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Spirit and Word

 

 Photo by Christina Wilson

 

Paul tells us in 2Corinthians 3:6, “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Of course, he was talking about God’s law written in a believer’s heart. This is the New Covenant Jeremiah spoke of in 31:31. Jesus informed his listeners in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” The Bible is certain that a new creation in Christ needs the Holy Spirit. And, Christ also was certain that the words he spoke “are spirit and life.” Christians need both the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Here is the Trinity–God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and God the Son, who is the Word.

Because there are false spirits and because our hearts are not always as discerning as they might be, sometimes Christians tend to hear who they think is the Holy Spirit but is not. Or they hear or interpret the Holy Spirit inaccurately. Even famous Christians sometimes do this. Therefore, God has also given us his Word. His Word is a correction against false spirits. But the Holy Spirit is a correction for the dead letter–words alone that carry no life. So, charismatic saints and lovers of Scripture all! Let us heed Paul’s admonition and do as he suggests, “Let my prayer be from the spirit, and equally from the mind. Let my song be from the spirit, and equally from the mind.” In this is life. God in his wisdom and love gave us both mind and Spirit, both his Spirit and his Word.

Jesus Don’t You Care?

Although I looked, I could not find a copyright for this picture.

One day Jesus called his disciples into a boat, and they headed out across a large lake. But Jesus fell asleep. While he slept, a violent windstorm came down on the lake. The waves became huge and started swamping the boat. They were in danger of drowning. At this point, the disciples could bear it no longer. They shouted at Jesus and woke him up, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” Well, that woke him up. He rebuked the wind and the raging waters. The storm subsided, all was calm. (Adapted from Luke 8:22-24)

In this narrative, who was asleep? The text says that Jesus, God in the flesh, slept, unaware that a monstrous storm had arisen, threatening to capsize and sink the boat that carried the disciples. But was Jesus the only one in the boat who was sleeping? Weren’t the disciples also asleep? Verse 25 displays what I mean.

“Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

At this point in their walk, the disciples really had no clue who Jesus was. They were asleep to the real identity of their Rabbi. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Notice, in the whole story there’s only one place where the disciples talked to Jesus directly. That was in verse 24, where they awakened him and shouted at him, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” Then, verse 25 tells us that in “fear and amazement” the disciples talked about Jesus to one another. “Who is this?” No one turned to Jesus, looked him straight in the face and asked, “Who are you?”

There’s an enormous difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. Why is the Bible divided into two very distinct sections, the Old Testament and the New? It hinges on this very point. It’s about how God communicates with people. The Old Testament begins with face to face communication between God and individual people having been cut off. Genesis 3 records how Adam and Eve were cut off from intimate, in-person communication with God. From that time forward, God communicated with people only through specifically chosen spokespersons called prophets and through historical events, concrete objects, and ceremonies. Most people didn’t know God personally. They knew  about  him through the historical record of their nation, their religious ceremonies, and the words of specifically chosen individuals.

Then comes the New Testament. The Gospel of John repeats over and over throughout its chapters the imminent reopening of direct communication with people and God the Father through the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ very name means, “God with us,” (Matthew 1:23). It is true that Christ died on the cross as a sacrifice for sins and rose from the dead in victory over sin, but what was the purpose of the cleansing of the human heart for those who by faith receive from Christ that victory over sin and death? Was it that we should be able to live happy and peaceful lives forever? Or is there something more?

Please listen carefully, because this is so important.

