Read the passage in its entirety first, then read again in the verse-to-verse form.
Read Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 text
A prophetic Passover psalm of thanks and praise foretells Christ’s victory and resurrection Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 verse-by-verse
Read John 20:1-18 text
Disciples discover an open, empty tomb with two angels present and then Mary Magdalene hears Jesus and holds Him John 20:1-18 verse-by-verse
Read Acts 10:34-43 text
Peter relates his story of Jesus to a Gentile household as one who stood by the Cross and the empty tomb Acts 10:34-43 verse-by-verse
Read Colossians 3:1-4 text
New life in Christ is about dying to independence, gaining a new mindset and above all, growing in Him Colossians 3:1-4 verse-by-verse
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 — Christ’s victory and resurrection foretold
A prophetic Passover psalm of thanks and praise
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever. 2 Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.”
“Give thanks…” – this Passover psalm was probably sung by Jesus on the night before His death.
14 The LORD is my strength and my defence; He has become my salvation.
“My strength and my defence” – Moses’ words, Exodus 15:2 and Isaiah 12:2.
15-16 Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The LORD’S right hand has done mighty things! The LORD’S right hand is lifted high; the LORD’S right hand has done mighty things!”
“The Lord… has done mighty things” – shouts and declarations of victory, in the camp – and prophetically, in heaven.
17-18 I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. The LORD has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death.
“I will not die but live” – the experience of deliverance
19-20 Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.
“Gate of the Lord” – like a procession through the double eastern gates of the Temple, an allusion to heaven. Jesus declared Himself the gate to salvation, John 10:9 and these words, echoing Psalm 24, show the perfect King of glory to be the only One who can enter the gates of the Lord of His own accord.
21 I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation.
22-23 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes.
“Cornerstone” – the finest dressed stones were kept to set out the line and level of walls. Used in the OT of the Lord calling a true and submitted leader into a new work.
• For further study, see Isaiah 28:14-17; Zechariah 10:3-5 and also Mark 12:1-12. Paul taught the new work of God as the “new temple” where believers are “living stones” built around Jesus the cornerstone, Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-8.
24 The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.
More familiar as “This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” A powerful praise declaration, especially as speaking of the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This Passover psalm has so many allusions to Christ’s death being a victory, the means of salvation and the “gate” by which others can enter into salvation, it undergirds what we celebrate on Resurrection Sunday. Every line here speaks of Christ’s monumental achievement, from rejection by men to reserved selection by heaven, and its significance: the experience of God’s love for us, His strength, His gift of righteousness by which we can enter into salvation, thanksgiving – and joy. Christian faith is characterised by joy; joy comes from faith in Jesus.
Do others see in us, the joy of knowing Jesus?
John 20:1-18 — Mary Magdalene hears Jesus and holds Him
Disciples discover an open, empty tomb and two angels
1-2 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!”
“First day ” – Sunday, which the first believers set aside to remember the resurrection, Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2.
“While it was still dark” – she left home, arriving just after sunrise, Mark 16:2.
“Removed” – the circular stone, a metre across, requiring several people to roll it aside.
3-5 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.
“The other disciple” – author of this gospel John refers to himself obliquely, John 13:23.
6-7 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.
Cloth… lying in its place” – or folded. No grave robber would have removed the (expensive) linen cloths and left them neatly. A sign to the disciples of intentional ‘undressing’.
8-10 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
“The other disciple… saw and believed” – up to this point they had no expectation of what they now encountered. Their knowledge of the resurrection came through what they “saw and believed” which they later related to Scripture.
11-13 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.”
“Why are you crying” – not the right response, as Mary was about to discover.
14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.
“Did not realise” – people were sometimes prevented from recognising Jesus at first after He was risen. There are hints that His appearance, in resurrection body, was a bit different – like the encounter on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35.
• For further study, read John 21:4; Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:16, 37.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.”
“Thinking He was the gardener” – in the half light and through tears she did not see what she did not expect.
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’ ”
“I have not yet ascended” – Mary did not want to lose Jesus again and probably thought He would resume the former way of life. Like the others, she had yet to grasp the different reality of Jesus’ resurrected appearances, and then ascension.
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that He had said these things to her.
“Mary… went…with the news” – in Jewish culture a woman could not give witness in court. Mary, a woman healed from a broken life, had seen, heard and touched Jesus, and was now the bearer of the news to the others. No Jew of that time would make up such a story.
This story defies logic at every turn. The series of events were so surprising that it was recorded by sources of the time not sympathetic to Christians.
The stone that could not be moved, on a site under guard, Matthew 27:65-66, the neatly left grave wrappings, the dialogue with the angels, the physical contact with the risen Lord and the extraordinary choice of messenger – not to mention the raising to life of someone who had been proven to be dead on the Cross, John 19:33-34. There is too much here that we cannot rationalise.
The alternative is to accept that supernatural happenings point to a God far beyond human comprehension. To not understand is the right response, and to believe what we do not fully understand, is called faith.
Acts 10: 34-43 — Peter relates his story of Jesus to a Gentile household
34-35 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right.
