Archives for May 2018

The call and the cost

“We are hard-pressed on every side…” 2 Corinthians 4:8 (epistle reading). Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. Acts 14:19

 

Theme: God’s power is seen in trusting Him faithfully in the face of opposition

Church calendar readings for Sunday, June 3, in Bible order

Prepare for Sunday by reading the Bible passages beforehand, or reflect on Sunday’s teaching by looking at the Scriptures again.

1 Samuel 3:1-20 « God appears to Samuel and tests his obedience

Mark 2:23-3:6 » Healing ministry in the synagogue brings religious opposition

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 » Paul’s proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord brings the trials that Jesus knew

1 Samuel 3:1-20 « God appears to Samuel and tests his obedience

• The Lord finds the person He can trust to hear and act on His message

1  The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

“Not many visions” – with the sense that such as there were, were not widely known. Eli had perhaps forgotten, and Samuel never known, the experience of the Lord speaking.

2-3  One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was.

The lamp… had not… gone out” – the seven-branched lamp had to be filled up with oil at nightfall and kept burning all night, Samuel’s duty for the elderly priest. This suggests a time before dawn.

4 Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

“Here I am” – Samuel hasn’t heard the Lord speak before, and his response is tested three times. He shows himself to be willing, even at nighttime, and gives the same response of others greatly used by God, Gen 22:1, 11; Exod 3:4; Isa 6:8.

5   And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

6  Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

7  Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

“Did not yet know” – The young boy was an apprentice priest, not a prophet (although that was about to change) and he did not know the Lord’s voice; he did not yet know the Lord in a personal relationship.

 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy.

9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Samuel’s station was near the Ark of the Covenant, and if God chose to speak, that is where it would be expected to be heard.

10  The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

“The Lord… stood there” – this expression is used in a theophany appearance which is a visible manifestation of God to humans. God is Spirit but on occasion He creates appearance and also audible presence, as here

For further study, see Genesis 18:2, 28:13, Numbers 22:22

11  And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.

“Ears…tingle” – the language of disaster, later used of the foretold destruction of Jerusalem and Judah handed over by God to the Babylonians.

12  At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family – from beginning to end.

13  For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them.

14  Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ ”

Eli’s sons’ actions were deliberate and rebellious and in their contempt of God amounted to blasphemy. Inadvertent sins of priests could be atoned for, but the guilt of defiant sin could not be removed, Numbers 15:30 (reflected also in Hebrews 10:26). Eli was responsible for their upbringing.

15-16  Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

17  “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.”

18  So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in his eyes.”

Eli had already received this word of judgment in detail from the unnamed ‘man of God’, 1 Sam. 2:27-36, which confirmed that the young Samuel had in fact heard from God.

19-20  The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and He let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.

“Dan to Beersheba” – far north to far south.

In practice

Our situation is very much better than in Old Testament times. God has always spoken to His people, but back then it was only the righteous kings, priests and prophets who knew the Holy Spirit, and then not always. Samuel was chosen at a young age to be a leader of his people through hearing and being obedient to God.

If we have come into a relationship with Jesus, and particularly if we have made a regular practice of asking for the infilling of His Spirit, we can hear Him, often through His word. We have to quiet our own thoughts and other noise first.

Question

Samuel heard God call him in the sanctuary in the quiet of night. How would you make it easy for God to speak to you?

Mark 2:23-3:6 » Healing ministry in the synagogue brings religious opposition

• Following a miracle on the Sabbath there are plots to kill Jesus

2:23-24  One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

“His disciples… began to pick…” The disciples, not Jesus. Harvesting (with a sickle) was one of 39 things prohibited on the Sabbath, but picking grains, Deut. 23:24-25, was allowed. Israel’s land was to be seen as the Lord’s.

25-26  He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

27-28  Then He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Jesus is saying that He is Lord of the Sabbath – and possibly also, that it a matter for individual conscience.

3:1  Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there.

2-3  Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched Him closely to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

“Looking for a reason to accuse” – Jesus has already exposed the religiosity of the Pharisees and they react as those who feel threatened.

4  Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

5  He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

“They remained silent… stubborn hearts” – see similar synagogue confrontation recorded in Luke 13:10-17. Note that both this story and the grainfield one follow on in Mark from the ‘new wine needing new wineskins’ teaching, Mark 2:21-22. When the kingdom of God comes near, people are healed but religious inflexibility kicks back.

6  Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

For further study, see 11:18, 12:12, 14:1-2 and 10-11 in this gospel.

In practice

Here we have two views of what is good and proper on the Sabbath sharply contrasted. The disciples were simply doing what everyone was allowed to do, and the man with the disability had a legitimate need, but the problem for some was the Sabbath day and how it should be observed.

This highlights the tension which always arises when the rules of the religious framework, and the reality of what God is doing in His kingdom order, collide.

This passage needs to be read with the two preceding verses, Mark 2:21-22, included. Then we can begin to see the inflexible ‘religious spirit’ that can criticise a healing miracle because it occurs on a  particular day, for what it is. If the Lord of the Sabbath also worked the miracle of restoring a disabled arm, on the Sabbath, surely that says something about how to keep a good sabbath! And there is teaching here to consider about how we position religious correctness with discerning the new wine of how God is moving His salvation into people’s lives.

Question

What does this teaching about the Sabbath say to us, in a fast changing world?

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2 Corinthians 4:5-12 » Paul’s proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord brings the trials that Jesus knew

• God’s power and human vulnerability go together, Paul explains

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

“Preach… not ourselves” – A mark of false teachers, then as now, is the need to prove themselves. Paul didn’t need to, and consistently presented a Jesus-centred message, Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Col. 2:6, as one serving the churches and not as a spiritual overlord, 2 Cor. 1:24. To confess Jesus as our Lord is to say to other Christians that we are their servants, in the Lord’s service.

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

7  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

“Treasure in jars of clay” – the light that comes from knowing Jesus and seeing God’s glory in Him is rich treasure to share with others, but it is packaged in ordinary, rather unattractive containers (that’s us), which show by contrast the priceless nature of the gospel.

8-9  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

“Hard pressed” – Paul backs this up with examples in 2 Cor. 11:23-33.

10  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

“Carry… the death” – this is sharing in the painful mission of Jesus, Colossians 1:24, which is an honour.

11  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.

12  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

“Death is at work in us” – the way of bringing life and eternal life to others, was death for Jesus and Christian ministry and mission is Jesus-like. Paul reflects that bringing the life of Jesus and His Spirit puts him often at risk of death.

In practice

Not many of us have Paul’s kind of call or the readiness of those early believers to lay down their lives for the sake of the gospel. But do we subconsciously expect the Christian life to be a favoured and protected one?

For the born-again believer, both of these strands play out together. There is favour and God’s provision, not to mention knowing that we are loved and being sustained by the joy of the Lord that is our strength. But once we decide that Jesus Christ is our Lord and make that part of our life message, then we become targets for the enemy of our souls. There is spiritual attack, often from unexpected quarters, and persecution. The people we look to as giants of the faith all got pelted, with accusations and insults and in former days, more physical missiles.

Having any kind of authentic faith that can be seen by others puts us on a mission, and mission brings challenges. They are often ‘breaking experiences’ for us and our pride, but at the same time ‘breaking out’ experiences for others who see more clearly what Jesus has put in us.

Question

When you are treated harshly in connection with who you are as someone who has made Jesus Lord of your life, is it fair? And why is that not the right question?

One God who offers us three relationships

The ESV Study Bible diagram is a good attempt at depicting what cannot easily be fitted into our three-dimensional world (credit: Crossway)

Introduction to theme

Trinity Sunday (this year May 27) is a special Sunday with the main theme of God being one God in three persons. How can that be? How can God be “one God” – clearly stated in the Bible – and also be known to us as three distinct persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? The quick answer is that heaven is not restricted to our three-dimensional and humanly logical worldview. This is an exciting truth, and not so perplexing if we look at it from above, rather than from below.