  1.  Matthew 1:18 tells that Mary “was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”
  2.  Matthew 3:11 quotes John the Baptist, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me … will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
  3.  In John 3:5-6, Jesus told Nicodemus, “… no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
  4.  He told the woman at the well in John 4:14, “… the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” And in verse 23, “… the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit …”
  5.  In John 14:26 Jesus tells his disciples, “But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things …”
  6.  Jesus’s great commission to his disciples in Matthew 28:19 includes the third Person of God, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”
  7.  Acts 2:4 records this great, historical event, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit …”
  8.  In Acts 2:33, Peter explained to the crowd that the arrival of the Holy Spirit fulfilled the Old Testament promise of the Father, “[Jesus] Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
  9.  Peter in Acts 2:38 claims that the Holy Spirit is for all believers in Jesus, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
  10.  Acts 8:17 supports Peter’s words, “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they [the Samaritans] received the Holy Spirit.
  11.  In Acts 10:44-45, the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit, “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word … The circumcised believers … were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.”
  12.  Paul describes one benefit of having the Holy Spirit in Romans 5:5, “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
  13.  In Romans 8:14-15 Paul continues speaking about the importance of the Holy Spirit in our lives, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'”
  14.  Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
  15.  Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
  16.  1 Corinthians 12:3, “… no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
  17.  Fellowship with God and with each other is made possible by the Holy Spirit who lives inside every believer: 2 Corinthians 13:14, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
  18.  When Paul speaks of PROMISE anywhere at all in the New Testament (I’m making a huge claim here) he ALWAYS means the Holy Spirit, never physical property–land. Here is one example in Ephesians 1:13, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”
  19.  The Holy Spirit lets us know God himself, not merely to know  about him, Ephesians 1:17, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”
  20.  1 Thessalonians 1:6, “… you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”
  21.  What more could a believer possibly want than the very presence of God himself living within her heart, 1 Thessalonians 4:8, “… the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.”
  22.  2 Timothy 1:14, “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
  23.  Titus 3:5-7, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously trhough Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
  24.  Hebrews 3:7-8 and 12 records how God cries out every day to a lost and lonely people, “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, … See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”

Jesus died and rose again in order to open the pathway back to God–remember Genesis 3–by means of faith through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the difference between knowing about God–hearing about him, reading this blog written about him, listening to sermons about him–and knowing God yourself. Knowing God himself means that occasionally you will feel his presence in you, touching you, wrapping his arms around you, and at times speaking directly to you, so that you know unmistakably that he knows you, sees you, loves you, sometimes corrects you, and is with you.

In closing, I want to talk about my second granddaughter when she was two, and even now, when she is three. Sometimes her parents would have me babysit after school and stretch it out through the dinner hour and even past bedtime. Bedtime was difficult. This little girl wanted to be tucked in for the night by mommy or daddy. She would cry and cry. I would sit on her bed and tell her that mommy and daddy would return, that they loved her, that when she awakened they would be with her, and that she would never be alone. She would never be alone because I myself would not leave the house until her mommy and daddy returned. Sometimes she would fall asleep crying softly with these reassurances. This part of the story represents hearing and knowing about Jesus.

Often, however, the little girl refused to be comforted by my words about her parents’ love for her and the promise that they would return. Often she just refused to fall asleep. Occasionally, the parents would come back while I was still in the room. Then mommy or daddy would enter and hold her in their arms hugging her and whispering softly to her that they were home, that they loved her, and that it was time for her to take a rest and sleep. That part of the story represents knowing Jesus directly through the Holy Spirit.

So, what are we to do in times of stormy trial when we are close to death? We are supposed to do as the psalmist did again and again, and as the disciples did in the boat when the wind and waves threatened to capsize their little boat and cause them to drown. We are to awaken Jesus by giving it all we are worth, shouting even, Savior, don’t you know that I am about to drown? Help me!

Why does God allow turbulent times to happen in our lives? Jesus said in Luke 5:31, “… It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Our sickness is that we are cut off from God. Jesus came to change that. I opened by saying that in a sense the disciples were asleep to the real identity of the Rabbi/teacher who rode in the boat with them. If the storm had not come, would they have become frightened enough to call out to him for help? Would they have known that they were sleeping in the sickness of death? Would they ever have seen his power over nature?

From time to time there are storms in our lives and all around us. Factual, historical events cause our hearts to fear and tremble. We lose control, we lose our peace, we lose our joy, and often we lose hope. That is when we need to turn to Jesus and cry out to him, “Jesus, Jesus, I’m going to drown. Help me!” His promise to us is that he will.

