Archives for March 2018

The new, enduring and entirely different level of priesthood now held by Christ Jesus

THURSDAY, MARCH 15
Hebrews 5:5-10

The sinless and perfected humanity of Jesus, and His victory over the severest of tests, make Him the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him

The opening chapters of Hebrews, Hebrews 1-Hebrews 3:2, gives the Jewish readers the letter was written for, a background of who Jesus is – “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”, Heb. 1:3. Christ who was “made a little lower than the angels”, is “now crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death”, Heb. 1:9, and “much superior to the angels”, Heb. 1:4. He is also the “Apostle and High Priest… faithful to the One who appointed Him”, Hebrews 3:1-2. He is the One God sent (apostle) to become the ultimate mediator and source of salvation, high priest, of a different and very special kind.

5  In the same way, Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,

“You are my Son; today I have become your Father”, Psalm 2:7.

5  In New Testament times the high priestly office was in the control of the family that had bought the rights.
6  And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek,” Psalm 110:4. 6  Christ was appointed by God – as was Aaron. This is a similarity, but now we see that this is a different kind of priesthood. They made sacrifices for sins on behalf of the people, and dealt gently with the waywardness of the people, but this was not permanent. Aaron and his successors had to make sin offerings for their own sin, as well as the people’s. They had their time of office, and were replaced.
7  During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. 7  Unlike Aaron, Jesus made a permanent sacrifice for sin as a sinless person. Unlike Aaron, He learned obedience through suffering, v.8, and offered up prayers and petitions which are heard because of His reverent submission, v.7. Salvation through His priesthood is not here-and-now (until the next sacrifice) but eternal, all-encompassing and without limit.
8  Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered… 8  Not that He was ever disobedient. But being called upon to obey in such a test, facing such temptations, engaging in such a difficult battle for victory, Christ was “made perfect”. His victory overturns Adam’s failure and the consequent curse affecting humanity.
9  …and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him… His humanity completed (another way of expressing “made perfect”), He now acts as “the source of eternal salvation”, see Hebrews 9:12.
10  …and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. 10 Melchizedek had no successors, so strictly speaking there was no order named after him. “A high priest of the same kind as Melchizedek” is better and also conveys the sense that this kind of priesthood is on another level entirely.
Application

The high priest role of Jesus may not be the easiest one for us to relate to – but we reflect on it every time we pray a prayer “in the name of Jesus”. We are asking the resurrected Jesus in His heavenly position to pick up our prayer, to agree with it and then pray it before the Father on our behalf.

Knowing that Jesus, “the radiance of God’s glory”, is by the Father’s side interceding for us, Romans 8:34 gives us a lot of confidence in intercession prayer. But we know that prayer in the face of the one who steals, kills and destroys, John 10:10, is a battle. It is something of a courtroom standoff of legal arguments against a merciless prosecutor, in which God’s word is used to establish precedents. If we know that the high priest role of Jesus is an appointment by God of one tested and found perfected and sinless, even through the most severe trials, and now designated to be the source of eternal salvation for those who follow Him – we are giving our brief to the ultimate Kings Counsel, a barrister of the very highest standing and impeccable reputation.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How has this changed your perspective on what happens in the heavenlies when we pray with requests for ourselves or others?

Jesus speaks of His impending death, and God’s audible voice is heard

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14
John 12:20-33

As the ‘prince of this world’ hears the announcement of his judgment, Jesus foretells that His death will draw all kinds of people to Him

20  Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.

20  “Greeks” – God-fearing Gentiles from a Greek-speaking area such as the ten towns of Galilee , or Greek-speaking converts to Judaism.

21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 21  Or rather, converse with Jesus. Perhaps they knew Philip, who had a Greek name.
22  Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23  Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 23  Jesus had often said that His hour had not yet come. Now it had. Now, what must happen, is about to happen. Jesus’ death, and then His resurrection, were supreme demonstrations of the glory of His actions and the glory of who He was and is.
24  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 24  Jesus’ death results in an abundant harvest, 1 Cor. 15:36-38. The Greeks coming with Philip gave Jesus a picture of the harvest to come which would be a harvest of Gentiles as well as Jews.
25  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 25  “Anyone who loves… who hates their life” – this is an exaggeration for effect, a common Jewish figure of speech

25  The first word for “life” is more usually translated ‘soul’ and has the meaning of individual personality and achievement. The second is usually coupled with “eternal” as ‘eternal life’ or spiritual vitality in God’s presence.

