the priests serving in the Temple. Detailed instructions are provided concerning burnt offerings and grain offerings. These included how the sacrifices were to be offered, presented, and apportioned, as well as how the priesthood was to be arrayed before the LORD. Theologians refer to this as the ‘regulative principle’ of worship. God was to be worshipped as he saw fit and mandated.

Acts 8 begins by informing the reader that a great persecution arose against Christians and Saul, who had approved of Stephen’s murder, ravaged the church, entering homes, he dragged off men and women indiscriminately and had them incarcerated. Nevertheless, those scattered by persecution in Jerusalem shared the Good News wherever they went, and the church expanded its reach and continued to grow. Philip, one the seven deacons referred to in chapter 6 travelled to Samaria where he proclaimed Christ and healed many people. There he baptised Simon, a magician, on his profession of faith. On receiving word of the success of Philip’s ministry in Samaria, the apostles, Peter and John, after praying to God that Christians in Samaria might receive the Holy Spirit, journeyed to Samaria where they laid hands on those that believed, and they too received the gift of the Spirit. Affirming thereby that they were now united and family in Christ. When Simon, the magician, saw that the Spirit had been given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he sought to purchase the gift! Peter rebuked him, saying, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” Simon pleaded for forgiveness. After preaching and teaching in the region, the apostles returned to Jerusalem proclaiming the gospel on route. Meanwhile, Philip was told to travel into the Gaza desert region. There he encountered a high-ranking government official of Candace, the Queen of the Ethiopians. He was returning home from worshipping God at Jerusalem. Prompted by the Spirit, Philip found him reading the fifty-third chapter of the Book of Isaiah. Philip asked, ‘“Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.’ Philip explained the meaning of the passage as pointing to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, and opened up other passages besides all revealing the Good News about Jesus. When they came to water, Philip baptised the Ethiopian Eunach who went on his way rejoicing. Philip made his way to Caesarea preaching the gospel in every town he passed through on route.

To ponder! “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8).

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Bible Challenge: Day 97

Bible Reading: Leviticus 7 & Acts 9

Leviticus 7 begins with the law of guilt offerings. ‘It is most holy. 2 In the place where they kill the burnt offering they shall kill the guilt offering, and its blood shall be thrown against the sides of the altar.’ The priests were to consume it in the Holy Place. Then follows instructions for the peace offerings which were to be accompanied with unleavened loaves, mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flours well mixed with oil. Distinction was made between the use and disposal of thanksgiving offerings and vow and freewill offerings. Flesh that touched anything designated ‘unclean’ was not to be consumed on pain of excommunication. Similarly, the children of Israel were prohibited from eating the fat of an ox, sheep, or goat. Neither were they permitted to consume the blood of birds or animals. God’s word further mandated that ‘For the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed I have taken from the people of Israel, out of the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons, as a perpetual due from the people of Israel.’

Acts 9 provides a record of Saul’s (Paul) conversion after his encounter with the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. Breathing threats and murder against Christians, Saul got permission from the religious authorities to persecute and prosecute followers of Jesus. On route, he was struck by a bright light, and he heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” Temporarily blinded by the light, Saul was led into Damascus and remained without sight for three days. The Lord Jesus also appeared in a vision to Ananias and told him to go to a Street named Straight where he would find Saul praying. Ananias, knowing Saul’s reputation as an enemy of Christ and his church, was understandably cautious but the Lord insisted, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Ananias found Saul whom he laid hands upon and prayed for. Saul was immediately filled with the Spirit and regained his sight. He was then baptised. A few days later he astounded the people by preaching and teaching in the synagogue that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. Enemies of the gospel plotted to murder him, but he made his escape from Damascus by being lowered down from the city walls in a basket in the dark of night by fellow disciples. Returning to Jerusalem, the church was wary of Saul, but Barnabas commended him to the apostles who accepted his conversion as genuine. Saul disputed with Hellenistic Jews who vociferously opposed the good news he proclaimed. Again, a plot was hatched to murder him, and so he was persuaded to go to Caesarea and then on to his hometown of Tarsus. ‘So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.’ The chapter concludes with Peter healing Aeneas who had been paralysed for eight years. As a result, many people at Lydda and Sharon believed on the Lord. At nearby Joppa, Peter was similarly God’s instrument in miraculously restoring a disciple called Tabitha, who had been full of good works and acts of charity, to life after she had fallen seriously ill and subsequently died. Again, the people marvelled and believed on the Lord Jesus and embraced the Christian faith.

To ponder! For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil.1:21).

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Bible Challenge: Day 98

Bible Reading: Leviticus 8 & Acts 10

Leviticus 8 concerns the consecration of Aaron and his fellow priests to the ministry of the Tabernacle. The LORD commanded Moses to prepare the priests and the specified sacrifices and assemble the people before the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. Moses ritually washed Aaron and his sons and clothed the high priest in his priestly garments comprising, coat, sash, robe, and ephod. He placed the breast-piece on him and added the Urim and Thummim. He finally placed the turban on his head and its the golden plate, the holy crown, as instructed by God. Moses then anointed the Tabernacle and all its furniture before anointing and consecrating Aaron and the priests. The bull of the sin offering was brought to Aaron and his sons, who laid their hands upon it. It was then sacrificed, and Moses applied its blood to the altar before offering the sacrifice to God. Then the ram of burnt offering was similarly offered, followed by the ram of ordination. ‘Moses took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron's right ear and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. 24 Then he presented Aaron's sons, and Moses put some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet. And Moses threw the blood against the sides of the altar.’ Then the sacrifice was apportioned as stipulated and the wave offering followed. Aaron and the priesthood consumed the flesh along with unleavened bread at the entrance to the tent of meeting. They were commanded to remain there for seven days and nights. And they did all that the LORD commanded through his servant, Moses.

Acts 10 begins at Caesarea with Cornelius, a gentile and centurion in the service of Rome. He was ‘a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.’ God’s angelic messenger told him in a vision to summon Peter who was staying at Joppa in the home of Simon the Tanner. The next day as Cornelius’ messengers were on route to Joppa, Peter, sitting on a rooftop at mid-day also had a vision. He ‘saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”’ God then met Peter’s aversion to eating anything common or unclean according to the Laws given to Israel via Moses, by adding, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times to reinforce the message. It also possibly paralleled Peter’s earlier three-fold denial of Christ and the Lord’s three-fold restitution, as well as corresponding to the three messengers sent by the centurion. Peter accompanied the servants and on arrival at Caesarea he stopped Cornelius from falling at his feet and worshipping him by saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” And added, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.” Cornelius shared his vision with Peter who responded, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Peter shared the good news of peace through Jesus Christ and pointed out that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” At that the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word, including Cornelius and his household who were Gentiles. Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he baptised Cornelius and other Gentiles who believed. He remained with them for some days, likely preaching and teaching the fledgling church at Caesarea.

To ponder! So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal.3:26-29, NIV).

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Bible Challenge: Day 99

Bible Reading: Leviticus 9 & Acts 11

On the eighth day, Moses called Aaron and his sons and the people of Israel to offer sacrifices to the LORD. He declared, “This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.” Then Moses said to Aaron, “Draw near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and for the people, and bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them, as the LORD has commanded.” Aaron accordingly sacrificed and offered to God the calf of the sin offering, the ram of the burnt offering, and then presented the people’s offerings of a goat, ox and ram. After offering the sin, burnt, and peace offerings, Aaron lifted his hands and pronounced a benediction upon for the people. The glory of the LORD appeared on the assembled. ‘And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.’

In Acts 11 Peter reported to the church in Jerusalem how Gentiles now also believed the gospel, had been baptised and had received the Holy Spirit. News had reached the church in Jerusalem, and some there had been critical that Peter had been in fellowship with Gentiles. And so, Peter informed his fellow apostles and other members of the church of his vision at Joppa and how it had led to his journey to Cornelius, his household, and others, in Caesarea. And of how the Holy Spirit had fallen upon Gentile believers just as it had on Jewish ones at Pentecost. Peter explained, “And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?” His critics fell silent and the church ‘glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”’ The church, scattered by persecution to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch following Stephen’s martyrdom, had initially shared the good news among those of Jewish ethnicity and their numbers grew as people responded in faith and repentance. However, at Antioch Hellenists also gladly received the gospel, prompting the church in Jerusalem to send Barnabas to them. ‘When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.’ Barnabas also travelled to Tarsus where he located Saul and persuaded him to return to Antioch with him. They remained there for over a year teaching the fledgling church. It was there that believers were first called Christians. Responding to a foretelling of famine throughout the known world, the church at Antioch took up a collection for the relief of their brothers and sisters throughout Judea which they entrusted to Barnabas and Saul to deliver to the elders in that region.

