Archives for Dec 2017

Friday, December 15: The emerging message

All on a mission to restore God’s values

All the scriptures for Sunday, December 17

Mon, Dec 11: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Tue, Dec 12: Psalm 126, Luke 1:46-55

Wed, Dec 13: John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Thur, Dec 14: 1 Thess 5:16-24

This week the Word has taken us from Isaiah’s prophecy about One sent to renew and restore and rebuild, through God’s promise to bless again where there had been judgment, and to bring a Messiah to be a light to Gentiles as well as His own people. The promise unfolds with Mary’s humility in her response and John the Baptist’s challenge to the crowds, and leaves us with an exhortation to always be attentive to what God is highlighting for our attention, through words of revelation.

All around us we may see social breakdown, political uncertainty, economic challenges and pressing needs — but God has set out His purposes clearly, and is still speaking to us about them.

He is seeking to bring people back into relationship with Himself; we know that. Are we aware that he also seeks to bring institutions and every kind of governance back to Himself — back to His way of doing things, His values, His spiritual domain? We have learned that this is the meaning of the kingdom of God which Jesus continually presented as the headline over His ministry.

Who will do this? His church, as individuals and together, carries on the ministry of the One who Isaiah spoke of, who read the verses in the synagogue and said that it was fulfilled. But it was fulfilled with continuation. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that a new spiritual birth was the only way to see (perceive) the kingdom of God. Those who have given themselves to Jesus as Saviour and as Lord of their lives find themselves starting to do what He did, empowered by the same Holy Spirit who empowered Him. This is the new dimension of life – a dimension marked by joy, praise and spiritual authority – that has the capacity to renew and restore and transform.

Mary found herself going beyond anything she could have imagined, beyond her capability and revered for all time as the Saviour’s mother. Praise and joy, not shame, was her expression. John came into his call, a difficult one that would inevitably involve some confrontation and risk. Both lives were essential for the transformation and renewal or trhe Saviour.

We do it the other way round. The transforming, renewing Saviour has changed our lives, and the Holy Spirit draws us to join in His mission to bring righteous, loving change to others.

Go out and change the world? A tough call, but we do it one person at a time, one situation at a time; and the same anointing that empowered Jesus is the anointing that has us proclaiming good news to the poor and poor in spirit.

All the discussion starters together

  1. If Jesus took this passage (the first two sentences at least) and applied it to Himself, how might it apply to us?
  2. How does the Sovereign Lord “make righteousness and praise spring up” before others, today?
  1. What attitudes are contrasted in the Psalm 126/ Luke 1:46-55 (Magnificat) passages?

  2. What promise, or promises, do we see in these passages? Is there a condition attached?

  3. What lessons does Mary’s song have for us, in how we approach God?

The emerging message – all on a mission to restore God’s values

All the scriptures for Sunday, December 17

Mon, Dec 11: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Tue, Dec 12: Psalm 126, Luke 1:46-55

Wed, Dec 13: John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Thur, Dec 14: 1 Thess 5:16-24

This week the Word has taken us from Isaiah’s prophecy about One sent to renew and restore and rebuild, through God’s promise to bless again where there had been judgment, and to bring a Messiah to be a light to Gentiles as well as His own people. The promise unfolds with Mary’s humility in her response and John the Baptist’s challenge to the crowds, and leaves us with an exhortation to always be attentive to what God is highlighting for our attention, through words of revelation.

All around us we may see social breakdown, political uncertainty, economic challenges and pressing needs — but God has set out His purposes clearly, and is still speaking to us about them.

He is seeking to bring people back into relationship with Himself; we know that. Are we aware that He also seeks to bring institutions and every kind of governance back to Himself — back to His way of doing things, His values, His spiritual domain? We have learned that this is the meaning of the kingdom of God which Jesus continually presented as the headline over His ministry.

Who will do this? His church, as individuals and together, carries on the ministry of the One who Isaiah spoke of, who read the verses in the synagogue and said that it was fulfilled. But it was fulfilled with continuation. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that a new spiritual birth was the only way to see (perceive) the kingdom of God. Those who have given themselves to Jesus as Saviour and as Lord of their lives find themselves starting to do what He did, empowered by the same Holy Spirit who empowered Him. This is the new dimension of life – a dimension marked by joy, praise and spiritual authority – that has the capacity to renew and restore and transform.

Mary found herself going beyond anything she could have imagined, beyond her capability and revered for all time as the Saviour’s mother. Praise and joy, not shame, was her expression. John came into his call, a difficult one that would inevitably involve some confrontation and risk. Both lives were essential for the transformation and renewal of the Saviour.

We do it the other way round. The transforming, renewing Saviour has changed our lives, and the Holy Spirit draws us to join in His mission to bring righteous, loving change to others.

