Archives for November 2017

Grow in the gifts while expecting Jesus

Thursday, Nov 30: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Live in expectation of Jesus, making full use of the gifts of Jesus in pursuing His mission

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I always thank my God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus.

  • Paul honours the church, not as his but as the Lord’s. Paul also gives thanks for the church in Rome, honouring them in a similar way Romans 1:8

5 For in him you have been enriched in every way – with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge…

  • Referring to spiritual gifts of speech and revelation. Later, Paul cites the word of knowledge, a revelatory gift, in a list of spiritual gifts 1 Cor. 12:8

6 …God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you.

  • Paul and companions had preached the Gospel to Corinth and they had accepted it. Moreover, their changed lives and growing in spiritual gifts (v.5, v.7) gave evidence to this. The word used for “confirming” was used in legal documents in the sense of guaranteeing.

7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

  • “As you eagerly wait…” An active, expectant kind of waiting.
  • “To be revealed” — similar language is used in 1 Thess. 1:7

8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • “Keep you firm” is the same word as “confirm” in v.6. “The day” is the Day of the Lord and “the end” is the end of the age. The expectation set out in this letter is that the prospect is fairly immediate.

9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

  • This waiting with anticipation is faith-stretching exercise — at which God meets us as the Faithful One.

Application

The church in Corinth is waiting for the Lord Jesus to be revealed, in His visible return. Meanwhile they were celebrating their changed lives with a growing experience of the Gifts of the Spirit. Together this was creating an experience of the Lord’s presence and a sense of anticipation which was attracting others. What is the Holy Spirit saying to us and our present day church situations through this account? Is He calling us to raise our expectation of the return of the Lord, and while we are waiting, expectation of some real encounters with the Lord?

Discussion starters

  1. Having asked (Q.6), whether the Lord will alert His people to His moves, HOW might He do this, and what assumption does this letter make of its readers or hearers (verses 5 and 7)?

  2. To what extent is today’s church ‘enriched’ and ‘not lacking in any spiritual gift’ — or needing to be?

  3. When we meet together, how do we expect the Lord to presence Himself, visibly or otherwise?

Keep watch and recognise the signs

Wednesday, Nov 29: Mark 13:24-37

Keep watch, as those who expect Christ’s return at any time.

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

  • “In those days” was a common expression by the prophets of the end times, or a time of judgment. “That distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now” is also an expression used by Matthew Matt. 24:21, and also the description used by Roman historian Josephus who witnessed the brutal destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 after a long siege. Many scholars consider that this also points to a future time in history — see Daniel 12:1 and vv. 26-27 below.

‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;

25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26   “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.

27 And He will send his angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.

  • We learn to recognise the signs of the different seasons. Similarly we should be able to read the signs of changing spiritual ‘seasons’.

29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.

30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

  • The siege and destruction of Jerusalem occurred less than 40 years later – within a literal generation and perhaps shortly after Mark’s gospel began to circulate.
  • This still leaves us with a problem. The Early Church had a bigger picture than Jerusalem, and exhorted members to live with an expectation of the imminent return of the Lord, and there was concern when some members died before His return, 2 Pet. 3:4.
  • For a Bible study on Christ’s imminent return, see 1 Peter 4:7; 1 John 2:18; James 5:8-9 (also Rom 13:12; 1 Cor 7:29; Philippians 4:5; Heb 10:25; Rev 22:20).
  • However “generation” could have a different meaning. In the Qumran writings the term ‘last generation’ apparently included several lifetimes. According to this interpretation, “this generation” is the final period before the End, however long it may be.

31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. * The word endures — 1 Peter 1:23-25

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. * “Only the Father” — while on earth Jesus lived by faith

33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. * For a Bible study on the expectation of Jesus’ imminent return in the Early Church, see 1 Peter 4:7; 1 John 2:18;James 5:8-9 (also Rom 13:12; 1 Cor 7:29; Philippians 4:5; Heb 10:25; Rev 22:20).

34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.

  • Living in the expectation that the return of Jesus (parousia) is at hand is difficult in a science-aware age which values what is evidence-based. But this was not a mistake on the part of Jesus, or a misunderstanding by the Early Church. Ever since Jesus was born in Bethlehem, we have been living in the Last Days. The challenge is to live with the urgency and reality of that when history pushes for a more reasonable explanation.