To ponder! For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom.10:12-13).

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Bible Challenge: Day 100

Bible Reading: Leviticus 10 & Acts 12

Leviticus 10 begins with the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. Ignoring the strict instructions given by the LORD via Moses on how God was to be approached and worshipped, they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD. ‘And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.’ Moses commanded the sons of Aaron’s uncle, Uzziel, to bury Nadab and Abihu outside the camp. There was to be no funeral rites and Aaron and his fellow priests were to remain serving at the Tabernacle. The LORD then commanded Aaron on pain of death to mandate that no alcohol was consumed when serving in the tent of meeting. He was also to distinguish between the holy and the common, the unclean and the clean, and teach the people the ordinances delivered to Israel via Moses. There follows instruction delivered by Moses to the priesthood concerning the consumption of food offerings designated for the priests and their families. Moses also admonished Eleazer and Ithamar for their failure to adhere to the laws set down. Aaron offered sin and burnt offerings to atone for their sin and Moses gave his approval.

Acts 12 records the martyrdom of James, the brother of John, who was put to death by the sword on the orders of the King Herod Agrippa. He similarly had Peter arrested and intended to hand him over also to be put to death but because it was the Feast of the Passover, he had him incarcerated to await the conclusion of the Feast. The church prayed earnestly for Peter. And God miraculously intervened on the eve of Peter’s being summoned before Herod to be condemned. Peter was shackled with chains between two guards when an angel appeared to him and liberated him. Peter declared, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” Peter went the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark where members of the church were praying. They were amazed by his unexpected appearance. He told them what had happened to him and asked them to pass on the news to James, Jesus’ half-brother, and his fellow apostles. Herod issued a death warrant for Peter, but he escaped to Caesarea. Herod was later struck dead by the Lord while delivering a speech to a political delegation from Tyre and Sidon. ‘But the word of God increased and multiplied.’ Meanwhile, Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem with John Mark in their company.

To ponder! Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap (Gal.6:7).

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Bible Challenge: Day 101

Bible Reading: Leviticus 11 & Acts 13

Leviticus 11 differentiates between clean and unclean animals. The people of Israel were permitted to consume ‘Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, but were prohibited from eating camels, rock badgers, hares, and pigs which were designated unclean. They were permitted to eat fish but prohibited from consuming aquatic creatures that did not have fins or scales. Similarly, there follows a list of birds that were not to be eaten. Also, some insects were edible but others that went on four legs that were not jointed above the feet were to be avoided. Contact with an unclean carcass made one unclean until nightfall. There follows further information regarding which animals were unclean and instructions for responding to contact with them. Israel was to consecrate themselves and be holy as the children of God. They were to avoid defilement of any kind. Therefore, ‘This is the law about beast and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms on the ground, 47 to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.’

Acts 13 begins with the church at Antioch under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and after fasting and prayer, ordaining and sending Barnabas and Saul to Cyprus and beyond to proclaim the gospel. ‘When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John [Mark] to assist them.’ At Paphos, they enjoyed an audience with the proconsul but they were vociferously opposed by Elymas, a Jewish soothsayer. Saul who from now on will be called Paul, confronted Elymas and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Elymas immediately lost his sight and the proconsul, astonished, believed the teaching of the Lord. Afterward, Paul and his companions set sail for Perga in Pamphylia, while John Mark returned to Jerusalem. From Perga they travelled to Antioch in Pisidia where on the Sabbath Day they taught the people about Jesus from our Old Testament scriptures. Starting with the Patriarchs, and the Exodus, down through God’s covenant with David, Paul revealed Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of scripture prophecy and the One proclaimed by John the Baptist. Paul focussed attention on the death and resurrection of Jesus and assured the people that this was the good news that God had promised to their forebears.

Quoting Psalms 2 and 16 he reaffirmed that they anticipated Jesus’ person, death, resurrection, and ascension to glory. He then applied the teaching to his hearers. “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” Paul further pleaded with his fellow Jews to believe the gospel and warned them of the consequences of rejecting the Saviour. The people responded positively and desired to hear more. The following Sabbath the whole city gathered to hear the word of God proclaimed by Paul and Barnabas. This infuriated the religious rulers who filled with envy set about discrediting their claims. Paul and Barnabas defended the good news and declared, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” At this, many Gentiles believed began rejoicing and glorified the word of God. And so, the church continued to grow and expand its reach. The religious authorities, however, stirred up powerful opposition against Paul and Barnabas that forced them to leave the region and make for Iconium. The chapter concludes with the encouraging revelation, ‘And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.’

To ponder! ‘The New was in the Old concealed. The Old is in the New revealed.’

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Bible Challenge: Day 102

Bible Reading: Leviticus 12 & Acts 14

Leviticus 12 contains instructions for the purification of women after childbirth. A mother was designated unclean for seven days after childbirth. If her child was a boy, then on the eighth day he was to be circumcised. ‘Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed.’ If her child was a girl, she was designated unclean for two weeks and was to continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days. At the completion of the days of her purifying she was to present a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting which he would offer up to God. The poor could substitute the lamb for another pigeon or turtledove.

Acts 14 begins with Paul and Barnabas at Iconium. They preached Christ in the synagogue and Jews of both Hebrew and Greek background believed. However, some opponents of the gospel stirred up the Gentiles against them. ‘So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.’ The missionaries and their message divided public opinion. Those who were antagonistic plotted to have Paul and Barnabas stoned to death, but they received warning and fled to Lystra and Derbe where undeterred they continued to proclaim the good news. At Lystra, a man crippled from birth was healed and walked through the instrumentality of Paul’s ministry. The people amazed at what they saw, began to worship Paul and Barnabas for Greek gods. The brothers responded, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Jewish opponents arrived in Lystra from Antioch and Iconium and turned the crowd against Paul and Barnabas. Paul was seized and stoned outside the city but miraculously survived and accompanied Barnabas to Derbe. There they preached the gospel and taught the fledgling church, edifying and encouraging the Christians there to remain steadfast in the faith. They appointed elders after prayer and fasting for the oversight of the churches in that locality. Returning to Antioch via Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, and Attalia they preached God’s word and commended all to the grace of God. When they returned to Antioch the church gathered and they shared news of what God had done through their ministry and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. There they remained for some time.

To ponder! And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” (Lk.4:8).

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Bible Challenge: Day 103

Bible Reading: Leviticus 13 & Acts 15

Leviticus 13 contains laws about leprosy. A person contracting leprosy was to present him/herself to the priest who would pronounce that person unclean. Not all cases were leprous however and so the priest was to re-examine the person after seven days and pronounce either clean or unclean. The leprous person was considered clean (no longer infectious) when the sores healed and turned white but open raw flesh was designated leprous and that person was isolated. There follows detailed descriptions regarding the priest’s examination of the person that had contracted a skin infection in different parts of the body. ‘“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.’ Clothes of leprous people were to be incinerated to help stop the spread of infection.

Acts 15 begins in Antioch where some Christians of Jewish descent had come down from Jerusalem and were insisting that Gentile believers needed to be circumcised to be saved. Paul and Barnabas disputed their claim and the church sent them and others to the apostles and church in Jerusalem to settle the issue. On route they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria sharing the good news of what God had done for the Gentiles as well as the Jews in Jesus. And people rejoiced. They were warmly welcomed by the apostles and the church in Jerusalem, but some believers of Pharisaic background continued to insist that Gentiles needed to be circumcised in conformity to the law of Moses. And so, to resolve the matter, the apostles convened a council of the church. Peter addressed the assembly and said, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Then Paul and Barnabas told the council about their ministry and of what God had done through them for Gentile believers. James, the Lord Jesus’ half-brother who was minister of the church in Jerusalem then affirmed Peter’s ministry among the Gentiles and pointed out that this was God’s will and therefore the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. He concluded, “my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” And so, the apostles, elders and church in Jerusalem composed a letter with their ruling and sent a delegation which included Judas (Barsabbas) and Silas back to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. Their letter ended, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” The chapter concludes with the separation of Paul and Barnabas after a dispute about John Mark who joined Barnabas on a return trip to Cyprus. Paul, now accompanied by Silas went through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches.

To ponder! “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isa.45:22).