This article on Understanding the Trinity of God goes into a little more detail and offers an explanation.

The second theme that comes through all the readings is the way each Person of the Trinity is involved in the one work of salvation

The Bible readings for May 27 begin with Isaiah’s call as a prophet, in the context of Isaiah needing to become a spokesman for God to the Israelite nation which is growing increasingly self-sufficient and proud. As one of this wayward nation, how can Isaiah respond? The answer comes as an angel symbolically purifies his speech with burning coal taken from the place of sacrifice and the voice of the Lord is heard to ask who He can send, and “who will go for us”. Is this the royal “we” or the trinitarian “we”?

The psalm adds little to the theme, but the Gospel reading in John 3 contains some of the clearest and most essential truths of what we call the Good News. Jesus makes it clear to Nicodemus, the learned and aristocratic Jewish teacher, that despite such good religious credentials he must have anew spiritual start to experience the reality off the kingdom of God. Jesus says to him, and by extension to each of us, “You must be born again”. Nicodemus states his position as one of the Pharisee sect saying “We know…” and goes on to acknowledge Jesus ad teacher and worker or miracles. Jesus replies with His own “we”, saying with great emphasis “Amen, amen…we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen”. He is delivering a vital and incontrovertible statement of truth delivered jointly from the Father, from Himself, the Son, and from the Holy Spirit.

The NT epistle reading from Romans 8 reinforces this change from the realm of the flesh to the realm of the Holy Spirit and human spirit which was the nature of the new birth and spiritual empowering of believers in the Early Church. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ is here a little like an old-fashioned aristocrat with several titles, which adds to our understanding of the Trinity. The teaching of the passage adds to our understanding of the new identity we gain as children of God and also heirs as a result of our spiritual transformation. Jesus said, “You must be born again”. Paul says that you will know a new and special intimacy with the Father as part of the new identity you come into, when you give your life to Jesus and open the door to His Spirit.

Trinity Sunday readings, May 27

The one God we worship is revealed in the three Persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Isaiah 6:1-8 – The Lord’s call to Isaiah is in the words “Who will go for us?”

Psalm 29:1-11 – A call to join the united worship of heaven of Almighty God

John 3:1-17 – Jesus says “We speak of what we know”: a new birth is needed

Romans 8:12-17 – the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ and the life of the Spirit are one

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Isaiah 6:1-8 » The Lord’s call to Isaiah is in the words “Who will go for us?”

God speaks of Himself as plural at the time of his call to Isaiah

A vision at a time of national crisis, King Uzziah’s death in 740 BC. The prophet’s own experience of being called follows a long introduction about Israel’s call to be pure, righteous people through whom other nations would learn God’s ways. But his question is, how could such a perverse and proud people fulfil such a call? His own questioning about his own suitability to be called is the same question scaled down and made personal.

1  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple.

“I saw the Lord” – No one has ever seen God, because God is Spirit, John 1:18, 4:24. However, at times He clothes Himself with visibility, as here in Isaiah’s vision, or Joshua’s challenge, Josh. 5:13–15.

2  Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.

“Seraphim” – the word suggests that they looked like flames. “Covered their faces” – even heavenly creatures could not look upon holy God and covered their faces.

3  And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”

4   At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

5  “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

“Unclean lips” – or unholy attitudes. Apparently not – but Isaiah is comparing himself to holy God, and reflecting on his guilt by association. “The King” – Uzziah has died and Isaiah has glimpsed the real Almighty King.

6  Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.

7   With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

“Live coal… from the altar” – God has provided a way for the sin and guilt of humankind to be put right, taken from the place of sacrifice. This is symbolic of the final and perfect sacrifice to be provided by God in Jesus, to take away the sin of the world.

8  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

“Go for us” – plural as in Genesis 1:26, 11:7. One of many implied references to the Trinity, and an allusion to God speaking in the presence of angels, the heavenly council, 1 Kings 22:19-22, Jeremiah 23:18, 22.

In practice

We may find it difficult to believe that Almighty, majestic, holy God would deign to speak and offer guidance to us. If Isaiah, a humble and holy man and renowned prophet, felt unworthy in himself and as part of the proud people of his time, what kind of audience can we expect?

The answer is that we have a new identity in Christ, clothed in His righteousness and with the rank of sonship, no less, conferred upon us. We can enter into the courts of heaven because they know who we are! What sort of reception do we get from the council of heaven, the angels that surround the throne? What is the conversation of heaven? Of course, we can go right up to the throne of God the Father, but there is something encouraging for us in this picture of meeting God via the plurality of heaven and its complete unity.

Question

What sense do you have, perhaps a beginning sense, of heaven calling you? What might the council of heaven be saying about the nature of that call and their choice of you?

Psalm 29:1-11 » A call to join the united worship of heaven of Almighty God

1   Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2  Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.

“You heavenly beings” – The psalmist begins this hymn of praise showing how God touches all of nature and creation, with a call to join the angelic throng in attending to God, all honouring Him and giving Him glory. This is our way of expressing agreement with heaven as we join with the Spirit and the Son and the heavenly throng in their united worship of Almighty God

3  The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.

4  The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.

4  The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.

6  He makes Lebanon leap like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox.

7  The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.

8  The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.

9  The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

10  The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.

11  The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace.

John 3:1-17 » Jesus gives Nicodemus the key statement of the whole gospel

1  Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.

“A Pharisee” – the Pharisees were the most influential Jewish sect in Jesus’ time and unlike the more political Sadducees, held a conservative, fundamental theology – which could be too inflexibly ‘correct’ to accommodate the challenge of Jesus’ teaching. Nicodemus was also a member of the Sanhedrin controlling body which was generally antagonistic to Jesus.

2  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with Him.”

His cautious visit after dark – and as a person in some spiritual darkness himself – showed a genuine desire to find out for himself who Jesus was, while avoiding censure for meeting Him.

3  Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“Very truly” – amen, amen. Jesus prefaced what He was going to say with the strongest emphasis. It was essential for Nicodemus to grasp this truth. It is essential for us.

“Born again” – birth is how we enter this world, and spiritual birth is how we enter the spiritual dimension of this world. Nicodemus would have believed that to have been born a Jew was to be an inheritor of the kingdom of God. That is like us claiming that to be a churchgoer or have been through some religious rite brings us into the kingdom of God. “Very truly” v.5 below, we have to hear what Jesus says.

4  “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

5  Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

“Born of water” – water cleanses from impurity and the Spirit transforms hearts. It cannot refer to things Nicodemus would not have understood, like Christian baptism, but must come from the Scriptures, which as a religious teacher he knew well. Water in the OT often refers to renewal or cleansing, Ezekiel 36:25-27.

6  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

Everyone has had a start in life through natural birth, and everybody needs a spiritual birth, too.

For further study: The Bible uses “born again”, “born of God” and becoming a “child of God” to talk about the same thing. John 1:12-13, Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 1:3 and 23, 1 John 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:1 and 4 and 18.

7  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

“You” – not just Nicodemus, everyone.

8  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Whatever language they were using – probably Aramaic – Nicodemus would have picked up on the allusion to ‘wind’ or ‘spirit’, which with ‘breath’ and ‘breathe’ are all the same word group in Hebrew. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that He is the living reality of the ‘life into dry bones’ prophecy of Ezekiel 37:1-14 (see TLW OT last week).

9  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

For Nicodemus to be told that he, a prestigious and knowledgeable teacher, could not enter the kingdom of God based on his merit and good works, was shocking. If he could not, what hope was there for others?

10  “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

He knew the Scriptures, but his understanding of the Scriptures followed a framework of religious tradition. He had not come to an independent spiritual understanding of them. Hint: We need to delve into Scripture to check things out for ourselves.

