Archives for March 2019

The rich working of God’s compassion

TLW13. Bible readings for Sunday, March 31 (Mothering Sunday)

Mothering Sunday. Theme: The rich working of God’s compassion.

Exodus 2:1-10 — An Egyptian princess’s compassion saves baby Moses. Moses, born into oppression, is rescued for God’s purpose to be fulfilled in Him.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7— God is the Father of compassion who comforts us. Paul, with rich experience of God’s comfort, shares this with the church in Corinth.

John 19:25-27 — Jesus expresses His  compassion for His mother. Near to death, He assigns a disciple to care for her.

Psalm 34:11-20 — The Lord’s special compassion for those broken to pride

Exodus 2:1-10 —An Egyptian princess’s compassion saves Moses

Moses, born into oppression, is rescued for God’s purpose to be fulfilled in Him.

The Israelite descendants of Jacob who followed Joseph had become numerous and a new Pharoah who knew nothing of the good Joseph had done resolved to enslave them – and ordered all male Hebrew babies to be thrown into the Nile.

1-4  Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman  and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.  His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

“A man of the tribe of Levi” – named Amram and Jochebed, Exodus 6:20.

“She hid him” – there is a strong parallel here with Israel in Egypt. Moses was born into oppression, saved by an “ark” from  a watery death decreed by the pharaoh, rescued and grew to maturity in the pharaoh’s court.

“Papyrus ark” – the same word as used for Noah’s massive barge. Papyrus was strong enough to be used for light craft and pitch was used for waterproofing all boats, Genesis 6:14, Isaiah 18:2.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it.

She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

“Down to the Nile to bathe” – not just washing but morning devotions to a river regarded by the Egyptians as a goddess with life-giving, healing properties. To discover a crying baby floating in the embrace of the Nile goddess (in her perception) would be a significant sign.

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“To nurse the baby” – children were nursed for three years or more before being weaned, often by a ‘wet nurse’. .

“Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother.

Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him.

“I will pay you” – There is an implication that the princess knew who the mother was, and the two women had an unspoken understanding

10  When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

“I drew him out” – a wordplay on the name Moses, which sound like the Hebrew mashah, ‘to draw out’ and may be related to a common Egyptian word for ‘son’.

IN PRACTICE  The thread linking this week’s readings is compassion and in this account of Moses’ birth and early life we see how God’s Father heart of compassion stirred an Egyptian pagan princess to fulfil His purposes, not just for Moses but eventually for the whole nation. The crying baby floating in a papyrus basket is a salvation story which stirs many emotions, and it seems a far cry from the Egyptian chariots, a generation later, bearing down on the Israelites who seemed to face annihilation at the water’s edge – until they were “drawn through” the parting waters to be saved from destruction on the other side. God’s overriding characteristic is mercy and compassion, and His favourite action is saving. In a world fallen through Adam’s sin and largely rebellious towards God, and therefore all too open to the predations of the devil and his minions, there will always be threats, curses and conflicts. A merciful God of compassion stands over all of them, waiting for those who will turn to Him. (169)

QUESTION  Given the wars and conflicts we see far away and close to home all the time,  how would you explain what God is like, and why the world He created is not like Him?

John 19:25-27 —Jesus expresses His  compassion for His mother

Near to death, He assigns a disciple to care for her

In John’s Gospel, this event takes place during the account of the crucifixion, after the soldiers had cast lots for Jesus’ clothes, but before Jesus’s last utterances.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

“Near the cross of Jesus” – soldiers would guard the execution and keep spectators at a distance, but women were a low risk for acting violently and were expected to express their mourning, perhaps near to a dying prisoner.

“His mother’s sister” – the only reference in the NT to Jesus’ mother’s sister, who might have been the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John, see Matt. 27:56.

26-27 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

“The disciple who He loved” – John is given the responsibility to provide for Mary (on the assumption above, his aunt), almost certainly widowed and without income and therefore dependent on the provision and protection of others.

“This disciple took her into his home” – A Jewish family law could be used to assign the care of one person to another. There is another dimension to this as the embryo church community gathered – Jesus wanted them to love and care for each other, as He had taught with great clarity, John 13:34, John 15:12, 17.