26  Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves Me. 26  Jesus is reflecting on, if not exactly quoting, God’s words spoken to Eli: “Those who honour Me I will honour, but those who despise Me will be disdained” (1 Samuel 2:30)
27  “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 27  We are more familiar with Jesus’ anguish at Gethsemane which the narrative gospels relate, Matt 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:40-46. John shows us that Jesus had already shared His struggle with what his destiny demanded from Him at this earlier time.

28  Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

28  This was the third time that God’s voice was heard audibly in connection with Jesus, each time affirming the authority of Jesus as His Son. People heard a booming sound but John is quite certain that this was God speaking, as he records.

For further study, see accounts of God speaking at Jesus’ baptism, Matt 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:21-22; and at the Transfiguration, Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35.

29  The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to Him.

30  Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.

 30  Another Jewish idiom of exaggeration, like v.25, meaning that it would be more enduringly for the disciples’ benefit as they struggled to make sense of the crucifixion and the events surrounding it.

31  Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.

31  Every revelation of Jesus is by its nature a judgment on those who deny who Jesus is, and a judgment on the devil’s attempts to influence the world and individuals. “The world” in John is often used as a shorthand for religious leaders antagonistic to Jesus.

31  Another aspect of the judgment on this world was what was becoming evident to people at this time (not the final judgment). The revelation of who Jesus is always compels a response, to honour Him or not, with consequences either way (v.26).

31  There are a three references to the ‘prince of this world’ in John’s gospel, John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; other descriptions in John are the devil (diabolos), Satan (satanas from Hebrew satan, adversary or accuser) and the evil one (ho poneros), John 8:44, 13:2, 13:27, 17:15. 

32  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”

He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.

32  John uses elkyo, draw or pull, in the sense of drawing people to Him, 6:44; 12:32;  and drawing in the net with the fish, John 21:6, 11.

32  Jesus’ death on the Cross would draw “all people” to Him. Clearly not all would believe. Of those, not all would trust Him and honour Him as their Lord. The sense is drawing all kinds of people, which he had spoken of before.

Application

The context in which John is writing is another world entirely to our sense of multicultural enrichment. Jesus taught, John 10:16,  about having other sheep “not of this sheep pen” who would be called to become one flock under one shepherd. However, Jesus drawing people to Him who were not like Him, like the Greek speakers, was a challenge for John and his readers to follow.

The greater the distance from Jerusalem, the more the culture was Greek-speaking and less distinctly Jewish. Jews routinely despised those who they thought were not like themselves – the tax collector at prayer, Matt. 18:10. Nevertheless, “to be a light to lighten the Gentiles” was always part of Israel’s mission, just as the Christian church exists for all those who are not part of it. In this passage John recounts Jesus teaching about living beyond ourselves and holding His own life lightly, in the hearing of Greek-speaking non-Jews.

Living for our own achievement is to lose the true meaning of life, which is to live beyond ourselves in the promise of eternal fellowship with God. Just as agape love is not self-seeking but has a sacrificial quality, so true life is able to die to its own ends, to produce an abundance beyond itself.

The prince of this world presides wherever the reign of selfishness and man’s opinion are valued more than  the reign of Christ. Jesus is a confrontation to this worldview – and every revelation of Jesus, such as the audible voice of God, and every glorification of Jesus, on the cross or resurrected and on a heavenly throne, is a judgment on the world and its ‘prince’.

The Cross and Resurrection spell the driving out of the usurper of Jesus’ rule and reign. So the work is done? In one sense, but its all-important enforcement is a task which is now delegated to the continuing Body of Christ. We dare not renege on our responsibility by staying resolutely in our comfort zones.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How free are you, or is your church, to reach out to those who are not like the regular congregation? What would help?

David recognises that his injury of others is essentially a sin against God

TUESDAY, MARCH 13
Psalm 51:1-13

David recognises that his selfishness and independence is inherited from mankind’s fallenness; only God’s unfailing love could give him a new heart

