Archives for November 2018

Advent 2 – Be prepared

TLW49 December 9 Advent 2

Malachi 3:1-4

Luke 1:68-79

Luke 3:1-6

Philippians 1:3-11

19 + 10vv

Theme: Advent ABCD. Be prepared – for Christ to come again in a glorious return

Luke 1:68-79 — Praise for God’s plan of mighty salvation. Zechariah’s prophetic song over the forerunner, John.

Malachi 3:1-4 — A messenger will prepare the way for the Lord. When He appears He will come to refine and purify.

Luke 3:1-6 — God’s word to John is to preach repentance. He is Isaiah’s prophesied voice in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’

Philippians 1:3-11 — Prepare for the day of God’s work completed in us. Paul prays with joy for the believers in Philippi with a view to God’s eternal purpose for them.

Summary

ABCD of Advent: Be prepared – for Christ to come again in a glorious return

The messenger of the Lord will prepare the way and then suddenly the Lord, the Refiner, will come to His temple. The word comes to John son of Zechariah, to call people to repentance and prepare the way for the One to come. Christians in the Early Church are reminded that God’s work in us is always a ‘work in progress’, with its completion date the day of Christ Jesus.

CANTICLE – INTRODUCTION TO ‘BE PREPARED’ THEME

Luke 1:68-79 – Praise for God’s plan of mighty salvation

Zechariah’s prophetic song over the forerunner, John

68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come to His people and redeemed them.

“Praise be” — Benedictus in the Latin translation.

“His people… redeemed” — Zechariah is correct about the Jewish people, but His perspective does not extend to God’s desire for inclusive salvation, Luke 3:6.

69-71 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us

“Horn” — of a powerful animal, a ‘mighty salvation’, Ps. 18:2.

72-73 to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham:

“His Holy covenant… to Abraham” — although the original promise to Abraham had a focus on the land, this now emphasises the people of the land.

74-75 and to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

“Rescue us” — the people of Israel wanted freedom from physical, Gentile enemies, the Romans. God’s plan through His Son Jesus was for spiritual freedom from sin, from Satan and from death.

76-77 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,

“My child… a prophet” — at this dedication and naming of the baby as John, Zechariah prophesies over Him. John was the last of the OT prophets and was called by Jesus the greatest, Luke 7:28.

78-79 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

“Rising sun” — the Messiah is described in the OT as the sun rising and dispelling darkness, Isaiah 9:2, 60:1; Mal. 4:2-5.

“Path of peace” — or the way of the Lord: God’s purpose is people finding peace with God through faith in Christ Jesus, Romans 5:1.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Malachi 3:1-4 — A messenger will prepare the way for the Lord

When He appears He will come to refine and purify

“I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

“My messenger” – a play on the name Malachi. This messenger is Isaiah’s “voice in the wilderness”, Isa. 40:3 which the NT understands as the ‘Elijah’ of Malachi 4:3, the role which John the Baptist fulfilled, at least at the first coming of Christ. It was the custom in that culture for a king to send a messenger ahead to address obstacles to their visit – one way of seeing John the Baptist urging people to repent and prepare for the greater Messenger to come.

For further study, read Matt. 3:3, 11:14, 17:10-13; John 1:14-17

But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.

“The day of His coming” – a picture of judgment and also purifying. The launderer’s work with lye soap and beating with sticks was not gentle; neither was the heat needed to raise the dross of impurities from molten metal.

3-4 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

“Purify the Levites” – the term messenger was usually applied to prophets and priests – and the priestly class of the Levites, who were supposed to be an example in serving at the altar, will be purged of their unfaithfulness. 

IN PRACTICE Malachi’s message here about the Lord and messenger of the covenant focuses on the refining and purifying aspect, particular for its guardians, the priests and Levites. Bring that into today and the NT reminds us, James 3:1, that teachers will be judged more harshly. For those given privilege and responsibility, more is expected, Luke 12:38. The priests and religious leaders of Jesus’ time were not proclaiming God’s purpose but thwarting it.

Jesus is poised to come again, and the more that reality becomes clear, the more it is plain that He simply wants His Church back. He wants it to be His church, holding His values and proclaiming the unashamed message to the various empires of man, that He is the way to salvation into the kingdom of God.

Creating our own version of temple and priesthood may be more accessible for us – but it’s not what He had in mind. It’s not the New Covenant way of knowing God that the Early Church began to work out.

Our honouring His first coming, and preparing ourselves for His return, must involve pruning back what doesn’t belong, to reveal a church that Jesus will recognise.

QUESTION  What simple changes would bring your church closer to Jesus’ intention?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 3:1-6 — God’s word to John is to preach repentance

He is Isaiah’s prophesied voice in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’

1-2 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar – when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene – during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

“Herod tetrarch of Galilee… Philip tetrarch of Iturea. When Herod the Great died in 4 BC his sons Antipas (Galilee) and Philip (Iturea), also Archelaus, not mentioned, succeeded him as tetrarchs ruling quarters of his former kingdom. Also mentioned by Luke, Lysanias, the fourth tetrarch and the overseeing Roman governor Pontius Pilate.

He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

“Preaching a baptism of repentance” – John heralded the coming Messiah saying that people needed to repent of their sins and prepare spiritually; the response and demonstration of repentant intention was water baptism.

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.

“Prepare the way” – before a royal visit, workers would clear and level the road. The quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5 was associated with the Jews’ return from exile, Ezra 1-2, and end-times salvation. The picture for Jewish hearers was of another deliverance like the Exodus from Egypt.

Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.

“Every valley… filled in” – a poetic way of saying the Lord’s purpose will not be thwarted. There are also moral overtones. The humble and lowly are to be built up, the crooked changed, and the proud and arrogant, particular obstacles to God’s purposes, will be humbled.

And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”

“All people” – Luke’s  gospel was written with Gentile believers being added to the church in mind. All four gospel accounts quote Isaiah 40:3 but only Luke takes the quotation further: “…the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” Luke, a Gentile, asserts, from Scripture, that all people – not just those included in the original covenants – would see God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. It would be 20 years after the Resurrection, at the Council of Jerusalem, that this was recognised, a huge and controversial shift of attitude, see Acts 15, Galatians 2.

