Archives for January 2019

Proclaiming and teaching and receiving the Word which reveals God

TLW04

January 27, 2019

Theme: Proclaiming and teaching and receiving the Word which reveals God

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 — Ezra reads the Law to the assembled people. They find both conviction and joy in Scripture

Luke 4:14-21 — Jesus reads the Scripture which defines His call. He proclaims freedom, sight for the blind and God’s favour in its entirety

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a — God has put teaching ministry and other gifts in His church. They work in concert in His body, diverse but one

And also: Psalm 19

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Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Ezra reads the Law to the assembled people. They find both conviction and joy in Scripture.

1 All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.

“Water Gate” — south of the Temple and more open space

“Bring out the Law” — the first five books, probably emphasising Deuteronomy.

2-3 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

“Seventh month” — The people assembled for the Festival of Trumpets, Leviticus 23:24-25 at the beginning of the new year, October 1, 445 BC

5-6 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

“Opened the book… the people… stood… and… lifted their hands” — Ezra unrolling the scroll and publicly reading the precepts was worship, in the presence of God.

8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

“Giving the meaning” — articulate exposition of the Hebrew Scriptures for the Aramaic-speaking people, brought up in Babylon.

9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

“Weeping as they listened” — the word of God, brought worshipfully, brought conviction, Ezra 10:6; Isaiah 57:18 – 19; Jeremiah 31:13; Ezra 3:13. They were becoming painfully aware of their ancestors’ failure before God. However, the New Year festival recalled with joy what God had done for them, Numbers 29:1-6.

10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

“The joy… is your strength” — as the people, rejoicing, received the presence of God afresh, He would show Himself strong for them. 

IN PRACTICE  The Holy Spirit is active in the Old Testament but He is seldom highlighted until later, but he is certainly active in this public reading of Scripture which leads to a profound revelation and repentance among the people. The Law, their heritage as the people of God, had been missing from their lives. They could now see how their ancestors had become independent from God (a good definition of sin), had dismissed warning after warning from God’s prophets, and the cause-and-effect of the exile which was their experience. Scripture is  God’s words of instruction, and also God’s “now” word of direction as the Holy Spirit makes a deep connection with us. The hearers came to repentance before God, not for what they had done, but for others  who had gone before, which is teaches us that we can make the same response. Joy and strength arise through repentance, because God is love, and His very nature is mercy. What he wants most is to give us a second chance – and to do what connects us to this desire.

QUESTION  The people, hearing the law, were aware of how badly the nation had failed. What touches God’s heart to turn their weeping to rejoicing?

Luke 4:14-21

Jesus reads the Scripture which defines His call. He proclaims freedom, sight for the blind and God’s favour in its entirety

14-15 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised Him.

“Returned… in the power of the Spirit” —  Jesus tips up into his public ministry, following baptism and visible encounter with the Holy Spirit.

“Teaching in their synagogues” — in Galilee, including Capernaum. Luke highlights what happened at Nazareth event. Jesus’ followers start to see Him as Messiah; others start to challenge His authority.

16-17 He went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written:

“The scroll… was handed to Him” — synagogue worship followed a pattern which included a set reading from the law (early books), and a reading from one of the prophets (later books), with an exposition which tied both together. Jesus is handed the scroll for Isaiah 61, to be read in Hebrew and paraphrased in the more familiar Aramaic.

18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

“Set the oppressed free” — all five phrases speak about those who are marginalised in society, and “poor”, “prisoner”, “blind” etc carry both material and spiritual meanings.

20-21 Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

“Scripture is fulfilled” — gracious words, they said, from “Joseph’s son” until Jesus, in His exposition, vv. 22-29, dared to apply the good news for non-Jews. Then they became angry.

IN PRACTICE  Here is a reading of Scripture on a different occasion but with similar deep impact, as Jesus unrolls the scroll to Isaiah 61 and reads the opening words as His personal commission. He had attended the Nazareth synagogue countless times as He grew up. Now, following his encounter with the Spirit of God at the riverside in baptism, He reads and speaks with a different tone and greater authority. What He tells them is true, but it is difficult for them, knowing Him as the carpenter who grew up with Joseph and Mary and siblings. Even more shocking was His explanation that the good news was proclaimed for all – for non-Jews as well. Judaism was never intended to be a ‘closed shop’ and neither is the Christian church which particularly exists for the benefit of others. Jesus’ hearers quickly forgot the heavenly authority of His teaching and became angry. The word of God, proclaimed with the Spirit of God, is powerful both to save – and to convict.