36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.

37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”

Application

The return of the Messiah has been promised, and we are to live in daily expectation of that, even nearly 2,000 years later. There is a clear teaching to remember Jesus as if He has only just gone, and to be aware of His coming again at any time.
Without diminishing that at all, there are frequent encounters with the Lord through history. Some are big and matters of historical record — the First Great Awakening of the 1700s that brought to prominence Whitfield and Wesley and Charles Simeon, and a century later the Second Great Awakening, the time of the great Victorian pastors and preachers and a move of church attendance and church building in both affluent areas and slums. Then the Welsh Revival of 1904-5 and the Pentecostal Revival that come out it in 1907, the Hebrides Revival of the early 1950s and we might mention the charismatic renewal that started in the 1960s. In among them, innumerable more personal or more local renewal and encounter experiences where the Lord has taken His church and given it new direction and energy in response to the prayer and praise of His faithful people. How is He poised for a new encounter, of local or global scale, and are we prayerfully watchful?

Discussion starters

  1. What does keeping watch involve, for us personally or as a group or congregation?

  2. We cannot know the day or time, and many attempts to do so through history have shown themselves to misdirected. However, will the Lord alert his watching, faithful, expectant people to what He is doing?

 

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A prayer for restoration and favour

Tuesday, Nov 28: Psalm 80:1–8, 18–20

A prayer for restoration and favour

1 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth…

  • Three titles of God: ‘Shepherd of Israel’, ‘Guide’ or ‘Leader’, ‘You who sit enthroned’. The language emphasises God being actively involved.
  • “Shine forth” – an appeal for God’s glory to be seen again, remembering the desert journey Exodus 24:16–17; Exodus 40:34–35

2 …before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us.

  • Remembering how the ark of the covenant advanced in front of the troops of these three tribes; Numbers 10:21–24;

3 Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

  • “Make Your face shine upon us” in favour, as in the words of the priestly blessing, Numbers 6:25. Also verses 7 and 19.

4 How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smoulder
against the prayers of your people?

  • This is a plea for restoration against a background of prayers apparently delayed and favour apparently withheld. At a time when many denominations are reporting decreasing numbers and finances, and we are seeing the breakdown of marriage and society as a whole, we might be asking whether our prayers would find a better hearing if they included repentance for known causes of God’s anger.

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.

6 You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours,
and our enemies mock us.

  • In increasingly secular, multifaith Britain this has a contemporary ring to it

7 Restore us, God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

  • Verses 4–7 are in the form of a lament

8 You transplanted a vine from Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.

  • Israel was once God’s transplanted vine but became a ravaged vine (verses 8–16).
  • Without suggesting that the Church has replaced God’s intentions for Israel, allusion to Israel as God’s people can often be taken to apply to the Church as an ‘ingrafted form’ of God’s people.

18 Then we will not turn away from you;
revive us, and we will call on your name.

  • A suggestion that we will not turn away i.e. we will turn (repent) to call on God again.

19 Restore us, Lord God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

Application

The psalmist reminds us that God is actively involved with His people, but their prayer and prosperity have been compromised by actions (not specified) which led to God’s anger. This lack of favour with God is spelt out, but also contrasted with the favour God’s people knew in being “transplanted” like a fruit-bearing vine taken from Egypt and replanted in a different land. There is an allusion (v.2) to the day by day obedience of the people in following the pillar of fire and cloud on the desert journey, and their trust of His provision where there was no natural provision. Three times (vv. 3, 7 and 19) there is an appeal for a renewal of God’s mercy, favour and salvation. This speaks to our need for that renewal, and also to recall past revivals. What needs to change in us?

Discussion starters

  1. God’s mercy is based on an unconditional covenant with His people and the prayer “Restore us… make Your face shine on us” contains the “us” of being His people. What distinguishes God’s people?

  2. What kind of prayer (implied, not spelt out) might need to go alongside this prayer to “Restore us…”?

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Expectation! Advent Sunday

Bible study on the lectionary readings for Sunday, December 3 – Advent Sunday

MONDAY, Nov 27: Isaiah 64:1–9

Expectation of a new encounter with the Love of the Father, the Way of Jesus and the Life of the Spirit.

