Archives for Feb 2018

God’s way is higher in Jesus’ submitting to the call for baptism

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14
Mark 1: 9-15

Jesus demonstrates the way of dependence on God as a key to a Holy Spirit empowered life.

9  At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. At this point, Jesus had grown up in Nazareth and stayed in the area, as people did. Galilee is the area on the west (Mediterranean side) of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan, and north of Samaria. People from there had a distinctive accent that stood out in Judea or Jerusalem.
10  Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. This is the Son of God, the sinless Saviour who lined up for baptism to identify with sinners needing a fresh start, and receives an impartation of the Holy Spirit, identifying with all of us who are powerless without Him.

In the believers’ baptism practised by many contemporary churches, including these days some Anglicans, it is the practice to hear a brief testimony story of how the person came to know Jesus, and in their story, people often make reference to their former independence and perhaps waywardness. Going down into the water is symbolic of a spiritual death and rebirth in coming out again. Often pastor and friends will pray for the person to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit while they are in the water and prophetic words may be given.

11  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.” There are not many passages in Scripture which are clearly Trinitarian, but this is one of them. Jesus is the centre of the story, the Holy Spirit is visibly involved, and the voice of affirmation is of course the Father’s.
12  At once the Spirit sent Him out into the wilderness, “At once”, euthys, is a word characteristic of Mark, used nearly 50 times in his fast-paced narrative.
13 and He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Forty days recalls Israel’s 40 years of testing in the wilderness. Israel failed at several points, but Jesus was victorious.

Wild animals, which would have included dogs, wolves, jackals, leopards and bears, are only mentioned in Mark’s gospel, which emphasises the protection of angels in this sinister, desolate place.

“Tempted (or tested) by Satan”. Not an impersonal evil, or a figure of speech for a difficult thought – although the difficult or condemning or fear-provoking thoughts we struggle with are put there by the enemy until we decide to put them out. The other gospel accounts have the detail of how Jesus countered the plausible but dangerous lies of Satan with Scripture truth. At this time Jesus is being confronted by a powerful, personal and persuasive deceiver and enemy, not three questions but a 40-days long power struggle.

Who is Satan? For further study see Genesis 3:1; Job 1:6,9; Zechariah 3:1; Rev 2:9-10; Rev 12:9-10.

14  After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

15  “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Three short sentences here succinctly sum up Jesus’ whole proclamation:

• This is the time
• the kingdom of God is near
• repent and believe.

The kingdom was the banner over everything that Jesus taught and demonstrated. It means, simply, that God’s rule and order over people’s hearts and lives is being established. This shows up where God’s rule and order has been lacking – which is a strong incentive to repent (turn and put right) and believe

Application

This is a thought-provoking story, and a challenging one, for at least two reasons: (1) The person in the whole of history with the least need for baptism leads the way of those seeking baptism, and (2) He says it is to do what is right in the sight of God, Matthew 3:15 “…to fulfill all righteousness.”

As John asks “Why?”  Jesus’ words of reply are paraphrased helpfully in The Message as:  “God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.”

So Jesus was doing something that from man’s perspective that seemed unnecessary, because it was very necessary to fulfill God’s higher plan and purpose.

This challenges us to always look above our situation and our perspective, to discern God’s higher and more enduring purpose. The challenge that goes with that, is how we will join Him in that purpose? Are we ready? Are we ready, in God’s sight? The call for repentance, and for an act of repentance especially, makes our flesh nature rebel in anger. Yet this may be necessary, if only for us to pledge our dependence on God and invite the empowering of the Holy Spirit once again. There are also times it is necessary for us to go into repentance on behalf of people and situations that have nothing to do with us, as Daniel and Nehemiah did, “to fulfill all righteousness”. Jesus had no personal repentance to make; a repentance and redemption for all who would turn to Him, from the sins of the whole world, was His life’s work.

We don’t seek to be baptised more than once. However, the Bible tells us to be seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and to open to confess sin in repentance, as a means of constant readiness. The two go together, as at Jesus’ baptism.

For reflection and discussion

How ready are we to join God in what He may show us next that He is already doing?

How ready are we to get before God in repentance and seek His further infilling and empowering of His Spirit, in the face of the resistance of the flesh?