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Bible Challenge: Day 104

Bible Reading: Leviticus 14 & Acts 16

Leviticus 14 contains instructions for the ritual purification of lepers and the cleansing of their homes. The priest was to examine the leprous person outside the camp and if the said person was no longer showing symptoms of the disease but was healed then the priest was to command them to take two clean birds, cedarwood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop. One bird was to be sacrificed and its blood mixed with fresh water was to be sprinkled seven times over the person healed as a sign of cleansing. The other bird was to be released as a symbol of freedom from contagion. ‘And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days. 9 And on the seventh day he shall shave off all his hair from his head, his beard, and his eyebrows. He shall shave off all his hair, and then he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean.’ On the eighth day two male lambs without blemish were to be offered for guilt, sin, and burnt offerings along with a grain offering mixed with oil. Detailed instructions for the priestly rituals are then provided. The poor could substitute one lamb with two pigeons or turtledoves. The home of a leper was to be examined by a priest. There follow instructions for removing contaminated materials and cleansing the house. If the contagion re-emerged in the house, it was to be demolished and the stonework, timbers, plasterwork, and interior fabrics were to be removed outside the camp to a site designated unclean. If no further sign of disease emerged after a designated period, the priest would carry out the specified rites for the cleansing of homes.

Acts 16 begins with Paul at Derbe and Lystra where he called Timothy to join him on his missionary travels. Timothy was from a mixed marriage. His mother was Jewish while his father was Greek. Paul therefore, thought it expedient to have Timothy circumcised to ease his reception among the Jews among whom they would communicate the gospel. They visited and strengthened the churches throughout the cities of the region which continued to grow and intimated the declaration made by the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem Council. Guided by the Spirit of Jesus they arrived at Troas via Phrygia, Galatia, and Mysia. There Paul received a vision and ‘a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”’ Perceiving that this was a call from God to go preach the gospel in Europe, Paul made for Samothrace and Neapolis and from there he travelled to Philippi, a leading city in the Roman colony of Macedonia. On the Sabbath he met Lydia in a prayer meeting by the riverside outside the city gates. She was from Thyatira, was a seller of purple goods and therefore a woman of some means, and she was a worshipper of God. ‘The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.”’

While abiding in the city, Paul and Silas exorcised a spirit of divination from a young slave girl in the name of Jesus. Her owners, angered at the loss of income that was sure to result, had Paul and Silas apprehended and dragged before the city magistrates. The missionaries were consequently beaten with rods and imprisoned with their feet shackled. At midnight while Paul and Silas were praying and singing psalms to God, there was an earthquake which shook the prison. The locks on their shackles were miraculously unfastened and the prison doors opened. Paul cried out to the prison guard who awoke and thinking that his prisoners had escaped was about to take his own life, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” ‘Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”’ The Philippian jailer took Paul and Silas to his home, nursed their wounds, and was then baptised, along with his household, and rejoiced in God. The following day the magistrates sent word that the evangelists were to be set free. Paul, however, responded, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” And so, the magistrates, fearing reprisals, came and apologised and led them out of the city. They visited Lydia and encouraged the believers before leaving the city.

To ponder! How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Rom.10:14).

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Sunday

Bible Challenge: Day 105

Bible Reading: Leviticus 15 & Acts 17

Leviticus 15 records the law anent bodily discharges. The person with a discharge was designated unclean as was all that he or she touched, including other people. When cleansed that person had to wait seven days, bathe in fresh water, and wash his or her clothes. On the eighth day two pigeons or turtledoves were to be presented to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting who would sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.

After an emission of semen, a man was to bathe and was considered unclean until evening. Similarly, when lying with a woman both were designated unclean until evening. Menstrual discharge made a woman unclean for seven days and all that she came into contact with was also so designated. She was to count seven days after her discharge of blood stopped and on the eighth day she was to present two turtledoves or pigeons to the priest at the Tent of Meeting who would offer them up to God as a sin and burnt offerings. ‘“Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.”’

Acts 17 begins with Paul and Silas at Thessalonica. There, in the synagogue on three consecutive Sabbaths, they proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ and showed from the Scriptures why it was necessary that he be put to death and then rise triumphantly from the grave. Some Jews and many Greeks believed and were consequently added to the church. However, some Jews were antagonistic towards the good news and jealous of the positive response that Paul and Silas had received sought to suppress the gospel. They incited a mob to attack the home of Jason, a Christian, who had shown hospitality to Paul and Silas. Unable to locate the missionaries, they dragged Jason before the magistrates, claiming, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” Jason was released on payment of security which was in effect a fine. Paul and Silas escaped by night and made their way to Berea where they taught in the synagogue. Many there ‘received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.’ Nevertheless, a Jewish delegation from Thessalonica arrived and stirred up a crowd against them. Paul was evidently the main target of their animus and so some believers journeyed with him to Athens where he was soon met by Silas and Timothy.

While awaiting the arrival of Silas and Timothy, Paul was aggrieved by the multiplicity of statues to Greek and Roman gods. Moreover, he reasoned with fellow Jews in the synagogue and conversed and challenged Greek philosophers with the gospel in the marketplace which was the customary arena for public discourse in the ancient world. Some were critical and dismissive, but others were curious and desirous to hear more. And so, Paul courteously and courageously addressed the people of Athens at the Areopagus. Perceiving their religiosity, he revealed the one, living, and true God, the Creator of all things, in whom we live and move and have our being. He declared, “we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Some mocked but others were attentive and responsive. Among those that believed were Dionysius, the Areopagite, and Damaris.

To ponder! For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor.1:21-24).

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Monday

Bible Challenge: Day 106

Bible Reading: Leviticus 16 & Acts 18

Leviticus 16 takes for its theme the Day of Atonement. It begins with the LORD communicating his will for Aaron and his successors via Moses regarding how they were to approach God and make atonement for sin. They were prohibited from entering the Holy Place and approaching the Ark of the Covenant with its Mercy Seat in any other way but that designated by God. Aaron had to present a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He had to bathe and then dress in his priestly garments including the turban. He also had to take two male goats and one ram from the congregation for a sin and burnt offering respectively. The two goats were to be presented at the tent of meeting. Aaron was then to cast lots over them. ‘And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.’ Then follows detailed instructions on how the bull was to be sacrificed and its blood sprinkled seven times upon the mercy seat for the sin of Aaron and his house, followed by the goat to make atonement for the people. ‘Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.’ Only Aaron and his high priestly successors were permitted to enter the Holy Place at this time. After he had made atonement for his own sins and for the sins of the children of Israel, he was to present the live goat. He was to lay his hands upon it and make confession of sin for the people and then have it released into the wilderness. Afterwards he was to return to the Holy Place, undress and leave his garments there, and then bathe again, redress and present the burnt offering, the remains of which were to be taken outside the camp and incinerated. Further washings were to follow before readmittance to the camp. The Day of Atonement was to be held annually on the tenth day of the seventh month. It was to be a special Sabbath of solemn rest to atone for sin. ‘And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.”’

In Acts 18 Paul has travelled from Athens to Corinth. There he stayed with Aquila and Priscilla and made a living by making tents. Every Sabbath Day he attended the synagogue and sought to persuade Jews and Greeks alike to accept God’s good news regarding Jesus. When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, they found Paul proclaiming Jesus as God’s Messiah to the Jews. When certain Jews rejected his message and reviled him, he rebuked them and carried on his mission by turning to the Gentiles. And this was the regular pattern of Paul’s ministry - to the Jew first and then to the Gentile. At the home of Titius Justus, Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, along with his household, believed the gospel and were baptised, as did many other Corinthians. The Lord appeared to Paul in a vision and said, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And so, the apostle stayed over one and a half years in Corinth preaching and teaching the word of God, and along with it he likely administered the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Nevertheless, Jewish opponents of the gospel appealed to Gallio, the proconsul, to have Paul punished for teaching contrary to the law. And when their appeal was unsuccessful, they resorted to violence against Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue who was evidently sympathetic towards the gospel. After some time, Paul, accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla set sail for Syria. On route, he cut his hair and made a vow. At Ephesus he presented the gospel to the Jews at the synagogue and sought to convince them that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Declining an invitation from believers to stay and minister in that city, he promised to return if God so willed. From Caesarea he journeyed to Antioch and spent some time with the church there, before making for the region of Galatia and Phrygia, where he strengthened Christians in the faith. At Ephesus there was an Alexandrian by the name of Apollos. ‘He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures.’ He enthusiastically preached Christ in the Spirit, but his knowledge of the faith was limited. And so, Priscilla and Aquila instructed him to help him grow in knowledge, grace, and accuracy in presenting the gospel. With the approval of the church, he travelled to Achaia where ‘he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.’