11  Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

Jesus is positioning Himself here as one of the Trinitarian godhead, who was with God from the beginning, John 1:1-2. He ironically refers to Nicodemus saying “we know” in verse 2, as if to say “We are God and we really do know…”

12  I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

13  No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man.

14-15  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.

“Lifted up” – we think immediately of Jesus’ crucifixion, but Nicodemus would not have made this connection until some years later. Lifted up, as in the bronze ‘snake in the wilderness’, Numbers 21:4-9, is also raising a symbol of judgment for people to recognise both the judgment and the deliverance. The crucifixion of Jesus is a picture of a terrible judgment for our sin, and also the deliverance.; God grants spiritual, eternal life through Jesus who, unlike the bronze icon, has life in Himself, John 1:4, 5:26.

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

Commonly recited as a procession sentence at Christian funerals. This is a key statement of the Good News. The Gospel is more than this, but this is a fundamental truth.

17  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

“To condemn… to save” – The holiness and righteousness of Jesus shows up the selfishness and independence of the world, which is condemned already. But His purpose is to provide another way, as the bronze snake provides another way: believe, and live. Faith is not about doing, but believing. The choice is to believe in the Son and know salvation and eternal life; or to choose not to believe with the consequences of perishing – utter failure, loss and eternal separation. God’s love for humanity is such that He has “lifted up” and make plain, not just a symbol on a pole to help one nation to look to Him, but His unique Son’s life and death for the whole world to see, take stock and believe.

In practice

An aristocratic Jewish religious teacher visits a rabbi with the calloused hands of a carpenter/builder and asks a question. The reply contains the most profound and most direct explanation of what the Good News is all about. It is a choice to see the kingdom of God – the way God’s order works – or not to see it, and it only comes by being humble enough to recognise the need for a new spiritual start. This is the new birth which so shocks Nicodemus.

His worldview, like most Jews, was about merit and attainment. It was about living ‘a good life’ in the right religious way, and doing ‘good works’. If a person of such renowned goodness and achievement could not enter the kingdom of God, who could?

Jesus’ answer is as difficult as it is disarmingly simple. It is about recognising that we cannot do anything of ourselves to secure salvation – no good works, no religious performance, no merit. It is simply about believing God, who must judge sin but who loves to save.  We do this by receiving His Son Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. It is a gift which we can receive, but only by believing we need to receive it.

The concept isn’t difficult – a child could get it. But the more we have set out to earn God’s favour, the more value we place on ‘our’ good works or achievements or religious obedience, the more baggage needs to be shed before we can come to the place of simply asking out of need.

God loves the world just like He loved those errant and grumbling Israelites who were being bitten by a plague of deadly desert snakes. Would this get their attention? He devised a simple way for them to look upwards, and recognise the judgment but also see the source of salvation. Jesus used this example of Himself. His presence highlighted both where God’s judgment fell, and where God’s salvation was found. We choose for Jesus, His way and  His kingdom life now and for eternity; or we choose our way, which is to perish. There is no ‘muddling along the middle’, because that is not choosing His way.

Once we choose for Jesus, a lot that’s confusing becomes much more clear. We start to sense God speaking to us through His word, and in other ways.

A weight drops off, and a light comes on… (Link to salvation prayer in May 13 post).

Question

Have you looked into the eyes of Jesus, recognised your need and received love? What changed for you?

Romans 8:9-17 » The life of the Spirit will always be at odds with our selfish desires and ambitions

9-11   You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

“Have the Spirit of Christ… belong to Christ” – being brought up according to Christian values, or even attending church regularly, does not make us Christians, any more than frequenting the gym for coffee makes me a gymnast (or even fit). It is a decision to “belong” to Christ, as a result of which the Spirit of God comes to live in us and transform our human spirit. See note to vv.12-13 below.

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.

“Spirit of God… Spirit of Christ… Christ in you” – the Trinity (God in three persons who are one) is not an explicit teaching in the Bible but a number of passages including this one make it clear, albeit indirectly.

12-13  Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

“To the flesh…by the Spirit” – the selfish human nature is contrasted with the Spirit-led nature which grows out of the new birth. Paul is referencing what he wrote earlier; Romans 8:1-8 explains this, especially verses 5-8. When we come to give ownership of our lives to Jesus, there’s a profound change spiritually: we become a new creation, 2 Corinthians 5:17. This new spiritual person grows around what God wants and the “what I want” part has less influence. Living by the Spirit doesn’t do away with the tendency to “live according to the flesh” but more and more, we don’t want to go there. We are putting it to death as we grow spiritually, Galatians 5:16-17.

14  For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.

15  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

“Abba, Father” – Jesus used this form of address, Mark 14:36, which shocked religious Jews with its relative informality and intimacy.

“Fear…adoption to sonship” – slaves lived in fear of arbitrary punishment as those without rights. The Greek-Roman pattern of adoption was often used to secure a male heir; at least one Caesar was adopted. Adoption conferred the full rights (and authority) of the son of an aristocratic family, without any of the stigma that we associate with it. Christians are not to live in fear of possible punishment, but in the security of being held by God’s love.

16  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

“Children of God” – a profound privilege. Understanding this will transform the way you pray – and how you relate to God as a Father in every way.

For further study, read John 1:12, Galatians 3:26, Philippians 2:15, 1 John 3:1, 1 John 5:19.

17  Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.

With the honour of sonship comes the responsibility. It’s a route that brings its attacks and difficulties. At these times we need the Holy Spirit’s nudge (v.16) and the fellowship of other Christians to remind us who we are and where our security lies.

In practice

Paul’s point in this section of his letter to Christians in Rome, is that the way of life we have grown up with – from the tantrums of the “terrible twos” onwards – don’t just disappear when we become Christians. And becoming a Christian is a definite choice, a decision, at which point the Holy Spirit comes in and we take on a new persona. But the old, “me-centred”, and spiritually resistant person hangs on in there. We want to take our lead from Jesus, but it takes practice, faith by its nature has ‘unknowns’ which are challenging and the old, familiar tried-and-tested ways kick in too easily – “I’ll do it…I’ll fix it… I’ll make it happen.

But if we have made a choice for Jesus to be Lord of our lives, then we are on a different track. The belonging and the Spirit’s leading are inseparable. We can’t have one, without the other. If we don’t know, then we should pray the prayer and make sure. And if we are sure, but ting confused about how we respond, or feeling the tug to ‘go with the crowd’, then the Holy Spirit will gently remind us who we belong to, the security we have in that sonship relationship and the help He gives us to do what Jesus would do. To be a spiritual person inside a human body will always feel like a bit of a hybrid, but we do have help – the best kind of coach – and we are empowered to make the good choices He shows us.

Question

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p class=”p1″>How much do you have the sense of being led by the Spirit of God? What might be getting in the way?

The life of the Spirit comes at Pentecost

Image credit New Life Toronto (Mennonite) + excellent teaching summary here

Pentecost marks a huge event in salvation history, God’s plan for the world. The birth of Jesus, marked at Christmas, is rightly a prominent celebration. So is the death and resurrection of Jesus celebrated at Easter. The impartation of the Holy Spirit of Jesus to believers in Christ, not just a select few but all who open their hearts to Jesus and seek His power to live for His kingdom, must rank right up there in its capacity to bring God’s good change. The church of the Holy Spirit — there’s one, despite varied packaging — changes lives and social behaviour, nations and policies while other factions, including denominations, still show the human tendency to argue and divide.

