Archives for April 2018

We change: to come into agreement with God’s higher thoughts and ways

Church calendar readings for Sunday, May 6

Isaiah 55:1-11Let us change before God and seek His higher ways

Psalm 98Praise God for His changes brought through salvation

John 15:9-17Jesus’ way changes the world as we abide in His love and joy

Acts 10:44-48Our challenge is to change how we regard people not like us

1 John 5:1-6As changed people, we are empowered to live unselfishly


MONDAY, APRIL 30
Isaiah 55:1-11

A call to come and turn to the Lord and know His love

1  “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

“Come…” – Who is speaking? The voice of wisdom personified speaks in a similar vein in Proverbs 9:1-6.

“Buy… without cost” – Reflecting on Isaiah’s earlier description of the Servant who has paid the price, Isaiah 52:13-53:12.

2  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.

“Listen, listen…” – Literally ‘listen listeningly’ which explains the “rich fare” metaphor. Those who are discerning in what they hear will be feeding on what is truly good.

 Give ear and come to Me; listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you, My faithful love promised to David.

“My faithful love promised to David” – David was a faithful and wholehearted worshipper who witnessed God’s truth over his extensive kingdom. In this, he anticipated God’s Messiah. The blessings promised to David are quoted by Paul, Acts 13:34,  in the context of the Resurrection.

4  See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.

5  Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for He has endowed you with splendour.”

“A witness to the peoples” – This passage brings together Isaiah’s depiction of the Royal Messiah (chapters 1-37) and the Servant Messiah (chapters 38-55) who is clearly shown to be the Lord’s witness, Isaiah 42:1–4, 49:2–3.

6  Seek the Lord while He may be found;
call on Him while He is near.

7  Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for He will freely pardon.

“Seek” – in this context, to come confidently and find. “Forsake” and “turn” are the two dimensions of true repentance, 1 Thessalonians 1:9.

8  “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.

9  “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.

“My ways are higher” – These verses are widely applicable, and they inform our prayer relationship. Start with turning from sin, including the sin of thinking we know best, then find God’s ways and words for the situation – what He has already said and what He is is flagging up now.

10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

11 so is My Word that goes out from My mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

“Will not return to me empty” – As we turn to God in repentance, what are we hearing? That act of forsaking and turning opens us up to hear. What word comes to mind as a prompting of the Holy Spirit?  That is the word to agree with and to pray back as a declaration, because this is the word that God has already spoken.


Application

Much later, in dialogue with the Pharisees and recorded in the gospels, Jesus spoke of knowing the truth and being set free by the truth, John 8:32, 36. The devil keeps us in bondage mainly through deception and fear produced by thoughts he nags us to believe, which of course are not true. Nothing the devil says is true. He is the father of lies, according to Jesus.

Truth, and especially truth declared, is the most powerful weapon in our armoury against this onslaught. This passage sets out an important principle of a God-orientated life: finding out what is the truth, agreeing with the truth and saying that we agree with it by returning, in other words speaking out or declaring, the truth. This is a form of praying.

For reflection and discussion

When we are under pressure, what is in our hearts is expressed through our words. Are our feelings true?

Is it better to be sincere in how we feel, or to be agreeing with God in what He says about how we feel?

The test of living out the unconditional love we talk about

FRIDAY, APRIL 27
1 John 4:7-21

If we have been truly born of God His Spirit will overflow His love through us to others

7  Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

“Let us love” – Literally, ‘beloved, let us love’. John starts off by assuring his readers of his love for them, and then develops his argument of the priority of loving relationships based on God’s nature

8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

“God is love” – Not to be understood as one His activities, but what He is in essence. Everything that God does, including judgment, comes out of love.

For further study – in substance and in nature:
God is love 1 John 4:8, 16;
God is Spirit, John 4:24;

God is light, 1 John 1:5;
God is a consuming fire, Heb. 12:29 from Deut. 4:24

9-11 This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

9  The essence of God is love, which has to find expression: sending His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins, so we could live through Him

10  If the presence of God in us is that same love, it must find expression in our relationships with one another.

12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.