QUESTION  In what ways are we bound up, unable to see properly, feeling bad about ourselves and lacking God’s joy in our lives? How does encountering Jesus change us?

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

God has put teaching ministry and other gifts in His church. They work in concert in His body, diverse but one

12-14 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free– and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

“One body” — Paul assumes the Corinthians know that they together form Christ’s body. “Many parts” — Earlier Greek and Roman sources use the state as an analogy for many different members comprising one unified body.

15-17 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

“If the foot should say” — orators of this period often personified objects as speaking.

18-20 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21-24 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.

“Parts… we treat with special honour” — the “parts that we think are less honourable” stay clothed however hot it gets.

“Eye cannot say to the hand” — the Corinthian church had got carried away with the more demonstrative gifts, and Paul will single out the prayer and praise language of tongues as a gift to use wisely, not to show off spirituality, 1 Cor. 12:10, 27, 30.

24-26 But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

“Greater honour” — people with spiritual gifts that stand out to other do not need extra honour.

“Equal concern” — when all the gifts are working together, there will be a mutual concern that will prevent division.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

“The body” — Each individual, in each congregation and every expression of Trinitarian church is part of Christ’s body on earth.

28-30 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

“God has placed in the church” — earlier, different spiritual gifts were discussed but now, people with a specific and established kind of ministry gifting are in view. Paul teaches that ‘showy’ and less showy gifts are of equal value. When it comes to gift ministries there is a certain order, not of value but in function, because of how they edify the church. Not all are the first-to-act pioneers who go out and plant churches, but without them there would be no churches. Not all are commissioned to speak a word from God and shape the church’s vision, but those that are should be recognised in their calling without any jealousy. Similarly with those who instruct others in the faith, or take risks in exercising faith for the miraculous.

31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

“Greater gifts” — emphasising the gift of God’s unconditional love, given to us to to give away. This verse headlines 1 Cor. 13, which is where chapter 12 is going. All gifts are empty gestures unless motivated by God’s love.

IN PRACTICE   Paul’s teaching, arising from tensions in the church in Corinth, makes the assumption that spiritual gifts are part of the life of the church but must be balanced and free from competition or jealousy. Those who lead in giftedness, in breaking new ground, proclaiming, explaining, or in one-to-one personal ministry, are recognised as the ones who equip the congregation.

There is a tension between our desire for predictability – this is “our synagogue” or this is “our church” – and God doing something unpredictable, like Jesus’ message at Nazareth or Holy Spirit-led ministry at Corinth.

God knows our needs, meets us with love, and wants to walk over the bridge of our faith, to work in our lives and community. Will we learn to let Him?

QUESTION  Does the Lord need to remind His church of the centrality of His word again? What would Paul write to our church about practising spiritual gifts and Spirit-led ministry?

PRAYER  In your own words, thank God for His lifegiving, encouraging and at times correcting word. And for gifts in the church who help bring that word.

The glory of God seen in the church and outside

TLW03

January 20, 2019

Isaiah 62:1-5 — Glory comes to Zion in a new name. God’s gracious vindication will sound until it shines out for all to see

John 2:1-11— Jesus miraculously changes water into wine. Social shame is averted as Jesus shows God’s glory at a community gathering

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 — Paul teaches the balance of spiritual gifts. The glory of God is shown in supernatural enabling of ordinary people

And also: Psalm 36:5-10

Isaiah 62:1-5

Glory comes to Zion in a new name. God’s gracious vindication will resound until it shines out for all to see

This expands the theme of shame erased by glory e.g. Isaiah 60:15; 61:7 and the general thrust of previous weeks’ Isaiah readings, Isaiah 60:1-6 and Isaiah 43:1-7 (Jan. 6 and 13). Isaiah sees the servant-Messiah keeping on speaking out, in the manner of Psalm 28:1-2, until the transformation of Zion – a metaphor for God’s people – is complete. This is a long-sighted view, through rebellion and exile, then regathering, the coming of the Messiah in earthly ministry, and the presently-expected coming again of Jesus in judgment and glory.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.

The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.

“Vindication” – or righteousness. In Isaiah 46:13 the same word in Hebrew is translated “righteousness”.

You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah [My delight is in her], and your land Beulah [married]; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married.

