Day Fourteen: Beyond Appearances

The book of Habakkuk is certainly an interesting one. Written probably during the Chaldean period when Babylon was at the height of her power, it is set out as dialogue between the prophet and Jehovah in which God must respond to a series of complaints regarding His punishment and providence.

Throughout the conversation, Habakkuk wrestles, as many of us do with, the apparent prosperity of the wicked while good and holy people suffer, but today’s reading (a continuation from yesterday’s) weaves together the ancient stories of God coming forth to deliver his people – terrifying in His passion and power.

From Joshua’s battle with the Amorites when the sun stood still and the moon stopped in the sky until the nation had been avenged (Habakkuk 3:11), to the surging waters of the Red Sea trampling down the Egyptian’s horses and chariots as the Israelites fled captivity (Habakkuk 3:15), Habakkuk has been nursed on the accounts of a God of Action – Mighty to Save – that enable him to wait patiently despite a clear threat to his personal safety and the wellbeing of his nation as a whole.

He writes, in conclusion of his conversation with Jehovah, of his conscious decision to trust in the Lord and rejoice in his Saviour despite their current plight:

“Fig trees may no longer bloom,
or vineyards produce grapes;
olive trees may be fruitless,
and harvest time a failure;
sheep pens may be empty,
and cattle stalls vacant—
but I will still celebrate
because the Lord God  saves me”
Habakkuk 3:17-18.

Our Gospel reading from Matthew is actually a continuation of day 7’s story in Mark in which Jesus had his authority questioned by the chief priests and elders. (Mark is well known for emphasising Jesus’ miracles and leaving out some of his longer lectures).

Through the parable which Jesus offers them concerning the two sons who are asked to do some work in their father’s vineyard, Jesus points out that the discrepancy between what they profess to believe and what they actually do will ensure that the prostitutes and tax collectors who they so clearly despise will get into heaven way before they do.

John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn’t care enough to change and believe him”
Matthew 21:32 (The Message).

Habakkuk sees everywhere “evidence” of God’s inactivity and apparent desertion yet chooses to celebrate, in faith, the God who has shown himself through the ages as mighty to save.

The religious and political leaders of Israel, on the other hand, see the evidence of God at work, changing lives, but don’t care enough to repent of their falsehood and deceit. Content with their power and position, they offer lip service to God rather than entering into the kind of sacrificial, transformed life that brings ever nearer God’s kingdom – for all.

Look back to the picture you drew of God’s green pastures at the start of the week or think back to your baptism and what it symbolised – the way of life it opened up to you.

Are there any discrepancies between the life that you are called to – the life that God has promised – and the way you feel you’re currently living?

Which life do you truly long for? Consciously claim it right now.

Day Seven: Under Whose Authority?

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
Ezekiel 36:24-28;
Mark 11:27-33

The Gospel reading for this day confronts us with a question that Jesus actually refused to answer,

By what authority are you doing these things? … And who gave you the authority to do this?”
Mark 11:28.

The question comes after two significant events that threaten the power dynamics and social hierarchy in Jerusalem:

  1. Jesus entering the holy city peaceably on the back of a colt and being welcomed by the common people, to the cry of “Hosanna” which means “save us,” who see being fulfilled before them Zechariah’s prophecy (9:9) that Zion’s King would come to them mounted on the foal of a donkey.
  2. Jesus forcefully expelling the corrupt traders and money lenders from the temple to return it to a place of prayer. This action is particularly important in light of Malachi’s prophecy as it testifies to Jesus’ true identity and authority: “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple … But who can endure the day of his coming? … For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap” (Malachi 3:1-2).

The question is not asked by the common people but by those who have religious and political power over them – the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council).

Make a list of all of the “voices” that have power and influence in your life. Remember to include those from the past who still have an impact on how you think and act today.

Next to each “voice,” simply plus a “+” “-” or “?” as you reflect on whether it has a positive, negative, or neutral impact on who you are and what you do.

Finally, number the list in order of importance with 1 having the greatest influence, 2 the next etc. 

Jesus responds. Not doing so would have been highly disrespectful, and I’m sure that his mother had brought him up right.

But he doesn’t answer the question that they have asked, for his actions themselves have indicated his true identity and the source of his authority.

Instead, he turns the tables by asking them a question about the source of John’s authority to baptise in the name of God that they cannot possibly answer without further damaging their credibility among the people.

The discussion ends in deadlock. Those in power are forced to proclaim, “We do not know” (Mark 11:33a).

Often we do not know the credentials of those who seek to influence us. Nor do we truly know the voices that drive them – their hidden ambitions, their deepest longings, their fears and insecurities. Often we just follow.

But this season points us to the Ultimate Authority in our lives – our Advent God who pronounces us beloved and holy and well that we might never live like fools again (Psalm 85:8).

How does God’s authority compare to the other “voices” in your life?

Where did it rank on your list?

As others look at your choices and actions, would they question where your authority comes from or would they long to know the One who leads you more intimately?

As the first week of Advent comes to an end, you may want to sit for a while with the words from Ezekiel 36:24-28 which speak of how God exercises God’s authority – to gather, to clean, to give, to remove, to make possible, to be ours.

Do you, truly, long to be God’s?