12  “No one has ever seen God” – The Gnostics, in the same way as unbalanced ‘super-spiritual’ believers today, claimed visions of God to support their need to demonstrate that they were more spiritual than others. John has already said the God is seen only in the Son, John 1:18 and Paul similarly, Colossians 1:15. The Gnostics talked about God as light and Spirit, but not as love – hence John’s repeated assertion  “God is love”.

12  God is recognised where people love with God’s kind of love. John means first and foremost in the fellowship – “if we love one another” – and in generosity of spirit to others. God’s love finds its fulfilment – “is made complete” – in transforming us from selfish to loving.

13  This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit.

The abiding or remaining principle was taught by Jesus in John 15:4 and following verses. This explains how it works. It is reciprocal. As we heed the command to “be being filled with the Spirit” as Ephesians 5:18 says literally, He will be in us and we will know we are in Him, and it will look like God’s love, v.12.

14-16 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

A trinitarian reference, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Following the OT principle that every matter is established by two witnesses, here we have the first apostles, v.14, together with the Holy Spirit, vv. 13 and 15. This double witness is also stated in John 15:26–27 and Acts 5:32.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

God lives in those who are living in love. Living in God, and living in love, are inseparable (also v.12).

17-18  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

There is a confidence, parresia, about living in God and living in love. As Jesus faced the conflict of the world with the confidence of being secure in the Father’s love, so can we. If we know at a deep level that we are loved by God, who is for us and with us and over our circumstances, there is not much room for fear to operate as a driver. Ultimately fear is to do with punishment and judgment. Living in God’s love exposes the lie and replaces it with humble confidence.

19  We love because He first loved us.

God’s people are known by their being secure in God’s love and able to love others beyond their own resources.

20-21 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

“Claims to love…yet hates” – The love from God that drives out fear, must surely drive out hatred. To claim to be one with God yet living, thinking and acting in any way contrary to who God is, is falsehood – living a lie

The reality of God is love – leaving no room for harsh attitudes – and truth. Jesus said, “I am… the truth”. He said that His way was the way of truth, John 14:6.  John described the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth, 1 John 4:6. Professing to be of God yet living at variance with God is falsehood, our willing ourselves a divorce from God who is Truth.

Application

John is not just teaching the churches who would have the letter read out to them, but addressing the confusion sown by so-called Gnostics who had a supposed ‘higher knowledge’ that gave them spiritual superiority and exonerated them from failing to walk the walk while they made much of talking the talk.

In addition to this, the Gnostics didn’t believe that God was love, and they didn’t talk about love – or make a priority of practising it.

These problems exist for us today. We might use the description ‘super-spiritual’ rather than Gnostic but the arrogance of the person who considers themselves above the requirements of Christian discipleship are just the same. There are people who present as having prophetic or other giftings and yet are harsh or judgmental of others. It’s a nonsense – the same nonsense the devil has always used to discredit the fellowship of Christian believers in the eyes of an already cynical world, alert for any hypocrisy. The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of truth and love and empowers us for both. Anyone who wants to be considered ‘Spirit-filled’ needs to make sure they are overflowing what looks like Jesus and not something else.

For reflection and discussion

Jesus was secure in who He was and His difficult call – why was that? Talk about how the experience of God’s love makes you feel.

The test of obeying the Holy Spirit’s prompting

THURSDAY, APRIL 26
Acts 8:26-40

Learning to depend on God for the unexpected opportunity

26  Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”

In Jewish thought, an angel of the Lord speaking, or the sense of the Holy Spirit speaking, were closely aligned, Acts 23:9. The point is that Philip received a clear leading, obeyed it and found a connection (v.27) that was clearly of God’s providence.

27-29  So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means ‘queen of the Ethiopians’). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

This story is about an official of high standing from modern-day Sudan (rather than  Ethiopia), a minister of the exchequer in the service of the executive rule of the Queen Mother whose title “Eunuch” was probably more related to being a court appointee, than literal. He seems to have been a proselyte, or God-fearer learning the ways of Judaism, who was reading a scroll of the book of Isaiah.

“The Spirit told Philip” – Philip receives a further prompting from the Spirit – perhaps needed to approach someone of high social standing. The ‘chariot’ was probably an ox-drawn conveyance and quite slow – not too difficult to keep up.

