Archives for February 2019

God the Creator of heaven and earth – and man in His image

NIV Bible readings (from the Revised Common Lectionary) for Sunday, February 24, 2019


Genesis 2:4-9, 15-25 — The creation of man and woman in Eden. Man is created from dust of the ground, and woman from man.

Revelation 4:1-11 — Jesus shows John the praise and worship of heaven. Those surrounding the throne lead in submission as well as praise.

Luke 8:22-25 — Jesus takes authority over a storm on the lake. He prepares the disciples to exercise their own faith.

Also: Psalm 65

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Genesis 2:4-9, 15-25

The creation of man and woman in Eden.Man is created out of the dust of the ground and woman is formed from man.

4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

“This is the account” – introduces the story of the creation of man, followed by the curses resulting from man’s independence from God.

“The Lord God” – Yahweh Elohim, the I AM of Exodus 3:14 together with Elohim, the Creator’s power and majesty.

5-6 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.

7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

“A man from… the ground” – wordplay between adam, a man, and adamah, ground.

8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there He put the man He had formed.

“In the east… Eden” – eastwards, the author looking to where the Tigris and Euphrates meet in present-day southern Iraq. Eden has the meaning of bliss or delight.

9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

“Tree of life” – showing God’s intention for Adam and Eve to have access to life.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

“Put him” – literally “caused him to rest” (and his work would be part of that) in the Garden (also v.8).

“Work it… take care of it” – prepare and tend, abar, and keep or guard, shamar. The same words are used of priests and Levites serving in the tabernacle, Numbers 3:7-8.

16-17 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

“Not good” – in God’s perfect creation man still lacked a ‘helper” (also used of God as the Helper for Israel, Isaiah 49:25).

19-20 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

20-22 But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man.

“Rib” – elsewhere translated “side”.

23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

“Woman” – he calls her ‘ishshah, the feminine of ‘ish, man, suggesting an equal and a partner.

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

“United… one flesh” – The marriage covenant is a picture of the covenant relationships between God and Israel, Hosea 2:14-23, and Christ and the Church, Ephesians 5:22-32. References here.

25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame..

“No shame” – shame will enter the world as a result of sin, Gen. 3:7.

IN PRACTICE   Being taken back to ‘first principles’ and the account of the Creator and His creation reminds us of who we worship. He is the God who created the universe, but importantly, wanted to created man in His likeness for fellowship. When we get too rational and scientific – as can easily happen – we tend to lose sight of God who is able: able to create.
Some years ago an author proposed in a book title “Your God Is Too Small” – pointing out that we try to ‘make God in our image’ and reduce Him to our size and capability. We are the created ones and our creator’s capability is, literally, infinite.

QUESTION  In what ways have you slipped into making God too small?


Luke 8:22-25

Jesus takes authority over a storm on the lake.He prepares the disciples to exercise their own faith.

22 One day Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out.

Introducing the first of three miracles that show Jesus’ power and authority before He confers on the disciples spiritual authority over demons and diseases, Luke 9:1-9

23 As they sailed, He fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

“A squall came down” – common on the Sea of Galilee.

24 The disciples went and woke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.

“He… rebuked” – took authority over. Jesus had rebuked diseases and demons, Luke 4:39-41. Now He revealed His origins in showing His authority over nature.

• For further study, see Psalms 65:7, 89:9, 104:6-9; 107:23-32.

25 “Where is your faith?” He asked His disciples.

“Your faith? – the time was near for them to do what Jesus had shown them.

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him.”

“Fear and amazement” – realisation dawning, provoking them to ask: “Who is this, who even has power over nature?”

IN PRACTICE  The disciples had seen Jesus heal the sick and confront demonic bondage, but to take authority over wind and waves was another thing altogether. They knew from Scripture that only God Almighty could do that. So when Jesus did, and saved them from being swamped in a boat with no buoyancy, something clicked on for them. They still had to make the mental transition from being in a storm with Jesus doing the rebuking, to being sent out in His name to make start on the same kinds of works they had seen Him do. If we are in Christ Jesus, and He is in us, the same challenge faces us. “Where is your faith?” Will we use the faith we have, and grow it?