Ezekiel saw this in visions he received and wrote about. He saw man’s unresponsive ‘heart of stone’ being replaced with a sensitive ‘heart of flesh’ that would want to follow God’s will without the crude mechanism of rules and religious regulations. Then he saw the scattered bones of the dispersed nation of Israel, its hope long dead, restored and enlivened by God’s Spirit. Jesus, recorded by John, taught intensively in His last days on earth about the coming of the Holy Spirit which, He said, He would send from the Father after He had gone from the earth. Then at Pentecost we read in Acts how the Holy Spirit came, visibly, and with an impartation that was very evident to the gathered disciples first, and then as the crowd responded, more generally. The church had just received its power to carry out its God’s given mission. Much later, Paul reflects to readers in Rome on the difference the Holy Spirit makes in believers’ lives: the kingdom of God, God’s rule and order in the world, is not yet fully produced, like a long and painful childbirth, but the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life gives us a powerful helper, One who knows exactly what to pray when we are struggling.

The readings this week show the Holy Spirit like God’s breath breathing life into dry bones, and then being promised as Jesus’ parting gift and imparted on the fiftieth day after Passover.

The lesson? Don’t try to live by your own strength — it doesn’t work that way. Live by God’s power imparted to you and you will see, bit by bit, His kingdom come.

Follow this through in the church calendar readings for Sunday, May 20, Pentecost Sunday, given here in Bible order. Prepare for Sunday by reading and reflecting on this word for the week and let the Holy Spirit speak to you through the Word.

 

Ezekiel 37:1-14 – The Holy Spirit breathes new life into dry bones

[Psalm 104:24-34, 35b – The Holy Spirit renews whatever He touches]

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 – The Spirit of Truth is Jesus’ parting gift

Acts 2:1-21 – The Holy Spirit comes with a visible, transforming impartation

Romans 8:22-27 – The Holy Spirit gives believers confidence to pray God’s will

Ezekiel 37:1-14 » The Holy Spirit breathes new life into dry bones

• Ezekiel has a vision of God putting His Spirit into His people to live again for Him

1  The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

This vision follows on from God’s promise of a new heart and new spirit through the impartation of the Holy Spirit. The prophet also heard the Lord speak of repopulating the cities, with ruins rebuilt and numbers increased. But the exiles were scattered, with their hope evaporated.

For further study, see Ezekiel 36:26-27, 33, 35, 37-38

2-3  He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

“Can these bones live” – Can these random, scattered bones become living people again? The people’s hopes were not just dead but dried up and dismembered.

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

4-5  Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.

“Breath enter you” – difficult to capture in English is the wordplay where the one word ruach conveys three meanings, translated spirit, breath and wind.

For further study see Spirit, Ezek. 37:1,14; breath, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10; and wind or winds, 9. This multiple meaning is also in the Greek word pneuma of John 3:8.

6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’ ”

7-8  So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

“There was no breath” – connected bones and tendons and muscle create a body; without respiration, it is still a corpse.

9-10  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.

“Prophesy” – speak out in faith for God. Ezekiel is instructed to speak into the slain God’s breath or Spirit, “from the four winds” or from every direction, a complete and powerful renewal.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’

“Our bones are dried up” – Israel’s hope had gone. There was no way back to being God’s own people, in their perspective. In our language, they were not up for it.

12-14 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’ ”

“I will put My Spirit in you and you will live” – apart from God’s presence, God’s Spirit, there is no hope for God’s people. There cannot be a political and geographical restoration without the spiritual dimension, in Ezekiel’s time or future times.

In practice

Ezekiel saw death on a large scale as one who experienced the deportation following the fall of Jerusalem and in his mind’s eye, saw the nation as scattered bones.

We experience setbacks in life, and in church or Christian life. We are not immune from forces that cause death, in various dimensions. Projects, relationships and policies can all fail. We start by asking “Why?” and then move on to what has been learned. Ezekiel’s vision points to our unwillingness to work in the spiritual dimension. God can bring Israel alive again, even standing as a mighty army. Without His Spirit, there is no life, no hope.

Whenever there has been a crisis and the wind of the Spirit has been lost, the focus must be on catching that wind again. With the Holy Spirit, there is no life, just dead orthodoxy.

Question

What “dry bones” need the breath of the Spirit to enliven them? Should we be joining God in speaking life into these bones?

 

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 » The Spirit of Truth is Jesus’ parting gift

• The promised Holy Spirit will show sin and self-righteousness and the devil’s lies for what they are

15:26-27  “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of Truth who goes out from the Father – He will testify about Me. And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning.

The Holy Spirit is as much a ‘personal Person’ as the Father or the Son. He is sent out by the Father, but we are told that He is the Spirit of Christ, 1 Peter 1:11, and the voice and revelation of Christ, vv. 14-15 below.

16:4-6  I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to Him who sent me. None of you asks Me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things.

“When their time comes” – Jesus attracted persecution as a church steeple draws lightning, but He warns that on His departure, the attacks will come to the disciples more directly, requiring their Holy Spirit-empowered testimony.

7-11  But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in Me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see Me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

“Prove… to be in the wrong” –  or “convict”, more formal versions. The Holy Spirit’s prompting to turn to Jesus is a turning away from the world and its values, especially its self-righteousness and lack of sin awareness. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus and contrasts His call with the sin of independence; He shows the difference between the world’s righteousness and the kingdom of heaven’s kind of righteousness; and shows the judgmental voice of the accuser to be lies of one already condemned.

12-15  “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you.”

“The Spirit of Truth… will guide you” – see John 14:26. The thrust of the gospel comes by revelation as well as information. Jesus relied on this, John 5:19-20 and in the same way that Jesus could do what He saw His Father doing, the Holy Spirit will only speak what He hears.

In practice

Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit from the Father comes right at the end of the Old Testament period. We live in the New Testament or more accurately, New Covenant knowing our release from sin secure for us by Jesus on the Cross and new life in Jesus who is resurrected, alive and active in our lives by His Holy Spirit.

Going back to this promise, as it was set out to the disciples before the Holy Spirit was given, helps us to understand more about the life of the Spirit in our lives, now that the Holy Spirit has been given. Turning to Jesus and recognising Him as our Saviour, but also asking Him to come into our lives as Lord, is asking His Holy Spirit into our lives. One of the many facets of this new life in Jesus, which this passage teaches,  is having the Spirit of Truth, or reality, residing in us.

As believers, belonging to the Lord’s assembly, or church (there is only one!) we are enabled to a greater or lesser degree to perceive spiritually beyond what we can see or intellectually understand. This is the working of the Spirit of Truth who brings revelation of the spiritual reality behind what we see – truth and reality are twin meaning of the same word. As we read and study the Bible, or as we look at a situation, we receive information, which we can evaluate. But before we form an opinion, we must allow the Spirit of Truth to give us spiritual revelation of what that information looks like to Him. He will guide us into all the truth (or all the reality) – if we let Him.

Question

What do you find is most helpful to you, in giving the Holy Spirit room to add His dimension to what you are seeing or hearing?

Acts 2:1-21 » The Holy Spirit comes with a visible, transforming impartation

• With a roar like a huge gust and what seemed like a divided flame, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and given a new praise language

1  When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

“Pentecost” – the fiftieth day after Passover and harvest festival for the wheat harvest, was a time for remembering and renewing the covenants with Noah and with Moses and commemorating the giving of the Law on Sinai.

2-4  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

“A sound” – it was a big sound, filling a space for 120.

“All of them” – probably the 120, not just the 12. The Joel prophecy was for men and women, Joel 2:28-32 and quoted below v.18

“Tongues” – the word also means languages. Contemporary experience is that the spiritual gift of an unlearned praise and prayer language often accompanies being filled with the Holy Spirit.

5-12  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

“Each one heard” – where the gift of tongues is used today, sometimes a person of different ethnicity and culture will hear words of praise, often meaningful to them, in their language. Jerusalem was a city population of seven nations and three languages, swelled by “God-fearing Jews from every nation” visiting for the festival.

