BLESSINGS AND CURSES; JESUS AND THE FINGER OF GOD
Once the children of Israel had entered into the Promised Land, they were to build a monument with the Law written upon it, and an altar. The righteous demands are given by God (THE LAW which came by Moses; John 1:17a) were written on the monument of stone. The righteous demands fulfilled were pictured by an altar of grace. There, offerings were made that would speak of a Perfect Priest and a Perfect Sacrifice satisfying God’s Perfect Demands with Perfect Obedience (GRACE and TRUTH would come by Jesus Christ, John 1:17b).
The Law promised the rewards of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.
After the Monument and Altar to the LAW and GRACE were built, God’s people were to affirm that they accepted the responsibility of their covenant with God by hearing the curses upon disobedience proclaimed from the top of Mt. Ebal and the blessings upon obedience proclaimed from Mt. Gerizim. Once heard, the people were to accept their accountability by shouting back in response “Amen!” meaning, “So be it”.
In the New Testament, we learn that the Good News is that every promise finds its AMEN in Jesus. He is not only the Law-Giver. He is now the Law-Keeper in our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.
For He perfectly obeyed the law on our behalf. We now find ourselves BLESSED in HIM.
Jesus is the One who accepted the responsibility for holy obedience to God’s law and fulfills it on our behalf.
As we walk in the obedience of faith we can look forward to being blessed in Christ!
The promised rewards of obedience include these blessings: (Deut 28:1-14)
BEING BLESSED IN YOUR NEW POSITION (v. 3, The Land, towns, country)
” Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,
Romans 8:14-15 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
1 John 3:1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.
Col. 1:10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
Matthew 6:31 “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’  “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
BEING BLESSED WITH VICTORY (v.7)
1 Cor. 15:57 “but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
BEING BLESSED WITH A HOLY TESTIMONY (v.9)
John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Ephes. 2:4-6 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,  even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),  and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
The promised results of disobedience are the opposite of the blessings given for obedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68):
The effect of the withheld blessings of God is a curse. Living without God’s Words or true promises brings confusion and disillusionment. (28:20)
What a tragedy it is to have a clear Word from God and not obey it.
Deut. 28:47-48 “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things;  therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.
The descriptions of the curses upon disobedience are more detailed than those of the blessings. God wanted His people to know that when these promised tragedies struck that they would recognize His hand. Their bodies, families, fields, flocks, and herds would be adversely affected by their disobedience.
Deut. 28:64 “Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known.
We see this prediction first fulfilled when the northern kingdom was defeated by the Assyrians and taken into captivity in 722 B.C.
2 Kings 17:6 6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away into exile to Assyria, and settled them in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
The southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar and taken into Babylonian captivity (586 BC)
2 Kings 24:14-15 14 Then he led away into exile all Jerusalem and all the captains and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained except the poorest people of the land. 15 So he led Jehoiachin away into exile to Babylon; also the king’s mother and the king’s wives and his officials and the leading men of the land, he led away into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
A sizeable Jewish community remained in Babylon down to Medieval times. The Jews spread, voluntarily and as refugees, settling also in Egypt and elsewhere (Jeremiah 43:7)
Philo records that about one million Jews settled in Egypt in the first century A.D. Jews disperse into at least 71 cities in Asia Minor and there were large colonies in Syria.
In 139 BC the Jews were expelled from Rome. Another expulsion is referenced in Acts 18:2.
Many Jews fled their homeland in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus and Vespasian of Rome.
The dispersal of the Jews to other countries is called the Diaspora. Dispersed Jewish believers are addressed in both the epistles of James and 1 Peter (See James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1). We also see how Jewish believers were scatted from Jerusalem throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria in Acts 8:1.
NEW TESTAMENT READING: Luke 11:14-36
Jesus answered that His particular work was in opposition to the kingdom of Satan. His purposes were contrary to the purposes of the evil one. Jesus then said,
Luke 11:19-20 “And if I by Beelzebul (the prince of demons, or Satan himself) cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So, they will be your judges.  “But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
There are at least two interpretations of this statement based on the understanding of Jesus saying, “by whom do your sons cast them out.”
We learn from Jesus that there were those who would cast out demons who would not be rightly related to Him, and not regenerate:
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
These people were never obedient to the command of God to repent of their sin and cast themselves upon Jesus, owning Him as Lord and Savior. We do not read of exorcisms in the Old Testament, but we do read of demonic activity, impersonating spirits, and those involved in the occult. In this case, Jesus would be accusing them of playing into the devil’s hands with their assumed exorcisms. Jesus made it clear that it was only by the finger of God that demons would be effectively commanded.