“You will be called” – names often made a statement about a person’s character or reputation or even call, and sometimes people changed their names to reflect this. The change of name for the people of God reflects how God now sees them differently.

“Married” – the change is from a state of loneliness, deserted and desolate, to intimacy, in an exclusive and delightful relationship of love and protection, like the covenant of marriage. The expression of a land being married to a god, especially the One God, is unknown in other literature of the time. This way of expressing the unique covenant between Yahweh and Israel is only found in Isaiah.

As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.

“Your Builder” – the One who has formed you. Other versions render this “so shall your sons marry you”, the idea of the blessing of an expanding household.

IN PRACTICE  Many passages in Isaiah see far ahead of his time to a series of events which will only come to finality when Jesus returns. Here he sees a time of Israel’s “desolation” from abandoning trust in God and failing to listen to those charged to proclaim His message. But Isaiah has also caught God’s heart – that He is for His people, that his fundamental nature is to be merciful, that he can always bring His purpose out of man’s mess. That is reassuring when everything around seems to be a mess, and even if we are convinced that we caused it. God is bigger, and already has a new name and new life for us. Renewing is what He does. Sometimes our little bit of personal glory or fulfilment just has to die, because God will have us see His glory, His alone.

QUESTION  If renewing, vitalising, “re-branding” is what God does, why are we reluctant to let go of what we have and allow Him to bring change?

John 2:1-11

Jesus miraculously changes water into wine. Social shame is averted as Jesus shows God’s glory at a community gathering

1-3  On the third day a wed­ding took place at Cana in Gal­i­lee. Jesus’ moth­er was there, and Jesus and His dis­ci­ples had also been in­vit­ed to the wed­ding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ moth­er said to Him, “They have no more wine.”

“Wine was gone” – a social embarrassment. The family was obligated to provide a feast of the expected standard. There was no variety on offer, and people drank wine, water or a mixture.

“No more wine” – some commentators see here a problem that symbolised Israel’s spiritual barrenness. The OT background of Judaism in the first century saw plenty of wine as a figure for God’s blessing and joy,.

For further study, read Psalm 104:15, Proverbs 3:10, Matthew 26:2

“Wom­an, why do you in­volve Me?” Jesus re­plied. “My hour has not yet come.”

“Woman” – formal but not inappropriate. Perhaps “With the greatest respect, why are you involving Me?” Jesus would not let the nature (and cost) of His ministry be set by a human agenda. There is a hint here that Jesus and the disciples arrived unexpectedly.

His moth­er said to the ser­vants, “Do what­ev­er He tells you.”

Near­by stood six stone wa­ter jars, the kind used by the Jews for cer­e­mo­ni­al wash­ing, each hold­ing from twen­ty to thir­ty gal­lons.

“Ceremonial washing” – as we wash hands before eating, so did they, but with ceremonial law more of a motive than practical hygiene. For a feast with many guests, over several days, large quantities of water were needed.

Jesus said to the ser­vants, “Fill the jars with wa­ter”; so they filled them to the brim.

8-9  Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the mas­ter of the ban­quet.”

They did so, and the mas­ter of the ban­quet tast­ed the wa­ter that had been turned into wine. He did not re­al­ise where it had come from, though the ser­vants who had drawn the wa­ter knew. Then he called the bride­groom aside and said,

10   “Ev­ery­one brings out the choice wine first and then the cheap­er wine af­ter the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

“The best” – symbolising how everything Jesus introduced in the Messianic age He inaugurated, was better.  Good wine was viewed as a sign of God’s blessing, Amos 9:13-14. God’s particular and personal blessing, the Messiah, had now arrived.

11  What Jesus did in Cana of Gal­i­lee was the first of the signs through which He re­vealed His glo­ry; and His dis­ci­ples be­lieved in Him.

“First of the signs” – John records seven or eight, each of which make a statement about who Jesus is, His lordship, and the glory of God.

• For further study, see also John 1:14, 11:4, 11:40

IN PRACTICE  When Jesus turns up, everything is likely to change. Averting shame by the miraculous provision of choice wine was a good change. However, Jesus’ ministry was to get more conflicted. Surely healing the sick could only be good, but for some people, not good if someone was ‘meant’ to be sick or blind, and not on the Sabbath. Life with Jesus at the centre opens up all sorts of possibilities but as it always challenges the established order of how things are, it may not be comfortable, and we sense Jesus’ reticence in performing this miracle as He started out.