QUESTION  What should the disciples have been doing, as well as bailing? How does the lesson for them relate to us and our world?


Revelation 4:1-11

Jesus shows John the praise and worship of heaven.Those surrounding the throne lead in submission as well as praise.

1 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

“Door standing open in heaven” – similar to other visions, Ezekiel 1:1, Matt 3:16, Acts 10:11.

“The voice… like a trumpet” – following insight into the seven typical churches on earth, Jesus summons John “in the Spirit” to see into the throne room of heaven.

2-3 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.

“Appearance of jasper and ruby” – Almighty God is One “whom no one has seen or can see”, 1 Tim. 6:16, here described in a roundabout way, as the reflected brightness of precious stones.

4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.

“Twenty-four elders” – an exalted order of angels reflecting the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles and so representative of the whole company of believers in heaven.

5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.

“Lightning… thunder” – as elsewhere in Revelation, a call to attention, symbolic of the awesome majesty of God. “Seven lamps” – symbolises full intensity of the Spirit of God.

For further study, Exodus 19:16-19, Psalm 18:12-15.

6 Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the centre, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.

“Four living creatures” – similar to the cherubim of Ezekiel 1 and seraphim of Isaiah 6, references here. The four creatures symbolise the best of creation, wild animals (lion), domestic animals (ox), humanity (face like a man) and birds (eagle).

“Lay their crowns” – the twenty-four, who are the most exalted among the throng of worshippers, submit to God’s supreme authority and worship (“fall down”) while praising God “You are worthy”, simply for who He is, all-powerful Creator. 

7-8 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

” ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”

“Holy, holy, holy” – as Isaiah 6:3. The triple expression makes it the ultimate emphasis. “Who was, and is, and is to come” – expands the name I AM, Exodus 3:14-15, to eternity past and future. References here.

9-10 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to Him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.”

“You are worthy” – heaven praises Almighty God simply for  who He is.

IN PRACTICE  We are used to images on our TV screens from cameras which go everywhere – to battlefields under bombardment, into audiences with dictators, and bringing us the experience of tornadoes. What John was permitted to see was too bright, too holy and too great to scale down to a mere living room screen. Yet this is the place we are permitted to enter because of Jesus. When we accepted Him as our personal Lord and Saviour, a transaction took place and we became clothed in His righteousness. Still on earth, we might be on the outside of the throng, but we can still draw near – and God draws near to us. John’s vision, passed on to us, is a picture for us to follow: submission in worship together with praise for God’s character, as all-powerful Creator.

QUESTION  How easy or difficult is it for you to join in the praise “You are worthy!” as one admitted to be one of the heavenly worshippers? 

PRAYER  Almighty Majestic Creator God, as one whose life is hidden in Your Son, Christ Jesus, I am so grateful that I can draw near to You as my Father. I praise You for your greatness, unmitigated goodness, mercy and truth. Truly, You are worthy of all praise as the One who is over all things, from the beginning and through eternity – and the One who sent His Son to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. I give my heart to You in worship. Amen.

And also: Psalm 65

The Lord transforms our lives now and for eternity

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary) for Sunday, February 17, 2019


Jeremiah 17:5-10 — Trusting the Lord is to find refreshment and be fruitful. Trusting in man is like trying to survive as a bush in the desert.

Luke 6:17-26 — Jesus’ inaugural teaching according to Luke shows the radically different values of the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 15:12-20 — In Christ alone, who was resurrected, is our assurance of new life and eternal life.

Also: Psalm 1

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Jeremiah 17:5-10

Trusting the Lord is to find refreshment and be fruitful. Trusting in man is like trying to survive as a bush in the desert.

5 This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. 

“Cursed” – attracting negative consequences, the opposite of blessed, see v.7

6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. 

“Bush in the wastelands” – lit. juniper in the Arabah, a bush that shrivelled in the dry heat of the valley stretching south from the Dead Sea.

7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. 

“Blessed” – attracting God’s favour, as stable in a life of faith as depending on one’s own strength is unstable.

“One who trusts in the Lord” – The blessing promised to the righteous man, Psalm 1:3, is fulfilled in Christ the perfectly righteous man, Acts 3:14, and in those who are righteous in Him, 2 Corinthians 5:21. References here.

