Archives for March 2019

Believing the promises of God

TLW11

NIV Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, for Sunday, March 17 (Lent 2)

SUMMARY

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 — God establishes His covenant with Abram. God respects his trust as righteousness, and blesses him with an enduring promise

Luke 13:31-35 — Jesus promises His continuing ministry. Lamenting the nation again putting itself outside the covenant, He predicts many Jews coming to faith in Him before His second coming

Philippians 3:17-4:1 — Paul promises heaven’s honour for keeping faith. In contrast to self-exalting and unbelieving teachers, Paul’s example of Cross-aware, heaven-centred living is the model to follow

And also: Psalm 27

OLD TESTAMENT

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

God establishes His covenant with Abram.God respects his trust as righteousness, and blesses him with an enduring promise

Abram and Lot have travelled south as far as Egypt, then returned to Canaan, where they agreed to separate, Lot taking the Jordan valley to the east and Abram the western Canaan lands around Hebron. A tribal battle ensues in which Lot is captured but then released in a victory by Abram’s small army. To the astonishment of other tribal leaders, he refuses any spoils of war in an encounter with the angelic figure of Melchizedek, described as the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High – another test of his trust of God for the outcome.

1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“In a vision” – showing Abram’s role as a prophet. The vision came at night, with stars visible, verse 5.

Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. ”

“Do not be afraid” – a frequent command in the Bible. God meets us with conditional love, in contrast to the enemy, Satan, who attempts to influence through fear.

2-3 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

“Your shield… your reward” – the vision had a command, an assurance and a promise. Abram was to trust without fear, to be assured, and to know God’s promise of provision.

“Childless… who will inherit” – in a few words Abram repeats his anxiety about succession three times. Eliezer is a servant who has become ‘family’.

4-5 Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

“Count the stars” – approximately 8,000 are visible in a Middle East night sky.

Credited… as righteousness” – a key statement that teaches that God responds to faith by crediting righteousness to the one who believes. Abram is the “father of all who believe”, and this is the first reference to faith in God’s promises, Romans 4:11, Hebrews 11:8.

6 Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.

• For further study: In the NT, Paul quotes this verse three times, Romans 4:3, 4:22 and Galatians 3:6, showing that Gentile Christians with no Jewish heritage are made righteous through faith. In every age people have claimed salvation by belonging, whether to the Jewish race or a particular church affiliation or a ‘Christian country’. The Reformation and every renewal movement has brought back the truth of salvation by faith alone.

7 He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

“Brought you out of Ur” – Abram had demonstrated faith in a previous test.

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the LORD said to him, “Bring Me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

“Bring Me a heifer…” – Abram would have been familiar with the way royal land treaties were established in this ancient “exchange of contracts”.

10-11 Abram brought all these to Him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

“Cut them in two” – a symbol of staking one’s own life on keeping the agreement, Jeremiah 34:14.

“Birds of prey” – vultures, symbolising the attacks that always come on God’s people following His will. Later, Egypt, like the predatory birds, would try to prevent the covenant being fulfilled, verses 17-18.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

17-18 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.

“When the sun had set” – the ritual is completed in darkness, into which God’s presence comes as a flaming torch and smoking firepot, see also Exodus 13:21-22.

“The Lord made a covenant” – the Hebrew phrase means “cut a covenant”. The reference to descendants and land links this solemn and unconditional pledge, with the earlier conditional promise, requiring Abram to journey to a new location, that he would become a great nation, Genesis 12:1-9.

IN PRACTICE  God appears to His loyal follower, Abram, and sets him preparing a royal treaty covenant ceremony. People of those times were accustomed to ‘cutting a covenant’ together. The splitting in half of the sacrificed animals was symbolic of the penalty for not following the agreement, although in this case God is making His covenant promise unilaterally. This promise was made to Abram, father of the Jewish nation – and all believers. “Abraham [as he became] is the spiritual father of those who have faith… counted as righteous because of their faith.” Romans 4:11.