To ponder! Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb.10:19-22).

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Bible Challenge: Day 107

Bible Reading: Leviticus 17 & Acts 19

Leviticus 17 contains God’s command anent the place of sacrifice. Anyone that killed an ox, lamb, or goat had to bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting and offer it as a gift to the LORD lest its bloodguilt be imputed to that person. This was designed to prevent the people offering sacrifice to false gods. “And you shall say to them, Any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice 9 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it to the LORD, that man shall be cut off from his people.” Similarly, the consumption of blood was prohibited. ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.’ Understanding these Old Testament rites and rituals help us understand the true significance of Christ’s sacrifice which they anticipated and typified. As the apostle writes, ‘knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.’ And so God commanded the children of Israel and strangers in their midst that even animals and birds killed while hunting had to have their blood removed before they could be consumed on the pain of excommunication. And anyone that had contact with blood had to wash his clothes and bathe lest ‘he shall bear his iniquity.’

Acts 19 provides a record of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus and the riot that was incited by enemies of Christ’s gospel. There he baptised believers and laid hands upon them, and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit which was evident in their ability to speak in foreign languages and prophecy. As was his practice, Paul confidently and courageously taught for three months in the synagogue reasoning and persuading the congregants about the Kingdom of God. However, vociferous opposition arose that compelled Paul to continue his preaching ministry daily at the hall of Tyrannus. He continued in Ephesus preaching and teaching God’s word for two years so that Jews and Greeks alike heard the good news. God worked miraculously through the instrumentality of Paul, so the sick were healed and those possessed by evil spirits were liberated. Seven sons of a high priest called Sceva however fraudulently claimed to have Paul’s gift of exorcism but they themselves ended up being possessed by an evil spirit and fled naked and wounded. This became widely known among the residents of Ephesus, and so more people came to revere the Lord Jesus. Indeed, many renounced the practice of magic and sorcery and burnt their associated books publicly. Afterward Paul resolved to travel to Jerusalem and then onto Rome via Macedonia and Achaia. A disturbance arose in Ephesus concerning Christians who were called the Way after Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. A silversmith called Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, a Greek goddess, whose temple was in Ephesus, stirred up opposition to the church among his fellow craftsman who were losing trade because people were turning to Christ and forsaking Artemis. They incited others and before long a mob formed and a riot ensued. ‘So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theatre, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul's companions in travel. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him.’ The town clerk intervened and subdued the crowd. Fearful of repercussions for the city, he persuaded the antagonists to release the brothers and that any complaints they had needed to be dealt with lawfully through the courts. The crowd dispersed.

To ponder! You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3).

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Bible Challenge: Day 108

Bible Reading: Leviticus 18 & Acts 20

Leviticus 18 defines and prohibits unlawful sexual relations. It begins by reminding the children of Israel that they were not to be like the surrounding nations. They were called to a higher standard. They were to be holy, sanctified, separate, and distinct. They were not to follow the culture but rather the moral code given to them by God. And therefore, sexual relations were forbidden with close family members, or with a woman during her period, or with someone that belonged to another religion. Adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality were also prohibited. “For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. 30 So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.”

In Acts 20 Paul takes his leave of the church in Ephesus. From there he spent three months in Greece proclaiming the gospel and edifying and encouraging the faithful. After a plot was hatched against him by certain Jews, he returned to Macedonia accompanied by Luke. Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, and Trophimus who waited for him at Troas, while he and Luke were in Philippi for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. At Troas, late on the evening of the Lord’s Day, Paul administered the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and preached the word until after midnight to a gathering of believers in an upper room. A young man named Eutychus, overcome by tiredness, sank into a deep sleep and fell from a window ledge, killing him instantly. ‘But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”’ Eutychus was restored to life to the great relief of all assembled. Food was served and Paul conversed with the church until taking his leave at daybreak.

Paul and his companions then made their way to Miletus via, Assos, Mitylene, Chios, and Samos. He aimed to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost. At Miletus he addressed the elders of the church at Ephesus who had gathered to meet with him. Paul stated how he had humbly yet courageously served the church in Asia with tears and trials. He had taught only what was advantageous to them both in public and from house to house, “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” He explained that he was going up to Jerusalem where he would likely experience further imprisonment and afflictions. He added, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.’ Paul added that he had taught them the whole counsel of God when he was with them providing a solid foundation for growth and maturity He bid the elders, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” He warned them to guard against those that would lead the flock astray by ambition, false teaching, and unbiblical practices and commended them to God and the word of his grace. Paul then prayed for the elders before taking his leave. They wept as the apostle bid them farewell, knowing that they would never see him again.

To ponder! preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Tim.4:2).

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Bible Challenge: Day 109

Bible Reading: Leviticus 19 & Acts 21

Leviticus 19 begins with the LORD’s command to Israel, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” Consequently, they are to revere their parents, mark the Sabbath as a holy day, and avoid apostasy and idolatry. They are to adhere to the regulative principle of worship. Moreover, they are to love their neighbour as themselves. They are to make provision for the poor and the stranger. They are to treat one another justly and give due consideration to those with disabilities. They are to be impartial and avoid harbouring bitterness and thoughts of vengeance against one another. Rather they are to keep God’s statutes. There follow various laws anent the breeding of livestock, the treatment of slaves, and the planting and harvesting of fruit trees. Once again, they are prohibited from consuming blood and are to avoid omens and fortune-tellers. They are not to emulate the fashions and practices of the surrounding cultures that cut and tattooed their bodies. They are not to prostitute their daughters. They are to reverence God and the place of worship. They are to avoid mediums and necromancers. They are to honour the elderly. They are to treat strangers well and avoid fraudulent practices. The chapter concludes, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. 37 And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the LORD.”

Acts 21 begins with the course of Paul and his companions’ journey from Miletus to Tyre via Cos, Rhodes, and Patara. There they stayed for seven days with Christians who fearful for his wellbeing urged Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Families accompanied Paul down to the beach where they parted after prayer. From there they voyaged to Ptolemais where they were warmly greeted by believers and stayed a day before journeying on to Caesarea where they stayed with Philip the Evangelist who had four unmarried daughters that prophesied. There a prophet from Judea named Agabus took Paul’s belt and bound his own hands and feet and declared, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” Consequently, the church pleaded with Paul not to continue to Jerusalem, but he responded, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” His fellow believers, therefore, replied, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” Arriving in Jerusalem, Paul and his companions were lodged with Mnason of Cyprus who was a faithful Christian. The following day they met with James, the half-brother of the Lord Jesus and the elders of the church in Jerusalem and told them how God had assuredly blessed their mission and of how many Gentiles were added to the church. James urged Paul to follow Jewish customs and live in observance to the law while in the capital and attending the Temple, but he reiterated the ruling of the Jerusalem Council concerning Gentile believers. After seven days, zealous Jews from Asia made virulent accusations against Paul after spotting him in the Temple. They labelled him an enemy of their religion and falsely accused him of defiling the Temple by bringing those of Greek background into the holy place. Paul was seized and dragged out of the Temple. His life was spared only by the intervention of the Roman tribune and guard. The tribune, nevertheless, had the apostle arrested, bound in chains, and taken to the city barracks, while a mob was baying for his blood. Paul, however, courageously received permission from the tribune to address his adversaries.

To ponder! Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Mt.5:11-12).

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Bible Challenge: Day 110

Bible Reading: Leviticus 20 & Acts 22

Leviticus 20 begins with a prohibition on the pain of death for the pagan practice of sacrificing children to Molech, a false god. Infanticide was a capital offense. Similarly, those that worshipped false gods were to be excommunicated, that is, cut off from fellowship with Israel. Those that made use of mediums or necromancers were also expelled from the Old Testament church. The children of Israel were to consecrate themselves and be holy because the LORD God is holy. Those that cursed their parents were also to be put to death. There follow grave punishments for sexual immorality, including adultery, incest, and bestiality. The people by contrast were to keep God’s rules and statutes. They were to remain separate and distinct from the surrounding nations where such practices were common. The LORD declared, “‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. … You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”

In Acts 22 Paul addresses the mob in Jerusalem that had been baying for his blood. He spoke in Hebrew which quietened the crowd to listen to what he had to say. Paul affirmed his Jewish ethnicity, heritage, and background. He explained that he had received a theological education from Gamaliel, a renowned and respected teacher in Israel, and had been zealous for the religious traditions of his forebears. He confessed to being a vociferous and violent persecutor of the church until his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He rehearsed what the Lord Jesus had said to him and recounted his blindness and of being led to Damascus where through the gracious ministry of Ananias his sight was restored to love and serve the Lord Christ and advance his kingdom through the preaching of the gospel. And so, Paul told the people of his baptism and commission, and of how the Lord Jesus had even appeared to him in a vision while in the Temple in Jerusalem and sent him to proclaim good news to the Gentiles. This however further riled and enraged the crowd. The Roman tribune commanded Paul be taken into the barracks and flogged. The apostle, however, pleaded for justice. He asked the centurion in charge of the guard, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” This revelation was conveyed to the tribune who hearing Paul affirm that he was indeed a Roman citizen by birth summoned the high priest and Sanhedrin to investigate the matter further.