8 “They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

“Planted by the water” – with a deep lifestream that keeps it supplied, in contrast to the dying desert bush.

9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 

“Heart is deceitful” – the first of three wisdom sayings about the flawed nature of human personality.

• For further study: the Lord is able to heal and transform even such a broken and dysfunctional organ, and promises to do so under the new covenant, Jer. 31:33; Jer. 32:40; also see Ezek 36:26; Rom. 5:5; Heb. 10:22.

10 “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”

“I the Lord search” – only the Lord knows how deceitful and wicked the human nature (our selfish motives) really are.

11 Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay are those who gain riches by unjust means. When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them, and in the end they will prove to be fools.

“Riches desert them” – just as the sand grouse hatches eggs it didn’t lay, and the young birds soon leave the bird that is not their mother, wealth unjustly acquired easily evaporates, Proverbs 23:4-5. 

Psalm 1

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

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

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

3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither  – whatever they do prospers.

4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

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


Luke 6:17-26

Jesus’ inaugural teaching according to Luke shows the radically different values of the kingdom of God.

17-18 [Jesus] went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of His disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases. 

“A level place” – or plateau on the hill; both the contents and the setting suggests Luke is giving a shorter version of the Sermon on the Mount. He leaves out the portions that have to do with the Law, which are found elsewhere, suggesting that Jesus repeated his teaching on various occasions, Luke 11:2-4; 12:22-31, 33-34.

Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch Him, because power was coming from Him and healing them all. 

“Healing them all” – the crowd did not gather to hear Jesus, they came with deep needs of deliverance from spiritual oppression and physical disease, through the power coming out from Jesus.

20 Looking at His disciples, He said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 

“You who are poor” – in Matthew’s account it is “poor in spirit” and “hunger for righteousness, while Luke emphasises material poverty as well.

21 “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 

“Blessed” – experiencing the joy and favour that comes from God’s grace.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 

“Blessed… when people hate you” –  with its associated woe, v.26, Jesus recalls how the prophets were rejected, while false prophets were popular. The implication is that Jesus’ growing rejection by religious authorities was his provenance as a true prophet.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. 

24-25 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 

“Rich… well fed” – the counterpart of poor and hungry, vv.20-21.

“Blessed…woe” – the OT perspective is that Israel is blessed in a covenant relationship, Deut. 33:29, Ps.33:12; Ps. 146:5, therefore woes are God’s judgment owing to unfaithfulness to the covenant, Isa 5:8-15; Jer. 13:27; Amos 6:1; Hab. 2:12-17.

Jesus also describes God’s covenant people this way.

26 “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”


1 Corinthians 15:12-20

In Christ alone, who was resurrected, is our assurance of new life and eternal life.

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 

“Some of you say… no resurrection” – probably in their letter to him referred to in 1 Cor. 7:1. Greeks believed either that death was final, or in an immortality of the soul, but not in a possible bodily resurrection.

“Christ has been raised” – expressed in a verb form that conveys certainty, repeated in this passage six times from v.12-20

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 

14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 

“If Christ has not been raised” – Jesus’ resurrection is a foundational truth for Christians; if that is a doubt, the preaching of the gospel is disempowered.

15-16 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 

17-18 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 

“Still in your sins” – the resurrection of Jesus is proof of the sacrifice of Christ and the atonement of human sin, 1 Cor. 15:3; without that we are unforgiven and under the judgment of God for our sins, Romans 3:19; Eph. 2:1-13. References here.

19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 

“Most to be pitied” – without eternal life, Christians just suffer deprivation without the hope and joy of faithful believers who may suffer persecution but like Jesus and Paul, look beyond this life in anticipation and joy. 

• For further study: Hebrews 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Phil. 21-23; Phil 3:7-11.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

“Firstfruits” – In the OT the first crop or sheaf of the harvest was presented to God to show that all the harvest belonged to Him, and would be shown so in dedicated lives, Exodus 23:19, Lev. 2:12. Similarly Christ raised from the dead is the guarantee of the resurrection of all God’s redeemed people, 1 Thess. 4:13-18. It is the beginning of the new creation of Isaiah 43:18-19, Isa. 65:17, Isa. 66:22. Jesus is the “firstborn from the dead”, Rev. 1:5.