IN PRACTICE  Every Christian believer dwells on what is was like for Jesus to give up His life, and not only give it up, but voluntarily take on Himself the punishment and torture and shame that is so graphically recorded. We can dwell on it, but we don’t get close – perhaps hold off from getting too close – to the reality of that experience. In all of this, which is beyond our human capacity to understand, there is this exchange which is even  more incomprehensible. Jesus, dying in tortured agony where every breath adds to the pain, speaks out His concern for His mother, standing and sobbing in a family group nearer to the Cross than other observers. There is a saying that, what is in us, is what comes out when we are under extreme pressure. What came out of Jesus was His compassion, forgiving His tormentors and charging the disciple who had shown similar qualities with care of His mother. He loves us with that same love today.

QUESTION  Jesus wanted those who were close to Him to love each other – He had made that plain, and demonstrated it again as He was dying. What sort of priority should we make this in our church gatherings and interactions – and why?

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 —God is the Father of compassion who comforts us

Paul, with rich experience of God’s comfort, shares this with the church in Corinth

Paul, the much persecuted apostle sent to the Gentile nations, praises God for seeing him through many life-threatening difficulties, and uses this to encourage troubled believers in Corinth.

3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

“Praise be to God” – Paul extols God for the suffering and difficulties that his opponents use against him to call into question his apostleship.

“Father of compassion”– a reflection on God’s limitless compassion, and never failing comfort. This letter frequently refers to God’s strengthening and refreshing of believers who face difficulty.

For further study, read Psalm 145:9; Lam. 3:22; Micah 7:19; Isaiah 40:1; 51:3, 12; 66:13.

5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

“Share… in the sufferings of Christ” – cannot, of course, refer to Christ’s unique atonement for sin, Romans 5:8-10; Romans 6:10. Paul endured danger, opposition and adverse conditions for the sake of God’s people and the gospel, much as Jesus did.

6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.

“Distressed… for your comfort” – one’s own suffering is a qualification to come alongside others and empathise. Paul’s opponents sought to use Paul’s many hardships to discredit him as one out of favour with God. Paul maintains that his sufferings are a way God uses to connect with a strengthen other believers.

7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

IN PRACTICE  Few would disagree that Paul was a courageous and good man, who came back after a very bad start to fulfil a vital and far-reaching mission and give us much of the NT teaching. However he alludes to the extreme difficulties he has faced, detailed later in this letter. His point is that, to set out to follow the Son of God who was love and compassion incarnate, is to set out on a rough road through bandit territory. But it is a great training ground, for understanding both the challenges faced by every believer, but also the comfort of God which flows to every believer. The fallacy we all fall for is that of not needing God in the good times, the lure of self-sufficiency, which is an attraction to our humanness. But Paul says, expect trouble – and also expect God to be right with you in the dark valley, our confidence against the fear that evil oppression stirs up. And self evidently Paul, who has taken more hits than anyone, is a survivor. God who has so often comforted Him, is the same God who is there to comfort us.

QUESTION  Paul starts by praising God for His goodness against a backdrop of hurt and hopelessness. How is he coaching us to respond to our pain and difficulty?

PRAYER  Father God, as we come to You as Your children, we are overwhelmed by Your care and comfort while the world is trying to overturn us with hurts and rejections. We call to mind the difficulties and challenges we are facing now – and we praise You that You are not only greater than all of them together, but that You turn the assaults of the world, the flesh and the devil into a training exercise and a fresh encounter with Your mercy. We receive Your love afresh, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Psalm 34:11-20 —The Lord’s special compassion for those broken to pride

11 Come, my children, listen to Me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

“Come, my children” – the earlier part of the psalm, praise for deliverance, now turns to wisdom, which often used the language of parents instructing children.

12-13  Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.

14  Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

15  The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry…

“The eyes of the Lord” – Psalms 32, 33 and 34 all use this picture of God seeing everything

16  …but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.

“Keep your tongue from evil” – the apostle Peter quotes vv. 12-16, 1 Peter 3:10-12, making a point about Christians living in a peace-loving way.

“But the face of the Lord” – a sharp contrast between the Lord’s countenance towards those who trust Him and His expression to those who oppose Him in doing evil.

17  The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.

18  The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

“The Lord hears… delivers… is close” – assurance that the Lord looks out for those who, in the Hebrew expressions used, are broken to their own pride and stubbornness, Psalm 147:3.

19  The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;

20  He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.

“Protects all his bones” – the link to the crucifixion in the Gospel reading is that this verse was taken as having been literally fulfilled by Jesus, John 19:36.