1  Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 1  When sin damages fellowship with the Lord of the covenant, there is a pressing need for mercy and forgiveness. The sinner has no right to His blessings; there is, however, the promise to forgive which is used here like a precedent quoted in a court hearing. The appeal is on the basis of God’s stated “great compassion” and “unfailing love”.
2  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 2  “Wash away”  or more literally, “wash me thoroughly” is an expression used of foul garments needing repeated laundry treatment – which goes with the “blot out” image of sin’s persistent stain.
3  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 3  “My transgressions” — or rebellion (NLT).
4  Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when You judge. 4  This is more than introspection and regret (v.3) for constructive murder, and adultery. The psalmist recognises that his real sin is against the Lord, as revealed by the prophet Nathan, 2 Samuel 12:13, Luke 15:18 – and by breaking specific covenant commandments, Exodus 20:13-14, 17 
5  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 5  This verse supports our understanding of original sin and mankind’s depravity. Adam’s sin was passed down from generation to generation and inherited at birth.
6  Yet You desired faithfulness even in the womb; You taught me wisdom in that secret place. 6  God is just, while humankind is tainted by corruption, such that acknowledging sin – which is what God wants from us – cannot happen without revelation, “wisdom from on high”. God’s desire is for His good design to be realised even in the secret place, or womb (the words are parallel).
7  Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 7  A leper was cleansed by a bunch of hyssop (or marjoram), its hairy leaves being suitable for dipping in the sacrificial blood and applying or sprinkling the blood, seven times, Lev. 14:6. After that the pronouncement was made: “And he shall be clean”.
8  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 8  For the psalmist, to talk of bones being crushed was an expression of deep, penetrating torment, e.g. Psalm 6:2, 22:14 etc

9  Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

10  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

10  David is saying that his heart has so turned to sin that he needs a new heart to be created.
11  Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.  11  David had seen how the Holy Spirit had left Saul. He recognises the enabling of the Spirit, and how he needs this more than ever.
12  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  12  He knows that God wants true repentance from the inside out. External observances won’t satisfy and cannot sustain right living.
13  Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, so that sinners will turn back to You.  13  At first sight, this is surprising – that David, caught up in such serious sin, should seek to teach others. However, the context is that, as king, David had spiritual responsibilities. He was prepared to teach the nation from his failings.
Application

David was an outstanding king of Israel, a military strategist, a musician and songwriter with a profound sense of God’s presence in worship and prophetic insight – and the perpetrator of some colossal mistakes, alluded to in this psalm.

Why is that helpful to us? Because we can make some pretty bad calls and find ourselves heading down the wrong path. But David knew God. He knew God was for him, and God’s love is unfailing, and His compassion of a different order, to anything we could imagine.

David teaches us not to make excuses, not to bother justifying ourselves, but to recognise that like all humankind we are flawed. We can come back to God’s mercy, but the path is one that gets us stooping down low. We need to pleased the cleansing of the Blood, and to ask the Holy Spirit to do a work of renewal in us – in this Psalm 1 reads as quite contemporary.

Why do we find contrition and humility so difficult? It’s the same reason that gets us into the mire in the first place. There are places in Scripture where the answer is more explicit, but these verses are rich in clues.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How do you respond to the suggestion that, like King David, you were sinful at birth, or even before (v.5)?

The New Covenant for a new era

Readings in the church calendar for March 18 (Lent 5)

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 51:1-13

John 12:20-33

Hebrews 5:5-10

Jeremiah foresees a covenant of heart rather than statute

MONDAY, MARCH 12
Jeremiah 31:31-34

The law, so inflexible and easily broken, will now become a spiritual motivation to live a godly and righteous life

31  “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.

31  “The days are coming” – looking ahead to the coming of the Messiah, a new era.

31  This is the only explicit reference to the New Covenant in the Old Testament.

32  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

32  The Sinai covenant, unlike the early covenants with Noah and Abraham, were conditional. It was like a marriage, with the expectation that the Israelites would be a faithful partner to God, the husband, provider and protector.

32  It was a covenant that could be broken – and they broke it continually. That the Old Covenant would one day end in failure and exile was revealed to Moses and foretold in Deuteronomy 30:4-6.

For further study, see Deuteronomy 28-30 and read Deuteronomy 30 alongside this passage.

32  “Not like the covenant I made with their ancestors…” Jeremiah is foreseeing a new age characterised by divine grace and the covenant made with Moses is too inflexible for this new relationship to come.

33  “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.

“I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.

33  As had been foretold in the time of Moses, a way of changing hearts to know and want to follow God’s ways, would be needed. Only the Holy Spirit of God received into the heart, could make this fundamental, regenerative change.

34  No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest,”declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

34  One of Jeremiah’s memorable sayings is that the heart is deceitful and beyond cure, Jer. 17:9. Only a change from a law written externally on stone tablets, to being ‘written’ internally on hearts as an internal covenant and a principle of life, Romans 8:1-4, would be effective.

The new covenant would also amount to the gift of a new heart, Ezekiel 36:25-27.

Application

The Old Covenant was a way of living expressed in charter form which would keep tribespeople, relatively ignorant of God’s ways and God’s word, on the right track with the help of the priests. When they went off the track, a system of penalties provided a way to get right with God.

