Humpday has arrived. We’ve been challenged profoundly over the past few days – in both the morning/evening talks, workshops, and strand groups. Please pray that God would continue to sustain the delegates and leaders as the week rolls on!
Morning Session | 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16 | Weber Hsu
Paul’s visit to Thessalonica was not in vain – in declaring the gospel, even in the midst of conflict, there was great fruit. Acts gives us a bit of the backstory of what happened during this trip.
In the space of a few weeks/months it was pretty fearless – Paul had left a Philippian jail and headed off to Thessalonica to do the same thing that caused his imprisonment. Here we see a profound single-mindedness.
We also see a genuine authenticity – 1 Thess 2:5-8. Paul preaches with an audience of one – he preached for God (with others listening).
There are people in our lives who change who we are whenever we are around them. People who cause us to put on a face, or get aggravated. Authenticity means that we don’t water down our message, or our lives, no matter what the situation – even if we look weird to our classmate, gullible to our antagonistic boss, stupid to our family.
Authenticity also looks like humble living – Paul, as an apostle, had the right to be supported financially. Yet he chose to not be a burden to the Thessalonians – 1 Thess 2:9-12.
We also see tender-heartedness in Paul. He loved his brothers and sisters so much – like a father to them, like a nursing mother to them. He compares his ministry to being a breast-feeding mum! That means pouring your life into that baby – you pour your energy, time, and focus into growing that baby.
Do our lives reflect this sort of love and care for others? Are we too busy to send a text or catch up with someone? I’m not the right person? Not trying is a denial of the power of God in our lives.
1 Thess 2:14 – the key word here is ‘imitating’ – they had patterned their lives after Paul, the Paul who was fearless and persecuted for the church, and tender hearted towards the brothers.
Those who are mature among us need to leave an example for others to follow. So find those in our churches who are mature in faith and copy them – don’t find those who are simply doing well in the world’s eyes. Ask them to read the Bible with you.
Be deliberate in growing yourself, that your life is pointing to Jesus.
[Short, sharp, sweet reminder building on what we heard last night.]
Evening Session | Ezekiel 34: The Message of the Prophets | Gary Millar
Asking Gary to describe his wife takes a long time to describe her – though they’ve been married a long time, and they are best friends, trying to describe her would take a long time because of all the nuances he’d have to add.
It’s really hard to describe another person and do them justice – you have to keep on adding more. And it’s so hard to do justice to the prophets. And yet – here is Gary trying to summarise 250 chapters.
Main ideas of the prophets: a passion for the beautiful life and a vision of the beautiful saviour.
- A passion for the beautiful life
God’s desire is to help his creatures enjoy the beautiful life with him. You don’t need to read very far into the Bible to see this played out – Genesis 2. He creates Adam and Eve to enjoy this new world that he has created.
Very soon after the fall God reiterates his commitment to make it possible for people like us, people who have rebelled against him, to enjoy a beautiful life with him.
He starts with the covenant. A promise based relationship that he shapes and builds on in the years that follow. The covenant in a nutshell is ‘I’ll be your God and you be my people.’
Everything he says from that point on is designed to help his people live a beautiful life with him.
Lots of how to do this is covered in ‘the Law’. But for us the word ‘law’ is a bad one. Law is all about drawing boundaries and putting limits. But in the OT the Hebrew word ‘Torah’ isn’t really law – it’s a thing that gets bigger and bigger, a description of the beautiful life.
It begins in Exodus 20 with the ’10 words’ – a short hand. Afterwards he gives them a bit more, and more in Leviticus, and more in Deuteronomy. What’s the point of all this? The beautiful life you live with me cannot be put on a post-it note, and not even summed up in a massive book like Deuteronomy.
Living with me will shape every decision, it’ll be with you wherever you go and whatever you do.
In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus says some confusing things about the law – that he has not come to abolish but fulfil it, the it will not pass away until it is accomplished, that your righteousness needs to exceed that of the pharisees. What is Jesus talking about?
Jesus has come not to make the law smaller, not to drop stuff off the beautiful life – he has come to make the beautiful life bigger and more attractive than you have ever dreamt. It is bigger than anything that the pharisees can envisage. Every time Jesus speaks to the pharisees he doesn’t say their standards are too high… he says you have reduced it all. You don’t have a clue!
The prophets share Jesus passion for the beautiful life. They are convinced that living under the banner of ‘I will be your God and you will be my people’ is the best way – and any declension of that is a tragedy. And so they constantly call people back to this beautiful life.
It is why they kept calling out covenantal unfaithfulness, why they called out leaders for failing to lead people properly, why when they saw injustice they yelled it out from the roof tops.
One of the challenges we face in Australia is getting back on the front foot and learning how to speak again at how good it is to be a Christian. At the moment we’re on the defensive, being sucked into fights important at one level but won’t win anyone for the kingdom. We get drawn into discussions of same-sex marriage, transgenderism, religious freedom. And we forget that in Jesus we have life and have tasted it to the full.
What drives the prophets is knowing this – knowing the real thing, the real life.
Ezekiel and the Beautiful Life
After the exile, along with Daniel and friends, had been deported earlier. Babylon liked to deport people, give them ‘scholarships’, and essentially assimilate them.