Remembering God’s ways and trusting God’s ways

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13
Psalm 25:1-10

An appeal to the covenant and pledge to keep God’s ways even in the face of personal adversity

1  In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. More literally, I lift up my soul. Or set my heart on you.
2  I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. David was not perfect, but as we know his essential character was to be God-revering and dependent, walking closely with God and seeking His leading in everything.
3  No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause. David affirms that his actions have not been the cause of the hostility he faces.
4  Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. “Show me your ways” and “teach me your paths” and v8, “instruct in [Your] ways” are phrases we can pray when we seek guidance. They remind us that God’s guidance is like Him — moral and righteous. We pray: God, show us the way! And He shows us to pray to learn and discover His way. So His guidance doesn’t always give us the answer. It may be to align us with His way, and to grow us as we work it out.

5  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.

6  Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

7  Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.

See note to verse 3 above. Whether he has given cause or not, he gives the Lord permission to show him his fault, if he has taken an independent path or has not fully repented of former rebelliousness. His motto, which is worth following, is “repent anyway!”

8  Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in his ways.

9  He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

David, who is a king (and a great king at that), here identifies with sinners who need instructing and the humble who look for guidance.
10  All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant. Being humble before the Lord (v.9) – acknowledging our dependence and lack of our own resources – is a first step in keeping the covenant.

Application

The attacks of slander experienced by David comes today when we put the kingdom of God over church-centred religion, or love for those outside a relationship with God above fellowship priorities. Strange though it may seem, our attacks often come from those near to us and professing the same beliefs. Reading the psalms, this seems to have been David’s experience.

David starts off by saying that he has given his enemies no cause for their malicious actions. We all start by justifying ourselves. But this is not what David is doing, as the verses that follow make plain. He appeals to the Lord on the basis of His mercy — not David’s sense of entitlement. That’s an important difference. If the Lord has a word of correction for him (vv.8-9) David is ready to hear.

In these verses, there are a good half-dozen requests for guidance, direct or indirect. David knows that God’s guidance will be guidance of attitude as much as action. In a way he has handed over the problem, declaring his trust that he won’t be put to shame, and that his enemies won’t exult over him (vv.1-3).

Then he positions himself as one who needs help, who needs guidance –– and this is likely to be guidance on how to stay in the Lord’s will, keeping a clean heart (forgive) and clean hands (no retribution) – help and guidance on how to keep reflecting the Lord’s love and mercy. We all need that. Psalm 24:3-5

For reflection and discussion

When we face a situation of hostility and perhaps people saying things that are not true about us, we all want to hit back, at first. How difficult is it for you to let go of your desire for a ‘solution’ and ask Him to show you His way according to His love and goodness?

God’s way of mercy, the first unconditional covenant with Noah

Readings this week, leading up to first Sunday in Lent, February 18
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
Mark 1: 9-15
1 Peter 3: 18-22

Theme of the week: God establishes His ways as an invitation for us to follow and so discover Him

 

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 12
Genesis 9:8-17

God’s way of mercy established in the first unconditional covenant with Noah

8  Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him:

9  “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you…

This is the first of a number of covenants in Scripture between God and His people, some unilateral like this one, others bilateral and participative.

God had already promised this covenant, Genesis 6:18.

10  …and with every living creature that was with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – every living creature on earth. This covenant has a wider scope than God’s providence for people. It includes “every living creature”, livestock and wild, and “all life” which can be understood as everything biological and made of cells.
11  I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” This is the only recorded covenant where God undertakes not to do something.

Worldwide judgment at the end of the Last Times is not ruled out by this verse. It says there will never again be a worldwide destructive flood.

For further study read 2 Peter 3:4-13

12  And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: Covenants in the Bible often go with a particular sign, e.g. circumcision, the Sabbath observance, the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper.

For further study see Genesis 17:11; Exodus 31:13,17; Luke 22:20

13  I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Literally “I have set My bow…” Hebrew uses the same term for bow and rainbow. One of the OT images of God is as a warrior who shoots arrows of judgment. This in Hebrew thought could be God hanging up his bow of judgment.

For further study see Psalm 7:12, Psalm 18:13-14, Habakkuk 3:9-11

14  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds,

15  I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.

16  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

Verses 12-13 and verse 16 together make an ‘envelope statement’ of emphasis.
17  So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

 

 

Application

From now on, in this new start, covenants will be an important feature of the relationship between God and His people. This is the first of five covenants which are called ‘Everlasting’ – looking forward to the end of time.

