Something new this week in that you can download Sunday’s message by just clicking on the link below rather than it being a link to another site.
The passage can be read online here
We are going through a series of overviews at the moment, passages that take a look at the big picture. In this passage we’re studying a prayer (the longest recorded prayer in the bible). The prayer is probably prayed by Ezra during a series of celebrations following the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem when the people of God were being restored to their own land after the exile.
God is the Creator
He is the source of all things. The universe was created for his pleasure and his own purposes. There is of course a huge debate among Christians as to how exactly creation came about. There are a number of views but essentially there are two camps, those who believe that the world is much younger than most scientists would claim and those who believe that the world is millions of years old. Normally these camps are described as Young Earth or Old Earth.
I believe that an exchange of views on creation is healthy and believers should have a view on this important issue. We must also guard against loosing the wonder of creation; the simple truth is that sometimes in creation we can see something of the nature of God. As Paul writes in Romans;
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
When we see God’s invisible qualities, they should cause us to marvel at the beauty and majesty of all that God has made.
God is Compassionate
Moses had spent the first forty years of his life in the royal palace of Egypt. He then sought to get involved in the suffering of his own people with disastrous results and ended up living on the far side of the desert hiding from the authorities. It was at this point God appeared to him from a burning bush. God spoke and said;
“The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8)
Look at those phrases; I have indeed seen the misery. I have heard them crying out, I am concerned about their suffering and I have come down to rescue them. We may be dealing with a real trial and things are not always easy but God has seen, he has heard, he is concerned and he will rescue.
God is Powerful
It is one thing to be concerned, it’s quite another to do something about it. We often see things via the media that concern us but we are powerless to do anything about them.
Egypt was the superpower of the day, we still marvel at some of their achievements. The empire stretched through Canaan, down to the Sudan and across to Libya. Pharaoh had supreme authority; he was believed to be a god. Yet God’s power was displayed in judgement on Egypt and in rescuing Israel. Egypt was reduced to asking Israel to leave and giving them some of their riches. Even the sea was no barrier, God rescued his people.
We live in a culture where Christianity is under pressure and it can be a temptation to see a gloomy future but our God is powerful and he is in control.
God is Faithful
God’s faithfulness is driven by his compassion;
“They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them.”
Part of God’s character is that he is faithful. As Balaam prophesied hundreds of years earlier;
“God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19)
God is faithful to his promises, faithful in his guidance, leading his people through the sea, through the desert and into Canaan. Faithful in supplying their needs in the desert, manna and quail to eat, water to drink and clothes that did not wear out. Faithful in the Promised Land, leading them to victory after victory and giving them rest from their enemies.
Israel was Unfaithful
The blackness of human sin stands out in stark contrast to brilliance of God’s holiness. The history of Israel is a sorry tale of disobedience and rebellion.
“They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery.” (Nehemiah 9:17)
The Hebrew word translated as ‘stiff-necked’ is usually used of an ox that refuses to be guided. Israel continually fell short and in that way they are very much like us.
God is Gracious
The history of Israel shows us not the greatness of Israel but the greatness of God; he is the God of grace. Even with these terrible sins, God forgave them. The second part of the verse above states;
“But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” (Nehemiah 9:17)
God’s grace is beyond our comprehension, deeper than the greatest ocean. Israel did not deserve this grace and neither do we. He is a forgiving God. His grace reaches out to those who do not yet know him and to those of us who have let him down, as the well known preacher and author Alan Redpath has said;
“God’s mercy with a sinner is only equaled and perhaps outmatched by His patience with the saints, with you and me.” (Alan Redpath quoted from Enduring Word Media)
God is Unchanging
Part of understanding God is that he is immutable, he just does not change. He does not have mood swings, he will never wake one day and suddenly decide that he doesn’t love us after all (he never sleeps anyway). The fact that he is unchanging is part of his character and that should be a source of great encouragement.
He is still the creator, still compassionate, powerful, faithful and gracious and he always will be. The story is still being told; God is still redeeming people from slavery and bringing them into a relationship with himself. Now he calls people from slavery to sin and death and into a new life through Jesus Christ.