Speak Your Mind

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Who is Jesus?

Theme: Who exactly is Jesus and what is the source of His authority? (Christ the King)

Image credit: http://www.standingwithchrist.com/whoisjesus.html

To read in the week of Nov 18, to prepare for Sunday, November 25 (TLW 47)

2 Samuel 23:1-7 — Final words from a renowned and godly ruler of Israel. David recalls God’s covenant with him and looks forward to a promised royal descendant

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 — the majesty of the Ancient of Days. A glimpse of heaven for Daniel who sees amid a myriad angels attending the throne of God the honouring of “one like a son of man”.

John 18:33-37 — Jesus is questioned by Pilate about who He is. Jesus explains that He is no political figurehead but His kind of kingdom is rooted elsewhere.

Revelation 1:4b-8 — The freedom to serve God as His priests now. Jesus, present from the beginning will return as the completion of truth

Also: Psalm 132:1-18

2 Samuel 23:1-7 — Final words from a renowned and godly ruler of Israel

David recalls God’s covenant with him and looks forward to a promised royal descendant

23 These are the last words of David:

‘The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse, the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, the hero of Israel’s songs:

“The utterance of the man exalted” – testimony to God’s work through his life, having been raised up as king of Israel, from shepherd to ruler, 2 Samuel 7ff; like the Bible’s wisdom literature, what follows contrasts just rule in the fear of God with un righteous leadership.

2 ‘The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue.

“Spoke through me” – not presumptuous, but in awe at God using Him prophetically.

 3 The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me:
When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God,

4 he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morninglike the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.”

“When one rules… in righteousness… in the fear of God” – in the style of a prophet, David sets out in bold strokes a picture of a God-centred ruler – unmistakably alluding to the One he foreshadowed, Jesus Christ.

5 ‘If my house were not right with God, surely He would not have made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part;

surely He would not bring to fruition my salvation and grant me my every desire.  

“An everlasting covenant… secured in every part” – even though his household had failed God, David believes rightly that God’s promise recorded in 2 Sam. 7:12-16 will hold good with a descendant of David as the Eternal King, fulfilled in Jesus Christ when He return to rule in perfect justice and peace.

For further study, similar prophecies in Isaiah 11:1-10; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jer. 33:15-18; Zech.9:9-10. Fulfilled in part, Matt. 4:14-16; Luke 24:25-27,44-49; John 5:45-47; John 8:28-29.

6 But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns, which are not gathered with the hand.

7 Whoever touches thorns uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear; they are burned up where they lie.’

“Thorns” – worthless but also dangerous, needing to be shifted with an weapon or implement. “Burned up”, literally ‘consumed with fire in the sitting’ or as we would say, on the spot. For God’s judgment as fire, see Isaiah 9;18; 10:17. The fate of the rebellious when the Messiah, in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant finally establishes His rule on earth, Isa. 63:1-6.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 – the majesty of the Ancient of Days

A glimpse of heaven for Daniel who sees amid a myriad angels attending the throne of God the honouring of one like a son of man

9 ‘As I looked, ‘thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat.

His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool;
His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.

“The Ancient of Days” – pictures God as a king of great power and immense maturity giving judgment in court. The description symbolises His wisdom in white hair; righteousness by white clothing; and power in judgment, as fire. The description is similar to that of an angel in Matthew 28:3 and Jesus in Revelation 1:14.

10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before Him.
Thousands upon thousands attended Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated, and the books were opened.

“Thousands attended” – a very great number of angelic beings stood before Him. John also recorded that there ‘thousands and millions”, i.e. too many to count, surrounding God’s throne and ministering to Him. Angels are spiritual beings created by God for worship and for mission (like us) who, largely unseen, help in carrying out God’s work on earth.

13-14 ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, [enash] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

“One like a son of man” – an Aramaic phrase ‘bar enash‘ meaning a human being, a phrase used throughout Ezekiel e.g. Ezek. 2:1,3,6,8. But this appearance is clearly not a human being, but “one like a son of man”, a description that the various authors of the NT were quite sure referred to Jesus Christ and probably what was in Jesus’ mind when He used this of Himself, Matt. 8:20. Hence the translation used here. There is more than one time-frame in view. At the end of history, the NT references these verses to teach us that Christ will return, riding the clouds to finally confront evil and enforce its defeat.

For further study: Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62; Luke 21:27; Rev. 1:7.

IN PRACTICE  The first aspect of who God is comes through David’s final testimony about ruling in the fear of God, and Daniel’s picture of awe as he is given a prophetic insight into the heavenly court – and the Ancient of Days. At first living, and especially leading, in the fear of God looks like lahigh risk venture. Do we bring on ourselves fire and brimstone or other destruction if we get it wrong? The history of northern and then southern kingdoms of Israel falling, and the misery of people being enslaved in exile, underlines the cost of getting it wrong, but this is in the context of having rejected countless warnings and appeals by God’s prophets. However, remembering that the Bible teaches us plainly that God is love, and his overriding character qualities are mercy and truth, there is a truth here about whether we really know God, and as a consequence desire to live out His character. This is the fear of missing God best and God’s pleasure in us. For Christians, who come to know God personally through embracing Jesus, our grasp of the Lordship of Jesus on our lives and our church involvements is crucial. When relationships get strained, or vision confused, it is a fair assumption that what has slipped has been the awe, or fear, of God through knowing Him and loving His ways.

QUESTION  Daniel’s vision of thousands and millions in the heavenly court was extraordinary and unrepeatable. What kinds of spiritual practice help us to have some sense of a glimpse of heaven and the majesty of the heavenly court?

John 18:33-37 – Jesus is questioned by Pilate about who He is

Jesus explains that He is no political figurehead, but His kind of kingdom is rooted elsewhere

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’

34 ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about Me?’

“Are you…” – Pilate’s first words to Jesus are the same in each of the four gospels. There were two possible questions here with different political overtones – was Jesus a rebel leader in opposition to Roman rule, or was He the Jews’ religious leader, the Messiah?

35 ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’

“Pilate replied” – he is exasperated, despising the Jews and their ways and not wanting to get involved with their affairts, yet seeing no real basis for their extreme animosity. Ironically, he ends up supporting their position in which we see God’s providence in allowing Jesus to be executed by being ‘lifted up’ and not by stoning, as Jews were inclined to do.

36 Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now My kingdom is from another place.’

37 ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me.’

“My kingdom is from another place” – heaven is the place of eternal and absolute truth. Jesus came as the Way, the Truth and the Life, John 14:6. Relationship with Him is the only way to God and the only means of that life-bringing truth being revealed – a conundrum for intellectual theologians because it is not logical or understandable. Jesus came as living truth for all who would receive Him. Pilate, a politician, considered all truth relative in the shifting sands of people’s opinions; however Jesus of Nazareth and his philosophical-sounding answer did not present as a threat to law and order.

IN PRACTICE  The second aspect of who God is, concerns the Son of Man who Daniel sees in his vision, approaching the Ancient of Days. On earth this picture is recalled, ironically, as Jesus of Nazareth is brought before Pontius Pilate. The Roman governor Pilate was used to factions, pressure-groups and politics in general. Appointed as Prefect of the Roman province of Judea, he encountered the religious politics of Jews and Samaritans, eventually being recalled to Rome after complaints from both. So it is not surprising that when Jesus of Nazareth was brought before him by the Jews, he saw Him at first as yet another political activist. Jesus immediately corrected that perception with His statement: “My kingdom is from another place”. The lesson for us is that human politics on earth and heaven’s purposes follow different agendas. There are spiritual connections – and tensions – between the two. We often pray and expect answers as though the kingdom of God and our world dominated by man’s organisation and control were the same, but the reality is that we pray through Jesus, who is the king of “a kingdom not of this world”.  The better we know Jesus, the more we will discern His kingdom, and the more clearly we’ll see the difference — and learn to live and pray in the right alignment with what He is doing.

PRAYER  Lord, I say you are a king – the king, King Jesus, to whom all authority is given. Help me to hold less tightly the priorities that seem to apply on earth, and to begin to see matters from a different perspective – Your heavenly perspective.