“All… will see God’s salvation” – God’s intention, that His covenant people would act as a light and model of righteousness to the nations around them, was clearly set out by Isaiah, Isa. 42:6 and 49:6: “The Servant… is called… to be **a light for the Gentiles**…” “…He says, ‘You will do more than restore the people of Israel to Me. I will make you a **light to the Gentiles**, and you will **bring My salvation to the ends of the earth**.’ ” Luke also reports the aged, godly Simeon’s prophetic blessing at the dedication of Jesus, Luke 2:28-32 “…My eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The purifying of the Levites, Mal. 3:3, addresses their negligence of this important widening of the mission of God.

IN PRACTICE  Luke’s picture of John, the prophetic voice in the wilderness of Isaiah 40 is a call for us to be prepared for the expected order to be upset.

The Jews expected their Messiah to come to them and deliver them, as their entitlement.

We think of our church attendance and charitable actions, and feel we should be the ones lining the way for the royal visit.

God often does things differently from our expectations. In recent years there have been increasing testimonies of how God shocks people that don’t really know Him with His love. We have been challenged by His perplexing grace to those we consider, in our judgment, rather undeserving as we hear stories of prisoners in jail receiving Jesus and Muslims of harsh views having visions of the Lord.

This gospel passage emphasises our being prepared for His return in expecting – and praying for – people who are not like us, to begin to see His salvation.

QUESTION  Who, in our world and culture, are to us like the ‘Gentiles’ that Jews of Jesus’ time struggled to accept as a focus of His salvation?

EPISTLE READING

Philippians 1:3-11 — Prepare for the day of God’s work completed in us

Paul prays with joy for the believers in Philippi with a view to God’s eternal purpose for them.

I thank my God every time I remember you.

“I thank my God” – Paul is writing from closely-guarded imprisonment, but his tone is thanks and joy for what God is doing among others.

4-6 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus.

“Day of Christ Jesus” – His return. God (the Holy Spirit) initiates salvation, works the ongoing salvation in us needed beyond the change of heart of initial salvation, and will bring salvation for all to its conclusion on this future day. Paul writes with this longer, eternal timescale in view.

For further study, read Phil 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:2–11; 2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 20:11–21:8)

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

“In chains or… confirming the gospel” – the Philippians stood with Paul and supported him practically and financially, despite the stigma of imprisonment in their culture. The partnership remained strong although Paul’s ability to “defend and confirm the gospel” seemed to have been removed by imprisonment. His perspective is that God is always “carrying on” the “good work” that He began through good times and hard. God always completes what he starts.

8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,

“Love may abound… in knowledge and… insight” – in knowledge of God’s Will and so able to move from the immediate picture and the judgments we make, to seeing the bigger picture of what God, in His unconditional love, is doing in others.

10-11 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

“Pure and blameless” – questioning what will be found in us on the day of Christ’s return. Harbouring wrong attitudes, especially the judgmental or resentful kind, will bring the Lord’s censure  — we are commanded to forgive, to show grace, to treat people better than they deserve and above all, to love. It’s only treating others as God treats us.

“The fruit of righteousness” — not something we can achieve by any amount of effort or discipline. Rather, it is being yielded to the Holy Spirit, such that He can grow righteousness in us, from the inside out.

IN PRACTICE  God’s timescales can be difficult for us in a world where up-to-the-minute news is on the ‘phone in our pocket, ‘instant’ drinks and food offer to save us time and we can be in another country for a meeting and back again the same day. Having to wait is challenging for us, and the waiting for Jesus’ return that the Early Church seemed to measure in years is counted for us in millennia. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the good work begun by the Lord is taking a long time to bring to anything like completion: the world has got bigger and vastly more complex. The message of this epistle is to have faith in God for all the loose ends that we see. He will bring to completion the good work that He has started, whether that is in us personally or the mission of the church we are involved in or the bringing about of a just world order.

QUESTION  What does it look like, to be filled with the fruit of righteousness?

PRAYER  Lord, we want Your glorious return but we are so unprepared. Teach us to wait actively but also to willingly put right with You those traits which have no place in Your presence. Amen.

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A for Anticipate – the coming of the kingdom

Image credit: https://lutheran-church-regina.com

Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, December 2, 2018. Advent 1, Year C.

TLW48

Theme: Advent ABCD: Anticipate – the coming of the kingdom

INTRODUCTION  The Lord Himself will become righteousness for us, offering us a radical new relationship with God. Yet to come is the full and final redemption and its turmoil of end-time signs, but the anticipation for believers is not fear, but joy, living in daily expectation of Christ Jesus returning with His heavenly retinue.

PSALM READING

Psalm 25:1-10 – Anticipation founded on confidence in God’s goodness. A preface to the theme of looking forward to God’s kingdom coming in full.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Jeremiah 33:14-16 — The Lord to become our righteousness, foretold. Anticipation of an ancient promise to be fulfilled in a radical new relationship

GOSPEL READING

Luke 21:25-36 — Anticipation of final redemption in end-times turmoil. Believers are to recognise the signs of the Son of Man coming again, in joy and trust

EPISTLE READING

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 — Be blameless and holy in anticipating the Lord’s return. Live in expectation of the imminent return of Christ Jesus with His heavenly retinue.

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PSALM – PREFACE TO THEME

Psalm 25:1-10 – Anticipation founded on confidence in God’s goodness 

A preface to the theme of looking forward to God’s kingdom coming in full

1-2 In You, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in You; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.

“I trust in You… shame” – honour and its opposite, shame, were emphasised in Jewish culture and the psalms make frequent mention of trust in the Lord as the way to avoid being shamed, Ps. 22:5, 31:1, 69:6, 71:1 etc.

3 No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.

“Hopes in You… shame” – hope, unlike the weaker, aspirational English meaning, is a solid confidence in God’s good purpose, Ps. 33:22, 130:5. Hope, which is trusting in God’s covenant goodwill, answers the threat of shame.

4-6 Show me Your ways, Lord, teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Saviour, and my hope is in You all day long. Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

“Your ways… paths… truth… great mercy and love” – language recalling God’s covenant with His people. The Lord has promised to return again, at which time His Way will be fully established.

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

8-10 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in His ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of His covenant.