Go out and change the world? A tough call, but we do it one person at a time, one situation at a time; and the same anointing that empowered Jesus is the anointing that has us proclaiming good news to the poor and poor in spirit.

All the discussion starters together

  1. If Jesus took this passage (the first two sentences at least) and applied it to Himself, how might it apply to us?
  2. How does the Sovereign Lord “make righteousness and praise spring up” before others, today?

  3. What attitudes are contrasted in the Psalm 126/ Luke 1:46-55 (Magnificat) passages?

  4. What promise, or promises, do we see in these passages? Is there a condition attached?

  5. What lessons does Mary’s song have for us, in how we approach God?

  6. Are we more ready to criticise, or more ready to look for how we can make straight the way for the Lord?

  7. Does the call to repent lead us to a sense of condemnation, or to a sense of what God might be preparing us for?

  8. In what ways might the Holy Spirit bring us a word that helps us see the need for repentance?

  9. What would be the tone of that word that helps you know it is from the Lord?

. Are we more ready to criticise, or more ready to look for how we can make straight the way for the Lord?

  1. Does the call to repent lead us to a sense of condemnation, or to a sense of what God might be preparing us for?

  2. In what ways might the Holy Spirit bring us a word that helps us see the need for repentance?

  3. What would be the tone of that word that helps you know it is from the Lord?

Thur, Dec 14: Hear and test the prophetic word

The Living Word Bible study for Sunday, December 17, 2017 (wk50)

Mon, Dec 11: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Tue, Dec 12: Psalm 126, Luke 1:46-55

Wed, Dec 13: John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Thur, Dec 14: 1 Thess 5:16-24

Fri, Dec 15: The emerging message

1 Thess. 5:16-24

The Good News, 1 Thess 5:8-10, brings rejoicing and thankfulness reiterated by the Holy Spirit in ways which are to be spiritually discerned.

16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

  • “Pray continually” means be in a prayerful attitude and consistent with it, not giving up. Really knowing God, keeping close to Him and being aware of Him is a prayerful attitude where joy and thankful praise lead other expressions; this is a helpful key for maintaining effective prayer when circumstances are discouraging.

19 Do not quench the Spirit.

  • The Holy Spirit is like a dove, who flies away at any sense of threat. If people come together in any kind of a wrong attitude, anything which is unholiness, the Holy Spirit will back off until there is repentance of unholy mouths and the finding of holy hearts for His landing. Ephesians 4:30 says ‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God’ and is set in a context of Eph. 4:28-32 which is a summary of what to avoid, so as not to quench the fire and grieve the Spirit, which is all too easily done.

20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt…

  • The prophetic gift, which can be expressed in various ways, is always meant to encourage the church, 1 Cor. 14:1-14 and this upbuilding dimension of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is always needed. It is a common mistake to dismiss or devalue the spiritual because it might not seem pragmatic, and instead rely on the pragmatic, which might not be spiritual or discerning of God’s purpose.

21 …but test them all; hold on to what is good,

22 reject every kind of evil.

  • An early Christian teaching recorded in Didache 11:8 (not Scripture but nonetheless instructive) was that “Not everyone who speaks about spiritual things is a prophet, but only if the person’s conduct is like the Lord.” This is a reminder to check the character of those speaking out, Matt. 7:15-20  and also check that a prophetic word has a good origin and agrees with the apostles’ teaching, 2 Thess. 2:2, 1 John 4:1-3. We would look for the word to be in agreement with Scripture generally.

23 May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • The Holy Spirit is always at work to sanctify us — bring us back to the path of holiness in which we make choices and partner with Him.

24 The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.

Application

We all want God to presence Himself more. We may be praying for revival, a special kind of God presencing Himself over a period of time, with all kinds of salvations and transformation happening. or we may want an encounter with God in this or that gathering or prayer time. There are times when God Himself is preparing to do a work among His people. The ‘preparing the way’ Scriptures speak not only to the coming of the Messiah, but also to our time – we are told to be ready for Him to come at any time. The ‘preparing’ is simply an attitude of repentance leading to holiness, and the Holy Spirit is so named because He is the Spirit of Holiness. He is speaking, but not everyone is listening. It’s easy to miss the prophetic word that comes in a plain wrapper – something in the Sunday sermon or in a Bible reading which stands out, or in a spoken-out prayer or a conversation.

Or He may be speaking from a distance, if something has caused Him to back off. We can’t argue with others and hold unforgiveness in our hearts and be in disrespect of godly authority and also expect the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit. He hates discord and disunity! So He stays away! He is the Holy Spirit and He doesn’t work man’s way.

When He does have freedom to work among us – it is by our permission, we either do invite Him and allow Him, or we don’t – He brings us into alignment with what is good, right and holy.