It’s the death of the soul within us that is the greatest danger of all. Peter, quoting the prophet Joel (2:32), spoke these words of promise and assurance in Acts 2:21, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” I love Pa in the Little House on the Prairie book series. The family faced one catastrophe after another, and as narrated through the eyes of his little daughter Laura, he always would say, “There is no great loss without some small gain.” The world and our nation are currently passing through a time of tremendous loss. May there be not a small gain, but a huge gain–eternal life for the many who turn to the Lord, cry out to him, and are saved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Holy Spirit in the Reader

 

One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ within the heart of every believer (See footnote). One of the ways he does this is through Scripture. When a believer in Christ prayerfully asks the Holy Spirit to open (explain, interpret, enlighten) a passage to the understanding of his heart, he will do so. In Jesus’ own words, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13 ESV)

Photo by Josh Applegate

How does the Holy Spirit do this? Much in the same way as Jesus himself did when he walked with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus and later when he met with all the disciples in the upper room after his resurrection. He expounded the Scripture to them, giving them the key of himself as the all-pervasive subject of all of them.

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (ESV)

Luke 24:44-49 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,  46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,  47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things.  49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (ESV)

Every believer in Christ—as one example, the woman at the well—has a story, or testimony, to tell about the living Lord Christ. So it is, that every believer in Christ is a witness to his resurrection. All believers in Christ are witnesses to his resurrection because they perceive him alive and well, living in their own heart. Therefore, because believers are his witnesses, Christ wants to prepare them in all ways to live well, to grow well, and to tell others about him—well! This preparation includes opening Scripture to their understanding, so that by its pure milk (1 Peter 2:2) and solid food (Hebrews 5:14) all believers may grow in maturity and become full partakers within the body of Christ, which is made up of other believers. The Holy Spirit alone can make this growth happen, and he alone is the one who opens Scripture in a living, personal way inside each believer’s heart and mind. Scripture becomes the food that feeds a Christian’s growth (Deuteronomy 8:3; Luke 4:4).

Additionally, God desires fellowship with people (1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 13:13; 2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 1:3). When God created humankind in his own image, he did so for the purpose of having fellowship with them. A major purpose of the cross of Christ is the restoration of fellowship, or communal friendship, between God and man.

Here are some biblical examples to illustrate friendship between God and humans.

1) In Genesis 3:8-9, we read of God walking in the garden home of the first two human beings, Adam and Eve, talking with them. When Adam and Eve chose to follow the serpent rather than God, they were expelled from the garden of fellowship with God, and their spirits died to God.

2) In Isaiah 41:8, God calls Abraham, “my friend.” Jesus says to his disciples in John 15:15, “I have called you friends.”

3) Jesus’ name Immanuel means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

4) In John 4, when Jesus sat down and asked the woman at the well for a drink, he was asking for more than a bit of physical water. He was asking her for fellowship (think of having a cup of coffee and conversation with a friend in your favorite coffee shop.) And as a follow up to fellowship with just this woman, he spent two days in her town, meeting and talking with, eating and spending the night with her friends, the people of that Samaritan town.

5) Christ’s atoning death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension opened the gate into God’s very presence once more for every believer in Christ (Hebrews 4:16; 1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.)

One of the best places to experience the fellowship, friendship, favor, love, grace, and self-sacrifice of God is to spend time with him in Scripture, to “hang out” with him there. And one of the very best biblical places to do this is in Psalms, given that the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of your spiritual understanding to see the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in them in both the fullness of his humanity and in the fullness of his deity.

The psalms are the human prayers of Christ prophetically prayed to God his Father during his incarnation on earth. He prayed them thus prophetically through the Spirit-filled mouths of the psalmists and during his actual incarnation, as their words were very familiar to him—in fact they were his own words. The Father answers Christ’s prayers within the psalms as well. At times the reader becomes aware of back-and-forth dialogue between Father and Son (Psalms 3:4 and 2:7) and at other times the answer to the prayers forms part of a narrative (Psalm 18:3-6 and 18:7-19).

It is highly unlikely that anyone would hear the words of Jesus Christ in Psalms apart from the work of the Holy Spirit enlightening the eyes of their understanding.

Most people who love Psalms experience them as Scripture giving voice and words to their own personal heart cries as they face various seasons and situations in their lives. Going one step beyond that, the Holy Spirit coaxes us to hear, as well as our own heart cries, the heart cries of Jesus our Savior, who suffered and died in our place.