Revelation 1:4b-8 — The freedom to serve God as His priests now

Jesus, present from the beginning, will return as the completion of truth

4 To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

“The seven churches” – the letters were addressed so they could be sent out and passed on via the Roman road which ran north of Ephesus and then in an arc inland and back towards Ephesus, connecting the Roman province called Asia in modern western Turkey.

Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,

“Seven spirits before His throne” – better, ‘sevenfold spirit’ as NIV footnote. The number seven symbolises completeness and perfection. There may also be an allusion to the ‘angels of the seven churches, Rev. 1:20.

5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

5-6 To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father – to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Who loves us… has freed us…has made us…” – stated as present-time blessings.  There is a dimension of the kingdom of God (God’s reign bringing God’s order) which is not just anticipated when Jesus comes again, but in some measure experienced now. 

“A kingdom and priests to serve” – here, clearly and simply, is set out the essential difference between the Old Covenant way of relating to God (rules, hierarchical and formal rituals, led by a special order of priests who make connections by proxy, with God who is holy and remote) and the New Covenant (freed from the burden and guilt of sin by Jesus’ blood and now able to draw close to God as those who know Him and know His love, to serve Him in worship and mission without intermediaries). The human tendency is to revert to what is more ordered and more controlled, requiring less personal investment and responsibility, which is why the New Covenant remains a challenge for much of the Christian church today. As Jesus taught, the ‘taste of the old wine’ seems preferable.

7 ‘Look, He is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of Him.’ So shall it be! Amen.

8 ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’

“The Alpha and the Omega” – the alphabet is an ingenious way of representing knowledge through words. Christ, the Living Word, is supreme in this, ruling sovereignly over all human history including the part that for us has not yet unfolded.

“All peoples on earth will mourn” — rejoicing at the return of the Messiah by those that are His, swept up in the air to meet Him, 1 Thess. 4:16-17. Others, the ones still on earth, mourning their sin and judgment. The combined quotation headlines the theme of Revelation, the sweepingly majestic yet human-related Lord, Daniel 7:13 who evokes both the sorrow of sin in the face of One so holy but also finding grace, Zechariah 12:10

IN PRACTICE  The third aspect of who Jesus is, also says a lot about who we are.. Not only does His shed blood remind us powerfully of His love for us, we are reminded of the power of His blood in freeing us from sin, and from the subtle accusations of the enemy trying to gain a point of access into our thought lives. Why does this matter? It is because the Son of God enthroned in the heavenly court needs those who have stood at the Cross, who have given their pride and their self-sufficiency to Him, to be His partners in bringing His Kingdom. That is why He has conferred a new kind of priesthood on all He knows as His, a holy community where His rule and authority enriches life and relationships. It’s the priesthood of believers, of fellowship in the Great High Priest – the highest distinction. It’s easy to look around and see, where the believers are bringing the presence of Jesus and making a difference in the world. It looks different from the stereotype of the institutional church. These are the ones who know they have been freed, who know they are loved, and who are serving him in worship and mission through transformed lives.

QUESTION  What is meant by priesthood in the post-resurrection New Testament? What should we call those who are set apart and trained as preachers, shepherds and leaders in the church?

PRAYER  Lord God Almighty, may we grow in loving You and walking in awe of You, as we seek to represent You to our world, and bring the needs of our world to You.

This post in booklet form to print out for your church, respecting ©2018 The Living Word/Ian Greig

How faith destroys the devil’s destruction

Image: https://starvingchristiansblog.com/2017/01/16/in-your-name-i-pray-a-mans-prayer/

Revised Common Lectionary Bible readings to prepare for Sunday, November 18

Theme: The devil’s destructive works are overturned by faith in God’s purpose

1 Samuel 1:4-20 – God’s answer to a desperate prayer impacts history. Hannah’s failure to conceive does not dampen her trust in God’s goodness.

Daniel 12:1-3 – End-times resurrection: either everlasting life, or shame. The archangel Michael will arise to protect those whose name is written in book of the saved, in the final conflict.

Mark 13:1-8 – Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple. The end-times conflicts will be characterised by wars, disasters and widespread spiritual deception.

Hebrews 10:11-25 – Our confidence is in knowing who we are in Jesus. The Holy Spirit witnesses to us the New Covenant in Jesus blood and the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

Extras: 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Hannah’s prayer), Psalm 16

OLD TESTAMENT READING 1

1 Samuel 1:4-20 – God’s answer to a desperate prayer impacts history

Hannah’s failure to conceive does not dampen her trust in God’s goodness

4-8 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

“But to Hannah” – the name means ‘grace’. The wider story is God’s miraculous intervention with a faithful woman, Hannah, raising up the last of the judges of Israel at a time of crisis for Israel, who will oversee the transition to a monarchy.

“Peninnah… Hannah” – monogamy was the rule, two people becoming one flesh, Gen. 2:24. But there were social pressures through young men being killed in battle and the need to continue the family line – and produce more offspring to help with the work.

9-11 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.  And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

“Shiloh” – the original settled location of the tabernacle where the land was divided among the tribes, Josh. 18:1-10; modern Khirbet Seilun, about 20 miles north of Jerusalem. It was destroyed, Psalm 78:60; Jer. 7:12-14 perhaps as a result of the mistakes of 1 Sam. 4 when the ark was taken from Shiloh to be with the army, who were then defeated and the ark captured by pagans.

“Eli…on his chair by the…Lord’s house” – by this time a building with rooms, not just a tent. The chair (like a vicar’s stall in a C of E church) is the priest’s place and denotes his authority. Rabbis would sit to teach. Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

“Deep anguish” – barrenness in OT times was considered a failure and a social embarrassment for her husband, on top of the natural disappointment.

12-14 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

“Kept on praying” – Hannah had reason to be swamped by discouragement; unable to conceive, mocked by a woman who shared her husband and by the high priest who failed to understand her motives. But she kept praying, kept her focus on God and opened the way for Him to work.

15-16 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

“Not… a wicked woman” – to drink in the tabernacle precincts would be considered a grave offence; for a priest, a death sentence, Lev. 10:9; Ezek. 44:21.

17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

18 She said, “May your servant find favour in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

19-20  Early the next morning they arose and worshipped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 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” – the literal meaning is ‘name of God’ but it sounded like ‘heard by God’, a double meaning important to Hannah: God had heard her prayer.

OLD TESTAMENT READING 2

Daniel 12:1-3 – End-times resurrection: either to everlasting life, or shame

The archangel Michael will arise to protect those whose name is written in book of the saved, in the final conflict

1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.

“At that time” – the events of the previous paragraph detailing the antichrist’s attempt to annihilate the Jewish people, Dan. 11:36-45. It will be a time of unprecedented distress but at the same time, tempered with hope for true believers, who have turned in faith to their Messiah Jesus, Zech. 12:10; Romans 11:25-27.

Michael” – the name of the archangel Michael who prevailed over a principality demon controlling the Persian empire, after a 21-day struggle.

“Name… written in the book” – the book of the saved, Mal. 3:16-4:3; Luke 10:20; Rev. 13:8

2-3 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

“Multitudes who sleep… will awake” – the first reference in the Bible to the physical resurrection of the righteous, and also with a different outcome, of the wicked. The bodily resurrection of both the saved and the lost was a not part of the common belief.

For further study, read Job 19:25-26; Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 26:19; John 5:24-29.

“Everlasting life” – the phrase is unique here in the OT.

IN PRACTICE The story of Hannah speaks loudly of God’s goodness, to all of us who have been misunderstood, disappointed again and again and put down by others. Her self-esteem had been shredded, but not her faith. She knew God is good, even if it didn’t feel that way to her, and she kept on praying. We know that pride and self-sufficiency are a barrier to God working in our lives. And He will root that out, especially if he is about to do something big. His purpose is always to grow us and always has a bigger picture than the one we see.

Hannah’s story reminds us that at times of apparent disaster, God is working for His salvation purposes. For God’s people taking God’s kingdom purpose forward, persecution goes with the territory! Paul reminded Timothy of this (2 Timothy 3:10-13 especially) and it is our encouragement to keep on keeping on, for heaven’s reward in heaven’s time.