QUESTION  Do we want Jesus to show up at our party? For that matter, how much do we want Jesus to show up in our church, knowing that He will disrupty the familiar order?

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Paul’s balanced teaching on spiritual gifts. The glory of God is shown in supernatural enabling for ordinary people

Now about the gifts of the Spir­it, broth­ers and sis­ters, I do not want you to be un­in­formed.

“About the gifts” – the Corinth church flowed in the gifts, which was good, but there had been tensions and a lack of balance where the more demonstrative gifts had been allowed too much prominence. He will continue beyond this passage to teach that sacrificial love is the standard for everything else, where the good of the whole body is a higher value than individual expressions.

2-3  You know that when you were pa­gans, some­how or oth­er you were in­flu­enced and led astray to mute idols. There­fore I want you to know that no one who is speak­ing by the Spir­it of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” ex­cept by the Holy Spir­it.

“Speaking by the Spirit of God” – the mark of true worship, a sincerity of heart beyond words that comes only through the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives. In a pagan society with many processions, temples and idols, expressing Jesus as one of many deities was not the same as exclusive allegiance to Jesus as Lord. The Greek word for Lord is that used to translate ‘Yahweh’ in the old Greek-from-Hebrew OT.

4-6  There are dif­fer­ent kinds of gifts, but the same Spir­it dis­trib­utes them. There are dif­fer­ent kinds of ser­vice, but the same Lord. There are dif­fer­ent kinds of work­ing, but in all of them and in ev­ery­one it is the same God at work.

“Different… gifts” – gifts of grace, i.e. unmerited, and explained in a way that reflects the Trinity (like Matt. 28:19), a way of emphasising the diversity and also unity of spiritual gifts.

Now to each one the man­i­fes­ta­tion of the Spir­it is giv­en for the com­mon good.

To one there is giv­en through the Spir­it a mes­sage of wis­dom, to an­oth­er a mes­sage of knowl­edge by means of the same Spir­it…

“Message of wisdom” – these gifts are familiarly referred to as the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom. The first is a supernatural flash of insight into a person or situation, usually to raise faith as God ‘flags’ what He wants to do e.g. in healing or other release or impartation. The word of wisdom works with the first in the sense of knowing how to go ahead with the insight that has come. Sensitivity to the other person and timing are examples.

…to an­oth­er faith by the same Spir­it, to an­oth­er gifts of heal­ing by that one Spir­it…

“Faith… healing” – faith and healing often work together (as all the gifts work in concert) to raise faith to pray with expectation and confidence for healing. The gift of faith is distinct from general faith or saving faith – it is an impartation of the moment to see heaven’s much bigger picture, and go for it.

10  …to an­oth­er mi­rac­u­lous pow­ers, to an­oth­er proph­e­cy, to an­oth­er dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween spir­its, to an­oth­er speak­ing in dif­fer­ent kinds of tongues, and to still an­oth­er the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of tongues.

“Miraculous powers” – goes with the gift of faith, the ability to ‘see’ God doing something that could not be humanly explained. “Tongues” was the gift that the Corinthians rather over-emphasised and used (wrongly!) as a badge of spirituality. It is essentially an unlearned prayer and praise language. Paul calls it elsewhere “speaking in the tongues of angels”. When you don’t know what to pray, have run out of praise or the mind gets in the way, the Holy Spirit uses this as His bypass. It acts as a conduit for other gifts. A very specific and less usual use is a public’tongue’ where another person (or persons) present will be given an ‘interpretation’ which is the gist of the tongue for others to understand. That is another way God brings a prophetic word.

11  All these are the work of one and the same Spir­it, and He dis­trib­utes them to each one, just as He de­ter­mines.

“Distributes” – anyone may seek any gift, and situationally, God gives you the gift you need to minister for Him. But some people find they have more affinity with a certain gift or group of gifts.

IN PRACTICE  God’s glory is poised to be seen in the church, not exclusively, but as training ground for what He may do with us in the wider community and even with people of tenuous faith. He loves people, and it is narrowly religious and exclusive to suggest people  earn favour by church attendance or service. That denies the basis of the gospel which is God’s grace, unearned. However, church is a great place to learn to exercise gifts of the Spirit, and as Vineyard church founder John Wimber used to teach words of knowledge and healing, “This is the kind of thing we ought to do in church”. It brings God glory when someone is healed, or an intractable problem springs free in a way we couldn’t have predicted. He likes to partner with us and involve us in what He is doing – at a minimum, exercising faith in prayer for what we discern He wants to do. But the bottom line is, the glory is must be His, and He is not about to share it with another, just so that we can become proud – the learning point for the church in Corinth and for us.

