Archives for April 2018

Salvation: from God’s judgment by flood to come on the earth

Church calendar readings for the week leading up to Sunday, April 22

MONDAY  Genesis 7:1-5 and 11-18, Gen. 8:6-18, Gen. 9:8-13 – Saved from the flood of judgment

TUESDAY  Psalm 23 – Saved in the valley of the shadow of death

WEDNESDAY  John 10:11-18 – Saved as part of the flock of the Good Shepherd

THURSDAY  Acts 4:5-12 – Ministering in the only name under heaven by whom salvation comes

FRIDAY  1 John 3:16-24 – Demonstrating the authentic character of the saved

This week’s theme is clearly around God’s gracious salvation

MONDAY, APRIL 16
Genesis 7:1-5 and 11-18, Gen. 8:6-18, Gen. 9:8-13

 

Noah, who God found to be righteous in an evil generation, takes his family, livestock and other animals into a huge ark he had obediently constructed.

7:1-3  The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.

“Clean animal” – There was awareness of the correct animals for sacrifices long before the law concerning clean and unclean animals was given, Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14.

4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

“Seven days” – seven is sometimes used for a closing period, so there is a degree of urgency expressed here.

“Forty days” – The number 40 is used in Scripture for receiving the law, Deut. 9:11 and the temptation of Jesus, Matt. 4:2. The wilderness wandering and King David’s reign over Israel are both stated as 40 years. This is a significant event and a significant time period.

5  And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

= = =

11-12  In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month – on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

“Springs of the great deep… floodgates of the heavens” – evokes the creation and a reversing of the appearance of the land. The precise giving of the date is not symbolic, but evidence of an important fact well remembered by oral tradition.

13-16  On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

Noah and his family were monogamous, and numbered eight in all, 1 Peter 3:20.

“As God had commanded Noah” – also v.5. At this early point of salvation history, righteousness is equated with obedience, and leads to salvation. Just when they could have been wiped out by judgment,  God shows a fatherly touch by shutting them in.

17-18  For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water.

= = = 

8:6-12  After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

The raven and the dove are something of a parable. The raven is a patrolling presence, like a harbinger, whereas the dove flies out and comes back to Noah as his dove, and in its way communicates with him. Much later on, the Holy Spirit chooses to be seen as a dove, Matt 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32

13-14  By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry.  By the twenty-seventh day of the second month, the earth was completely dry.

Noah looked for signs of dry land from 40 days onwards. And looked, and waited. Land appeared and the dove did not return a year and 10 days after the rain started; read together Genesis 7:6, 11 and 8:13-14.

15-17   Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you – the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground – so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

Noah waited for God’s command before leaving the ark.

18  So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives.

There are parallels here with the Creation story in Genesis 1, a picture of returning to “in the beginning”, but this time on the basis of covenant between God and man which is described at length, Gen. 8:20-9:17.

= = =

9:8-11  Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him:  “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

This covenant is a unilateral promise, established by God without any particular participation, not just to Noah and his descendants, but to “every living creature”. This is the forerunner to later covenants, which by contrast are mutual and relational.

12-13  And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

The geological data confirms a flood of the proportions described, over a large but limited area centred on Mesopotamia. However the account should be read and understood in its own terms – a judgment in which the entire living scene is destroyed. This informs the N.T. teaching of an impending greater judgment of the universe itself, 2 Peter 3:5-7.

Application

This is a remarkable account of one stubbornly righteous man, Noah, who obeyed God and not the cultural pressures of his generation, and it speaks down the millennia.

God wants us for Himself, and wants us to to be right with Him in our attitudes and intentions. Every conflict recorded in the Bible and in church history and every contemporary tension turns on this truth.

Wanton independence from God’s way does carry penalties – the severest penalties imaginable in this instance. On the other hand, the account demonstrates that keeping God’s way brings salvation, in the broadest sense.

For Noah, it is simply about obedience to God. For us the relationship is more nuanced; it would be better expressed in our knowing God in such a way that, what we want to do most, is to please Him by walking closely with Him.

There is also an early lesson here about waiting for God, and doing what He says, in His timing and not ours. Noah waited the best part of a year after the water started going down, before he knew – he heard from God – that it was time for him to lead the way out of the grounded ark, which had served its purpose.

For reflection and discussion

Think about an area of your life where you can see a way to move forward but you are still awaiting God’s release.

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p class=”p1″>When you see a rainbow, what do you sense God is saying to you or reminding you?