Discussion starters

8. In what ways might the Holy Spirit bring us a word that helps us see the need for repentance?

9. What would be the tone of that word, that helps you know that it is from the Lord?

Wed, Dec 13: John says get ready for the One to follow Him

John 1: 6-8, 19-28

The announcement of God’s next move comes with immediacy – and mixed responses

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John.

  • This is the apostle John writing about John the Baptist.

7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.

  • John the gospel writer uses the word for ‘witness’ or ‘testify’ far more than Matthew, Mark and Luke. His gospel sets out from the start to show that the facts about Jesus are well attested.
  • “So that through him…” John the Baptist’s ministry was a particular one – to testify about Jesus and point people to Him. They would not believe “in” John, but by means of, and “through” John.

8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

  • Such was his following that some people were getting exaggerated ideas about who John was – see v. 21 below.

= = = = = =

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.

  • This was a delegation from the religious ruling council, the Sanhedrin, to check out the activities of someone who was to them an unauthorised teacher. In the 16th and 17th centuries in England, people who taught without the authorisation of the established church were commonly penalised and imprisoned – like John Bunyan – or worse. John Wesley, an Anglican cleric, was much criticised for his “enthusiasm” and was generally not allowed to preach in church buildings.

20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”

  • His appearance and ministry was in the style of Elijah, and Jews knew that Elijah had not died. So was this Elijah returned? Similarly “the Prophet”, Deuteronomy 18:15 . They were expecting various people to appear with the coming Messiah.

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”

  • The Qumran community had applied Isaiah 40:3  to themselves. Their understanding of it? Isolating themselves to secure their own salvation. Here John is making a much more missional call to “make straight the way” for the Messiah and enabling people to make their own preparation by getting right with God – repentance.
  • Baptism, with the same connotations of turning decisively from the old life to the new, became the symbol of membership in Jesus’ kingdom.

24-25 Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

  • The Pharisees held to a conservative theological position and were expecting the Messiah. John, as a forerunner, looked like a candidate but denied being that.

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.

27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

  • John tells them that the anointed One they are seeking is right there with them in the crowd and that this is to be a much greater ministry.

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

  • Not the Bethany mentioned elsewhere that is close to Jerusalem.

Application

Who were the last of the Old Testament prophets? We think of Habakkuk and Zechariah and Malachi, and then there was a period of about 400 years without a prophetic word being recorded. Jesus came right at the end of the Old Covenant era, and by His life, death and resurrection He gave us a new and better covenant based on new life trusting Him as Saviour and Lord. The Old Covenant, the Jewish system of rules and regulations would have been difficult enough for us, even if as Gentiles we could be included.

Jesus was among the crowds that came to the Jordan for a baptism of repentance, and that baptism was carried out by a kind of Elijah figure, in the way he dressed and lived – an outsider. He had a message to proclaim, and it was a direct and challenging call. Get right with God! Someone far greater than me is coming after me, in fact He is here! Demonstrate your readiness by going into the water for baptism, an act of repentance!

John was the last of the O.T. prophets. His cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, spoke for God and challenged about the kingdom of God – but we would agree He was more than a prophet.

Discussion starters

6. Are we more ready to criticise what we don’t like, or more ready to look for how we can make straight the way or the Lord?

7. Does the call to repent sound like condemnation; or do we see it as encouragement into what God might be preparing us for?

Tue, Dec 12: God looks for our praise and dependence on Him

Psalm 126 – A song of ascents

If the Lord was able to do it before, He can do it again

Readings from New International Version (NIV)

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.

  • The immediate application of this is the restoration of the first exiles from captivity in 538 BC. However relating verse 1 to verses 4-6 gives this a much wider and more contemporary application.

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

  • The Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt, and now brought about a restoration from exile, a joyous turnaround. Both of these happenings said a lot about God’s character to the surrounding nations.

3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

  • A powerful dimension of breakthrough prayer is praise for who God is, coupled with thankfulness for what God has done. ‘Testimony’ stories which recall what God has done raise the level of faith in both teller and hearer, and are spiritually robust answers to the doubts and discouragements we hear all the time in the enemy’s accusing voice.

4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.

  • The Negev is an exceptionally arid area. As the seasonal rains flood the desert wadis, the land turns green again. The prayer looks for Israel’s fortunes to flower again in a similar way.

5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.

6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

  • This speaks of God’s character: faithfulness to those who have persevered with faith. It applied to the exiles but also speaks to today. “Sowing with tears” is part of the Christian experience, seldom understood at the time, in which God tests us and proves us – do we stay in faith for the promises expressed here?

Luke 1:46-55 – The Magnificat

True dependence on God puts us in place to be part of His next move

  • Mary may have made up this song, thinking about the story of Hannah, on her several days’ journey to see her cousin Elizabeth. It borrows much in thought and phrase from Hannah’s prayer, 1 Sam. 2:1-10, but the tone of submission to God is different. It would not be unusual for a devout Jewish girl like Mary to have quite a depth of Scripture knowledge and insight, which she shows here. At the same time, as John Wesley suggests, perhaps Mary sang this Holy Spirit-inspired prophetic song without fully understanding all that she was singing.