30  Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“Heard the man reading” – In those days it was usual to read out loud – or to have a slave read out loud to you.

31  “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

“Explains it to me” – The Old Testament in particular needs some interpretation by someone in tune with the Spirit. This is like the occasion on the road to Emmaus, where Jesus in person provided the key to unlock the two disciples’ understanding. Here the key is the Spirit of Jesus in Philip.

32  This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

33  In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

34-35  The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”  Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

Isaiah 53:7 sits in the passage about God’s suffering servant, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, a part of the then-available Scriptures which an evangelist like Philip might have chosen for himself.

36  As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?”

There is an addition made by later scribes that appears as a footnote in many versions:“If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

It was common practice for Gentile converts to Judaism to be baptised, so the idea was probably not unfamiliar. But it is also likely that Philip’s explanation of who Jesus is ended with a call for response similar to Peter’s on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2:28. However the subject of baptism arose, God provided the opportunity also.

38-40 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

“Out of the water, the Spirit…” – A longer form of the text reads: ‘And when they came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit fell upon the eunuch, but the angel of the Lord caught up Philip …’.
‘Down into the water’ and ‘came up out of the water’ reads like a description of baptism by immersion. The eunuch’s joy afterwards is good evidence of a spiritual impartation.

The Spirit transporting a person is found elsewhere in Scripture e.g. 1 Kings 18:12, 2 Kings 2:16, Ezekiel 3:14.

Application

Philip received a prompting from an angel or from the Holy Spirit or both. The point of the story is that he acted on it promptly, and at some inconvenience to himself, heading down a desert road on foot without any clear idea of where he was heading or what it was about. It was a test of whether he would hear, and obey, with such an inadequate brief.

We live in an information age, and we want all the information up front. We Google the route and check the traffic and prefer to set up our own appointments. We don’t want to be disappointed and we like to control the outcome. We’d like to find someone we like the look of – someone like us – before witnessing to them.

But God doesn’t work like that – or at least, He is likely to test us by getting us uncomfortable, to see how well we will press into Him. This story also contains the test of God’s providence, the sense of Him seeing the need and providing as He did for Abraham on Mount Moriah. Older generations were better at this kind of reliance, but God requires it of us still.

For reflection and discussion

Can you think of a time when, perhaps with hindsight, you received a nudge from God’s Spirit. What did you learn from it?

The test of whether we can live in the world and abide in Jesus

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25
John 15:1-8

Jesus speaks of the disciples’ need to remain in close relationship with Him by the Holy Spirit who is yet to be given

1-2  “I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

“I am the true vine” – There are varieties of vine we grow on our walls, which are decorative but not fruit-bearing. A grape variety will produce a lot of leafy growth, and some dead wood, that needs regular cutting back.

3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

There is a word play with the same word being used for our two words, pruning or cleaning.

The pruning or cleaning happens by the Word of God, which confronts sin while encouraging holiness. Jesus’ words of God as the Word of God is a pruning process for them that also grows them spiritually in the right way.
The word of God preached in the power of the Holy Spirit of Jesus, has the same cathartic and also growth-encouraging effect on us now.

For further study, read Ephesians 5:26-27; Titus 3:5.

4 Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.

4  “Remain in Me” – Or in many version “abide in Me”. This has to be read together with Jesus’ promise that He would not leave them alone, John 14:15-18. His remaining in them became reality as He returned to them in the Person of the Holy Spirit. We as present-day disciples of Jesus keep close and personal fellowship with Jesus through prayerful reading and responding to His speaking to us as the Word in the Bible. Jesus “remains in us” through our inviting the Holy Spirit to empower us, and so inspire and enable us to produce ‘fruit’ of love and joy and good works that pleases the Father.

5  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.

5  The life of the Spirit of Christ in a believer or disciple is evident to everybody by being life-giving to all around. We can be believers and consider ourselves disciples without growing or producing anything particularly life-giving. Apart from Jesus – and that means apart from the influence of the Spirit of Jesus – we can’t produce what He calls fruit, which inspires others.