The other four main covenants which are everlasting are:
• The covenant with Abraham, Genesis 17:7
• The priestly covenant, Numbers 25:10-13
• The Davidic covenant, 2 Samuel 23:5
• The promised New Covenant, Jeremiah 32:40

The covenant with Moses, or the Sinai covenant, is rather different – a rule of life for the Jewish nation until the Holy Spirit was given. It was terminated on the Cross, Romans 6:14, Galatians 3:10-13. Jesus has fulfilled the Law and wants us to choose to live like Him, in the awareness of the Great Commandment, Matt. 22:36-40, rather than live under law. That choice that we make as Christians is both guided, and enabled, by the Holy Spirit, who trains us, “I will inspire them to fear (revere) Me” in the words of Jeremiah, to more than fulfil the objectives of the law (the 10 Commandments and much more) given to Moses – but willingly and intentionally and creatively, in other words, by grace rather than by rule and obedience.

This covenant with Noah makes no demands on Noah or on us. It is all down to God stating, and demonstrating His faithfulness. The seasons will take their course, and rainfall, perhaps heavy rainfall will be a part of that. But the ‘bow hung in the sky’ is a promise that God will keep. It is also a covenant we can go back to in prayer, ‘returning His word to Him’ Isaiah 55:11 whenever the natural order of things seems under threat.

For reflection and discussion

How do you hold on to the reality of God’s promises and faithfulness, while living in a fallen world where bad things happen to ‘good people’ and we are faced with so much uncertainty and unpredictability?

The connection between the heavenly realm and life on earth

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 9
Recap, reflection – and the message that emerges

2 Kings 2: 1-12

Elisha succeeds Elijah, in a demonstration of utter reliance on the Lord and His anointing

Reflection 1: How do you work out the partnership between what God has made you uniquely capable of doing, and what He is uniquely able to do? What might Elisha’s example be teaching us in this?

Psalm 50:1-6

God calls the consecrated people to the court of His covenant – both heaven and earth together

Reflection 2: How do we, post-resurrection and relating to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, celebrate and renew our covenant relationship with Him? What does God really want from us?

For further study, read the whole of Psalm 50 and the passages on ‘insincere sacrifices’ in Isaiah 1:11, Amos 4:4, Micah 6:6-8; NT and post-resurrection perspective Luke 22:20, Galatians 4:6.

Mark 9:2-9

Heaven appears to those on earth at the transfiguration of Jesus

Reflection 3: This was an encounter with God beyond the scope of imagining for most of us. Could you imagine being in a situation where you draw near to God and His glory becomes real to you?

2 Cor. 4:3-6

Heaven’s strategy in the good news of Jesus is contrasted with scheme that the god of this age, the devil, operates

Reflection 4: Where are you, along the line from a closed-mind unbeliever to a person of strong and open faith in God? Where are there pockets of ‘unbelieving’ which give the god of this world opportunities to block the light to that part of your heart?

The emerging message – how heaven and earth are connected

Although three of the readings show us how “God shines forth” in dazzling light, a light that shines in hearts to reveal the glory of Jesus, the real message that emerges is the close connection between the affairs of heaven and earth. How do we understand it, and how do we work with it?

It’s an important question. The lack of understanding of the interactions of heaven and earth, the spiritual world and our victories and setbacks, has left us, Jesus’ church, a lot less effective for Him than we should be.

The four strands of this teaching on interaction start with utter reliance on God in the handoff by Elijah to his pupil Elisha – the power and right to confer it belonged to God alone.

Psalm 50 teaches us about covenant and, unusually in a psalm where usually man speaks to God, God speaks to man about the responsibilities of covenant relationship and being ready to be called to account – for reward or for rebuke.

The Transfiguration is where we see the interaction most closely, as it seems that the top of the mountain is a ‘thin place’, so thin that Moses and Elijah are instantly recognisable conversing with Jesus in a scene that is both heavenly and earthly. This tells us that heaven is a real ‘place’, with real people. In heaven there are actions and conversations that impact ours, on earth. It’s not too big a jump to see behind the scene a strategy – and if we can join in that strategy, making our moves in step with heaven, that is a covenant relationship to strike fear into the devil and his minions.