An appeal to God “to come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember Your ways”, who are like clay being shaped by the hand of the potter.

1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!

2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!

  • An appeal to God to “make His name known”. His name and His nature is the same idea in Hebrew thought. So in our secular and largely unbelieving culture, we can take this as the basis of a biblical prayer for God to make known again His love, His justice – and His holiness.

**3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.

4 Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.

  • Reflects Isa. 30:18: Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him.
  • Waiting for God is active, attentive and expectant, not a passive kind of waiting.

5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember Your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?

  • Prophetic in a future sense. When Israel and Judah continued to forget God’s ways and abandon the framework of the covenant, first the northern kingdom of Israel fell, followed a century and a half later by the fall of Jerusalem, the loss of the holy city and the exile to Babylonia and Egypt of a now dispersed holy nation.

6 All of us have become like one who is unclean…

  • Ceremonially unclean
    …and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
    we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you…

  • At difficult times the response the Lord looks for is urgent, fervent repentant prayer 2 Chron 7:14

…for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.

8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

  • Recalls Isaiah 29:16 and the relationship of the potter to the clay that is being formed. The clay is not to attempt to define the pot that is made Isaiah 45:9.

9 Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.

  • There is a promise that the Lord will turn from His anger Isaiah 54:7–8.
  • The appeal to the Lord to “act on behalf of those who wait for Him” and “come to the help of those who…do right, who remember your ways” is the theme of hope, the confident expectation based on the Lord’s covenant mercy.

Application

This passage is an appeal to the Lord to presence Himself again which honestly sets out attitudes of faithlessness which have invoked the Lord’s anger. It ends with a forthright appeal based on submission – like clay in the potter’s hand.

  • They have failed to keep alive the memories of what the Lord has done among them;
  • They have continued to sin against His ways, even while seeing the Lord come to the help of righteous people;
  • Their prayer life, and their whole relationship with the Lord, has collapsed

These are common failings, for us now as well as then. They are all causes of faith malaise – and without faith we cannot please the Lord Hebrews 11:6.

Discussion starters

  1. Should we celebrate good things the Lord has done, answered prayers, delivered situations more often e.g. by sharing testimony stories as part of worship?

  2. What is Advent about? See verses 2 and 4 and 7 and comments.

 

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FRIDAY, November 24

John 10:11-16

Additional to the lectionary readings

The Good News of knowing that we are His

The Ezekiel 34 passage uses the language ‘shepherds of Israel’ to denounce those who have only taken care of themselves, who have ruled selfishly and harshly and have ‘scattered the flock”. Our reading alludes to this abusive ‘shepherding’ in preceding verses and begins with the Lord saying that He Himself will search for His sheep and look after them. As David wrote at the start of His well known psalm, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want Ps.23:1. There is also a promise of a shepherd of the line and character of David – who we know as the Good Shepherd of the Gospels.

John 10:1-16, where Jesus speaks of Himself as the Shepherd who knows His sheep and whose sheep know His voice, is not part of this week’s readings but it summarises the theme nicely. In this well known Good Shepherd passage, Jesus emphasises in verses 11 and 14 His taking the divine title (“I am”) of the Good Shepherd. His first hearers would have recognised His applying to Himself the Shepherd of Israel prophecy of Ezekiel.

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know me,
15 just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Jesus knowing who are His, is fundamental to the Gospel. So is our knowing without doubt that we are His, fundamental to the Gospel. Everything centres on this personal and revealed relationship. It is not a claim we can make or a pretence we can keep up or a mantle we can put on for Sunday morning and take off during the week. Knowing, following and belonging to the Good Shepherd impacts every part of life; everything we say, every decision, every choice, every relationship. We either follow the Way of Jesus, or we are not fully His. We either know and belong – or we have not made that decision.

The separation of the sheep and goats in the Gospel reading, Matt. 25:33, reminds us that the Lord knows exactly who is His. In Ephesians 1 the spirit of wisdom and revelation is something we should ask for – revelation to know the hope, or assurance, of our salvation and to understand what it means – not just at the end of earthly life but daily salvation and deliverance at every twist and turn.