“Good and upright” – because God is perfectly good and upright, He must extend mercy to humble, i.e. repentant, believers while not allowing the guilty and rebellious to escape judgment.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Jeremiah 33:14-16 –  The Lord to become our righteousness, foretold

Anticipation of an ancient promise to be fulfilled in a radical new relationship

14 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will fulfil the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“The days are coming” – looking forward from Babylonian conquest to a time of restoration, but also to a future time beyond that. The discussion of sheep and shepherds becoming visible again, Jer. 33:12-13, leads naturally into the prophecy of the Shepherd and Saviour of David’s line to come, in what we know as the first coming of Jesus and we anticipate as the second coming of the Messiah king.

15 “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; He will do what is just and right in the land.

Righteous branch ” – the language is very similar to Jer. 25:5-6.

16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour.”

“Judah will be saved and Jerusalem…” – The Messiah’s coming will be transformational. Jerusalem – the holy community – will be so changed that it will be called by the same name as its Saviour, “The Lord our righteousness” (Yahweh tsidqenu). This is one of the great covenant names of God, prophetically ascribed in Jeremiah 23:6 to the Messiah. His work is to be our righteousness. The ones who will be counted righteous, are those who have given their lives to Jesus.

For further study John 10:9, 11:26, John 14:6, John 3:16; and coupled with the warning about God’s wrath, John 3:36.

“Live in safety” – this prophecy was given while the Babylonians were breaking down the walls of Jerusalem and removing people and property.

17-18 For this is what the Lord says: “David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.”

“David will never fail” – meaning, the covenant with David (and other covenants), will not fail even in the judgment coming on Jerusalem.

IN PRACTICE  In the ABCD of Advent, we start with Anticipation, not of Jesus being born at Bethlehem (that happened!) but of a potentially terrifying time when Jesus as the heavenly host will come again. How will we be counted on that Day of the Lord? Righteous or unrighteous? Jeremiah was prophesying in the first instance about his own people, symbolised by Judah and Jerusalem being saved by the ‘righteous branch’ of David’s line, the Anointed One or Messiah. We know the Messiah with the Greek title Christ (anointed one) Jesus. Like many prophecies, this extends over more than one time and happening. Jesus will come again at an unknown future time – which we are to hold as an immediate prospect, not a distant one. However, the heart of the Gospel is in this Old Testament verse about the Lord who becomes our righteousness. The keeping of the Law was a hard path, but now Jeremiah foretells how the Lord will Himself become righteousness for sinful man. Our heartfelt response to Jesus, acknowledging Him as Saviour and giving Him the say-so of our lives is our release from judgment, not our good works. This is hard to grasp in a world whose values are so much about earned merit. At times in its history the Church has been muddled about this, where the priority of Scripture has been weak, but Jesus’ teaching that He is the gate for the sheep and believing in Him is the one requirement, is crystal clear through the NT.

PRAYER  Lord, help me to be crystal clear about what You have done for me in a way that I could not possibly have earned or merited; and help me to be clear in sharing this saving truth with others.

GOSPEL READING

Luke 21:25-36 — Anticipation of final redemption in end-times turmoil

Believers are to recognise the signs of the Son of Man coming again, in joy and trust

25-27 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

“There will be signs” – Jesus’ focus is now on the end times, an allusion to Joel 2:30-31, also quoted by Luke (writer of Acts) in Acts 2:20. The prophets expected arresting celestial signs at the end of age, Isaiah 13:9-10; Jeremiah 4:23,28; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10.

“They will see” – the second coming of the Son of Man will be a visible return accompanied by turmoil of the elements, and many people will be distressed, not knowing what is happening.

28 “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

“When these things… take place” – in the turmoil, believers are to look up in joy and trust, knowing that these are signs of the deliverance of Jesus’ followers in the final redemption, 1 Cor. 15:53; Romans 8:23.

29-31 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig-tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

“Look at the fig-tree” – leaves appear and change appearance, heralding the seasons. “When you see these things” – signs will show the kingdom coming fully.

32-33 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“This generation” – Jesus was not setting a time for the present age to end. He continually emphasised a time scale between His being present with His disciples, and His return, Luke 21:9,12,24.

34-36 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

“Will close on you suddenly” – but not unannounced, for those that will hear. For those who are not ready, “that day” is judgment closing against them. The point of the discourse is to be ready and alert for Christ’s return at any time.

“Suddenly… it will come on all those… on the whole earth” – the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem would follow in AD 70 but Jesus teaches that the coming Day of the Lord will be a crisis encounter for everyone, not just the Jews.

IN PRACTICE  Jesus taught about the end times, and His language conveyed a sense of urgency and expectancy, even if He also set out the kind of eternal time scale that no calendar can represent. As believers, we are to live in constant expectation of His sudden return, although the teaching gives us the kind of warning we should expect – being watchful and observant, as country people are about weather and seasons and threats to their livestock. A for Anticipation gets us thinking about where we stand with the Lord, should He return – now! The “suddenly” He speaks of will show last-minute decisions to be false decisions. Our anticipation is about being real about what will happen and positioned to welcome Jesus’ return rather than fear it.

QUESTION  How would you explain in your own words to someone who doesn’t believe in God, that there’s a day of judgment coming, but they can turn to Jesus who has made a way for them.

EPISTLE READING

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 — Be blameless and holy in anticipating the Lord’s return.

Live in expectation of the imminent return of Christ Jesus with His heavenly retinue.

9-10 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

“Thank God… for you” – the church in Thessalonica had been through a testing time, which Paul had experienced himself, in strong local opposition and rough treatment in Philippi, 1 Thess. 2:2,14-16; 1 Thess. 3:7. Testing is part of Christian life and opposition experienced as persecution is to be expected as carriers of the Gospel, Paul has already made clear, 1 Thess 3:3-4. However, he is greatly concerned for this church of believers new in their faith.

“Supply what is lacking” – the mission team’s teaching was cut short when they had to leave suddenly, 1 Thess 2:17. Part of the purpose of the letter is to make good the shortfall.

11-12 Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

May our God… may the Lord… may He strengthen” – Paul’s lifestyle of prayer is such that he breaks into prayer in his letter. In this prayer he is in effect asking God, but in the manner of making a declaration in faith, in agreement with God’s purposes.

