Covenant and God’s faithfulness

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 5 of 5

The emerging message

2 Samuel 7:1-11 and 16

Psalm 89:1-4 and 19-26

Luke 1:26-38

Romans 16:25-27

Do we sometimes doubt God, or wonder if we are in the right place for Him to see our needs or grant our requests? This week’s message is about God’s faithfulness to His purpose and to His people, told over a time span of over 1,000 years that saw following but also much failure.

David’s renown and kingly influence would continue, according to the covenant promise to David that emerges through the first reading. As we now know, the story of that succession, in the books of Kings and Chronicles, was a bumpy ride for the nation of Israel; there were some good and godly leaders, and there were far too many who were the exact opposite – they were covenant breakers. How could that prophetic word be fulfilled.

The psalmist of Psalm 89 writes 400 years later, at the time of the fall of Jerusalem, about how this unconditional covenant seems to have been abandoned. Standing in the ruins of a city broken down where most had been exiled, the psalm praises God while lamenting God’s apparent unwillingness to save them – the covenant was unconditional, but like any agreement, it was not unilateral. But, as the psalm asserts, God is always faithful to what He has promised. The anointing that was on David, and on David’s line, will be fulfilled.

In the angel’s appearance to Mary we begin to see how the covenant promise will be fulfilled in a different way. He sets out her special mission and responsibility, to give birth to the Son of God, whose ministry was to be the Good News that had been announced by the prophets so much earlier – the good news which was now for all mankind, Gentiles as well as Jews.

Our God combines being all majestic, all powerful and all holy – with being in all things faithful to His promises and loving with patience and longsuffering. The covenant with David and his successors was all but forgotten by the time Jerusalem, after many threats and constant appeals by the prophets, was finally sacked. Had the covenant been broken? No, but it had been abandoned by those it was supposed to protect. Nevertheless the Lord would maintain His covenant promises with His people, when there were people who regarded themselves as His. As we now know, it was worked out rather differently, as had long been foretold, in Jesus the Messiah and the Light to the Gentiles as well as Israel.

Wherever we are in life, wherever our level of faith may be, we can always come back, and there are promises for us particularly in the New Covenant in Jesus, but without losing the benefits of older covenants. He is our God and we are His people, and He desires His promises to be worked out in our lives even more than we do.

All the discussion starters

  1. What (verses 8-16) does David or his descendants have to do or to be, in order to comply with this promise? If it is not explicit, what might be implicit?
  2. Why is it important as church to begin worship with declaring God’s goodness in praise? What reminder does that embed in us?
  3. Is our heavenly or spiritual worldview separated from our everyday worldview and beliefs about how our world works, or are we able, at times, to connect them and see how God’s heavenly purpose seeks to influence our earthly lives? Quite a profound question to consider, but this is a season when we remember a profound miracle where heaven impacted the earthly order!
  4. To what extent have you received the gospel from someone else – and found that you needed to outgrow their perspective, as you grew in your own revelation of it, through your relationship with the Lord?
  5. We are made in God’s image, but do we try to relate to God as being like us? What have we learned about His way of being that is quite a lot different to ours and which challenges our understanding of His ways?

Covenant spells Good News in Jesus

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 4 of 5

Thursday, Dec 21: Romans 16:25-27

Paul exhorts hearers of the letter in Rome to be strong in the Good News, to be made known to Gentiles everywhere to the glory of God.

25 Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says.

  • “My Good News (or my Gospel) might seem to be Paul’s version versus others. Paul’s gospel is perhaps more developed, as one would expect, but no different in essence – and gained at first hand. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Galatians 1:11-12, explains that “his gospel” is not a version of someone else’s gospel but an understanding that he received directly from the Lord by revelation; see also Ephesians 3:2-6.

This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time.

  • The prophets, in stark contrast to the exclusive culture they lived in, saw in the Spirit the nature of the gospel and its universality – “a light for the Gentiles”. This truth was hidden, spoken out by the prophets but still a mystery waiting to be revealed until Jesus came and until the time Paul is writing in.

26 But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him.

  • God has commanded that the message to be made known to all people everywhere, for them to respond and believe. In among His final instructions to the disciples, in a very well-known passage, Jesus told them to go and make disciples “of all nations” or as we would say, all kinds of people – not just people like us.

27 All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.

Application

The passage begins and ends with Paul giving all glory to God. For what? The message of good news which the prophets heard and spoke of first, not just for the Jews but for all mankind. Paul is seeing this unfolding, and he has had a good deal to do with this. However he is quick to point out that it was good news for him first, he was giving what he had been given, and it was God’s message and promise, not his.

He is showing us that when we see God do great things, and we may, by His grace, have had some involvement in that, hold it lightly and give the glory to God as it is due. It all goes wrong when we start to think it is our achievement, not God’s.

Discussion starter

  1. To what extent have you received the gospel from someone else – and found that you needed to outgrow their perspective, as you grew in your own revelation of it, through your relationship with the Lord?

