Bible reading day 17 (Jan 17): Genesis 18; Matthew 17.
Some lessons I gleaned from Genesis 18:
1) What angels look like. Probably not like Raphael's depiction above, so common in Renaissance paintings. In some heavenly visions, they are seen with wings, or three pairs of wings. Better literary images for angels might be Tolkien's elves or Lewis's eldila (in the space trilogy). Fear is the predominant feeling people have when encountering an angel. Here in Abraham's story, as so often in Scripture, they take on a physical, human form (no mention of wings). Somehow, Abraham knew these three "men" were angelic beings, one perhaps being a theophany of the Son of God (who speaks directly for God). The Scripture says, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (Heb 13:2)
2) God is omnipotent (all-powerful). "Is anything too hard for the LORD?" (18:4) This is very similar to what the angel Gabriel said to Mary, "For nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37), and again, as Jesus said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt 19:26). The former statements refer to miraculous births, the last statement regards salvation itself! What we cannot achieve, God himself can.
3) God is righteous and just. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (18:25) The Psalmist says, "Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne." (Psalm 97:2 ESV) As we learn in this encounter God will certainly judge the wicked, and he will spare the righteous.
4) Cities and nations can be judged and overthrown. God rules, guides, and judges in the affairs of history. "Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales... All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness" (Isa 40:15, 17). Sodom will soon experience this, as have other godless empires throughout history.
5) Keep on asking. Abraham petitions on behalf of Sodom, and for his family (nephew Lot) living there. He continues to intercede for God's mercy in the midst of judgment. May we never give up praying for others, for cities, or for nations, that God might be gracious to save many.
Jesus identified (Matthew 16). [Catching up from yesterday...] Jesus warns his disciples against the pernicious influence of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:1-6). But his disciples also seem unable to clearly understand what Jesus is talking about (16:7-12). As well, popular opinion about Jesus seems to be all over the map (16:13-14). But... in a moment of God-given, divinely-revealed, crystal-clear insight, Peter says, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16:16). We need to realize that our understanding of who Jesus is, what he has done, and how trustworthy he is, comes from God alone. It's a supernatural insight, like light coming into darkness. Jonathan Edwards once preached a remarkable sermon entitled "A Divine and Supernatural Light", in which he states, "There is such a thing as a spiritual and divine light immediately imparted to the soul by God, of a different nature from any that is obtained by natural means." Our faith in Christ is the result of God's work in revealing his Son to us. Read Edwards' sermon here.
The primacy of Peter? In Matt 16:18-23 we read of Peter, or his confession, being "the rock" upon which Christ builds the church. Keep in mind that only a few verses later, Jesus will call Peter, "Satan". So we should be careful in pressing too far or claiming too much for what was said to Peter either way. What is clear is that Peter is given "keys", or a "binding and loosing" authority over the church. "Binding" is to prohibit (setting standards), and loosing is to permit (terms of forgiveness). Note: this same authority is given to the rest of the apostles, as well (Matt 18:18; John 20:23). (And in one sense every local church's leadership must exercise "the keys" for discipline and accountability.) But nowhere in the Scripture is there any indication of the primacy of Peter's authority over the other apostles (see especially Galatians 2!), or the primacy of the church in Rome, or that this authority is somehow transferable to others later. This refers to the unique, non-transferable apostolic authority to communicate and articulate the gospel given by God to the world through the apostles.
Jesus transfigured (Matthew 17). We see that the disciples are beginning to comprehend who Jesus is, but now they must learn more about how he will carry out this plan of redemption. But before the long trek south to Jerusalem (to die) Jesus gives to three of them a glimpse of his glory, a vision of Who He Really Is. Peter thinks this must be the capstone of Christ's coming kingdom. But, actually, all the disciples must now learn that God will fulfill his plan through the rejection, trial, suffering, and death of his Son. (But then on the third day...!) For the follower of Christ, then as now, we follow in his footsteps of suffering: "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:21) We "take up our cross", meaning that we are willing to accept rejection, shame, hardship, difficulties, unexplained trials, and even martyrdom for the sake of Christ.