13 May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.

“When our Lord Jesus comes” – in Paul’s mind is the Second Coming which he will discuss more fully later in the letter, 1 Thess. 4:1-5:22. “With all His holy ones” – used of Christian believers, often translated ‘saints’, in many passages in the NT e.g. Romans 1:7. Could also refer to the angels who will accompany the Second Coming.

IN PRACTICE  The church calendar and its seasons was an idea that arose many centuries after Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica. However, A for Anticipation in the ABCD of Advent was something that Paul lived out and taught. “When our Lord Jesus comes” is a clear statement of anticipation, the sense of keeping the house clean and tidy for the important visitor expected to drop in at any time. To personalise it, we see the ‘house’ as our lives, so that ‘clean and tidy’ is about keeping short accounts with God in confessing sin and tidying up our wrong priorities.

QUESTION  In the words of v. 13, will you be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father – if Jesus comes again now? Reflecting on the Old Testament and Gospel readings and notes, how do you know assuredly that you are counted blameless?

PRAYER  Lord, show me what in me is getting in the way of the coming of the kingdom in its fullness? What is me needs to be put out of my life, put right with You, put in a better place spiritually or forgiven in my relationships with others? Amen.

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Who is Jesus?

Theme: Who exactly is Jesus and what is the source of His authority? (Christ the King)

Image credit: http://www.standingwithchrist.com/whoisjesus.html

To read in the week of Nov 18, to prepare for Sunday, November 25 (TLW 47)

2 Samuel 23:1-7 — Final words from a renowned and godly ruler of Israel. David recalls God’s covenant with him and looks forward to a promised royal descendant

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 — the majesty of the Ancient of Days. A glimpse of heaven for Daniel who sees amid a myriad angels attending the throne of God the honouring of “one like a son of man”.

John 18:33-37 — Jesus is questioned by Pilate about who He is. Jesus explains that He is no political figurehead but His kind of kingdom is rooted elsewhere.

Revelation 1:4b-8 — The freedom to serve God as His priests now. Jesus, present from the beginning will return as the completion of truth

Also: Psalm 132:1-18

2 Samuel 23:1-7 — Final words from a renowned and godly ruler of Israel

David recalls God’s covenant with him and looks forward to a promised royal descendant

23 These are the last words of David:

‘The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse, the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, the hero of Israel’s songs:

“The utterance of the man exalted” – testimony to God’s work through his life, having been raised up as king of Israel, from shepherd to ruler, 2 Samuel 7ff; like the Bible’s wisdom literature, what follows contrasts just rule in the fear of God with un righteous leadership.

2 ‘The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue.

“Spoke through me” – not presumptuous, but in awe at God using Him prophetically.

 3 The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me:
When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God,

4 he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morninglike the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.”

“When one rules… in righteousness… in the fear of God” – in the style of a prophet, David sets out in bold strokes a picture of a God-centred ruler – unmistakably alluding to the One he foreshadowed, Jesus Christ.

5 ‘If my house were not right with God, surely He would not have made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part;

surely He would not bring to fruition my salvation and grant me my every desire.  

“An everlasting covenant… secured in every part” – even though his household had failed God, David believes rightly that God’s promise recorded in 2 Sam. 7:12-16 will hold good with a descendant of David as the Eternal King, fulfilled in Jesus Christ when He return to rule in perfect justice and peace.

For further study, similar prophecies in Isaiah 11:1-10; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jer. 33:15-18; Zech.9:9-10. Fulfilled in part, Matt. 4:14-16; Luke 24:25-27,44-49; John 5:45-47; John 8:28-29.

6 But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns, which are not gathered with the hand.

7 Whoever touches thorns uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear; they are burned up where they lie.’

“Thorns” – worthless but also dangerous, needing to be shifted with an weapon or implement. “Burned up”, literally ‘consumed with fire in the sitting’ or as we would say, on the spot. For God’s judgment as fire, see Isaiah 9;18; 10:17. The fate of the rebellious when the Messiah, in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant finally establishes His rule on earth, Isa. 63:1-6.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 – the majesty of the Ancient of Days

A glimpse of heaven for Daniel who sees amid a myriad angels attending the throne of God the honouring of one like a son of man

9 ‘As I looked, ‘thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat.

His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool;
His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.

“The Ancient of Days” – pictures God as a king of great power and immense maturity giving judgment in court. The description symbolises His wisdom in white hair; righteousness by white clothing; and power in judgment, as fire. The description is similar to that of an angel in Matthew 28:3 and Jesus in Revelation 1:14.

10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before Him.
Thousands upon thousands attended Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated, and the books were opened.

“Thousands attended” – a very great number of angelic beings stood before Him. John also recorded that there ‘thousands and millions”, i.e. too many to count, surrounding God’s throne and ministering to Him. Angels are spiritual beings created by God for worship and for mission (like us) who, largely unseen, help in carrying out God’s work on earth.

13-14 ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, [enash] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

“One like a son of man” – an Aramaic phrase ‘bar enash‘ meaning a human being, a phrase used throughout Ezekiel e.g. Ezek. 2:1,3,6,8. But this appearance is clearly not a human being, but “one like a son of man”, a description that the various authors of the NT were quite sure referred to Jesus Christ and probably what was in Jesus’ mind when He used this of Himself, Matt. 8:20. Hence the translation used here. There is more than one time-frame in view. At the end of history, the NT references these verses to teach us that Christ will return, riding the clouds to finally confront evil and enforce its defeat.

For further study: Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62; Luke 21:27; Rev. 1:7.

IN PRACTICE  The first aspect of who God is comes through David’s final testimony about ruling in the fear of God, and Daniel’s picture of awe as he is given a prophetic insight into the heavenly court – and the Ancient of Days. At first living, and especially leading, in the fear of God looks like lahigh risk venture. Do we bring on ourselves fire and brimstone or other destruction if we get it wrong? The history of northern and then southern kingdoms of Israel falling, and the misery of people being enslaved in exile, underlines the cost of getting it wrong, but this is in the context of having rejected countless warnings and appeals by God’s prophets. However, remembering that the Bible teaches us plainly that God is love, and his overriding character qualities are mercy and truth, there is a truth here about whether we really know God, and as a consequence desire to live out His character. This is the fear of missing God best and God’s pleasure in us. For Christians, who come to know God personally through embracing Jesus, our grasp of the Lordship of Jesus on our lives and our church involvements is crucial. When relationships get strained, or vision confused, it is a fair assumption that what has slipped has been the awe, or fear, of God through knowing Him and loving His ways.