“One more chance” to seek the Lord while He is near

Lent 3 – Sunday, March 24

Theme: “One more chance” to seek the Lord while He is near

OT READING

Isaiah 55:1-9 — Come back to God while He may be found. Don’t pay for palliative peace, when the Lord’s real goodness is there for the asking.

GOSPEL READING

Luke 13:1-9 — Come back to God with a changed heart. Everyone needs the new start Jesus offers us.

EPISTLE READING

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 — Come back to God in living His way as His witness. And if you think you are strong spiritually, be especially careful you don’t fall off

Read also: Psalm 63:1-9

= = = = = = = =

OT READING

Isaiah 55:1-9 — Come back to God while He may be found.

Don’t pay for what cannot sustain, when the Lord’s real goodness is there for the asking?

The imagery – full of allusions – is of the water seller, with other market vendors in the background. It is an invitation to God’s people to “buy” His forgiveness – the point being, that it is free.

1 ‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

“Come… come… come” – expressed with urgency, and applied to all hearers. Water stands for spiritual refreshment, Prov. 9:5, wine and milk for abundance and nourishment.

“Buy… without cost” – it is all free, following on from the Suffering Servant whose death paid for the gift of life, Isaiah 53:5-9.

• For further study, Christ offering the water of life, John 4:14, 7:37; also Rev. 22:17.

2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?

“What is not bread” – the exiles were urged not to meet spiritual needs with empty pagan practices.

Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.

3 Give ear and come to Me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, My faithful love promised to David.

“Everlasting covenant” – for the immediate hearers, a reminder that the broken covenant that resulted in exile, is on God’s side an enduring promise of faithful love (chesēd). The double meaning points to the new and better covenant through David’s descendant, Jesus Christ.

4 See, I have made Him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples.

5 Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for He has endowed you with splendour.’

“Witness to the peoples” – the Messiah was, and is, a light to the nations, Isaiah 42:6, 49:6.

“Nations… will come” – The promises to David are here extended beyond the Jewish nation, to other nations, fulfilling the “all nations will be blessed by you” promise to Abraham, Genesis 12:3.

6 Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.

“Seek the Lord” – This is God’s offer for this time, and people should not delay, Psalm 32:6.

• For further study, the prophets’ frequent call to seek the Lord, e.g. Jer. 29:13-14, Hosea 3:5, Amos 5:4,6,14

7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on them, and to our God, for He will freely pardon.

“Let them turn” – or repent. The way of entering a saving relationship with God is to seek God’s ways, turn from what is unrighteous, and humbly look to His mercy and pardon.

8 ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.

“My thoughts… not your thoughts” – the man-made obstacle, wanting to reduce God’s work in our salvation to something we can understand and perform.

9 ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

“So are My ways higher” –  Jesus came to make a way of grace and new life for us, commanding simply “Believe in Me”, John 11:25.

IN PRACTICE  Isaiah’s message is a follow on from the Suffering Servant prophecy. The Servant in the earlier passage will enable people to do what the later passage urges. It is about coming back to God, calling on Him and listening. His ways are higher, and He has a ‘higher’ way for us to approach Him which is not about labouring on what does not satisfy. Then as now, a religious approach that simply works to please God is easier to grasp than finding the path to a relationship with someone holy and majestic. Yet the call to “Listen… give ear… come to Me” tells us that what God wants most is our response to His love. And Jesus, the Servant, makes that connection for us.

QUESTION  In what ways do we “labour on what does not satisfy” and “spend money on what is not bread”?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 13:1-9 —Come back to God with a changed heart.

Everyone needs the new start Jesus offers us

Jesus continues to call people to repent and discern the times. In the context of two local calamities He emphasises that everyone needs to repent.

1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.

“Galileans whose blood” – apparently Pilate killed Galileans offering sacrifices at a major festival. Like the Tower of Siloam collapse, this is not known outside this account.

2 Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?

3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.

4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?

“Tower in Siloam” – the tower was probably part of the southern wall near the Pool of Siloam.

“More guilty?” – those unscathed by recent calamities were not to see themselves as innocent and immune from judgment. Suffering does not always correspond to God’s wrath, John 9:1-3.

5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’

“Unless you repent” – every person has to come to their own decision to turn to Christ and part of that is turning from independence to live for Him.

6 Then He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig-tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.

“In his vineyard” – God is the owner of the vineyard, which with some fig trees represents the nation of Israel.

7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”

“Cut it down” – like God’s judgment in Psalm 105:33

“If it bears fruit” – there is a limited time of grace and opportunity for Israel to produce the fruit of repentance, in receiving Jesus’ miracles and message.