Covenant promise: the miraculous conception

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 3 of 5

Wednesday, Dec 20: Luke 1:26-38

Mary hears from the angel Gabriel that the Holy Spirit will cause her to conceive and bear a child who will be called the Son of God, and her older relative Elizabeth, who was thought barren, has also conceived.

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favoured woman! The Lord is with you!”

  • Gabriel seems to have appeared to Mary in her own home, but only a divine messenger would start a conversation with such an exalted greeting.

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God!

  • She found favour (lit. “you did find favour”), a reminder that grace is found and received, never earned.

31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

  • These verses recall the “kingdom that will endure for ever” and the well-remembered words “great” and “throne” and “Son” that were part of the language of the prophecy over David in 1 Samuel 7:8-16.

34  Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and He will be called the Son of God.

  • “The Holy Spirit will come upon you” recalls the words of Isaiah 32:15 which is a restoration promise.
  • The Second Person of the Trinity, by conception of the Holy Spirit, remained God but “became flesh or “became human”, NLT, John 1:14. – fully God and fully man.

36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.”

  • She could have been a cousin, or an aunt, or another relative. Cousin (King James) as popularly used in a loose sense, is not incorrect. Mary was of the house of David, and Elizabeth of the house of Aaron, but they might be related by their mothers. It was common for those of the families of David and Levi to intermarry.

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

  • This passage doesn’t support a religious view that wants to deify Mary. She is clearly here “a vessel to receive, not a fountain to dispense” (Lenski).
  • Later we are told that Mary headed to the hill country of Judah, from Nazareth in Galilee where she lived – a north to south journey of some distance.

Application

Why did Mary find such favour with God?

  • She was the right person in the right place at the right time. Sometimes we could be that right person, the only right person, in the right place for God to use. He is not a ‘respecter of persons’ like someone who looks for track record or the best CV.
  • She was the right person in terms of character. We embody a mixture of experience and passion and spirituality and gift, all vital to who we are. But none of this can be used by God unless we have the qualities of character that He seeks: submitted to Him, teachable by Him, loving and forebearing like Him. Mary, at her young age, had this kind of maturity of character. God looks to us to see if we are submitted and teachable, and whether we uphold His ways or are swayed by the ways of men.
  • She was the right person in terms of her worldview and beliefs. She had a foundation in the Scriptures, and if she was surprised by an angel manifesting as visible and speaking to her – who wouldn’t be – she was not surprised by the angel’s recollection of the promise of the Son of God linked to the Throne of David. We can’t avoid having a worldview that is from the world we live in, but do we also hold a heavenly worldview?

Discussion starter

  1. Is our heavenly or spiritual worldview separated from our everyday worldview and beliefs about how our world works, or are we able, at times, to connect them and see how God’s heavenly purpose seeks to influence our earthly lives? Quite a profound question to consider, but this is a season when we remember a profound miracle where heaven impacted the earthly order!

Has God renounced the covenant?

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 2 of 5

Tuesday, Dec 19: Psalm 89:1-4 and 19-26

The ‘headline’ to this late psalm of around 586 BC is in verses 38-40: walls broken, strongholds made ruins – and the covenant supporting the rule apparently renounced. In a lament it appeals to God for restoration.

1-2 I will sing of the Lord’s unfailing love forever! Young and old will hear of Your faithfulness. Your unfailing love will last forever. Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens.

  • Love connects with faithfulness, as one expression. Each of these words is repeated seven times, to make a point: It appears that God’s love and faithfulness is what has failed in His rejection of the king of Davidic line, and therefore covenant, 2 Sam. 7:16.

3-4 The Lord said, “I have made a covenant with David, my chosen servant.

  • This the point of the psalm. That covenant was established through the prophetic word spoken by Nathan to David. Unlike the covenant with Moses and people (Exodus 19-24) which was two-way and therefore conditional, this was essentially one-way and unconditional – provided that the Davidic dynasty remained loyal to God the covenant giver. The covenant held good – the Messiah was of David’s line – but the most severe curse implicit in the Moses covenant was also operating, Leviticus 26:27-39, Deut., 28:36-37, 45-48. Reference: NIV Study Bible page 21 table.
  • For further study: Five of the seven ancient covenants were of the Royal Grant or unconditional type: with Noah, Genesis 9:8-17; grant of land to Abraham, Gen. 15:9-21; with Phinehas the priest, Numbers 25:10-31; this covenant with David, 2 Samuel 7:5-16; and the New Covenant, below.
    The two conditional covenants were the second part of the covenant with Abraham as patriarch, and his descendants, Gen. 17 – conditional on consecration to the Lord; and the ‘Mosaic’ covenant with descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all redeemed from bondage, Exodus 19-24, conditional on consecration to the Lord as His people, His rule and His purposes.
    The New Covenant, promised at the very time that Israel is about to be expelled from the Promised Land for breaking covenant, is an unconditional covenant of pure grace in which the law would be “written on hearts”. The only condition is accepting and receiving this covenant, in other words, entering into it.