PRAYER  Lord, open my eyes to the bigger picture that is not just my fight of faith, that I may see and declare that You are good and Your purposes for me are protective.

GOSPEL READING

Mark 13:1-8 – Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple

The end-times conflicts will be characterised by wars, disasters and widespread spiritual deception

1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Massive stones” – think of foundation stones on the scale of a double-decker bus. The building project would not be complete for another 30 years.

2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

“Every one… thrown down’ – the temple was completely destroyed by the Romans in AD70 together with most of the city. The authorities, who sought to murder the Messiah, Mark 11:18, rather than welcome Him, Mark 11:9-11, 27-33, were rebellious tenants marked for destruction, Mark 12:9-10.

3-4 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

“What will be the sign” — the disciples were expecting the temple destruction to herald the last times. Jesus is speaking of future events and future times but, confusingly for us, free of chronological order. Prophetic foretelling in Scripture often applies to more than one future time.

5-8 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

“Watch out… be on your guard” – Jesus’ commanding tone points to deception being a primary danger for the disciples, requiring them (and us) to be skilled in spiritual discernment together with Scriptural principles.

IN PRACTICE  Jesus had warned the disciples that there would be consequences for those who rejected their Messiah. The cause and effect relationship would result in the pulling down of the focus of national pride, the new temple and even its massive foundations. Their ‘sign of the end times’ came less than 40 years later with terrible bloodshed as Jerusalem and its revolt was destroyed by the Romans. Jesus’ words point to a greater conflict yet to come, while the end-times seem to us to go on and on. Perhaps the greatest danger is not just hatred and war, but its root causes in satanic deception. The kingdom message of knowing God’s love and loving Him and others is so straightforward we can miss it – but we are to watch for the ways it is twisted into an ugly caricature, and recognise which kingdom is dark, and which is light.

QUESTION  Do our attitudes and actions play out with effects now, or effects later, or in eternity – or not at all?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 10:11-25 – Knowing who we are in Jesus is our confidence

The Holy Spirit witnesses to us the New Covenant in Jesus blood and the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice for us

11-14 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time He waits for his enemies to be made His footstool. For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

“Every priest stands… this Priest… sat down” – Christ is seated because His work is finished, whereas every levitical priest stood, for religious duties which were continually repeated. The author heavily underlines this contrast with the layered emphases “one sacrifice”, “for all time”, “He sat down…and…waits”, “He has made… those…being made holy”…”holy forever”.

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First He says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

“I will put my laws in their hearts” – as Jeremiah had prophesied, Jer. 31:31-34, seeing a future era of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding believers which, post-Resurrection, should be our experience. These verses explain the apparent conundrum of “being made holy” or sanctified by the Holy Spirit’s influence on us, while being regarded positionally as “made perfect” by the finished work of Christ, v.14. We are seen according to our new nature in Christ, outcome assured, while as we are aware, we remain on earth a ‘work in progress’.

17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

“Sins…remember no more” – contrasts with “annual reminder of sins”, Heb. 10:3. The religious mindset (as in the Old Covenant) holds on to a false need to confess sins repeatedly. This new spiritual perspective of the New Covenant has the revelation that Christ forgives sins completely, Psalm 40:6-8. Sins we confess and renounce are both forgiven and forgotten.

19-25 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

“Therefore… let us…” – the incredible good news that we are positionally completely forgiven is not a licence for passivity, but rather, the reason to keep on meeting, encouraging one another, going deeper with God and further in faith-prompted love and good deeds.

“Draw near… with…” – it works with certain conditions: sincerity of heart, unhesitating assurance, freedom from guilt, and the impartation of “hearts sprinkled… bodies washed” which points to the value of choosing to declare faith in baptism.

IN PRACTICE  A key word in this passage is ‘confidence’ and a key value in living above all that pulls us down as witnesses to the life of the Spirit of Jesus in us, is confidence in who we are, as viewed by heaven. We might not feel it polite in mixed company to speak vehemently of the blood of Jesus and how it has transformed us – but speak it out we must! The devil, one of the actors in all of these passages, has no manners at all and certainly doesn’t respect our gentility – but will run scared every time when we declare the power of Christ blood and the New Life we have in Him and Him alone. These passages all tell stories of conflict and difficulty, but also God’s eternal, good purpose and salvation plan coming through, which may not be seen in all the smoke and shouting. That presents us with a choice. Who do we agree with? The destroyer, or the Saviour? Our expression of faith in God’s purpose, our words of truth, are not just words, but the force that tips the balance.

QUESTION  What seems to be going badly for you right now? What is God’s good purpose in it, and how do you pray in line with that discernment?

PRAYER  Lord, no one knows the time of Your return and all we really understand about the end-times is that at the end of the book, the Lamb wins! Fill me afresh with the Holy Spirit who gives holy confidence and help me to maintain a praising spirit, as one who knows the final score as well as the cost of Your victory in pain and blood. Amen.

Download this in booklet form ©2018 The Living Word/Ian Greig

I seek the person who’s an open book

Pharisee teachers of the law, Mark 12:38-44. Image: Mike Hayes http://www.googlinggod.com/2011/11/29/have-we-become-the-pharisees/

RCL and Remembrance Sunday readings for Nov 11, 2018

Theme: God hates falsehood, but honours authenticity and trust

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 — Ruth shows her need of a kinsman redeemer. Boaz marries the young Moabite widow and their son is an ancestor of King David.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 — Jonah obeys the Lord and preaches repentance to Nineveh. On overcoming his fears and misgivings and obeying the Lord, he sees Ninevites respond and God’s judgment averted.

Mark 12:38-44 — Jesus condemns the falsehood of the scribes. The teachers of the law lived by show and exploited others, while the powerless widow is seen to honour God in her giving.

Hebrews 9:24-28 — Christ enters the ‘real tabernacle’ of heaven to appear for us. His first appearance was to sacrifice Himself for the sins of many and He will come again to gather others.

Also: Psalm 127

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 — Ruth shows her need of a kinsman redeemer

Boaz marries a young Moabite widow and their son is an ancestor of King David

1-2 One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor.

“Find a home” – literally, resting place, or permanent home. As a close relative, Boaz might act as a kinsman-redeemer for Ruth and Naomi.

Winnowing…threshing floor” – separating the chaff from the grain. It was also customary for the landowner and men to sleep nearby and prevent theft of the grain.

3-4 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

“Uncover his feet” – however it sounds, folding back his long tunic so that he wakes with cold feet, so she can speak privately with him, is not pushing the boundary of moral integrity. Ruth’s action, dressed as a bride, rather than a widow, amounts to a request for marriage. The story of Tamar, Genesis 38:13-30, is another example of appealing to the guardian-redeemer law.

5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered.

“Whatever you say” – Ruth was a Moabite, unfamiliar with Jewish law and custom.

4:13-15 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

“Gave birth to a son” – the story concludes with the ten generations from Perez, the son of Judah (Jacob’s son) to David, grandson of Obed. Ruth and Boaz were ancestors of Israel’s greatest king (and Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus).

16-17 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

“Obed… father of Jesse” – Ruth and Boaz were ancestors of Israel’s greatest king (and Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus).

The conclusion balances the introduction, Ruth 1:1-5, Ruth 4:13-17. Both focus on Naomi, her former emptiness and reliance on the Lord, now reversed by His provision for her. Both passages are similar in being compressed and having the same number of words in Hebrew.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 — Jonah obeys the Lord and preaches repentance to Nineveh

On overcoming his fears and misgivings and obeying the Lord, he sees Ninevites respond and God’s judgment averted

1-2 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

“The message I give you” – a prophet is to proclaim a message from God, not necessarily a foretelling one.

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.

“Jonah obeyed” – this time, unlike his first call to Nineveh, Jonah 1:3, and still reluctantly, Jonah 4:1-5.

“Great city” – it was a sizeable place, about three miles across, not a journey of days, except that it took Jonah time to preach his message, street corner by street corner.

4-5 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

“Nineveh… overthrown” – Jonah’s message did not include an “unless” clause even though he knew God wanted their repentance rather than their destruction, Jonah 3:10, 4:2.

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.