QUESTION  What would make church more relevant for 21st century people? Would more of God’s glory seen in extraordinary happenings, help? 

PRAYER  Lord, there will come a time when Your glory will be over all the earth and everyone will confess Jesus Christ as Lord. For now, we see it dimly, here and there. We come to You and ask fervently  for more of You, more of Your light, more transformation, love and justice to break out in our churches and families and communities, and we pray it in Jesus’ name and for Your glory alone. Amen.

Also: Psalm 36:5-10

God of the new start, and new life

TLW02

January 13, 2019

Isaiah 43:1-7 — Tough times lead into new start for God’s faithful people as His love takes them through trials and gathers them again.

Acts 8:14-17 — Jews and Samaritans are reconciled in receiving the Holy Spirit. 

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 — John speaks of the greater work to follow his as Jesus has a baptism  encounter with the Holy Spirit that is the start of His ministry

Also: Psalm 29

Isaiah 43:1-7

Tough times lead into new start for God’s faithful people. His covenant love saw them through impassable waters and fiery trials and will gather them again.

But now, this is what the Lord says…

“Now” — Isaiah is seeing well ahead of his relatively settled lifetime to God’s wrath and the exile to come, with the perspective that Yahweh allowed the disaster and His love for His people will work out in restoration.

…He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel:  “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

“He who formed you” — God created man and woman, Genesis 1:27, Isaiah 43:7,15,21 and formed — as a potter draws shape out of clay — the nation of Israel, coaching them in His ways. There is ownership and also intimacy in being called by name, as those who are His. The assurances that follow are predicated on this intimacy.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;  and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

“Pass through the waters… rivers… fire” — Isaiah’s original hearers would have made the connection with the nation’s miraculous deliverance at the parting of the waters of the ‘Red Sea’ and later, another miraculous temporary shallowing of the Jordan River as they crossed into the Promised Land; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were hurled into a furnace to emerge later unsinged and unharmed. God is promising protection in the midst of life’s threats because we trust Him as those who are His. When we deny His love and abandon faith and trust, He allows trials to serve as a lesson, Isaiah 42:23-25.

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For further study, read Exodus 14:21-22; Joshua 3:14-17; Daniel 3:25-27; Psalm 66:6,12

For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;  I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.

“Egypt, Cush and Seba” — Egypt and further south roughly equating with modern day Ethiopia, southern Arabia. King Cyrus of Persia decreed that Judah should be restored and his successors conquered (or were “given”by Yahweh) Egypt and adjoining territories. 

Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. 

Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west.

“Bring your children” – exile is devastating but particularly for the Jews and their history, it meant children growing up in a culture that was hostile to their beliefs. God promises through Isaiah that He will restore and re-gather the generations that follow.

6-7  I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’  Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made.”

“Bring My sons and daughters” – from the north as well, e.g. Hamath, Isaiah 11:11. The first exile, after the fall of the northern kingdom, was to the north rather than east. There were several returns, earlier under Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel, later under Ezra and Nehemiah. The Lord kept his promise!

IN PRACTICE  Someone worked out that the command “Do not fear!” is repeated in the Bible once for every day of the year. Two of them are in these few verses. When things go wrong – the prophecy looks forward to the catastrophic loss of trust and relationship with the Lord that led to the exile – we tend to doubt that God is for us, let alone that He has a continuing, good plan for us. Fear and rejection start to dominate. This is where Isaiah’s prophecy, many hundreds of years before Jesus, captures God’s heart –  the promise of new life for old, and the offer of a new start when all seems to have failed. In God’s order, the punishments of life may be graciously recycled into strengthening and learning experiences. It is what Jesus came to enable and to demonstrate, and we call it the Good News.

QUESTION  It is sometimes said that FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real, and we are told “Do not be afraid, for I am with you”. How difficult is it for you to accept this promise of Scripture?

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

John speaks of a much greater baptism than his.Jesus comes to be baptised in an encounter with the Holy Spirit that is the start of His ministry

15  The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 

“People… waiting… and… wondering” — John knew some among the throngs of people were trying to work out if he was the Messiah, and his answer was that there no comparison between Him baptising in water, and Messiah’s baptism which was to come.