“Does not show favouritism” – no partiality to Jewish ethnicity or a person’s station in life or religious standing. Every kind of person has the same welcome and the test for all is the sincerity of their believing and submitting to God. Peter has put in his own words the commission Christ gave the disciples before departing, Matthew 28:19-20.
36-38 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him.
“The message… sent to the people of Israel” – first, but never to be restricted to them, as “Lord of all” emphasises. “The good news of peace” and “Lord of all” are the language of Isaiah 52:7 and 57:19; Cornelius and his household were always to be included.
• For further study, see John 3:16; Luke 2:30-32, 24:47; Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16-17.
39-40 “We are witnesses of everything He did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed Him by hanging Him on a cross, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen.
“We are witnesses” – Peter and the other disciples were with Jesus from the beginning, and saw the extraordinary events of His death and resurrection for themselves.
41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen — by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.
“Seen…by witnesses whom God had already chosen” – after His resurrection, Jesus showed Himself to believers, 1 Cor. 15:5-8, and ate with them, showing that He had been resurrected bodily, Luke 24:42-43; John 21:12-15.
42-43 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the One whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”
“He is the One” – based on their own observation, vv.39-41, the apostles could proclaim Jesus Christ the One foretold by the prophets, and believing in Him as the sole qualification for forgiveness of sins.
• For further study, the whole plan of the Scriptures focuses on Christ, Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; John 5:39.
If the resurrection of Christ is extraordinary and without parallel, then the idea of Gentiles serving the occupying forces becoming believers in the fullness of the Holy Spirit was unthinkable – until it happened. It goes against the grain that God should favour people who, to us, do not qualify. It offends the religious mind, but primes us to the different values that prevail in His kingdom.
How naturally can you talk about who Jesus is and what He has done for you?
Believers die to their independence and gain a new mindset
Colossians 3:1-4 — New life in Christ means growing in Him
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
“Above, where Christ is” – false teachers were turning the Way of Jesus into a religion of following temporal things, like Judaism.
2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
“Not on earthly things” – true spirituality is not about man-made rules but seeking a deeper relationship with Christ, Philippians 3:10, seeking His kingdom, Matt. 6:33 and living a life worthy of His name, Col. 1:10, 2:6.
3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
“Hidden with Christ in God” – language from the Psalms and Isaiah expressing security and hope from having a new nature which comes from a new identity imparted in the new birth; good works and service flow as a result of this.
4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
“Appear with Him in glory” – at His second coming, Rev. 19:11-13, 15-16.
Living in the knowledge of the resurrection of Christ is a call to live for Him, not in a dry memorial sense, but in active, growing partnership. Too easily this can degenerate into ritual and observance; partnership is all about relationship, a relationship in which we have given our sin-marred lives to Jesus.
The whole of the Bible, God’s revelation of Himself, turns on Christ’s victory by dying on the Cross and then His Resurrection to rule and reign eternally. But the perspectives are different, before and after the discovery of the empty tomb. Everything changes at this point. And everything in our lives changes, once we grasp the significance of it.
The only part we played in this was to help put Jesus in the Cross — our sin adding to the burden He carried. There is no good work or religious effort that could reduce that debt. We could only, as it were, watch as He paid the price for us as a suffering human but selfless and sinless sacrifice.
The Jesus we hear about now is not just a historical person, the miracle working Galilean. He is the One who has shown Himself to be Saviour and has conquered death and disempowered all the devil’s strategies. But more than that, we can know Him! Like Cornelius and his household, any of us, wherever we come from, whatever our position in life, can believe and choose to know Him personally. That decision is life-changing, and the big difference is being able to live differently as His Spirit changes us from within.
Which is the point of Paul’s reminder in his letter: “You have been raised with Christ — your life hidden in His.” This is the Good News — new life in Jesus.
Lord Jesus, as we especially focus on the discovery that Mary made — that You are alive! – help us to grasp more fully the magnitude of what you have done for us. And help us to live in it with joy, helping others to find that You are real. Amen.
April 5, 2020. Passion Sunday. TLW12A
Sunday Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, shared across the denominations.
Theme: Jesus paid a high price for us to be able to call Him Lord
Read the passage first and let it speak for itself. The link takes you to the NIV text which combines accuracy with clarity. The order follows the sequence of the Bible, which is a progressive revelation from Old Testament, to a Gospel account, to the teaching of the early church who knew the perspective and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Following the Bible’s own sequence makes it much easier to grasp the overall thrust of what God is saying through it.
Then there are links to the verse-by-verse commentary and brief application.
Isaiah 50:4-9 — The messenger of good news knows God’s purpose will bring pain and shameful accusation – but also vindication
Matthew 27:11-54 — Following Pilate’s sentence, as Jesus surrenders His life on the Cross, an earthquake destroys the temple curtain
Philippians 2:5-11 — How God became man in Jesus, the humble servant put to death under a curse and now honoured as Lord of heaven and earth
And also read: Psalm 31:9-16
Isaiah 50:4-9 — The messenger of good news submits to God’s purpose
There will be pain, and shameful accusation – but also vindication
4-5 The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens Me morning by morning, wakens My ear to listen like one being instructed. The Sovereign LORD has opened My ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.