6 If you do not remain in Me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

Those who know Jesus but do not obey Him, rejecting the need to walk with Jesus in life John 14:6, are condemning themselves. Those remaining of the Twelve will soon reflect on the example of Judas Iscariot.

7-8 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.

7  “It will be done for you” – Those who keep that close spiritual connection through Word and Spirit will be asking what Jesus Himself in the flesh would be asking – or what the Enthroned heavenly Jesus is having them ask

Application

Remaining in Jesus, in a world which demands our attention from every direction, is a challenge.

It’s an impossible challenge, both to grasp and to carry out – unless we view this from a post-resurrection, post-Pentecost perspective. Jesus was talking to his close disciples during the last week of His life, and coaching them for the imminent time when it would all change. He was saying “Remain in Me” knowing that He was going, and “if My words remain in you” knowing that they would forget much of it in the shock that was to come.

However, also to come was the impartation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, a very personal experience, bringing to life Jesus’ words earlier in this discourse. At that time He said that the Father would send the Holy Spirit, who would remind them of what He had taught and be their teacher in explaining it, John 14:23-26.

However we understand the need to be part of the vine – part of the Body of Christ, connected spiritually, our desire for independence submitted to Jesus, willing for Him to take some things from us for us to grow more fruitful – it doesn’t happen apart from an awareness of God’s Spirit and our openness to let Him work in us. Apart from Jesus – a spiritual encounter for us – we can do nothing of His kingdom purpose. And the things we insist on doing without Him will inevitably reflect our own empires.

For reflection and discussion

How would you explain in your own words, to a new Christian or someone exploring the faith, what Jesus meant when He said: “Remain (or abide) in Me and let me abide in you…”

The test of having faith for the revival God intends

TUESDAY, APRIL 24
Psalm 22:25-31

A turning to the Lord foretold with future generations proclaiming His righteousness

25  From You comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear You I will fulfill my vows.

25  A vow to the Lord might be made at a time of particular distress or need as part of public worship.

26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise Him – may your hearts live forever!

When a prayer was answered the vow might be fulfilled in a feast to which everyone was invited.

27-28  All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations.

When God’s love and grace is seen by people of other nations, they will be moved to turn to Him. He rules over all the nations, whether they recognise it or not – the basis on which we pray for world issues today.

29  All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before Him – those who cannot keep themselves alive.

30  Posterity will serve Him; future generations will be told about the Lord.

31  They will proclaim His righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!

29  Having received the homage of the Gentiles, v.27-28, now the Lord also sees the proud (literally ‘the fat ones of the earth’) come to Him in worship, v.29. Those who are arrogant and well-supplied choose to join in worship with “all who go down to the dust”, those who are faint-hearted, struggling and not self-sufficient.

30-31  “Future generations” – the vision extends to those as yet unborn down the generational line, surely anticipating the Cross being preached and God’s righteousness (or deliverance, secondary meaning) shared from generation to generation.

31  “He has done it” – Perhaps a prophetic glimpse forward to Jesus’ last words on the Cross: “It is finished!”

Application

The psalmist praises God for His intentions which we now understand as the establishment of His kingdom under the Lordship of Jesus.

Remarkably, this psalm paints a picture of a general revival, touching Gentile nations. It also touches those normally most resistant to the God’s appeal to a change of heart in response to His love, the self-sufficient and proud.

This reminds us that God’s plan of redemption is so much bigger than our mindset which usually centres on us and our likes and dislikes, and how we like to worship in our familiar way with other folk like us. It challenged the people of the time, and it challenges us, to see man-made barriers as the barriers to God’s kingdom purpose that they are – and make changes.

For reflection and discussion

This psalm highlights God’s desire for a revival of people turning to Him – but they might not be the people we would like or expect. How do we feel about that?

Tests grow our dependence on God

Church calendar readings for the week leading up to Sunday, April 29

MONDAY  Genesis 22:1-18Abraham and Isaac tested on Mount Moriah

TUESDAY  Psalm 22:25-31Test of believing for unlikely people turning to the Lord

WEDNESDAY  John 15:1-8Teaching on the test of abiding in Jesus

THURSDAY  Acts 8:26-40Philip the Evangelist tested with a nudge from God

FRIDAY  1 John 4:7-21The test for believers of living out the love they profess

MONDAY, APRIL 23
Genesis 22:1-18

Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah. The Lord sees and provides, and establishes a covenant principle

1  Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Tested” – the Hebrew verb nissah means to prove the quality, not incite to do wrong as implied by ‘tempted’ in some versions.