Following the healing at the Temple gate, Peter explains the continuing ministry of Jesus

THURSDAY APRIL 12
Acts 3:12-19

This is where authoritative prayer in Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him is modelled for us to follow

12  When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

13  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.

Peter’s message explains the healing of the lifelong cripple at the Beautiful Gate by discounting who he is, and setting out plainly who Jesus is.

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… His Servant Jesus” – Peter names Jesus as the Servant of Isaiah 42-53 and particularly Isaiah 52:13 before his Jewish audience.

14  You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.

15  You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

Following the mention of the Servant of Isaiah, this passage introduces three significant names of Jesus: ‘Holy One’, ‘Righteous One’ and ‘Author of Life’. (In v.22 further on from this passage there is a fourth, ‘Prophet like Moses’.)

It was incomprehensible to the Jewish mind that the author of life, i.e. God Himself, could be killed.

16  By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

The Name was a way that in Jewish piety one could speak of God without naming God – something they felt was improper.

The man was healed by Jesus’ name, and by the faith that comes through Jesus. The Name of Jesus is an invocation of Jesus Himself – Peter’s words in effect became Jesus’ words. The faith was either the faith of the man himself – who later praised God for his restoration – or the faith of Peter, or both.

17  “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.  18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 

This is remarkable for Peter’s conciliatory attitude to his fellow Jews and especially their leaders. He even tells them that their actions allowed God’s purpose to be fulfilled, and that (v.19) their simple repentance would bring “times of refreshing” from the Lord.

19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

This kind of evangelistic message in Acts commonly builds toward a call to repentance from unbelief and faith in Jesus as Messiah – with exactly the same good news offered to Gentiles.

For further study, read Acts 2:38, 3:19, 11:18, 17:30 and 26:20

Application

This passage contains the basis for authoritative prayers and declarations we make where we discern in a situation what Jesus would have us pray, speak out those words in faith and “in the name of Jesus”.

This is not a religious formula – or if it is used in that way, it is ineffective.

The man referred to was healed both by Peter’s using the words and actions that the Holy Spirit showed him to use –  “in the name of Jesus” – and as a result of the exercise of faith for what was, humanly speaking, an impossibility.

Note also that this was a healing miracle which everyone in Jerusalem would have remarked on – the formerly crippled man’s pitch by one of the main routes into the temple would have made him a familiar figure – quite a change if he was not there anymore. And of course it showed Peter in a very favourable light, but only for the shortest possible time, because Peter lost no time in giving God the glory and denigrating his own role in it. That’s an important lesson for us.

For reflection and discussion

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p class=”p2″>How does Peter’s confidence in this passage help you to move from prayer asking God (supplication), to prayer that calls down God’s will by faith in the name of Jesus?

Following the healing of the cripple at the Temple gate, Peter explains the continuing ministry of Jesus

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11
Acts 3:12-19

 

This is where authoritative prayer in Jesus’ name, and the faith that comes through Him, is modelled for us to follow

12  When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

  13  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.

Peter’s message explains the healing of the lifelong cripple at the Beautiful Gate by discounting who he is, and setting out plainly who Jesus is.

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… His Servant Jesus” – Peter names Jesus as the Servant of Isaiah 42-53 and particularly Isaiah 52:13 before his Jewish audience.

14  You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.

15  You killed the author of life, but God raised Him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

Following the mention of the Servant of Isaiah, this passage introduces three significant names of Jesus: ‘Holy One’, ‘Righteous One’ and ‘Author of Life’. (In v.22 further on from this passage there is a fourth, ‘Prophet like Moses’.)

It was incomprehensible to the Jewish mind that the author of life, i.e. God Himself, could be killed.

16  By faith in the Name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

The Name was a way that Jewish piety could speak of God without naming God – something they felt was improper. The Name of God, the Name of Jesus, the Name… the languages makes the point that Jesus is God.

The man was healed by Jesus’ name, and by the faith that comes through Jesus. The Name of Jesus is an invocation of Jesus Himself – in effect, Peter’s words become Jesus’ words. The faith was either the faith of the man himself – who later praised God for his restoration – or the faith of Peter, or both.

17  “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.  18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 

This is remarkable for Peter’s conciliatory attitude to his fellow Jews and especially their leaders. He even tells them that their actions allowed God’s purpose to be fulfilled, and that (v.19) their simple repentance would bring “times of refreshing” from the Lord.

19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

This kind of evangelistic message in Acts commonly builds toward a call to repentance from unbelief and faith in Jesus as Messiah – with the same good news offered to Gentiles.