“A well-instructed tongue” – in this third Servant Song the Messiah, submissive to God, is being perfected through unwavering persistence.
“The word that sustains the weary” – refers back to an earlier prophecy, that the Lord, “who will not grow tired or weary”, sends His messenger with the good news that “He gives strength to the weary”, Isaiah 40:28-31.
6 I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting.
“I offered My back” – and other torment, what Jesus experienced at His crucifixion, Matthew 26:67, 27:30.
“Mocking” – see Matt. 27:27-31 (below).
7 Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
“Shame” – at first, but the servant foresees the God-ordained outcome.
8 He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against Me? Let us face each other! Who is My accuser? Let him confront Me!
“Vindicate” – or justifies. Christ fulfilled this prophecy. As the human but sinless Saviour, He is uniquely empowered to cancel charges brought against those who choose to belong to Him.
9 It is the Sovereign LORD who helps Me.
This preview of what Jesus went through for us, helps us regain God’s perspective when we are wearied by the constant attacks of the enemy of our souls.
“Who is My accuser?” is the language of a legal victory in a courtroom. “Accuser” is similar in meaning to satan, adversary, reminding us that our spiritual enemy relies on finding legal grounds to oppress (our sin) and is stymied by the removal of those grounds (by finding grace, in Jesus).
When life is draining and we feel discouraged, where do those thoughts come from?
Matthew 27:11-54 — Pilate sentences Jesus to be flogged and crucified
As He surrenders His life, an earthquake rips apart the temple curtain
11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, “Are You the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
“The governor” – the Roman historian Tacitus records Christ’s execution after sentencing by the prefect Pilate “in the reign of Tiberius”. The blasphemy accusation held little sway for a Roman official, so the Jews framed Jesus as a political rebel deserving of death.
12-14 When He was accused by the chief priests and the elders, He gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against You?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge — to the great amazement of the governor.
“Great amazement” – Pilate has not encountered a defendant who did not plead for mercy; if allegations of treason were true, Pilate would have been forewarned.
15-16 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas.
17-18 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him.”
“That innocent man” – a disturbing nightmare was a significant sign to people of that time, Roman law was clear that an innocent man should not be put to death, and Pilate’s judicial instinct told him the charges were constructed. Yet he was more influenced by fear of the crowd.
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas, and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify Him!”
23 “Why? What crime has He committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him!”
“Why?” – Pilate clearly thought the crowd would want the release of a doer of good, rather than Barabbas, seen as a violent robber in Mark 15:7, John 18:40. The crowd that noisily acclaimed Jesus as He entered the city, now proved strangely fickle.
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
“His blood is on us” – the self-curse found fulfilment among those present in the Jerusalem’s bloodshed and destruction in AD 70 (but is not an indictment against Jews in general).
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.
“Flogged” – Roman flogging was so brutal it sometimes killed the victim. The “By His stripes” quotation about our healing being in Jesus’ wounding sees this as part of the execution, Isaiah 53:5. 1 Peter 2:24.
27-29 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand. Then they knelt in front of Him and mocked Him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said.
“Mocked Him” – Isaiah 50:6 (above). His trial by the Jews, Matt. 26:67-68, mocked Him as a prophet; now He is mocked as king. See also vv. 37-44 below.
• For further study: Jesus’ unique spiritual authority combines that of prophet, priest and king, Hebrews 1:1, Hebrews 10, and Hebrews 2:8.
• Read also Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
30-31 They spat on him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again. After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.
32-34 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced Him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it.
“A man from Cyrene, named Simon” – Simon, from N. Africa, is named as someone later known in the community of believers.
The place of the skull” – either a skull-like rocky place, or where skulls remained from previous executions – or both. None of the gospels mentions a hill.
35-37 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
38 Two rebels were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
41-43 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. “He saved others,” they said, “but He can’t save Himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
“Let God rescue Him” – “let God deliver Him”, an allusion to Psalm 22:8.
44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him.
“Rebels… crucified with Him” – as predicted, He was “numbered with the transgressors,” Isaiah 53:12, Luke 22:37.
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”).
“Why have You forsaken Me?” – Jesus had to experience the full extent of God’s wrath (holy requirement for justice) for the sins of humanity – possibly the bitterest blow of all. Matthew translates the Aramaic for us.
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48-49 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave Him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save Him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit.
“Cried out” – not anguish but the victory shout of “It is finished!”, John 19:30. Jesus had completed His purpose in coming into the world and in this tortured death had settled the redemption charge for the sin of all mankind.
51-53 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
“Curtain” – the Holy of Holies in the Temple was divided off by heavy woven barrier; remarkably the earthquake ripped it. At this point, the order of priesthood was made redundant because through Jesus it was now possible for every believer to come into God’s presence, needing no other intermediary.
• For further study, see Ephesians 2:11-22; Hebrews 6:19; Hebrews 9:1-10:25.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely He was the Son of God!”
“Terrified” – the earthquake, and the prisoner like no other, revealed the divine connection.