Taking God at His word and believing it, is the one action, one only, that establishes us as righteous.

QUESTION  If Abraham were to come and speak to us about his life lesson, what would he tell us?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 13:31-35

Jesus promises His continuing ministry.Lamenting the nation again putting itself outside the covenant, He predicts many Jews coming to faith in Him before His second coming

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to Him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

“At that time” – Jesus had been teaching in stories and directly the unpopular truth that many Israelites would be excluded from the kingdom while Gentiles from north, south, east and west would be included.

“Leave this place” – Jesus was probably in Perea and Herod Antipas, a Roman appointed tetrarch, could execute who he wanted to. But most likely the Pharisees just wanted Jesus to leave their region.

32-33 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

“I will keep on” – emphasises Jesus’ continuing ministry. Driving our demons and healing people show God’s kingdom to be present. Jesus’ resurrection on the third day would show that inaugurated the kingdom of God.

“No prophet can die outside Jerusalem” – of course, some had, but Jesus is using irony to show that Jerusalem, from David’s time onwards the centre of Jewish religion and worship, was far more dangerous to a true prophet of God than threats from Herod in Galilee.

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

“You who kill the prophets” – the holy city (standing for the whole nation) had often killed its prophets, 2 Chron. 24:21; Jeremiah 26:23.

“Gather your children” – Jesus repeated many of his teachings and this was declared again on Tuesday of Passion Week, Matt. 23:37-38

“Under her wings” – in the OT tradition, God sheltered His people under His wings, Psalm 17:8, 36:7; 57:1 etc

35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

“Your house… desolate” – Jesus is predicting the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

“Blessed is He who comes…” – quoting Psalm 118, one of the psalms sung by pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem for one of the festivals. Here Jesus is referring to His second coming and the allusion to people coming to worship is a prediction that many Jews will turn and trust Jesus before that time.

• For further study, see Romans 11:12,14; 24-27; 31-32

IN PRACTICE  The Israelites had abandoned the covenant and paid a terrible penalty in seeing Jerusalem overrun and its people taken into captivity and exile. Now Jerusalem, and its proud tradition as the centre of worship for the nation, is setting itself up again for a similar disaster. Jesus foretells that He will join a long line of prophets who were put to death by the city and people that He loves.
Believing in God’s purposes, which are based on a much longer timescale than we are used to, is made difficult by the situations and difficulties which rise up to oppose. We read the circumstances and say, “It can’t happen,” but God repeats the promises which say, “It cannot NOT happen!”. Which do we believe?

QUESTION  When it all seems to be going wrong, what voices do we hear, and which do we listen to?

EPISTLE READING

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Paul promises heaven’s honour for keeping faith.In contrast to self-exalting and unbelieving teachers, Paul’s example of Cross-aware, heaven-centred living is the model to follow.

17  Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

“Following my example” – the concept of discipleship was following an example e.g. Paul’s apostolic demonstration of Christlike living. Christians generally should live lives that are models to follow.

As Paul has written earlier (verse 10) “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death.”

18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the Cross of Christ.

“With tears” – aware of how destructive unbelieving teachers are to God’s work and kingdom.

“Enemies of the Cross” – Christ’s crucifixion was offensive to many, including those who wanted to emphasise observant Judaism, or retain worldly, immoral values.

19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

“Destiny is destruction” – eternal judgment. They are self-centred and focused on Jewish dietary laws and circumcision, set on present time and place rather than God’s order and eternal purpose.

20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

“Citizenship… in heaven” – Philippi was a Roman colony where many had earned Roman citizenship and privileges through military service. For Christians the far greater, and unearned, citizenship is belonging to heaven.

• For further study: believers are exhorted to think in a heaven-centred, rather than world-centred, way – Colossians 3:1-2; 1 Cor. 15:19; 1 Peter 2:11; and of Christ’s return, 1 Cor. 1:7; Titus 2:13.

