Prayer Psalm: 61
Prayer Point: Why is life so difficult? We are not yet home and Christ’s kingdom is not yet fully established on earth. Lift up your concerns to God and pray for the faith to fix your hope of living with God forever.
Jesus in verses 1-5 calls attention to two horrific events: Pilate’s massacre of the Galileans and the collapse of the tower of Siloam. What lesson should we learn from such disasters or modern ones such as 9-11 or Hurricane Katrina?
Jesus’ parable of the fig tree can best be understood in light of the message of John the Baptist, who came to prepare the way for him. To a group of Israelites who had come to hear him preach, John had these words:
Luke 3:8 “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
The fruit John and Jesus were looking for were acts of mercy towards their neighbor (see Luke 3:11-14). This fruit flows from a tree that is repentant (humbled before God in acknowledgment of their sin) and has received the forgiveness of God.
What will happen if God’s people don’t produce fruit in keeping with repentance according to this parable?
Revelation 14: 14-15
God the Father signals to his Son, the Son of Man, through an angel who comes out of the temple that the judgment of the earth is about to begin. This Son of Man (Jesus) swings his sickle over the earth and the harvest of God’s judgment begins. Verses 14-16 and 17-20 describe the same judgment, with 17-20 going into greater detail.
What will the judgment look like for those who are unfaithful to Jesus and give themselves to the beast (see Revelation 14:9-12 and 14:17-20)?
Chapter 15 starts a new vision and in this vision we see a familiar pattern: God judges the world (15:1, 15:5-8), God’s people are saved (15:2-4). The classic story of judgment and salvation echoes the Exodus story (see Exodus 7 – 15) where God rescued his people from slavery by bringing plagues and judgment on their oppressors, Egypt. Why do those who were victorious over the beast (Revelation 15:3) sing the same song that Moses and the Jews sang on the shores of the Red Sea (see Exodus 14-15)?
Nehemiah 12:27-31a, 42b-47
What do you notice about the way the Jews celebrate the completion of the wall? The Levites, or many of them, had taken to live outside the walls of Jerusalem; most of these people were the singers. Centuries before David had appointed that an important faction of the Levites would be those appointed to sing and to tend to the music (see 1 Chronicles 25).
What practices are reinstated once the celebration is over?
*Sirach is a Jewish holy book written about 100 years before the coming of Christ. It is not considered to be Scripture by the Jewish faith nor our tradition, but the book is still worth reading. We offer Sirach in addition to the Old Testament readings.
1 The pride of the higher realms is the clear vault of the sky,
as glorious to behold ad the sight of the heavens.
2 The sun, when it appears, proclaims as it rises
what a marvelous instrument it is, the work of the Most High.
3 At noon it parches the land,
and who can withstand its burning heat?
4 A man tending [or blowing upon] a furnace works in burning heat,
but three times as hot is the sun scorching the mountains;
it breathes out fiery vapors,
and its bright rays blind the eyes
5 Great is the LORD who made it;
at his orders it hurries on its course.
6 It is the moon that marks the changing seasons,
governing the times, their everlasting sign.
7 From the moon comes the sign for the festal days,
a light that wanes when it completes its course.
8 The new moon, as its name suggests, renews itself;
how marvelous it is in this change,
a beacon to the hosts on high,
shining in the vault of the heavens!
9 The glory of the stars is the beauty of heaven,
a glittering array in the heights of the LORD.
10 On the orders of the Holy One they stand in their appointed places;
they never relax in their watches.
11 Look at the rainbow, and praise him who made it;
it is exceedingly beautiful in its brightness.
12 It encircles the sky with its glorious arc;
the hands of the Most High have stretched it out.
13 By his command he sends the driving snow
and speeds the lightnings of his judgment.
14 Therefore the storehouses are opened,
and the clouds fly out like birds.
15 In his majesty he gives the clouds their strength,
and the hailstones are broken in pieces.
17a The voice of his thunder rebukes the earth;
16 when he appears, the mountains shake.
At his will the south wind blows;
17b so do the storm from the north and the whirlwind.
He scatters the snow like birds flying down,
and its descent is like locusts alighting.
18 The eye is dazzled by the beauty of its whiteness,
and the mind is amazed as it falls.
19 He pours frost over the earth like salt,
and icicles form like pointed thorns.
20 The cold north wind blows,
and ice freezes on the water;
it settles on every pool of water,
and the water puts it on like a breastplate.
21 He consumes the mountains and burns up the wilderness,
and withers the tender grass like fire.
22 A mist quickly heals all things;
the falling dew give refreshment from the heat.
Of what are verses 43:1-5 talking about? (The sun.)
Apart from providing light for the night, what other purpose does the moon serve? (Since the Jews used a lunar calendar, the moon was used to set the date of the feasts. “The moon marks the changing seasons, governing the times, their everlasting sign.” (Sirach 43:6 NRSV))
Verses 43:9-10 tell us how beautiful and glorious are the stars of heaven. Read Genesis 15:5. How significant are the stars to Abram? (“He [God] took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.’ Then he [God] said to him [Abram] ‘So shall your offspring be.'” (NIV) Here the beauty of the stars fades in light of the promise made to a childless Abram, who at eighty plus years of age, was told he would father many nations. We know so much more today about the stars than either Abram or Sirach that we should wonder at their mere existence. There are so many out there that they cannot be numbered and that space is far more vast than imagination can allow. This thought brings us back to Psalm 8:3-4 “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”)
The next verses (Sirach 43:11-12) talk of how beautiful the rainbow is. What is the rainbow supposed to remind us of? (This brings us back to Genesis, this time to chapter 9: “And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.'” (Genesis 9:12-16 NIV) So the significance of the rainbow has more to do with God’s covenant with Noah than with its intrinsic beauty. Things can be both beautiful and useful (utilitarian) at the same time.)
Re-read verses Sirach 43:13-22 to recount just how wonderful and marvelous nature is. So often we forget, or don’t see the wonders of God’s creation just outside our door. What are some of the things Sirach reminds us of? (Snow and its beauty, lightnings, opening the storehouses, the clouds, hailstones, thunder, the wind, ice and frost and its unfrozen cousin dew.)