Bible in One Year

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July 30 Day 211

Government: Divine or Demonic?

Politicians: how do we treat them? Governments and local councils: how do we view them? Taxes: do we really need to pay them?

What about evil regimes? If you live under a Hitler or Stalin are you supposed to obey them?

‘Be a good citizen,’ writes the apostle Paul. ‘All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God's order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear’ (Romans 13:1–3, MSG).

This would have been a radical idea to Paul’s original readers. In the ancient world most people saw religion and government as intertwined. The early church was still adjusting to the idea that the Messiah was not going to rule over his people in an earthly government. Those around them would have worshipped Rome and the Emperor as god. Yet here Paul tells them to follow Jesus as their King and still submit to Roman authority.

Paul’s teaching in Romans 13 needs to be balanced by Revelation 13. Revelation 13 was written at the time of the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Domitian. The state is seen as the ally of the devil (pictured as a red dragon) who has given his authority to the persecuting state (pictured as a monster emerging out of the sea). At worst, government can be demonic.

Both Romans 13 and Revelation 13 are true. There is good government and there is bad government. There is a good side to human government; there can also be an evil side. As Oscar Cullmann remarks, according to whether ‘the state remains within its limits or transgresses them, the Christian will describe it as the servant of God or as the instrument of the Devil’.

July 29 Day 210

Four Sacrifices That Please God

Looking back at my life, I now realise how many sacrifices my parents made for my sister and me. I wish I had appreciated that more at the time. My parents came from a generation that was very familiar with the idea of sacrifice. Many of their contemporaries had sacrificed their lives for their fellow human beings and for their country. The whole idea of making sacrifices, great or small, seems more alien to our generation.

The vast majority of biblical references to ‘sacrifice’ are in the Old Testament. These passages prefigure Jesus’ sacrificial death for us on the cross. In the New Testament, almost all the references are about Jesus’ sacrifice. The death of Jesus as the one perfect and complete sacrifice fulfilling all the Old Testament preparation and prediction. We do not need to make any sacrifices for our sins. Yet the New Testament tells us that there are four sacrifices you can make that please God.

July 28 Day 209

Your Calling is Irrevocable

My father, like many Jews, never lived in Israel. The Jewish people are scattered all over the world. In 1947 the state of Israel was re-established. Around 7.5 million people live in Israel today, of whom approximately 6 million are Jews. There are many other Jews still scattered around the world today.

I like how Eugene Peterson translates the New Testament passage for today using the term ‘insiders’ for the Jewish people and ‘outsiders’ for the non-Jewish people.

Many individual Jews over the years have become Christians. In fact, all the very earliest Christians were Jewish ‘insiders’. But now the vast majority of Christians are non-Jewish ‘outsiders’. What does the future hold for the ‘insiders’? 

The key to Paul’s understanding lies in Romans 11:29: ‘For God’s gift and his call are irrevocable.’ This is a theme that runs throughout the Bible as we see in today’s passages.

July 27 Day 208

Beautiful Feet

Friends of ours had been waiting for ten years for a baby. They had been told it was impossible. One day there was a ring on our doorbell. There she was. It was written all over her face. As soon as she was in the house she started jumping up and down, stamping her feet with joy and delight, announcing the good news. She had conceived. Their wait was over. She was carrying the good news in her own body. There is nothing more exciting than being the bearer of good news.

You too are the bearer of good news. The message of Jesus is in you. That is why, according to the apostle Paul, you have beautiful feet (Romans 10:15)!

As Christians we are all called to share the good news of Jesus. Some of us have the immense privilege of being called to do it as a full time job. Way back in January 1978, when I was practising law, I wrote in my prayer diary:

‘I long to spend my whole time preaching the gospel – telling people about the love of Jesus. But Romans 10:15 warns, “How can [people] preach unless they are sent?” I cannot and will not be able to preach the gospel unless I am sent by God to do so – it is a wonderful calling. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”’

The heart of the good news is a righteousness that comes by faith (v.6). ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (v.13). 

July 26 Day 207

Your Family Tree

My father never spoke to me about his life before he had come to England and married my mother. I knew virtually nothing about his background. Four years ago I was contacted by The Judaica Museum in Berlin. They were doing some research into the Gumbel family. They sent me a copy of my family tree. I discovered that my great-great-grandfather was called Abraham Gumbel. My great-grandfather was called Isaac and his brother, Moses!