Any one part of what Jesus took on Himself is too much for us – false accusation, shame, brutality at the whipping post – and the horror of dying a cursed death on a cross taunted by mockers. Jesus knew it would be horrific. Yet He understood that He had to satisfy the wrath, the legal remedy of justice, for His Father. Only a sinless human being could pay the price for us to know Him as Savour and as Lord, – and Jesus did.
Given the enormity of what Jesus did for us, what inhibits us from joy and praise?
Philippians 2:5-11 — How God became man in Jesus
The servant put to death under a curse is now honoured as Lord of heaven and earth
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6-7 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
“Being in very nature God” – this hymn of praise contrasts Jesus’ pre-existence and divinity with His incarnate existence in which “He made Himself nothing” in human likeness, but drew on the Holy Spirit’s empowering. We can live above ourselves with Jesus-like love for others, continuing His ministry, by the enabling of the same Holy Spirit.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
“Even death on a cross” – Jesus went voluntarily to the most shameful of deaths possible for a Jew. This divine exchange included coming under a curse from God on our behalf, Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13.
9-11 Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“Jesus Christ is Lord” – “Lord” refers to the right to rule. Disciples of Jesus “bow the knee” by acknowledging His Lordship of our lives, as well as all creation.
How do we go about having the same mindset as Jesus? This praise hymn to Jesus both raises the question, and ends with the answer, which is about celebrating His Lordship of us.
Like the old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” When we hold someone in awe, we’ll want to do what they do and take on their values. This sets us wanting to live above ourselves – and welcoming the enabling of the Holy Spirit, the Helper, makes it possible.
Calling Jesus our Lord is not, ultimately about obedience. That is being a Pharisee. It is about loving who He is so much, that we WANT to grow like Him.
Which comes first, doing what Jesus says, or being with Him and wanting to grow more like Him?
Father God, we are so grateful for Jesus, making a way for us to You in such a horrific self-sacrifice, so we can have fellowship with Him as Lord of our lives.
We thank you, too, that in Jesus we have His authority to say ‘no’ to evils like the present pandemic, and a welcoming ‘yes’ to what we hear You saying.
Humbly we give You charge of our lives again — and volunteer again as junior partners in Your saving strategy. Amen.
March 29, 2020. “Dry Bones” Sunday. TLW12A
Sunday Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, shared across the denominations.
Theme: How the Holy Spirit brings our ‘dry bones’ to life
Read the passage first and let it speak for itself. The link takes you to NIV text which combines accuracy with clarity. The order follows the sequence of the Bible, which is a progressive revelation from Old Testament, to Gospel account, to the teaching of the early church who knew the perspective and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Following the Bible’s own sequence makes it much easier to grasp the overall thrust of what God is saying through it.
Then there are links to the verse-by-verse commentary and brief application.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 — a vision of dry bones brought to life
The prophet calls the Holy Spirit to bring resurrection
John 11:1-45 – The miracle that brought Lazarus back to life
The seventh sign showing Jesus to be the Messiah of God
Romans 8:6-11 – The hold of the flesh opposes God’s Spirit
When we become Christians, the flesh nature tries to hold on
And also: Psalm 130
Ezekiel 37:1-14 — a vision of dry bones brought to life
The prophet calls the Holy Spirit to bring resurrection
1-3 The hand of the LORD was on me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign LORD, You alone know.”
“He brought me out by the Spirit” – God gave him a detailed, graphic vision.
“Valley… full of bones” – a battlefield graveyard which symbolises the spiritual death of the exiles. The vision underlines the promise of new life: “I will give you a heart of flesh… and I will put My Spirit in you…”, Ezekiel 36:16-38.
4-6 Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’
“Prophesy” – ‘speak forth’ a declaration in faith.
”I will put breath in you” — ruach means both breath and spirit.
• For further study: John 3:1-21. Jesus expected Nicodemus, knowing this passage, to understand the concept of a new spiritual birth by the Holy Spirit.
7-8 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9-10 Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ”
“Prophesy to the breath” — or ‘speak in faith to the Spirit’ is the Scriptural basis of the ancient prayer, “Come Holy Spirit”. We can and should invite the fuller presence of God’s life-giving Spirit.
10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.
11-12 Then He said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.
13-14 Then you, My people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”
“I will put My Spirit in you and you will live” – at first, resettlement of exiles (Ezekiel was an exile prophet). Longer range fulfilment: spiritual rebirth and life of the Holy Spirit experienced by the church following Pentecost.
• For further study, see John 3:5-8; John 11:25-26; Romans 8:9-17; Col. 3:1-4.
This is exactly what happens when by faith we ask Jesus to be Lord, and are born from above. This is an invitation for the Holy Spirit to enter, we come to life spiritually, and we recognise Jesus in a way we couldn’t before, as our Lord. This passage gives good biblical grounds for us to entreat God for renewal, and to speak the life of the Spirit into the ‘dry bones’ of institutional Christianity.
What God wants, is what we should be asking for, and in faith speaking out.
Sometimes things remain when really they have died. Where are the “dry bones” that God wants you to pray into new life?
John 11:1-45 – The miracle that resurrected Lazarus
The seventh sign showing Jesus to be the Messiah of God
1-3 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.
Bethany – a village on the side of the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem.