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

“Stand firm in the Lord” – in present difficulties and conflicts (detailed in verses that follow), hold on firmly to the Lord and His values.

IN PRACTICE  Paul has founded churches and instructed them to live for God, following his apostolic example. It’s an example we know from other places in the NT, that is laced with considerable danger and personal cost. In his absence, the churches become prey to unauthorised and unspiritual self-appointed leaders who do great damage to the gospel and to people, as Paul recounts with tears.
But we can tell who is true, who has their citizenship established in heaven, and who does not. As Jesus said several times, “A tree is recognised by its fruit.” There will always be people bearing ‘bad apples’ but we don’t have to buy their fruit. Choose what is good and proven and Christlike.

QUESTION  Not everyone who makes their opinions known says what is true and upbuilding. How do we work out who to listen to – and how to say ‘no’ to others?

PRAYER  Lord God, You are light without any darkness, love without any condition, truth without any spin. Help us to believe You, and in taking You at Your word, to be a model to encourage others. To the honour and glory of Jesus, Amen.

Honouring God with His Lordship over all things

TLW10

NIV Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday, March 10, 2019

SUMMARY

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 — Honouring God by giving Him the first of everything. The principle of worshipping God in His lordship of all our provision

Luke 4:1-13 — Jesus overcomes Satan’s attack by honouring the Word. Jesus in the wilderness uses God’s truth to break Satan’s lies

Romans 10:8b-13 — The path to salvation, declaring our faith. We honour God by speaking out our trust in Him

Also: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

OLD TESTAMENT

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Honouring God by giving Him the first of everything. The principle of worshipping God in His lordship of all our provision.

1-3 When you have entered the land the Lord your God (Yahweh) is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”

“Firstfruits” – the principal of giving back to God the firstfruits, the tithe, the first part of anything was established, Deut. 18:4. This, however, was to be an exceptional and one-only offering of the first produce from the new land God would give them.

4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God.

5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.

“Wandering Aramean” – this refers  to Jacob, who married the daughters of his uncle Laban, an Aramean, Genesis 28:5. Arameans were Aramaic-speaking Semitic people. 

6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labour.

7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.

The first declaration of worship in the new land would begin with praising God’s deliverance and provision in the nation’s election, His protection in oppression, deliverance in exodus and the gift of land.

8-10 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that You, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before Him.

11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

“Rejoice” – recalling the earlier commandment of Deut. 12:12 to “…celebrate there in the presence of the LORD your God with your sons and daughters and all your servants.”

IN PRACTICE  Everything we have comes from God, and our relationship with Him works best when we put a high value on His provision. That is not to say we don’t do our part – it is more how we honour Him in His part. This reading assumes the practice of the tithe – literally a tenth, but in spirit, more a heart decision to give to God the firstfruits of any crop or the first part of any earnings. The passage anticipates honouring God with the offering of what is produced first, in this new land of Canaan. They haven’t made it there yet – so faith is involved. Faith, trust and honour are part of the currency of God’s kingdom, because it is a partnership like no other. God provides everything, receives back a small fraction of it as worship, and then allows us to keep all the rest. One key instruction is to celebrate and rejoice in His provision – our worship is to be characterised by joy.

QUESTION  How much do we see God as the provider of everything we have, rather than our efforts in earning it? And how joyful are we in celebrating with Him?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus overcomes Satan’s attack by honouring the Word.Jesus in the wilderness uses God’s truth to break Satan’s lies

1-2 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them He was hungry.

“Full of the Holy Spirit” – Jesus, full of the Spirit from birth, received a special impartation or anointing for public ministry at baptism – and received the oppressive attention of the enemy which usually comes at the start of any faith venture.

“Wilderness… forty days” – Luke’s language explicitly connects Jesus’ experience in a remote place with Israel’s ‘forty years” in the wilderness, Numbers 14:34.

• For further study, read Numbers 32:13; Deut 2:7; 29:5; Nehemiah 9:21; Amos 2:10.