I have sworn this oath to him: ‘I will establish your descendants as kings forever; they will sit on Your throne from now until eternity.’” Interlude

  • In an unconditional covenant, even if the party entering into it breaks covenant, God is committed to fulfil it. That is not to ignore the consequences of reneging on the covenant, which this psalm seems not to take into account.
    In the classic form of ancient Royal Grant covenant, a king would make a grant to a servant, whose heirs would continue to benefit from it as long as they maintained the same loyalty and service to the king. So it was unconditional, except in the sense that the essential condition of the covenant had to be maintained.
  • The classic suzerain-vassal conditional form of covenant was made between a great king and a subject king and it demanded total and exclusive loyalty and service, in return for the suzerain’s (great king’s) protection. Kings and Chronicles detail times when Israel worshipped other gods and sought the protection of other powers – both serious transgressions, the consequences of which the prophets spelled out.

19 Long ago You spoke in a vision to Your faithful people.

  • Or ‘Your godly ones”. People like the prophet Nathan, who God used to speak His words of covenant over David (2 Sam. 7:4ff above)

You said, “I have raised up a warrior. I have selected him from the common people to be king.

20 I have found My servant David. I have anointed him with My holy oil.

21-23 I will steady him with my hand; with my powerful arm I will make him strong. His enemies will not defeat him, nor will the wicked overpower him. I will beat down his adversaries before him and destroy those who hate him.

  • This was David’s experience, even when it seemed inevitable that he would be overpowered by the greater army and force of public opinion in Absalom’s uprising, 2 Sam. 14:28-18:33.

24 My faithfulness and unfailing love will be with him, and by my authority he will grow in power.

25-26 I will extend his rule over the sea, his dominion over the rivers. And he will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’

  • References the promise of Exodus 23:31, that the Lord would give Israel the land between the River Euphrates and the Red Sea.

Application

God said that His faithfulness and unfailing love would be with David and his descendants. Not all the kings that succeeded him had this experience, but there were reasons, which the prophets were not shy of pointing out.

David was not of perfect character, or conduct. He was a warrior, and had been responsible for the deaths of many enemies. Yet he knew God’s extraordinary favour, summarised in 2 Sam 7:4-16 and recalled in this psalm.

How much more can we look to God for mercy and grace and favour, because of who we are in Jesus Christ, the position of adopted sonship we have gained through accepting the Lordship of God’s Son.

Discussion starter

  1. Why is it important as church to begin worship with declaring God’s goodness in praise? What reminder does that embed in us?

A covenant that God will not break

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 1 of 5

The story of God’s faithfulness in maintaining covenant, from King David’s successors to the Good News of King Jesus.

Monday, December 18: 2 Samuel 7:1-11 and 16

Tuesday, December 19: Psalm 89:1-4 and 19-26

Wednesday, December 20: Luke 1:26-38

Thursday, December 21: Romans 16:25-27

Friday: The emerging message and discussion starters

Monday, Dec 18: 2 Samuel 7:1-11 and 16

Nathan the prophet’s word to King David about the house, or dynasty, of David which would follow him.

  • Although not called a covenant here, in other places it is i.e Psalm 89:3,28,34,39; Psalm 132:11; and 2 Samuel 23:5 “If my house were not right with God, surely He would not have made with me an everlasting covenant…(NIV)”. This promise to make David’s family the representative of His people for ever is a key passage in the history of salvation.

1-2 When King David was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all the surrounding enemies, the king summoned Nathan the prophet. “Look,” David said, “I am living in a beautiful cedar palace, but the Ark of God is out there in a tent!”

  • David wanted to build the Lord a ‘house’ or suitable, permanent place for the Ark to remain – but contrast this with v.11 below, The Lord… will make a house for you…”
  • The Ark of God is covered by (literally) ‘curtains’.

3 Nathan replied to the king, “Go ahead and do whatever you have in mind, for the Lord is with you.”

4 But that same night the Lord said to Nathan…

  • An example of a project that has started to form without the Lord being consulted, except in the sense of his prophet being part of a prayerful conversation. Nathan was hasty in his “Go ahead…” response because he hadn’t heard at that point. When we start with our plan and seek the Lord’s approval, He may substitute His own plan!

5-7 “…Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord has declared:

  • “The Lord is with you” v.3 but “This is what the Lord says…”

Are you the one to build a house for me to live in? I have never lived in a house, from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until this very day. I have always moved from one place to another with a tent and a Tabernacle as my dwelling. Yet no matter where I have gone with the Israelites, I have never once complained to Israel’s tribal leaders, the shepherds of my people Israel. I have never asked them, “Why haven’t you built me a beautiful cedar house?”’

  • See 1 Chron. 22:8 for the reason why David was not permitted to build the temple. He had waged too many wars and shed too much blood.
  • Israel’s leaders, or judges. The word as it stands can mean ‘sceptres’, a figure of speech for rulers.