To ponder! Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor.5:17-19).

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Bible Challenge: Day 111

Bible Reading: Leviticus 21 & Acts 23

Leviticus 21 contains instructions anent the appearance and practice of the priesthood. The priest was to avoid contact with the deceased except for close relatives. They were prohibited from making tonsures, or of trimming their beards, or of making cuts on their bodies. ‘They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God.’ Restrictions were made on which women they could marry to avoid scandal or of bringing the name of the sanctuary into disrepute. The death penalty was to be imposed on daughters that practised sexual immorality. The chief priest was not permitted to let his hair hang loose over his clerical garments, nor was he allowed to tear his priestly clothing. Those with disabilities were not permitted to serve in the Tabernacle.

Acts 23 begins with Paul before the Sanhedrin. The apostle addressed the religious authorities courteously, referring to them as ‘brothers’ and stating that he had walked before God in good conscience all his days. The high priest, nevertheless, commanded that Paul be struck in the face. The apostle rebuked the injustice but insisted that he had not known that the order had come from the high priest. And realising that the Council was divided theologically or denominationally into two camps comprising Sadducees and Pharisees, Paul sagaciously made reference to his own theological training and background as a Pharisee and raised the subject of resurrection which the Pharisees believed in but the Sadducees rejected, along with angels and spirits. Before long a great dispute and clamour arose between the two groups with the Pharisees defending Paul’s position. Fearing violence against Paul, the tribune had him removed from the scene and taken back to the Roman barracks. ‘The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”’ Some the Jews antagonistic to the gospel meanwhile plotted to murder Paul and won approval from the high priest and other leaders. A nephew of Paul’s hearing of the plan to assassinate him informed the tribune who in turn ordered that Paul be taken in the night by armed guard to Felix, the Governor at Caesarea. A letter was sent to Felix informing the Governor why Paul had been taken into custody and of the plot against him. The tribune wrote, ‘I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment.’ On hearing that Paul was from Cilicia, Felix told him, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” Paul was placed under guard in Herod’s praetorium.

To ponder! Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? (1Tim.3:2-5).

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For Sunday

Bible Challenge: Day 112

Bible Reading: Leviticus 22 & Acts 24

Leviticus 22 continues with rules for the priesthood designed to ensure that they did not profane God’s holy name in his service. They were to be vigilant in observing the laws anent those things that God had designated unclean. And there follow a list of such items and practices. Therein they were not only to retain their fitness to minister in the Tabernacle, but they were to provide an example for others members of the Old Testament church. Distinction was made between clerical and lay persons. Only the priests and their immediate households could consume the holy sacrifices offered at the Sanctuary (holy things). ‘They shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, which they contribute to the LORD, 16 and so cause them to bear iniquity and guilt, by eating their holy things: for I am the LORD who sanctifies them.” There follow mandates on acceptable offerings which had to be without blemish. “So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the LORD.”

Acts 24 provides a record of Paul’s arraignment before Felix. Ananias, the high priest, accompanied by elders and Tertullus a spokesman, had come down to Caesarea from Jerusalem to lay accusations against the apostle. They falsely declared, ‘For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him.’ The governor then motioned Paul to reply. The apostle speaking confidently and cheerfully defended his work and witness. Paul denied the charges of sedition and explained why he had travelled to Jerusalem and was found in the Temple. He confessed “that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” Felix who was somewhat acquainted with the Christian faith sympathised with Paul and was reluctant to hand him over to the Jewish ruling authorities or sanction his death. He informed the Jewish delegation that he would only make a ruling after he had heard from Lysias the Jerusalem tribune, and had Paul detained in custody where his fellow believers could visit him. Some days later Paul was summoned to speak with Felix and his Jewish wife, Drusilla, who were curious about the Christian faith. ‘And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”’ Felix summoned the apostle to speak with him on many occasions, anticipating a bribe for Paul’s release, but none was forthcoming. And so, the apostle was detained in prison for two years before Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus as governor.

To ponder! Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account (Mt.5:11).

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Bible Challenge: Day 113

Bible Reading: Leviticus 23 & Acts 25

Leviticus 23 records the appointed feasts for Israel which they were to keep as holy convocations. The children of Israel were to observe the fourth commandment in keeping the Sabbath Day holy. Non-essential work was forbidden. The Sabbath was to be universally observed. Then follows the annual Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month with its accompanying Feast of Unleavened Bread when no work was to be done on the first as well as the seventh day. Then follows details for the observation of the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks with their appointed wave offerings in anticipation and thanksgiving for God’s rich provision. “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” Thereafter comes the Feast of Trumpets on the first day of the seventh month followed by the Day of Atonement with its penitential rituals and rites. ‘It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath.’ This was followed by the Feast of Booths on the fifteenth day of the seventh month which was to last for seven days. This was a Harvest Thanksgiving and a memorial to God’s grace in delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt and providing for their needs in the wilderness.

Acts 25 picks up where chapter 24 left off. The Roman Governor, Festus, on route to Caesarea visits Jerusalem. There, the religious authorities again made their case against Paul and requested that he be sent to Jerusalem to answer for the accusation laid against him. We are further told that they had planned to have him murdered. Festus, nevertheless, insisted that a delegation accompany him to Caesarea where they could lay their charges against the apostle. Paul stalwartly defended himself. He claimed that “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” Declining Festus’ invitation to go up to Jerusalem and defend himself before the Jewish religious rulers, Paul, as a Roman citizen, appealed to Caesar. ‘Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”’ And we detect the hand of Providence at work in this development because God has assured Paul that he will bear witness to the good news in Rome. While still at Caesarea, Festus shared Paul’s case with visiting King Agrippa and Bernice. Intrigued, Agrippa asked Festus if he could meet with Paul. And so, Paul was arraigned before Agrippa to be interrogated, with Festus hoping that he might gain an understanding of the charges brought against Paul thereby for his report to Caesar.

To ponder! The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all (Ps.103:19).

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Bible Challenge: Day 114

Bible Reading: Leviticus 24 & Acts 26

Leviticus 24 begins with the LORD’s command to his people to provide a regular supply of olive oil to keep the lamps burning in the sanctuary and flour for the twelve loaves of bread that represented the children of Israel before God. These were to be offered every Sabbath Day. Then follows a law anent blasphemy based on a historical precedent. And so, ‘Whoever

blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.’ The chapter ends with the law of retribution with its eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth principle.

Acts 26 contains an account of Paul’s defence of the faith before King Agrippa. The apostle reveals his background as a Pharisee and makes clear that he was being persecuted by his fellow Jews for his biblical belief in the resurrection. Paul could empathise and sympathise with his detractors because he too had once been a zealous opponent of Christ’s gospel and church. He confessed, “I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” He then rehearsed his encounter with the risen Jesus and subsequent conversion and commission on the road to Damascus. The Lord Jesus called and sent him to proclaim the Good News to open the eyes of the spiritually blind, ‘so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ Paul then told Agrippa of his faithfulness to the mission he had received, beginning in Damascus, Jerusalem, all Judea and then to the Gentiles of the surrounding nations. The apostle urged Jew and Gentile alike to repent, turn to God, and to walk in faith, hope, and love. And for this the Jewish establishment had seized him and were seeking to have him put to death. Festus interjected, claiming that Paul had lost his mind, but the apostle defended his call, commission, and creed. ‘And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul boldly told him he wanted all to believe the gospel. Agrippa, Festus, and Bernice withdrew and concluded that Paul had done nothing worthy of the death penalty. ‘And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”’

To ponder! ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

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Bible Challenge: Day 115

Bible Reading: Leviticus 25 & Acts 27

Leviticus 25 begins with a law anent the Sabbath Year. Once the children of Israel possessed the Promised Land, they were to leave their fields fallow every seventh year. It stipulated, ‘in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.’ There follow details on the holy Year of Jubilee. After forty-nines years a trumpet was to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement, a trumpet was to be sounded throughout the land, consecrating the fiftieth year. Liberty was to be proclaimed to all the people and properties acquired were to be returned. They were prohibited from sowing, reaping, or gathering grapes from undressed vines. And God promised his provision and protection if they faithfully kept his statutes. The law anent the redemption of property added further details regarding the restitution of property, land, and people. God’s word stated, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me. 24 And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land.” Moreover, they were to make restitution for and redeem kith and kin as servants of the LORD God.