For further study, read Acts 2:38, 3:19, 11:18, 17:30 and 26:20

Application

This passage contains the basis for authoritative prayers and declarations we make where we discern in a situation what Jesus would have us pray, and having spoken those words, append to them “in the name of Jesus”.

This is not a religious formula – or if it is used in that way, it is ineffective.

The man referred to was healed both by Peter’s using the words and actions that the Holy Spirit showed him to use –  “in the name of Jesus” – and as a result of the exercise of faith for what was, humanly speaking, an impossibility.

Note also that this was a healing miracle which everyone in Jerusalem would have remarked on – the formerly crippled man’s pitch by one of the main routes into the temple would have made him a familiar figure, and quite a change if he was not there any more. And of course it showed Peter in a very favourable light, but only for the shortest possible time, because Peter’s first words were to give God the glory and denigrate his role in it. That’s an important lesson for us.

For reflection and discussion

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p class=”p2″>How does Peter’s confidence in this passage help you to move from prayer asking God (supplication), to prayer that calls down God’s will by faith in the name of Jesus?

David comes close to God and prayerfully stands against the opposition which has come with leadership

TUESDAY, APRIL 10
Psalm 4

 

The ‘fear’ of God in a secure trusting relationship with Yahweh overcomes the fear of man.

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.

A lament to God and prayer admonition in a situation of difficulty and opposition.

1  Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

David calls on God in His faithfulness to fulfil His promises. The appeal to “my righteous God” – literally, ‘God of my right’ – is no mere formality, but an appeal to God on the basis of His character. God is the protector of His own and the champion of right, Psalm 5:4–6.

2  How long will you people turn My glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?

“You people” or more literally, ‘you men’ – the landowners of wealth and power. They have shown contempt for King David’s God-given authority, and expressing “delusions” have mocked both David and God Himself without counting the cost, in God’s order of things, of doing this.

3  Know that the Lord has set apart His faithful servant for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

“Know” – the first of a list of seven imperatives (emphasis added)

4  Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.

5  Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord.

The enemies are admonished to respond in a more respectful way, both to God and to His anointed – to recognise that David has been set apart by the Lord and rules under a covenant of His steadfast love (2 Samuel 7:1-15).

6  Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?” Let the light of your face shine on us.

All leadership is subject to the challenge of people’s unfulfilled expectations and David’s rule is no exception. As a considerate ruler, he knows the hearts of his people.

7  Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.

God’s blessing and therefore better times for the people is David’s joy.

 In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

David’s experience through His relationship with God (Yahweh) is a sharp contrast to the negativity of the enemies who want better times by bringing him down. David can go to sleep committing the outcome to God “in safety”, betach, a word related to trust: unafraid.

Application

Any kind of leadership brings a measure of unpopularity and the unjust blame that comes from people’s unfulfilled expectations being piled on the person in authority.

Things don’t appear to be going too well, and two different ways of responding are contrasted here.

In politics, difficult times often result in a opinions becoming factions and a divisive leadership challenge.

Those in leadership have the choice to be reactive to those ganging up against them, or to be proactive in trusting their instincts and supportive advisers. Put faith into the equation, and the ‘instincts’ to trust become God’s guidance and the confidence in His call and higher purpose.

David, Israel’s most renowned king, made mistakes and learned from them, all of which built up his ability to trust in God’s faithfulness and grace, through a lifetime of opposition. His way of dealing with his undermining enemies was to be secure in his call and anointing and call on God to direct them to respect that call, too. David is resolute in making a righteous response. He calls on God to adjure those opposing him to have regard for God’s ways and not just man’s way.

For reflection or discussion

How do you respond to criticism and opposition in a task you have been given responsibility for?

How well do we know God?

The calendar readings for Sunday, April 15 (Easter 3) as a Bible study for this week

Zephaniah 3:14-20 – A time when God will rejoice over us

Psalm 4 – Opposition calls for a close relationship with God

Luke 24:36b-48 – Jesus’ personal appearance opens the disciples’ minds

Acts 3:12-19 – Jesus’ ministry continues through faith in His name

1 John 3:1-7 – Knowing we are children of God helps say ‘No’ to sin

MONDAY, APRIL 9
Zephaniah 3:14-20

Judgment on Israel and dispersion gives way to a new gathering of exiles to receive love and blessing

The prophet Zephaniah was a contemporary and probably mentor of Jeremiah in the late 7th century BC less than a generation before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. This was a troubled time for the nation of Israel where those of true faith were few and far between. King Josiah, also of that period, was a righteous king following a succession of disastrous leaders. His reforms were good but short-lived – perhaps as we would say, too little, too late. Zephaniah was a temple, preacher whereas Jeremiah was more of a street preacher; both warned their hearers of God’s impending judgment on the nations around as well as Jerusalem. At this point of Zephaniah’s teaching, the likely judgment gives way to a note of grace; those that heard and responded and repented before God would know His love and favour again.