That is really the point Paul is making in his second Corinthian letter. Not only has righteous heaven a plan and purpose being worked out, so the enemy of souls has a scheme. It’s always the same scheme – to keep people in fear, confusion and spiritual blindness. Knowing that scheme is the key to overcoming the scheme.

Many of us have grown up with the perception that there is a heaven, a kind of spiritual layer ‘above’, and we know all about the human realm on earth. We have believed that between these there is an ‘excluded middle’ like thick insulation keeping the two apart.

The reality is that the separation is caused by man’s pride and sin, but God’s mercy and our standing in Christ is such that we can bring the two back into a measure of connection by our praise, devotion, and especially repentance. Having an awareness of how the connection works, is a large part of making that connection. And that is where the kingdom of God, the major theme of Jesus’ teaching, begins to be manifest.

 

Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11

How the good news is kept hidden by ‘the god of this world’

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 8
2 Cor. 4:3-6

Heaven’s strategy in the good news of Jesus is contrasted with scheme that the god of this age, the devil, operates

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

  • Earlier Paul talked about people whose minds were unreceptive and hearts veiled, in their attitude of turning away from God and so unable to hear His call or let it reach their hearts. Only in Christ, in other words whenever someone turns to the Lord, is this religious blindness removed. The Holy Spirit gives a freedom to see differently – and spiritually. Before we turn to trust Jesus and allow Him to be Lord of our lives, the good news is confusing and even a bit threatening. The moment we ask Him in, a change occurs in us (“the veil is taken away”) and suddenly what was confusing becomes clear – and a truly exciting discovery. Paul sets out this transition in the preceding verses, 1 Cor 3:14-17.
  • “Our gospel” is the gospel that Paul proclaims – Jesus Christ crucified who is Lord – and that he seeks to live out and make authentic as a Christlike servant.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

  • Some people find it difficult to believe that there is a real and spiritually active devil setting out to spoil all that God purposes for good. The Bible here explains clearly that we have a personal opponent, Satan, called here the “god of this age” because he exercises dominion in those who allow him to. His major work is keeping people blinded to the truth about Jesus – and the truth about his existence and activities. Turning humbly to Jesus and asking Him to be your Lord is a move he will resist and tell you not to make – but it is a stepping into the light where what was seen dimly becomes distinct (explained further in verse 6, below).

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

  • Paul is following a radically different path from his self-promoting opponents, 2 Cor. 11:4

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

  • The light of God’s Spirit that comes into our hearts not only gives us a different means of understanding – revelation – but it is also an attractive light that can be perceived by others, the life of Jesus in us, verse 10, which is clearly not an earned attribute, verse 7.
Application

This seems to be Paul’s comment on people who don’t understand the good news of redemption that He is preaching, the truth that is “set forth plainly” in the words of the verse preceding this passage. They are unbelievers, so they are just not getting it.

That doesn’t inform us much about the problem, except perhaps to find more opportunities to preach and a more persuasive method – a man-centred solution. It has been tried, over the centuries, and the 16th-century persecutions of anyone deemed to be an ‘unbeliever’ added to the ranks of martyrs in a variety of horrible ways.

Paul gives us a much better answer in verse 4, where the apistoi, unbelieving ones, cannot see the light. The words are words, but the Word, Jesus Christ the image of God, is like light penetrating and bringing vision. This is not about the knowledge of the gospel of Christ, a mental/intellectual process. It is about the revelation of the gospel, a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, or inner being.

In May 1739 John Wesley, an Oxford graduate, knew all about the gospel and had spent time in Savannah, a new American colony – with spectacularly disappointing results. Back in London and visiting the Moravian chapel in Aldersgate Street, on the east side of the City of London, he heard the reading of the beginning of John’s gospel – and had an encounter with God where in his words his “heart was strangely warmed”. The rest, as they say, is history. It is a vivid illustration of the difference between knowing what the Bible says and receiving what the Bible says, as a spiritual transaction of the heart. It is salutary to note that Wesley returned with his pride and self-sufficiency broken – and so then God could meet with him. Pride, of the Pharisees and other religious Jews, got Paul beaten up, thrown out and slandered in place after place. Pride is what keeps the veil in place and the heart untouched. Turning in need to God, believing with the belief you have, is what removes the veil and allows the spiritual light to reveal the reality of Christ.

This insight from the Bible of what keeps people from a personal, heart faith in God shows us how to disrupt the strategy of the devil to keep people blind to their need of God and the light that is from God.