16 John answered them all, “I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 

The OT prophets predicted God pouring out his Spirit on His people in the last days, fulfilled at least in part on the Day of Pentecost. This prophecy was at least partially fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.

For further study, read Joel 2:28; Ezekiel 36:28-29; Isaiah 32:15, Acts 2.

17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

“Burn up the chaff with… fire” — a picture of what will happen to all that is not genuine “wheat” on Jesus’ return, when there will be a separation, like a winnowing: both an outpouring of the Spirit and the very presence of Jesus as Lord of lords, together with the foretold judgment. The Pentecost outpouring saw a great many baptised in the Holy Spirit (water baptism followed on as a response to what was already happening) and the sudden and vivid conviction of sin that came with the intense presence of the Holy Spirit of Jesus was the baptism of fire. But this and all recent outpourings are small tremors which point to the seismic magnitude of the Day of the Lord to come.

– – – – – –

21-22  When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as He was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

“As He was praying” — Luke alone notes Jesus praying (prayer is a particular theme of Luke) and the Holy Spirit appearing in bodily form, as a dove. In John’s story, he sees this more as a sign, John 1:32-34.

“A voice came from heaven” — and on two other occasions that the gospels record, the Transfiguration, Luke 9:34-36, and during Jesus’ teaching in the temple courts during His final week, John 12:28-29. See also Psalm 2:7.

IN PRACTICE  In trying to draw parallels between Jesus’ life and experience, we back off, saying, “That was Jesus! Son of God!” as if no parallel exists. But in this incident, which was the start of Jesus’ public ministry, a transition from carpenter-builder to rabbi and miracle worker, we see Jesus’ need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit just as we do. Paul was later to teach the Philippians how Jesus, fully God and fully man, emptied Himself of the divine nature, Philippians 2:6-7. Here He submits to the same act of repentance in baptism as others in the crowd – and His Father meets Him there, affirms Him and empowers Him. “That was Jesus!”. Indeed, and how much more we need that empowering, that new start, the Father’s affirmation – and in our frailty, again and again.

QUESTION  If Jesus needed an encounter with the Father and the Holy Spirit to start to fulfil His call, is our need less, or greater?

Acts 8:14-17

Jews and Samaritans are reconciled in receiving the Holy Spirit.The new church receives the impartation it needs, from the apostles in Jerusalem

14  When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.  

“Sent Peter and John” — Jews and Samaritans had a history of mistrust and hatred. This was partly to check out the claims and partly a big step of overcoming prejudice, and giving the Samaritan believers their own Pentecost experience.

For further study, read Matt 10:5; Luke 9:52-54; John 4:9; 8:48.

15-16  When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.

“Receive the Holy Spirit” — Luke treats the delay in receiving the Holy Spirit (or the fullness of the Spirit) as unusual. There are quite a lot of variations in Acts, but to believe and receive together would have been more usual. It is possible the experience of the Spirit was delayed by God so that the Samaritans would be one with the Jerusalem church, in this time of transition.

17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 

“Placed their hands on them” — the usual  NT pattern of impartation and followed today in ordination and other acts of commissioning, healing prayer, etc.

For further study, read v.18 and Acts 19:1-7, 2 Timothy 1:6, Acts 6:6.

IN PRACTICE  The fledgling church in Samaria had received the gospel, the message of new life in the lordship of Jesus, but had not yet received the experience of the empowering and understanding brought by the Holy Spirit, as the Jerusalem church had. And right there was the danger of a divisive split, over the flaw of centuries of distrust and enmity. At this point the Jewish apostles demonstrated an important principle — giving away what God has given you. The Samaritans would, not have attended the exclusively Jewish festival of Pentecost and Philip’s preaching, unusually, did not bring the Pentecost experience. Later, in the context of an act of reconciliation that must have been difficult for both parties, the blessing was poured out. Two lessons stand out for us. (1), every church needs the fullness and empowering of the Holy Spirit and this is God’s intention for all of His church, and (2), the path that God blesses is the path of reconciliation, unity and humble acceptance of need.

QUESTION  What can our present confusion of denominations and church politics learn from the Samaritan experience? What might this release in terms of the Holy Spirit coming on the church and its mission?

