Day 187

The Light of God’s Smile of Blessing Is On You

Wisdom Psalm 80:18-19
New Testament Acts 24:1-27
Old Testament 2 Kings 11:19-21

Introduction

After the terrifying, appalling and deadly terrorist attack during her concert in 2017, Ariana Grande returned to the Manchester Arena for the ‘One Love Manchester’ concert. Marcus Mumford, lead singer of the band Mumford and Sons, opened the concert by proclaiming that ‘love casts out fear’. In the middle of the concert, Justin Bieber declared, ‘I’m not going to let go of love, not going to let go of God. God is good in the midst of darkness. God is in the midst. And he loves you. And he is here for you.’ It was like a bright light in the midst of the darkness.

St John of the Cross spoke of the ‘dark night of the soul’. I have gone through dark times in my life. There were dark times for the people of God both in the Old and New Testament times. There have been dark periods in the history of the church. But the light of the gospel has never gone out. The light of Jesus will always outshine the darkness around (John 1:5). You have that light within you by the Holy Spirit and wherever you go you bring a light greater than the darkness around you.

Wisdom

Psalm 80:18-19

… revive us, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, LORD God Almighty;
   make your face shine on us,
   that we may be saved.

Commentary

The light of God’s smile

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa is famous, among other things, for his smile. His face shines like a light – especially when he smiles. As Mother Teresa put it, ‘The smile is the beginning of love.’

How amazing to think of the light of God’s smile shining on you! Not only is God with you, but you can also enjoy his favour. The psalmist prays:

‘Smile your blessing smile:

That will be our salvation’ (v.19, MSG).

The people of Israel were clearly facing dark times. The ‘vine’ (vv.8,14) is an image for the nation of Israel. God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt. He cared for it like a vine.

But now the vineyard walls are broken down (v.12). It appears that the vine is cut down and burned with fire (v.16a). ‘Trespassers pick its grapes at will... mice nibble away at what’s left’ (vv.12–13, MSG). The people are perishing.

The psalmist cries out to God: ‘Revive us, and we will call on your name. Restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved’ (vv.18–19).

As we look at the state of the church in this country its walls have been broken down. It appears in a desperate state. Yet God has restored and revived his people in the past. He can do it again today. Cry out for revival.

Prayer

Revive us again, O Lord, we pray. Fill your people with your Holy Spirit. May the churches again be filled with people serving Jesus with all their hearts. Smile your blessing smile on us.

New Testament

Acts 24:1-27

1 Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor. 2 When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix:

5 ‘We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect 6 and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him.

9 The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.

10 When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: ‘I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defence. 11 You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13 And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.

22 Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. ‘When Lysias the commander comes,’ he said, ‘I will decide your case.’ 23 He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.

24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.’ 26 At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.

27 When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favour to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.

Commentary

The light of the gospel

Everywhere Paul went he shone ‘the light of the gospel’. But not everyone could see it. He wrote, ‘The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’ (2 Corinthians 4:4).

These were dark times in Paul’s life. He was imprisoned and on trial. The prosecution lawyer, Tertullus, is an example of a sycophantic lawyer. He flattered the governor: ‘We are most grateful in all times and places for your wise and gentle rule’ (Acts 24:2, MSG).

His flattery was followed by false accusations about Paul, suggesting he was ‘time and again disturbing the peace, stirring up riots against Jews all over the world, the ringleader of a seditious sect called Nazarenes’ (v.5, MSG). The Christian faith was described as a ‘sect’ (v.5) – rather in the way that some people today might dismiss church as a ‘cult’.

Paul makes his defence (v.10 onwards). He deals first with the specific allegations, denying what is not true and admitting what is true. He admits being a follower of Jesus (‘the Way’, v.14). He clarifies what happened at his hearing before the Sanhedrin (v.21). (Sometimes it is helpful to establish what the facts actually are.)