13  Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14-16  Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17-18  “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

“My Spirit on all people” – In the OT the Holy Spirit came on individuals to empower them in God’s service as righteous kings, prophets, craftsmen etc. This promise, fulfilled at Pentecost, was for a Spirit-filled people, male and female, young and older, all of whom would know a Holy Spirit-inspired confidence in God’s guidance and expressing God’s ways.

“They will prophesy” – broader than foretelling, forth-telling: speaking out for God.

19  “I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.

20  “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

21  “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

“Wonders… and signs… before the coming…” – signs of the future consummation of the kingdom.

“Everyone who calls…saved” – not future timing, but inaugurated by Jesus for anyone who will show intent by responding in faith and turning to Him, Matt. 7:21.

In practice

The disciples, like any of us, were of themselves and independent lot. Peter was a courageous leader who was sometimes a bit too quick to ‘make it happen’. Others were jockeying for position and status. Thomas seemed to withdraw while he struggled with his own unanswered questions.  These were the men we read about but in the upper room, there were many women disciples, too who had their own perspective.

On the day of the festival, they were all together in one place – under one roof, but a careful reading of the ends of the Gospels and the beginning of Acts tells a story of a coming together in one heart and mind as they prayed day by day. Prayer doesn’t change God but it does change us, and then God can change something in the word through us being aligned with Him.

The coming of the Holy Spirit has sometimes been seen as the birth of the Church of Jesus. In reality, the church – the gathering of believers – had already formed, but it couldn’t pick up its mission or go anywhere. That takes the Holy Spirit’s leading and empowering. Where we frequently go wrong is to try to do what we can by ourselves. Where we are fruitful is when we intentionally take time to be changed, become aligned, get into agreement with other believers – and then allow God to magnify the little we have.

Question

Why can it be helpful for us to have a prayer and praise language that we can use without thinking about it first?

Romans 8:22-27 » The Holy Spirit gives believers confidence to pray God’s will

He helps us to know what to pray for in hope and faith, for what is not yet seen

22  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

“Groaning” – creation is personified as a woman in labour. Something is being produced that involves both suffering and hope.

23-25  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

“First-fruits” – a down payment on the fulfilment of God’s blessings. We know of, and can live in the security of,  being adopted with the full rights of sonship, 1 John 3:1, but this is an experience to come, together with renewed bodies.

“Hope” – not so much a ‘will it, won’t it?’ but more of a confident expectation that what is not seen, or not received, will certainly be in the Lord’s timing.

26-27  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

“Spirit Himself intercedes…” – The Holy Spirit is a person, one of the three Persons of the Trinity, whose relationship is so close that they are One God. So the Holy Spirit knows exactly how to pray for a person or situation in a way that matches God’s will. His leading of us may be in words, in expression through an unlearned prayer language, or in ways that are largely silent.

In practice

This short passage is taken from a letter written to a Holy Spirit-led and Holy Spirit-filled group of believers. The New Testament letters all make this assumption. Without this understanding, the letter can read as little more than chiding by the apostles to do more that is right, and less that is wrong. We have probably heard that kind of message in church, and left wondering how we do it.

The rules and regulations and religious strictures that applied to Jesus and the disciples applied to every Jew before the Cross and the Resurrection. But then, everything changed. The life of the Spirit was a new experience of being motivated and enabled and empowered to live for God, in a new identity. This is quite different from trying to keep within the requirements of the law, or within the legalism of any ordered religion. The Holy Spirit – Spirit of Jesus, Spirit of God – resident in us, by our invitation, shapes our will in a more holy direction.

This changes how we pray as well. If we pray what we want, or what is in line with our opinions, we may not be agreeing with the will of God. If, however,  we allow the Holy Spirit to direct how we pray, either with our words, or with His prayer language, or without words, He checks our heart motives and strengthens our desire for God’s will, interceding for us and drawing us into that intercession. If prayer does not appear to be answered, it is for us to check whether it is of the first kind, that needs to progress to the help of the Holy Spirit in the second kind.

Question

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p class=”p4″>Think of a prayer situation where you have been interceding, in other words, praying for someone or something else. How does God want you to pray so you are agreeing with Him? How do you find that out?

How to live God’s way

Living in God’s word like well-watered trees, Psalm 1.

Image credit: Joni Shaffer

Church calendar readings for Sunday, May 13, in Bible order

Prepare for Sunday by reading and reflecting on the word for the week. Formerly this was structured with a passage to read and reflect on for each day, but I felt that was overly prescriptive. Use this as a weekly resource to divide up or come back to, as seems best to you. The principle of ‘having the Scriptures in us’ before hearing the Scriptures preached is well-proven, however. And it is a good stand-alone Bible study! –IanG

Ezekiel 36:24-28 – Living God’s way from within

Psalm 1 – Living like well-watered trees

John 17:6-19 – Living as those united by Jesus

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 – Living as witnesses that Jesus is alive

1 John 5:9-13 – Living the new life that the Son of God gives

The saying “Whoever has the Son has life” in 1 John 5:12 is like a headline over the theme that emerges from this week’s Sunday readings (you may only hear two or three of them in church). This is about living God’s way – living as those who belong to God through receiving Jesus – and give five complementary pictures of what that means.

= = = = = = =

 

Ezekiel 36:24-28 » Living God’s way from within

• In the regathering, the Holy Spirit is promised to be a personal enabler of righteous living

24  “ ‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.

“Out of the nations” – out of a pagan land.

25  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.

“I will cleanse you” – as Jews, they were defiled by ungodly pagan practices all around them, but also by their history that had caused the fall of Jerusalem.

26  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

This is a repeated theme in Ezekiel – a revelation the prophet caught and expressed at different times, Ezekiel 11:19, 18:31.

27  And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws.

The Law instituted by Moses and subsequently turned into a detailed ‘do this, don’t do that’ religious system was near-impossible to keep – as any religious system is for people trying to work it out in their own strength. To be empowered by the Holy Spirit to WANT to live right by God was to be a seismic change in the whole order of things, that would happen at Pentecost.

28  Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be My people, and I will be your God.

“Your God…My people” – the covenant language reminds hearers of God’s kind, not harsh, intentions. The relationship between God and His people would be restored.

In practice

When the relationship breaks down, God is always looking for ways to restore it, on His initiative. That was always part of His covenant promise. The covenant required His people to obey, but promised to treat them better than they deserved – with His unearned, faithful love – when things went wrong.

Life is like that. Relationships do get strained, damaged and broken. But in God’s view, that is not the end, but the beginning of a restoring process. This is God’s intentional work of renewal. He is always about this work of renewing and inviting us to see the need, and join Him.

These verses also set out a huge change: the Law instituted by Moses had not been working. Man has been created with free will, and that means there is an independent and at times wayward tendency in all of us. The promise of His Spirit was to counter that with a desire and therefore tendency to get better and better at both knowing and following God’s ways. We can only do that with His Holy Spirit in us – a heart change that comes as a result of us recognising who our Saviour Jesus really is, and inviting Him to reign in us.

Question

Is God’s gift of new life an opportunity to decide for Him, or the start of a process of renewal that goes on in us and even through us?

 

Psalm 1 » Living like well-watered trees

• The righteous person who loves living in the Word is blessed in the relationship with God that brings

1  Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers,

2  but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

“Blessed” – Happy or fortunate

Both Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 use the same word, hāgâ,  to contrast the righteous person who  “meditates” on God’s word, v.2, with Psalm 2:1 where God’s enemies “plot”, or meditate on, rebellion. Another part of the contrast is the determination of the righteous individual to seek God’s way, and not be swayed by the crowd of those who feel they know best, described as wicked mockers.

3  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—

whatever they do prospers.

“That person” – As in “blessed is the one” (v.1), the individual who goes against the more acceptable unbelieving crowd but who has a philosophy of life that is rooted in the Word. This is the way that “prospers”, knowing the constancy of God’s provision and protection rather than a life of blips and dips.