14  Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!

Looking ahead, there will come a time of joy for the faithful remnant. This develops as a messianic prophecy.

The Lord’s people are described in three ways, as Israel (roots and ethnicity), and the people of Jerusalem (a description predating David) and Zion, David’s city.

The prophet’s call to worship uses three kinds of praise for emphasis – sing, shout, and rejoice (or exult).

15 The Lord has taken away your punishment, He has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.

Following the call to praise, the prophet now gives the reason for praise – Yahweh is with them and has withdrawn “punishment” or judgment and turned back Israel’s enemies

The apparent contradiction works like this: The Day of the Lord promised earlier is a day of judgment and wrath, Zephaniah 3:8, for the proud and wicked; but within that is grace for those who are humble and able to respond in a purification once the “arrogant boasters” are removed, Zeph. 3:11. Sometimes God lets things go from bad to worse – and some people will question and realise. Any who have the humility to turn to Him in repentance will then find that He has grace for them. Gladness comes from the Lord’s presence; the Lord’s presence is invited by people having a humble heart attitude and following His ways – then, as now.

16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.

The day of judgment and powerlessness and fear under God’s wrath is now depicted as an empowering encounter. The Divine Warrior who led Israel out of captivity and through numerous hostile people groups is still the Mighty God to Israel at its time of need, and the power of the kingdom of God to His church.

For further study, read Psalm 24:8; Isaiah 9:6 and 10:21; Mark 9:1; 2 Cor. 10:4.

17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

God is now saving those who humbly turn to Him and take “great delight in” them, even celebrating with singing.

18 “I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you.

Difficult to translate but probably: “I will remove from you all those who [rightly need to] mourn… the loss…”. Those who regret the distance between God and His people arising from festivals abandoned, and the consequences of that distance, will not be seen to be mourning anymore.

19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honour in every land where they have suffered shame.

For further study, read Genesis 6:17; Exodus 10:4; Jer. 30:10, Ezek. 22:14 and 23:25; Micah 5:15.

20 “At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honour and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.

“At that time” – as with “on that day”, the prophecy covers more than one appointed time. King Josiah’s reforms followed Zephaniah’s message and were good reforms, but did not endure, and Jerusalem fell with the people exiled to Babylon, less than a generation later. The land came under Greek, then Roman rule. The War of Jerusalem, AD 66-70 which destroyed the later temple cost a million lives with a further 100,000 enslaved. But Christians were dispersed, boosting the rapid growth and spread of the church, which today numbers comfortably more than two billion believers.

Application

Prophecy in Scripture often spans different time frames. For some hearing these words, exile was imminent and the “gather” and “bring…home” would be a further 70 years. Another five centuries or so would see the coming of the Messiah. The cycle of oppression and subsequent vindication stretches and establishes the faith of believers today.

Oppression comes back on the oppressors and God’s intervention is imminent.  For those who doubt that mocking God brings consequences, “at that time” is an adverb of immediacy and there is plenty of support in Scripture for the cause-and-effect relationship of attitudes and actions against God’s ways.

For reflection and discussion

As we come to experience God more and more from our background of selfishness and independence, how free are we to experience His love and rejoicing for us, v.17?

Bringing it together – the emerging message

FRIDAY, APRIL 6
Tests of true believers

RECAP

Exodus 14:10-30, 15:20-21 – The test of faith for the impossible

Psalm 133 – The test of togetherness

John 20:19-31 – The test of believing without seeing

1 John 1:1-2:2 – The test of those who are walking in relationship with God

How ordinary Christians’ faith changed the course of history

The first passage, Monday, April 2 – Exodus 14:10ff, told how Moses and his large and at times opinionated and difficult group faced a test of faith in a situation that looked hopeless – although God had spoken previously, and given them a clear promise of passage to the Promised Land to hold on to.

The lesson about the power of unity (Ps. 133) also bears on this story; so does Thomas’s lesson, after he declared “Unless I see…” He followed the old adage that seeing is believing, but faith turns that on its head to say that believing, is seeing.

A generation or two ago the future of this country was in the praying hands of ordinary but true, believing Christians – the ones who were too young or too old to be called up for war service. And we can assume that the majority were women.