IN PRACTICE The Book of Ruth begins and ends with the Lord’s provision – He “had come to the aid of His people by providing food for them”, “the Lord enabled [Ruth] to conceive” and the Bethlehem women agreed with Naomi, “The Lord… has not left you without a guardian-redeemer”. It was a big issue of trust for them; for Ruth, trusting God who she hardly knew, doing the right thing when it also seemed a wrong thing and for them both, being real about their situation and their need of God’s intervention in providing an unwed and land-owning relative keen to marry Ruth and continue the family line… which reached forward to King David. Jonah’s version of being real before God and trusting Him in a difficult call needed some time to mature, but eventually he found himself preaching to the streets of this notorious pagan capital of the Assyrian empire, for the people to turn from their wickedness to the living God – and they did. God blessed the two women in their plight and their need, and He blessed run-away Jonah back to obedience, who then saw an extraordinary revival unfold.

QUESTION Worshipping as one of a congregation that is led from the front, we can all wear a mask but we need to get real with the Lord about how we are. What other ways of gathering help us to do this?

Mark 12:38-44 — Jesus condemns the falsehood of the scribes

The teachers of the law lived by show and exploited others, while the powerless widow is seen to honour God in her giving

38-40 As He taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

“Teachers of the law” – also called ‘scribes’, were notorious for breaking the law they sought to impose by failing to love God and have His love for people. Jesus names six examples of their self-promoting desire for recognition: wearing long festive garments inappropriate for everyday wear; expecting people to rise and greet them; assuming the right to the prominent places in synagogues, and at banquets; making ‘grandstanding’ prayers; and preying on vulnerable widows.

Devour widows’ houses’ – teachers of the law relied on the generosity of patrons, and widows were vulnerable to exploitation which eventually left them homeless. Defrauding someone else’s mother, Mark 7:11-13, was a denial of loving either God or people, with a lack of mercy that rendered their lengthy prayers empty.

For further study – God’s concern for widows, Deut. 14:29; Ps. 68:5; Ps. 146:9; Isa. 1:17; Jer. 7:6; Jer. 49:11; and condemnation of those who abuse them, Isa. 1:23, Ezek. 22:7, Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5.

41-42 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

The temple treasury” – a number of trumpet-like receptacles to catch money, in the Court of Women, accessible to men and women. Women were barred from going in further.

“Small…coins” – ‘two lepta, which is a quadrans’ – a Roman measure, because Mark wrote his gospel for the church in Rome. It was equivalent to a sixty-fourth of a basic day’s pay.

43-44 Calling His disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”

“She… put in everything” – the widow did exactly what Jesus had told the influential young man and His disciples to do, Mark 10:21, Mark 8:34-37, Mark 10:28-29.

IN PRACTICE There are times and situations where distinctive uniforms are helpful – we immediately think of peacekeeping and emergency services – and job titles are helpful for recognising people’s roles, from the Queen and Prime Minister to the customer service person. The point in this passage is about those who are in a position to represent God to others failing to demonstrate His mercy, but rather assuming an entitlement to position and distinction and the right to bully others – which Jesus denounces as warranting severe punishment. The lesson here is that God may hear quite short and simple prayers from regular people who have no pretension and nothing to prove, but give themselves to God in authenticity and reliance on Him.

QUESTION Do you have a title or a position that you rather like? What will it cost you to let it go?

Hebrews 9:24-28 — Christ enters the ‘real tabernacle’ of heaven to appear for us

His first appearance was to sacrifice Himself for the sins of many and He will come again to gather others

24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

“Sanctuary… a copy of the true one” – the regulations for ministry given under the old covenant were for a sanctuary on earth that represented God’s transcendent ‘otherness’ with the holy place that people other than the high priest could not enter. Now Christ enters into the very presence of God in heaven.

25 Nor did He enter heaven to offer Himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.

“Blood not his own” – pointing out the difference between a priest sacrificing unwilling animals, and Jesus offering Himself.

26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But He has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

“Many times… once for all” – the animal sacrifice had to be made again and again on the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16:29-34. Christ’s far superior sacrifice was final, for all time.

“Since the creation of the world” – or since the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3, Hebrews 4:3 there has been the need for a complete and lasting, rather than provisional, remedy.

27-28 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

“He will appear a second time” – but not to deal with sin, because that has already been accomplished. “Those who are waiting for Him” – believers are to live in expectation of Christ’s return at any time, remaining faithful and ready however long the wait.

IN PRACTICE The writer of Hebrews (possibly Apollos and almost certainly not Paul) addresses Jewish-background believers. This gives them a sharply-drawn comparison between the rituals of temple and synagogue (as it was then) and the worship in heaven with Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the adoration of the heavenly throng. One is an earthly imitation, of sorts, and the other is the real thing. Is what we do a pale imitation, or the real thing, albeit scaled down and humanised to make it accessible for us? We can go through the familiar routines – liturgy or not, every church tradition has them – or we can be intentional about inviting the presence of God, asking the Holy Spirit to presence Himself, giving Him permission to upset our carefully prepared order of service. To the extent that we do this (probably little steps at first) we notice the difference. We can’t always define it. But there’s a sense of God’s close presence. We know ‘the real thing’ when we experience it. And Christ has performed the perfect ritual, once and for all, so that we can be free to encounter the Lord and experience a little bit of heaven as we gather and submit to Him.

QUESTION Honest answer, on a postcard… would you rather know the exact order of worship, or know that you have met with the Lord in a way special and personal to you?

PRAYER Father God, I receive Your love afresh and thank You that You know me inside out. You know the ways I am an open book to You, and also where I cling to some life position for my identity. Help me to renounce all that is false, proud or self-sufficient — and offensive to You. I pray this in and through Jesus. Amen.

Priority! Return God’s love to Him and others

Ruth and Naomi: “Where you go, I will go… where you stay, I will stay, Ruth 1:16”

TLW44

Scriptures to read in preparation for Sunday, November 4

Theme: The priority of returning God’s love to Him and others

SUMMARY

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 — First love God with all your heart; the foundation of the First Great Commandment.

Ruth 1:1-18— Ruth decides to trust God and look after Naomi. A choice to do what is right.

Mark 12:28-34 — the Great Commandment, love God, love others. Unselfishness the guiding principle of the kingdom of God.

Hebrews 9:11-14 — Love enabled by the cleansing power of the blood of Christ. Christ’s sacrifice changes us inwardly in a way the blood of calves and goats never could.

Also: Psalm 146

OLD TESTAMENT READING 1

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 — First love God with all your heart

The foundation of the First Great Commandment

1-2  These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.

“Fear the Lord your God” – ‘revere’ for His goodness, would come closer than ‘fear’ (of the consequences) although both are in the meaning. What follows is predicated on Israel’s covenanted relationship with a loving, sustaining, providing God  i.e. Exodus 34:5-7 “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love… and forgiving…”

Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

“Be careful to obey” — needs to be understood in terms of the heart and soul and passion of v.5, see note to vv. 6-8 below.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 

“The Lord is one” — distinctive among other tribes and nations who worshipped, and attempted to placate, various deities who were related to the prevailing threats and needs of life. Scripture is progressive revelation, and “The Lord is one” remains a truth that overarches God revealing Himself in His Son, and then the awareness of the third Person, the Holy Spirit of God, guiding and empowering the Early Church and our mission today.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 

“Hear, O Israel” — recited by Jews in the synagogue and often daily as well, this Shema (Hebrew for ‘hear’) passage is a foundational confession of faith, as the Nicene Creed has become in the Church of England.

“Love the Lord” — ‘love’ in English has a broad range of meanings. This has the specific sense of ‘adore, revere, be committed to’ in the way people show their devotion to a popular monarch, like Trooping the Colour in London every June.

6-8 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

“0n your hearts… foreheads” — the sense of verse 6 was lost on some Jewish sects who in religious zeal tied a small box containing the text over their heads. This is what we all tend to do: try to turn a heart relationship into a set of religious rules and routines which we find easier to control. But the Lord simply wants our hearts, and when He has our heart, that will be evident enough.

Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Application follows…

…OLD TESTAMENT READING 2

Ruth 1:1-18 – Ruth decides to trust God and look after Naomi

A choice to do what is right

1-2 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

“When the judges ruled” – following Joshua and preceding Saul and David, probably around 1100 BC.

“Ephrathites” – the area around Bethlehem village, as in Micah’s prophecy foretelling the Messiah’s birth in “Bethlehem Ephrathah”, Micah 5:2

“Mahlon and Kilion” – both names descriptive of a weak constitution.

3-5 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

“Married Moabite women” – not forbidden although classed as outsiders – there was a 10-generation (male) ban on “entering the assembly of the Lord”. However, marriage and continuation of the family line was socially essential.

“Naomi was left” – the plight of Ruth’s mother-in-law is set out early in the story. Life could be very hard and vulnerable for an unsupported widow in that culture.

6-7 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

“The Lord had come to the aid of His people” – this story emphasises the Lord’s sovereignty over events.

8-9 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

“Show you kindness” – Naomi had blessed her daughters-in-law with God’s hesēd, meaning the covenant, loyal love of God, although the daughters-in-law were not Israelites and in a foreign country.

9-10 Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

11-13 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons — would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

Naomi sees her difficult circumstances, wrongly, as the Lord’s enmity or discipline of her – as we often do. The book as a whole tells a different story of God’s gracious provision.

14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

“Clung to her” – dabaq, a strong word, also used of a man being joined to his wife, Genesis 2:24, or remaining faithful to the Lord, Deut 4:4, Joshua 10:20; Josh 22:5.

15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God.

“Your God my God” – Ruth probably grew up worshipping the Moabite god Chemosh.

17-18 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

“May the Lord” – Ruth invokes the name of Yahweh for the first time, showing her commitment to Naomi and the Lord, with no other prospects in view. She is embracing uncertainty, leaving kinspeople and familiarity to go where she has no family and friends, as an outsider.

IN PRACTICE  Ruth and Naomi walk us through what it means to return God’s love by trusting Him and choosing His way in our relationships with others. They faced an uncertain future as women in a man’s world, their menfolk having been taken from them. Do they blame God, or trust Him? Do they do what gives them most opportunity, or choose to do what is right? Life and its pressures and choices hasn’t changed in three thousand years, except that we have many more choices we can make, and many more options for self-determination rather than seeking God’s best and trusting Him in it. We have too much practice in making easy but low-value choices, and we need to work up our skills in making high-value and lasting ones — seeking God and trusting Him for His way.

QUESTION  Trusting God, doing what is right by Him, making high value choices is difficult. Who can share this with you, and encourage you?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 12:28-34 – the Great Commandment, love God, love others

Unselfishness a guiding principle of the kingdom of God

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“One of the teachers of the law” – until now, in Mark, they have been hostile; this was probably a Pharisee, but a friendly and teachable one.

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

30 ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

“The most important…” – the rabbis had codified the law into 613 statutes, and debated which were ‘weighty’ and which were ‘lighter’. Jesus starts where they are, quoting the familiar ‘Shema’ or ‘Hear’ passage (which opens worship in synagogues today)._

31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“The second is this” – Jesus puts two sayings together (see For Further Study note below) that were widely separated in the law, and so not expected to be combined. The first summarises commandments 1-4 about loving God wholeheartedly, the second summarises commandments 5-10 about moral responsibility and treating others well. His point is that they cannot be separated. God, who loves us, expects us to return His love by putting Him first and also by honouring others, loving them as He does. 

32-33 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

“You are right” – this particular scribe had understood that God’s overriding characteristic was mercy. Without the accompaniment of just and merciful behaviour, without which the ceremonial was meaningless.

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask Him any more questions.

“Not far from the kingdom” – the scribe had the right priorities, but entering the kingdom would require him to recognise and speak out Jesus as being the Son of God, (who would shortly die in his place as a sacrifice for his sins).

For further study: The Great Commandment unfolds, Deut. 6:46; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43; Matthew 22:36-40; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14.

IN PRACTICE

This man had grasped the teaching and understood the way it fits together. He knew the priorities – a lack of moral compass and concern for others cancels out any good religious intentions we can perform. First things first, and with God, that is always mercy!

The second teaching here is about the spirit of the law versus the legalism of the law. Jesus upholds the broad intention of the law by being the fulfilment of the law. He shows what it looks like to know God’s love, and so to be provoked into returning it in devotion to God, that results in having a heart of mercy and generosity to others. By contrast, the Jewish teachers and scribes majored on the fine details of observance, where their response to God had become formulaic rather than feeling.

We can’t reduce the teaching of Jesus to a formula; either it is heartfelt or it is reduced to head-knowledge. To change the world around us – being bringers of the kingdom of God – must start with us having a demonstrable heart change. We can’t give what we haven’t got.

QUESTION  How can we, as the Church representing Jesus, be more effective at showing His transforming love to the world, rather reducing it to the kind of rituals and regulations which Jesus so clearly derided?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 9:11-14 – The cleansing, releasing power of the blood of Christ

Christ’s sacrifice changes us inwardly in a way the blood of calves and goats never could

11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.

“Greater… perfect tabernacle” – a comparison between the tent that preceded the temple with its hammered gold lamp stand for seven lamps and its consecrated bread, and the ‘heavenly tent’ around God’s presence. The man-made one was a poor shadow of the real thing which Christ entered to take his high priestly seat.

12-13 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.

“Once for all” – a comparison between the repeated sacrifices of the Levitical priest, each of which amounted to a partial remedy for sin, and Christ’s sinless sacrifice, final, effective and unrepeatable.

14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

“How much more” – an argument from less to greater. The comparison emphasises the power of remembering, enacting and declaring what Christ’s blood has done for us. The balance between these actions varies across Christian traditions. 

IN PRACTICE  The flesh nature — how we behave naturally as humankind — is inherently selfish and self-protective, and therefore not disposed to be generous to others. We live in competition, not collaboration. Loving others is optional, depending on what we feel – because we readily store up resentments accumulated by emotional collisions with others.

Coming to Christ and having a personal relationship with God brings the Holy Spirit’s dynamic to counteract and change this self-centred flesh nature.  We have hurt God by our selfishness and rebellion, but He has forgiven us — massively. This is the work of the blood of Christ, not only spiritual forgiveness for sin, but emotional cleansing of conscience from the effect of sin. Now we can think and act differently, with a generosity of spirit towards others. It is still a choice — we need to constantly be reminded how Christ’s blood has cleansed us — but it is an empowered choice. We can reflect God’s love and generous spirit to us, in how we relate to others.

QUESTION  Christ’s blood is all-powerful and effective, but how do we assert this? What is the balance between remembering, and speaking it out, in your tradition?

= = = = = = =

PRAYER  Father, we see selfishness, hatred and war all around us yet You sent Jesus to be the embodiment of your way of love and the means to achieve it. Fill us with Your love and empower us to use it to bring change to the bit of the world we can influence. Amen.

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God and His purposes are good, all the time

The disciples and Jesus – and the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. God had a higher purpose than the injustice suffered by the ‘son of uncleanness’.

TLW 43

Scriptures to read in preparation for Sunday, October 28

Theme: God and His purposes are good, all the time

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 – Job’s encounter with God opens his eyes. He repents of his earlier poor understanding of God and His ways.

Jeremiah 31:7-9 – Distraught Israel is promised a new relationship with God. The remnant, exiled people without rights in a foreign land, will return rejoicing.

Mark 10:46-52 – Blind Bartimaeus implores Jesus to heal him. A man without physical sight sees Jesus and His kingdom purpose more clearly than the disciples.

Hebrews 7:23-28 – priests could sacrifice for sins, but only Jesus can save completely. Jewish Christians brought up under priesthood are taught about Jesus’ unique position as the only intermediary we ever need.

Also: Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 – Job’s encounter with God opens his eyes

He repents of his earlier poor understanding of God and His ways

1-2 Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.

“I know…” Job has realised two things from what the Lord has said to all of them, in His summing-up speech: (1) how unlike God he is, and (2) the message that God is both loving and all-powerful.

For further study: read Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:17; Matt. 19:26. Nothing can stop God’s plan, Job 23:13; Isa 14:27; 46:10.