3 The devil said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

“The devil” – the term diabolos is a Greek translation of Hebrew satan, meaning ‘accuser’ or ‘adversary’. Luke uses both terms. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were put to the test, and failed; here, Jesus, the second Adam, resists temptation, thereby reversing the judgment against Adam and Eve, 1 Cor. 15:22, 45.

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’ ”

“If you are… It is written” – the devil tries to bait Jesus, with some ridicule, to exercise His divine power in a wrong way. Jesus’ role, however was to endure the hardship as a perfectly obedient human waiting for God’s deliverance.

“Not… bread alone” – Jesus answers by quoting the written Word of God in Deut. 8:3. Israel’s needs in the wilderness were met not just by manna but also by the presence of God and His Word.

5-7 The devil led Him up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to Him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If You worship me, it will all be yours.”

“Showed Him” – this temptation is being momentarily shown, and falsely offered, the world’s power structures.

“It has been given to me” – as a result of Adam and Eve’s mistake Satan gained influence in the world, but what he says is a lie: all authority belongs to God.

• For further study, read John 8:44, John 12:31, Eph. 2:1-2, 1 John 5:19; and Psalm 24:1, Daniel 4:17, Romans 13:1-4.

8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’ ”

“Worship… Him only” – Jesus echoes the first of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:3, as He blocks the devil’s lie with the truth of Deut. 6:13.

9 The devil led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw Yourself down from here.

“The highest point of the temple” – this final temptation in Luke’s order (Matthew’s varies) takes Jesus to overlook the Kidron Valley some 100 feet below the temple colonnade.

10 For it is written: “ ‘He will command His angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

“For it is written” – the devil attempts to quote Scripture, Ps. 91:11-12, but blunders by using Scripture in presumption to try to manipulate God’s provision, not faith submitted to God and His purposes.

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

“Jesus answered” – in the words of Deut. 6:16, “Do not put the LORD your God to the test as you did at Massah.”

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time.

“Opportune time” – at Gethsemane and the betrayal by Judas Iscariot, Luke 22:3-6,21-22,39-48

IN PRACTICE  Jesus’ experience of oppressive examination by Satan teaches us an important principle about the Word of God and its power. Firstly, when we step up in faith or mission, so does our enemy. So when things start to go wrong, it can be a sign that we are starting to go right! Then there is the lesson of how we handle it – our way or the Jesus way? Not only does Jesus deftly despatch Satan’s deceptions by His use of the ‘Sword of the Spirit’, to use Paul’s illustrative phrase from Ephesians 6:17-18, but we find that even the devil has a reluctant admiration for the power of the Word. His dark kingdom is based on fear and lies, and these have a power over us, for just as long as we entertain them. The moment we stand up with truth in our mouths and the resolve to speak it out in praise WHATEVER objections our feelings might present, the fear and lies are exposed for what they are and shrivel like a burst balloon. Why is the Bible central in our worship? So that we learn to make it central in life, to thrust and parry like Jesus did.

QUESTION  You probably know more Scripture by heart than you think you do. Will you now use it against those fears and doubts nagging thoughts – and honour the One who is the Word?

EPISTLE READING

Romans 10:8b-13

The path to salvation, declaring our faith. We honour God by speaking out our trust in Him

8b-9 The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”  that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

“Word is near you” – alluding to Deut. 30:11 and 14. The essential principle of the Old Covenant law was not remote; if you were talking about it, you were probably doing it. The New Covenant version of this is speaking out what is in your heart, that Jesus is your Lord. Those who genuinely are the Lord’s will be saying this freely.

“Jesus is Lord” – He is Christ, the Anointed One  (Hebrew Messiah) and shares the same nature with God. Declaring “Jesus is Lord” is also a statement of owning and trusting His lordship of our life – a vital transition.