PRAYER  “Father God, as I come to You in Jesus, I recognise situations where man’s independence from You has run the ship aground (name one or more specific situations). So many times in the Bible You have intervened graciously to provide a new start or new direction. I humbly ask for that change, which I believe You have prepared in heaven, to be released now, that Your will and Your way may be done. Amen.”

Also: Psalm 29

The realisation

January 6, 2019 TLW01

Theme: The realisation – light rising in spiritual darkness is for all, not just Jews

Isaiah 60:1-16 — God’s glory on those that are His attracts others to worship Him

Matthew 2:1-12 — The first Gentile worshippers, the Magi, come to Jesus

Ephesians 3:1-12 — Jews and Gentiles share the same promise as one body

Also: Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Isaiah 60:1-6 – God’s glory on His faithful ones attracts others

1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

“Arise” — a dramatic change of tone from Isaiah 57:9-59:15a where God has been condemning the arrogance of the wicked. Now the remaining righteous ones are affirmed.

“Shine” — when we catch God’s light, we show something of that to others. See “your light” note, v.3

2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you.

“Darkness” — where God is not known, or the joy of knowing Him and living in His love has been forgotten, the consequence is darkness of lacking spiritual vision and understanding.

“Over the peoples” — growing oppression with a lack of joy and freedom, Isaiah 8:22; 9:2; 59:9.

3-4 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.

“Your light” — God’s presence and loving favour being evident among those who are truly His, a quality that attracts others.

“All… come to you” — other nations, i.e. unbelieving Gentiles, finding themselves strangely drawn to submit to God and worship Him.

5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.

6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

“Herds of camels” – a sign of prosperity. “Riches of the nations” — former oppressors (Midian, the time of the Judges and Gideon) bring wealth, as from tr ading centre Sheba, to the people of God. Those formerly demanding tribute, now bring it.

IN PRACTICE  Isaiah sees a picture of what had long been prophesied, of other (Gentile) nations coming to the light of the glory of God in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is best not to make too close a connection with details which seem to allude to the Magi. This is a wider, bigger and more eternal picture of God’s purposes, of which the visit by representatives bearing “the riches of the nations” is a part.

This becomes more clear in the progressive revelation given by the gospel reading in Matthew 2, then taken further by the epistle reading in Ephesians 3. The note and link in Ephesians 3:6, below, is helpful here. A shift from exclusive religion, to being part of the light and the mission, was a huge challenge to Isaiah’s hearers. It is a challenge for every Christian and church today.

QUESTION This is about us, and God in us, being attractive to people not like us. How do we feel about that?

Matthew 2:1-12  The first Gentiles become worshippers of Jesus

A party of Magi, Zoroastrian philosopher-magicians from eastern countries, are drawn to Bethlehem in an extraordinary way

1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”

Magi were an established class who mixed Zoroastrian beliefs with astrology and magic, not worshippers of God.  Paul denounced a Magus he encountered, Acts 13:6-10. Matthew’s story shows that people of other nations and beliefs found themselves worshipping Jesus as Lord.

“Time of King Herod” — from Idumea (Edom), Herod was made a ‘client king’ of Judea. He financed splendid buildings in the Roman Empire, ruled with a heavy hand and murdered people freely, including his own family.

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

“Disturbed” – reports of the birth of a real King of the Jews, reinforced by a visit from foreign dignitaries, was threatening to Herod..

4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.

5-6 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

“Bethlehem in… Judah” – the chief priests and scribes knew from Scripture, John 7:42, that the southern Bethlehem was the Messiah’s birthplace. Nonetheless, they did not join the Magi on their visit, and they opposed Jesus’ teaching later.

“Will come a ruler” – Matthew quotes the Micah prophecy as “ruler who will shepherd Israel” from Micah 5:4 rather than simply “ruler” in Micah 5:2. He sets the context in the whole of Micah 5, emphasising that Jesus is eternal and with influence far beyond the Jewish nation.

7-8 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

“Time the star… appeared” –  assuming that the star appeared at the time of birth, Herod formed a plan to execute children aged two and under, v.18. This implies that the wise men took a similar time to journey to Jerusalem.

9-10 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

Star…went ahead of them” – the moving source of guidance was quite close and specific, not a planetary conjunction or comet but supernatural guidance.

11-12 On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

“On coming to the house” – they came to a house, and found a child, clearly a year or two after the birth.

