Updated: Aug 1, 2022
One of my favourite moments of holiday is that first walk on the beach, sea air, sand, watching the kids run toward the waves. It's a "this is good" moment. An "as it should be" moment. I'm sure you've had these moments too - perhaps watching a sunset over the bushveld, taking in snow capped mountain ranges, seeing an explosion of life and colour on a coral reef, sharing good food with great friends, holding a new born baby. Moments where things are just as they should be. The word tov in Hebrew means good. Yet, it's more than just good. Tov is when things are as they should be, when things are working the way they were created to work. In our world, there is so much not-tov - so much ra - the Hebrew word for bad - evil, brokenness, dysfunction, adversity. If God is tov, where is he? Is really any hope? Is the Bible even relevant, or is it just a bunch of rules that religious people try (unsuccessfully) to keep. If you open to the beginning of the Bible, you find beautiful a description of a mountain garden in a region called Eden (meaning pleasure), with plants, trees, rivers life… It is God's tov creation. People in tov relationship with God, and each other. Humans had a role and responsibility, to take care of this tov creation. In the middle, the tree of life, a picture of God's sustaining presence. Near it, the tree of knowledge of tov and ra. A choice - God's wisdom, word and way (the tree of life) or humans seeking to do things on their own terms (the other tree). The idea being a choice. Humans would have to walk by tree one to get to the other. Humans rejected God's wisdom, word and way, and choose their own, and suddenly things were no longer the way that they were created to be. There was a fracture in relationship between people and God, and people and people. The consequence: relational, spiritual and physical death. Now, if you turn to the last pages of the Bible, you find a beautiful a description of a mountain garden city, with plants, the tree of life, a river, a throne, healing, God dwelling amongst his people, his people reigning for eternity. It is tov, again, but better. 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, Revelation 21:10 1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:1-4 And in between, lies the narrative arc. Tov in the start, conflict introduced, Tov at the end. So the question is, how is God going to restore tov and bring healing, and in that narrative, we are invited to find ourselves. The way the story God is that God selects a person, that will become a people to be his representatives and partners, through which he will bring blessing, and "tov-ness" if you will. He starts with Abram, who we talked about last week. He promises him a multitude of descendants, through a long awaited son, Isaac. Isaac's grandkids become heads of the 12 tribes of Israel, and they grow and increase, to the point where Pharoah Egypt becomes fearful and enslaves them for 400 years. In Exodus Ch3 God meets an (initially reluctant) man called Moses on a mountain (Horeb) and commissions him to lead the Exodus, the liberation moved. We see a tree, a fire, on a mountain, the flaming presence of God - linking back to Eden. There is a requirement though for Moses to take off his shoes, to do with holiness, which is an important theme, and, naturally Moses is fearful. God says that one day Moses will return to the mountain, and the people will serve God. 1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:1-6 Over the next 15 chapters we find the story of the liberation of God's people, and their journey back to the mountain, this time called Sinai - possibly because the bush from Ch 3 was a סְנֶה seneh (thorn bush); (סִינַי sîynay; Sinai = thorny.) 4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ Exodus 19:4-6 When Moses told the words of the people to the LORD, 10 the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11 and be ready for the third day. Exodus 19:9-11 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. Exodus 19:18 Here again we have the mountain, the fire, the presence of the Lord, and a requirement for holiness (to be in the presence of God). A kingdom of priests - the role of Adam and Eve in the garden, to rule, work and keep the land. It's like Eden again. Moses is on the mountain for 12 Chapters, receiving from God, the 10 commandments (or 10 words rather), instructions for the tabernacle, details of social justice and relationships. Sidenote1 - if we take just this "picture" one can get the idea that following Jesus is all about rule keeping. Yet if you see the context, you have a different idea. First, this was a nation with 400 years of slavery baggage. He was giving basic relational instructions, most of which, we would agree, are good things… don't steal, don't murder and so on. Second, God was gracefully revealing who he was, how to approach him, and how to live as his people. This was completely unusual, because all the other gods were irrational and unpredictable, and could be manipulated. So, to say to an ancient Hebrew that the law was hard work, would make no sense at all! Sidenote2 - the description that God gives of the tabernacle is links, how God will live amongst his people. The ark of the covenant is going to contain the law, the wisdom of God, in the holy of holies, where God's presence is, a court, tree like carvings, an outer court. There is a strong link back to Eden All this takes some time! And again the people are presented with a choice. Do they trust God, or grow impatient and go their own way. What do they do? They build a golden calf and say, this is our god… It is like the fall in the garden all over again. God is ready to leave them alone, Moses intercedes, God rewrites new tablets, and renews the covenant. And we have to wonder, is there any hope? Well, no, and yes. "No: in and of ourselves. But emphatically "Yes" in Jesus. Jesus comes as a human to be the human that humans could not be. The second Adam. He brings together the presence of God, the tree of life, the wisdom of God, the temple, he announces the rule and reign (kingdom of) God and he goes about being tov and doing tov. Healing, restoring, forgiving, loving. He carries a message of seeds and fruit and things growing, it links back to Eden, yes, but it's really the start of the new creation, heading toward those last chapters of Revelation. The way it is inaugurated is that Jesus goes through a garden, onto a mountain, and is hanged on a tree as a sacrifice to settle the debt of humans rebellion. Sidenote - Last week we saw this mountain was called the one where the Lord provides - God himself provides the solution to man's problem! He is raised to life to defeat death, and sends his Spirit to indwell his followers, so that they may be the temple. Jesus overflows with grace, and through him, humans are made righteous, and can boldly enter into the presence of God, the source of tov, and find wisdom and eternal life. So, what does this have to do with us? The way that we see Jesus must impact the way that we live. It is how we find ourselves in the Biblical narrative. God is restoring tov. This story is going somewhere. We are invited to be part of it. There is one caveat, though, is that God will leave alone those who continue to reject the invitation. There is wisdom in paying attention, and getting on board! For those that choose God's way, Peter links back to Exodus 19, only this time, he is writing to the church, not just Israel. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits. 1 Peter 2:9-12 This is a call to action. He is saying that how we live matters. By the power of the Spirit, we are in fact able to be tov and do tov, and be the people that bring blessing. If God's people have nothing to say or do in the face of all this not-tov, what are we doing here? Over the next few weeks, we will be digging in to another mountain moment. This is where Jesus teaches what the kind of TOV life looks like, of which Jesus is the prototype . This is the way he is living and he's calling people to join him. It is a lifestyle that's consistent with the arrival of God's tov kingdom. What Jesus teaches is not a pack of rules to keep, but potential to be realized! We can only be this (tov), by being with Jesus - staying connected to him, the Tree of Life, the true vine, the source of tov - in that is where our bearing tov fruit comes. We are able to overcome sinful desires. We are able to conduct ourselves honourably. Is it easy? No! Is it possible? Yes! So the question is, how are we doing? How are we living out our intended role? How are we reflecting God’s character and nature to those in our gardens - our circles of influence? How are we doing justice, creating, showing kindness and compassion, restoring, bringing hope and healing? How are we being intentional about all of this? What does that look like? What one thing needs to change for you to be a conduit of God’s tov - to set things, in part, as to how they should be?