All the time there was good leadership, submitted to God, and a disciplined priesthood, this worked. But the inflexible system had limitations. It did not adequately represent God’s grace and the Israelites and their expectations were evolving. The intention was that the tribes would be separated to God and guard their own values and culture from pagan (and horrible) influences around them. At the same time, they were to be a witness of the true God to those around them.

At the end of a long prophetic ministry and reflecting on the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah heard from God and saw in the Spirit an entirely new kind of covenant, a covenant of the heart and spirit rather than a covenant of precepts to be learned. This foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God, who fulfilled the law and the priesthood in becoming a sacrifice for all time by dying on a cross while remaining sinless.

What does this immediately mean for us? Unearned redemption by God’s grace in Jesus Christ changes everything – “The old has gone, the new has come”, 2 Cor. 5:17. So either we are hanging on to an outdated system, trying to live the best life we can and perform the necessary religious requirements to please God – or we take hold of the truth that God loves us, is for us, and has given us His Holy Spirit to be our guide and enabler in holy living.

Trying to do both doesn’t work. We can’t be set free from the law – it is for freedom that Christ has set us free – and still look to live by a framework. That is saying we are free but living all bound up. Jeremiah would say, make your mind up – but the New Covenant doesn’t break and is much better. And Paul would say to us, “The old has gone…”

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How much are we still constrained  by old covenant thinking? Why is that?

The human heart takes us away from God, His grace brings us back

FRIDAY, MARCH 9
The emerging message

Raising our faith viewpoints reveals the grace God had for us in every situation

These passages describe four common ‘heart conditions’ or attitudes of the heart that are not acceptable to the Lord. They are also explicit about His grace and mercy in such situations which always provides a way back to Him.

Perhaps it is not surprising the Israelites in the desert, short of food and water, should start to grumble. We are inclined to do it if the traffic is bad and this was life-threatening. But when grumbling turns to speaking against the leader, or the Lord, there were going to be bad consequences, and a plague of carpet vipers appeared.

The psalm reading highlights rebellious ways as a second heart attitude to be addressed, and talks about affliction and wasting disease that results from it.

The gospel reading includes one of the best-known verses in John 3 and the heart issue is unbelief. In a multi-cultural, diverse and tolerant society it does not sit well with us to hear that whoever does not believe, stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Then Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, paints a picture of extreme contrast between living selfishly according to the old nature, and the grace of God which saves us and gives us a new identity as those in Christ and with a passport issued in heaven.

It is apparent how God’s faithful love is prominent in all of this, as though waiting for hearts that show signs of changing, if not exactly changed. The keys are repentant prayer and belief in Christ Jesus. The lessons are how we raise our viewpoint – looking up to an image is a symbol of looking up spiritually to gain heaven’s perspective. The first recorded words of Jesus following baptism and the desert testing were the proclamation of the kingdom with the words “repent and believe”.

The selfish nature, or flesh nature, which is our inheritance from Adam, the prototype of humanness, is part of us we have to keep putting to death, because it keeps on kicking. So we should be as ready to repent as we are to take a shower, and for similar reasons. Repentance always opens the way for us to repair or deepen our relationship with God, to hear. Apart from our pride, what is there to hold us back from getting closer to God and raising our perspective to align with His?

The difference between being in transgressions and being in Christ

THURSDAY, MARCH 8
Ephesians 2:1-10

How God sees us in Christ Jesus, seated with Him in the heavenly realms

The context of this passage is God’s kingdom purpose that is being revealed (the mystery of His will) to bring everything together under Christ’s lordship, Eph. 1:9-10. This “unity of all things” happens through the surrender of will and receiving of grace, by individuals.

1  As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…

1  “Trespasses” are lapses, “sins” are shortcomings.

1  “Dead” is without authentic spiritual life, where the most vital, spirit part of the human personality is not operating. In this state we can’t of ourselves meet God’s requirements, or engineer a way of having fellowship with Him.

1  The Jews are no better off – all inherit the sinful human nature and start off in independence and disobedience.

2  in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 2  Before God’s intervention, everyone who is born is physically alive but spiritually dead and alienated from God the life-giver. There is a contrast of opposites “between being in transgressions and sins” and being “in Christ”, Eph. 2:5-7 below.
3  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 3  “All of us” – Paul, as a Jew, doesn’t exclude himself. Possessing the law is no protection from the desires and thoughts of the flesh. We all like to seek a religious framework in which we avert judgment by doing ‘good’ things – it’s the way we are wired. Once we submit to Jesus Christ as Lord as well as Saviour, a transformation takes place and we see things with new understanding, vv. 4-5 below.