Also: Psalm 1

How God calls people who think they are unworthy


Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, February 10, 2019


Isaiah 6:1-13  Isaiah’s call comes with a terrifying vision of God’s holinessHis speaking out God’s message of both grace and judgment will bring mixed responses..

Luke 5:1-11  Jesus uses Peter and his boat to reveal who He isA miraculous catch of fish is a picture of his call to bring salvation to others.

1  Cor. 15:1-11  Paul stresses the reality of the resurrection of the Lord. Encountering Jesus turned him from persecutor, to proclaimer of the Good News


Isaiah 6:1-13

Isaiah’s call comes with a terrifying vision of God’s holiness. His speaking God’s message of both grace and judgment will bring mixed responses

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

King Uzziah” – also called Amaziah, died after a peaceful reign of nearly 50 years in 740 BC, when Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III, rose to power and threatened Israel.

2-3 Above Him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”

Seraphim” – the word is suggestive of flames. Even as part of the heavenly host, they could not look at God directly.

“Holy, holy, holy” – meaning God is absolutely, fearsomely holy.

“The whole earth…glory” – despite humanity’s sinful independence from God and wicked regimes, God’s kingdom purpose is to fill the whole earth with His presence and glory. First seen in the incarnation of the Son, John 12:41; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:4-7 and to come fully in His future rule and reign.

• For further study: the cloud in the wilderness, moved into the tabernacle, Exodus 16:7; Exodus 40:34-35 and then the temple, 1 Kings 8:11, Psalm 26:8, 63:2. Several passages look forward to the whole earth becoming a sanctuary filled with the Lord’s glory, Num. 14:21; Ps. 72:19; Hab. 2:14; cf. Isa. 11:9

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

“Thresholds shook” – as the sound of heavenly praise shook the temple, the glory cloud appeared. Isaiah’s call came in the temple, which became the throne room of heaven in his vision.

• For further study: Moses, Jeremiah and Ezekiel received their call in similar encounters, Exodus 3; Jeremiah 1:4-10; Ezekiel 1:4-3:27.

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

“Woe to me” – the vision of God and His holiness shocked Isaiah who thought he would die from seeing God, Genesis 16:13; Gen. 32:30; Exodus 33:20.

6-7 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

“Touched my mouth” – Isaiah knew he was unfit to speak the pure word of God. He was symbolically prepared for this task by purifying fire, taken from the place of atonement for sin, touching his lips.

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

“Here am I” – overcome by God’s grace, Isaiah (unlike Moses and Jeremiah) committed himself there and then to a life of unpopular ministry, Exodus 4:1-17, Jeremiah 1:6.

9-10 He said, “Go and tell this people:

“ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

“Make the heart of people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

“Make their ears dull” – meaning that he would show up how hard their hearts are (Isaiah 1-5) and closed to what God was showing and telling them. Goes with the prophetic call, then and now.

• For further study: this text is quoted in the NT to explain why some people reject the good news of the gospel, and why Jesus taught in parables, John 12:39-40; Acts 28:25-27; Matt. 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10.

11-12 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?” And He answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.

13 And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

“The holy seed” – like regrowth after a forest fire. Isaiah’s message from God would offer salvation but also spell out out the consequences of refusal. The believing ones that remained would be set apart for God, receiving the same grace that Isaiah experienced.

IN PRACTICE  God calls ordinary people for extraordinary assignments and usually the qualification is not feeling worthy and not having a spiritual CV that matches the task. It has to be that way, for God to be seen doing the work or speaking the message, with no glory going to any individual. Isaiah was keenly aware that he identified with people who didn’t take God at His word, who were living lives of independence from His covenant. And so God was able to call him to speak His words.
When we  think we have earned some rights and achieved some attainments, we disqualify ourselves from His service. But when we recognise that before God, in ourselves, we score ‘F’ for fail –  that opens us up to be shown His perspective. Our eligibility changes as we come to ask Jesus to be our Lord, and our old lives are hidden in Him.

QUESTION  Why are some people’s hearts hard and spiritual hearing dull? What strategy is given to us, to overcome this?