Paul shows the orthodoxy of his beliefs. He worships the God of history (v.14a). He believes everything in the Scriptures (v.14b). He shares the Jewish hope of the resurrection (v.15). He points out that he believes everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets and that he has the same hope in God as the Pharisees, that ‘there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked’ (v.15). He points to his clear conscience (v.16), his ‘gifts for the poor’ (v.17) and his innocence (v.18).

His judge, Felix, was not necessarily evil, but he was weak, dithering, indecisive and politically motivated. He did not want to condemn an innocent man, but he did not have the courage to set him free. As a weak judge, frightened by Paul’s words when he did not know what to do, he simply adjourned the proceedings (v.25).

He kept Paul in prison for two years hoping for a bribe. Then even when a new governor was appointed and there was no financial gain to be had from Paul, Felix still didn’t release him for political reasons (v.27). He used delay as a device in order to avoid making a decision.

But avoiding a decision is a decision in itself. We cannot avoid responsibility by indecision. Indecision is itself a decision not to act. It is a decision to maintain the status quo. It is an action with consequences.

Paul took every opportunity to shine the light of the gospel. Whenever he could, ‘he spoke about faith in Jesus Christ’ (v.24).

Prayer

Lord, help us to make the most of every opportunity. When we are opposed, falsely accused and frustrated, help us, like the apostle Paul, to take every opportunity to shine the light of the gospel in the darkness.

Old Testament

2 Kings 11:19-21

The king then took his place on the royal throne. 20 All the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was calm…

21 Joash was seven years old when he began his reign.

Commentary

The light of young people

Every year in the UK there are Christian summer festivals for young people. Tens of thousands attend these youth events. Pippa and I had the privilege of visiting one of them. It was so exciting to see the faith, passion and enthusiasm of these young people. It is a great sign of hope for the future. It is a bright light on the horizon. However bad things look, there is hope that the next generation will do better.

If you think you are living in a dark world, study this passage and you will see that there have been times in history that are just as bad, or even worse.

This was another dark period in the history of the people of Israel. It was a time when horrific events took place, such as the slaughter of the seventy princes whose heads were stacked in two piles at the city gates (10:7–8). And there were other massacres as well (v.17, MSG). Jehu was praised for not behaving like the worst of the kings of Israel, King Ahab. In particular, Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel.

However, he did not turn away from the precedent set by King Jeroboam: the worship of the golden calf (v.29). He ‘wasn’t careful to walk in God's ways and honour the God of Israel from an undivided heart’ (v.31a, MSG).

In Judah things seemed no better. Athaliah tried to massacre the whole royal family (11:1, MSG). But God protected Joash, in much the same way as he protected Moses and Jesus: Jehosheba ‘hid him and his nurse in a private room away from Athaliah. He didn’t get killed. He was there with her, hidden away for six years in The Temple of God. Athaliah, oblivious to his existence, ruled the country’ (vv.2–3, MSG).

Later, ‘Jehoiada brought out the king’s son and put the crown on him; he presented him with a copy of the covenant and proclaimed him king. They anointed him, and the people clapped their hands and shouted, “Long live the king!”’ (v.12). After this, the king ‘took his place on the royal throne, and all the people of the land rejoiced. And the city was quiet, because Athaliah had been slain with the sword at the palace’ (vv.19–20).

Joash was only seven years old when he became king (v.21) but this young man brought hope for the future (see 2 Kings 12 and 2 Chronicles 24), as so often we see hope in young people. Once again God kept a light shining even in the darkest of times.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the children and youth in our own church and the hope they bring. Thank you for the youth movements throughout the world and the light that shines through them. Thank you that even in the darkest of times, you always keep your light shining and that the light of your smile of blessing is on us.

Pippa adds

2 Kings 10:31

‘Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart.’

It is hard to remain wholeheartedly committed all the time. Think what Jehu might have achieved for God if he had. We need to keep seeking God first and his kingdom.

Thought for the Day

‘The smile is the beginning of love.’

  • Mother Teresa
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References

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

  • HOST'S INTRO
  • INTRODUCTION
  • WISDOM BIBLE
  • WISDOM COMMENTARY
  • NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • OLD TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • PIPPA ADDS
  • HOST'S OUTRO

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