3  As in the great treatise explaining salvation by Christ, Romans chapter 1 through 8, the apostle does not turn to the grace of God, verses 4-8, until he has made very clear humanity’s inherently sinful nature and desperate need of a way out. See also Colossians 1:21-22.

4  But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy… 4  “But” points to God, in His perfection, having wrath for man’s misdeeds and unholiness. Only God, in His perfection, can hold together this righteous wrath with “great love” and being “rich in mercy”. Only God can reconcile our independence and transgression, with His desire for us. The Gospel is all about reconciliation, led by God Himself.

5  …made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

6  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…

5-6  The “As for you… but because” long sentence resolves here, a linguistic emphasis. The “blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly place” statement of the introduction to the letter, Eph. 1:3 not moves from general to three particular things God has done “in Christ” for every believer:

– From spiritually dead to new life in Christ

– Salvation, the unearned gift of God’s grace

– A citizenship of heaven, backed by heavenly authority, positionally “raised up… and seated… with [Christ]”.

The choice to accept this, remember this, live in this, is ours alone.

For further study: the ‘look higher, live higher’ exhortation is also expressed in Colossians 3:1-3.

7  …in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 7  “Might show” – endyknymai means ‘display’ or ‘demonstrate’, Amplified, or ‘point to us as examples’, NLT. The church is God’s exhibition to the world of His grace and love, and also His kingdom purpose, planned from long ago to be relevant long ahead.

8  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God –

9  not by works, so that no one can boast.

8-9  Paul emphasises greatly (as he does elsewhere) that we owe our salvation entirely to the undeserved, unearned favour of God. It is His doing; the only part mankind plays is in the words “by faith” i.e. believing, trusting and receiving what God has done in Jesus. It is this in very small part that we find such great resistance of the flesh. The human nature always looks for something that has the feeling of action and reward. The great danger of an elaborate religious framework is that it supports and even feeds this desire for ‘works’ and provides what seems to be an alternative to responding to God’s love in faith.

For further study: 1-3 “all have sinned” and suffer sin’s consequences, Romans 3:22-23. 8-10  Salvation can never be achieved through works, Rom. 3:20, 28; 4:1–5; Gal. 2:16; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5. 

10  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Christians prove their faith by the fruit of their lives in good character, nature, and in doing good – never the other way round. Paul emphasises this so much, because it is such a widely held fallacy that our good deeds give us credit on heaven. The only credit acceptable is on Jesus Christ’s account, not ours.

For further study, James 2:14-26.

Application

These few verses are some of the richest we can find, in terms of explaining the grace of God and how it works out in our lives. This is God’s initiative in reconciliation, a concept so simple and at the same time so profound, that we find it hard to grasp. And perhaps it is not possible to grasp, without allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us at a deep level, to break down the pride and resistance in us, and bring us to the point of gratefully looking up, to raise our faith to be enabled to live higher, the theme of all these Bible readings.

Of course, this mind-blowing explanation of how God has treated us, has huge implications for the way we set out to treat others.

The actions and attitudes of others deserve our wrath, just as we deserve God’s wrath.  How does He see us? His handiwork, being shaped and polished. How does He treat us? Gently, as His handiwork requires. Do we see others as God’s handiwork? And how do we treat them, when they cut in on us, or worse? Living by the truth is challenging, but the alternative is living by falsehood, and it’s a hard act to sustain.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

4  Think for a moment about your relationship with God, your stance against the schemes and deceptions of Satan, and your relationships of all kinds with other people. What practical difference does it make to be in Christ Jesus and seated with Him in the heavenly realms?

Jesus refers to the lifting up of the bronze snake in the wilderness

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7
John 3:14-21

God’s love rests on us the moment we turn to Jesus as God’s only Son and believing, receive Him into our hearts

14  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,

15  that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.”

14  Jesus refers to Numbers 21:8-9 and sees this action by Moses as a precursor or foreshadowing of His own call to self-sacrifice.

14-15  This is the first of three “lifted up” sayings of Jesus with a double meaning. The others are John 8:28, John 12:32. Hearers would probably recognise the language that Isaiah used, Isa. 52:13.

16  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

One of the best known and most quoted verses in the Bible, which may be Jesus’ words or John’s commentary on Jesus’ words. There is no equivalent of quotation marks in NT Greek, so we can’t be sure. But Scripture is Scripture.

