Psalm 16:1–6; 1 Chronicles 21:1–26; Acts 15:6–18

Psalm 16:1–6: This psalm begins conventionally enough, “Guard me, O God,/ for I shelter in You.” (1) and the psalmist speaks to God, “My Master You are. /My good is only through You.” (2). OK. But then, we read that the psalmist is repenting and has come back to God after worshiping false gods, speaking regretfully of being misled by them: “As to holy ones in the land /and the mighty who were all my desire, / let their sorrows abound—” (3,4a) The speaker promise to no longer offer false worship, “I will not pour their libations of blood, /I will not bear their names on my lips.” (4b).

Instead, he now realizes that “The LORD is my portion and lot,/ it is You Who sustain my fate.” 95) this is certainly a psalm that is highly relevant to he right here in the 21st century. It is so easy to become of enamored of false gods–money, power, status–that too easily supplant God in our lives. While we may not pour “libations of blood” to these false gods, we can give them the top priority in our lives.

May I always bear in my mind in heart that it is God through Jesus Christ who animates me–and to whom I owe my being (especially on today, the 6th anniversary of being told I have cancer). And my gratitude to God (and my doctors) that I am still here to praise my Savior.

1 Chronicles 21:1–26: David, doubtless felling pretty good about all that he has accomplished in building the kingdom is “incited” by Satan to conduct a census of Israel. (Is this the first reference to Satan that we encounter in the Histories? When this incident is recounted in 2 Samuel, I don’t recall Satan being the cause of David’s desire.)  David’s second-in-command, Joab, resists, saying, “Why then should my lord require this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?” (3). But David insists and Joab obeys.

The numbers are impressive indeed, “In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and in Judah four hundred seventy thousand who drew the sword.”(5) But Joab excludes the tribes of Levi and Benjamin “for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab.

As it was also to God: “God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel.” (7). David repents immediately, saying ““I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing.” (8) and asks for absolution. God gives David three awful choices (3 years of famine, 3 months of “devastation by your foes,” or 3 days of God’s own pestilence), and demands David choose one. In a bizarre echo to the passover, “the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel; and seventy thousand persons fell in Israel.” (14). Just as an angel was about to detroy Jerusalem, God relents, as David begs that he and his house receive the punishment, saying, “Was it not I who gave the command to count the people? It is I who have sinned and done very wickedly,” (17) asking God to spare these “sheep,” the people.

David buys a threshing floor from Ornan the Jebusite, builds an altar and God is appeased.

Why this bizarre event of the census? Perhaps it was abhorrent because to count the people was to make David feel good about all he had accomplished, while it was God who had in fact accomplished these great things through David and his warriors. But David’s pleas to God to take him but spare the people resonates straight through to Calvary, when God did in fact cause his Son to take on him the sins of all us sheep.

Acts 15:6–18: Paul and Barnabas have a very important ally in Jerusalem: Peter, who tells the council that “God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers.” (7b). Thus, Peter is the one with the authority in the church to speak to the issue, not just that missionary-come-lately, Paul. And Peter asks the assembled group, “why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?” (10)

But even more crucially Peter reminds everyone of the basis of their fauth, “On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (11) Here is the Kerygma stated clearly by a founder of the church–and it is this grace articulated here by Peter on which Paul builds his theological edifice in his letter to Romans and elsewhere regarding Jews and Gentiles.

Luke tells us that “the whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.” (12). At which point James is convinced and stands up, quoting a passage from the prophet Amos (9:11, 12), “so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.”

So, we have Peter stating he was  the progenitor of taking the message to the Gentiles (Cornelius et al), reminding everyone that the grace of Jesus is what matters; Paul’s and Barnabas’s testimony about how God has worked marvelously in bringing the good news to the Gentiles; and James’s quotation from authoritative scripture. This is a pretty effective combination: a reminder of Jesus’ grace, testimony, and Scripture in order to decide a crucially important question. Something we would do well to remember when considering important questions in the church.

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