4-7 When He heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days, and then He said to His disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
He stayed… two more days” – Lazarus needed a healing touch, yet Jesus delayed, which seemed uncaring. He loved the family but was obedient to God’s timing, for His greater glory.
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
9-10 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
“Walks in the daytime” – meaning doing what God wants and following His timing.
11 After He had said this, He went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12-13 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought He meant natural sleep.
14-15 So then He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17-20 On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Four days” – a day after the soul had finally departed the body, according to common folk belief.
21-22 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask.”
23-24 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“I am the resurrection and the life” – meaning He is “I AM”, Lord, over life and death, and also Lord of new and eternal life through believing in Him.
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28-31 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33-34 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” He asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
“He was deeply moved… and troubled” – “a deep anger welled welled up within Him”, NLT and The Message; while empathising with Mary’s grief He took issue with the hypocrisy and unbelief of the bystanders, v.37.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38-39 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” He said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”
“Cave with a stone… across the entrance” – a tomb of this kind would have been quite commonplace at that time. It indicated a relatively well-off family.
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41-42 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that you always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent Me.”
43-45 When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in Him.
“Many… believed” – as v.40; other witnesses to the miracle reported Jesus’ actions maliciously to the Pharisees in Jerusalem, v.46.
Ezekiel, in his vision, was told to speak life to the dry bones, and saw them resurrected. Here, Jesus follows what He has ‘seen’ in prayer and speaks life to a corpse wrapped up and buried in a cave, and Lazarus, miraculously resurrected, stumbles into view. This is the seventh sign recorded by John in which Jesus showed Himself, rather than declared Himself, to be Messiah. A short time later Jesus would be back in Jerusalem for Passover Week, ending with His own death on the cross, and then resurrection following a similar burial to Lazarus.
Following the world order of things, everything becomes sick or wears out or goes wrong; but by contrast, turning to the Lord of life is always a lifegiving move. It aligns us with Him, so that the life of the Lord can flow into our situation.
Think of a time (or times) when prayers seemed to go unanswered and everything was going pear-shaped – but later you could see God’s higher purpose.
Romans 8:6-11 – The rule of the flesh opposes God’s Spirit
When we become Christians, the flesh nature tries to keep its grip on us
6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.
7-8 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
“Governed by the flesh” – the selfish and independent ‘human’ nature, resisting what God wants for us, is life-sapping, not life-giving.
9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.
“Have the Spirit of Christ” – which comes by you deciding to trust Jesus for your salvation and looking to Him as Lord. Telling Him (and others) of that intention underlines the decision; otherwise we can continue in a kind of nominal assent, which does not unseat the independence of the selfish nature, or allow room for the Holy Spirit to lead our steps.
10-11 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.
“He who raised Christ from the dead” – the Holy Spirit is the all-powerful life-giver and the resurrection of Jesus proves that. To the extent that we invite Him, we find Him empowering and life-giving.
What, or who, is the power that made resurrection happen – the dry bones brought to life, Lazarus emerging from the tomb, Jesus Himself raised to life on the third day? This teaching for Christians in Rome speaks of the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ in the same sentence (v.9). Jesus spoke the command to Lazarus’ body and the Spirit of God re-created his deceased body as a living person.
Our humanness gets in the way of what God intends, but the Holy Spirit is the one who kindles life in our human spirit and empowers us to live for Him – as we turn (and keep on turning) to Jesus and call Him Lord.
How do we make room for the Holy Spirit to give us His new life and empowering to live for Jesus? How do we make it difficult for Him?
Father God, as we come to You submitted to Jesus, we know that You are the giver of life.
Left to ourselves we can only die back, but as we open ourselves to You we always find renewal.
At this time, where our flesh nature so readily entertains the fear of death, we thank You, that in You we have the opposite spirit of peace, joy and hope.
May we be strong in the Spirit of Christ and in our small way, lifegiving to others as You are lifegiving. Amen.
Mothering Sunday — March 22 TLW11A
Previous week March 15 Following week March 29
Sunday readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. First read the passage in its entirety (NIV text) and let it speak for itself; then, the links below take you to the verse-by-verse commentary.
1 Samuel 1:20-28 — Hannah’s motherly instinct is to put what is right before what she wants, and she gives up her son to fulfil her vow
together with Psalm 34:11-20
John 19:25-27 — in His dying breaths, Jesus honours His mother, trusting His disciple John to look after her
Colossians 3:12-17 — As people of joy in the Good News of Christ, we carry the kind of love that can let go and forgive
1 Samuel 1:20-28 — Hannah makes a great sacrifice on behalf of her son
This mother’s instinct is to put what is right ahead of what she wants
20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.”
“Samuel” – sounds like “asked of God” or “heard by God” in Hebrew.
21-22 When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always.”
23 “Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good His word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.
“Make good His word” – an earlier, unrecorded word from the Lord or, possibly, Eli’s pronouncement, v.17.
24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh.
“After he was weaned” – much older than we would expect; he could have been five years old.
“Three-year-old bull…ephah of flour” – or three bulls, either way a substantial offering, indicating that Elkanah was prosperous.
25-26 When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD.
