Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Isaiah 5:1-4: What God has done

One thing I’m learning about this whole summarizing-a-lesson thing is that the longer I wait to write it, the less likely I am to do it.  It’s not because I don’t want to but because my mind keeps moving forward, and then I get so excited about seeking God’s direction for our next lesson that it’s hard to make myself stop and think about where we’ve been.  Maybe it was like that for the Israelites, too.  In entering and possessing the land of Canaan (their Promised Land), they were so excited about moving forward that they didn’t take the time to look back at the lessons God had taught them.

This week’s lesson (5/27/12) started with Isaiah 5:3-4.  In these verses, God asks two questions: “What more could have been done for My vineyard that I have not done in it?  When I look for it to bring forth grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”  To answer His question about what more could have been done, we must first look at what God had already done.  Literally speaking, we could list (at the time Isaiah was speaking) everything from creating the earth and everything in it (Genesis 1) … to freedom from oppression in Egypt (Exodus) … to taking over and possessing the Promised Land (Numbers, Joshua) … to the guidance God provided (through the pillar of fire and cloud, His Spirit directing the Israelite encampments, His Word, the judges, kings, and prophets, etc.) … to the covenants God had made (with Abraham and David) …

Figuratively speaking, Isaiah 5:2 (read vs. 1-2) gives us four categories into which we can organize what God had done for His vineyard (the people of Israel):  (1) He prepared the land; (2) He set apart His people for the land.  (3) He built a tower in it, and (4) He made a winepress in it.  The tower mentioned in Isaiah 5:2 strikes me as especially interesting.  The class came up with a few reasons a man might want a tower in His vineyard.  First and foremost, a tower could serve as a lookout – to see what was going on in the vineyard while, at the same time, being watchful for anything approaching the vineyard (i.e. from beyond its boundaries).  Biblically speaking, those institutions (the Law and the anointed leaders of God’s people) acted as a lookout tower, observing the ways of the people and those things approaching them (both good and bad).

I’m beginning to see that one of the biggest roots of Israel’s spiritual decline is that they failed to remember what God had done for them, including the provision of a tower of perspective (Jer 6:27) and safety (Ps 61:3, Prov 18:10).  We cannot afford to make the same mistake!  This week take a few minutes of your quiet time and remember and thank God for what He has done for you.  Don’t forget about the tower that is His Word.  Ask Him to point out people in your life whom (for your benefit) God has positioned on His tower.  Allow those people to point you toward God.

Looking forward: 
I had planned to move past the kings and into the period of exile in the coming lesson, but I sense that we have much more to learn from the towers that were the Old Testament prophets.  So (at least for this week) we will continue in the time period of the divided kingdom, specifically looking at a lesson inspired by the book of Obadiah.  Obadiah is the shortest OT book (only 21 verses).  It would be good to read it ahead of time.  The book focuses on judgment coming to Edom (which consists of the descendants of Esau) because of the way it has treated the people of Jacob (Esau’s brother).  It might also be helpful for you to (re-)familiarize yourself with the backstory of Jacob and Esau which can be found Genesis 25:19-34, Genesis 27, Numbers 20:14-51.

What about the winepress and wild grapes (Isa 5:2-4)?  I’m sure we’ll hear more about those.  If not, call me out on it in a few weeks.  Seriously … nothing would please me more!  J

Friday, May 25, 2012

Luke 13:6-9: Year 1 (Judges)

This afternoon (4/29/12) I was thinking about today’s Sunday school lesson and how the time period of the Judges represented year 1 of the 3 + 1 years referenced in Luke 13:6-9.  My mind also went to back to Mark 11:13 – Jesus cursing the fig tree that had leaves but no fruit.  We see in Judges 2:4 that the Israelites wept after being called out by the Angel of the Lord.  The repeated cycle throughout the book of Judges was sin which led to oppression causing the people to cry out.  Then God would raise up a judge to deliver His people.  Deliverance brought peace – at least until the people were ensnared (Jdg 2:3 reference) by sin again.

The distressed cries of the Israelites were like leaves on the fig tree in Mark 11.  Jesus came looking for fruit on that tree because the leaves could be seen from far away (in fig trees its leaves and fruit appear at the same time).  The same was true of the Israelites in the time of the Judges.  When they wept (recorded 6 times in the book of Judges) and cried out (recorded 10 times in Judges), it was like leaves showing up on the fig tree, and along with leaves, there should have been fruit –the fruit of repentance (Matt 3:8).  Unfortunately Judges 2:16-17 reveals what God – “the man” from Luke 13:6 – saw when He came looking for fruit on His tree: 
“But the Lord raised up judges, who delivered them out of the hands of those who robbed them.  And yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed down to them.  They turned quickly out of the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not so.” (Amplified Bible)

Year 1:  the Judges – no fruit
As humans, we would naturally feel disappointed coming to a dearly loved tree that isn’t producing fruit, but we can’t forget that God is not human (Num 23:19).  His knowledge is timeless.  He knew from the beginning how time would unfold and yet He made us … He chose us … He loves us anyway.  He says it this way through the prophet Jeremiah, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” (Jer 29:11).

