Advent with Messiah: Introduction

I first heard Handel’s Messiah as a young teenager in Nairobi. A local production was on telly, and for some reason I watched it. Today, years later, I can’t think of Psalm 2 or Isaiah 9 without hearing the music in my head.

For the next 24 days I’m going to post my favourite videos of Messiah performances. Why 24? That’s the amount of time it took Handel to write the musical score (he recycled some stuff he’d written for secular projects—how scandalous!). Along with the videos will be the text, almost entirely taken from the King James Version. I looked up the verses in the heat of summer—that’s how long I’ve had this series planned! I was glad to liberate myself of my mondegreens.

I’m not the first to blog through Messiah. But I’m doing it anyway as my way of crowning my Bible-in-a-year endeavour and paying tribute to the upcoming KJV quadricentennial in 2011.

To start off, here’s the overture:

And here are all the posts in one place:

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6
Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10 Day 11 Day 12
Day 13 Day 14 Day 15 Day 16 Day 17 Day 18
Day 19 Day 20 Day 21 Day 22 Day 23 Day 24

Reflections on Obadiah

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I write about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on 2 Kings, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jonah, 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon.

Obadiah’s (his name means ‘servant of Yahweh’) is the shortest book in the Old Testament, at only 21 verses. He prophesies against Edom, Israel’s long-time enemy (see Numbers 20:14-21, 1 Samuel 14:47, 2 Samuel 8:13-14, 2 Kings 8:20-22). This hostility continued into the exilic and post-exilic period, hence the oracles against them here in Obadiah and elsewhere.

The prophet’s message follows the pattern of the OT oracles: judgment and salvation. Verses 1-9 cover the destruction of proud Edom. Verses 10-14 tell us what Edom was guilty of: being an enemy of God’s people. Yahweh doesn’t take that lightly, and  pronounces judgment on all nations guilty of the same charge in verses 15-16.

The end of verse 18 states that there would be no survivors from the house of Esau. This was fulfilled in about 100 B.C. when John Hyrcanus, a Maccabeean, forced the remaining Edomites (then called Idumeans) to become Jews (e.g. the Herods were Idumeans).

Verses 17-21 promise deliverance for God’s people. Yahweh has shown that He’s able to do what He says he will do, as in the paragraph above. Those who have put their faith in Christ can trust Him to bring about His uncontested reign.

Sources:, John Woodhouse

Reflections on Amos

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I write about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on 2 Kings, Hosea, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon.

Amos, whose name means ‘burden’, was the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had no prophetic pedigree. A native of Judah, God sent him to prophesy in neighbouring Israel during a time of great peace and prosperity (1:1).  His message was simple: the Lord had roared, and was going to destroy Israel for their sins.

Broadly speaking, their sins were of two types. One was indifference and a lack of concern for those who were suffering. This indifference went hand-in-hand with some serious self-indulgence. Examples: 2:6-8, 4:1-3, 5:11-12, 6:3-7, 8:4-6.  The second sin was empty religion. They went through all the motions, but their hearts were elsewhere. Examples: 4:4-5, 5:21-23.

Am I the only one who finds it troubling that these same charges can be made against many today who profess to be Christians?

Through Amos, God was warning His wayward people. It would be another 40 years or so before the Assyrians would come and carry off the entire nation. He tries to get their attention through famine, drought, blight, mildew and locusts, plagues and other disasters, but still they didn’t return to Him. Eventually, His patience ran out.

The passage in 9:1-10 is probably the darkest in the book, as God describes the judgment He’ll bring. Then, suddenly, the mood changes as the prophet switches to an oracle of restoration. Restoration for those who seek Him.

The Lord will judge, but He also provides a way to escape His wrath: by entering into a living, loving relationship with Him. That is surely amazing!