Like the Israelites at the Red Sea there was a pursuing army and a strategic stretch of water. This is about the two dramatic and otherwise inexplicable reversals that took place in 1940 following a national call to prayer.

May 1940 was a desperate time; the entire retreating British Army was trapped at Dunkirk. King George VI (who, like Moses, found public speaking difficult) called the nation to turn back to God in a spirit of repentance, and plead for Divine help.

On the day appointed by the King, which was Sunday May 26, the country responded. Millions of people flocked into churches. A memorable photograph of the time shows a long queue outside Westminster Abbey; church bells were rung and others filled churches across the UK, and also in the Commonwealth nations.

There were two immediate results: a violent storm arose over northern France, grounding the Luftwaffe which had been attacking the troops on the beaches. And then a flat calm, a calm that had not been seen for a generation, descended on the Channel,  allowing hundreds of tiny pleasure boats to cross and enter the shallows to allow men to board. Rather than the anticipated 20-30,000 hoped for, 335,000 were rescued.

Another National Day of Prayer was called on Sunday, September 8, 1940, while the Battle of Britain was being fought out in the skies. RAF fighter command was close to being wiped out and its airfields destroyed; preparations for the invasion could be seen, looking across the channel from the Dover cliffs. Inexplicably the Luftwaffe suddenly switched tactics to bombing London, giving time for fighter squadrons to re-group and re-equip, and the invasion plans were finally abandoned.

True believers, acting together, can bring godly change, to the wonder of politicians.

 

Tests of a true believer: Walking in the light, dealing with sin

THURSDAY, APRIL 5
1 John 1:1-2:2

If we walk in the light, we have fellowship. If we are transparent about our failings, our relationships with God and others prosper

1  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

“…From the beginning, which we have heard…” – This is an apostolic manifesto, laying down some authoritative markers for what follows. The purpose of John’s letters is to address some serious difficulties in the young churches (see page on GNOSTICISM). Unspiritual teachers were going off-track with their own philosophies, for example saying that Jesus only ‘seemed’ to be man.

2  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

“The life”, “the eternal life” – Jesus is our pathway to eternal life and the source of spiritual life. Accepting Jesus as personal Saviour and Lord is how we become born again into a new start, a new spiritual life which is evident to all.

3  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

We knew Him personally, and we know the Life of God through fellowship with Him, John is saying. Those claims cannot be made by false teachers.

4  We write this to make our joy complete.

“Our joy” – could also be ‘your joy’. There’s the joy of hope, the joy of faith and salvation, and the joy of love. John is writing to better establish the readers in their hope and faith. Those spiritual foundations, well made, will lead to the joy of fellowship. If the fellowship isn’t all it should be, it is a symptom of the foundations of hope and faith not being all they should be. As a result, the joy in the fellowship and the apostle’s joy will be lacking.

5  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all.

“This is the message” – John was writing to churches in which there were cliques following Gnostic ideas and others who were quite mixed up about who Christ is, and what it actually means to be His. Then, as now, there could be a kind of religious Christianity which followed the form without the relationship and Lordship of Christ in personal Christianity.

In particular, John’s letter addresses false teachers of a Gnostic ‘christianity’ which held that:

  • Moral behaviour doesn’t affect one’s relationship with God
  • Immoral conduct doesn’t constitute sin for those that know God
  • The knowledge of God removes the possibility of sin in a ‘believer’

“God is light” – describes God as being above what is material – therefore He is impossible to define – but in a similar way to light, having a quality of truth and transparency and the ability to reveal what is hidden, which communicates with and impacts others.

For further study: The Logos (the Word, Jesus) is the light (to phos), but God is light (phos) without ‘the’. Similarly God is Spirit, God is love, God is consuming fire. Read 1 John 4:8 and 16, John 4:24, Hebrews 12:29.

6  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.

John introduces three tests of authentic Jesus-centred Christianity which confront a lack of personal engagement common today in many church attendees, where we may claim fellowship with God without recognising the need to first go to the Cross of Christ for cleansing and forgiveness, and to then live differently in a consistently holy life.

7  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

The first hallmark of the true believer is fellowship with one another, followed by cleansing of sin in the blood of Jesus. If we love one another without condition – because we all share the same Saviour and Lord – we will be quick to recognise where our selfishness or independence has caused hurt to others and we will have the capacity to take responsibility and say ‘sorry’. At that point, we are already starting to take that sin to the Cross in repentance, and receive forgiveness. The relationship awareness is what starts a natural progression.