Knowing who we are in Christ is crucial to be able to live a victorious Christian life and contend with the undermining and accusing attentions of the enemy. Who is he to accuse us, if we belong to Jesus? Who is he to slander us, if we know we are sons of God? Why should we plead for what God has already promised us, if we are His? When we contend in prayer for a difficult situation, for ourselves or for others, knowing we are His gives us a confidence and authority in that prayer.

This new position in Christ, of belonging to God, of knowing that he is committed to us as the Shepherd of the sheep and that we live as the “sheep of His pasture” brings certain responsibilities to live and relate to others as he would have us do. But this is not a religious requirement; it is more of an outworking of the life of God in us. If we are His, the Holy Spirit has freedom to direct us. He will be speaking to us and we will listen to Him. We will find ourselves standing up for justice and opposing any harshness or selfishness in dealings with others. There will be a joy in our expression, and praise will be our natural response. We will have a generosity of spirit because the Spirit of Jesus gives us the generosity of spirit which is His, and our actions and reactions to the needs of others will demonstrate this. And we will think and speak and react differently, because we are receiving the revelation of who we are and the ongoing salvation which is His gift to us – we know because we know because we know, that there is always a way to be found through the red lights and road closures and bumpy sections of life, because we are His.

THURSDAY, November 23

Ephesians 1:15–23

People empowered by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people,
16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

  • What follows draws out Paul’s practice of interceding for people in the churches (and therefore his readers) to have the spiritual insight to grasp what they have in the Father, the Son and the Spirit which he sets out in the preceding verses.

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.

  • The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not stated explicitly in Scripture which is one reason why it took until the end of the fourth century (Athanasius) for this essential doctrine to become established. For further study see 1 John 5:7 and the prologue to John, John 1:1–14)
  • Verses 3 to 14 set out consecutively the blessings that come through the Father (vv. 3–6), the Son (vv.7–12), and the Holy Spirit (vv.13–14). The role of the Holy Spirit is primarily to reveal (bring revelation) of the Father and the Son. That is what happens when we come to saving faith, putting our trust in One we cannot know intellectually but can know by faith, a particular perception imparted by the Holy Spirit. The New Testament epistles assume hearers in the churches who have this dimension of revelation. The Gospels draw a picture of people encountering Jesus Christ who promised the Holy Spirit.

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people…

  • “That you may know the hope…” is more akin to certainty than the common use of the word, which is aspirational. To replace “hope” with “confident expectation” brings out the true meaning. Knowing who we are in Christ Jesus, knowing the basis of our calling and salvation, knowing that we are precious sons and daughters – this is foundational to a Christian life which overcomes the battle that the enemy wages in our thought life.

19 and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength…

  • The incredible, miraculous working of power that resulted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the same power that we can tap into by faith.

20 …He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms,

  • At the right hand is a position symbolic of the highest honour and authority.

21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

  • There is a power struggle being played out in the heavenliness, but one where Christ has won the ultimate authority. In the present evil age this is largely imposed by us as people of faith. In the age to come the Messiah will return and there will be righteousness on earth.

22 And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church,

  • Later in Ephesians we read that we are seated together with Christ in heavenly places Ephesians 2:6. Therefore what is positionally under His feet, is under our feet, as we take our place with Him. This releases us into spiritual expressions and prayers that are authoritative, not simply asking. We are expected to use the authority we have been given as His body on earth.

23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.

  • Human nature with its religious tendencies does its best to create institutions out of what is simply one body of believers united and submitted in Christ in worship, and dedicated to fulfilling His mission. If institutions are necessary, they are something quite different.

Application: Grasping the Christian hope which is ours as those who belong to Jesus is a confident spirituality. Much of our perceived powerless comes from not being aware of who we are in Christ, and the spiritual authority which our words of faith, articulate or mumbled, have in the heavenly realms.
This is about knowing who the King of the kingdom is, and who we are in Him. Understanding this is difficult within the rules of human logic. The Holy Spirit was given, not just for empowering us for witness Acts 1:8 but for enabling that witness by revealing to us truths that we could not grasp otherwise.
The enemy of our souls is always at work trying to plant thoughts in our minds of how powerless we are, how God couldn’t use us because we are disqualified. All lies, of course. This narrative of hopelessness is the opposite to the assurance and certainty and confidence which is the hope spoken of in the Bible – which truth the Holy Spirit highlights for us.