3 “You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures My plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;   I will question you,   and you shall answer Me.’

“You asked…You said” – Job quotes, with humility, what God had said at the beginning of His first speech. He is seeing God in a new way.

“Things I did not understand” – Job has spoken about God with accuracy and integrity, even if his understanding was now shown to have been limited. His friends had not, and their spokesman Eliphaz, Job 4:12-16, 42:7, had implied that his advice came from prophetic insight. God affirmed Job but not Eliphaz and his friends in their superficial doctrine about God who they clearly did not know.

5  “My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You.

“My eyes have seen you” – a deep encounter with God. Up until now, Job had not seen God, Job 23:8, but now, like Isaiah, He had known God’s close presence and holiness, a massive leap in his relationship with God

6  “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

“I despise myself…I repent…” – Job is saying that he recognises the ignorance behind his words earlier and he repents of having such a weak understanding of God; not as his friends had urged, of moral issues.

10-11 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

“The Lord restored… him” – The last words we heard from Job are repentance (v.6). Now we hear of Job’s restoration and the extent to which God blessed him. The two are linked.

12 The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys.

13-15 And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

“He had…” – wealth was counted in head of livestock as much if not more than possession of silver. The tally is twice the number of animals, but not children – Job already had seven sons and three daughters waiting for him in heaven.

16-17 After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years.

“Full of years” – ripe old age, like Abraham  and Isaac, Gen. 25:8; 35:29, being a sign of God’s blessing.

Who was Job?

Job’s friends seem to have come from the Edom or south Euphrates region. If Job is an abbreviation of Jobab, he was son of Zerah and great-grandson on Esau, and second king of Edom, Genesis 36:33. He was a person of great influence, in his own words, Job 29:7-25 “When I went to the gate of the city, and took my seat in the public square, the young men saw me and stepped aside and the old men rose to their feet; the chief men refrained from talking… because I rescued the poor… and the fatherless… was a father to the needy… broke the fangs of the wicked…I thought…’My glory will not fade’…people listened…I chose the way for them and sat as their chief.” His long life was probably a generation or so before Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush and his story would have told in Midian at that time, before the Israelites’ flight from Egypt.

Jeremiah 31:7-9 – Distraught Israel is promised a new relationship with God.

The remnant, exiled people without rights in a foreign land, will return rejoicing

God promises Israel that “I will be … God … , and they shall be my people,” Jer. 31:1-14 and in a number of other places in Jeremiah,, with the additional promises that He will have mercy on weary Israel, Jer. 31:15–26, and will make Israel secure, Jer. 31:27–30.

7 This is what the Lord says: “Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, ‘Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’

“The foremost” – because they are God’s elect. “Lord, save…” – the Hebrew for this word is the basis of Hosanna, the cries of people outside Jerusalem at the triumphal entry (Palm Sunday), Matt. 21:9.

“The remnant” – those who have survived exile, to be called back.

See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labour; a great throng will return.

“North… and from the ends of the earth” – Assyria and Babylon and the remoter parts of the then known world. A regathering with all included. About 50,000 returned between 538-536 BC.

They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is My firstborn son.

“Weeping… they will pray” – with joy and praise, verse 7 above

For further study, see Ps. 125:5-6, Isaiah 55:12, Psalm 23:1-3, Isaiah 49:10, Isaiah 40:3-4.

“Ephraim is My firstborn” – meaning first in rank and priority, Exod. 4:22. David, eighth son of Jesse, is referred to in this way, Psalm 89:27 and Jesus is called the firstborn over all creation, Col. 1:15; Rev. 1:5. The prophets referred to Ephraim and Judah as a shorthand for the nation of Israel.

IN PRACTICE  Job made mistakes in his attitude to God whole he suffered, and the nation of Israel made mistakes in their attitude to God, rejecting the appeals of the prophets and suffering the calamities of two successive deportations, first the northern kingdom and then the fall of Judah and Jerusalem. However, Job was honest in his attempts to challenge God, while his counsellors gave him theological-sounding statements but without demonstrating that they actually knew God who they were claiming to honour. Job got right with God, admitting that his relationship was more knowledge than heart, and he was commended by God for this, while his opinionated counsellors were rebuked. There is a parallel with the Jews in exile, where a remnant survived, both as true worshippers and as those able to return, and God speaks through Jeremiah of leading them back with joy rather than difficulty. They had learned lessons, and come to know God in a far deeper way. God wants us to go deeper with Him. He wants our hearts, not our lip-service and sometimes he allows setbacks in which He gets our attention – and seeks to grow us through them.

QUESTION Are you giving God a faithful one morning a week but sensing that He wants something different – your heart? Who do you know who could help you in praying this kind of prayer?

Mark 10:46-52 – Blind Bartimaeus implores Jesus to heal him

A man without physical sight sees Jesus and His kingdom purpose more clearly than the disciples

46-47 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and His disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Jericho” – the new city built by Herod the Great, to the south of the site of the ancient and abandoned one.

“By the roadside begging” – on the pilgrim route to Jerusalem, where Jesus and those with Him were going.

“Bartimaeus” – Son of Impurity, a derisory name reflecting Jewish tradition that blindness resulted from sin, John 9:1-3.

“Jesus, Son of David” – prepares the hearer or reader for the “Hosanna” shouts of the crowd at Jerusalem, Jer. 31:7 and note, above.

“Mercy” – undeserved kindness, which Scripture repeatedly ascribes to God. Bartimaeus, blind in one sense, is seeing something clearly – Jesus is the Messiah but also personifies God’s merciful character in bringing the kingdom to poor, maimed and blind people like him. This was Jesus’ own understanding, Luke 4:18-19.

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Many rebuked him” – regarding him of no status and no account, as they had earlier with children, and doing what He had taught was wrong then, Mark 10:13-14.                                                                

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”

50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“What do you want…” – Jesus’ ‘unnecessary’ question drew out the blind man’s faith as he then spoke out his expectation. Jesus gives the blind man what he asks for in faith. There is a parallel with the spiritual blindness and slow learning of James and John earlier, to whom he put the same question – probably Mark’s intention.

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

“Your faith has healed you” – this time without touch unlike the previous occasion when a blind man was healed, Mark 8:22-26.

For further study on faith and healing (sozo, literally ‘saved’) see Mark 5:23, 28, 34; Mark 6:56, Matt. 9:22, Luke 8:48.

IN PRACTICE  God’s higher purpose becomes, with Jesus, the realisation of His kingdom purpose and order. True personal faith in Jesus, who he is and what He stands for, is a connection with His rule and order which overturns the devil’s predatory activities. In this case the blind man’s humble acclamation of who Jesus is – Son of David, the embodiment of God’s mercy without condition – leads to an astounding healing miracle. At the same time the disciples, who in another way were somewhat blind to who Jesus was and what his earthly life was about, start to see their world through God’s eyes.

We, too, are short-sighted, seeing our world with us at the centre and a lack of distant perspective. God has a higher purpose and an eternal timescale and wants us to join Him in it, even if it continually challenges our limited understanding.

QUESTION  Does God do these kinds of signs and wonders today? How could we put aside doubts to reach higher in asking Jesus to heal, deliver or save – all the same thing to Him?

Hebrews 7:23-28 – priests could sacrifice for sins, but only Jesus can save completely

Jewish Christians brought up under priesthood are taught about Jesus’ unique position as the only intermediary we ever need

23-25 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.

“Permanent priesthood” – the language is that of something which cannot be changed. Now people will (1) never be without a priest to represent them to God, and (2) one who lives forever and therefore saves forever, (3) in a way which is now fully effective, unlike the old order of priests, expanded in Heb. 10:1-4;10-14.

26 Such a high priest truly meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.

“Holy, blameless, pure, set apart” – contrasting the high priesthood of Jesus, who had no sin nature, with the morality of the Levitical priesthood which by comparison was weak, earthly and with the flaws of unredeemed human nature.

27 Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered himself.

“He does not need to offer sacrifices” – from a different starting point, Jesus represents a completely different order of priesthood “unlike the other high priests” who sacrificed only animals, an imperfect substitute. Our high priest offered Himself.