8  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

9  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

The second hallmark of someone who has received Jesus into their heart, is a readiness and willingness to acknowledge sin for what it is. Those who know the Redeemer have no reticence in confessing what they need to be redeemed from!

2:1  My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

2  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

The third hallmark of one committed to Jesus is a confidence in Him as the advocate and also sacrifice for our sins. Not knowing whether we are forgiven, and feeling the need to earn our way into eternal life, makes for an apologetic and reticent kind of faith – if faith it is. The confidence of knowing our Advocate, who has a remedy for our failings, makes for a completely different stance in Christian life, worship and mission.

Application

The enemy of our souls, Satan, may have been seen off by Jesus in the desert confrontation, and may have been soundly defeated by Jesus dying and shedding sacrificial blood as a sinless man on the Cross. However, like a vagrant who has been given a court anti-social behaviour order, he finds ways to come back and cause every kind of hardship, oppression and difficulty – until we confront him with the court order and put him out again.

Leaving sickness and death on one side, the less visible ways the devil operates are by deception, confusion and fear.

Deception is insidious, because (by definition!) no one thinks they are being deceived. So is confusion, because the bearings and points of reference have become obscured. And many of us have lived with fear and anxiety so long it seems normal. If you have no assurance of a life in God that endures, as was the case for the gnostics addressed in this letter, then you try to create your own in superstitious and religious practices. The motivation is not love of God, but fear of abandonment.

The answer, John explains, is to know without doubt that God is light, absolute and pure. Then we walk in that light of truth and revelation, walking with others on the same journey, and making that light and love the foundation of our relationships when things go wrong, as from time to time they inevitably will. That involves keeping short accounts with God and with others about our sins – taking them to the cross, taking hold of the cleansing of the blood of Christ.

Against that the enemy has no strategy.

For reflection and discussion

Where am I walking on the boundary of darkness and light, and not being quite real about beliefs and attitudes which are not right with God? Who is standing with me, and will help me as one who also needs the help of others?

Tests of a true believer: Thomas declares Jesus “My Lord and my God”

Thomas believes. Credit: ids.org

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 4
John 20:19-31

Receive the Holy Spirit: the disciples are commissioned and sent. An encounter with Jesus which is a spiritual foretaste of the Pentecost experience to come

19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

“With the doors locked” – as known associates of one perceived to be a dangerous agitator, the risk of arrest by the temple police was a real one. They were probably discussing how they could leave Jerusalem unnoticed by the authorities until Jesus’ specific instruction to them to stay, Acts 1:4.

This was the third appearance of Jesus; He had appeared to Peter, mentioned only briefly, Luke 24:34, 1 Cor 15:5; and to Cleopas and another disciple (Mary, wife of Cleopas?).

“Peace be with you!” – the conventional Jewish greeting but also an affirmation of the disciples, who doubtless felt ashamed at not standing with their Lord at His time of need.

20  After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

He appeared in a physical body even though His spirit was in heaven.

21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

They were expecting reproach for their failure; instead, they find themselves being commissioned and sent by Him on mission, comparable with Jesus’ being sent from the Father.

22  And with that, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

As breathing life into the dry bones of Ezekiel 37:9. There are various interpretations of this, which needs to be understood alongside Acts 2:1-4. It does appear to have been an impartation, although their reticence didn’t change – they were still behind locked doors a week later, John 20:26. However, this “receiving” of the Holy Spirit made them more receptive to their being “filled” with the Holy Spirit that was to follow at Pentecost, and then filled again later, Acts 4:31.

23  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

God alone forgives sin and we have no capacity in that regard apart from Him. However, our proclamation of the Gospel – particularly the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done for all who turn to Him – is a challenge to the hearer to respond and receive forgiveness, or not respond and remain unforgiven.

This seems like a separate strand but it is part of the same statement as “Receive the Holy Spirit…” of v.22. The Holy Spirit is no spiritual ornamentation but the solid and necessary enabling of a confident proclamation within a more general empowering for mission. He moves us from self-centred to ‘other-centred’. The Holy Spirit is our boldness and clarity in making Christ known; He is also the conviction of either righteousness or unrighteousness that comes on those who hear, John 16:7-8.

For further study, read Matthew 16:19; Acts 2:38

24  Now Thomas, also known as Didymus [or the twin], one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.

25  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas is the reassurance for everyone who is, like him, a ‘late adopter’; taking time to come to his position of belief, and then showing himself unshakable. Earlier he has shown himself to have a dogged loyalty, John 11:16, while being outspoken and honest about his doubts, John 14:5.