46  And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord…

  • Older sources based on Latin texts may attribute this song to Elizabeth. But it is Mary’s. Elizabeth’s response (v.42) is an exclamation, a shout, quite different in tone from her quieter cousin’s.

47-49 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

  • Amplified Bible: “For He has looked [with loving care] on the humble state of His maidservant…” This is Mary describing herself as a sinner and a slave-girl – a humble state, rather than humiliated state.

From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.

  • Mary’s faith, waiting on God to bring His promises to fulfilment (see also v.45), was exemplary, by contrast with Zacharias, Luke 1:18-20 .

50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

  • “Mercy” is a BIG word, expressing the Old Testament and covenant-language concept of God’s love which is loyal, gracious and faithful. This love comes to those who overcome human pride to look to Him with awe and deep respect.

51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

  • Where people of influence are proud in their thinking and attitudes, problems in society ensue: cause and effect. The kingdom of God, allowing God’s rule and order to have domain in our thoughts and attitudes, stands in direct, confrontational opposition to man’s desire for independence and self-sufficiency.

52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

  • The tenses point to God’s “mighty deeds” of the past but as is often the way of the Prophets, may be using the device of looking back to what God has done, to speak of what God can and will do. The deeds of the past give substance to the promise of the Good News to come.
  • The established way of the world is turned upside down in this series of statements where the proud are scattered, rulers are removed from position, the rich miss out while the hungry and humble – those that recognise their need of God – are elevated.

54-55 He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as He promised our ancestors.”

  • Recalls the unconditional covenant with Abraham and his descendants – and those believing Gentiles like us who are ‘grafted into the vine’,  Romans 11:17-19 .

Application

The exiles knew their need of God. They had lost everything – and also lost much of the sense of their national identity as God’s covenant people. But after a generation, and a change of heart, the return began and it was a joyful returning.

Mary knew her need of God. She was young, she felt that she was a nobody, and her situation drew criticism – who else would know what the angel had said? Perhaps she had talked to God about this on her journey to see her cousin Elizabeth. And the evidence is that she had heard afresh from God and now she was rejoicing, knowing that she was blessed, singled out for an important, if challenging, assignment from God.

Sometimes we don’t know what’s going on in our lives. And sometimes it’s too confusing to expect God to tell us. Yet Mary, humble before God and aware of her need, seems to have come through to praise and rejoicing. In her song, she praises God not just for His goodness, but for specific deeds of the past where He has upheld the humble and overturned the self-sufficient.

Discussion starters

3. What attitudes are contrasted in these passages?

4. What promise, or promises, do we see in these passages? Is there a condition attached?

5. What lessons does Mary’s song have for us, in how we approach God?

Mon, Dec 11: Anointing of both authority and servanthood

The Living Word Bible study for Sunday, December 17, 2017 (wk50)

Mon, Dec 11: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Tue, Dec 12: Psalm 126, Luke 1:46-55

Wed, Dec 13: John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Thur, Dec 14: 1 Thess 5:16-24

Fri, Dec 15: The emerging message

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Anointed by the Spirit of praise and joy to rebuild, restore and renew.

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,

  • The anointing of the Spirit is an anointing as both kingly authority – proclamations are what kings do – and as a divine servant, with concern for prisoners and the poor and practical involvement with those who are destitute. This brings together Isaiah’s earlier prophecies of a king to arise, and also the suffering servant of the Lord. Isaiah spells out Jesus Christ in all but name.

2-3 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…

  • This is a well-known passage. Why? Because Jesus applied it to Himself. Following His encounter with the Holy Spirit in baptism and testing in the wilderness, and soon after the start of His public ministry, Jesus attended the regular synagogue worship in Nazareth, in the synagogue He had known from childhood. Synagogue worship was relatively free, with ministry shared. He stood up to read Scripture and was handed the Isaiah scroll. He read the beginning of Isaiah 61 (above) and then said, to the amazement of His hearers, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” Luke 4:16-21.
  • Jesus, in His reading of this, ended as above “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”. He saw His call as divided into two visitations, the first to bring salvation and freedom and favour with God, which we now understand as His human sinless life and giving up that life on the Cross. The second includes the judgment and realised kingdom of God, which fits with the Second Coming.

…and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.