Luke 5:1-11

Jesus uses Peter and his boat to show him who He is. A miraculous catch of fish reveals his call to bring salvation to others

1-3 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat.

“The fishermen” – the four fishermen brothers, Simon and Andrew, James and John already have a sense of call from an earlier event, Matt. 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20. This story focuses on Jesus’ choice of Simon and his boat.

“Put out… from shore” – in one of many coves with good acoustics around Capernaum. “Gennesaret” is a local name for the Sea of Galilee.

4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

“Put out… and let down the nets of a catch” – Simon answers respectfully, “Master…” but why would a former carpenter/rabbi know anything about fishing? They had caught nothing in the dark, daylight drove the fish deep, and the two-man drag nets were for shallow fishing. “Because You say so” – nevertheless, against all his experience, Simon obeys Jesus in faith.

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

“Partners” – the four (together with Zebedee) ran their fishing business together.

“Filled…so full” – this astounding miracle showed Peter God working through Jesus. It would take a couple more years and the Resurrection for them to fully understand, Luke 24:28-29.

8-10 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”

“Go away from me” – ‘I’m too much of a sinner to be around you’. At the same time, Jesus points to the catch and tells Peter he will ‘fish’ for people to be saved with results like that, Acts 2:41.

11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him.

“Left everything” – most Galileans lived a peasant existence, but fishermen in an organised business were better off. Letting go of their business was sacrificial.

“Followed Him” – their association with Jesus, John 1:40-42, 2:1-2, now becomes the close fellowship of following the Master.

IN PRACTICE   Peter also knew that he was just an ordinary person with failings and misgivings, just a regular fisherman, no one special. And then he finds himself part of a miraculous demonstration of who Jesus really is, and how following Him will transform him from Galilee fisherman to a leading and translocal ‘fisher of men’.

QUESTION  Those first disciples “left everything” to go wherever Jesus went. What is He asking you to let go of, to be more available for Him?


1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Paul stresses the reality of the resurrection of the Lord. Encountering Jesus turned him from persecutor, to proclaimer of the Good News

1-2 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

“Remind you of the gospel” – the letter begins by emphasising that the Cross and Christ crucified are primary, essentials of the Good News and assumes the Resurrection. It now develops this as another essential truth.

3-5 For what I received, I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.

“What I received I passed on” – the words mean handing on, intact, information received from others, e.g. Luke 1:2, Mark 7:13. Paul is probably thinking of the substitutionary death of God’s servant and then vindication, in Isaiah 53:3-12.

“Third day” – for Jews, part days count as days, e.g. late Friday, Saturday, and early Sunday make three days.

“Cephas” – Aramaic form of Peter.  Eyewitnesses still living could give first-hand testimony to the truth of the Resurrection.

6-8 After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

“Appeared to James” – brother of the Lord, who led the church in Jerusalem, Gal.1:19, Acts 12:17, Gal. 2:9.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

“I persecuted the church” – or in Jesus’ view, he persecuted Him, Acts 9:4. Paul was in no doubt about the extraordinary grace which was shown to him as the one who rounded up followers of the Way.

10-11 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

“The grace of God” – Paul is keenly aware that God’s grace met him on the road to Damascus, gave Him a vivid vision of Jesus and led him to respond. And so the greatest persecutor of the church became the greatest church planter.

IN PRACTICE  Paul, formerly known as Saul, was the chief prosecutor of those who were followers of ‘The Way’. And then, on a journey to serve arrest warrants, he was blinded by heaven’s glory appearing to him and heard Jesus speaking personally to him. The reality of Jesus — the reality of the Resurrection — hit him with full force and it comes out in his letter.

Jesus is alive and we can ask Him into our hearts and know Him personally. Then everything changes… and whoever we are, rich or poor, influential or not, we are on a mission with Him. We glimpse His kingdom — and we also begin to realise that we, too, have a call to make Him known.

QUESTION  The Pharisee-trained Saul was zealous for his religion and then encountered Jesus – a turnaround transformation. What has your journey been?

PRAYER  Lord, who am I and what can I do? But I place myself in Your hands. Show me how I am to serve – and help me in my human inability. Amen.