For reflection or discussion

Where are you, along the line from a closed-mind unbeliever to a person of strong and open faith in God? Where are there pockets of ‘unbelieving’ which give the god of this world opportunities to block the light to that part of your heart?

 

Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11

Heaven meets earth as Moses and Elijah appear before the transfigured Jesus

Mark 9:2-9

Heaven appears to those on earth at the transfiguration of Jesus

This event follows a week or so after the Feeding of the Five Thousand and Peter’s declaration, in answer to Jesus’ question, “You are the Christ!”. Jesus teaches the disciples about self-denial and His coming rejection and death at the hands of the religious leaders – and also resurrection. He tells them that some will live to see the kingdom of God come in power – possibly what follows next, but more likely the pivotal point of His death, the Resurrection, Ascension and then the Pentecost outpouring. Three disciples accompany him up the mountain where they experience the dazzling glory of God which gives them an insight into heavenly events that accompany what happens on earth.

2  After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.

“A high mountain” – unknown, but possibly Mount Hermon, although tradition points to Mount Tabor.

3  His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.

This radiant glory is a glimpse into the ‘other world’ of Jesus, who set aside His divine nature so that He could incarnate God for us by being born as man, Philippians 2:6-7. However, this glimpse is a reminder that in the background to the incarnation, Jesus always was, and is, fully God – and therefore almost impossible to see in the brightness of the glory surrounding Him.

4  And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Elijah and Moses had both individually met with God on Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb. The only other place in Scripture where Moses and Elijah are mentioned together, is at the finale of the OT in the passage about turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, Malachi 4:4-6.

For further study, read Exodus 24, 1 Kings 19:8-18

5  Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Peter may have reacted unthinkingly in line with the tradition of the Feast of Tabernacles, Leviticus 23:42. Despite having in the past week recognised Jesus as Messiah, he is confused at this point and treats them all as equals.

6  (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Elijah, representing the Prophets, and Moses, representing the Law, are talking with Jesus, demonstrating the Jesus is greater than either of them and representing the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, 1 Kings 19:8, Exodus 24:1, 9.

7  Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Cloud symbolises God’s presence in protecting and guiding, Exodus 16:10, 24:15-18, 33:9-10

“Listen” carries the meaning of willingness to act on what is heard.

8  Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

9  As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

“Son of Man” is the title Jesus most often applied to Himself and not used by anyone else. It is a messianic title and a response to Peter, who has just acclaimed Him as the Christ (or Messiah). The Son of Man in Daniel is a heavenly figure who is given glory, authority and sovereign power by God, Daniel 7:13-14.

After the resurrection was the time for the disciples to tell everyone – when Jesus’ finished work had been demonstrated.

Application

God speaks to us – but the lesson of this event is that He speaks of what we are ready to believe. He speaks into our readiness to hear. In this instance, Peter, James and John were a little inner circle among the twelve disciples. Among the first to be called, they were possibly at a slightly higher level of faith than the others at this point. Peter, who was on one hand quick to receive, but on the other not so good at consolidating it or processing it, has already come out with his “You are the Christ!” statement.

Our heartfelt expression of praise for who God is – not to be confused with thanksgiving for what He has done – is for us a way into God’s presence and encountering Him. We need to put down whatever else we may be carrying, and bring our faith to focus on the might, majesty, mercy and mystery of God, as transcendent and “other”.

God is also immanent, meaning evident and involved in our world, incarnated in Jesus and in a lesser way, incarnated in all of us who carry the smile and the love of Jesus around with us. But the Transfiguration showed the window of heaven being momentarily opened – and in that, God is “other” and awesome.

For reflection or discussion

This was an encounter with God beyond the scope of imagining for most of us. Could you imagine being in a situation where you draw so near to God that His glory becomes real to you?

 

Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11

My spiritual father– I will not leave you!

Readings this week – looking ahead to Sunday, Feb 11

Transfiguration Sunday. Sunday before Lent.

Monday – 2 Kings 2: 1-12
Tuesday – Psalm 50: 1-6
Wednesday – Mark 9: 2-9
Thursday – 2 Cor. 4: 3-6
Friday – The emerging message

 

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 5
2 Kings 2: 1-12

Elisha succeeds Elijah, in a demonstration of utter reliance on the Lord and His anointing

1  When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.

2  Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

  • This is not phrased as a command; probably more of a test for Elisha, who responded with a three-times assertion that he wouldn’t leave his master, here, v.4 and v.6.