The second interpretation is that Jesus’ statement “by whom do your sons cast them out?” was a rhetorical question given to highlight that they don’t cast them out or have any power over the evil one.
Both interpretations turn the accusation back on the Pharisees. They did not recognize the finger of God, the kingdom of God, the authority of God, nor were they doing the work of God. They had no real power over the devil; either they could not cast out demons, or if they did, were still playing into the devil’s hands because they did not have the authority of the kingdom of God which had arrived in Jesus.
Jesus gives reference to ineffective deliverances from demons, if the person being delivered does not become subject to the kingdom of God themselves:
Luke 11:24-26 “When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’  “And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order.  “Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”
In Luke 11:21-22 Jesus makes it known that He represents the One who is stronger than the strong man (Satan). Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil- sin and death, separation from God as a consequence of sin. The human race has been held captive to the kingdom of darkness since the fall and Jesus has come to bring deliverance.
Jesus further illustrates that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness are involved in an ongoing conflict. There is no neutrality. To think that you have taken your side with God (as the Pharisees had) yet not to be working in full cooperation with Jesus is to be an opponent of God (Luke 11:23).
Luke 11:23 “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.
It is alarming to see how many people (religious or not) can think they are serving God and yet they do not align themselves with God by identifying with Christ and owning Him as their Lord and Savior. They do not gather with Christ. As a result, they scatter.
Jesus spoke about this again in the Upper Room with His disciples:
John 16:2-3 “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.  “These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me.
Saul of Tarsus is a good example of this. He thought He was doing God a favor by opposing the followers of Jesus Christ.
Acts 26:9-11 “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  “And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death, I cast my vote against them.  “And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
Jesus dealt with any attempt made towards false worship. When a woman called out, offering veneration to Jesus’ mother Mary, Jesus soundly redirected the woman’s misplaced affection and devotion.
Luke 11:27-28 While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.”  But He said, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
As Jesus’ ministry progressed, more people demanded miraculous signs:
Luke 11:29 As the crowds were increasing, He began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah.
Jesus said that what happened to Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites authenticating that he was sent by God. In a similar way, the sign of Jesus being swallowed up in death and rising on the third day would authenticate His claim to be the Son of Man, the Messiah, sent by God (Luke 11:30).
Again, Jesus affirms that the Old Testament testifies of Him. He is the Greater Solomon (11:31). He is the Greater Jonah (11:32). Their stories are meant to point to a greater kingdom and a deeper repentance.
Jesus provokes us to examine whether our spiritual eyes are healthy. We need to be sure that we are not blinded by an angel of light bringing the false light of deception. To think that you have the light when you are in darkness is to be in the greater darkness of deception.
The Pharisees thought that they had the light of God’s Word and failed to see that by rejecting the Light of the World they were actually living in darkness.
READING FROM THE PSALMS: Psalm 77:1-20.
What turns this psalm from a dirge into a psalm of praise? What causes its melody to go from a minor key to a major?
Have you had agonizing and sleepless nights of prayer (Ps. 77:1-3)? Or nights when you could not sleep and could not pray? (Ps.77:4)
Instead of moving forward in hope, your thoughts retreat on a sentimental journey to the ‘good old days’.
Verses 7-10 sound like they are coming from John Bunyan’s Dungeon of Despair in Castle Doubting (The Pilgrim’s Progress)!
But everything turns on verse 11!
Psalm 77:11 (NASB) 11 I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely, I will remember Your wonders of old.
Instead of focusing on our present state of affairs and emotions, the Psalmist remembers the deeds of the Lord, the good news of who He is and what He has done through Christ.
The song immediately changes the key and picks up tempo.
The Psalmist looks back on the day the Lord opened up the way from death to life at the Red Sea. We look to the Cross that opened up the way for us to go to heaven and heaven to come into our spirits through Christ’s finished work of redemption.
READING FROM PROVERBS: BE AWARE OF THE POWER OF THE TONGUE!
Proverbs 12:18 (NASB) 18 There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
This proverb exposes the lie that words will never hurt you. Indeed, words can hurt. But they can also heal. Choose your words carefully.