QUESTION  Daniel’s vision of thousands and millions in the heavenly court was extraordinary and unrepeatable. What kinds of spiritual practice help us to have some sense of a glimpse of heaven and the majesty of the heavenly court?

John 18:33-37 – Jesus is questioned by Pilate about who He is

Jesus explains that He is no political figurehead, but His kind of kingdom is rooted elsewhere

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’

34 ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about Me?’

“Are you…” – Pilate’s first words to Jesus are the same in each of the four gospels. There were two possible questions here with different political overtones – was Jesus a rebel leader in opposition to Roman rule, or was He the Jews’ religious leader, the Messiah?

35 ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’

“Pilate replied” – he is exasperated, despising the Jews and their ways and not wanting to get involved with their affairts, yet seeing no real basis for their extreme animosity. Ironically, he ends up supporting their position in which we see God’s providence in allowing Jesus to be executed by being ‘lifted up’ and not by stoning, as Jews were inclined to do.

36 Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now My kingdom is from another place.’

37 ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me.’

“My kingdom is from another place” – heaven is the place of eternal and absolute truth. Jesus came as the Way, the Truth and the Life, John 14:6. Relationship with Him is the only way to God and the only means of that life-bringing truth being revealed – a conundrum for intellectual theologians because it is not logical or understandable. Jesus came as living truth for all who would receive Him. Pilate, a politician, considered all truth relative in the shifting sands of people’s opinions; however Jesus of Nazareth and his philosophical-sounding answer did not present as a threat to law and order.

IN PRACTICE  The second aspect of who God is, concerns the Son of Man who Daniel sees in his vision, approaching the Ancient of Days. On earth this picture is recalled, ironically, as Jesus of Nazareth is brought before Pontius Pilate. The Roman governor Pilate was used to factions, pressure-groups and politics in general. Appointed as Prefect of the Roman province of Judea, he encountered the religious politics of Jews and Samaritans, eventually being recalled to Rome after complaints from both. So it is not surprising that when Jesus of Nazareth was brought before him by the Jews, he saw Him at first as yet another political activist. Jesus immediately corrected that perception with His statement: “My kingdom is from another place”. The lesson for us is that human politics on earth and heaven’s purposes follow different agendas. There are spiritual connections – and tensions – between the two. We often pray and expect answers as though the kingdom of God and our world dominated by man’s organisation and control were the same, but the reality is that we pray through Jesus, who is the king of “a kingdom not of this world”.  The better we know Jesus, the more we will discern His kingdom, and the more clearly we’ll see the difference — and learn to live and pray in the right alignment with what He is doing.

PRAYER  Lord, I say you are a king – the king, King Jesus, to whom all authority is given. Help me to hold less tightly the priorities that seem to apply on earth, and to begin to see matters from a different perspective – Your heavenly perspective.

Revelation 1:4b-8 — The freedom to serve God as His priests now

Jesus, present from the beginning, will return as the completion of truth

4 To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

“The seven churches” – the letters were addressed so they could be sent out and passed on via the Roman road which ran north of Ephesus and then in an arc inland and back towards Ephesus, connecting the Roman province called Asia in modern western Turkey.

Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,

“Seven spirits before His throne” – better, ‘sevenfold spirit’ as NIV footnote. The number seven symbolises completeness and perfection. There may also be an allusion to the ‘angels of the seven churches, Rev. 1:20.

5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

5-6 To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father – to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Who loves us… has freed us…has made us…” – stated as present-time blessings.  There is a dimension of the kingdom of God (God’s reign bringing God’s order) which is not just anticipated when Jesus comes again, but in some measure experienced now. 

“A kingdom and priests to serve” – here, clearly and simply, is set out the essential difference between the Old Covenant way of relating to God (rules, hierarchical and formal rituals, led by a special order of priests who make connections by proxy, with God who is holy and remote) and the New Covenant (freed from the burden and guilt of sin by Jesus’ blood and now able to draw close to God as those who know Him and know His love, to serve Him in worship and mission without intermediaries). The human tendency is to revert to what is more ordered and more controlled, requiring less personal investment and responsibility, which is why the New Covenant remains a challenge for much of the Christian church today. As Jesus taught, the ‘taste of the old wine’ seems preferable.

7 ‘Look, He is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of Him.’ So shall it be! Amen.

8 ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’

“The Alpha and the Omega” – the alphabet is an ingenious way of representing knowledge through words. Christ, the Living Word, is supreme in this, ruling sovereignly over all human history including the part that for us has not yet unfolded.

“All peoples on earth will mourn” — rejoicing at the return of the Messiah by those that are His, swept up in the air to meet Him, 1 Thess. 4:16-17. Others, the ones still on earth, mourning their sin and judgment. The combined quotation headlines the theme of Revelation, the sweepingly majestic yet human-related Lord, Daniel 7:13 who evokes both the sorrow of sin in the face of One so holy but also finding grace, Zechariah 12:10

IN PRACTICE  The third aspect of who Jesus is, also says a lot about who we are.. Not only does His shed blood remind us powerfully of His love for us, we are reminded of the power of His blood in freeing us from sin, and from the subtle accusations of the enemy trying to gain a point of access into our thought lives. Why does this matter? It is because the Son of God enthroned in the heavenly court needs those who have stood at the Cross, who have given their pride and their self-sufficiency to Him, to be His partners in bringing His Kingdom. That is why He has conferred a new kind of priesthood on all He knows as His, a holy community where His rule and authority enriches life and relationships. It’s the priesthood of believers, of fellowship in the Great High Priest – the highest distinction. It’s easy to look around and see, where the believers are bringing the presence of Jesus and making a difference in the world. It looks different from the stereotype of the institutional church. These are the ones who know they have been freed, who know they are loved, and who are serving him in worship and mission through transformed lives.

QUESTION  What is meant by priesthood in the post-resurrection New Testament? What should we call those who are set apart and trained as preachers, shepherds and leaders in the church?

PRAYER  Lord God Almighty, may we grow in loving You and walking in awe of You, as we seek to represent You to our world, and bring the needs of our world to You.