The old order changes, the new covenant comes in Jesus


RCL readings for Sunday, February 3, 2019

Malachi 3:1-5 — The Lord comes to purify and renew His people

Luke 2:22-40 — Prophetic words over Jesus on His presentation at the Temple 

Hebrews 2:14-18 — Jesus’ sacrifice has broken the power of death

Also: Psalm 71:1-6

Malachi 3:1-5

The Lord comes to purify and renew His people. He calls time on the immoral and unjust; even the most spiritual will be refined

“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 Mal’aki, ‘My messenger’. Here, the herald of the Messiah, Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27.

“Messenger of the covenant” – although the focus is on the one who prepares the way for the Lord, the Lord Himself is the “messenger of the covenant, whom you desire” – and sent by Yahweh, the Lord Almighty.

“Prepare the way” – quoting Isaiah’s repeated picture of a roadway being levelled for the procession of a king, Isaiah 40:3; 57:14; 62:10. Applied here to obstructions to the renewing of God’s people.

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.

“Who can stand” – alluding to the requirement of clean hands, pure heart and unswerving loyalty, Ps. 24:3-5. It is judgment, or vigorous cleaning with strong alkali soap and beating with sticks. This is like the Lord’s discipline of His children, Hebrews 12:7-11.

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” – stands for those giving a spiritual lead, who will be refined like precious metal in a smelting furnace.

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear Me,” says the LORD Almighty.

“Sorcerers” – gained control of people through divination, occult magic and witchcraft.

“Oppress widows” – Moses’ covenant emphasised social justice to those on the edge of society.

• For further study, see Exodus 22:22; 23:6; Deuteronomy 10:18-19; 24:17; 26:12–13; 27:19.

IN PRACTICE  This first picture of ‘the old order changing’ has a long reach to the Day of the Lord and Jesus’ return, in glory and also in judgment. But from the start of His ministry Jesus was calling people back to the covenant and calling out their double standards. Among many interpretations for the millennial return of Jesus is one that looks like this passage in Malachi. This view sees the period between His ascension and His return as the ‘end times’. We as His present disciples are charged with making Jesus, and the Way and Life and Truth of Jesus, known across the world, in preparation for His return. We, too, who are believers can expect to undergo a special refining, for us to be fit and free to make Him known, and prepare people for what is to come. The old priesthood ceased at the Resurrection; those with new life in Jesus are now charged with being a “royal priesthood”, 1 Peter 2:9. However you understand the end times, it is an awesome responsibility.

QUESTION  Who are we, what are we doing here and why is the life of Jesus-centred faith so difficult at times? How does this give us a sense of God’s purpose and a realistic expectation of difficulties along the way?

Luke 2:22-40

Prophetic words over Jesus on His presentation at the Temple. Those waiting for their Messiah see in Jesus a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.

22-24  When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” ), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

“When the time came” – this account shows Jesus’ family, materially poor, but painstaking in faithfulness to God and keeping of the law.

25-26  Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

“Simeon” – unknown outside this story; a spiritual man who knew the promises concerning the Messiah, and was expecting their fulfilment.

27-28  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Moved by the Spirit” – in the OT era, the Holy Spirit came on certain people at certain times, e.g. moving Zechariah to prophesy about John, Luke 1:67-79 (called the Te Deum canticle in the C of E). Here the Holy Spirit guides Simeon to the temple courts at the right time, having assured him that he will live to see the Messiah; and then gives him the prophetic and enduring words that follow.

• For further study, see Numbers 24:2, 1 Samuel 10:10 and 16:13.

29   “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You may now dismiss your servant in peace.

“Dismiss” – from service on this earth. His final task completed, Simeon is ready to die peacefully – and gives us the words of the Nunc Dimittis.

30-32 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

“Your salvation…a light” – parallel sayings are common in Hebrew literature (think of Psalms and Proverbs). “Salvation… in the sight of all nations” is equivalent to “light for revelation to the Gentiles”.

“Glory of Israel” – the Messiah came through the Jewish nation.

33  The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about Him.

34-35  Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

“A sign… spoken against” – Isaiah had predicted the coming Kingdom of God and salvation outside the nation of Israel, Isaiah 42:6-7 and 49:6. It was deeply controversial. Mary, as well as Jesus, would go through anguish.