2  Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Mount Moriah is generally agreed to be the site of Solomon’s temple, 2 Chronicles 3:1, and also Calvary. This sacrifice of Abraham’s precious and only son foreshadows the place of sacrifice which the temple became, and Calvary nearby being the place of the full and final sacrifice of God’s only son.

3-4  Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.

“Early the next morning” – There is a lot of detail about the preparations and the early start, implying facing up to a very difficult assignment resolutely.

5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

“We will come back to you” – Spoken in faith. Abraham was certain that God’s promise would be fulfilled through Isaac – “it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned” – and the writer of Hebrews explains that he expected Isaac to be resurrected, Genesis 21:12, Hebrews 11:17–19.

6-7  Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

This brings to mind the hard-to-grasp partnership expressed in Isaiah 53:7, 10. Both foreshadow the Cross and force us to relinquish our perspective, in order to grasp God’s higher purpose.

We can have all the arrangements and means in place for worship – the wood; and the fire of the Holy Spirit is always ready to be invited to ignite the wood. But where is the lamb? Where are our hearts in making the sacrifice? It was Abraham’s heart that was being tested.

8  Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

“God Himself will provide” – Abraham’s life motto and an example for us of the faith principle of speaking out what has been ‘seen’ in faith, not as empty presumption but in the way of agreeing with what is being revealed dimly.

For further study: Does Abraham’s practice follow God, who spoke the Creation into existence? Romans 4:16-18

9  When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12  “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

The pace of the story slows right down as it reaches its climax. Abraham is prepared to offer to God in sacrifice what is most dear to his heart, what represents the whole of his life’s purpose and God’s promise, to build a nation.

13-14  Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

“The Lord Will Provide” – This translates ‘Yahweh Yi’reh’ or more popularly, Jehovah Jireh (which is easier to say and read and work into a song). The ‘Yi’reh‘ component is from ‘ra’ah‘ which means ‘to see’. It can also have the secondary sense of  ‘see to it’, or ‘provide’.

We hardly need reminding that God ‘provided’ His own Son for the ultimate sacrifice that would positionally spell forgiveness for mankind, on this very mountain. Also v.8.

15-18  The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,  because you have obeyed me.”

“I swear by Myself” – If we swear, it would be by someone or something greater than ourselves, but who is greater than God? This is explained in Hebrews 6:13-18.

Abraham’s life story was about successive tests of his devotion, loyalty and obedience to God, which are always followed by a new encounter and renewed assurance – as in Genesis 13:14-15 and here in v.17.

Application

There is a principle here, that we cannot out-give God. As we give to Him, He gives back to us.

The test was whether Abraham was prepared to risk all that was most precious to him, prepared to give up Isaac who was not only his precious son but also the living representation of his life’s purpose. Abraham was brought to the point of being prepared to trust God in giving it up.

The sets out a wider principle in how we walk through our lives with God.

It is the test that comes to each of us at the point of deciding to ask Jesus to be Lord of our lives, which by definition involves giving up to Him all that is most precious, and trusting Him in that. The encounter and new life that people recount in their stories of how they found Christ is what follows a difficult step of obedience.

It is the test behind our decision to tithe the first tenth or first part of what the Lord gives us as income or provision, giving it back to Him in faith – typically giving to church and/or other mission representing the Lord’s work. Can we afford it? Of course not. Will the Lord honour it? Again, many testimonies demonstrate how God’s economics seem to overturn the rules of ours.

For reflection and discussion

Abraham had been through some tests with the Lord before – and most likely you have known what it is for whatever faith you had to be stretched. How have you grown through it?

As those who are loved, we are called to love others, sometimes in ways which are sacrificial

FRIDAY, APRIL 20
1 John 3:16-24

Are we free to love in a way that is authentic and comes out of our character – or are we still talking about it?