Acts 27 charts part of Paul’s voyage to Rome in which he found himself shipwrecked. He set off in Roman custody under the guardianship of a centurion named Julius and accompanied by Aristarchus from Thessalonica. They docked at Sidon where Paul was given liberty to visit friends. From there they battled against heavy seas and sailed past Cyprus, Cilicia, Pamphylia, until they arrived at Myra. There Paul was transferred to a ship sailing from Alexandria to Italy. From there they made slow headway via Cnidus and Salome until they came to the aptly named Fair Havens close to the city of Lasea. There, Paul’s warning of the evident danger to ship, cargo, and crew, due to the storms was dismissed, after the captain concluded it was wiser to sail on to Phoenix on Crete and harbour for the winter. However, off the coast of Crete they encountered a tempestuous northeaster and violent seas. Storm-tossed, they jettisoned the ship’s cargo, but the gales continued for days. Paul declared, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.” Helplessly they were driven across the Adriatic Sea. Paul urged all 276 to take some food for strength and assured them that their lives would be preserved. They ditched the remaining wheat into the sea. At daylight, they eventually tried to run the ship onto a beach, but it struck a reef. Order was given to abandon ship. Those who could swim swam ashore and those that could not make it safely to land on wooden planks and pieces of the ship. None perished as Paul had foretold.

To ponder! Jesus is our Kinsman-Redeemer. “He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds” (Titus 2:14).

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Bible Challenge: Day 116

Bible Reading: Leviticus 26 & Acts 28

Leviticus 26 records blessings for obedience to God’s law and punishments for disobedience. It begins with a reiteration of the prohibition on idolatry and of God’s command to keep his appointed Sabbaths holy and reverence his designated place of worship. God pledged that “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, 4 then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.” God promised Israel peace and prosperity for faithfulness. God assured them, “And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” However, Israel would face grave consequences for defiance, disrespect, and disregard of God’s law. The LORD would discipline them sorely. He would withhold his blessing and with it their peace and prosperity. God would break the pride of their power and willful rebellion. “And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.” They shall find themselves prey to wild beasts and enemy nations. Brokenness and barrenness will be their lot. Nevertheless, God promised restitution, restoration, and renewal for repentance and renewed faith. “I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.”

Acts 28 begins with the apostle and others shipwrecked on Malta where they received hospitality. Paul amazed the inhabitants by remaining unaffected after being bitten by a snake. He gained great credit for being God’s instrument in the healing of Publius’s father and many others by prayer and the laying on of his hands. The indebted Maltese ensured that Paul and others were well provisioned for their onward voyage to Italy and Rome. On route they called at Syracuse and Rhegium, and then at Puteoli where Paul stayed with fellow Christians for seven days. On approaching Rome, Paul was warmly met by a delegation of the church in Rome. He was given liberty in the city but had a guard assigned to him. On the third day, he addressed the leaders of the Jews that lived in Rome and explained why he was in the city. While they had heard much about the advance of the Christian faith, they informed the apostle that they had received no intelligence from Jerusalem regarding the case against him. They furthermore requested a meeting to hear more about the faith Paul proclaimed. And so, after some days, they came to the place where Paul was lodging in great numbers. And ‘From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.’ Quoting the Book of Isaiah, Paul told those that rejected the gospel that God’s word had not only foretold Jewish defiance, but it had also prophesised the incorporation of the Gentiles into the church. The apostle, ‘lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.’ Here ends the Acts of the Apostles.

To ponder! “Now therefore fear [reverence] the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. …choose this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh.24:14-15).

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Bible Challenge: Day 117

Bible Reading: Leviticus 27 & Romans 1

Leviticus 27 provides a record of laws anent vows. Because only the priesthood could render service to God in the sanctuary, non-Levites dedicating and pledging service to God were freed from the obligation by making a payment for the maintenance of the Temple worship. There follows a scale for men, women, boys, and girls. Then follows similar instructions for vows offering animals, both clean and unclean, properties, and land. A firstborn male child or animal could not be pledged as they already belonged to the LORD. Moreover, items once devoted could not be redeemed. They were irreversibly set apart for a holy use. The chapter and with it, Leviticus, concludes, ‘These are the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.’

Romans 1 begins with Paul’s lengthy salutation. He describes himself as ‘a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.’ He is writing ‘To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.’ He commends the Christians in Rome for their faith which was widely recognised throughout the church catholic. He tells them how he had regularly prayed for them and has longed to see them to edify and encourage them and impart spiritual gifts. He is keen to preach the gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike in Rome so that the church there might continue to grow and prosper. Paul writes, ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” The apostle further explains the necessity of the gospel. Unbelieving fallen humanity is living in rebellion against God. They wilfully suppress the truth about God which is manifest in natural and special revelation. They fashioned false gods for themselves and gave free rein to their fallen natures. ‘They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.’ And so, Paul proclaims repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Reconciliation, reformation, and renewal are offered to all in and through God’s gospel.

To ponder! I'm not ashamed to own my Lord, or to defend his cause, maintain the honour of his Word, the glory of his cross. (Isaac Watts).

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Bible Challenge: Day 118

Bible Reading: Numbers 1 & Romans 2

Numbers begins and takes it name from God’s command to Moses to take a census of the people of Israel on the first day of the second month in the second year since the LORD had led them out of Egypt. They were to be numbered by clans (tribes) and by their fathers’ houses. Every male over twenty years of age and fit for military service was to be counted. The chiefs of each clan were to assist Moses in compiling the census. There follows a record of the numbers counted tribe by tribe with the notable exception of the Levites. They were exempted on the grounds that they had responsibility for the portable Tabernacle, all its furnishings, and the worship of God. “And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony.”

Romans 2 begins with Paul urging his readers not to presume on the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience. He insists that such graces are designed to elicit repentance – a turning from sin to God. However, he adds, ‘because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.’ The apostle asserts that God will ultimately judge all people without partiality. There is a heaven to gain and a hell to avoid. Glory, honour, and peace await the righteous, while tribulation and distress lie in store for the unrighteous. Addressing those of Jewish ethnicity he insists that their religious heritage is of little or no use to them if they fail to keep God’s moral law and walk in unrighteousness. ‘But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.’

To ponder! ‘Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name’ (Ps.86:11).

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Bible Challenge: Day 119

Bible Reading: Numbers 2 & Romans 3

Numbers 2 contains instructions for the arrangement of the tribes encamped around the Tabernacle. The LORD commanded Moses and Aaron to communicate that “The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers' houses. They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side. There follow directions on which tribes should camp where in relation to the Tabernacle. Each clan was set out according to the major points of the compass - east, south, west, and north. ‘Then the tent of meeting shall set out, with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camps; as they camp, so shall they set out, each in position, standard by standard.’ Excluding the Levites, as commanded, the number listed in the camps by companies totalled 603,550. ‘Thus did the people of Israel. According to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so they camped by their standards, and so they set out, each one in his clan, according to his fathers' house.’

In Romans 3 Paul begins by pointing out the advantage of the Jewish heritage. The Jews, were, after all, entrusted with God’s special revelation. They were the apple of God’s eye. They were called to be a light to the Gentiles. The unfaithfulness of some did not nullify the faithfulness of others. However, the apostle, quoting Psalm 14 (and 53) goes on to show that there were none righteous before God. Both Jew and Gentile needed to turn to God in faith and repentance. ‘For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.’ Nevertheless, Paul crucially adds the wonderful news, ‘But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.’ There is therefore no place for boasting, pride, or self-righteousness in the law or one’s religious background because salvation is by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. Christians are to keep the Moral Law as a means of sanctification in Christ and to show their love for God and their neighbour as beloved children of God. This is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work within the Christian granting him or her the heart and mind of Jesus who perfectly and perpetually kept the law, thereby restoring in us the image and likeness of God that was/is sullied and stained by the fallen nature.

To ponder! God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns (Ps.46:5).