“One and only Son” – also John 1:14, 1:18. The word is monogenēs which means the only one of its kind. In the Old Latin translation, monogenēs was translated unicus, the root of our word unique. The essential nature of Jesus as one and only Son, is the same nature as the Father’s

17  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 17  “For God did not send…”  John designates Jesus as ‘the Son sent by the Father’ a number of times, which is the image of the shaliach, messenger or envoy, who is like the sender and able to represent exactly the sender’s interests with the sender’s message.

For further study see John 3:34-36; John 5:19-26; John 6:40; John 8:35-36; John 14:13; John 17:1

18  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

18  John is speaking of settled convictions, not feelings of confidence or doubt which come and go. The “how to” of coming to that settled conviction has already been explained in John 3:5-9 in which Jesus explains to the well-read Pharisee Nicodemus that to perceive the kingdom of God one must have a new start and be born again of the Holy Spirit, and so gain eternal life in the One to be “lifted up” like the bronze snake lifted up by Moses in the wilderness. As God miraculously granted physical life to the dying through the bronze snake, Numbers 21:4-9, so God miraculously gives spiritual and eternal life through Jesus. Unlike the snake, Jesus has life in Himself, John 1:4, John 5:26.

18-21  Two groups of people are starkly contrasted:

Believe in the Son Do not believe in the Son
Have eternal life Shall perish
Are not condemned Are condemned already
Love light Love darkness; hate the light
Live by the truth  Do evil

19  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

20  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

21  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Application

In this excerpt, we come in halfway, to a conversation between Nicodemus, a well-read and thinking man and Jesus. Jesus explains to him that seeing the kingdom of God is a spiritual perception enabled by the Holy Spirit. Entering into the kingdom of God is a spiritual renewal – a spiritual birth experience. This comes through recognising who Jesus is, a raising of perspective and diminishing of self which allows the Holy Spirit to connect with the human spirit.

We so easily slip back into seeing things from a worldly perspective (where Nicodemus started). The challenge is to be ready to move position, to change perspective, to see what is illuminated by the light.

In our politically-correct world where relativism reigns and absolutes are scorned, everyone wants to uphold their own path to their own ‘truth’. That clashes head-on with this stark black and white scenario, where we either do believe in the Son and have eternal life, or we do not believe and we perish. Stark or not, that’s what the Bible says. There is no assurance in anything else – or anyone else, but Jesus.

To stand with Jesus as one of His, is to see with His perspective. To look up at Jesus on the Cross or in our mind’s eye, in the heavenlies, is to recognise the severe limits of our own perspective and gain a higher one – with eternal benefits.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

3  “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned…” What do you believe about this, and how would you explain it to an enquirer in ordinary language?

A reminder that God is a merciful and well-intentioned provider, but there are consequences for rejecting Him

TUESDAY, MARCH 6
Psalm 107:1-9, 17-22

Desert experiences come to us all; even if we have brought them on ourselves, God is merciful to respond to our cry for help.

1  Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. 1  A call-to-worship refrain that is often repeated in Psalms. It is a simple but spiritually powerful declaration of praise for God’s character of unconditional love and goodness – and thanks for His goodness received by us in many ways.

1  God is good! This most fundamental characteristic of God’s nature is essential to praise. It is a persistent lie of the devil to plant the thought that God is harsh and unfair. The praise of God’s goodness (regardless of feelings or circumstances) breaks the hold of this faith-sapping lie.

For further study, see Psalms 106:1; 118:1,29; 136:1; Jer. 33:11.

1  “His love” – the English word is too weak and too general. Better, His “mercy and lovingkindness” (Amp), “faithful love” (NLT). The Hebrew word is hesēd which is used for God’s love in connection with His covenant – hence unconditional love. The NT equivalent word is agape.

2  Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – those He redeemed from the hand of the foe,

3  those He gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.

2-3  If this psalm was written by a Levite after the return from exile, “the lands” are the places of exile under the Assyrian and Babylonian dispersions.
4  Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. 4  The first of four crises in this psalm (two in this excerpt) – the wilderness wandering, vv. 4-9; bondage as prisoners, vv.10-16 (not included in this lectionary excerpt); suffering as a consequence of sin, vv. 17-22; and distress at sea, vv.23-32 (not included).

4  There is no specific reference to Numbers 21 (this week’s OT reading), but this reference to desert wandering does read like a reflection on that situation.

4  “City where they could settle” (and v.7) – literally “city of habitation” where people live in the security of a steady supply of food and water.

5  They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. 5  A presenting problem of the wilderness experience, Exodus 15:22, 16:3.
6  Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.