Experientially speaking, because of our amazement that God has taken our thoughts and printed them on the page of the Bible facing us—that he knows, understands, and loves us so much as to do that, and then to show us as we read that he has done so, and that he has the power to do all this—it is but a short step to realize that Jesus Christ was in all respects one of us, that these are also and primarily his heart cries, that he cried them first, before me. And because I know, feel, and experience my own pain, I also know, experience, and feel the pain of my Savior as a man. And I come to see and understand God’s amazing love for us in Christ. And then, Christ’s hope, his faithful endurance, his victories also become mine. And I grow in Christ’s faith and in God’s love both for Christ and for me.

It is an awesome thing to read Psalms this way, and it doesn’t happen without the Holy Spirit. We receive this by asking, asking God to open his word to us through his Holy Spirit. “Lord, show each believing heart who reads this and who desires to know—show them what you showed the two disciples on their walk to Emmaus. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

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 Notes: 
 John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (Joh 15:26 ESV)
Ephesians 1:17-18 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, (Eph 1:17-18 ESV)
1 Corinthians 2:9-16 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”–10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
 Ephesians 3:14-19 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith– that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:14-19 ESV)

 

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Psalm 132: Concrete-Literal and Spiritual-Literal

 

Addendum

Before leaving Psalm 132, I want to comment on one of the most amazing differences between Old Testament faith and New Testament faith–the experiencing of the Holy Spirit.

Saints of the Old Testament received the saving grace of God through faith, just as New Testament believers do. It is and always has been God’s grace through faith.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (ESV)

There is a great difference in salvation experience between the Testaments, however. When Paul came to Ephesus in Acts 19:1-7, why did he ask the believers there, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? (Act 19:2)?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (vs 2) They had been baptized with John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance. Paul then baptized them in the name of “the Lord Jesus.” “And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.” (vs 6) Right in these verses is the difference between salvation in the Old Testament and the New Testament: the location of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit played a significant role in the Old Testament.

  1. All Israel knew the presence of the Lord in the wilderness, since he manifested as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22).
  2. The Ark was revered because it contained the presence of the Lord.
  3. When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness to speak with God before the Ark, he would place a veil over his face when he left, to hide the fading glow he received in his encounter with the Lord there (Exodus 33:7-11; 34:33-35).
  4. God’s Holy Spirit inhabited the First Temple of Solomon as a cloud, “10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.” (1 Kings 8:10-11)
  5. In Ezekiel 10, the prophet describes his vision of the Glory of the Lord leaving this same temple.

The common denominator in all the prior biblical scenes is that the presence of the Lord, his Holy Spirit, was external. He manifested in a visible, concrete-literal way. By literal I mean real. These events really happened; they are true. Concrete means apparent to the physical senses. Spiritual means of the Spirit of God, who is himself invisible. The Holy Spirit accompanied the congregation of Israel in the Old Testament, and his presence was concrete-literal. This is why, I believe, prophecy played such an important role in the Old Testament. David needed a prophet like Nathan to walk up to him and tell him what the Lord was saying, because David did not have the Holy Spirit within him to speak to him directly in his heart.

It is impossible to overstate the change from the Old Testament to the New in the shift from external to internal of God’s Holy Spirit. This is a change from a concrete-literal manifestation of the Holy Spirit among the people to a spiritual-literal. John the Apostle previews this change in Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus in John 3 and with the woman at the well in John 4. To understand the prominent position Scripture gives this change we can recall Jesus’ last directions to his disciples before he ascended.

Luke 24:49 And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high,” and “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Act 1:8)

Acts chronicles the multiple occasions when believers received the Holy Spirit, and Paul in his letters again and again proclaims the Spirit’s presence in a new way within the church corporately and within believers singly.

For example, see:

Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (ESV)

Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

Galatians 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Ephesians 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 

New Testament believers currently experience the fulfillment of God’s statement in Psalm 132:13-14.

13 For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place:

14 “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews sums up the effect of the difference between the concrete-literal experiencing of God’s Holy Presence in the Old Testament and what New Testament believers experience now:

Hebrews 12:20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.”  21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

As New Testament believers in Jesus Christ join with Old Testament believers in the hope of Messiah by singing the prayer of Psalm 132, may we feel fortunate (blessed) and joyful to know that we are part of the psalm’s fulfillment in grace. Praise God for having restored and even increased the close, intimate fellowship of humans with their Creator.

 

 

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