10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

“Believe and are justified” – made right with God by affirming who Christ your Lord is, His death penalty in your place and His resurrection showing the Father’s approval. The affirmation of faith, freely spoken, is outward evidence of a heart that is changed – and also confirms that faith to the one speaking it.

11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.”

12-13 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

“Everyone” – the OFFER of salvation is for everyone, but it is wrong to conclude that everyone is saved. Faith is required, “anyone who believes in Him…”, v.11, and the response of faith in turning to Christ, “…who calls on the name of the Lord”, v.13 This brings the assurance of salvation. Paul quoted this, from Joel 2:32, to a mainly Jewish audience on the day of Pentecost.

“No difference” – both Jew and Gentile are on exactly the same footing as far as salvation is required. The same would apply to a person given a religious upbringing. Entry to God’s kingdom comes by a personal faith in Jesus, freely expressed.

IN PRACTICE  The word that seals our assurance of salvation is near, not distant or out of reach. Yet so many of us go through our lives without the encouragement to simply do what the teaching on this passage says to do. What is that? To pray out loud our personal declaration of Jesus’ lordship; and our trust in Him as the One crucified to pay our penalty and risen again to eternal life to show the Father’s glory. A ‘religion by proxy’ just doesn’t cut it, and we don’t find that anywhere in the New Testament. It is not enough for others to do the “calling on the name of the Lord” for us, when what He wants is a personal relationship with us. He longs to hear us accept it from Him through Jesus. He really does richly bless all who call on Him. We just need to exercise the bit of faith needed to do the calling, and resolve not to take a lesser path which offers no real salvation and no remedy for our soul’s historic infirmity. “Jesus is Lord” was the cry of praise of the early church. We must make it our day by day confession, too.

QUESTION  How free are you to say the words of praise “Jesus is Lord” over of all areas of your life’s provision, and as one who stands in agreement with His word of truth, and personally, one whose witness is “Jesus is my Lord”?

PRAYER  Father, You have given me everything, and I desire to honour You in that. Help me to steward my possessions as lent to me by You, and to love Your Word as my number one way of hearing from You. May my willingness grow to let You be Lord of my life and my future, that others may see and want to know You, too. Amen.

As we encounter God, His glory shines through us

TLW09

NIV Bible readings (from the Revised Common Lectionary) for March 3, 2019 – Transfiguration Sunday

SUMMARY

Exodus 34:29-35 — Moses comes down from Mount Sinai radiant with God’s glory. After he speaks to the people, he covers his face until he goes in to the Lord again.

Luke 9:28-36 — The glory of God comes on Jesus in a dazzling display. Peter, John and James see Jesus in conversation with Moses and Elijah.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 — Paul brings Moses’ encounter with God into the present. In the life of the Spirit, God’s glory is in us and ongoing.

Also: Psalm 99

Exodus 34:29-35

Moses comes down from Mount Sinai radiant with God’s glory. After he speaks to the people, he covers his face until he goes in to the Lord again.

29  When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.

“Face was radiant” – having asked to see God’s glory, Ex. 33:18,  he is unaware that he is temporarily reflecting that glory. This experience gave rise to the words of  blessing in Numbers 6:24-26 and the refrain to Psalm 80:3,7,19.”

30  When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.

“They were afraid” – as they would be, and as when they heard God speak at Mount Sinai, Exodus 20:19. Yet, the glory of the Lord among them sanctifies both tabernacle and people, Exodus 29:43.

“Removed the veil” – so reminding Israel that Moses’ instruction came from the Lord. The veil also hid the temporary nature of Moses’ radiant face. Paul uses this example to show that the old, or Mosaic, covenant was transient, unlike the new covenant in Jesus which has a greater, and enduring, glory about it.

31  But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them.

32  Afterwards all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33  When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face.

“A veil over his face” – to avoid unhelpful attention to the radiance fading until he went to enter the Lord’s presence again.