16  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

“Jesus Christ laid down His life for us” – This is the reference point for true, unconditional love and a clear Bible definition of God’s love for us.

17-18  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Love is about sharing possessions and resources as well, James 2:15–16. Love is ‘the willingness to surrender that which has value for our own life, to enrich the life of another’ (C. H. Dodd)

19-20  This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence:  If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.

This references teaching earlier in this passage about determining not to sin in hatred but rather, uphold God’s way of love. Hatred characterizes the world, whose prototype is Cain and origin is in the devil, is motivated to murder and is evidence of spiritual death, 1 John 3:11-15. Love characterizes the church, whose prototype is Christ and origin is in God, produces self-sacrifice, and is evidence of eternal life.

“Belong to the truth” – or more literally ‘of the truth’, a phrase used by Jesus before Pilate in John 18:37: “I came… to testify… to the truth… everyone of the truth listens to Me.” This is about the love of God being in a person, not a claim or insincere action but out of character that is ‘of the truth’ or authentic. We have rest before the God of truth, if we are of the truth. But if there is a dissonance within us, if we talk it better than we walk it, our hearts will be disturbed and sensing that He who is so much greater knows it all.

21-22 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him.

If we are real before God, who sees and knows everything, we can come into God’s presence and make our requests in confidence and faith

23-24  And this is His command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.

The mark of the Christian is believing and loving. Believing and accepting Christ brings new birth and the release of the love of God through the Spirit of God in us. John is helping readers discern who among them have believed and received – who are the ones genuinely born again into a new nature where there is a demonstration of faith and unconditional love. The false teachers, for all their talk, were unchanged.

Application

Being “of the truth” or being real, as we tend to say, is an embrace of both arms. We cannot do it if one hand is holding up a mask of how we would like to be seen. This is also a key to how we “love one another as He commanded us”.

If we are carrying the baggage of unresolved insecurities – fears, hurts, rejection responses, little pockets of unforgiveness of others – these will kick in and make it difficult to for us to relate to others and show the Lord’s love. It will come across as part of our self-interest, rather than sincere.

The call is to lay down our life for others – and that includes laying down the right to retribution or to hold on to hurt.

For reflection or discussion

What is the Lord prompting you to put down (or resolve), so your heart will no longer condemn you?

The unmistakable healing of the crippled man brought Peter’s forthright proclamation of the present reality of Jesus to heal and save

THURSDAY, APRIL 19
Acts 4:5-12

Peter and John have been brought before the court whose main prosecutors are those that condemned Jesus to death.

5-6  The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. 

The Sanhedrin was the Jewish senate and its membership of 70 comprised the Saduccee temple hierarchy of the high priest dynasty, lay people of power and influence, and mainly Pharisee teachers of the law. Annas called himself high priest even though he had been deposed by the Romans more than 15 years earlier. Luke is at pains to show us that despite a wide representation, the power was in the hands of one aristocratic Sadduccee family, the same that had arraigned Jesus. In this context, Peter the fisherman’s defence is especially bold.

7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Peter and John were arrested because they were preaching and teaching about the Resurrection in the Temple precincts, Acts 4:1-3, Solomon’s colonnade where Jesus Himself had taught, John 10:23-24. The presence of the formerly disabled man as a witness (v.10), had rather overtaken the original reason. The Sadduccees were particularly angered because they did not believe in resurrection, which they did not consider to be found in Genesis to Deuteronomy, the only part of the Scriptures they recognised as authoritative. They were the focus of the early opposition to Christianity.

8  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!

Peter addresses the two main groups, the minority Sadduccee priestly rulers, and the elders who included the teachers of the law and were the majority Pharisees.

Jesus had foretold exactly this kind of charge and the enabling of the Holy Spirit to answer in court, Luke 12:11-12; 21:14-15.

9 “If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed…

“Healed” – the same word as is used for “saved” in v.12. We use different words, including ‘delivered’, for what is God’s salvation received in different ways.

10 “…then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

Peter states formally and using the full name, that it is by the name of Jesus the witness is standing there healed.