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

  • Elisha was aware, with the other prophets, that Elijah’s ministry was drawing to an honourable close and the Lord was about to take him. But he was determined to stay with Elijah until that moment – no sense of ambition or entitlement here. Elisha’s commitment to his master is salutary for any of us who have struggled with ambition!

3  The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

  • At this time, Bethel, the location of this event, Jericho (v.5) and Gilgal (v. 1 and 2 Kings 4:38) all hosted companies of prophets and it seems that Elijah’s instruction from the Lord was to visit all three, one last time.

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

4  Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.

5  The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

6  Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.

7  Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan.

  • A large group of witnesses to the miracle that enabled Elijah and Elisha to cross the river.

8  Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

  • Brings to mind Moses crossing the ‘Red Sea’, Exodus 14;16, 21, 26. Elijah uses his rolled up cloak as Moses had used his staff.

Elijah has crossed over to the region where Moses died, Deut 34:1-6.

9  When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

  • Elisha was saying, “Let me be like your firstborn son, spiritually.” He wasn’t asking for a ministry twice as great as his master’s. He was asking in line with inheritance law whereby the eldest son received a double portion of the father’s possessions, Deut. 21:17.

10  “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours – otherwise, it will not.”

  • In 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21 we learn that Elijah had heard from the Lord that he was to anoint Elisha to succeed him. However, he is being careful here to leave that assignment entirely in the Lord’s hands.

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

  • The heavenly host, or army, has always been with Elijah, backing him up. Now he is permitted to see this reality. As we are prayerfully led and prayerfully engaged, things are happening in the heavenly dimension which are unseen by us but not unconnected with what we see unfolding on earth. Having some understanding of this helps us know how to pray – and listen – in testing situations.
  • Moses saw something like this in the overturning of Pharoah’s chariot-led army in the sea, Exodus 15:1-10.

12  Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more.

  • Elisha saw the manifestation of chariots and horsemen around Elijah, as showing that Elijah had the real authority under God for the nation, rather than a king who had turned away from God.

Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two. He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah…

  • Elisha tore his own clothes – often a sign of mourning but here more likely a symbolic leaving behind of his former life. Taking up Elijah’s cloak symbolised his taking up the ministry that Elijah had exercised. 
Application

Elijah is an iconic figure representing the school of prophets generally and he appeared at the transfiguration of Jesus, representing the wisdom of the prophets, together with Moses, representing the wisdom of the Law (Mark 9:4-5 in this week’s Wednesday reading). Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. In the final writing of the Old Testament, Malachi promised that Elijah would be seen again at the coming of the Messiah, the “day of the Lord” to bring a turning of hearts, a preparation of repentance.

Elijah prepared the way for Elisha.
John the Baptist, clearly identifying with Elijah in his lifestyle and message, prepared the way for the Lord.
Elijah may be one of the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3 to come.

The story of the succession of Elisha from Elijah is about the way the Lord calls and anoints people for service – outstanding, memorable, dangerous service in the case of these two. Although associated with eye-watering miracles, they did not exalt themselves, and were unusually reliant on the anointing and leading that they received from the Spirit of the Lord.

For reflection and discussion

How do you work out the partnership between what God has made you uniquely capable of doing, and what He is uniquely able to do?
What might Elisha’s example be teaching us in this?

Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11

Our role in calling into being the original intention of the Creator

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 2
The emerging message + reflections

Proverbs 8:1 and 22-31

Wisdom is described like a personality, and as the first of God’s works, involved in Creation.

1. Wisdom and folly can seem all too similar – and man’s wisdom can all too quickly turn out to be no wisdom at all. How do we recognise and choose God’s wisdom?

Psalm 104:26-37

Praise to God for His provision and His purpose.

2. Are we more inclined to point out how everything is going wrong, or how God is over all the affairs of our world, “renewing the face of the ground”? Which is more like agreeing with Him?

John 1:1-14

Introducing His gospel, John tells us how the Word who was with God before Creation, later chose to become a human being to show us God’s grace and also glory.

3.  What is your understanding and experience, expressed simply, to start to recognise the true light of Jesus (verses 9-10) and to receive Him and be born of God (verses 12-13),  and come into a new identity as a child of God (v.12)?