Discussion starter: Do you know the hope to which God has called you (v.18)? How would you set about explaining this Christian life principle to someone who saw something different in you? 1 Peter 3:15

WEDNESDAY, November 22

Matthew 25:31–46

The Lordship of Jesus — His own, evidenced by Christlike behaviour.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne.

  • Verses 31–46 are description of the final judgment which Jesus had often warned about, in many parables e.g. the Ten Bridesmaids and the Three Servants earlier in Matthew 25:1–13 and 14–30, and more explicitly e.g. Matt. 24:36–51.
  • This happens when Christ returns, just before the establishment of an earthly millennial kingdom Revelation 20:4; other interpreters put it with the great white throne judgment Rev 20:11–15

32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

  • Palestinian sheep looked similar to goats and often both grazed together. However, they needed to be separated at night-time for the less hardy goats to be put in a warmer place.

33 “He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

  • The right hand side was the more honourable – as in “sit at my right hand”.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
35 “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in,
36 “I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me.”

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give You something to drink?

  • The righteous are surprised because Jesus says that they have ministered directly to Him, although they do not have a recollection of that. 

38 ‘When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
39 ‘When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.’

41 “Then He will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 ’For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink,
43 ’I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me.’

  • “Depart… you who are cursed…” is the verdict for those who have not shown these kinds of acts of mercy to Christians in need. They may have claimed to belong to Christ, but the fruit of their lives and actions has shown they have never accepted Him as Lord and Saviour 1 John 3:14-15. See also Matthew 7:16 and 20.

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help You?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

  • Not a limited period of purgatory, but unending punishment – contrasted with eternal life

Application: There is going to be a final separation of ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’ and we may be surprised by sheep that look like goats and vice versa. At first sight this might appear to teach that our good actions earn salvation to eternal life. That is our world view – good work gets good marks, effort is recognised with reward. But that is not the different world view of heaven, where God’s favour can never be earned, only received. What is in view here is not a tick box exercise of the good actions but a description of the outworking of a good heart that belongs to Jesus. We can’t do it ourselves. When we are truly His, we can hardly help doing what he would do.

Discussion starter: While acts of mercy are at the heart of living out the Gospel, what particular injustice or area of social need do you feel passionate about? How will you make a difference?

TUESDAY, November 21

Psalm 95:1-7

We are His flock in His care, people of praise

1 Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.

  • “Rock” is a common poetic figure for God.

2-3 Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.

  • A call to worship by recalling the covenant.

4-7 In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.

  • The commitment of covenant extends both ways.
    (The Sunday reading ends at verse 7)

Today, if only you would hear His voice…

  • As Christians, our experience is that worship, whether individual or with others, creates a place of relative spiritual ‘quiet’ where God’s voice comes through. It is quite realistic to say “Today…if…you would hear His voice…”. The choice is then whether we heed what He is saying and hold on to it – or say in a human way, “Not today, thank You”.

8 “…do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,

  • “Meribah”, dispute and “Massah”, testing are the two place names which sum up the crises in the desert at Rephidim Exodus 17:1-7 and the one at Kadesh after which Moses could not enter the promised land Numbers 20:1-13

9-11 where your ancestors tested Me; they tried Me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known My ways.’ So I declared on oath in My anger, ‘They shall never enter My rest.’ ”

  • “Rest” in this context meant a land of their own possession, safe and secure to enjoy with God. It has the sense of entering into the Sabbath day rest of any part of God’s completed work. For further study read Hebrews 4:1-13

Application: The Rest of God comes to His people as they submit joyfully in worship. A wholehearted recognition that God is the Most High, the Creator and Provider and Protector, and by contrast we are the flock under His care achieves a kind of spiritual equilibrium: that is entering His rest. It is an equilibrium that is easily upset by human discord and distrust – the hard lesson of Meribah and Massah which occurred on Moses’ watch, and prevented Him and that generation from entering the the Promised Land, also seen as an expression of God’s Rest.
God’s rest is not the same as unity, but clearly unity and joyful submission to God is what leads to His rest.