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Bible Challenge: Day 120

Bible Reading: Numbers 3 & Romans 4

Numbers 3 focuses on the responsibilities of Aaron’s posterity, the tribe of Levi, who were the priests given charge of the Tabernacle and its worship. They were to guard Aaron and his successor high priests, the priests serving in the sanctuary at any given time, the building and its furnishings, and all access to it. They were to ensure that God’s ritual laws and ordinances were kept in strict observance to his word. The LORD declared, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, 13 for all the firstborn are mine.” The Levites were to be listed by father’s house and clan. And there follow their names and the place where each clan was assigned around the Tabernacle. The various clans were then apportioned specific duties and responsibilities regarding the Tabernacle and its furnishings. ‘All those listed among the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron listed at the commandment of the LORD, by clans, all the males from a month old and upward, were 22,000.’ Chapter 3 concludes with God commanding Moses to take a census of all the firstborn males. To make up for the 273 fewer Levites than firstborn males, a redemption price of 5 shekels was to be levied for the maintenance of the sanctuary and its priesthood.

In Romans 4 Paul continues with his theme of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ for both Jew and Gentile alike. The apostle cites the Old Testament example of Abraham who “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” In other words, he was justified (declared righteous) by faith and not by works of the law. Salvation was and is by grace through faith. It is a gift to be received rather than a reward to be earned. Paul affirms this crucial teaching by reference to Psalm 32 and the words of King David therein. God’s covenant promise made to Abraham assured the patriarch that he would be the father of many nations and therefore had reference to Jews and Gentiles alike. And it was and is to be received by faith. Moreover, he adds, ‘That is why his faith was “counted to him [Abraham] as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.’

To ponder! Jesus is our righteousness, as well as wisdom from God, sanctification, and redemption. (see 1Cor.1:30).

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Bible Challenge: Day 121

Bible Reading: Numbers 4 & Romans 5

Numbers 4 contains instructions regarding specific duties for the Kohathites, Gershonites, and Merarites among the Levites. A census was to be taken of all males aged between 30 and 50 years of age within these clans. The sons of Kohath were to have responsibility for the removal, and transportation of the Tabernacle and its holy furnishings. ‘And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry.’ The Gershonites were similarly charged with carrying the curtains of the Tabernacle and the Tent of Meeting, with their coverings, hangings, screens, cords, and the equipment for their service. The sons of Merari were assigned the task of carrying the frames of the Tabernacle along with its bars, pillars, bases, pegs, cords, and associated accessories. The census revealed that there were 2750 Kohathites, 2630 Gershonites, and 3200 Merarites aged between 30 and 50. The LORD’s designated age range is evidence that not only strength, but wisdom and experience were to be highly valued in Israel.

Romans 5 begins with Paul’s memorable words, ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ In Jesus we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. In him we are transformed and enabled and equipped to joyfully persevere because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The apostle adds, ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ In and through Jesus Christians have redemption, reconciliation, and renewal. Paul points out how sin and its resultant alienation and death came into our world through the fall of Adam, but restitution, righteousness, and life are re-established in Jesus, the second Adam. ‘For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.’ The apostle concludes by explaining that the law was given to reveal sin, ‘but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Herein is the good news that Christians are not only to believe but also proclaim.

To ponder! we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1Cor.1:23-24).

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Bible Challenge: Day 122

Bible Reading: Numbers 5 & Romans 6

Numbers 5 begins with a command to expel from the camp a leprous person and anyone who has made him or herself unclean through contact with the dead. Then follow instructions for confession of sin, recompense, and restitution for wrongs. The remainder of the chapter focuses on those accused of adultery. A husband suspecting his wife of unfaithfulness was to present her before a priest at the Tabernacle. Details follow anent a ritual test for adultery that included grain offerings, as well as holy and bitter water. The chapter concludes, “This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, though under her husband's authority, goes astray and defiles herself, 30 or when the spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife. Then he shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall carry out for her all this law. 31 The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.”

If up to this point in the Letter to the Romans, Paul has largely focussed on the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, in chapter 6 he turns his attention to the doctrine of union with Christ and sanctification. He writes, ‘We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.’ Consequently, the Christian is not to go on wilfully sinning but is to mortify the fallen nature and walk in the beauty of holiness, cultivating the fruits of the Spirit as instruments of righteousness. We are not to go on sinning that grace may abound as some wrongly thought but rather are called to walk in love before God and one another. The apostle urges believers therefore to consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. ‘For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.’ Paul insists that Christians have been liberated from the sin nature to become servants of God and righteousness, the fruit of which is sanctification and eternal life. ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Note these glorious gifts are IN Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour. They are never apart from him.

To ponder! What is sanctification? A: Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness (Westminster Shorter Catechism).

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Bible Challenge: Day 123

Bible Reading: Numbers 6 & Romans 7

Numbers 6 contains instructions relating to the Nazirite vow. Those taking the vow were separating and dedicating themselves to the LORD and devoting their attention to God and the things of God for a specified time. During that period, the person under the vow was prohibited from consuming alcohol, cutting his or her hair, or of having close contact with the dead, even close family members. In the event of being in the proximity of a sudden death, the Nazarite was to shave his or her head and offer two turtledoves or pigeons and a lamb for burnt and guilt offerings at the Tabernacle. At the end of the period of the vow the Nazirite was to present him/herself at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and ‘bring his gift to the LORD, one male lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish as a sin offering, and one ram without blemish as a peace offering, 15 and a basket of unleavened bread, loaves of fine flour mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and their grain offering and their drink offerings.’ They were to shave their consecrated heads as a symbol that the vow was complete. The chapter concludes with God’s word to Moses for Aaron and the priesthood who were to bless the people of God with the following benediction: “The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” God declared, “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

In Romans 7 Paul makes clear that the Christian has been released from the Judaic law and the power and ultimate consequence of sin. He writes, ‘now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.’ In and through Christ Jesus God has inaugurated the New Covenant era and therefore gives his people a new heart and a right spirit as promised in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The law (moral) is nevertheless holy, and the commandment is holy, and righteous, and good. It reveals our sin and therefore demonstrates that faith and repentance are not one-off events but rather are a continuous way of life for the Christian. It reminds us that we are ever dependent on God’s grace, love, and mercy in Jesus. The moral law moreover is the way of love, spiritual maturity, and sanctification. The apostle, writing from personal experience points to the ongoing interior battle of the flesh and the spirit. He confesses that good intentions are not always matched with good thoughts, words, or actions. ‘So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?’ He concludes, ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.’

To ponder! ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit (Ps.51:10-12).

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Bible Challenge: Day 124

Bible Reading: Numbers 7 & Romans 8

Numbers 7 records the offerings made by the children of Israel at the consecration of the Tabernacle. The chiefs of the tribes and heads of houses presented the offerings of the people to the Levites called to priestly ministry. They ‘brought their offerings before the LORD’, which included ‘six wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for every two of the chiefs, and for each one an ox. They brought them before the tabernacle.’ There follows a record of the names of the chiefs of the tribes who each appeared over twelve consecutive days and made their freewill offerings of livestock and grain on behalf of their people. The respective sums of their monetary offerings, along with gifts of gold and silver vessels are also itemised. The chapter concludes by noting, ‘This was the dedication offering for the altar after it was anointed. 89 And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him.’

Romans 8 continues where chapter 7 ends and begins with the good news, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.’ Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law as the second Adam, and died for our sins, and rose again for our justification ‘in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.’ The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead now dwells in his people. Those that are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. We have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we can cry Abba Father. The Spirit provides affirmation and assurance that we are God’s beloved children and fellow heirs of God in Christ in whom we shall be glorified. Present hardships and suffering are patiently borne in the hope of the eternal glory that Christians await. Moreover, the apostle intimates that the Spirit is the Christian’s Helper and Counsellor who aids us in prayer and gives assurance that all things are working for the ultimate good of those that love God. ‘For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.’ Praise God for his amazing grace! Therefore, if God is for us who can be against us? Nothing and no-one in all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

To ponder! No condemnation now I dread;

Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!

Alive in Him, my living Head,

And clothed in righteousness Divine,

Bold I approach the eternal throne,

And claim the crown, through Christ my own. – Charles Wesley

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Bible Challenge: Day 125

Bible Reading: Numbers 8 & Romans 9

Numbers 8 begins with the LORD’s instructions for the golden menorah and its seven lamps also made of gold. Then the Levites (priests) were to ritually cleanse themselves and shave their bodies before making their wave, sin, and burnt sacrificial offerings. The people of Israel were to lay hands on the Levites, setting them apart for the worship of God in a symbolic gesture in recognition of their role as intermediaries between God and Israel. God declared, “And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement for the people of Israel, that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary.” The Levites were to serve in the sanctuary from the age of twenty-five to fifty. From fifty years of age, they were to “minister to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their duties.”