  • “The oil… and a garment…” is a picture of something applied and put on, an impartation. The language of anointing and oil is often used symbolically of the Holy Spirit. So this is describing an impartation which brings dramatic change to those receiving it from mourning and despair, to joy and praise. Without Jesus this life is a slow dying with a grim outcome. Receiving new life and eternal life in a new spiritual birth is coming alive in Christ with a release into the Holy Spirit’s expression of joy and praise.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

  • The immediate meaning of this for the original hearers is about coming out of exile and rebuilding the ruins, as documented by Ezra and Nehemiah. Isaiah saw this restoration, but also a restoration of God that affects every age. For us, the impartation of the Holy Spirit and the life of the Spirit is about being empowered as God’s agents of restoration and transformation. Those who demonstrate the Life of the Spirit are those who will, simply through their lives, bring renewal of church and also society, ministering in Word and Spirit and in engagement with the world that doesn’t necessarily own Christian beliefs or values.

= = = =

8 “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward My people and make an everlasting covenant with them.

  • The community of the people of God are covenanted (for us, under the New Covenant in Jesus) to imitate and display the character of God, who stands for justice and is set against wrongdoing, Micah 6:8; Isaiah 35:15.

9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

  • The people of God are those who represent and uphold God’s values.

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

  • Clothed with salvation, arrayed in a robe of righteousness is a description of how righteousness with God is put on us as part of the faith relationship; we have to come to the point of realising that we cannot earn or achieve any of that righteousness. The theological term is “imputed”, meaning it is assigned or attributed to us through our new standing in Christ Jesus. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”,  2 Cor. 5:21. Both of these verses are major statements of how God sees us in this spiritual transformation. This is the heart of the New Covenant for those who give their lives to Jesus. In Christ Jesus, as people of new creation with a new nature, we become — and are the demonstration of — what God’s righteousness looks like.

11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

  • A supernaturally natural process whereby the kingdom of God would start to be apparent, not just to the Jewish nation but to nations beyond,  Isaiah 49:6 . From the start of Jesus’ ministry his message emphasised the kingdom of God, e.g. Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Application

Isaiah foresees a Holy Spirit anointed ministry, the characteristic of which is freeing and transforming of people, vv. 1-2, communities, v.4 and values, vv.8-9. This is a broad-brushstroke picture of what the ministry of Jesus the Messiah would look like.

The same Holy Spirit is the enabler of the purposes of God in bringing to bear His kingdom order in all the dimensions of spiritual salvation, physical and emotional healing and deliverance from oppression, as demonstrated by Jesus.

The same Holy Spirit empowers the same purposes of God in us, giving us a growing revelation of how we are to continue Jesus’ ministry, and building our confidence in it.

The same Holy Spirit transforms how we see ourselves. The revelation of how God sees us “clothed” in Christ Jesus transforms our confidence from tentative prayer requests to declaring in faith and spiritual authority what we know God has already said.

Discussion starters

1. If Jesus took this passage (the first two sentences at least) and applied it to Himself, how might it apply to us?

2. How does the Sovereign Lord “make righteousness and praise spring up” before others, today?

Fri, Dec 8: Holy and godly – but not as we have known it

The emerging message

Our call to a holy and godly life – but not as we have known it

What does a holy and godly life look like? Awe, reverence, a pattern of life by which believers are distinctive – many different expressions of this have had their season. Here are some of them:

  • The early Christians faced the risk of death with the joy of being counted worthy to suffer — quite possibly in martyrdom (the word martyr has the root meaning of ‘witness’).
  • The monastic movement was based on communal life around the discipline of 24-7 worship.
  • Religious Christianity grew up as the early community-based Celtic tradition gave way to a more disciplined and church-based Roman practice which emphasised obedience.
  • The Reformation 500 years ago challenged this. Priest became pastor (shepherd) with a return to Scripture as the foundation of faith, and salvation as a Scripture-informed choice to put faith in Jesus.
  • John Wesley, an Anglican cleric who had experienced a profound encounter with God, preached to huge outdoor crowds but relied on discipling new believers in small groups in homes for mutual discipleship and spiritual growth. This ‘high churchman’ actually declericalised the church by equipping ‘lay’ people.
  • Revivals have been born in a discipline of prayer and repentance, from the 100-year-long prayer meeting in 18th-century Moravia onwards, through Georgian and Victorian England to more recent times.
  • The priority of taking the Good News and its lifestyle into the streets and pubs of the poor and needy of the expanding cities took Wesley’s values forward and presented church as a radically alternative mission army for social, as well as spiritual, transformation.
  • The Pentecostal and charismatic renewals of the 20th century brought a new understanding of relating to all three Persons of the Trinity and believers being empowered by the Holy Spirit for lives of intimacy with God and engagement in the mission of God.
  • More recently, traditional streams which grew up from all of the above have given way to highly contemporary forms of church and new expressions of church, with the beginnings of a fusion of formerly separate, competing institutional silos into an organic movement.