My father was Jewish. He qualified as a barrister and became a Doctor of Law at the University of Tübingen in 1927. Later he read Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and knew what was likely to happen to someone like him who was known as ‘Israelitisch’. He came to England and qualified as an English barrister as well. His sister and parents eventually came too. Many of the rest of his family perished in Dachau, Riga and other Nazi concentration camps.

The treatment of the Jewish people through the centuries has been complex, and at times tragic. Sometimes even passages in the Bible have been misinterpreted and misapplied as a weapon of abuse against the Jewish people.

The people of God in the Old Testament were the nation of Israel. The people of God in the New Testament are all those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. We share a common history and family tree. We worship the same God and, the apostle Paul tells us, the way of salvation is the same for us all.

July 25 Day 206

What About Those Who Do Not Believe

In February 1974, I had an encounter with Jesus Christ that totally changed my life. I understood he had died for me. I experienced his love. I knew God was real. I knew the extraordinary blessings of a relationship with Jesus. But almost immediately afterwards I experienced what Paul speaks about in this passage: ‘A huge sorrow... an enormous pain deep within me’ (Romans 9:2, MSG).

I longed for everyone to experience and know what I had only so recently experienced. I longed for my family and friends who were not yet Christians to know Christ.

The apostle Paul cared so passionately about his own people that he was willing to be cut off from God and the people whom he loved, if they would be saved. He writes, ‘I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ [a definition of hell] for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel’ (vv.3–4a).

Yet at the same time Paul trusted that God had the whole situation under control. God is sovereign. He rules and reigns in his universe.

How do we balance this anguish and passion for those we love, with a trust in God’s ultimate sovereignty? 

July 24 Day 205

A Pillow on Which to Rest Our Weary Heads

I sometimes struggle to believe that God really loves me. I can be tempted to feel a sense of failure and self-condemnation. It is relatively easy to believe that God loves everybody else, but it is much harder to believe that God loves me.

The love of God, Paul explains in Romans 8, starts with ‘no condemnation’ (v.1) and ends with no separation: nothing ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (v.39). John Stott describes the truth of this passage as ‘a pillow on which to rest our weary heads’.

‘God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love,’ wrote St Augustine. If you were the only person who had ever lived, Jesus would have died for you. And if it is true of you, it is also true of me. God loves me and you. 

July 23 Day 204

Know Who You Are

Until it actually happened to me I would not have believed it was possible. But the moment I saw him, I experienced an overwhelming love. This tiny baby, who to others must have looked like any other baby, was my son. The moment a parent first sees their own child is unforgettable. The love a parent feels for a child is almost indescribable. Yet this is the analogy God uses of his love for you. The love he has for you is even greater than that which parents feel for their own children.

Knowing who you are will have a big impact on your life – know that you are a deeply loved child of God. This should be the basis of your confidence, security and hope.

July 22 Day 203

Help, Lord!

One of my most frequent prayers is ‘Help!’ It is also one of the most common prayers in the Bible. It is a prayer you can pray every day, in any and every situation. You can cry out to the Lord for help. God’s desire is for you to have a relationship with him that is real and from the heart. 

July 21 Day 202

His Service is Perfect Freedom

At the age of eighteen, Billy Nolan ran away from the merchant navy. He was an alcoholic for thirty-five years. For twenty years he sat outside HTB drinking alcohol and begging for money. On 13 May 1990, he looked in the mirror and said, ‘You’re not the Billy Nolan I once knew.’ To use his own expression, he asked the Lord Jesus Christ ­into his life and made a covenant with him that he would never drink alcohol again. From that day on, he didn’t touch a drop. His life was transformed; he radiated the love and joy of Christ. I once said to him, ‘Billy, you look happy.’ He replied, ‘I am happy because I am free. Life is like a maze and at last I have found a way out through Jesus Christ.’

St Augustine wrote that God was the master ‘whom to serve is perfect freedom’. This is a great paradox. Many people think that if they serve God they will lose their freedom. In fact, it is the very opposite. Living for ourselves is, in fact, a form of slavery. Serving God ‘in the new way of the Spirit’ (Romans 7:6) is the way to find perfect freedom.