34-35  But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

“Whenever he entered the Lord’s presence” – Paul used these verses to explain the transitory glory of the old covenant which drew out the unbelief of the Israelites and so, in a sense, led to death – see Epistle reading.

IN PRACTICE  Having a, ‘up close and personal’ encounter with Almighty God is a life-changing experience. The prelude to the ‘coming down’ part of the story is the ‘going up’ bit where Moses asks to see God’s glory, Exodus 33:18, and is told that while he cannot see God’s face and live, he can come close and be hidden in a cleft in the rock while God passes by. Perhaps this was in James’ mind when he penned the words “Come near to God and He will come near to you, ” James 4:8. The point is, God has made us in his image and given us free will, so that He can enjoy a genuine relationship with us. But at the same time, He is uncompromisingly holy, so initially for the Israelites, after Egypt and years of abuse as slaves, the terms of reference had to be set out. At that stage, it was a relationship by proxy, through a religious framework, and only a few individuals like Moses really encountered God – and were profoundly changed as a result. Father God still seeks that Father-child relationship of love and trust, a very personal one, where knowing Jesus has swept away dependence on priests and the scaffolding of religious expectations. Jesus has given us the way to come into an intimacy that even Moses couldn’t expect.

QUESTION  How do you approach God? For example, “Almighty God” emphasises His majesty  and power, while “Father God” expresses intimacy. How do you see and experience God?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 9:28-36

The glory of God comes on Jesus in a dazzling display. Peter, John and James see Jesus in conversation with Moses and Elijah.

28  About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with Him and went up onto a mountain to pray.

“About eight days” – approximation, depending on whether you include parts of days as here, or just count full days Mark).

“Up on to a mountain” – Jesus with His most trusted disciples, Peter, John and James, climbed a mountain, probably 9,000 ft Mount Hermon, near Caesarea Philippi, where Peter’s confession of faith had just taken place, Luke 9:18-27.

29  As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.

“Appearance… changed… clothes became… bright” – how, exactly, we are not told but clearly a dazzling encounter.

• For further study – see similarities to Moses after he encountered God on Mount Sinai and John’s vision of the Lord on Patmos, Exodus 34:29-35, Rev. 1:13-16.

30  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus.

31  They spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.

“Moses and Elijah… talking with Jesus” – the question “Who is this?” of Luke 8:25, 9:9 which had been answered by Peter in Luke 9:20 is now decisively confirmed by God Himself. References here.

“His departure” – the word is “exodos” links to Moses and the OT exodus and deliverance from Egypt. Jesus’ crucifixion would be like another ‘exodus’ and deliverance for all who would trust Him.

32  Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him.

33  As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)

“Shelters” – the same word is used in the Greek OT for the Tabernacle. It seems that Peter wanted to prolong this literal ‘summit meeting’ of the lawgiver, the renowned prophet and the Messiah. However Jesus had to complete His remaining days on earth.

34  While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.

“A cloud” – indicative of God’s presence and glory.

• For further study, the visible presence of God in Exodus 16:10; 24:15–16; 33:9–10 and Numbers 9:15–23; and glory, 1 Kings 8:11; 2 Chron. 5:14; Ezekiel 10:4

35   A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.’

“Whom I have chosen” – more literally “This is My Son, the Chosen One” which alludes to Isaiah 42:1 in particular, and identifies Jesus as the suffering servant of the Lord.

“Listen to Him” identifies Jesus as the prophet anticipated by Moses, Deut. 18:15

36  When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

“At that time” – Luke contrasts the former politically charged situation with the freedom following Pentecost when Peter, James and John spoke freely about this event e.g. 2 Peter 1:17.