“As surely as you live” – a way of emphasising the truth of words. Hannah exalts the Lord by her testimony of what He has done.
27-28 I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.” And he worshipped the LORD there.
“The LORD has granted me…” – following Eli’s earlier words; Samuel is the direct answer to that blessing.
“I give him” – honouring the Lord with sacrificial love. In turn, the Lord honours her with further sons and daughters, 1 Sam. 2:19-21
11 Come, my children, listen to Me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
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.
“I will teach you” – like “Come My children”, the language of the Bible genre called wisdom literature. Wisdom here has three components:
- “fear of the Lord”, meaning awe and worshipful attitude;
- intentional avoidance of evil, especially evil speech; and
- v.14, doing good.
14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
15-16 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.
“Turn from evil” – always be ready to change a behaviour and come back to God. These verses are quoted by Peter in his letter to summarise the loving and relational Christian lifestyle, 1 Peter 3:10-12.“The eyes of the Lord” – watching over and protective of those who are maintaining a relationship with Him; by contrast, those whose independence from the Lord leads to evil attract His attention in a different way.
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.
“Brokenhearted… crushed” – exaggeration for effect, of how “the righteous” have dealt with their human pride and stubbornness.
19 The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;
“Many troubles” – the psalm is clear that the prevalent evil that we must distance ourselves from, v.14, will bring trouble for both the wicked and the righteous. However there is a very different outcome for the wise and God-fearing who experience God’s love and attention, and can face difficulty with greater resilience.
20 He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.
“Not one of them… broken” – the apostle John, commenting on the Roman custom not being fully followed for Jesus, alluded to this together with Exodus 12:46, making the connection between Jesus and the passover lamb, John 19:36.
Hannah’s ability to lay down her right to what she most wanted, a son to bring up, sets the bar high by any measure of sacrificial love. She was determined to do what was right by the Lord and what was best for the son she had been given.
The psalm brings out two related themes:
- how the Lord seeks out those who push through to do what is right by Him, and
- that doing what is right comes at a cost: “The righteous person may have many troubles…”
However, the psalm shows us that the person who persists in doing what the Lord wants, through troubles, sees a very different outcome from the “evil person” who is presented for contrast. There is real cost and difficulty, but with it comes the promise of deliverance: “The LORD delivers him…” One definition of an “evil person” might be one who gives, but with the motive of coercing the Lord into rewarding the action. Like Hannah, we trust the Lord with what gives us and give back to Him, without strings, what counts as His.
What are the similarities between Hannah as a mother, and Mary the mother of Jesus?
John 19:25-27 — Jesus honours His mother with His dying breaths
He trusts His disciple John with the responsibility to look after her
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
“Near the cross… stood” – a number of women, considered a low risk and not kept away as men were. “His mother’s sister” may have been Salome, wife of Zebedee, making the writer a cousin of Jesus, and giving greater reason for His assignment of Mary’s care to John, v.27.
“The wife of Clopas” – possibly the disciple that Luke named as Cleopas, who encountered the resurrected Jesus on the way to Emmaus, Luke 24:18.
• For further study, compare Matt 27:55–56; Mark 15:40; Luke 23:. Mark 16:1.
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.
“Took her into his home” – in Jewish family law Jesus as eldest son had provision to assign the care of his mother to another. Jesus’ brothers may not have believed in Him at this point, John 7:5. According to tradition, Mary moved with John to Ephesus and both are buried there.
John is teaching the wider point, that those witnessing the scene were the heart of the new community of believers gathered at the Cross (a fair definition of the Church) and Jesus wanted them to start putting into practice what He had commanded earlier, to love and care for each other.
• For further study, see John 13:34, 15:12, 17.
Here we feel a mother’s grief and loss, although it seems impossible to put ourselves in Mary’s place, witnessing the horrific execution of her own son. However, this scene gives us a window to see the kind of relationships that Jesus wanted to be the hallmark of the new community of gathered believers.
- It is family. Some of those standing near the Cross were related, some were not, but they were all family in another way, through sharing a close relationship with Jesus.
- It is about relationships, not the kind that are measured by order of importance (hierarchy) or order of influence (authority), but the mutuality of belonging to one another – “Here is your son… your mother”.
- It is enduring, not transient. This was not an arrangement till Mary got over her grieving, but an adoption for Mary to make her contribution and receive from others as part of this koinonia community – the ‘communion’ or fellowship word that came to mean the gathering to break bread and remember Jesus together.
How good are we at the ‘belonging’ of fellowship? What can be difficult for people joining a close fellowship?
Colossians 3:12-17 — Put on the kind of love that can let go and forgive
Be people of joy in the Good News of Christ
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
“God’s chosen people” – a phrase from the law of Israel about the people of Israel, Deuteronomy 4:37, is now applied to the Christian community, 1 Peter 2:9. Being chosen by God (the theological word is ‘election’) is a common theme in the Bible but never separated from the other face of the coin, our choice and Christian responsibility: here, to live as God’s chosen people in loving attitudes.
13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
“Forgive one another” – a central part of the Good News is that, in Jesus we can know we are completely forgiven by God, which brings “the peace of Christ”, v.15 below. But our being forgiven brings the expectation that we, on our part, will readily forgive, and treat others with the generosity of spirit we received from God.