4.  Do you have a story of this kind of encounter with Jesus that you could share very briefly with another person?

Colossians 1:15-20

A quotation from a hymn of praise to Christ, Lord of creation and redemption.

5.  Knowing Jesus is an exciting discovery but also a call to His purpose, to reconcile to the Father the world that doesn’t know Him, before it’s too late. How do we identify that purpose and respond to that call?

Our role in calling into being the original intention of the Creator

God’s original design and intention, distorted by man’s pride and independence, remains the objective of His reconciliation.

As believers, we have experienced our reconciliation, and it is the source of our joy, whatever is going on around us. We know that God has this purpose, to reconcile all things to Himself so that they return to His good design in Creation.

Jesus, we learn, was involved in Creation, and we have life in Him – and a whole new identity in Him, as children of God. So we are not so powerless after all. The heavenlies, both good and evil, have to listen to our words and songs of praise and truth. The angels join in and the demons hide. The creation spirit at the heart of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is still creating and renewing. Jesus, in whom all things were created and hold together, is now risen and ascended to the place of all authority, seated in the heavenlies. His Spirit has been poured out on His church, and He is the active Head of His body of ‘little Christs’ or Christians, anointed ones.

Our oneness, our praise and worship, our declarations and words of blessing are what God is relying on to bring what is fragmented and disordered, back into His creation order. It’s another facet of the same plan He had at the beginning.

Everything holds together in Jesus

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 1
Colossians 1:15-20

A quotation from a hymn of praise to Christ, Lord of creation and redemption

The first stanza of this poem or hymn proclaims Jesus as the regent of Creation; the second, as the Reconciler of Creation. The Cross is absolutely instrumental in the second, and the Church is where this is seen and experienced and mediated to others.

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

  • “The image of the invisible God” – this further explains the monogenes word of John’s gospel, meaning the only and unique and exactly similar Son of the Father, John 1:14

16 For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him.

  • Jesus is the agent of creation. In another way, He is the objective of creation because everything has been created for Him. He became fully man; He must also be fully God if He is the recipient of creation.

17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

  • Not only does all hold together in Christ Jesus, He was before all things – in other words, He was before creation was. An early departure from truth, the Arian heresy, claimed that Jesus was the first thing created. In fact He was the creator of the first things, as clearly stated here.

18 And He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.

  • “The firstborn” alludes to the rights and privileges of the firstborn son of a monarch who would inherit the sovereignty. In Psalm 89:27 the expression is used by another psalmist of David:”I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”
  • Paul explains elsewhere that the church is the Body of Christ, 1 Cor. 12:27. Here he states that Christ is the Head of that Body. We are not just a body of believers in Christ, but His Body submitted to Him and closely identified with Him in the way He modelled for us.

For further study, see Eph. 1:22-23, Eph. 5:25, 1 Cor. 12:20-30

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him…

  • Jesus not only shows God’s glory but more than that, all that God is is also in Him – the Spirit of God, His wisdom, His glory – and His power. The fullness of God in Jesus is saying that Jesus is fully God, Col. 2:9.
  • Christians have themselves come to fullness, Col. 2:10, but having gained a new identity in the One who is over all things. Thrones, powers, rulers and authorities, whether in the heavenlies, good or evil, or in the hierarchy of power on earth must defer to Jesus. As we willingly defer to Him, we gain a confidence not of ourselves, but in Him.

20 …and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.

  • Jesus reconciles all things to Himself as the Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9:6 – reconciliation for believers as His friends and therefore friends of the Father, but a rather different reconciliation to Himself of those elements that are rebellious also. His reign of peace is anchored in the blood of His Cross – that is what it is about, our willing acceptance of what He has done, or our resistance or mocking of what He has done.

Application

When we start to really ‘get’ who Jesus is, and who we are in Him, a lot of things, including the nature and purpose of His church come into focus.

He is the head of His body, the church so that He might have supremacy, show what God is like and reconcile to Himself what doesn’t like, what God is like. Which is where we come in.

This church is not struggling, and neither are we. There is a confidence, as well as a fullness, of being His, and being part of His purpose. There’s an awakening to this He wants to bring about, because He needs us, in a different but real way to our needing Him.

For reflection or discussion

Knowing Jesus is an exciting discovery but also a call to His purpose, to reconcile to the Father the world that doesn’t know Him, before it’s too late. How do we identify that purpose and respond to that call?