8-11 “Now go and say to my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I took you from tending sheep in the pasture and selected you to be the leader of my people Israel.

  • “My people…” is an important emphasis. It is the Lord who called David from shepherding to kingship, prevailed over enemies and who had made the original promise of enduring renown, Genesis 12:2.

I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have destroyed all your enemies before your eyes.

  • The events in the following chapter probably preceded this chapter – but the material has not been arranged chronologically, as we assume, but in topics.

Now I will make your name as famous as anyone who has ever lived on the earth! And I will provide a homeland for my people Israel, planting them in a secure place where they will never be disturbed. Evil nations won’t oppress them as they’ve done in the past, starting from the time I appointed judges to rule my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies.

  • It is the Lord acting on His promise, rather than David’s acts of military achievement, who will establish His people in a land of their own.

“‘Furthermore, the Lord declares that He will make a house for you – a dynasty of kings!

16 Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’”

  • “The house” now takes on the meaning of dynasty.
  • This is a double prophecy with covenantal implications: the first outworking of this is in Solomon, who (unlike David) is permitted to build the Temple (v.13); the second “eternal throne… established forever” is fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.

Application

Our faith has deep roots and this event, 1000 years before Christ’s appearance, has big implications.

It describes God, speaking through the mouthpiece of an attested and righteous prophet, about a one-way promise, or covenant, He is making with David which will extend beyond his lifetime or present influence, indefinitely. This is number six of seven major covenants recorded in Scripture and its form is essentially unconditional – it is a description of what God undertakes to do for David, not of what David has to do for God. There is, however, a presumption of continuing loyalty to God on the part of David’s descendants which is in the nature of any covenant agreement: that the parties actually enter into it.

It promises David:

  • Enduring renown
  • Israel to have their own land to remain in
  • Security and rest from enemies
  • A dynasty and influence that endures

David knew God as the Faithful One, Psalm 145:13,17 “ The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does.”

In the ups and downs of life, in a world where agreements are seen as situational and easily broken, God is there for us upholding the commitment of His covenant.

We have a better covenant than Abraham, Moses or David in Jesus Christ, with better provisions, and based on God’s grace – we turn to Him and He turns to us. God who has made and maintained promises for those who were after His heart in the past, makes and maintains promises to those who belong to Him in Christ Jesus. That’s something to have ready for when the enemy comes knocking on the door of your mind with his doubts and fears.

Discussion starter

  1. What (verses 8-16) does David or his descendants have to do or to be, in order to comply with this promise? If it is not explicit, what might be implicit?

Friday, December 15: The emerging message

All on a mission to restore God’s values

All the scriptures for Sunday, December 17

Mon, Dec 11: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Tue, Dec 12: Psalm 126, Luke 1:46-55

Wed, Dec 13: John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Thur, Dec 14: 1 Thess 5:16-24

This week the Word has taken us from Isaiah’s prophecy about One sent to renew and restore and rebuild, through God’s promise to bless again where there had been judgment, and to bring a Messiah to be a light to Gentiles as well as His own people. The promise unfolds with Mary’s humility in her response and John the Baptist’s challenge to the crowds, and leaves us with an exhortation to always be attentive to what God is highlighting for our attention, through words of revelation.

All around us we may see social breakdown, political uncertainty, economic challenges and pressing needs — but God has set out His purposes clearly, and is still speaking to us about them.

He is seeking to bring people back into relationship with Himself; we know that. Are we aware that he also seeks to bring institutions and every kind of governance back to Himself — back to His way of doing things, His values, His spiritual domain? We have learned that this is the meaning of the kingdom of God which Jesus continually presented as the headline over His ministry.

Who will do this? His church, as individuals and together, carries on the ministry of the One who Isaiah spoke of, who read the verses in the synagogue and said that it was fulfilled. But it was fulfilled with continuation. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that a new spiritual birth was the only way to see (perceive) the kingdom of God. Those who have given themselves to Jesus as Saviour and as Lord of their lives find themselves starting to do what He did, empowered by the same Holy Spirit who empowered Him. This is the new dimension of life – a dimension marked by joy, praise and spiritual authority – that has the capacity to renew and restore and transform.

Mary found herself going beyond anything she could have imagined, beyond her capability and revered for all time as the Saviour’s mother. Praise and joy, not shame, was her expression. John came into his call, a difficult one that would inevitably involve some confrontation and risk. Both lives were essential for the transformation and renewal or trhe Saviour.

We do it the other way round. The transforming, renewing Saviour has changed our lives, and the Holy Spirit draws us to join in His mission to bring righteous, loving change to others.

Go out and change the world? A tough call, but we do it one person at a time, one situation at a time; and the same anointing that empowered Jesus is the anointing that has us proclaiming good news to the poor and poor in spirit.