• For further study, read Matthew 6:12, 14; 18:21-35.
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
“Put on love” – another central part of the Good News, because knowing that we are loved by God, enables us to love in our relationships with others. Our imitation of God’s unconditional love for us, is the glue that binds together the distinctive values that witness to others, as in v.12 above.
• For further study, read Matthew 5:43-48; Mark 12:28-33; Romans 13:8–10; 1 Corinthians 13:1–13.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
“Let the peace of Christ rule” – knowing Jesus brings us a wholeness, through freedom from bitterness and anger, because it empowers us to practice God’s grace in our relationships, vv.13-14. To paraphrase: ‘Let Christ rule your heart — and therefore Christ’s way be the umpire of all your actions.’
16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
“The message of Christ” – specifically, let the Good News of Christ be the central, joyful core of discipleship and worship. More broadly, Jesus’ teaching generally.
“Hymns and songs from the Spirit” – a parallel thought to “be filled with the Spirit”, Ephesians 5:18, which results in singing and gratitude. “Hymns” refers to songs of praise, e.g. Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Timothy 3:16 and “songs from the Spirit” singing in tongues and other freestyle, inspired and prophetic forms of worship.
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
“Do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” – not a formulaic saying but an intention to honour God and give glory to Him by Christlike speech and actions.
The third strand about learning God’s way and living it out, highlights the inner life we have. Mothers are given the ability to bring comfort – compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience sound like the mother most of us can remember crying out for at times.
But they are not just maternal or feminine attributes! This “peace of Christ” is what the Holy Spirit gives all believers who receive new life in Jesus. It comes from the love for others, that we find through knowing that we are loved ourselves, and this is at the heart of the Good News message of Christ.
That love for others, the unconditional kind that comes from the Holy Spirit, is what enables us to bear with the dysfunctions of others and go further – forgive them the way God forgave us. That is where we find inner peace.
Keep that truth fresh and central, the apostle seems to say, and you will find yourself being good news to others and bringing glory to God as you go.
Who has caused you hurt and distress, through being unfair, untrue, unkind and unappreciating? Have a trusted friend pray with you and help you apply v. 13 above to forgive from the heart and have the Lord’s peace.
Thank You, Father, that we can give, and also give up, knowing that You first gave. You give us love, joy, peace and every provision – and you also give us the generosity of spirit to forgive others and cancel out the moral debt they owe us, just as You forgave us our debts. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit to live trusting You, and giving glory to You, by the inner peace we carry. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
TLW10A for Sunday, March 15, 2020. The undeserved love of God
Taken from the Revised Standard Lectionary, Year A, March 15 (Lent 2)
Sunday readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. First read the passage in its entirety (NIV text) and let it speak for itself; then, the links below take you to the verse-by-verse commentary.
Theme: God’s sheer goodness to undeserving people
Exodus 17:1-7 – God shows grace to the grumbling tribes who need water, and delivers them again
John 4:5-42 — The gift of God in Jesus is love for the Samaritans
Romans 5:1-11 — What Christ did for undeserving, ungodly sinners
Also: Psalm 95
Exodus 17:1-7 — God shows His grace in giving water again to the grumbling tribes
The people are not trusting God or their leader, but He delivers them again
1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, travelling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.
“No water” – with their animals, a big problem.
2 So they quarrelled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”
“So they quarrelled” – the spiritual problem was not the need of water, but not trusting in God’s provision of it.
3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
“Grumbled” – in distrust of God and His appointed leader Moses, even though they had seen the miracles of bitter water made pure at Marah, and finding food in the Desert of Sin, ç.
4 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
“Moses cried out to the Lord” – in prayer and dependence, by contrast to the people who had cried out against him.
5 The LORD answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.
“Take… some of the elders” – not all of them were blaming Moses, and he needed witnesses to what God would do.
6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.
“I will stand there before you” – the Lord revealing Himself, and reinforcing Moses’ leadership.
“Strike the rock” – for Paul, the rock was a sign representing Jesus, 1 Cor. 10:4.
• For further study: the Lord is referred to as “the Rock”, Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, 30; 1 Samuel 2:2.
7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
“Massah and Meribah” – testing and rebellion, although they knew God’s deliverance in leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud and fire, and manna, Psalm 95:7-8, Hebrews 3:7-8.
Moses was the convenient target to take the blame when there wasn’t enough food in the desert or there wasn’t a source of water. But actually, God allowed these times as tests, to know what was in their hearts, and whether they would trust Him – and they often failed.
- The good news in this passage is that God is good, His love is constant when ours is not, and when we eventually turn to Him, He is there for us.
See article on separate page, Understanding the Good News – God’s grace
How good are we at choosing not to blame, but to seek and trust God in the face of difficulties?
John 4:5-42 — The gift of God in Jesus is love for the Samaritans
How the unbelieving and hostile people found revival
5-6 So He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as He was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
“Sychar – a village opposite Mt. Gerazim near OT Shechem or NT Nablus, where Jacob had bought some land, later giving it to Joseph, Gen. 33:18-19, 48:21-22. A 40m well by a crossroads exists today.