Discussion starters:
Taking this passage, which speaks equally of the joyful bowing down in worship of God, and the hard-hearted introduction of conflict, what can we learn about handling disagreements and tensions?

Entering into God’s rest is not complicated, according to this psalm. So why do we find it difficult?

MONDAY, November 20

Bible study on the lectionary readings for the week leading up to
Sunday, November 26, 2017

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7
Matthew 25: 31-46
Ephesians 1:15-23

Knowing we are the Lord’s: Sheep of the Shepherd’s pasture, sons and daughters of the Most High, the body of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit and united in worship and mission.

Ezekiel 34:11–16, 20–24

I will gather and care for My sheep with justice

11 “ ‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for My sheep and look after them.

  • The first ten verses are a judgment on the “shepherds of Israel… who only take care of yourselves”. Harsh ungodly leadership i.e. the kings and their officials but also the prophets and priests have caused harm to the flock and scattered it. Now the Lord says He will remove those who have only taken care of themselves and will rescue the flock and look after them Himself.

12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after My sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.

  • “All the places” – not just Babylonia but also Egypt (Jer. 43:1–17)

13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.

  • Promises of restoration which are an emphasis of Ezekiel 33 to 39.

14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.

  • The “mountains of Israel” represent salvation and judgment past.
  • In the passage where Jesus speaks of Himself as the gate for the sheep, He says they will come in and go out and “find pasture”, perhaps with this verse in mind John 10:9

15 I Myself will tend My sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Reflecting on 400 years of rule by kings who largely lost sight of the covenant and righteous ways, and as a consequence lost first the northern kingdom, then Judah and Jerusalem, the Lord says that he Himself will now tend the sheep.

16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

(Verses 17–19 omitted from Sunday reading) 17 “As for you, My flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.

  • “Rams and goats” – the poorer Israelites were being oppressed by people of power and influence. A recurring theme of the prophets is social justice.

18–19 ‘Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must My flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?’

  • This picture of the flock trying to feed on trampled pasture and drink muddied water is a dramatic depiction of how the selfish greed of the privileged few have affected the rest of the people.

20–21 “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away…

  • Graphic description of the kind of oppression and bullying that this chapter emphasises as a cause of the downfall of the nation.

“… I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.

23 “I will place over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will tend them; He will tend them and be their shepherd.

  • Ezekiel was one of the Jews deported to Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 597 BC. David ruled about 400 years earlier. So this points to a ruler of David’s line and (in the context of the passage) as David was a man after God’s heart, a good shepherd and ruler of justice. This is a less well known prophecy concerning the coming of Jesus the Messiah, the Good Shepherd John 10:11–18 who of course was of David’s line. See also Jeremiah 23:5–6.

24 “I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.”

  • In contrast with Israel’s poor history, God would once more dwell among them.
    As well as a new ruler, the passage continues with the promise of a new covenant.

Application: Leadership that models the principles of God is God’s intention in every area of life,: political, institutional and spiritual. There should be no separation between the three, something upheld by the Reformers of 700 years ago. This does not sit well with the contemporary desire to be politically correct.
Harsh and dishonest rule is condemned in the Lord’s words through His prophet. Perhaps history shows that where God’s values are overturned, the result is instability and insecurity.

Discussion starter: In our society where sports personalities and heads of large corporations are rewarded in £ millions while others rely on food banks and zero-hours contracts at minimum wage, how would God deploy His body on earth?

Saturday, November 18

Readings for Sunday, November 19

Deuteronomy 30:11-19 (additional)
Zephaniah 1:7-18
Psalm 90:1-12
Matthew 25:14-30
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Finding the message

Choose life by following God’s word and God’s ways
The nation of Israel at the time of Moses didn’t have what we take for granted; in particular, they didn’t have the salvation history of Israel to refer to. However, Moses impressed upon them that the word was “near”, in other words, by no means out of reach. They had heard it and it was in their oral tradition.
We have a lot more reference and education, not to mention a personal relationship with God. They related to Yahweh through priests and sacrifices and the Law. We can know God through Jesus and revealed by the Holy Spirit. But we “choose life” through the same fundamental commitment to walk in His ways and not our own.