Sources: Mike Bullmore, Jonathan Fletcher

Some fishy questions

File this post under the unprofitable talk the apostle Paul discouraged. 🙂

I wonder what happened to all the fish that Peter, James and John caught just before Jesus called them to follow Him (Luke 5:5-11). And the 153 fish they caught after the resurrection (John 21:2-6). Also, what compelled them to count the fish?  Additionally, John 21:9 says “When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.” Where did Jesus get the fish He was cooking?

Hope this was extremely unhelpful!

Why do we have 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles?

Old Testament Hebrew was written without vowels. When the OT was translated into Greek, the length of the content increased greatly because it included both consonants and vowels. This meant that what previously fit on one scroll now had to be written on two scrolls, necessitating the division of the books. Our English Bibles tend to follow the Greek manuscripts, so we inherited divided books.


Forgiven to forgive

There are sermons that, when you hear them, comfort you and soothe your troubled heart. There are other that leave you cut up and broken. Forgiven to forgive by Josh Harris was one of the latter for me.

When we refuse to forgive, we reveal that we don’t understand or remember how God has forgiven us in Christ. The parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35) teaches how great God’s forgiveness of me is, and how God’s forgiveness of me is connected to my forgiveness of others.

The king in the parable forgives a debt that would have been impossible for the servant to pay, and in so doing, the king takes a huge financial loss. God forgives us, and more than that, He has paid the debt Himself.

The first servant didn’t grasp grace: he thought he could repay the debt, and he didn’t express gratitude for the forgiveness he’d received. The way you treat others shows how you think of God. If you think you can earn forgiveness from God, you’ll demand that others earn it from you.

Forgiveness from the heart isn’t to say that the sins against us are a small thing, but that God’s forgiveness of us is a great thing!

Listen to the sermon (length–47:51). Additionally, Alistair Begg’s sermon Forgiven and Forgiving, Part 2 (length–60:31) makes many of the same points.






In his sermon Gospel Enemy #1: Self-righteousness, Jerry Bridges has the following to say on what it does to a person:

Self-righteousness causes you to trust in yourself, like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. He trusted in his observance of the law to set him right with God.

Self-righteousness causes you to look down on  others. The Pharisee in the parable above despised the tax collector. Similarly, Christians today may look down on homosexuals and other flagrant sinners.

Self-righteousness can make you feel God is unfair to you, for example when you expect something from God in reward for obedience, like the older brother in Luke 15:25-30.

Self-righteousness blinds you to how much you’ve been forgiven. The self-righteous person doesn’t sense any need for forgiveness, like Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-47. As a consequence, the self-righteous person loves little.

The cure for self-righteousness is to realize how much we’ve been forgiven. Instead of comparing ourselves with others, like the tax collector, we compare ourselves with God saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

When we love much because we’ve been forgiven much, we’ll want to obey much. Not to earn favour, but because we have it. When we love much because we’ve been forgiven much, we’ll serve much—in sacrificial obedience to God.

You can also listen to the entire sermon (length—40:10).

Reflections on 2 Kings

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I write about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on Hosea, JoelAmos, Obadiah, Jonah, 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon.

The division between 1 and 2 Kings is rather arbitrary—right in the middle of a story. Oh well, it’s been like that for centuries 🙂

Unlike 1 Kings, there aren’t any prominent figures in the narrative, so I’ll explore six themes I saw.

1. God buries His workers, but His work goes on.

Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind in chapter 2 and Elisha literally picks up his mantle. Elisha’s death in chapter 13 isn’t the end of things, either. Later in 2 Kings we read of Isaiah and Huldah speaking God’s word to the kings. Outside 2 Kings, lots of other named and unnamed prophets were used of God.

When a great man or woman of God dies, we shouldn’t despair. The Lord’s work will be carried on to completion.

2. God cares for the nameless and the small stuff

Whereas Elijah engaged Ahab and his son Ahaziah, Elisha hang out with the sons of the prophets rescuing their axe-heads and feeding them. Elisha helped a nameless prophet’s widow and an equally nameless woman from Shunem (4:8-37; 8:1-6).