7-8 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give Me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
“A Samaritan woman came” – women did not generally fetch water in the heat of the day, except this social outcast.
9 The Samaritan woman said to Him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
“How can You ask Me” – Jesus’ desire to reach this lost woman overrode conventions: addressing a lone woman, and drawing from a well used by (ritually unclean) Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”
11-12 “Sir,” the woman said, “You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
“Living water” – God reproves the Jews for rejecting Him, “the fountain of living waters” in Jer. 2:13, and other prophets spoke of the time when “living waters shall flow from Jerusalem”, i.e. knowing God’s grace and spiritual life, Zech. 14:8; Ezekiel 47:9.
13-14 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
“A spring… welling up to eternal life” – like Jesus’s teaching about springs of living water from within, meaning the new life of the Spirit, at the Feast of Tabernacles, John 7:37-39.
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17-18 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“I have no husband” – she replies in guilt and shame for her immoral life while beginning to seek this “living water”.
19-20 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21-22 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe Me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.
“A time is coming” – all temples, priests, and sacrificial worship is now superseded by the priesthood of all believers in Jesus, the “living stones” of the church, 1 Peter 2:5.
23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you — I am He.”
“I am He” – showing why “salvation is from the Jews”, v.22, able to speak of His Messiahship in Samaria without the political connotations.
27 Just then His disciples returned and were surprised to find Him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do You want?” or “Why are You talking with her?”
28-29 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward Him.
“Could this be…” – She saw Christ first as a Jew, v.8, then as a prophet, v.19, and now the Messiah.
31-33 Meanwhile His disciples urged Him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Then His disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought Him food?”
34-35 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent Me and to finish His work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
“My food” – or My fulfilment, is in carrying out the mission. Jesus’s sayings needed spiritual discernment and were often only understood by the disciples after the Spirit had been given, John 2:22.
“Fields… ripe for harvest” – literally “white” at the end of the natural cycle. Here, sowing at the well was already resulting in a supernatural harvest in the village.
36-38 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.”
“Even now” – there is a foretaste of the messianic age where “the one treading grapes” overtakes “the ploughman and the planter”, while remembering that we harvest what others have planted, Amos 9:13, Micah 6:15.
39-41 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they urged Him to stay with them, and He stayed two days. And because of His words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”
“Saviour of the world” – also in 1 John 4:14. The Samaritan revival is the first sign of Jesus’ saving mission beyond the Jews, the pattern for the way the early church moved out to Judea, Samaria and the Gentiles, John 3:1-15, John 4:1-42, John 4:46-54, Acts 1:8.
The Samaritans, having changed their version of the Scriptures to support worshipping independently on their own mountain, were hardly deserving of God’s favour. However, God breaks man’s ‘rules’ to bless those who seem to least deserve it, and bring spiritual life in unlikely places.
- The good news is that a heart that turns to God is what is important, not track record – because of His bias towards grace.
Where are the unlikely ‘Samaria’ places that we know, where God might be already working?
Romans 5:1-11 What Christ did for undeserving, ungodly sinners
When we have trusted Jesus, the tough times grow our faith and expectation
1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
“Justified through faith” – summarising the preceding teaching on how we are all under God’s judgment for humankind’s rebellion, which our ‘good’ actions cannot address but only believing, trusting faith like Abraham’s.
“Peace with God” – not a feeling but the settled reality of now being reconciled, freed from the fear of judgment, and having the joy of a personal relationship with God through Jesus.
3-5 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
“Glory in our sufferings” – tough circumstances still come but Christians find that God makes use of adversity to grow us in faith and character.
6-8 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
“The right time, when we were… powerless” – the realisation that while we are unregenerate sinners we can do nothing to help ourselves. This brings into focus the magnitude of what Jesus has done, dying for us, even though we were utterly undeserving.
9-11 Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
“Justified by His blood” – in Scripture, “blood” is shorthand for violent death, Leviticus 17:11.
“We were God’s enemies” – because we inherited Adam’s independence, a hostility to God’s order that must be removed for reconciliation to happen.
“Saved from God’s wrath… reconciled… having been reconciled… saved” – the repetition emphasises the point. Christians “justified” (declared not guilty) now by Christ’s blood poured out on the Cross, can be assured that at the judgment to come they will be confirmed in God’s eternal love, not wrath.
The grumbling Israelites and the independent Samaritans teach us that ‘deserving’ is not the way God works. Paul stresses that in ourselves we were lost and helpless and couldn’t do a thing about it. But Jesus did – before we ever made a single move to trust Him.
- This, says, Paul, is the “grace in which we stand” and it is this well-spring of God’s life within us, that holds us and grows us, through good times and tough times, while we joyfully give God all the glory.
How difficult is it for you to praise God and speak of His love for you, when all your feelings say otherwise?
Lord, I thank You for loving me when I wasn’t even looking Your way and for dying for me before I ever came to believe and trust in You. As I learn how You delight to bless, beyond anything we could ever deserve, so grow me in this Lent season to be more generous-spirited and gracious to others – like You. Amen.