Psalm 148:7–14; 1 Chronicles 1:1–37; Acts 8:9–17

Psalm 148:7–14: Our psalmist leaves no doubt that every aspect of nature, every creature of God’s creation, including those beneath the surface of the ocean, is here for a single purpose: to worship praise God: “Praise the Lord from the earth,/ sea monsters and all you deeps.” (7)

The poet then provides an astounding single sentence catalog of natural phenomena, vegetation, animals, ascending straight up the hierarchy of creation:
Fire and hail, snow and smoke,
stormwind that performs His command,
the mountains and all the hills,
fruit trees and all the cedars,
wild beasts and all the cattle,
crawling things and winged birds,” (8,9,10)

He arrives at the pinnacle of humankind itself. Interestingly, he begins with kings, princes and leaders before mentioning more ordinary folk:
kings of earth and all the nations,
princes and all leaders of earth,
young men and also maidens,
elders together with lads.” (11, 12)

All of it—all of us—exist for this one overarching purpose: “Let them praise the Lord’s name,/ for His name alone is exalted.” (13a) This verset emphasizes monotheism. Only God—and God alone—is to be worshipped. There are no small-g gods who deserve worship. The reason for this singularity is obvious (at least to our poet): the evidence of God’s creation is all around us: “His grandeur is over earth and heavens.” (13b)

Ever since the rise of the enlightenment there has been the assumption that science will make everything clear and render God superfluous. Yet, as physicists probe deeper into matter things only become more mysterious. As biologists examine the inner workings of life, it only becomes more wondrous. Today, more than ever, God’s grandeur is increasingly evident.

That’s why we can wholeheartedly praise God in this psalm’s beautiful benediction:
And may He raise up a horn for His people,
praise of all His faithful,
of the Israelites, the people near him.
Hallelujah. (14)

What is especially wonderful here is that God is not just for the Israelites but through Jesus Christ, God is for all of us.

1 Chronicles 1:1–37: The first several chapters of 1 Chronicles is one reason why reading straight through the Bible proves unsuccessful for so many people. It is an eye-glazing genealogy that seems to name every person who ever inhabited Israel, as well as a many more who didn’t. If nothing else it is an excellent demonstration of the importance and power of names.

The first four verses are not even sentences; they are simply a list of names that take us from Adam to Noah and his sons. The descendents of Japeth (5-7); Ham (8-16), Shem (17-27) come next and in more detail.  One verse was fascinating to me: “Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first to be a mighty one on the earth.” (10) I would have appreciated the backstory here.

Our scrupulous authors provide a handy summary of the direct line from Shem to Abram/ Abraham in 24-27. Now we can see where they’re headed as they list Abraham’s progeny, of which the sons of Isaac become the nation of Israel. But no detail is omitted as we also learn who the descendants of Jacob’s other son, Esau, are.

While this may be boring reading, these genealogies provide the essential foundation of the historicity of Israel. This is not myth; these are not Greek or Roman gods; there were real people who once inhabited the earth with the same motivations, creativity, and flaws that each of us possesses these several millennia later.

Acts 8:9–17: The story of Simon the magician, who “practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great,” (9) is the crucial proof that the signs and wonders of the early church were not magic, but the working the power of the Holy Spirit. Simon is the top celebrity in Samaria. The people “listened to him eagerly, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.”…because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.” (10, 11)

But then Philip shows up “proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (12) The gospel message is superior to even the most impressive magic. What’s terrific is that Simon himself is wise enough to realize this: “Even Simon himself believed.” (13)

Word of the many conversions and baptisms in Samaria reaches Jerusalem and Peter and John rush up to Samaria and “prayed for [the Samaritans] that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (15) Our author points out that even though many had been baptized, they had not received the Holy Spirit. Peter and John then lay their hands on the people who had been baptized and the people receive the Holy Spirit through the laying on of Peter’s and John’s hands.

This passage is certainly at the foundation of those churches such as Assemblies of God that believe there are two separate baptisms: water and then the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” The problem with this bifurcation is that it too easily creates two classes of Christians, with the implication that those who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit are somehow “more Christian” than those who have not.

My own belief is that like the many signs and wonders that accompanied the very early church, this separate baptism is a phenomenon that was no longer necessary as the church grew and gained strength.

 

 

 

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