This post in booklet form to print out for your church, respecting ©2018 The Living Word/Ian Greig

How faith destroys the devil’s destruction

Image: https://starvingchristiansblog.com/2017/01/16/in-your-name-i-pray-a-mans-prayer/

Revised Common Lectionary Bible readings to prepare for Sunday, November 18

Theme: The devil’s destructive works are overturned by faith in God’s purpose

1 Samuel 1:4-20 – God’s answer to a desperate prayer impacts history. Hannah’s failure to conceive does not dampen her trust in God’s goodness.

Daniel 12:1-3 – End-times resurrection: either everlasting life, or shame. The archangel Michael will arise to protect those whose name is written in book of the saved, in the final conflict.

Mark 13:1-8 – Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple. The end-times conflicts will be characterised by wars, disasters and widespread spiritual deception.

Hebrews 10:11-25 – Our confidence is in knowing who we are in Jesus. The Holy Spirit witnesses to us the New Covenant in Jesus blood and the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

Extras: 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Hannah’s prayer), Psalm 16

OLD TESTAMENT READING 1

1 Samuel 1:4-20 – God’s answer to a desperate prayer impacts history

Hannah’s failure to conceive does not dampen her trust in God’s goodness

4-8 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

“But to Hannah” – the name means ‘grace’. The wider story is God’s miraculous intervention with a faithful woman, Hannah, raising up the last of the judges of Israel at a time of crisis for Israel, who will oversee the transition to a monarchy.

“Peninnah… Hannah” – monogamy was the rule, two people becoming one flesh, Gen. 2:24. But there were social pressures through young men being killed in battle and the need to continue the family line – and produce more offspring to help with the work.

9-11 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.  And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

“Shiloh” – the original settled location of the tabernacle where the land was divided among the tribes, Josh. 18:1-10; modern Khirbet Seilun, about 20 miles north of Jerusalem. It was destroyed, Psalm 78:60; Jer. 7:12-14 perhaps as a result of the mistakes of 1 Sam. 4 when the ark was taken from Shiloh to be with the army, who were then defeated and the ark captured by pagans.

“Eli…on his chair by the…Lord’s house” – by this time a building with rooms, not just a tent. The chair (like a vicar’s stall in a C of E church) is the priest’s place and denotes his authority. Rabbis would sit to teach. Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

“Deep anguish” – barrenness in OT times was considered a failure and a social embarrassment for her husband, on top of the natural disappointment.

12-14 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

“Kept on praying” – Hannah had reason to be swamped by discouragement; unable to conceive, mocked by a woman who shared her husband and by the high priest who failed to understand her motives. But she kept praying, kept her focus on God and opened the way for Him to work.

15-16 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

“Not… a wicked woman” – to drink in the tabernacle precincts would be considered a grave offence; for a priest, a death sentence, Lev. 10:9; Ezek. 44:21.

17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

18 She said, “May your servant find favour in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

19-20  Early the next morning they arose and worshipped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. So in the course of time, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”

“Samuel” – the literal meaning is ‘name of God’ but it sounded like ‘heard by God’, a double meaning important to Hannah: God had heard her prayer.

OLD TESTAMENT READING 2

Daniel 12:1-3 – End-times resurrection: either to everlasting life, or shame

The archangel Michael will arise to protect those whose name is written in book of the saved, in the final conflict

1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.

“At that time” – the events of the previous paragraph detailing the antichrist’s attempt to annihilate the Jewish people, Dan. 11:36-45. It will be a time of unprecedented distress but at the same time, tempered with hope for true believers, who have turned in faith to their Messiah Jesus, Zech. 12:10; Romans 11:25-27.

Michael” – the name of the archangel Michael who prevailed over a principality demon controlling the Persian empire, after a 21-day struggle.

“Name… written in the book” – the book of the saved, Mal. 3:16-4:3; Luke 10:20; Rev. 13:8

2-3 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

“Multitudes who sleep… will awake” – the first reference in the Bible to the physical resurrection of the righteous, and also with a different outcome, of the wicked. The bodily resurrection of both the saved and the lost was a not part of the common belief.

For further study, read Job 19:25-26; Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 26:19; John 5:24-29.

“Everlasting life” – the phrase is unique here in the OT.

IN PRACTICE The story of Hannah speaks loudly of God’s goodness, to all of us who have been misunderstood, disappointed again and again and put down by others. Her self-esteem had been shredded, but not her faith. She knew God is good, even if it didn’t feel that way to her, and she kept on praying. We know that pride and self-sufficiency are a barrier to God working in our lives. And He will root that out, especially if he is about to do something big. His purpose is always to grow us and always has a bigger picture than the one we see.

Hannah’s story reminds us that at times of apparent disaster, God is working for His salvation purposes. For God’s people taking God’s kingdom purpose forward, persecution goes with the territory! Paul reminded Timothy of this (2 Timothy 3:10-13 especially) and it is our encouragement to keep on keeping on, for heaven’s reward in heaven’s time.

PRAYER  Lord, open my eyes to the bigger picture that is not just my fight of faith, that I may see and declare that You are good and Your purposes for me are protective.

GOSPEL READING

Mark 13:1-8 – Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple

The end-times conflicts will be characterised by wars, disasters and widespread spiritual deception

1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Massive stones” – think of foundation stones on the scale of a double-decker bus. The building project would not be complete for another 30 years.

2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

“Every one… thrown down’ – the temple was completely destroyed by the Romans in AD70 together with most of the city. The authorities, who sought to murder the Messiah, Mark 11:18, rather than welcome Him, Mark 11:9-11, 27-33, were rebellious tenants marked for destruction, Mark 12:9-10.

3-4 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

“What will be the sign” — the disciples were expecting the temple destruction to herald the last times. Jesus is speaking of future events and future times but, confusingly for us, free of chronological order. Prophetic foretelling in Scripture often applies to more than one future time.

5-8 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

“Watch out… be on your guard” – Jesus’ commanding tone points to deception being a primary danger for the disciples, requiring them (and us) to be skilled in spiritual discernment together with Scriptural principles.