“They bowed down and worshipped” – the Magi worshipping Jesus expands the meaning of Immanuel, “God is with us” (Matt. 1:23)

“Gifts” – gold with the two aromatic resins, frankincense and myrrh, were the most costly commodities to offer as gifts. Rather than symbolic offerings, these were gifts of value – and providential, Matt. 2:13-15.

IN PRACTICE  The church calendar name for this Sunday is Epiphany, meaning ‘realisation’. We love the story of the visitors from afar, number unknown and certainly not kings, but we easily miss the point: this was a turning point, where for the first time non-Jewish people offer worship to the newborn Lord of Lords for every living person who would turn to Him. The Good News was always intended to break out of its religious confines; that would happen a generation later. The challenge for us, as church, is to resist the urge to put it back into a setting we think of as our own – and like to control. Archbishop William Temple famously said that the church was the only institution that existed for others. This is the realisation!

QUESTION  Sometimes people of little or no faith will allow us to pray for them at a time of need. Would God hear that prayer and if so, why?

Ephesians 3:1-12 — Jews and Gentiles share the same promise as one body

New life in Jesus is proclaimed by the Church to the spiritual hierarchy, both good and evil, and thereby released to all people, everywhere

1-3 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles… surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.

“For this reason” – then what follows is as if in brackets until the same thought is continued in verse 14, Eph. 3:13-15.

“For the sake of you Gentiles” – Paul goes on to speak of the mystery of Christ revealed to apostles and prophets. His call was to take the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles

“Mystery” – a word often used by Paul, who defines it here as something unknown or incomprehensible which is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

4-5 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.

“Holy apostles” – set-apart spiritual envoys. An apostolos in other literature was someone charged with bringing the culture and practices of the kingdom or empire. This would also be ‘forthtold’, rather than just foretold, by the prophetic proclaimer. Paul and company acted in this way, making known the mystery – the difficult-to-understand part of Christ and His spiritual kingdom rule – and sharing the new life that comes with it.

6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

“Mystery… Gentiles are heirs together” — there were two dimensions of this shift: (1) Jesus teaching “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” in which Jews saw the dry orthodoxy of their law made real in Jesus, and (2) the later giving of the Holy Spirit which resulted in  close-knit relationships but an inclusive and missional church, in contrast to Jewish exclusivity.

“One body” – for Gentiles and Jews to share organic unity and mutuality was unthought of until this point – although it had been prophesied that Gentiles would turn to God and be saved, and Abraham’s commission was to be a blessing to all families on earth. Reading the scriptures in the order set in the Bible, we see a progressive revelation through the prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus and now the church empowered by the Holy Spirit.

For additional study: read Genesis 12:1-3; Romans 15:9-12

7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.

8-9 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

“Preach to the Gentiles” – Paul had a distinct call as an apostolic pioneer to the Gentiles, to proclaim and teach how this mystery, now revealed, works in practice, see vv. 4-5 and note above.

10-11 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Made known… in the heavenly realms” – the wisdom of God is portrayed like a multifaceted diamond, and the church as the agency of that wisdom, working with it watched by the inhabitants of the heavenly realms, both assisting angels the opposition of Satan’s forces.

For further study, see 1 Cor. 1:26-29, Daniel 10:13,20, 1 Peter 1:12.

12 In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

“Freedom and confidence” – in His eternal purpose, v.11. The church is a divine fellowship and divine agent, with a divine purpose.

IN PRACTICE  It helps to read this story through from Old Testament, through Matthew’s story of the eastern visitors, to Paul’s explanation of why there is no superiority between Jew or Gentile,  Greek or Roman or any other culture. Paul,  theologically trained and of Jewish background, is charged with a mission to people unlike himself. Many things that God does are a mystery to us. We wouldn’t do it that way. We don’t understand His way. We look at the here and now, without the perspective spanning from earliest times to the future yet unknown. The Holy Spirit revealing the Scriptures tell the story of how God is loving and merciful and works to save all those who will turn to Him – “all those” prompting us to have the same generosity of spirit that, presumably, God showed to us.

QUESTION  Paul had a clear call to proclaim Jesus and the kingdom of God to Gentiles. Who arenow  ‘Gentiles’ to us?

PRAYER  Lord, at the beginning of this new year, help me to look beyond myself and my circle, to see my call and my mission. I may not have the gifts or the learning or the courage of Paul and his companions, but I can start small – where I am. May Your light shine through me to others, in Jesus name. Amen.