In Romans 9 Paul laments the opposition and unbelief of many of his fellow Jews, especially considering their God-given heritage. ‘They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.’ And yet he insists that God’s word has not failed and cites scriptural quotations to show that God’s sovereign purposes are fulfilled because not all who descended from Israel belonged to Israel. The apostle differentiates between the children of the flesh and the children of promise. He points to God’s choice in election, quoting the example of Jacob and Esau. To reinforce his position, he cites God’s word to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” And concludes, ‘So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.’ Paul in making clear that God is sovereign, and his will be done, then turns to the incorporation of the Gentiles into the church. This was not an afterthought on God’s part but was the fulfilment of his plan and purpose as revealed in the Old Testament scriptures. The apostle cites God’s word from Hosea to cement his teaching, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” Nevertheless, a remnant of Israel will be saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ who was a stumbling block to those that relied on self-righteousness, as God’s word had foretold. “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

To ponder! He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:11-13).

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For Sunday

Bible Challenge: Day 126

Bible Reading: Numbers 9 & Romans 10

Numbers 9 provides a record of Israel’s celebration of the Passover in the wilderness. ‘So Moses told the people of Israel that they should keep the Passover. 5 And they kept the Passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so the people of Israel did.’ Certain Israelites that had come into contact with a dead body asked Moses why they were prohibited from commemorating the Feast. Moses sought the LORD’s counsel and was told that such individuals or those who found themselves on a lengthy journey should continue to keep the Passover but those who were ‘clean’ and not on a journey who failed to keep the Feast should be excommunicated. Strangers were also to observe the ordinance. The remainder of the chapter concerns the ‘glory’ cloud covering the Tabernacle. At night it had the appearance of fire. This was a ‘Theophany’ a symbol of God’s presence among his people. The children of Israel were to remain camped while the cloud hovered over the Tabernacle but move camp when it moved. ‘At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out. They kept the charge of the LORD, at the command of the LORD by Moses.’

Romans 10 begins with Paul expressing his longing for his fellow Jews to receive God’s salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. He writes, ‘my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.’ Like his former self, they had a zeal but not according to knowledge. Foolishly seeking to establish their own righteousness, they eschewed and rejected God’s gift of righteousness in Christ who is ‘the end of the law for everyone that believes.’ The apostle makes clear that ‘if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ There is no longer any distinction between Jews and Gentiles with regards to salvation for all that call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. And for this reason, Paul emphasises the need for the church’s mission to send preachers to proclaim the gospel. He asks, ‘How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent?’ Paul then boldly declares, ‘So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.’ Quoting Old Testament texts that foretold Israel’s unbelief, Paul concludes, ‘But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”’

To ponder! God continues to hold out a hand to disobedient and contrary people.

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Bible Challenge: Day 127

Bible Reading: Numbers 10 & Romans 11

In Numbers 10 Moses is to commission the making of two silver trumpets. They were to be blown by a priest. When both were blown it was to be a sign to Israel to assemble before the Tabernacle or to break camp. When only one trumpet was sounded only the chiefs and heads of tribes were to gather to Moses. They were similarly to be used to raise an alarm, particularly in the event of an attack by a hostile nation. Furthermore, God’s word declared, “On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I am the LORD your God.”

In the second year, on the twelfth day of the second month the cloud that symbolised God’s presence lifted from the tabernacle of the testimony and led Israel from the wilderness of Sinai to the wilderness of Paran. The tribes set out in stages and there follow the order by which they moved camp, included the Kohathites who had responsibility for the transportation of the ‘holy things’ of the Tabernacle and its furnishings. Moses bid Hobab, the son of Reuel the Midianite to “Come with us, and we will do good to you, for the LORD has promised good to Israel” but Reuel made for his own land. And so, Israel set off walking by faith. ‘And the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them three days' journey, to seek out a resting place for them. 34 And the cloud of the LORD was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp. 35 And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.” 36 And when it rested, he said, “Return, O LORD, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.”

Romans 11 begins with Paul’s assurance that God has not rejected Israel. He points to his own background, knowledge, and experience and supports his proposition by recourse to the Old Testament scriptures. As he did in the days of Elijah, so God has preserved a remnant of his ancient people by his grace. The rest have shown themselves hardened in heart by their defiance and disobedience to God in the rejection of Christ and his gospel. However, their loss has been to the benefit and blessing of the Gentiles who have been incorporated into the church through faith in Jesus. The apostles therefore asks, ‘Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!’ Using the analogy of an olive tree and its branches, Paul points out that just as many of his fellow Jews were pruned and broken off because of their unbelief, so they can also be regrafted back in by grace through faith in Christ. He also warns his Gentile readers to remain faithful lest they too be cut off. He writes that a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in and goes on to confidently insist that all Israel will be saved. Quoting Isaiah 59 he states, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; 27and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” Paul marvels at ‘the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! …36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.’

To ponder! I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose (Isaiah 46:9-10).

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Bible Challenge: Day 128

Bible Reading: Numbers 11 & Romans 12

Numbers 11 begins with the Israelites incurring God’s righteous judgement for their grumbling and complaining about their misfortunes. The people implored Moses to intercede with God on their behalf and the LORD relented. However before long they were again complaining about the lack of variety in the food they consumed. They even reminisced on how they ate well in comparison as slaves in Egypt and incurred God’s hot displeasure. Moses, angered by the people’s sorrow, vented his frustration to the LORD. He cried, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favour in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?” Moses, feeling unable to shoulder the burdens of the people, furthermore, pleaded for help. And so, God commanded Moses to choose and consecrate seventy elders to assist him in the government of Israel. God, moreover, would anoint these select men with his Spirit and graciously continue to provide for the needs of his people. When Joshua wanted to stop two of the said elders, Eldad and Medad, from prophesying, Moses responded, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” He thereby anticipated Pentecost and the New Testament era! The chapter concludes with the people yet again incurring the wrath of God for their greed in taking more quails than required.

If in chapters 1-11 Paul provides a theological or doctrinal discourse, Romans 12 marks the beginning of his application of his teaching. The apostle therefore appeals to his fellow Christians to offer themselves to God as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable which is their spiritual worship. Christians are not to conform to the world, but are to be transformed by the renewal of their minds. Christians are to discern and do God’s will which is good, acceptable, and perfect. Paul bids God’s people to be humble and recognise their place in the body of Christ. He writes, ‘so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them’. Paul then identifies certain characteristics that should distinguish the Christian. He urges all, ‘Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.’ Echoing the words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, the apostle urges believers to bless their persecutors rather than curse them. They are to rejoice with those that rejoice and weep with those that weep. They are to live in harmony with one another and pursue peace. They are to leave vengeance to God. Christians are to overcome evil with good.

To ponder! For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love (2Peter 1:5-7).

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Bible Challenge: Day 129

Bible Reading: Numbers 12 & Romans 13

In Numbers 12 Miriam and Aaron jealously spoke out against Moses in the hearing of the LORD. They asked, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD summoned them to appear before him at the Tent of Meeting and revealed his presence in a pillar of cloud. God admonished them, making clear that while he revealed his will to the prophets via visions and dreams, it was not so with Moses whom God describes as his faithful and humble servant. “With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” Consequently, the LORD’s righteous anger was kindled and once the pillar of cloud departed, Aaron turned to Miriam to discover she was leprous. Aaron pleaded with Moses on his sister’s behalf and Moses in turn cried to God to show mercy. Miriam was to be cast out of the camp for a period of seven days and only then would she be healed and readmitted to fellowship with the LORD and his people. ‘So Miriam was shut outside the camp seven days, and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again. 16 After that the people set out from Hazeroth, and camped in the wilderness of Paran.’

Paul begins Romans 13 with an exhortation to the effect that every person should willingly submit to the governing powers whose authority has been given by God. They are God’s servants to implement justice and punish evil doers. Of course, as is made clear elsewhere in scripture, Christians are to obey God rather than men. And so, if the governing authorities enact measures that are contrary to God’s revealed will then the Christian is duty bound to resist. The apostle adds that Christians should nevertheless pay their taxes and be good citizens. They are to be respectful and honourable. They are to avoid debt and are called to keep the moral law, thereby demonstrating their love for one another. ‘Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.’ They are to eschew the works of darkness characterised in orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality, quarrelling, and jealousy. Rather they are to put on God’s armour of light. In summary they are to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.’

To ponder! “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

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For Thursday

Bible Challenge: Day 130