IN PRACTICE  Jesus had warned the disciples that there would be consequences for those who rejected their Messiah. The cause and effect relationship would result in the pulling down of the focus of national pride, the new temple and even its massive foundations. Their ‘sign of the end times’ came less than 40 years later with terrible bloodshed as Jerusalem and its revolt was destroyed by the Romans. Jesus’ words point to a greater conflict yet to come, while the end-times seem to us to go on and on. Perhaps the greatest danger is not just hatred and war, but its root causes in satanic deception. The kingdom message of knowing God’s love and loving Him and others is so straightforward we can miss it – but we are to watch for the ways it is twisted into an ugly caricature, and recognise which kingdom is dark, and which is light.

QUESTION  Do our attitudes and actions play out with effects now, or effects later, or in eternity – or not at all?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 10:11-25 – Knowing who we are in Jesus is our confidence

The Holy Spirit witnesses to us the New Covenant in Jesus blood and the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice for us

11-14 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time He waits for his enemies to be made His footstool. For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

“Every priest stands… this Priest… sat down” – Christ is seated because His work is finished, whereas every levitical priest stood, for religious duties which were continually repeated. The author heavily underlines this contrast with the layered emphases “one sacrifice”, “for all time”, “He sat down…and…waits”, “He has made… those…being made holy”…”holy forever”.

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First He says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

“I will put my laws in their hearts” – as Jeremiah had prophesied, Jer. 31:31-34, seeing a future era of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding believers which, post-Resurrection, should be our experience. These verses explain the apparent conundrum of “being made holy” or sanctified by the Holy Spirit’s influence on us, while being regarded positionally as “made perfect” by the finished work of Christ, v.14. We are seen according to our new nature in Christ, outcome assured, while as we are aware, we remain on earth a ‘work in progress’.

17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

“Sins…remember no more” – contrasts with “annual reminder of sins”, Heb. 10:3. The religious mindset (as in the Old Covenant) holds on to a false need to confess sins repeatedly. This new spiritual perspective of the New Covenant has the revelation that Christ forgives sins completely, Psalm 40:6-8. Sins we confess and renounce are both forgiven and forgotten.

19-25 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

“Therefore… let us…” – the incredible good news that we are positionally completely forgiven is not a licence for passivity, but rather, the reason to keep on meeting, encouraging one another, going deeper with God and further in faith-prompted love and good deeds.

“Draw near… with…” – it works with certain conditions: sincerity of heart, unhesitating assurance, freedom from guilt, and the impartation of “hearts sprinkled… bodies washed” which points to the value of choosing to declare faith in baptism.

IN PRACTICE  A key word in this passage is ‘confidence’ and a key value in living above all that pulls us down as witnesses to the life of the Spirit of Jesus in us, is confidence in who we are, as viewed by heaven. We might not feel it polite in mixed company to speak vehemently of the blood of Jesus and how it has transformed us – but speak it out we must! The devil, one of the actors in all of these passages, has no manners at all and certainly doesn’t respect our gentility – but will run scared every time when we declare the power of Christ blood and the New Life we have in Him and Him alone. These passages all tell stories of conflict and difficulty, but also God’s eternal, good purpose and salvation plan coming through, which may not be seen in all the smoke and shouting. That presents us with a choice. Who do we agree with? The destroyer, or the Saviour? Our expression of faith in God’s purpose, our words of truth, are not just words, but the force that tips the balance.

QUESTION  What seems to be going badly for you right now? What is God’s good purpose in it, and how do you pray in line with that discernment?

PRAYER  Lord, no one knows the time of Your return and all we really understand about the end-times is that at the end of the book, the Lamb wins! Fill me afresh with the Holy Spirit who gives holy confidence and help me to maintain a praising spirit, as one who knows the final score as well as the cost of Your victory in pain and blood. Amen.

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I seek the person who’s an open book

Pharisee teachers of the law, Mark 12:38-44. Image: Mike Hayes http://www.googlinggod.com/2011/11/29/have-we-become-the-pharisees/

RCL and Remembrance Sunday readings for Nov 11, 2018

Theme: God hates falsehood, but honours authenticity and trust

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 — Ruth shows her need of a kinsman redeemer. Boaz marries the young Moabite widow and their son is an ancestor of King David.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 — Jonah obeys the Lord and preaches repentance to Nineveh. On overcoming his fears and misgivings and obeying the Lord, he sees Ninevites respond and God’s judgment averted.

Mark 12:38-44 — Jesus condemns the falsehood of the scribes. The teachers of the law lived by show and exploited others, while the powerless widow is seen to honour God in her giving.

Hebrews 9:24-28 — Christ enters the ‘real tabernacle’ of heaven to appear for us. His first appearance was to sacrifice Himself for the sins of many and He will come again to gather others.

Also: Psalm 127

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 — Ruth shows her need of a kinsman redeemer

Boaz marries a young Moabite widow and their son is an ancestor of King David

1-2 One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor.

“Find a home” – literally, resting place, or permanent home. As a close relative, Boaz might act as a kinsman-redeemer for Ruth and Naomi.

Winnowing…threshing floor” – separating the chaff from the grain. It was also customary for the landowner and men to sleep nearby and prevent theft of the grain.

3-4 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

“Uncover his feet” – however it sounds, folding back his long tunic so that he wakes with cold feet, so she can speak privately with him, is not pushing the boundary of moral integrity. Ruth’s action, dressed as a bride, rather than a widow, amounts to a request for marriage. The story of Tamar, Genesis 38:13-30, is another example of appealing to the guardian-redeemer law.

5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered.

“Whatever you say” – Ruth was a Moabite, unfamiliar with Jewish law and custom.

4:13-15 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

“Gave birth to a son” – the story concludes with the ten generations from Perez, the son of Judah (Jacob’s son) to David, grandson of Obed. Ruth and Boaz were ancestors of Israel’s greatest king (and Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus).

16-17 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

“Obed… father of Jesse” – Ruth and Boaz were ancestors of Israel’s greatest king (and Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus).

The conclusion balances the introduction, Ruth 1:1-5, Ruth 4:13-17. Both focus on Naomi, her former emptiness and reliance on the Lord, now reversed by His provision for her. Both passages are similar in being compressed and having the same number of words in Hebrew.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 — Jonah obeys the Lord and preaches repentance to Nineveh

On overcoming his fears and misgivings and obeying the Lord, he sees Ninevites respond and God’s judgment averted

1-2 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

“The message I give you” – a prophet is to proclaim a message from God, not necessarily a foretelling one.