All the discussion starters together

  1. If Jesus took this passage (the first two sentences at least) and applied it to Himself, how might it apply to us?
  2. How does the Sovereign Lord “make righteousness and praise spring up” before others, today?
  1. What attitudes are contrasted in the Psalm 126/ Luke 1:46-55 (Magnificat) passages?

  2. What promise, or promises, do we see in these passages? Is there a condition attached?

  3. What lessons does Mary’s song have for us, in how we approach God?

The emerging message – all on a mission to restore God’s values

All the scriptures for Sunday, December 17

Mon, Dec 11: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Tue, Dec 12: Psalm 126, Luke 1:46-55

Wed, Dec 13: John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Thur, Dec 14: 1 Thess 5:16-24

This week the Word has taken us from Isaiah’s prophecy about One sent to renew and restore and rebuild, through God’s promise to bless again where there had been judgment, and to bring a Messiah to be a light to Gentiles as well as His own people. The promise unfolds with Mary’s humility in her response and John the Baptist’s challenge to the crowds, and leaves us with an exhortation to always be attentive to what God is highlighting for our attention, through words of revelation.

All around us we may see social breakdown, political uncertainty, economic challenges and pressing needs — but God has set out His purposes clearly, and is still speaking to us about them.

He is seeking to bring people back into relationship with Himself; we know that. Are we aware that He also seeks to bring institutions and every kind of governance back to Himself — back to His way of doing things, His values, His spiritual domain? We have learned that this is the meaning of the kingdom of God which Jesus continually presented as the headline over His ministry.

Who will do this? His church, as individuals and together, carries on the ministry of the One who Isaiah spoke of, who read the verses in the synagogue and said that it was fulfilled. But it was fulfilled with continuation. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that a new spiritual birth was the only way to see (perceive) the kingdom of God. Those who have given themselves to Jesus as Saviour and as Lord of their lives find themselves starting to do what He did, empowered by the same Holy Spirit who empowered Him. This is the new dimension of life – a dimension marked by joy, praise and spiritual authority – that has the capacity to renew and restore and transform.

Mary found herself going beyond anything she could have imagined, beyond her capability and revered for all time as the Saviour’s mother. Praise and joy, not shame, was her expression. John came into his call, a difficult one that would inevitably involve some confrontation and risk. Both lives were essential for the transformation and renewal of the Saviour.

We do it the other way round. The transforming, renewing Saviour has changed our lives, and the Holy Spirit draws us to join in His mission to bring righteous, loving change to others.

Go out and change the world? A tough call, but we do it one person at a time, one situation at a time; and the same anointing that empowered Jesus is the anointing that has us proclaiming good news to the poor and poor in spirit.

All the discussion starters together

  1. If Jesus took this passage (the first two sentences at least) and applied it to Himself, how might it apply to us?
  2. How does the Sovereign Lord “make righteousness and praise spring up” before others, today?

  3. What attitudes are contrasted in the Psalm 126/ Luke 1:46-55 (Magnificat) passages?

  4. What promise, or promises, do we see in these passages? Is there a condition attached?

  5. What lessons does Mary’s song have for us, in how we approach God?

  6. Are we more ready to criticise, or more ready to look for how we can make straight the way for the Lord?

  7. Does the call to repent lead us to a sense of condemnation, or to a sense of what God might be preparing us for?

  8. In what ways might the Holy Spirit bring us a word that helps us see the need for repentance?

  9. What would be the tone of that word that helps you know it is from the Lord?

. Are we more ready to criticise, or more ready to look for how we can make straight the way for the Lord?

  1. Does the call to repent lead us to a sense of condemnation, or to a sense of what God might be preparing us for?

  2. In what ways might the Holy Spirit bring us a word that helps us see the need for repentance?

  3. What would be the tone of that word that helps you know it is from the Lord?

Thur, Dec 14: Hear and test the prophetic word

The Living Word Bible study for Sunday, December 17, 2017 (wk50)

Mon, Dec 11: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Tue, Dec 12: Psalm 126, Luke 1:46-55

Wed, Dec 13: John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Thur, Dec 14: 1 Thess 5:16-24

Fri, Dec 15: The emerging message

1 Thess. 5:16-24

The Good News, 1 Thess 5:8-10, brings rejoicing and thankfulness reiterated by the Holy Spirit in ways which are to be spiritually discerned.

16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

  • “Pray continually” means be in a prayerful attitude and consistent with it, not giving up. Really knowing God, keeping close to Him and being aware of Him is a prayerful attitude where joy and thankful praise lead other expressions; this is a helpful key for maintaining effective prayer when circumstances are discouraging.

19 Do not quench the Spirit.

  • The Holy Spirit is like a dove, who flies away at any sense of threat. If people come together in any kind of a wrong attitude, anything which is unholiness, the Holy Spirit will back off until there is repentance of unholy mouths and the finding of holy hearts for His landing. Ephesians 4:30 says ‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God’ and is set in a context of Eph. 4:28-32 which is a summary of what to avoid, so as not to quench the fire and grieve the Spirit, which is all too easily done.