Choose to heed the voice of the Lord – or remain complacent and face judgment
The challenge moves from “choose life” through pledging obedience to God, to choosing salvation through a change of heart.
In the time of the law and the prophets, this was a change of heart from complacency to response. Whether listening to God speak through Moses setting out the law, or God speaking through prophetic voices at different points in history, who repeatedly recalled people to the law, there was always a tension between those who heard and listened and responded, and those who heard but remained complacent.
The phrase we pray frequently “Your kingdom come” is our way of calling down God’s order into our lives and world, with the realisation that we are responsible for our hearts and attitudes. We are greatly helped in this by being able to choose new life in Jesus, and to receive the revelation of the Holy Spirit who convicts the world “of sin and righteousness and judgment” John 16:8. In other words, He sensitises us to what inevitably leads to God’s wrath, and reveals to us what by contrast is the path of righteousness and ongoing salvation through submitting to the lordship of Jesus. God in His mercy always provides a way out from His judgment. What keeps us from receiving God’s grace and peace, in a world which is inviting His wrath? It is usually our pride and self-sufficiency – and complacency, the point of the passage.

Choose the eternal purposes of God rather than living for the present in what cannot endure.
Part of the key to this prayer to God to have compassion on His servants is to see the timescale measured against eternity as in verse 4. This is hard for us to grasp, as is the reality of God’s wrath, and our experience of it in trials of life, because of man’s sin and sentence of death that is the starting point.
On its own, it is a grim picture of the human state, but the compilers of the Psalter have followed it with a psalm that speaks eloquently of the happiness of those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” and “make the Most High their dwelling” (Psalm 91:1,9). See also Psalm 103.
Another key to how Psalm 90 speaks to us is to think about the contrast between a holy, pure, all-loving God and man’s natural selfish state. For a New Testament perspective of man’s unredeemed depravity, and God’s response to it, read Romans 1:18-32. Of course there is a choice, a way out for those who turn to God, but God’s mercy (like wrath, a big word) would become less arresting, less immense, less of a focus of our unstinting praise, apart from the context of our sin and its consequences.

Choose to honour God in all He gives us, investing to grow His kingdom rather than playing for safety.
The word ‘talents’ used by some translators can take us away from the central meaning of this parable, which is about faith and readiness.
Everyone who has accepted the lordship of Jesus has a measure of faith (Romans 12:3,6), and this grows (2 Cor. 10:15) with maturity. The Lord expects us to put to work the faith that we have; the effect of this is to gain more.
Like the subject of the story who went away, and might return unannounced at any time, we are charged with being ready for Christ’s return at any time and being found faithful and active and working with what He has given us – investing ourselves and our gifts, by faith, in making a better world.

Choose to stay alert and responsive to God as He speaks to us and leads us by His Holy Spirit
This teaching for the Thessalonian church reinforces for us the choice we are given if we are truly the Lord’s. We have been given free will, to respond to God’s love or not; to do what pleases Him or to do what pleases us. That choice is gently guided by the Holy Spirit. We need to be awake and alert to follow His leading and be aware of His prompting.
The Old Testament passages paint a stark picture of God’s holiness contrasted with man’s selfish and willful nature. Here, in Paul writing to a church of Spirit-filled, Spirit-led believers the emphasis is on choosing what we know to be right in God’s sight.
In our world we face constant temptations to worship things that should not take our attention away from God, and our flesh nature will try to pull us off track. However we have the Holy Spirit, depicted in Scripture as a dove, and needing some alertness on our part to discern and to follow on the right path.
Jesus may return at any time. Will He find us in faith, building His kingdom, and aware of our responsibility to make good choices for Him? We don’t have to look for the effects of His wrath and judgment – but we are strongly reminded, we always have the choice, to find our own way or to choose to ‘follow the dove’ and walk toward Jesus.

Discussion starters

  1. We can come across passages in the Bible that seem to ask a lot, yet here is a teaching that the “word is near us”. What help do we have to know and put into practice the word?
  2. Are we inclined to be complacent in our daily or Sunday by Sunday routine? If we suddenly became aware of an urgency to prepare for the imminent return of Jesus, what would we change?
  3. How does being more aware of God’s wrath and the reasons for it, help us love Him more?
  4. Is there a situation that is testing your faith? How is that also growing your faith?
  5. How difficult is it to know and choose what is right in God’s sight?