2 Jan 2017
‘What is your first question going to be?’ I was preparing my cross-examination for one of the first criminal trials in which I was involved when I practised as a barrister. A senior and experienced barrister was helping me prepare. He explained to me the significance of first questions.
1. The first question in the psalms is about Jesus
It is all about Jesus. The safest place to be in life is close to Jesus.
Paul, preaching the gospel in Antioch, quotes this psalm. He says, ‘We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second psalm: “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”’ (Acts 13:32–33, quoting Psalm 2:7).
It is Jesus who is his ‘anointed’ (Psalm 2:2). The Hebrew word here is ‘mashiah’ (messiah). He is the Christ, the Son of God, whom we are to love: ‘Kiss his Son’ (v.12).
Acts 13 is just one of the many occasions where Psalm 2 is quoted in the New Testament. The psalm’s original context probably concerned a particular situation involving a human King of Israel. Yet, as we read it with a larger horizon in mind, we see that the very first question asked in the psalms points forward in anticipation to Jesus. Why do people ‘conspire’ and ‘plot’ against him (vv.1–2)?
This is exactly what we see happening in the New Testament in relation to Jesus. We see it even in today’s New Testament passage. Right from the start of Jesus’ life, we see rulers gathering together and conspiring and plotting in vain (Matthew 2:3–4).
Yet the psalm ends, ‘Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) are all those who seek refuge and put their trust in him!’ (v.12b, AMP). With all the storms of life, and supremely the storm of Jesus’ coming in final judgment, the only safe place to be is ‘in him’.
Lord, thank you that as I look to the year ahead and all the potential challenges, opportunities and possibilities, the safest place to be is in you.
2. The first question in the New Testament is about Jesus
Appropriately, the first question in the New Testament is also about Jesus. The whole of the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus.
The Magi (often referred to as ‘the wise men’) sensed the significance of Jesus’ birth. They asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?’ (v.2) They sought and found him. When ‘they saw the child… they bowed down and worshiped him’ (v.11). They recognised that Jesus was the fulfilment of all the hopes and dreams of the people up to his birth.
Jesus is the one who fulfils all God’s promises. In yesterday’s reading we looked at one example of such a fulfilment. Today we see three more examples:
- Place of his birth
Matthew saw that even the place of Jesus’ birth was prophesied in Micah 5:2. It was out of Bethlehem that the ‘ruler’ and ‘shepherd’ would arise, ‘for this is what the prophet has written’ (Matthew 2:5–6).
- Exile in Egypt
When Herod tried to kill Jesus, the family escaped to Egypt (v.13). Matthew writes, ‘So was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”’ (v.15, see also Hosea 11:1).
- Slaughter of the children
When Herod ordered the murder of all boys under the age of two (Matthew 2:16), this fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15 (Matthew 2:17–18) (see Pippa Adds).
Lord Jesus, today we want to bow down and worship you. I want to offer you everything I have – my life, my all.
3. The first question in the Bible is about God’s goodness
Do you ever find yourself doubting whether God’s way really is the best? Do you find yourself wondering whether, even though God says it is wrong, something is worth trying anyway?
God gave to humankind everything they could possibly want. The whole created world was made for us to enjoy. Every possible need was catered for. The pinnacle of God’s creation was human beings. The need for community was solved by the creation of other human beings: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’ (2:18).
It started with the beautiful gift of marriage – the lifelong union of a man and a woman in which sex, another of God’s beautiful gifts, is to be enjoyed with intimacy and freedom, without guilt or ‘shame’ (vv.24–25).
Yet despite this abundant provision of everything good, human beings looked for something more. Adam and Eve were not satisfied with all the wonderful things God had given them, and they succumbed to the temptation to take forbidden fruit.
The temptation started with doubts about God. Here is the first question in the Bible: ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ (3:1).
Eve’s first mistake was to engage with the serpent in conversation. We are created to converse with God, not the devil.
The devil, in the form of the serpent, fools Eve into thinking that there will be no consequences to her sin – ‘You will not certainly die’ (v.4). He imputes bad motives to God, ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (v.5). It is often the case that you swallow a lie about God, before you swallow forbidden fruit.
The fruit looked ‘good’ and ‘pleasing to the eye’ and ‘desirable for gaining wisdom’ (v.6). This is often how temptation appears. Adam and Eve sinned and, as so often happens, cover-up followed the sin: ‘So they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves’ (v.7).
Lord, thank you for your amazing love for us. Thank you that you have created this wonderful universe for us to enjoy. Forgive me for the times that I have fallen for the devil’s lie that I cannot trust you and that I need to experience things that you have forbidden.
4. The first question God asks in the Bible is about you
Whenever you fall away from your relationship with him, God is always searching for you.
Adam and Eve’s friendship with God was broken. When they heard God coming, they hid (v.8). But God immediately came looking for them, and we find his first question in the Bible: ‘Where are you?’ (v.9) God did not give up on them. He came looking for them, wanting the relationship to be restored.
He says to the serpent that one of Eve’s descendants ‘will crush your head, and you will strike his heel’ (v.15b). Jesus is the one who will crush the head of the serpent. But there will be a cost – ‘you will strike his heel’. We see here the first hint of what it will cost to restore the relationship. On the cross Jesus crushed Satan, but it cost him his life. His blood was shed so that we could be forgiven and our relationship with God restored.
Lord, thank you that you are always searching for us. Thank you that through Jesus I receive forgiveness and my relationship with you is restored.
5. The first question human beings ask is about responsibility
‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (v.8). This is the crucial question for today. Do we have responsibility for others?
The result of the fall is a broken relationship with God. Adam and Eve blamed each other (vv.11–12), and in chapter four we read that their children also fell out with each other. Arguments, quarrelling and falling out with one another began here. It has blighted the human race ever since. Try to avoid arguments. You will rarely win one and they are so destructive.
Cain was angry with his brother Abel. God’s questioning continued: ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it’ (4:6–7).
You will either master sin (now through the power of the cross and resurrection and with the help of the Spirit), or else sin will master you. In Cain’s case it did. He killed his brother (v.8). God asked him yet another question: ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ (v.9a).
In response, Cain asked the first question by a human being in the Bible: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (v.9b). Cain wanted to avoid responsibility. He was saying, ‘Do I really have responsibility for anyone other than myself?’
The biblical answer is that we do have responsibility for others. We cannot exempt ourselves from responsibility for what is happening around us – in our city, nation and the world. For example, we cannot accept that thousands of children die every day as a result of extreme poverty and simply say it is not our responsibility.
Not only do we have responsibility towards our fellow human beings, but it is our privilege and joy to bring blessing to our friends, family and all those around us, and to make a difference in the lives of as many people as possible.
Lord, help me this year to fulfil the potential I have to make a difference in other people’s lives.
‘When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were 2 years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.’
I always feel traumatised when I read this passage. What a terrible thing Herod did to the vulnerable, just because he felt insecure about his own position. Are you ever in danger of putting others down to try and secure your own position?
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