20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt…

  • The prophetic gift, which can be expressed in various ways, is always meant to encourage the church, 1 Cor. 14:1-14 and this upbuilding dimension of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is always needed. It is a common mistake to dismiss or devalue the spiritual because it might not seem pragmatic, and instead rely on the pragmatic, which might not be spiritual or discerning of God’s purpose.

21 …but test them all; hold on to what is good,

22 reject every kind of evil.

  • An early Christian teaching recorded in Didache 11:8 (not Scripture but nonetheless instructive) was that “Not everyone who speaks about spiritual things is a prophet, but only if the person’s conduct is like the Lord.” This is a reminder to check the character of those speaking out, Matt. 7:15-20  and also check that a prophetic word has a good origin and agrees with the apostles’ teaching, 2 Thess. 2:2, 1 John 4:1-3. We would look for the word to be in agreement with Scripture generally.

23 May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • The Holy Spirit is always at work to sanctify us — bring us back to the path of holiness in which we make choices and partner with Him.

24 The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.

Application

We all want God to presence Himself more. We may be praying for revival, a special kind of God presencing Himself over a period of time, with all kinds of salvations and transformation happening. or we may want an encounter with God in this or that gathering or prayer time. There are times when God Himself is preparing to do a work among His people. The ‘preparing the way’ Scriptures speak not only to the coming of the Messiah, but also to our time – we are told to be ready for Him to come at any time. The ‘preparing’ is simply an attitude of repentance leading to holiness, and the Holy Spirit is so named because He is the Spirit of Holiness. He is speaking, but not everyone is listening. It’s easy to miss the prophetic word that comes in a plain wrapper – something in the Sunday sermon or in a Bible reading which stands out, or in a spoken-out prayer or a conversation.

Or He may be speaking from a distance, if something has caused Him to back off. We can’t argue with others and hold unforgiveness in our hearts and be in disrespect of godly authority and also expect the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit. He hates discord and disunity! So He stays away! He is the Holy Spirit and He doesn’t work man’s way.

When He does have freedom to work among us – it is by our permission, we either do invite Him and allow Him, or we don’t – He brings us into alignment with what is good, right and holy.

Discussion starters

8. In what ways might the Holy Spirit bring us a word that helps us see the need for repentance?

9. What would be the tone of that word, that helps you know that it is from the Lord?

Wed, Dec 13: John says get ready for the One to follow Him

John 1: 6-8, 19-28

The announcement of God’s next move comes with immediacy – and mixed responses

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John.

  • This is the apostle John writing about John the Baptist.

7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.

  • John the gospel writer uses the word for ‘witness’ or ‘testify’ far more than Matthew, Mark and Luke. His gospel sets out from the start to show that the facts about Jesus are well attested.
  • “So that through him…” John the Baptist’s ministry was a particular one – to testify about Jesus and point people to Him. They would not believe “in” John, but by means of, and “through” John.

8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

  • Such was his following that some people were getting exaggerated ideas about who John was – see v. 21 below.

= = = = = =

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.

  • This was a delegation from the religious ruling council, the Sanhedrin, to check out the activities of someone who was to them an unauthorised teacher. In the 16th and 17th centuries in England, people who taught without the authorisation of the established church were commonly penalised and imprisoned – like John Bunyan – or worse. John Wesley, an Anglican cleric, was much criticised for his “enthusiasm” and was generally not allowed to preach in church buildings.

20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”

  • His appearance and ministry was in the style of Elijah, and Jews knew that Elijah had not died. So was this Elijah returned? Similarly “the Prophet”, Deuteronomy 18:15 . They were expecting various people to appear with the coming Messiah.

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”

  • The Qumran community had applied Isaiah 40:3  to themselves. Their understanding of it? Isolating themselves to secure their own salvation. Here John is making a much more missional call to “make straight the way” for the Messiah and enabling people to make their own preparation by getting right with God – repentance.
  • Baptism, with the same connotations of turning decisively from the old life to the new, became the symbol of membership in Jesus’ kingdom.

24-25 Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

  • The Pharisees held to a conservative theological position and were expecting the Messiah. John, as a forerunner, looked like a candidate but denied being that.

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.

27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

  • John tells them that the anointed One they are seeking is right there with them in the crowd and that this is to be a much greater ministry.

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

  • Not the Bethany mentioned elsewhere that is close to Jerusalem.

Application

Who were the last of the Old Testament prophets? We think of Habakkuk and Zechariah and Malachi, and then there was a period of about 400 years without a prophetic word being recorded. Jesus came right at the end of the Old Covenant era, and by His life, death and resurrection He gave us a new and better covenant based on new life trusting Him as Saviour and Lord. The Old Covenant, the Jewish system of rules and regulations would have been difficult enough for us, even if as Gentiles we could be included.