26  A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

At initial reading, it seems that Thomas was more unbelieving than the other disciples, but they also had difficulty believing Mary Magdalene when she said she had seen the Lord. Thomas’ “I will not believe…” of v.25 (the Greek is more emphatic, like our phrase ‘I will absolutely not…’) and Jesus’ grace shown to him also deals with the suggestion that the stories of the appearances of Jesus after the Resurrection were the wishful imagination of His disciples.

29  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Thomas’s response is presented as the high point in this gospel – Jesus is the risen Lord, victorious is over sin, sorrow, death – and doubt. Thomas’s confession of personal faith – my Lord, my God – is the final confession of faith in this gospel – underlining the truth of what Jesus said, but also the recognition of who Jesus is.

Thomas saw the risen Jesus in His resurrection body and it was a real and visible encounter. But Jesus reminds him that faith is about coming to ‘see’ in a different way. The writer to the Hebrews it this way: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1, emphasis added).

30  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John wrote the accounts of eight particular miraculous signs (and recalls others, not recorded) to point to who Jesus was.

Application

The purpose of John in writing his gospel was not just to record what Jesus said and did, but to show who Jesus was, and is – Son of God, Messiah, Lord of life and death. That is summarised in Thomas’ recognition and acceptance of the person of Jesus as God, and as Lord of his life.

John’s gospel is showing us that knowing what Jesus said and did is not the same as knowing Him. Many of us spend years in church and even reading the Bible for ourselves and adding to our knowledge of God. That is not the point.

Peter, arraigned before the high priest and Sanhedrin after a night in prison following the healing of the man at the temple’s Beautiful Gate, stood up and spoke in the power of the  Holy Spirit (see note 2 to v.23) and declared: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved,” Acts 4:12. The way of salvation is the way of knowing Jesus – the Bible is clear on that.

Like Thomas, we have to come through doubt to know who Jesus is in our lives by faith, and confess Him as “my Lord and my God”.

For reflection and discussion

The disciples were commissioned and promoted, from anxious followers to become confident proclaimers of a message that would enable others to receive God’s forgiveness. How ready are you for this call?

Tests of true believers: unity

Snow-capped Mount Hermon from Galilee

TUESDAY, APRIL 3
Psalm 133

Dwell together in unity… for there the Lord has promised His blessing. There is an anointing of God that comes on our togetherness in Him

A song of ascents. Of David.

The 15 Songs of Ascents (Psalm 120-Psalm 134) were sung by journeying pilgrims on their way ‘up’ to Jerusalem, fulfilling their obligations to attend the three annual festivals (Deut. 16:16). The psalms celebrated various characteristics of God, earlier psalms from the perspective of an outlying area e.g.  “I lift up my eyes to the hills…”, Psalm 121:1 and later “Lift up your hands to the holy place…” Psalm 134:2.

1  How good and pleasant it is

when God’s people live together in unity!

The pilgrimage is one of shared values, not an individual act.

2  It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.

The consecration of Aaron, representing priests in general, with “precious” or special fragrant oil, was an impartation and also a sign of being set apart for service. The picture is of people coming together in a unity of God’s values and purpose, creating a spiritual dynamic and demonstrating a sign of commitment to God’s purpose, to those observing.

3  It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.

For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

Mount Hermon in the north-east of Israel is often snow-capped, with dense dew from the moist air there. Zion, by contrast, is arid and often lacks dew. The imagery is of the rich dew of Hermon falling on the dry and dusty slopes of Zion.

“The Lord bestows His blessing” – a recurring theme in the ascent psalms. Pilgrims journeyed to worship at the place seen as the place where God particularly ‘dwelt’ or as we would say, presenced Himself. Today, many thousands travel to New Wine or Spring Harvest or Soul Survivor to find a particular sense of the presence of God in a large and enthusiastic gathering there – perhaps not so very different.

Application

Individualism was not a part of Jewish culture in the way it is in ours – but it is still a trait of human nature. We could say it is “of the flesh”. It is not a good road to head down, because of where it leads. A good definition of sin is that it is independence from God, which is the foundational reason for why we get into rebellion and fall short in many ways, do things we shouldn’t do and leave undone things we should have attended to, etc. Independence from God is where it all gets off track, and unity with others who are seeking God is where it all comes right again.

In a world which distrusts institutions and dislikes the fuss and formality of organised religion, the witness for Jesus Christ has to shed a lot of baggage to be effective. Where people representing different strands of church history and different emphasis come together in friendship and mission, the world notices – and listens.