How does this answer what does a holy, godly life looks like? None of these ‘flavours’ offers more than a part of the answer. All are needed, complementing each other. The holy, godly life in a (longish) sentence comprises:

Being who the Lord says we are as His children, working this out by engaging with the world, prepared to witness at personal cost, practising worship in all of life, loving the renewing Word and loving the selfish world with Jesus’ love, empowering and direction – and proclaiming the kingdom of God over and above the claims of man’s understanding of church.

God’s announcement of His intentions through Isaiah look far ahead through the coming judgment and exile which Isaiah ‘saw’ but did not experience, to a time of restoration and preparing for the new era of the Messiah’s coming. God wants His glory to rest in the land. Therefore He has promised the peace of ongoing salvation to those of His people who fear Him, Psalm 85:8-9 , and sent John the Baptist as a herald of His Son who is the bringer of peace through salvation. Jesus, having completed His mission on earth, and ascended to His place of authority in heaven, will return, unannounced, to affirm those who are continuing in His way, with inevitable judgment for those who are not.

Our mission is no more or less than to join God in His mission: to announce His Good News for all who will receive Him, prepare the way for His present working and future coming with encouragement for people to turn back to Him. All this, with the forebearing and loving patience of our gracious God who is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”, 2 Peter 3:9.

All the discussion starters

  1. What are the obstacles, or obstructions, to God coming to us again and showing His glory?
  2. How do we do our bit to make straight… a highway for our God?
  3. In what ways do we need God to revive us again?
  4. What does He look for, to be able to do this? What does this psalm tell us, that holds back revival?
  5. Is this turning to Jesus one particular, memorable life event? Or are there many turnings, some particularly life changing and significant, others which are more of a regular course correction?
  6. Can it be that simple? Why is it that we feel more comfortable engaged in practices and actions that amount to earning favour with God?
  7. Are we, like God, lovingly patient and persistent with those who are not yet in a place to turn to God and confess their need of Him?

Thur, Dec 7: The Lord’s desire – none to perish, all to come to repentance

2 Peter 3:8-14

Our time frame and God’s eternal time frame work in different ways, as God holds out opportunity for people to get right with Him – but when that encounter comes, what will He find us doing?

8-9 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

  • “…a day is like a thousand years” – Peter appealing to Psalm 90:4 _ to make his point._
  • God’s patience might be an allusion to Noah, Genesis 6
  • God sometimes delays judgment to give opportunity for the wicked to come to repentance, as in the time of wicked kings generally and a particular example, Jereboam II of Israel, 2 Kings 14:23-27.

10 But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11-13 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the Day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

  • “Holy…”  a pattern of life that sets one apart as a believer  “…and godly lives…”showing reverence before awesome God.
  • The Day of God is probably synonymous with the Day of the Lord, especially as the events described are similar. The language is apocalyptic (like Daniel, or Revelation); more attempting to put into words the indescribable, than a precise forecast.
  • The point being made is not so much the nature of God’s coming, but the priority of living holy and godly lives, expecting the Lord’s return at any time. What are we found doing?
  • “As you speed its coming.” The rabbis of the time debated whether or not repentance would hasten the end. The New Testament in Peter’s words “Repent then and turn to God… that times of refreshing may come…” Acts 3:19-20 , suggests that it does. We don’t argue from opinion or experience, but church history and church experience bears out that prayerful and sincere repentance by a community does attract God’s favour and even visitation.

14-15 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

  • “Our Lord’s patience” – allowing more time for repentance.
  • “At peace with Him” – “Inwardly calm, with a sense of well-being and confidence…” (Amplified Bible)

Application

Our view of life and our world is temporal, not eternal. There is a time coming when everything of man will receive a fiery purification – the language used is ‘destruction’. While God, in His love, desires our salvation more than anything else, He cannot countenance rebellious or independent attitudes. So the exhortation is to be found “spotless, blameless and at peace with Him”.

So, how do we keep right with God? By careful religious observance? Just over 500 years ago, Martin Luther, a monk and university teacher in Wittenberg, Saxony, who knew a great deal about being correctly religious, was studying the book of Romans and found there, that he had been headed down the wrong road. Righteousness with God did not come by any amount of effort we could make (and he knew all about that) but by faith, especially faith in Jesus. “It is a righteousness that is by faith, from first to last”, Romans 1:16-17 . So to be found right with God, whenever God makes this Day of the Lord judgement and visitation, is by keeping close relationship with Him, steered by the Holy Spirit into what is right and helped to put right, what needs to be put right, when it needs to be put right. The phrase, slightly quaint to our ears, used to be “Keep short accounts with God”. It is hard to put this advice better.

Discussion starters

6. Can it be that simple? Why is it that we feel more comfortable engaged in practices and actions that amount to earning favour with God?

7. Are we, like God, lovingly patient and persistent with those who are not yet in a place to turn to God and confess their need of Him?