28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

“The oath… after the law” – a verse which echoes Heb. 5:1-3 and sums up the whole discussion of Heb. 5:1-10; 7:1-28 of Christ’s appointment from perfect (complete) qualification, to a far superior high priesthood that the Levitical priesthood could never achieve. The oath refers to Psalm 110:4, a declaration of God’s promise of an eternal priest, over and above the earlier giving of the law and establishment of temporal priests and high priests.

IN PRACTICE  Jews who were now part of the Christian church, worshipping God through their own relationship with Him enabled both by Jesus and the Holy Spirit, thought they had a problem. For some years after the Resurrection, in fact up to the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Levitical priesthood and temple sacrifice system continued. This is what they had been brought up with. It was important to them. But now they have become aware, as 1 Peter 2:9, Rev 1:6 teaches, that believers are their own priesthood with royal privileges, as sons and daughters of the king! The writer of Hebrews seeks to explain this transition in terms these Jewish believers could relate to. But there’s a message for all of us. The only priestly intermediary any of us need, is Jesus Christ. He has identified totally with our world and our sin, before paying the price for it and ascending to take up a role for which He has uniquely qualified. We are not perfect; He is, and He is poised to take our intercession and pray it with us. This is an important part of the Good News, and it enables us to pray bold prayers by understanding His position and the relationship we have with Him.

QUESTION  If you know Jesus, and are part of this new royal priesthood, how confident are you about representing before God someone with a need who has asked you to pray for them?

PRAYER  Father God, so many things that we think we see clearly have a greater purpose or different timescale or way of working out than we are aware of at first. Help us to be of “earthly use by being heavenly minded” as we grow in faith from Your word in these passages where the story starts one way and ends – Your way!

= = = = = = =

God’s ways are higher

Jesus demonstrates God’s higher purpose: incarnate Word of God, dying as the full and final sacrifice, and then resurrected and elevated as everlasting Great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek

TLW42

Revised Common Lectionary readings for October 21

Job 38:1-7 — God’s perspective is far higher than Job’s opinions

Isaiah 53:4-12 — God’s eternal purpose is higher than man can conceive

Mark 10:35-45 — The kingdom of God is a higher order than human status

Hebrews 5:1-10 — Jesus has gained special qualification to represent us to God

Also: Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

FIRST OLD TESTAMENT READING

Job 38:1-7 — God’s perspective is far higher than Job’s opinions

Yahweh announces His presence and cross-examines Job

1  Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

The the Lord spoke” – Following Elihu’s speech, Job 32:6-37:24, the Lord – Yahweh – spoke, first mention since the prologue, Job 1:8; 2:3. Significant because God’s covenant name is also His character and His promise, Exodus 34:14-15. “Out of the storm” – God announcing His presence in a covenantal gesture. 

2  “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?

Job has been complaining from his human perspective, showing up his inadequate knowledge of who God is. 

Brace yourself like a man; I will question you,   and you shall answer Me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?   Tell Me, if you understand.

“I will question you… where were you…” – questions to which Job must confess ignorance. God says nothing about Job’s suffering but neither does He agree with the counsellors or condemn him.

“Tell Me” – whether rhetorical or demanding a response from Job, he is unable to answer.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!   Who stretched a measuring line across it?

6-7  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone — while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

Hearing from the Lord here, Job 38:1-40:2 and subsequently, Job 40:6-41:34, bring Job to a better understanding of God’s goodness and wisdom, while leaving his earlier questions hanging.

IN PRACTICE We have opinions, and we like to express them, and we know that we are right… the problem always being the limited perspective on which we base those opinions. Job, who was entitled to try to work out what was happening to him and defend himself from his friends’ well-meaning but flawed attempts to blame him for his downfall, hears from God that He has a higher purpose for His creation including mankind. Who is Job to argue? We take from this two lessons of everyday life,
(1) to hold our opinions lightly because God is likely to show how flawed they are, and
(2) to always try to see God’s higher purpose in the struggles we find ourselves in.

QUESTION Have you held an opinion which you sensed God was challenging, and then discovered it was unfounded?

SECOND OLD TESTAMENT READING

Isaiah 53:4-12 — God’s eternal purpose is higher than man can conceive

The disfigured, suffering servant, a picture of Christ that Isaiah saw

4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.

“Surely he…” – the servant, introduced in Isaiah 52:13 is so disfigured to be almost unrecognisable; people were appalled at the sight.

“We considered him punished by God” – people would conclude he had been struck down by God for his own supposed sins. But there is something far greater going on here, Matt. 8:14-17. He was beaten and hurt, for us to become whole.

5 But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.

“Punishment that brought us peace” – brought us shalom, a huge word, far more than freedom from anxiety. Healing of spirit, the emotional/thinking life of the soul, and physical healing are all part of this divine exchange. This much quoted as the heart of the gospel, salvation and entry into the life of God’s kingdom, which cannot be earned or achieved, just received through the Servant.

For further study, see Psalm 22:16; Zech. 12:10; Romans 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24-25.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

“Each of us… turned to our own way” – repentance is the exact opposite, a turn from our own way, to God’s way. The point is that every person has sinned, Romans 3:9, 23, and deserves God’s righteous wrath. However the servant has taken the consequences of that sin and borne the righteous wrath warranted by that sin.

“Laid on Him the iniquity” – recalls the high priest on the Day of Atonement laying hands on the scapegoat and symbolically putting the sins of the people on it.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away. Yet who of His generation protested? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of My people He was punished.

“By oppression and judgment” – In Jesus’ ‘kangaroo court trial’ no one spoke up on His behalf, and neither did He defend Himself.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.

“A grave with the wicked and…rich” – Jesus’cave tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, a rich and righteous man. Isaiah associates the rich with the wicked, because such wealth was often gained by oppression or dishonesty.

10  Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin,  He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

“The  Lord’s will to crush him” – at first sight an incomprehensible cruelty but “His life [made] an offering for sin” expresses the Lord’s equally hard-to-grasp sacrificial love for a world that has lost its way. The result is literally billions of spiritual sons and daughters.

11  After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge My righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

“Numbered with the transgressors” – or rebellious ones, identifying with them (with us) and making intercession that they might again become servants of the king.

IN PRACTICE The enormity of what God has done for us, having His own Son take the punishment and pay the price in our place, leaves us with gratitude that words are inadequate to express. But what about the knocks of life and the attacks on health and finances and well-being we all face? This punishment that has brought us heavenly shalom is a practical remedy for ourselves and for others. When the truth of this sinks in, it changes the way we pray, from passively asking God to help us, to an active stance of being able to declare in a spirit of praise how He HAS helped us.

QUESTION Praising God for His goodness and deliverance out of a difficult situation is challenging. What difficulty are you bringing before God, where you can change your prayer in the light of this?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 10:35-45 — The kingdom of God is a higher order than human status

The lesson about who Jesus is and the path to greatness by serving that He sets out

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”

“James and John” – the two other members of Jesus’ inner circle (following on from Peter’s outburst, Mark 8:32-33) show that they still haven’t grasped His essential teaching about who He is and His impending death, and what greatness and leadership in the kingdom of God means.                                              

36 “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked.

37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“In Your glory” – the part they had understood is that Jesus was the Messiah; “sit at Your right…” – they associated it, wrongly, with rank and status.

38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?”

“You don’t know” – they didn’t understand about sharing in Jesus suffering, and the servant nature of leadership in His kingdom. 

39-40 “We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

“Not for Me to grant” – Jesus would not usurp His Father’s authority.

41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.

“Indignant” – they wanted prestige and power for themselves. Jesus now spells out a different understanding of what the leadership of God’s kingdom entails.

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.

43-44 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

“Not so with you” – the values of the kingdom of God turn the values of the world upside down.

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

“To serve, and… give His life” – a climax and one of the most important passages in Mark, emphasising how Jesus’ death as a suffering servant is central to the values of His kingdom.