6  “Cried out to the Lord” – exactly the right response when trouble threatens. Also verses 13 and 19 (and v.28, not included).

6  Israel’s history had episodes of rebellion (focus of Psalm 106), of crying out to the Lord in distress, as here in Ps. 107, and of God’s deliverance (focus of Ps. 105).

7  He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. 7  “Straight way” – has the sense of level, free from obstacles. Israel’s return from exile is sometimes portrayed as a kind of second exodus, Isaiah 11:16, Isaiah 40:3.

8  Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind…

8  “Unfailing love” – hesēd, see note to v.1.
9  …for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. 9  The crisis of vv. 4-5 reversed. The original hearers would have no difficulty in seeing the allusion to God’s provision of water and food in the desert, Exodus 15:25, 16:13-35.
17  Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.  17  Statement of cause and effect, reinforcing vv. 10-16 (omitted in lectionary) which describes how harsh labour in foreign bondage broke the spirit of those who had rebelled against God’s decrees and suffered deportation.

17  “Fools” always goes together with sin in Psalms.

For further study, see Psalm 38:5, 69:5, Proverbs 1:7.

18  They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. 18  This implies that God can allow wasting disease because of the foolishness of ‘rebellious ways”, v.17, with the intention of provoking a repentant response, v.19, leading to saving and healing, vv.19-20.
 19  Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress.

20  He sent out His word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave.

19-20 “Sent out His word” – word is personified, as in the more familiar John 1:1, 1:14. Words which are God’s words declared (spoken out) in faith have greater impact than we may imagine. See also Ezekiel 37:4.
21  Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind.  21  “Unfailing love” – one word again, hesēd, as v.1 and v.8. Note that this unfailing love is God’s love and grace expressed towards rebellious fools who are, however, still covered by the covenant. God’s grace is expressed in the OT but is less explicit– it is there to be found if we look for it.
22  Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of His works with songs of joy.


Application

This song speaks of God’s goodness and love which is “unfailing” even when we have clearly failed in our attitude Him.

The key in this psalm is in the phrase “then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble” which is repeated for emphasis.

Why is this important? When we have gone away from the Lord in some way, deliberately or otherwise, we find ways to justify ourselves rather than “crying out to the Lord”. We will fail to hear or reject the “word sent out” which heals (v.20) until we make the shift.

The phrase “cried out… in their trouble” conveys an attitude of heart which, quite simply, recognises being in trouble. Just as it’s pride that gets us into trouble, the humility that recognises that we need the Lord’s help is what gets his attention. And He meets us where we are with “unfailing love”

For reflection or as a discussion starter

2  “They wandered… in desert wastelands.” We all experience ‘desert times’. Why does God allow these? How does He use these times?

“Repent and believe” is always the way to reconnect with God’s heart.

TLW10 March 11 Lent 4

Readings this week from the calendar for Sunday, March 11 (Lent 4)

Numbers 21:4-9

Psalm 107:1-9, 17-22

John 3:14-21

Ephesians 2:1-10

MONDAY, MARCH 5
Numbers 21:4-9

Venomous snakes attack the Israelites and the Lord tells Moses to fashion a copper snake image and elevate it on a pole

4  They travelled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;

4  “To go around Edom” – because Edom had refused to let them pass by, and threatened the Israelites with a large army, Numbers 20:14-21

4  “Impatient on the way” – there had been quarrelling (the place was therefore named Meribah) over the apparent lack of water, which caused Moses to make an unholy outburst and God to be angry, Numbers 20:2-3, 1-12

5  …they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

5  They had experienced miraculous deliverances. They seemed to have forgotten pledging dependence on the Lord, before going out to meet the king of Arad’s threat and defeating Arad in a ‘holy war’ engagement at Hormah.

5  “Miserable” food – the word is unique and probably derived from quillel, to despise. It was not a good attitude before the Lord who had provided them with manna day after day.

6  Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 6  “Venomous” – fiery (burning) serpents, Amplified Bible. Probably the carpet viper. The bites were inflamed and deaths painful.
7  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

7  “The people said… we sinned…” – they recognised where they had gone wrong. The Lord will sometimes let a situation get worse, to bring realisation.

7  “Moses prayed” – and the answer was unusual. Are we alert for unusual answers, unexpected directions, from prayer requests?