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.

“Jonah obeyed” – this time, unlike his first call to Nineveh, Jonah 1:3, and still reluctantly, Jonah 4:1-5.

“Great city” – it was a sizeable place, about three miles across, not a journey of days, except that it took Jonah time to preach his message, street corner by street corner.

4-5 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

“Nineveh… overthrown” – Jonah’s message did not include an “unless” clause even though he knew God wanted their repentance rather than their destruction, Jonah 3:10, 4:2.

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.

IN PRACTICE The Book of Ruth begins and ends with the Lord’s provision – He “had come to the aid of His people by providing food for them”, “the Lord enabled [Ruth] to conceive” and the Bethlehem women agreed with Naomi, “The Lord… has not left you without a guardian-redeemer”. It was a big issue of trust for them; for Ruth, trusting God who she hardly knew, doing the right thing when it also seemed a wrong thing and for them both, being real about their situation and their need of God’s intervention in providing an unwed and land-owning relative keen to marry Ruth and continue the family line… which reached forward to King David. Jonah’s version of being real before God and trusting Him in a difficult call needed some time to mature, but eventually he found himself preaching to the streets of this notorious pagan capital of the Assyrian empire, for the people to turn from their wickedness to the living God – and they did. God blessed the two women in their plight and their need, and He blessed run-away Jonah back to obedience, who then saw an extraordinary revival unfold.

QUESTION Worshipping as one of a congregation that is led from the front, we can all wear a mask but we need to get real with the Lord about how we are. What other ways of gathering help us to do this?

Mark 12:38-44 — Jesus condemns the falsehood of the scribes

The teachers of the law lived by show and exploited others, while the powerless widow is seen to honour God in her giving

38-40 As He taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

“Teachers of the law” – also called ‘scribes’, were notorious for breaking the law they sought to impose by failing to love God and have His love for people. Jesus names six examples of their self-promoting desire for recognition: wearing long festive garments inappropriate for everyday wear; expecting people to rise and greet them; assuming the right to the prominent places in synagogues, and at banquets; making ‘grandstanding’ prayers; and preying on vulnerable widows.

Devour widows’ houses’ – teachers of the law relied on the generosity of patrons, and widows were vulnerable to exploitation which eventually left them homeless. Defrauding someone else’s mother, Mark 7:11-13, was a denial of loving either God or people, with a lack of mercy that rendered their lengthy prayers empty.

For further study – God’s concern for widows, Deut. 14:29; Ps. 68:5; Ps. 146:9; Isa. 1:17; Jer. 7:6; Jer. 49:11; and condemnation of those who abuse them, Isa. 1:23, Ezek. 22:7, Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5.

41-42 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

The temple treasury” – a number of trumpet-like receptacles to catch money, in the Court of Women, accessible to men and women. Women were barred from going in further.

“Small…coins” – ‘two lepta, which is a quadrans’ – a Roman measure, because Mark wrote his gospel for the church in Rome. It was equivalent to a sixty-fourth of a basic day’s pay.

43-44 Calling His disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”

“She… put in everything” – the widow did exactly what Jesus had told the influential young man and His disciples to do, Mark 10:21, Mark 8:34-37, Mark 10:28-29.

IN PRACTICE There are times and situations where distinctive uniforms are helpful – we immediately think of peacekeeping and emergency services – and job titles are helpful for recognising people’s roles, from the Queen and Prime Minister to the customer service person. The point in this passage is about those who are in a position to represent God to others failing to demonstrate His mercy, but rather assuming an entitlement to position and distinction and the right to bully others – which Jesus denounces as warranting severe punishment. The lesson here is that God may hear quite short and simple prayers from regular people who have no pretension and nothing to prove, but give themselves to God in authenticity and reliance on Him.

QUESTION Do you have a title or a position that you rather like? What will it cost you to let it go?

Hebrews 9:24-28 — Christ enters the ‘real tabernacle’ of heaven to appear for us

His first appearance was to sacrifice Himself for the sins of many and He will come again to gather others

24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

“Sanctuary… a copy of the true one” – the regulations for ministry given under the old covenant were for a sanctuary on earth that represented God’s transcendent ‘otherness’ with the holy place that people other than the high priest could not enter. Now Christ enters into the very presence of God in heaven.

25 Nor did He enter heaven to offer Himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.

“Blood not his own” – pointing out the difference between a priest sacrificing unwilling animals, and Jesus offering Himself.

26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But He has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

“Many times… once for all” – the animal sacrifice had to be made again and again on the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16:29-34. Christ’s far superior sacrifice was final, for all time.

“Since the creation of the world” – or since the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3, Hebrews 4:3 there has been the need for a complete and lasting, rather than provisional, remedy.

27-28 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

“He will appear a second time” – but not to deal with sin, because that has already been accomplished. “Those who are waiting for Him” – believers are to live in expectation of Christ’s return at any time, remaining faithful and ready however long the wait.

IN PRACTICE The writer of Hebrews (possibly Apollos and almost certainly not Paul) addresses Jewish-background believers. This gives them a sharply-drawn comparison between the rituals of temple and synagogue (as it was then) and the worship in heaven with Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the adoration of the heavenly throng. One is an earthly imitation, of sorts, and the other is the real thing. Is what we do a pale imitation, or the real thing, albeit scaled down and humanised to make it accessible for us? We can go through the familiar routines – liturgy or not, every church tradition has them – or we can be intentional about inviting the presence of God, asking the Holy Spirit to presence Himself, giving Him permission to upset our carefully prepared order of service. To the extent that we do this (probably little steps at first) we notice the difference. We can’t always define it. But there’s a sense of God’s close presence. We know ‘the real thing’ when we experience it. And Christ has performed the perfect ritual, once and for all, so that we can be free to encounter the Lord and experience a little bit of heaven as we gather and submit to Him.

QUESTION Honest answer, on a postcard… would you rather know the exact order of worship, or know that you have met with the Lord in a way special and personal to you?

PRAYER Father God, I receive Your love afresh and thank You that You know me inside out. You know the ways I am an open book to You, and also where I cling to some life position for my identity. Help me to renounce all that is false, proud or self-sufficient — and offensive to You. I pray this in and through Jesus. Amen.