Ezekiel didn’t. He kept looking back to Jerusalem thinking about how it all went wrong – they lost he land, the temple, and the king – and Gods’ promise appears to have crumbled before their eyes. In the middle of all that his passion for the beautiful life burns as strongly as ever.
Ezekiel as a prophet though is a touch strange. Flamboyant… nuts… yeah. His life is filled with some really strange events.
Yet through it all his burning concern is to see God’s people live a life of covenant faithfulness. And takes on anyone who turns God’s people away from that.
In Ezekiel 34 we see this – he turns his guns on the leaders of Israel.
34:1-6 – the passion of Ezekiel is evident here. The leaders should have been feeding God’s sheep but they were feeding on them instead. It’s bad.
There are three things the prophets often take aim at:
- Ungodly leaders
Hosea – the princes of Judah have become like those who move boundary rocks – they were stealing people’s lands.
Zech 10 – ask for rain, and he will give them rain, for the household gods speak nonsense and give empty consolation, the people wander like sheep without a shepherd – the people are running around asking false gods for rain… why don’t they ask me!?! But even in Zechariah the blame for this falls on the leaders.
What were leaders supposed to do? It wasn’t complicated.
In Deut 17 the rules for the kingship are simple – no horses, no chariots, no wealth – look nothing like a king. What were they supposed to do? Copy Deuteronomy and read it everyday. Be the most godly person around and you can be king.
But they wanted a king like everyone else. And that didn’t work out. With the exceptions of David, Hezekiah and Josiah – the verdict on the reign of the Kings is chillingly similar: they did not deal with the high places. They did not call their people back to worship the one and only God.
After years of rejection God eventually said enough is enough – and the two kingdoms fell. So much of the hardest words in the prophets is reserved for the leaders.
The prophets also hit up strongly against idolatry – reserving some of their best comedic lines for the stupidness of idol worship.
The prophets see clearly that sin is cosmically stupid. It is the most pervasive lie of the devil that sin is good, enjoyable, ok, not that big a deal – and so we go looking what we long for where we know it cannot be found. That’s why it always leaves us empty and with a sour taste. And yet we fall for that lie again and again and again.
Why are the prophets so hard on this? Because they know that the Lord is their God – have no other gods before me because there are no other gods!
Idolatry strikes at our covenant relationship with God.
John says the same thing in 1 John. Without mentioning idols in the book he finishes the book with the line ‘keep yourself from idols’. John understood what Calvin knew later – the human heart is a factory of idols.
Where do your thoughts run to, what fills your mind when there’s nothing else pressing in? What are we investing our happiness and joy in? Why is that? If we’re not careful small things capture our hearts.
Israel was living like that for hundreds of years. Despite God living among them – they were prone, as with us, for searching for other things to please us.
When the corrupt leaders lead to idolatry then sooner or later it’s a dog-eat-dog world, every person for themselves.
(caught up listening again… sorry folks – it’s Gary’s fault!)
When the people entered the land they were to shout blessings and curses to each other. So when the prophets saw the people living on the wrong mountain (the mountain of cursing) it gutted them.
The obedience and disobedience can be matched to their experience – whether or not they were blessed or cursed. You could just look at them to see. When they were cursed (in disobedience) it was drought and messed up-ness – when they were blessed (in obedience) it was all green.
The language of blessing and curses no longer applies though in the NT. Disobedience to Jesus does lead to a lack of assurance and personal misery. But that’s not quite blessing or curse. It’s part of the function that now we are made for the beautiful life it is impossible to be a happy disobedient Christian. Once you have become a Christian you cannot happily disobey – you’re now wired to live for God.
Because of our new life everything is ramped up for us – which is why we should be relentlessly positive in commending the beautiful life that is now in Christ. When leaders are selfish we should call them back to Christ-likeness. When our brothers or sisters slide into idolatry we should be the first to name and shame it. When we see injustice we should be the first to oppose it.
But if we are going to do that we have to believe that life with God is the beautiful life.
Why do we sin? Because in the moment we think that sin offers what God is offering. That it’s up to us to find that path of happiness. Which is stupid.
So maybe the first thing we need to do is repent.
The prophets who were passionately committed to this vision of the beautiful life also knew that it would only come about through the work of a beautiful saviour.
- A vision for the beautiful saviour
The prophets don’t just insist that things may get better, they insist that it will get better.
Ezekiel 34:7-16 God promises big things about bringing them back and rescuing his people. How will he do that? 34:23-24 – God will set up his servant David to feed his sheep.
Jesus says that servant/shepherd is himself in John 10. (Gah! Praise God!!)
In multiple ways in Ezek 34 this shepherd will care for God’s sheep – it’s the covenant relationship God has with his people that will lead to the beautiful life.
Ezekiel’s vision of the coming one who acts in both salvation (rescuing the skinny sheep) and bringing judgement (on the fat exploitive sheep) is the lord Jesus.
The prophets ask a basic question: are we passionate about the beautiful life, which is ours in Jesus? And a more far reaching question – are we passionate about Christ himself?
So what are we do to?
Bask in the life offered. Enjoy it. Speak about it. Live it. Because this is what we were made for. This is what we were rescued for. This is who we are in the Lord Jesus Christ – people who have been given life, real life that starts now and goes on forever.
And incredibly, it seems, will only get better as we delight in our God – Father, Son, and Spirit – for all eternity.
[Excellent. The message of the prophets in a nutshell.]