Wed, Dec 6: Prepare the way! The Lord is coming right after me

Mark 1:1-8

John the Baptist, last of the Old Testament prophets, takes up Isaiah’s and Malachi’s announcement of the Good News in the style of Elijah.

1-3 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way — a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ”

  • As Isaiah 40:3-5 (above). It was not unusual for interpreters to treat Scripture as a seamless whole around a common phrase such as “prepare the way” and this quotation also includes Malachi 3:1 .

4-5 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

  • ‘The wilderness’ and ‘the Jordan River’ might seem to be inconsistent. In this part of the Judean wilderness a narrow fertile area around the river is surrounded by rugged and inhospitable terrain.
  • Jewish people were used to the idea of repentance – and also knew various rituals for baptism including baptism of Gentiles who converted to Judaism, where it signified a turning to a whole new way of life.

The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

  • John’s assignment was to prepare the way for Jesus by clearing obstacles. The main obstacle? Proud, unbelieving sin. So John told his hearers to repent (turn) and recognise that the kingdom of God – God’s righteous rule and order – was at hand, Matt. 3:1-3. Jesus came with exactly the same initial message, Mark 1:15 .
  • Baptism does not achieve repentance, but brings an impartation that seals the change of heart. This impartation is seen clearly in Jesus’ own baptism by John with a visible sign of the Holy Spirit – the dove, Matt. 3:16, Mark 1:9-11.

6-8 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the One more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

  • The “One more powerful… who will baptize… with the Holy Spirit” is John’s allusion to Jesus, who was John’s cousin. John’s whole purpose was to prepare people through their repentance, and point them to Jesus.
  • Malachi, whose prophecy is implied here, referred to the one who would come like Elijah, Mal. 4:5-6. Readers of the time would have seen the connection in the description. Elijah was not a priest or a court prophet in robes, but quite the opposite – an outsider. John is showing himself to be standing apart from the establishment, a voice from the wilderness proclaiming a way in the wilderness which was like a new exodus, a move of God which was about salvation and restoration for His people, Isaiah 43:16-21, also Isa 11:16, 19:23-25, 51:10-11 etc.
  • This was a season for Jews of faith to reflect on what they needed to put right with God, in preparation for the move of God which John’s preaching was alerting them to. There are seasons for us to reflect and ‘clear our own roads’ for God. The allusion to the Holy Spirit is important. To make room for more of Him, we have to identify the things that need to go!

Application

Before the gospel writer John tells us much about the Good news, he tells us how it works. It is all about Jesus, the ‘Anointed One’ or Messiah, who will baptise [drench us] not just with water but with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God and He is holy; He empowers us to be a bit different in a good way, showing others the character of God – in short, how we as humans can be ‘set apart’ and holy, while engaging with a world which is frequently the opposite. This is how we do it – by turning to Jesus and allowing ourselves to be empowered by the Spirit of Jesus. It doesn’t work any other way.

Discussion starter

5. Is this turning to Jesus one particular, memorable life event? Or are there many turnings, some particularly life changing and significant, others which are more of a regular course correction?

Tue, Dec 5: Is revival a conditional promise?

Psalm 85:1-13

Listening to God’s promise of peace for those that fear Him – and hearing a promise of revival?

1 You, Lord, showed favour to your land; You restored the fortunes of Jacob.

2-3 You forgave the iniquity of Your people and covered all their sins. You set aside all Your wrath and turned from Your fierce anger.

  • This psalm is a communal prayer for those who have come back to Jerusalem from exile, at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah – and were facing significant danger and opposition there.
  • Although most psalms were composed earlier e.g at the time of King David, some are after the exile, or at least show prophetic allusions to the return of God’s people as in Psalm 126 and Psalm 14:7 .

4 Restore us again, God our Saviour, and put away Your displeasure toward us.

5-7 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations? Will you not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us Your salvation.

  • “Will you not revive us again…?” A prayer to touch the heart of God, who wants to bring revival more than, generally, we want to ask for it. One of a clutch of key revival verses summarised by 2 Chronicles 7:14; Acts 3:19
  • “Will You not revive us again…” A prayer we can pray with confidence. Who wants revival more, us or God? What holds back revival?

8-9 I will listen to what God the Lord says; He promises peace to His people, His faithful servants – but let them not turn to folly. Surely His salvation is near those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land.

  • God’s gracious salvation being near those who fear Him is a repeated theme in Psalms and Proverbs. It points up the tension between man’s natural self-sufficiency and independence, and the need to submit to God as the One who provides and saves, recognising how the covenant relationship works.

10-11 Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.

  • These are ‘returning’ expressions: God’s love meets our return to faithfulness, God’s peace looks for our return to His righteousness. Righteousness is a heavenly quality which looks for a connection with faithfulness to find its expression in our lives and attitudes.

12-13 The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before Him and prepares the way for His steps.