8  The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”

9  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

8-9  “Bronze” – or copper. The archaeologist Professor Rothenberg discovered a small copper snake Egyptian temple at Timnah, near Eilat, in the same general area, a little later in date. It could have been copied from hearing the story of this deliverance. The symbolism in sacrifice draws on opposites – animals are killed so men may live; blood which pollutes when spilled can be used to sanctify; the ashes of a dead heifer cleanse from the impurity caused by proximity with death. A red snake, like the red inflammation, delivers from the snake bite.

8-9  God would spare the lives of those who were unhesitating in obeying, John 3:14-15

8-9  John Wesley noted: “The pole resembled the cross upon which Christ was lifted up for our salvation: and looking up to it designed our believing in Christ.” In making sacrifice, there had to be contact e.g. laying a hand upon the animal, for it to be effective. Here the ‘contact’ is choosing to look up and gaze at the snake image, and so raise faith for God’s provision.

Application

A discontented, unbelieving or resentful heart never plays out well in the Lord’s order. It is sin!

In this event, linked to the difficulty over finding water in the previous chapter, resentment is being expressed against Moses, as the Lord’s appointed servant and leader, and against the Lord Himself.

Thankfully a lot more grace surrounds us, as those in Christ, but the principle remains clear. Keep a clean, pure heart towards the Lord. In life there is friction and we have to be quick to forgive without condition (not waiting for an apology); we do this largely for our own benefit. The other person may never know, but we have done what is right before heaven, and we are then free.

Here’s a bit more of challenge that comes out of this story. When the twists and turns of life are difficult for us – the unexpected loss of a loved one, a setback or an injustice – we call out to God and ask “Why?”  That’s the right starting point but not the right finishing point. Although God never does anything wrong, it can seem wrong to us, and that’s when resentment can creep in. So as well as forgiving others, we sometimes have to take the bold step of choosing to  ‘forgive’ God for allowing the pain.

Also in this desert scene of dissatisfaction and angering the Lord, we see why things sometimes have to go on getting worse when we are praying just the opposite. We are good at justifying ourselves, and remarkably poor at times at seeing our own faults; sometimes the struggle has to intensify until we all ‘get it’. What does the Lord want? For us all to recognise where we have headed off independently, and to turn to look at Him again. The serpent on the pole, and also the Cross.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

1  How does God get your attention when you’re not listening and going your own way?

The emerging message: Five unusual facets of Jesus’ lordship

FRIDAY, MARCH 23
The emerging message

Isaiah 50:5-9a

Isaiah speaks of a servant who listens to the Lord devotedly and takes a beating from others

A picture of a true disciple’s false accusation, punishment – and assurance of the Lord’s vindication

Psalm 31:9-18

Confidence in God’s unfailing love at a time of desperation

David knew God’s faithfulness when he was under attack – prophetic of Jesus’ time of torment also

Psalm 118:1-2 and 19-29

The song that pilgrims in festal procession sang came to life in a new way at Jesus’ entry into the city

The person whose name had the meaning “You have become my salvation” was to become the “stone that the builders rejected”  in the words of this processional

Mark 11:1-11

Two disciples are sent to find the young donkey the Lord has provided for the fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy

Jesus enters the city to shouts of acclaim from a gathering crowd who offer Him royal homage

Philippians 2:5-11

Paul challenges Christians reading the letter with the standard of humility and obedience shown by Christ

Jesus made Himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant – but without losing His divine origins as part of the Trinity

Five facets of Jesus’ lordship

The Sunday where Jesus’ triumphant entry to shouts of Hosanna! and a path of palm branches is a reminder of a royal procession unlike any we have seen.

Jesus, who we know as King of kings and Lord of lords, is revealed in a prophetic picture in Isaiah 50 as a servant, obedient to the point of being willing to take abuse, in the confidence of eventual vindication

The psalms show us another prophetic insight, the Lord held even through desperate circumstances by knowing God intimately, and His unfailing love. This for us is what film-makers would call a prequel and theologians a foreshadow of what was to come. Man’s cruelty and God’s love were juxtaposed in sharp relief in prophetic destiny, set out in Psalm 118, where rejection by man, always known by God, becomes His glory.

Next we see Jesus fulfilling a prophecy, entering the city as a king who appears as a peacemaker on an unkingly mount, a donkey.

Looking back at the Cross, Paul gives us a fifth facet by explaining how Jesus, Son of God, could let go of His divine rank to take on the nature of a servant for His time on earth – and let this become the route to true glory.

Paul doesn’t say how much more we need to let go of self and let God use us without our glory. The point is already strongly made. However, the church, facing into an unbelieving world, has not made this its manifesto. Millions will own having faith but have been hurt by a church that at times is a caricature of Jesus’ values.