For further study see Jeremiah 17:5-8, Joshua 1:8, Matthew 6:33.

4-5  Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

“The wicked” – showing a disregard for God and his Way. Not being anchored in God’s truth leaves us too lightweight and blown around by mere opinion, to be a good influence in the community (or church)

6  For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

“Watches over” – an intimate, relational word. “Wicked – our ‘I know best’ independence casts us loose from the security of being held in relationship with God.

In practice

Those individuals who choose to go against the crowd and maintain a close relationship with God through His Word, are contrasted with the many who are disdainful.

There is no fast track to the prosperity of life that the Bible describes, which is a broad prosperity in which financial sufficiency is just a part. However, there are simple ways we can follow which attract God’s blessing and favour. Because God is essentially relational, these will all be ways for us to stay close to Him. The number one way is to learn to hear His voice, by reflecting on His revelation of Himself in His Word.

If we think we don’t need to read God’s Word and seek His guidance day by day, we are an accident waiting to happen. Independence doesn’t play out well for God who wants us to know His love and respond to Him in a relationship.

Question

What is needed for a tree or shrub to prosper? How well does that picture what we need to grow well and true?

John 17:6-19 » Living as those united by Jesus

• Jesus’ prays for those that are His to be united in knowing God’s love and protected from the tendency to division

6-7  “I have revealed You to those whom You gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to Me and they have obeyed Your word. Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You.

“I have revealed You…” – there are two particular ways Jesus revealed the Father. Firstly, by being God in human form – God incarnate, the Word became flesh, John 1:14 – and secondly, by being the Way to the Father, John 14:6. See ‘In practice’.

8  For I gave them the words You gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent Me.

“They knew with certainty” – that what Jesus taught was from the Father and was truth. They would need more time to fit the pieces together to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection, and how the OT Passover lamb, priest, temple and suffering servant was fulfilled in Him.

9-10  I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given Me, for they are Yours. All I have is Yours, and all You have is mine. And glory has come to Me through them.

11  I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name you gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one.

“That they may be one” – of one mind and heart about God’s purpose and their mission.

12  While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name You gave Me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

13-14  “I am coming to You now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of My joy within them. I have given them Your Word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

“The world has hated them” – which is why we need the joy of belonging to Jesus to be our motivation. His way, as He is teaching here, also John 15:11, releases something deeper and stronger than happiness. When we get religious about what we think is correct or not, or competitive about our way rather than other ways, the joy (and the anointing) quickly fades.

15-16  My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.

Following Jesus brings its own protection, the New Covenant, and it also brings its own attack. Satan does not give up ground easily. We have to learn to live in the world, relating to people and policies that do not reflect our beliefs and values, while drawing our strength from the Father and our guidance from the Holy Spirit as those who are not of the world.

17-19  Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth. As you sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify Myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Our coming to know Jesus, who is the truth, and our being empowered by the Spirit of Truth, does change us and set us apart for God – being sanctified, or made holy, in Bible language.

In practice

Jesus revealed the Father by giving us a key whereby we could come first to Him, and then know the Father: “I am the way… no one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really know Me, you will know my Father as well…”, John 14:6-7. Once we take that decision, there dawns an awareness of a wonderful one-ness we share with other believers who have come to the Father through Jesus, whatever stream they may worship with.

The difference between what is sometimes described as ‘churchianity’ and true organic Christianity is right here in this teaching by Jesus, about those who are His maintaining a united heart and witness. He knew that there would be a tendency for control and competition and division to creep in – that is man’s way – and He was teaching that His Way was not like that.

It is increasingly common for Christians to disregard denominational barriers to pray and worship together and especially to engage in outreach. Recently, outreach has been found to be particularly effective in towns where there is genuine friendship between different streams of the church, with Christians of different streams going out on the streets in threes. We are in it together, for our protection but also for His mission.

This passage makes it clear that we are not soldiers of the barracks but sent out. However, like soldiers, as soon as we step out, we start getting rather too well acquainted with the enemy of freedom and life, Satan. Togetherness and one-ness is vitally important. No one in Special Forces would ever need to be reminded of that!

Question

What more could we do that would emphasise – and bring – the oneness we have as those who belong to Jesus?

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 » Living as witnesses that Jesus is alive

• The Twelve are made complete again to be solid witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection to new life.

15-17  In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about 120) and said, “Brothers and sisters,  the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.  He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

Peter was looked up to as a leader of the apostles in the gospel accounts and especially in the early times of the church described in the first few chapters of Acts. He had (v.20) spoken two well-known sayings from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 “May his place be deserted… May another take his place of leadership” which seem rather like a prophetic word to them to make the Twelve complete in number.

21-22  Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who has been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

“Witness with us” – The two particular requirements were that the person was a witness to Jesus’ resurrection – many people encountered Him at this time, so that was not too difficult. But the other requirement was for their experience of Jesus to be similar to the remaining eleven, knowing Him for the three years of His ministry. The first apostles needed to be authoritative eyewitnesses of how Jesus showed Himself to be Messiah, against the denial and threats of the Jewish rulers.

23  So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

24-26   Then they prayed, “Lord, You know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two You have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

“Casting lots” – possibly shaking marked stones in a jar until one fell out, a bit like our ‘heads or tails’ – is never mentioned again. It became obsolete at the coming of the Holy Spirit who Himself guides and leads God’s people.

In practice

Here we see God restoring the Twelve who keenly felt the loss and shame of one of their number who was the one who betrayed Jesus, and then died an unpleasant death in the field he bought with the bounty. It was a messy situation – but we see God’s hand in bringing restoration of the first team of eye-witness apostles.

God’s guidance is something we all seek, but we know it is an imperfect art, even with the help and guidance of prayer and the Holy Spirit. This snapshot taken just before the coming of the Holy Spirit shows them casting lots, and no doubt this was done prayerfully. A short time later, they were all much more confident about what they were hearing and seeing – not to mention much more bold in the face of people who wanted to flog them, or worse.

We find guidance today a challenge, but the lesson from this passage is that God uses many ways to guide, and if we give Him time and listen – they were doing plenty of that in the Upper Room – He does speak to us.

Question

What ways do you know that churches use to choose leaders? Does it matter what way is used if it is done prayerfully?

1 John 5:9-13 (verses 6-8 added) » Living the new life that the Son of God gives

• The testimony about Jesus is incontrovertible

6-8   This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

9  We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about his Son.

“Human testimony” – Verse 9 needs the context of 6-8 to be understood. When Jesus encountered people who would not accept His testimony about Himself,  He pointed them to His works, John 10:25. The Holy Spirit (Spirit of Truth) gives witness to who Jesus is, and John’s readers would mostly have experience of this, John 15:26. John calls two widely known works of God, Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion. Generally two or three witnesses were needed for human testimony. John calls three ultra-reliable witnesses of God Himself.

10  Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son.

“Whoever believes in…” – There’s a difference between believing that Jesus was a historical figure who did good and set an example to follow, and believing in Jesus, Son of God and crucified Saviour who I call my Saviour and Lord.

11  And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

12  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

To have the Son comes simply through turning to and believing in the Son. It is through faith in Christ, not any observances, that we have life, which is experienced as a new dimension of life now, as well as assurance of eternal life (v.13), John 14:6, Acts 4:12.

13  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

In practice

The Jewish religious leaders didn’t want to believe who Jesus was, let alone that Jesus is resurrected and alive. The followers of Gnosticism were a discordant strain in the early church who didn’t believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man, and John was writing partly to counter their unbelieving influence.

We get that today. There’s a lot of Christian religion that has been constructed around a set of beliefs and observances but with no recognition that the Lordship of Jesus and personal submission to  Him comes first and holds central place.

