You call that a miracle?

Paul and Barnabas were early Christian missionaries to Cyprus. In Paphos they were called by the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, because he wanted to hear the word of God from them. One problem, though, was a fellow called Elymas (or Bar Jesus). He was a false prophet who’d gained influence with the proconsul by claiming to be a magician. We are told in Acts 13 that this Elymas opposed the missionaries and tried to turn the proconsul from receiving their message. At this point, Paul used what some might call impolite language, but he was moved by the Holy Spirit to use it. He publicly identified Elymas as one ‘full of deceit and fraud’, as a ‘son of the devil’ and as an ‘enemy of righteousness’. Paul said these things because they were true. Paul then told Elymas that the Lord had his hand on him and he would be blind for a while. What Paul said immediately happened to Elymas.

Now, the proconsul heard and saw all this and believed the message, but his belief did not result from amazement or fear inspired by the miraculous blinding of Elymas. Now, there is no doubt that the temporary silencing of the false prophet was scary. It was fit to cause sudden fear. I’m sure Elymas was terrified. But it was not this that amazed the proconsul. The Roman official was bowled over by the teaching of the Lord. Why might that be? Well, the Romans had gods for everything, and the main purpose of worship was to prevent the gods from zapping the Romans for any offence or mistake that they might have made. The Roman sacrifices were pre-emptive or reparatory attempts to ward off the anger of gods who were not into showing mercy.

The message that Paul brought, the word of the Lord, was utterly unexpected. What Sergius Paulus had expected was to be told of a new thing that Sergius Paulus had to do to appease yet another god. What Paul told him was that God had acted to fix what we had done wrong, and God’s acting was done for people like us (Romans 5:6-8), who were utterly opposed to all righteousness, sons of the devil and full of fraud and deceit (compare Ps.14 and Romans 3:9-18). In fact, Paul had told the proconsul about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, and how this doing and dying and rising of Jesus alone saves completely those who trust themselves to his mercy. This was something new; something undreamed of; unimaginable. It was not the miracle of blinding, but the miracle of grace that amazed the proconsul. It should continually amaze us too, but don’t only be amazed. Trust yourself to this Jesus.

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Everything old is new again! Psalm 96

Oh sing a new song to the Lord! Sing to the Lord all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.

I don’t know about things in your end of the world, but it’s been a long time since my church group has sung, deliberately and together, a Bible psalm. With all the singing done at church, the 150 songs of God’s composition seem to be ignored. It seems that the thinking behind this practice of not singing psalms has to do with wanting to sing new songs. Singing a ‘new song’ is surely a Bible idea, but I think the Bible’s idea of a new song is different from this modern practice.

First of all, the exhortation in Psalm 96 is to sing a new song, not to write one. The writing of Psalms was to be the work of people who had the designation of ‘prophet’. David, we are told, was a prophet since he foretold, for example, the resurrection of Jesus in Psalm 16 (Act 2:30). In fact, all the writers of the Psalms were prophets/seers (1 Chronicles 25:1-7), who spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20). In that case, these Bible Psalms were of no private interpretation; they were not merely the reflections of the human author but, as they are in truth, the Word of God and the songs of the Lord. We have no prophets of this type any more, the ‘new songs’ have been written. We now have the privilege to sing them.

So how can old songs be ‘new’? When we see them afresh in Jesus Christ. For example, when there was revival in the Old Testament Church during king Hezekiah’s reign, he commanded ‘the Levites to sing praise to the Lord with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads in worship’ (2 Chronicles 29:30). When the Holy Spirit brings our focus back to the Gospel “the good news of His salvation”, these ‘old songs’ – then 300 years old — were sung with vigour and joy. They were made ‘new’ again because the Gospel had come to them again in newness and freshness.

Well, you might say, that’s very Old Testament. We live in the freedom of the New. We do things Jesus’ way. That’s fine. Jesus was a Psalm singer (the hymn of Matthew 26:30 was undoubtedly a Psalm), he told his disciples that the Psalms spoke of Him (Luke 24:44) and he enabled them to see things that way (Luke 24:45). The first three Chapters of the book of Hebrews alone makes it abundantly clear that the Psalms speak of Jesus. Again, Paul in Eph. 5:18-19 and Col. 3:16 urges the church to sing Psalms, Hymns and Songs Spiritual (the adjective applies to all three words). The word ‘spiritual’ usually indicates something that is particularly a work of the Holy Spirit. These songs are word-of-God songs, as the context implies: — ‘be filled with the Spirit’; ‘let the word of God dwell in you richly’. Further, in I Corinthians 14 Paul tells the church to bring a Psalm (note, ‘bring’ not ‘write’) for their community times of worship.  Because Jesus rose from the dead (Ps. 16), we have newness of life. The old songs become new again.

The New Testament church was a Psalm singing church, and they sang Psalms in worship of their risen Saviour Jesus, who is both Lord and Christ (Ps.2) . Why are we apparently so reluctant to do the same?