36-37  There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.

“Anna” – Greek form of Hannah, like the mother of Samuel (1 Sam. 1-2) and also a prophetic woman, who recognised the Messiah. Before her, there were seven prophetic women recognised in Judaism.

“A widow”– her remarkable age (for the time) would be considered to bring remarkable wisdom. Widows who honoured their husbands memory by not remarrying were esteemed in Israel.

38  Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

“Redemption of Jerusalem” – meaning all the people of Israel, promised by God through his prophets.

• For further study, see Isaiah 52:3 and 62:12; Jeremiah 31:11; Hosea 13:14; Zechariah 10:8.

39-40  When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on Him.

“They returned… to Nazareth” . Luke’s gospel does not mention the Magi’s visit, Herod’s reprisal or fleeing to Egypt, Matthew 2:1-23.

IN PRACTICE  This second picture of how the old order changes, takes us into a scene where deeply devout and experienced folk have been waiting in expectation for their Messiah – with a keen leading from the Holy Spirit that this is imminent. These were people deeply steeped in the old order of Judaism and the Law, yet they were excited to encounter the child who would grow up to change it – change everything they had known. The Holy Spirit used these ‘traditionalists’ to speak prophetic words over the child, words that would be deeply controversial and as He began to work them out 30 years later, would see him pushed out of ‘their’ synagogue by a mob who wanted to push him over a cliff because He spoke of good news for Gentiles also. This story reminds us of how personal devotion to God is they key to perceiving what He is doing

QUESTION  How do you respond to change – as an enthusiastic ‘early adopter’ or a more cautious or even resistant ‘late entrant’? How do you know whether God is behind the change, or not?

Hebrews 2:14-18

Jesus’ sacrifice has broken the power of death. Living as God’s children is freedom from the fear of death

14-15  Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

“Children” – those who have accepted the sacrifice Christ made, and thereby have become sons (or daughters) of God.

“Break… the power of death” – in becoming man and suffering an undeserved death the Son broke the power of the devil to bind us with fears, especially those rooted in fear of death.

“Held in slavery” – Satan, a “murderer from the beginning”, John 8:44, does have power to harm people to some extent, Mark 5:2-5; Luke 13:16, and to incite people into sin that leads to death, Romans 6:16 and 23. However, Jesus’ defeat of Satan frees us to know God’s ultimate rule over all life and death.

• For further study, see Deut. 32:39; Job 2:6; Psalm 90:3 and 139:16; Rev. 1:18

16  For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham’s descendants.

“Abraham’s descendants” – heirs to God’s promises to Abraham by faith i.e. all believers.

17  For this reason He had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people.

“Merciful… high priest” – Jesus’ role as our merciful and faithful High Priest, ending the need for an order of priesthood on earth. This is explained in detail in Hebrews 4:14-10:25.

18  Because He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.

“He is able to help” – Jesus took divine retribution on Himself, for us, and was fully human in His experiencing this suffering. Similarly, He knows about trials and temptations as one who has ‘been there’ like us. This high priest “has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet… did not sin”, Hebrews 4:15.

IN PRACTICE  The third picture of the old order changing takes us to the place which is the pivot point of the change – the Cross, Jesus’ place of self-sacrifice. It is the place where He gasped, “It is finished!” and the power of Satan to control us with fear, and the kind of fear that is rooted in death and oblivion in particular, was broken. Of course, fear still exists – it is an appropriate and even helpful emotional response at times – but knowing the truth that the devil’s power is curtailed enables us to say ‘No!’ to fears that come knocking at 3am or any other time. To live free from nagging fears and other bondages, is to experience the rule and order of God which is our foretaste of the kingdom. Jesus did it. We exercise it!

QUESTION  We know that the Cross was about victory. Jesus went there as a human, like Adam, but a second, sinless Adam. How does knowing this enable us to pray confidently?

PRAYER  Father, I praise you again for Jesus and the new kingdom order that we can participate in, with new life in Him. Help me to be willing to be refined and purified – and in my thoughts, words and actions, to be with You, embracing the new order and rule of Your kingdom. Amen.