John would say to us today, the baptism and transfiguration of Jesus both happened and the audible voice of God was heard to affirm His Son. No one seriously challenges that the crucifixion of Jesus happened – secular historians of the time noted it as an important event. But those who have turned to Jesus and believed in Him have their own inward witness, the witness of the Holy Spirit of God who brings a revelation and understanding that goes beyond what can be understood intellectually. They know. They have a new dimension of life which is close to a definition of Christian joy. And they are secure in themselves, held by the love of God and with the assurance of being in the early stages of eternal life with Him.

Question

Have you been invited to pray this prayer? It’s always good to pray it again:

Lord Jesus, I turn to You now, believing that You are the only Son of God, who was born as man, lived a perfect life of obedience to Your heavenly Father, and then went willingly to a shameful execution to pay the price of my sins.
I ask that all my independence from God, my rebellion against God, my selfishness in wanting to be the master of my own destiny – all my sin, past present and future – be put under the cleansing of Your blood shed in your death on that Cross.
And I ask, Jesus, that You fill me with Your Holy Spirit now, to give me revelation of what I do not understand, that I might know the fullness of new life with Your peace, and be empowered to learn to walk with You in life, join You on Your mission and then dwell with You always. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

This is a big decision that will bring release and joy, but a decision that will be tested as well. Talk it over with your parish priest, pastor, or trusted Christian friend so that you have some prayer and practical companionship on this exciting leg of your journey with God!

The emerging message – empowered to live out the Way

The early disciples of Jesus were known as followers of the Way before they were known as Christians, Acts 11:25-26. They were followers of the Way of God, not the rigid and religious way the Pharisees would have people do it, but the new Way and new life demonstrated by Jesus.

This Way was foretold by Ezekiel who saw in the Spirit a picture of the old, hard, stone-like ‘heart’ which is our inner being – the heart of our desires and motivations – being replaced with a new feeling, sensitive, spiritual heart, alive to God. With this new heart, the Way of God would no longer be a drudge but a joy, not hard-won by effort but experienced through exploration.

The ‘exploration’ is allowing God to speak to us through His word. Psalm 1 puts this rather formally as “the law of the Lord” but says this is something we can delight in. Exploration is fun. When we sense God speaking to us personally through words and phrases that are eternal, it is exciting. The “wicked”, who think they know best, miss out on all of this, but being rooted in God’s word is how we live fruitful lives, following God’s Way.

Everyone who belongs to Jesus has a special affinity with everyone else who belongs to Jesus, although the churches or buildings we gather in to worship may have very different names and represent different styles. That one-ness is spiritually powerful, not just in terms of mutual encouragement, but because the humble prayer “when two of you… agree” Matthew 18:19 is the prayer with God’s power behind it. Jesus, knowing the heavenly principle of one-ness, prayed that believers would be protected in it, knowing full well that the enemy of souls who comes to kill, steal and destroy the new life John 10:10 would be active in sowing distrust, competition and division. The world sees churches in competition, and sometimes they are. The Way of Jesus has nothing to do with this form of pride and everything to do with collaboration.

The Way of the Lord leads us to the Cross, a place where we can be real about those things in our life and attitudes which grieve God but also the place where we can lay them down and receive the forgiveness that cancels the record of sin. The Way of Jesus doesn’t leave us there, but propels us into new life beyond the Cross, the life that is lived in the presence of Jesus who is alive. The first apostles needed to be a full number, strong in their resolve to face persecution in proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. The Way of Jesus for us, is to know and to tell others that He is alive, a very real and also approachable Saviour and Lord.

Those who know Him – “whoever has the Son” – have a dimension of life and joy that is infectious. We are the testimony to who Jesus is, the Son of God, because the Holy Spirit in us testifies, not just to us but through us to others.

As present-day Followers of the Way, we have a new heart and reborn spirit, we have the delight of the Scriptures speaking to us, we have the unity with other believers, the excitement about the resurrection and a desire to be a testimony and witness to others. The Way of God is to walk with Jesus who told people “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” John 14:6. Whether by actions, or attitudes, or perhaps by words of explanation, we have both the responsibility and also the privileged and empowered commission, to show the One who is the Way of God to a world that needs Him.

As changed people, we are empowered to live unselfishly

FRIDAY, MAY 4
1 John 5:1-6

True believers who love God will always be known for loving other believers  – His children

1  Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well.

“Born of God” – born again, the spiritual rebirth. John quotes a common saying to emphasise that true believers who love the Father, will be known for their also loving other believers, His children.

2  This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands.

Having said earlier that love for one another is evidence that we love God, 1 John 4:7-8, 20; the other side of the coin is that loving God is inseparable from loving His way of unconditional love and therefore being loving towards all who are His children.

3  In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome,

Following the way that God loves to see in us may at times be demanding but that is not the same as being under a heavy burden. If we are His, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be like Him in attitude and action; through faith, rather than effort, it comes (super)naturally.

4  for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

5  Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

“Born of God” – the decision to believe and trust Jesus as Lord is a spiritual rebirth. If we have decided to allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives, that is a decision (v.4) by which we have ‘overcome’ the pull of the world’s values, to live by His values. It is also (v.5) an ongoing overcoming of sin and selfishness and independence in victorious Christian living.

6  This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

“By water” – Jesus was empowered for His ministry at baptism, a ministry which reached its fulfilment “by blood” at the Cross. In this letter, John has emphasised that Jesus was fully God and fully man – the Son of God as was confirmed at His baptism, but also the Son of God, confirmed again, at His death.

Application

Being born again comes as a result of trusting and owning who Jesus is as the Son of God – and asking Him to be Lord of your attitudes and decisions and actions. It’s a big decision, and it results in a big change. A new spiritual person with a new nature emerges – more forebearing and forgiving, and a one-ness with other believers which transcends the different emphases of denominations. Christians love unity and love fellowship, and are generous-spirited to people who don’t hold the same beliefs and values.

Of course, not all who profess to be Christian are like that. In every church there’s good and bad, affirming and judgmental – a mixed bag. But the point John is making is that it’s easy to tell who belongs to the Lord, because they will be the ones who are the comfortable people to be around.

Living in God’s love, John emphasises, must result in living in God’s love towards others, or else it isn’t real. It isn’t a heavy burden, something to strive for. The more open we are to allowing Jesus to work in us – or allowing His Spirit to work in us  – the more we’ll find ourselves doing and saying what he would do.

For reflection and discussion

The world looks to find fault, looks for someone to blame, looks to protect its own interests. How good or bad are we at doing what Jesus would do, and as John puts it, overcoming the world?

The emerging message

We live in a fast-changing world and it can seem that our church traditions are the only anchors we have to avoid being swept away.

The problem is, the kind of religious security we crave is nowhere found in Scripture, but the challenge to the early church of adapting to the missionary task among different people in different lands and cultures is everywhere.

God’s ways are higher, but we praise Him because He is always about bringing life change through salvation.

Jesus gave us the capacity to receive His love and joy by staying prayerfully and spiritually close to Him and His ways. It’s life-changing for us and our lives in Him can be fruitful and life-changing for others around if we let Him work through us. However, the message seems to be that God never stays still, and constant change is the only thing that is here to stay.

Peter’s experience was in many ways the most shocking, but the most joyful. Arrested by the audible voice of God speaking to him and showing him in a vision that he needed to reinvent himself as a disciple, he saw a move of the Holy Spirit he couldn’t have anticipated.  The rule book he had known all his life had been torn up and his journey with God had changed forever.

Our fast changing world needs our message, but although the message does not change, the way of telling the story and presenting the invitation must change to remain relevant. As we see in this week’s readings, God knows this and is ready to show us – if, like Peter, we listen and learn.

