Lost and found….

17 04 2011

DAY ONE HUNDRED AND THREE : Deuteronomy 19 v. 1 – 20 v. 20; Luke 15 v. 1 – 32; Psalm 45 v. 1 – 9

DEUTERONOMY
Cities of Refuge – a reminder to the Israelites about the three cities to be set aside as ‘Cities of Refuge’. These centrally located cities are to have new roads built to them. A reminder that those who kill unintentionally are provided with this safe haven / place of refuge. The thought of accidentally chopping someone’s head off with an axe reminds me of the junior blacksmith’s role in the recent “ESTHER” production of Leyland Methodist Church’s MadMob production – and it was our daughter who swung an axe and axe-idently killed someone….he he he.
As their land expands, more cities are to be set aside.
“LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD AND WALK ALWAYS IN HIS WAYS”
Premeditated murder is to be punished, and there is no ‘refuge’ for murder rather than manslaughter.
No-one is permitted to change boundary stones in the promised land, as inherited from the Lord God.

Witnesses – two or three witnesses are needed for a conviction (one is not enough). False witnesses (after a thorough investigation) are to be treated strongly, as an example to others. ‘Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth….’. Again, I remember my Hebrew professor explaining this as an ethical limitation, to prevent an escalation of violent feuds. It was a challenge to accepted practice, stating that if someone knocked your tooth out, you couldn’t kill him! Compare with Jesus’ teaching about turning the other cheek….(no longer merely limiting our retaliation, but offering forgiveness).

Going to War – the Israelites are encouraged to not fear mighty armies, because ‘the Lord your God will be with you’. The priest addresses the army before battle : ‘do not be faint-hearted or afraid; do not be terrified…for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies…’
Then the officers will address the army sending home those who need to dedicate a new building, enjoy a new vineyard, get married, or anyone afraid or disheartened – so that there are no distractions, then they will appoint the commanders.
At each far-flung city, a peaceful take-over is offered (which included forcing the inhabitants into slavery / forced labour), but if a battle ensues, the Israelites are to  lay siege to the city, and to destroy all the men. The women, children and livestock are kept as ‘plunder’.
As for the closer cities, within the land God is giving as promised, every living thing is to be destroyed – complete destruction, to avoid the influence of the worship of false gods.
Fruit trees come off lightly, they are not to be destroyed (but the fruits enjoyed). Trees not bearing fruit can be cut down and used for battle.

Hard to read some of this and know just how many people are to be destroyed, to fulfil God’s promise. The ‘sparing of the fruit trees’ is startling, underlining how ruthless is the destruction of the nations….again, thank God that we live in the New Covenant, and see things through the perspective of Jesus.

LUKE
amazing trio of stories / parables all on the theme of the lost being found – showing the priorities within God’s heart.

Lost Sheep –
Jesus’ story of the lost sheep is told to confront the Pharisees with the way they are looking down on the company Jesus is choosing to keep – tax collectors and sinners. Key points for me :
(i) if we would leave 99 sheep to seek the one lost sheep, how much more does God seek the lost
(ii) there is great rejoicing when the sheep is found, the sheep is carried back
(iii) there is a party for all the neighbours – reflecting the party in heaven over one sinner who repents (as opposed to those who think they don’t need to repent – the self-righteous).

Lost Coins – the second story has the same point – God rejoices over a repentant sinner. This time, it’s the search for a missing coin, and the party that is thrown when it’s found, after a thorough search. Therefore the point here is that God ‘searches carefully’ for the lost, and we are of such value to Him.

Lost Son – the final story; the younger son, as good as wishing his father dead, squanders his share of the inheritance. He represents the ‘repentant sinner’ referred to in all three stories. His fall is dramatic – to the point of feeding off the scraps he can filter from the pigs!
When he ‘comes to his senses’ he decides to return home and offer himself as a slave/servant to his Father. He plucks up the courage to return.
“While he was still a long way off, His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
No remote, distant, harsh, cruel image of God here – but an ever watching, ever hopeful, ever-loving Father. Exuberant emotion and love.
The robe, the ring and the fatted calf all speak of the generous welcome this sinful son receives – he is reinstated to sonship (he never really left the Father’s love!), disregarding his desire to be merely a servant.
The celebrations begin…..BUT
The elder son, resenting his brother’s return, and his Father’s generosity of spirit, represents the Pharisees who cannot celebrate with those sinners who are experiencing the ‘new life’.
The Father points out to the elder son that ‘you are always with me and everything I have his yours’ – he is missing the celebration which is right in front of him. We never know if the elder son joins the celebration or not – the outcome is left in the air, inviting the Pharisee hearers to create their own ending…..will they join the kingdom celebrations or remain outside?

PSALM
again, I love all the musical direction at the beginning of the psalms – mentioning the tune, “Lilies”, the origin of the psalm and that it was written for a wedding.
Today’s verses are written for a prince or king on his wedding day – it is easy to read these verses and hear overtones of the coming messiah. Today as I write (a few days behind now, but hoping to catch up in the next few days), it is ‘PALM SUNDAY’. We thought this morning in our worship service about the significance of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem – humble, and riding on a donkey – no great ‘coronation’, but in a few days, the crown of thorns placed on His head…….
“The most excellent of men…your lips have been anointed with grace…
clothe yourself with splendour and majesty…
ride forth victoriously on behalf of truth, humility and righteousness…
Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever…
All your robes are fragrant with myrrh (!!!), aloes and cassia…”

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