“By the Name” – an allusion of God revealing Himself to Moses, Exodus 3:15 and the giving of the Law, Exodus 20:7. It is a provocative reminder that Jesus, the Messiah, is God – the One who the rulers especially, crucified and God raised from the dead.

11 “Jesus is
‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’

A quotation from Psalm 118:22 which Jesus applied to Himself as Messiah, Luke 20:17, and which featured in the apostolic body of teaching, 1 Peter 2:7, together with other ‘stone sayings’ e.g. ‘living stones’.

12  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Jesus is the One and the only One empowered by God to grant salvation to others. This is expressed elsewhere in the N.T. e.g. John 14:6, Hebrews 2:3, 1 Timothy 2:5. Understanding God to have exalted Jesus to His right hand, this position was unique and could not be shared.

Application

This is an early-early-church model for three challenges that Christians meet today.

Firstly, the challenge of what to do when you see someone, not necessarily a person of any faith, who has a need, and the Holy Spirit is prompting you so you start to ‘see’ what God purposes. And it involves you! Bear in mind that Peter and John and the others would have seen this man lying by the Beautiful Gate and asking for money, every day. On this occasion, Peter sensed it was a ‘now’ time, and faith was rising in him for what he needed to do.

Secondly, the challenge of speaking out God’s purpose in faith. Peter may have prayed for this man’s needs to be met many times. No doubt others asked God to heal him. But now Peter was prompted to declare, rather than ask, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!”, Acts 3:6-7. It’s not a formula. The challenge is to hear what the Lord is saying to say and do, and then do exactly that.

Thirdly, doing what the Lord says to do will bring opposition from religious people who would rather you did what they said to do, or what the order of the day says to do. Peter followed up this astounding miracle with a message to the people around, giving the glory fairly and squarely to Jesus who, he explained, had been put to death and then raised by God, as had been long foretold. In effect he said, “Jesus is alive! Here is the evidence”. So he and John were arrested and brought before the court the next day, trusting in Jesus’ promise that on arrest they would be given the words to say.

God wants to extend his kingdom rule and good order, and His means for doing it is us, in obedience and trust.  It can be a bumpy road – the shadow of death even – but He enters into this with us, with His goodness and mercy. That’s the kingdom of God.

For reflection and discussion

Should you be ready to minister in the name of Jesus, or should you leave that sort of thing to a ‘professional’?

Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd foretold in Scripture

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18
John 10:11-18

A farmer would recognise his sheep and they, him – but Jesus speaks of knowing and caring intimately, and being prepared to die for the good of His human flock.

11  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Jesus applies to Himself Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34:12, 15.

This is the fourth of seven “I am” sayings in John.

For further study, read John 6:35, 48, 51; 8:12; 10:7, 9; 10:11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5

12-13 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

Shepherding was an occupation calling for some sacrifices and risks to defend the flock from dangerous predators. However, even a flock-owning shepherd would not die for his sheep, even less a hired hand. Jesus is deliberately extending the picture and saying that He is not just like a shepherd, but a shepherd who would even go so far as to die to save the sheep.

Jesus is contrasting His calling, with the high priests and religious hierarchy who were assigned responsibility as ‘shepherds’ for the flock of Israel, but treated them with disdain liked ‘hired hands’ who “did not own” or had no real relationship with the sheep and “cared nothing” for them.

14-15  “I am the good shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me – just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father – and I lay down My life for the sheep.

“I know My sheep… The Father knows me… My sheep know Me”: The way John uses the word translated as ‘know’ (ginosko) carries the meaning of being intimately acquainted and trusting. For Jesus to say that He and His followers had an intimate and trusting relationship, comparable with His relationship with His Father, was an astounding statement.

16  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They, too, will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

Jesus’ primary calling was to Israel, His own people, Matthew 15:24; cf. Matt. 10:5–6, but always with the further objective of including others. In His resurrection appearances He specifically instructed His followers to go and make disciples among “all nations” i.e. among Gentiles, Matthew 28:19, Luke 24:47, Acts 1:8, and He emphasises unity in His farewell prayer, John 17:20.

“Sheep pen” – the word is aulē which means courtyard. There is an allusion here to the temple and its courts and Jesus is saying that He has some to bring from another courtyard who recognise His voice.