True, Elisha also healed Naaman (5:1-19) and humiliated the Aramean army (6:8-23). But it’s surprising that God had those interventions on the behalf of unimportant people recorded in Holy Scripture. Continue reading

The Lost Gospels (4 of 4)

Please have a look at part 1, part 2 and part 3 before reading this.

In this post you’ll find other material not directly answering issues raised by the documentary:

  • Differences between the Gnostic gospels and the canonical gospels:
    • The Gnostic gospels lift Jesus out of the concrete specifics of time and place, whereas the canonical gospels are biographical.
    • The Gnostic gospels lack a connection with the OT, while the canonical gospels are closely intertwined with it. The Gnostic texts don’t engage with the Jewish roots of Christianity, and when they do, it is usually negative.
    • The god of the Gnostics isn’t the God of Israel. The material world is the work of a demiurge, and Jesus comes as an emissary of the true deity.
    • The canonical gospels have their narrative embedded in a verifiable historical context. Gnostic gospels neither preserve real historical references, neither are they concerned to.
  • Did the four gospels come before the alternatives, or were they a reaction to the alternatives?
    • Scholars are divided. However, the Gnostic gospels augment and transcend the teaching in the canonical gospels, so it is reasonable to conclude that they came later. With that view, the church simply confirmed those texts that had previously been recognised as authoritative.
  • Most of the alternative texts in their present form date to the early to mid-2nd century, making them later than the canonical texts, which all date to the 1st century. The only exception is the Gospel of Thomas, a collection of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus.
  • Even if the alternative texts had an early date, they would still be in opposition to traditional Christianity. They have a different view of:
    • God and creation, including a non-monotheistic view of God;
    • the person of Jesus, His death and resurrection;
    • salvation.
  • How did Christians know what to believe before books were written? They inherited a robust oral tradition from the Jews. They also used hymns and rites, such as the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Before there was a New Testament, there still was an apostolic theology. The New Testament is therefore a written account of this apostolic theology.


If you have some time to spare, use your favourite search engine to look up some of the Gnostic texts. The gospels of Thomas and Judas are fairly brief, so I’d recommend those. While you’re at it have a look at the Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache, just to be balanced. Hopefully you’ll be able to appreciate the differences between these works and what we have in the Bible, and to have an idea of why the early church didn’t include them in the canon.

Reflections on Joel

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I write about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on 2 Kings, Hosea, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon.

The prophet Joel, whose name means ‘Yahweh is God’, gives us no clue as to when and where he lived. I go with the hypothesis that he lived in Judah before the fall of Jerusalem, for he makes a number of references to Judah, Jerusalem and Zion.

Chapter 1 of the book opens with a locust invasion that was in all likelihood a historical reality. But this invasion is only a stepping stone to describe the invasion in chapter 2 of a large, mighty, disciplined and destructive army. It is unnerving to read in verse 11 that the Lord Himself is at the head of this second army, commanding it, and it His day.

The hinge on which the mood turns from gloom to hope is 2:12-17. In this section, God calls on His people to return to Him wholeheartedly. He will have compassion on His people, will drive  back the besieging army, and will cause the land to be fruitful again, thus reversing the damage done by the locusts. Why? So that His people may know that He is Yahweh their God (2:27).

The section that follows, 2:28-32, is the most familiar passage in Joel in which God promises to pour out His Spirit on all believers without exception. The Lord also promises salvation for all who call on, and are called by, Him. I’m not sure if 2:31-32 refers to some past event, or to a future event, or indeed, both.

In 3:1-16a, God pronounces judgment on the enemies of His people.He will judge all those who oppose Him and reject His salvation. In 3:16b-21, He promises to redeem and restore His covenant people. He will be a refuge for them (3:16b) and will pardon their sin (3:21).

The takeaway from Joel for us today is that God will judge and He will save. If you desire to be part of the latter group, turn to Him, and He will turn to you.

Sources: Mike Bullmore, Christopher Ash