Luke 13:6-9

This past Sunday (4/15/12), we were in Luke 13:6-9.  We had visited this passage the week before from the base camp of Mark 11 – another mention of a leafed-out tree bearing no fruit.  This past week we discussed several things related to Lk 13, but our main focus was:
(1)    What kind of fruit did/does God expect to find on us?  Short answer:  fruit of
          repentance (Matt 3:8)
a.      Acknowledgement of sin paired with change in attitude toward the sin which 
results in change of behavior.
b.      Testimony and service to others, not out of duty but because of what God has
done for us.  (Matt 25:31-37)
(2)    Possible reasons the vinedresser in Lk 13 may have requested time to “dig around
          and fertilize” the tree.
a.      To improve the soil so that the tree would be better able to bear fruit.
b.      To possibly transplant the tree “out of darkness and into … light” (Col 1: 13).
c.       To mark the tree as set apart for a special purpose.

But we still don’t really know what happened to the tree in Lk 13.  Did it bear fruit after the 4th year, or was it cut down?  I told you last week that I was playing with possible meanings of the 3 + 1 years.  Well, I have considered the possibilities even more this week, and this Sunday (4/22/12) we will start digging deeper into one of them (the one I feel fits the essence of Jesus’ message most closely).  We won’t yet have a satisfactory answer to the question posed in class, i.e. “What happens to the tree?”, but know that we’re working toward it together.

For now, we know this.  The man came looking for fruit on the fig tree in Lk 13, and the vinedresser pleaded with him to give it one more year.  Jesus came hungry to a fig tree in Mk 11, and the tree was cursed.  I wonder if He had walked by that fig tree every year of His 3-year ministry.  I wonder if its time was up.  God more than wants His children to produce fruit; He expects it.  Are we producing fruit?

Mark 11:11-22

This week’s lesson (4/8/12) focused on the fig tree.  I knew that it wasn’t coincidence that the fig tree kept popping up around Jesus’ appearances in the temple (at Jerusalem), but God hadn’t led me to dig more deeply until this past week.  Mk 11:12 says that Jesus was hungry.  If you connect that back with Luke 4:4 (during the time Satan was tempting Jesus in the wilderness), Jesus is mentioned as being hungry.  Satan thought it was for food, but Jesus replied, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word and expression that comes from the mouth of God.” (Amp).  He wasn’t hungry for food in Lk 4:4, and I don’t think He was hungry for food in Mk 11 either.  So what was He hungry for?  He was hungry for the fruit of the Spirit, but was finding none in the temple or from those who looked as if they should be overflowing with it – the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Hang with me for a second …

If you look back at Mk 11:13, the fig tree had leaves, and with fig trees, the fruit comes on at the same time as the leaves, so (regardless of season), if there were leaves, there should have been fruit.  The Pharisees and were in full leaf.  People came to them hungry for food (spiritually speaking), and if anyone should have been bearing fruit, it was the Pharisees.  At the time of Mk 11, Jesus was preparing to fulfill all the requirements of the Law (Matt 5:17).  Once that happened, the people would no longer need to go to the temple to be fed (again, spiritually speaking).  The fruitless fig tree (i.e. the temple and its leaders and by extension the Law of Moses) had become a burden to the soil (Lk 13:6-7) and “the ax [was] lying at the root of the trees” (Matt 3:10). 

I would encourage you to go back over the Scripture used in last week’s lesson (referenced above).  How does it connect with the other things you’ve been reading about in your Bible, including memory verses?  How does it connect to things in your life and family?  I just get more and more excited about the direction God is leading our study!

Here goes nothing ... or maybe everything

I am shaking as I type my first post.  I know that God has plans for this blog far beyond anything I can imagine.  To this point, He has revealed just a few of His purposes:  (1) to summarize weekly lessons for those attending Tentmakers and for others who cannot attend our weekly meetings, (2) to add insights and applications that don’t fit into our 45-minute class, and (3) to encourage the study of God’s Word as a part of daily life.  I look forward to learning more of God’s plan and growing alongside each of you!

As for some background, TENTMAKERS was inspired by the story of Priscilla and AquiIa – a husband and wife pair who were friends of and helpers to the apostle Paul (Acts 18).  My goal for the class and the blog is that we – as individuals and couples – get to know God better through the study of His Word so that, like Priscilla and Aquila, we can invite others into our homes and explain to them the way of God more adequately (Acts 18:26).

As believers, we have already invited the Holy Spirit of God to make His home in us, i.e. in our tent bodies (2 Cor 5:1).  In doing so, our bodies have gone from mere tents to "the temple of God" (1 Cor 3:16).  So out of TENTMAKERS comes this blog TENTS TO TEMPLE.