A big change for Peter – to share the gospel in a Roman officer’s house

THURSDAY, MAY 3
Acts 10:44-48

Our challenge is to change how we regard people who are not like us

The context of this short passage is the longer story of how Peter came to enter a house of Gentiles and see God’s glory fall on them. First, Peter had a rooftop vision of different animals and hearing the audible voice of God telling him not to call anything impure that God had made clean. Immediately after, three men sent by Cornelius the Centurion asked him to go to the Roman officer’s house with them and speak to the household. The Jews hated the occupying Romans and didn’t associate with Gentiles, so Peter was challenged to his core. But he entered the house with a generous spirit and gave the message of how God had anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and He had done many good things, only to be killed on a cross. However, Peter explained, God had raised Him from the dead on the third day and the resurrected Jesus then commanded the disciples to proclaim to all the people, that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness through His name.

44  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.

45  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.

The early Jewish Christians had been told through the Scriptures in many places and explicitly by Jesus, that the Good News was for Gentiles as well as Jews, but just couldn’t grasp that all would now share equally in the gift of redemption – until they saw it for themselves.

46  For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

The experience of the disciples at Pentecost and other disciples at Ephesus, Acts 2:4,11 and Acts 19:1, 6.

Then Peter said,

47  “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

48  So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

“Baptised with water” – the external sign of their spiritual salvation.

“Received… just as we have” – The Gentile believers had received the same gift as the Jewish ones, Acts 11:17, and were given an unlearned prayer and praise language just as the Jewish Christians had been at Pentecost, v.46 and note above. This was strong evidence for treating the Gentile believers the same.

Application

The essence of this story is that Peter and his friends were challenged to do something which all their upbringing and experience told them was just plain wrong. Jews didn’t have anything to do with Romans, who were not just Gentiles but oppressors. A Roman governor and a Roman execution squad had put their Lord to a cruel and lingering death. Jews were God’s own people, set apart to Him as descendants of Abraham and followers of the law that Moses has instituted. And then the Holy Spirit fell, unmistakably, as these ungodly people received the gift of a praise language just as they had.

God is always doing a new thing.  Jesus, in His words of commission recorded at the end of each of the gospels, told them it would all be different: they were to go beyond their own nation and into the world. They would be fishermen, but ones that broke with the custom and practice of fishing.

We get set in our ways and especially our religious preferences. We prefer to keep our ‘club membership’ for people like us, but Jesus won’t have any of this. He challenges us to be open-hearted to those He wants to reach, who may be different… quite a lot different. And we, who like to think we are following the ‘right’ way get a reality check as we see how God works.

For reflection and discussion

How do you think God would have us reach our world for Jesus differently?

What changes could we make now that would make church more relevant to seekers?

Jesus’ way changes the world as we abide in His love and joy

WEDNESDAY, MAY 2
John 15:9-17

The joy and love which are characteristics of those who are the Lord’s have the effect of transforming our world

9  “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love.

“Remain in My love” – a parallel, but not identical,  statement to “remain in Me” or “abide in Me”, v.4.

10 If you keep My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.

“If you keep…” – a condition. Doing what Jesus said to do is important and the key to knowing His abiding presence and the security of His love. Jesus, fully God but also fully man, stuck closely to His Father’s instructions and intentions in His human life.

11 I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

“My joy…in you” – a defining characteristic of Christian believers is their joy, the joy of Jesus which is the same as the joy of the Spirit of Jesus. Obeying Jesus is not, as is sometimes supposed, drudgery, John 1:4, John 5:2-3.

“Complete” – our joy in a fallen world flickers in an uncertain way which the Holy Spirit’s joy makes into a secure connection.

12-13  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

“Love each other”, John 13:34.

As I have loved you” – Jesus demonstrated a depth of love that was sacrificial in a final sense. He calls us to love others beyond what is polite, expected and convenient, but showing His love even when it costs us to do so. We can’t claim to love God without showing love that extends beyond ourselves, 1 John 4:11-21.

14-17  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.  This is my command: Love each other.

“If you do what I command” – this is not about formality, discipline and duty in the way the language may suggest. What characterises Jesus’ friends is that they seek to grow more like Him and be found doing more of what Jesus Himself did. Appointed to bear “fruit that will last” is broadly about showing Jesus to the world through our changed hearts and attitudes, which itself attracts God’s provision.

“I have called you friends” – a rabbi’s disciples were seen in a relationship of bond-service, but Jesus’ disciples are in a bond of friendship. This is a key to the way the kingdom of God operates – through people and relationships.

For further study, the OT prophets foresaw an era of people of joy, Isaiah 25:9, 35:10, 51:3, 61:10, Zeph. 3:14-17, Zech. 9:9

Application

We are on a mission to transform a selfish and love-deficient world by demonstrating a new way of relating. First of all, we learn this within the fellowship of the church, but quickly we join Jesus on His mission, letting His love and joy, in us by His Holy Spirit, spill out to bless others. This is showing an unbelieving world what God is really like, and it is what Jesus called “fruit that will last”.

It doesn’t just happen – we have to work at it a bit. And we will find the enemy is ever active in making relationships difficult, wherever he can find a foothold to get in. Then, “remaining in His love” gets more costly. We find ourselves having to lay down parts of our life – being right, having what’s fair, letting go of what is ours – and trusting God for the outcome.

That is what Jesus did. It was His way of life and He says it is ours, too, as His “commanded” followers. But as we do, His love for us becomes more keenly felt, the joy that carries us through kicks in and we are reminded that we are not just followers, but teamed up with Him as his friends.

For reflection and discussion

Think of a time when you came to a decision to let go of something in life to do what was right by Jesus. How difficult was it at the time, and looking back, what did you gain by doing what was right?

Praise God for His changes brought through salvation

TUESDAY, MAY 11
Psalm 98

Praise for the Lord’s purpose which is to bring joy to His world

1  Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvellous things; His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him.

“Sing to the Lord” – This is a song of praise from start to finish, unlike many psalms that begin and end with praise.

“Marvellous things” – Used elsewhere for miraculous encounters such as the picture of salvation which is in the Exodus, Psalm 106:7

2  The Lord has made His salvation known and revealed His righteousness to the nations.

3  He has remembered His love and His faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

“Made His salvation known” – Praise for His victory in bringing His order. God in His faithfulness has remembered His covenant of steadfast love.

4  Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music;

“Shout for joy… all the earth” – this psalm was the inspiration behind Isaac Watts’ hymn ‘Joy to the World’.

5  make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing,

6  with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn – shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

The psalmist invites the whole earth to join in making music to praise God, see also Psalm 96:1. This psalm parallels Psalm 96 in many places.

 Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.

8 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;

9  let them sing before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.

“Judge the world in righteousness” – is expressed here as an eager anticipation of the coming of the righteous Judge, Psalm 96:11-13. God’s judgment, which is always righteous, and His vindication of those who have suffered injustice, often share the same original words, because they are the same idea.

“Judge the earth” – salvation in Christ Jesus (vv.2-3) and the righteous rule of the Messiah brings with it (unlike religions generally) the possibility of renewal and blessing for everyone on earth. All can turn to a personal God.

Application

It’s too easy for us to view our glass as half-empty, when perhaps we should be more ready to praise God for being on standby to fill everybody’s glass.

That’s not always easy – in fact, it might call for an intentional and quite courageous stance, to praise God for His goodness, when our situation seems to be at odds with that. We don’t find ot easy to go against our feelings.

But praise is powerful, especially the praise of Our God for who He is over and above what He has done. When everything is going pear-shaped, it’s time to praise God and remind him and all the heavenlies of who He is. There could hardly be a better place to start than reading out the words of truth in this psalm. It’s telling God that you know His goodness and mercy are following you, even in what seems like the valley of the shadow of death. Try it and see how quickly the oppression and hopelessness lifts!

For reflection and discussion

How ready are you to tell God how good He is, even if events around you seem to be preaching the opposite?