IN PRACTICE  What is it about the top of a mountain, Mount Sinai or Mount Hermon in these examples, that make them the place of choice to meet with God? The remoteness helps, and there’s a different perspective — the man-created world looks very small and insignificant, even from the top of Pen y Fan. Our ‘mountain’ may simply be a means to “be still and know that I AM God”. We may not witness the events in this story, seeing Moses and Elijah in conversation with the Lord, but this tells us that the moves of our earthly lives are in parallel with activity in the heavenlies. That’s why prayer is a vital precursor to change, because it recognises the reality of the spiritual realm. Sometimes we may be given a glimpse of that spiritual world, reminding us that the two worlds, the seen and the unseen, are not disconnected but moving together in an elaborate dance. The only way to make sense of such a complex picture is through knowing Jesus and His Spirit, who reveal what we cannot humanly grasp, and invite us to play our part.

QUESTION  What is your big “Whatever is going on with…” question of the moment? If only Moses and Elijah could come and talk to us about it… Ask the Lord of heaven and earth what is being played out in the spiritual realm, and you’ll have a good idea of how to pray.

EPISTLE READING

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Paul reflects on Moses’ encounter with God at Mount Sinai. God’s glory in us is ongoing in the life of the Spirit

3:12  Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.

13  We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.

“What was passing away” – the order established at Mount Sinai would pass away, like the fading of God’s glory in Moses’ appearance. Knowing God personally through Jesus is to enter into a two-way relationship – the new covenant – which is both ‘unveiled’ and enduring.

14  But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.

“The same veil remains” – the spiritual blindness which is removed when we trust Christ, v.16.

15  Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.

16  But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

“A veil covers… the veil is taken away” – the old covenant, symbolised by Moses’ veil, produced condemnation owing to the sentence of death on a transgressor. The law led to fear, and did nothing to remove spiritual blindness.

17  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

“The Lord is the Spirit” – Paul is pointing out that Yahweh of the OT is not just Father and Son but Spirit also.

“Lord is the Spirit “(who gives life) – link this statement with what Paul said earlier at the end of 2 Cor. 3:6, “the Spirit gives life”. Turning to Jesus and receiving Him as your Lord is lifegiving: it is receiving the Spirit of life in Him. Only this way can the sentence of death be replaced by the grace that is in the new covenant.

18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

“Are being transformed” – a verse underlining how the Holy Spirit’s sanctification is a process, not just an event. Freed from the obscuring veil, we see the Father as He is, replacing the harsh, demanding image that the devil tries to impose, 2 Cor. 4:4.

4:1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.

“We have this ministry” – Paul recognises the privilege of being able to share the message of Good News, 1 Corinthians 15:9-11, 1 Tim. 1:12-17.

Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

“We do not use deception, nor do we distort…” – unlike the false teachers at Corinth, Paul sets out what is true, in a straightforward way. He has nothing to prove.

IN PRACTICE  Moses, hidden in a cleft of the rock of the mountain top while God passes by, and the heavenly trio, dazzlingly bright with the spiritual energy of God’s glory, are arresting and in the true sense of the word, awesome images. Paul’s succinct teaching on the matter is that we, too, are being transformed by the Lord who is the Spirit, but for us it is not a an experience in moment in time but the Holy Spirit’s transforming, ongoing renewal from within. God’s glory appearing on the mountain has become God’s glory as the light of the regenerated life, free from the old constraints, within the believer.
Looking back, the old covenant is about the reality of God being dulled, like trying to see what the weather is like through a curtain. The new covenant draws back the curtain and opens the window to the warmth of the sunlight. Previously God was known by proxy through priests and their practices and the complexities of a religious system. But now we are not under law! Where the Spirit of the Lord is operating there is freedom – to know God and grow in God, as much as we desire. Through the pages of the Bible, from the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the New Jerusalem in Revelation, God simply wants us to know Him, and choose to look to Him, and trust Him. We find this humanly impossible. The key is to find a different entrance, through trusting Jesus as the gate.

QUESTION How free, and how desiring, are we to know God more and more and experience the glory of God within?

PRAYER  Lord, give me a fresh vision of You and of Your glory – but not just me. The bit of the world that I know and live in desperately needs to see who You really are. “Without vision, the people perish.” Give us a fresh vision of You! Amen.