17-18  “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Jesus’ three-times-repeated assertion that it is His decision to lay down His life underlines the sacrificial purpose of His death, which defines His love, 1 John 3:16. No one can take His life unless He permits it, as He pointed out to Pilate, John 19:10-11; similarly, He has the authority to overrule His own death. He had this authority because it was what He had been commanded to do by His Father to fulfil the plan of salvation. This is the only place it is stated that Jesus is instrumental in His resurrection – in most places it is God who raises Jesus from the dead.

Application

Who decides whether we are Jesus’ flock or not? We do! The understanding of this question is in transition here, because of the Jews’ long-held traditional understanding of being exclusively God’s chosen people. The early Christian believers were challenged to see people with God’s eyes, not religious eyes.

We have, wittingly or unwittingly, carried this over into modern day ‘churchianity’ where we create our groups of ‘chosenness’ which are exclusive to others. Perhaps this is a form of self-protection. Whatever it is, the Gospel confronts exclusivity. Wherever we try to set the boundaries of our particular sheepfold, Jesus will be telling us He has others who are His, who know Him and are known by Him

For reflection and discussion

How accepting are we of Jesus followers who follow in different ways to us?

Do we expect people to conform and believe before they belong? What happens in practice in growing churches?

Guided on the right paths of life by the Shepherd

TUESDAY, APRIL 17
Psalm 23

Knowing the goodness and love of the Lord who is with us in the twists and turns of life

A psalm of David.

1  The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.

“My shepherd” – this form of personal address is unique in Psalms, although “my God” is often used. It is the most intimate metaphor David uses in contrast to the more impersonal ‘rock’ or ‘shield’,  and the more remote ‘king’ or ‘deliverer’. The shepherd lives out with his flock as their guide, healer and protector.

2  He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters,

The true shepherd sees things from the perspective of the flock – the quality of pasture, the safe and relatively still water which sheep need.

3  He refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

“Refreshes my soul” – in more formal versions, ‘restore’. A parallel verb has the meaning “makes wise”. ‘Causes my soul to repent’ is possible and amounts to the same as ‘refreshes’ or ‘renews’.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

“You are with me” – only the Lord will go on with us where others turn back, continuing to guide along the “right paths” which may at times take us through the valley of the shadow of death. But not alone, with an armed escort.

5  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Specially honoured guests would receive an anointing on the head of perfumed oil

6  Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

“Your goodness and love” – God is good, God is loving and He is the Lord (v.1) the Shepherd, in a covenant relationship.

“All the days of my life” – in the O.T. world, to eat and drink with someone was to establish a covenantal relationship – like at the Last Supper and the shared cup that Jesus said was the New Covenant, 1 Cor. 11:25.

God’s goodness and love, covenantal and bestowed, rather than earned, follows us into the dark and threatening places – and out again. The outcome is assured.

Application

We enter into a relationship with God and we enter into a covenant of salvation. His part is as the provider, guide and protector. Our part is being committed to trust Him, even when life takes a turn down what looks like death valley.

He is with us. Are we with Him? This is the nature of a covenant relationship, and it requires faith. There are times when we feel secure in God’s guidance and provision. Then life takes a turn down a different kind of path which is potentially more fearful. Is God still guiding? Where is His provision now?

The point of the psalm is that we can say, definitively, “Yahweh is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” This brings us into agreement with His intention. The Valley of the Shadow of Death is the place where the devil will try to deceive us into agreeing with him, and believing the fears and the apparent lack – what we see with our eyes. But we are in a different covenant – a covenant with Almighty God in which nothing has changed. However, we need eyes of faith to see that and the resolve of faith to agree with the covenant-giver. With eyes of faith, we can turn for a moment and see that He is with us, and that His goodness and mercy are following us right into this adverse terrain – and out again.

Knowing we are in covenant with God gives us a choice in what we hear, which is where the spiritual battle is fought. We can choose to agree with what God is saying.

For discussion and reflection

Think of a test you are facing in your life right now. Who are you agreeing with?
The voice of God, the whisper of the Holy Spirit reminding you of promises which cover you?
Or the more sarcastic tone of the enemy showing you what appear like impossibilities?