8-9 ‘“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”’

“I’ll dig round it” – human sinfulness deserves judgment but God’s mercy prevails and maybe ‘water’ will reach the roots and stimulate change… Jesus urges people to repent while there is time.

• For further study, Jesus urges repentance, Luke 10:13-16; 11:29-32; 12:13-21; 13:1-5, 31-35.

IN PRACTICE  Like us, the people Jesus addressed were too quick to find reasons why they did not need to repent. Being untouched by two local disasters was, for some, a sign of God’s favour and blessing. Jesus was forthright in demolishing their complacency, repeating the phrase “unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

“Repent” is often seen as a difficult word, implying a judgment that offends our pride. Yet turning from what offends God, is also a turning towards Him and experiencing His love and gracious enabling. When we learn to see repentance as the realignment with God’s purposes, and the way to connect with and receive the undeserved blessing He wants to give us, a ‘difficult’ word becomes an enabling one.

QUESTION  This Lent season is, for many, an opportunity to realign with God by taking hold in a deeper way of Jesus’ lordship of us. What does that look like for you?

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 —Come back to God in living His way as His witness

And if you think you are strong spiritually, be especially careful you don’t fall off

Warnings from Israel’s history: Paul uses the example of the judgment on God’s people in the desert for putting their trust other than in God.

1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.

2 They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

“Our ancestors” – Paul draws a continuity between the mainly Gentile Corinthians and OT Israel, delivered from Egypt’s slavery by miraculous passage through the sea and the cloud’s leading in the wilderness, Exodus chapters 12-17.

3-4 They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

“Drank from the spiritual rock” – Paul interprets the miracles of water from the rock, at the beginning and the end of the desert journey, Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:7-11 as Christ being with them.

5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

“Not pleased” – their spiritual food and drink did not prevent bad choices and consequent judgment then, vv.8-10. Spiritual food now does not absolve us from poor choices, vv. 16-17, 6, 11.

6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.

7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.’

“Do not be idolaters” – Paul is alluding to the shameful golden calf incident, Exodus 32:5-6, 17-19. The idolatry for the Corinthians is their double-mindedness in participating in pagan temple banquets, 1 Cor. 8-10.

8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did – and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.

“Sexual immorality” – Paul compares Corinth’s immoral customs with the time Midianite women seduced Israelite men into idolatry, bringing the judgment of a plague, Numbers 25:1-9 and 31:16

9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes.

“Should not test Christ” – again seeing Christ as spiritually present during the desert wanderings when Israel complained about the manna suffered the judgment of deadly snakes – but by gazing at a bronze snake on a pole were miraculously delivered, Numbers 21:8-9.

10 And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.

“Culmination of the ages” – When Jesus’ came He fulfilled God’s promises and opened the final act, the last days, Hebrews 9:26.

• For further study, read 2 Cor. 5:1-5, 1 Thess 5:4-8, Hebrews 1:2, 1 Peter 1:20.

“No temptation” – temptation is not sin but yielding to temptation, or testing is, Matt. 6:13.

12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

“Be careful” – Paul warns Corinthian believers, surrounded by temples and Aphrodite worshippers, against the compromise of joining in pagan functions, but he also reminds them of God’s overarching grace and protection.

IN PRACTICE  The Corinth church was richly blessed with the experience of Jesus through an openness to His Spirit, and the flow – which was messy at times – of all the spiritual gifts. However, Corinth was a cosmopolitan city with all sorts of temples and beliefs, and to belong to a trade guild or just participate in Corinthian society presented Christians with difficult choices. Some believers there seemed to have a kind of spiritual pride, that they were immune to the dangers of guild dinners in honour of a pagan deity. Paul reminds them about the fate of the Israelites in the desert who had lost sight of their pledge to worship the Lord God and Him only. To mock God is no light matter, as he told the Galatian church in a different letter. We can all make poor choices and slip into unholy compromises with the values of the world system around us. And when we think we are “standing firm” against temptation, that’s the time of greatest danger.

QUESTION  What are some common compromises that are harmful spiritually, in our world? Freemasonry is an obvious prime candidate…

PRAYER  Father God, as we come to you in Jesus we ask Your Holy Spirit to reveal to us areas of our life practice and thinking which have slipped into unholy ruts. Help us in this preparation season to come back to You with a renewed commitment. Amen.

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.