Jesus was among the crowds that came to the Jordan for a baptism of repentance, and that baptism was carried out by a kind of Elijah figure, in the way he dressed and lived – an outsider. He had a message to proclaim, and it was a direct and challenging call. Get right with God! Someone far greater than me is coming after me, in fact He is here! Demonstrate your readiness by going into the water for baptism, an act of repentance!

John was the last of the O.T. prophets. His cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, spoke for God and challenged about the kingdom of God – but we would agree He was more than a prophet.

Discussion starters

6. Are we more ready to criticise what we don’t like, or more ready to look for how we can make straight the way or the Lord?

7. Does the call to repent sound like condemnation; or do we see it as encouragement into what God might be preparing us for?

Tue, Dec 12: God looks for our praise and dependence on Him

Psalm 126 – A song of ascents

If the Lord was able to do it before, He can do it again

Readings from New International Version (NIV)

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.

  • The immediate application of this is the restoration of the first exiles from captivity in 538 BC. However relating verse 1 to verses 4-6 gives this a much wider and more contemporary application.

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

  • The Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt, and now brought about a restoration from exile, a joyous turnaround. Both of these happenings said a lot about God’s character to the surrounding nations.

3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

  • A powerful dimension of breakthrough prayer is praise for who God is, coupled with thankfulness for what God has done. ‘Testimony’ stories which recall what God has done raise the level of faith in both teller and hearer, and are spiritually robust answers to the doubts and discouragements we hear all the time in the enemy’s accusing voice.

4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.

  • The Negev is an exceptionally arid area. As the seasonal rains flood the desert wadis, the land turns green again. The prayer looks for Israel’s fortunes to flower again in a similar way.

5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.

6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

  • This speaks of God’s character: faithfulness to those who have persevered with faith. It applied to the exiles but also speaks to today. “Sowing with tears” is part of the Christian experience, seldom understood at the time, in which God tests us and proves us – do we stay in faith for the promises expressed here?

Luke 1:46-55 – The Magnificat

True dependence on God puts us in place to be part of His next move

  • Mary may have made up this song, thinking about the story of Hannah, on her several days’ journey to see her cousin Elizabeth. It borrows much in thought and phrase from Hannah’s prayer, 1 Sam. 2:1-10, but the tone of submission to God is different. It would not be unusual for a devout Jewish girl like Mary to have quite a depth of Scripture knowledge and insight, which she shows here. At the same time, as John Wesley suggests, perhaps Mary sang this Holy Spirit-inspired prophetic song without fully understanding all that she was singing.

46  And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord…

  • Older sources based on Latin texts may attribute this song to Elizabeth. But it is Mary’s. Elizabeth’s response (v.42) is an exclamation, a shout, quite different in tone from her quieter cousin’s.

47-49 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

  • Amplified Bible: “For He has looked [with loving care] on the humble state of His maidservant…” This is Mary describing herself as a sinner and a slave-girl – a humble state, rather than humiliated state.

From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.

  • Mary’s faith, waiting on God to bring His promises to fulfilment (see also v.45), was exemplary, by contrast with Zacharias, Luke 1:18-20 .

50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

  • “Mercy” is a BIG word, expressing the Old Testament and covenant-language concept of God’s love which is loyal, gracious and faithful. This love comes to those who overcome human pride to look to Him with awe and deep respect.

51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

  • Where people of influence are proud in their thinking and attitudes, problems in society ensue: cause and effect. The kingdom of God, allowing God’s rule and order to have domain in our thoughts and attitudes, stands in direct, confrontational opposition to man’s desire for independence and self-sufficiency.

52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

  • The tenses point to God’s “mighty deeds” of the past but as is often the way of the Prophets, may be using the device of looking back to what God has done, to speak of what God can and will do. The deeds of the past give substance to the promise of the Good News to come.
  • The established way of the world is turned upside down in this series of statements where the proud are scattered, rulers are removed from position, the rich miss out while the hungry and humble – those that recognise their need of God – are elevated.

54-55 He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as He promised our ancestors.”

  • Recalls the unconditional covenant with Abraham and his descendants – and those believing Gentiles like us who are ‘grafted into the vine’,  Romans 11:17-19 .

Application

The exiles knew their need of God. They had lost everything – and also lost much of the sense of their national identity as God’s covenant people. But after a generation, and a change of heart, the return began and it was a joyful returning.

Mary knew her need of God. She was young, she felt that she was a nobody, and her situation drew criticism – who else would know what the angel had said? Perhaps she had talked to God about this on her journey to see her cousin Elizabeth. And the evidence is that she had heard afresh from God and now she was rejoicing, knowing that she was blessed, singled out for an important, if challenging, assignment from God.

Sometimes we don’t know what’s going on in our lives. And sometimes it’s too confusing to expect God to tell us. Yet Mary, humble before God and aware of her need, seems to have come through to praise and rejoicing. In her song, she praises God not just for His goodness, but for specific deeds of the past where He has upheld the humble and overturned the self-sufficient.