Application

Coming back from exile or from alienation from God may seem to be putting a historic event for the Jewish nation alongside our very different context. But in life, even a faith-centred life, there is the tension between the call of God and our desire for self-determination. There will always be the need for seasons which recognise where we have alienated ourselves, where our independence has inevitably caused God’s righteous anger, and where we need to appeal to His understanding, patient mercy in making our ‘return’.

Discussion starters

3. In what ways do we need God to revive us again?

4. What does He look for, to be able to do this? What does this psalm tell us, that holds back revival?

 

Mon, Dec 4: Good News of enduring salvation

Isaiah 40:1-11

God announces through the prophet Isaiah Good News of enduring salvation

1 Comfort, comfort [i.e. comfort greatly, emphasised] My people, says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to [lit. speak to the heart of, encourage] Jerusalem [the Lord’s people], and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double [punishment] for all her sins.

  • They had endured the punishment of captivity and exile.
  • This section starts with an announcement of the Good News; it continues.

3-5 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare [clear] the way for the Lord [remove the obstacles]…

  • This voice, God’s messenger who prepares the way for God’s coming, was identified with John the Baptist in all four of the gospels Matt 3:1-3, Mark 1:1-3, Luke 3:4 and John 1:23.
  • In Isaiah 35 the picture is of a holy highway with the people travelling towards Zion, where the Lord has come. The imagery here is reversed; the Lord is coming out to the people (verses 9-11).

…make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

  • ‘Desert’ is not smooth sand but a picture of sharp crags and crevasses – terrain that is difficult to negotiate. NLT renders this “Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills, straighten the curves and smooth out the rough places…”
  • The Near East custom was to send representatives to prepare a processional way; a bit like preparing a way down the Mall for the Queen in the royal coach.

And the glory [and majesty and splendour] of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

  • Yahweh – the Lord – could not be seen; every Israelite knew that. But they needed assurance that the Lord was with them. The was the cloud, kabod, which unlike our idea of damp, grey clouds had a radiance as well. In Exodus 24:17 it is called a consuming fire. It is felt and not just seen – when the tabernacle was completed God’s glory so filled it that even Moses was unable to enter Exodus 40:35. The glory of the Lord that was the constant reminder that God was with the Israelites is the glory that Isaiah here will be seen again by everyone. The Transfiguration of Jesus was a cloud of dazzling radiance that surrounded Jesus and revealed others Matt. 17:1-3.

A voice says, “Cry out [prophesy]!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”

[The voice answered] “All people are like[all humanity is as frail as] grass, and all their faithfulness [lit. all that makes it attractive] is [momentary] like the flowers of the field.

7-8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely [all] the people are [like] grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem [God’s people], lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”

  • ‘Shout’ – this is a message for all to hear.

10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and He rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him.

  • Unlike the unjust, and ultimately powerless, rulers who He will judge, God’s rule will be different: marked by compassion and righteousness – with power to rescue, Isaiah 59:16 and defeat enemies such as the Egyptians, Isaiah 63:11-12.
  • His reward is with Him – God is Himself the Good News.

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; He gently leads those that have young.

  • The Ezekiel 34 passage (Nov 26 readings) portrayed God as the careful shepherd who would Himself rescue and shepherd His flock, Ezekiel 34:11, 15-16

Application

This is a message of hope and encouragement for God’s people. The immediate hearers were Jews of the 8th century BC. But we can take hold of this as a lesson about God’s character; uncompromising in holiness and angered by our stubbornness and independence, but essentially loving, gracious and having our protection and best interests at heart, like the best kind of shepherd.

We may have done all sorts of things (and held all sorts of attitudes) entirely worthy of God’s anger. That is why we go back to Him often and agree with Him that we are prone to fall into sin, usually through our own independence. He has given us free will, to do what He would have us do, or to do what we want to do. Of course we get it wrong at times. The nation of Israel kept on getting it wrong, ignoring clear warnings and lessons from history, until they were expelled from their holy city and holy land to a life of servility in exile.

Here God is announcing that this ‘hard service’ has been completed and His love and mercy will once again override the need for judgment.Unlike the Jewish nation, we have a ‘fast track’ to God through Jesus. The hard service or worse that should have been ours, from our inherited independence and human pride, has been completed by Jesus in his dying for us. For the Jewish nation there was, quite justifiably, condemnation. The Bible word for us is that for us who have sincerely chosen to give our lives to Jesus, there is no condemnation, Romans 8:1-2 . There is always a way back for us in Jesus. The announcement of Good News is for our hearing. As we respond and turn to meet God, we find Him coming out to meet us. The way for Him to come, needs some levelling and preparation; thanks to Jesus we are equipped to do that.

Discussion starters

  1. What are the obstacles, or obstructions, to God coming to us again and showing His glory?
  2. How do we do our bit to make straight… a highway for our God?