PRAY FOR THE NATIONS
We will be praying for China for the next two weeks as we follow the Prayer Guide to Every Nation: Operation World. (p. 214 -261)
Challenge for Prayer
God has protected and grown the Church in China on a scale unforeseen by anyone a few decades ago. Persecution designed to destroy the Church served instead to purify her through suffering and the power of the Holy Spirit, who inspired fervent prayer and zealous evangelism. By the 1980s, vast networks and communities of these believers met in house churches designed to withstand the harsh treatment meted out by the state. Through radio ministries, greater numbers of Christian workers in China and believers devoted to outreach, the Church saw great growth across the late 20th Century and into the new millennium.
a) The Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council (TSPM/CCC), which together form the only state-recognized Protestant Church within China. Significant privileges of position include the ability to legally print and distribute Christian materials as well as to register and build church buildings. Limitations have long affected teaching, outreach and discipleship as well as the ability to grow at pace with the desires and needs of some congregations. Pray for:
- Increased printing and distribution of Bibles and Christian materials. The value of such resources to both the TSPM and indeed all Christians in China is inestimable. The need and demand for such materials are enormous.
- The neutralization of all attempts to impose unbiblical doctrines on churches, to limit outreach and to forcibly restrict the life and ministry of the Church. Pray for revival and renewal to purify the TSPM and its associated churches. In the past, certain doctrines and practices were imposed on the TSPM as a state church of an atheistic regime, which greatly blunted its potential impact.
- Future growth, under wise leadership, unhindered by limitations on resources. The TSPM/CCC has experienced consistently notable growth since its reconstitution in 1978. Pray for TSPM/CCC leaders and congregations to continue growing in their faith and sharing Christ with an increasingly interested Chinese population.
b) The traditional house-church networks have been for many decades the dynamic core of the Chinese Church. Being unregistered, they are therefore illegal and liable to great pressure by the government. Intense persecution forced these churches to adopt indigenous patterns and to focus on prayer, revival, simple living and a Christocentric theology. Their zealous outreach and passionate mission vision resulted in its world-changing growth and influence.
- Relations between traditional house-church networks and the government. Long suffering underground with the label “sect” or “cult”, the large majority of these networks decided not to pursue registration. This decision invites further pressure and persecution from the state. Most house church Christians are patriotic Chinese, but whose loyalty is first to God.
- Adaptations that must occur due to vast migration of Chinese from rural to urban areas. Congregations and networks have been destabilized and disrupted as individuals and families shift locations, leaving some countryside groups leaderless and many migrants without church groups. Pray that the legacy of fervency, missions’ vision, commitment to God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit will continue to define this movement as it undergoes such fundamental change.
- Protection from heretical sects and doctrinally extremist groups. The lack of Bible knowledge and a paucity of leadership open the way for many exotic messianic, syncretistic and divisive groups. Some of these have spread over much of China, such as the aggressive and heretical Eastern Lightning cult. Pray that these groups’ growth might be foiled by the proclamation of God’s truth through biblical teaching, radio and literature.
- Ongoing evangelistic outreach. Witnessing Christians and itinerant preachers have spread far and wide, despite often violent opposition from authorities. But many provinces, districts and towns are still unreached. Pray that Christians may continue to be bold for Jesus and implement their missionary strategy for reaching China.
c) Other house church networks, though smaller and often less organized than traditional ones, still represent substantial segments of the Chinese Church. Many of these are among indigenous minority groups formed because of radio broadcasts and related ministries. More recently, churches are emerging within the workplace, such as those within factories or offices owned or managed by Christians.
d) The urban professional Church has truly changed the face of Chinese Christianity in the last ten years. Many younger professionals, students and professors encountered Jesus while studying abroad, through campus Bible study groups or other forms of outreach and returned to China eager to engage urban society with their newfound faith. These well-educated and energetic believers are strategically placed to impact the future of China, which will belong to those of influence within government, business, media, academia, the legal profession and the emerging civil sector. The growing Christian movement within these sectors relates to the government differently from any other Christian group. Pray for:
- This amazing work of God to continue as He draws many more unto Himself.
- Leaders who are currently overstretched, balancing needs of families and the demands of careers with ministry and leadership in churches.
- New models of ministry and church that will reach China’s changing demographic.
- Legal status that allows these churches to engage in social welfare work; many desire to bless their communities in such a way.
PRAYER: Gracious God and Father, through the perfect obedience of Your Son, You have won for us the covenant blessings. He who became a curse for us, delivered us from the curse. In Him we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the unseen realm of spiritual realities. We revel in the love You have lavished upon us, Your children. We have been purchased by our Savior’s blood and we cleave to Him who has made us fit for Your kingdom. Our souls welcome the comfort of Your Word. Fill us with Your Spirit and cause our tongues to praise You and speak healing words to others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.