Discussion starters

3. What attitudes are contrasted in these passages?

4. What promise, or promises, do we see in these passages? Is there a condition attached?

5. What lessons does Mary’s song have for us, in how we approach God?

Mon, Dec 11: Anointing of both authority and servanthood

The Living Word Bible study for Sunday, December 17, 2017 (wk50)

Mon, Dec 11: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Tue, Dec 12: Psalm 126, Luke 1:46-55

Wed, Dec 13: John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Thur, Dec 14: 1 Thess 5:16-24

Fri, Dec 15: The emerging message

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Anointed by the Spirit of praise and joy to rebuild, restore and renew.

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,

  • The anointing of the Spirit is an anointing as both kingly authority – proclamations are what kings do – and as a divine servant, with concern for prisoners and the poor and practical involvement with those who are destitute. This brings together Isaiah’s earlier prophecies of a king to arise, and also the suffering servant of the Lord. Isaiah spells out Jesus Christ in all but name.

2-3 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…

  • This is a well-known passage. Why? Because Jesus applied it to Himself. Following His encounter with the Holy Spirit in baptism and testing in the wilderness, and soon after the start of His public ministry, Jesus attended the regular synagogue worship in Nazareth, in the synagogue He had known from childhood. Synagogue worship was relatively free, with ministry shared. He stood up to read Scripture and was handed the Isaiah scroll. He read the beginning of Isaiah 61 (above) and then said, to the amazement of His hearers, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” Luke 4:16-21.
  • Jesus, in His reading of this, ended as above “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”. He saw His call as divided into two visitations, the first to bring salvation and freedom and favour with God, which we now understand as His human sinless life and giving up that life on the Cross. The second includes the judgment and realised kingdom of God, which fits with the Second Coming.

…and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.

  • “The oil… and a garment…” is a picture of something applied and put on, an impartation. The language of anointing and oil is often used symbolically of the Holy Spirit. So this is describing an impartation which brings dramatic change to those receiving it from mourning and despair, to joy and praise. Without Jesus this life is a slow dying with a grim outcome. Receiving new life and eternal life in a new spiritual birth is coming alive in Christ with a release into the Holy Spirit’s expression of joy and praise.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

  • The immediate meaning of this for the original hearers is about coming out of exile and rebuilding the ruins, as documented by Ezra and Nehemiah. Isaiah saw this restoration, but also a restoration of God that affects every age. For us, the impartation of the Holy Spirit and the life of the Spirit is about being empowered as God’s agents of restoration and transformation. Those who demonstrate the Life of the Spirit are those who will, simply through their lives, bring renewal of church and also society, ministering in Word and Spirit and in engagement with the world that doesn’t necessarily own Christian beliefs or values.

= = = =

8 “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward My people and make an everlasting covenant with them.

  • The community of the people of God are covenanted (for us, under the New Covenant in Jesus) to imitate and display the character of God, who stands for justice and is set against wrongdoing, Micah 6:8; Isaiah 35:15.

9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

  • The people of God are those who represent and uphold God’s values.

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

  • Clothed with salvation, arrayed in a robe of righteousness is a description of how righteousness with God is put on us as part of the faith relationship; we have to come to the point of realising that we cannot earn or achieve any of that righteousness. The theological term is “imputed”, meaning it is assigned or attributed to us through our new standing in Christ Jesus. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”,  2 Cor. 5:21. Both of these verses are major statements of how God sees us in this spiritual transformation. This is the heart of the New Covenant for those who give their lives to Jesus. In Christ Jesus, as people of new creation with a new nature, we become — and are the demonstration of — what God’s righteousness looks like.

11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

  • A supernaturally natural process whereby the kingdom of God would start to be apparent, not just to the Jewish nation but to nations beyond,  Isaiah 49:6 . From the start of Jesus’ ministry his message emphasised the kingdom of God, e.g. Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Application

Isaiah foresees a Holy Spirit anointed ministry, the characteristic of which is freeing and transforming of people, vv. 1-2, communities, v.4 and values, vv.8-9. This is a broad-brushstroke picture of what the ministry of Jesus the Messiah would look like.

The same Holy Spirit is the enabler of the purposes of God in bringing to bear His kingdom order in all the dimensions of spiritual salvation, physical and emotional healing and deliverance from oppression, as demonstrated by Jesus.

The same Holy Spirit empowers the same purposes of God in us, giving us a growing revelation of how we are to continue Jesus’ ministry, and building our confidence in it.

The same Holy Spirit transforms how we see ourselves. The revelation of how God sees us “clothed” in Christ Jesus transforms our confidence from tentative prayer requests to declaring in faith and spiritual authority what we know God has already said.

Discussion starters

1. If Jesus took this passage (the first two sentences at least) and applied it to Himself, how might it apply to us?

2. How does the Sovereign Lord “make righteousness and praise spring up” before others, today?