To show Jesus to an unbelieving world requires us to be one in His kingdom purpose, and hold our personal and church-congregation emphases lightly enough to put down at will.

For reflection and discussion

Where do we as Christians “live together in unity”? And where do we, in our attitudes and judgments, put up barriers to that unity?

Tests of true believers: The test of faith for the impossible

Readings this week

Exodus 14:10-30, 15:20-21 – The test of faith

Psalm 133 – The Test of togetherness

John 20:19-31 – The test of believing without seeing

1 John 1:1-2:2 – The test of walking in relationship with God

Exodus Route and Nuweiba crossing as researched by Ron Wyatt http://www.6000years.org/frame.php?page=red_sea_crossing

MONDAY, APRIL 2

Exodus 14:10-30, 15:20-21

The Israelites are challenged to believe God’s promise at the Red Sea crossing

10  As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.

The Egyptians had quickly lost the anxiety of the plagues and the loss of their first-born.

11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?

They had cried out to the Lord (v.10) but quickly switched to Moses, a more accessible target for their all-too-human (and humanly wrong) reaction. There is some biting sarcasm here, because Egypt at that time was obsessed with graves and had large areas of burial grounds.

12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

“Say to you” – to say and to ‘think in the heart’ can be the same in Hebrew. This is the accusation made earlier in Exodus 5:21.

13  Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  14  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

“Deliverance” – literally ‘salvation’ but this is more in the sense of them being delivered from the threat. There is little distinction in Hebrew between salvation, deliverance and healing.

Moses gives three patient instructions in the turmoil: (1) do not be afraid, (2) stand and expect the Lord’s deliverance, and (3) be still i.e. stop all action.

15  Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.

Reminding Moses of the enduring promise to take them out of Egypt and give them the land of Canaan – the petition is already granted. His responsibility in faith is to keep everyone moving into the promise, expecting a way through.

16  Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.

“Divide” – cleave, form a valley: As happened in the description of v.21-22 “…the water divided… with a wall… on their right… and left.”

17  I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.

18  The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

19  Then the angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them,

20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel.

The angel of God and the evidence of the presence of God, the pillar of cloud moved from ahead of the refugees to behind them and produced darkness with the opposite effect on the pursuing army, to the light and reassuring presence for the Israelites.

Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side, and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

21  Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided,

22  and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

The strong wind is a natural element, but the effect of the wind to bank up the water as a heap and create dry ground for the crossing, can only be explained by a miraculous event.

23  The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea.

The exact location is debated, but recent scholarship and archaeological discovery has pointed to the tip of the Gulf of Suez, where divers have photographed unusual coral-encrusted shapes of wheel and spokes, providing evidence for the ”jammed wheels’ of v.25.

24  During the last watch of the night, the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion.

The ‘look’ of Yahweh appears to have been more of a blinding flash which caused the charioteers to run into each other. The wording of Psalm 77:16–20 suggests a thunderstorm, or a frightening occurrence resembling a thunderstorm.

The last watch of the night, 2am-6am, is the traditional time to mount an attack when visibility and morale are at their lowest.

25  He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

Chariots with open unprotected wheels would be prone to lock if they touched. Rather than wheel around the Israelites, they were confined to the same narrow channel between the walls of water.

26  Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.”

27  Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea.

The action by Moses was necessary to show that the return of the water was an act of God, not just a freak of extraordinary weather.

28  The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

“Not one of them survived” is qualified by “that had followed the Israelites into the sea” – those that went into the gap, perished in the gap when Moses called down the return of the water.

20  But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

30  That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.

There is a Twentieth Century Fox finality about this scene which made this miracle at the Red Sea the enduring symbol of Israel’s salvation, recounted in verse and song by one generation to another.

20  Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing.

Miriam (the same name as Mary in the NT) was probably a praise leader of the women and is described as a prophetess, an unusual word also applied to Deborah, Judges 4:4. She claimed to bring God’s word just as Moses had, Numbers 12:2. Although she is Moses’ sister, she is described as Aaron’s sister, perhaps making a point about lesser rank.

21  Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. Both horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.”

Application

This was a huge and miraculous deliverance in every aspect. God is loving and God is strong – and God is faithful when His people turn to Him in repentance and prayer. There is also a note of desperation here, but Moses is hearing God in it all. What is God saying in a situation? We need to persist and hear. “Faith comes by hearing”, and then we know how to pray – and act.

For reflection and discussion

What helps us to hear God in the emotional clamour of a crisis situation? See verses 11-15 for what not to do, and what God looks for.