IN PRACTICE The Letter to the Ephesians teaches that all Christians, in their new nature, are positionally ‘seated’ together with Christ, who is Himself seated at the right hand of God the Father with authority over everything. For us this is no less than a place of sharing His spiritual authority in the battle against evil. So there is a sense that we do get what James and John asked for, but not in the way that they imagined. However, the values of the kingdom of God clash with the values of the world, and put serving above status. The point is that, knowing Jesus, personally and intimately, brings a  different kind of authority, spiritual authority, which is how Jesus uses us to bring His light and presence into our sin-darkened world.

QUESTION What for you is the hardest part of the “Not so for you” (verse 43)?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 5:1-10 — Jesus has gained special qualification to represent us to God

Jesus, having suffered and borne our sins, is called into a high priestly role of a unique order 

The background text to this is Psalm 110:4 in which is God’s stated intention that His Son is to be a priest for ever in the order of Melchizedek. The author expands on this, comparing the priesthood of Aaron’s descendants (vv. 1-4) and that of Jesus, the ultimate high priest (vv. 5-10).

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

“From among the people” – the high priest had to be able to relate to people and their lives, in order to represent them before God.

2-3 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since He himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.

“Weakness… his own sins” – the high priest, subject to human sinfulness, sacrifices first for his own sins, Lev. 16:6,11. By contrast Christ, sinless, Hebrews 4:15; 7:27, exercises a unique high priesthood of a quite different order and extent.

4 And no one takes this honour on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

“Called by God” – the Aaronic high priest must not be self-appointed but have a recognised call to the office. In Jesus’ lifetime the high-priestly office – and the power and control that went with it – belonged to the family who had bought the privilege.

In the same way, Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to Him, “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.”

“You are My Son” – or “Today I reveal You as My Son”, quoted from Psalm 2:7. A turning point in the comparison. 

For further study: read Psalm 2:7-9, Romans 1:4.

And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

“Priest… in the order of Melchizedek” – quoted from Psalm 110:4. This is the first of 10 times this verse is quoted in Hebrews, Ps.110:4,6,10; 6:20; 7:3,11,15,17,21,24,28.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.

“Heard… because of his reverent submission” – Jesus did not shrink from the indescribable agony of bearing mankind’s sins in a suffering of spirit, soul and body. He asked that the ‘cup of suffering’ might be taken from Him, but He still went through with it in full obedience to His Father.

“Save Him from death” – by resurrection.

8-10 Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

“Learned obedience… once made perfect” – or ‘complete, qualified’ from teleios original meaning ‘having reached its end’. Christ was without sin, but proved His humanity in the cost of obedience, walking the path of human experience all the way to death on the Cross, in complete submission to the Father’s will. This finally qualified Christ to represent us by His unique and ultimate high priesthood.

IN PRACTICE This passage exposes the fallacy of any religious system which we “take on ourselves”, v.4. It’s easier to grasp but the only effective and peace-bringing way is through personal relationship with Jesus. He is the only person who, having lived our life with its trials and temptations – without sin – can represent us before the Father. This highest of high priests, who has conquered death, and broken the grip of everything which contends with God’s design and purpose for our lives, is the one who takes up our supplication (asking) prayer – and then reminds us that, sharing His exalted place, we should move from asking, to declaring in faith, what He has done. With the backing of Jesus the great high priest, we can pray with authority – His authority.

QUESTION What in church or Christian life are we inclined to put our faith in, rather than relying on Jesus to represent us?

PRAYER Father God, as I come to You in Jesus I am overwhelmed, not just by Your greatness and higher purpose, but by your goodness and generosity beyond anything I could deserve. Help me to hold on to this great truth, for myself and but also to share with others who need a touch from You.

TLW42e October 14 – Booklet

Booklet to print  4pp A4

Catching God’s heart to change ours

Jesus gently challenges the rich young ruler, to tease out where his security and his heart really is, Mark 10:17.

TLW41: Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, October 14

Theme: How much have we caught God’s heart, and He ours?

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 — Job’s heart is tested under oppression. A righteous man is blamed by his counsellors, but still holds out for God’s justice.

Mark 10:17-31 — Jesus tests the heart of a wealthy follower. Mark’s story of the rich young man who had ticked the boxes for observance, but overlooked the priority of love.

Hebrews 4:12-16 — The word of God judges our heart’s attitudes. Everything in us is accountable to God but Jesus, our great high priest, has lived in our world and meets us as One who understands

Also: Psalm 22:1-15

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 — Job’s heart is tested under oppression

A righteous man is blamed by his counsellors, but still holds out for God’s justice

Eliphaz, in the previous speech, has treated Job as a sinner, in the darkness of sin and for whom he has a remedy. Zophar, the the speech before that, went further in aligning Job’s grave difficulties with his rebellion before God. There is some truth in both positions, but Job does not accept either of them: he humbly asserts that they do not apply. Job is an interesting exception to the general assumption, that everyone’s need can be met by preaching the gospel.

1-3 Then Job replied: “Even today my complaint is bitter; His hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.

3 If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling!

“If only I knew where…” – Job, true to his name (‘iyyob, Where is the heavenly Father?), is trying to find God from his sense of abandonment. Eliphaz had instructed Job “Return to the Almighty” but Job (vv. 8-9 below) cannot find God to encounter Him anywhere.

4 I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments.

5 I would find out what He would answer me, and consider what He would say to me.

6 Would He vigorously oppose me? No, He would not press charges against me.

“Would He… oppose Me?” – Job’s change of heart, expecting to find justice, Psalm 97:2 having worked through his earlier fear that God would be too powerful for him to be heard, Job 9:14-20, 33-34.

7 There the upright can establish their innocence before Him, and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.

“I would be delivered” – Job is confident, as a God-fearing worshipper, of a fair hearing, leading to acquittal. The gospel is here in this passage, which looks forward to the justification to be found, not in the tally of our good deeds, but through the relationship we have with Jesus Christ alone, Romans 4:25-5:1; 8:1.

8 “But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him.

9 When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him.

= = = = = =

16 God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me.

17 Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.

“Made my heart faint” – Job’s affliction was physical (sores and wasting) but also what we categorise as mental illness. The devil’s oppression is a combined attack on (human) spirit, (thinking, feeling) soul — and (physical) body. “Thick darkness” – Job was fearful and anxious, feeling like he was groping in darkness, familiar to anyone battling depression.

IN PRACTICE  Despite physical illness and mental torture, Job’s heart is proving to be true. Far from blaming God for his misfortune, the devil’s scheme, He is trusting God for his deliverance. He feels sure that if he could have that conversation, that hearing, that He would find that God was for him. God is for us. It will always be the devil’s strategy to sow thoughts in our minds that God is for others, but not us; that we have done (or not done) something that exposes us to judgment and keeps us out of favour. This is the folly of the religious mind. The spiritual person, who knows God personally through Jesus, will know that it is our heart, and the relationship with God that guards our heart, that gives us assurance – and ultimately deliverance.

QUESTION  Why would God allow such a good person as Job to go through this trial of sickness and a feeling of “thick darkness”? How does Job’s faith, even while questioning, help us?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 10:17-31 — Jesus tests the heart of a wealthy follower

Mark’s version of the story of the rich young man who had ticked the boxes for observance, but overlooked the priority of love

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“A man ran up” – previously in Mark’s story Jesus encountered small children who had no standing and were completely dependent. By contrast this was a young man, probably a member of a council or court, Luke 18:18, Matt. 19:20, commandment-keeping and rich. Jews of that time would consider him (wrongly!) to have a great standing with God and therefore claim to salvation.

“What must I do” – the question of a religious, but not spiritual, person. He showed respect to Jesus (“fell on his knees”) but simply didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching of how the kingdom of God is entered, Mark 10:13-16.

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone.

19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.’”

“Why do you call Me good” – Jesus is not denying His goodness, but making the man think about his question and focus on God. Will he recognise the goodness of God incarnated in Jesus? Will he recognise that only God Himself is intrinsically good?

“You know the commandments” – Jesus mentions the six that address wrong actions and attitudes to others including “fraud” for covetousness.

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

“All these I have kept” – this doesn’t read well to us. But the man is sincere. For him, the law is about conforming to the doing, the externals (like the six commandments Jesus quoted). Jesus makes him think: what is missing? The requirement to have a good heart, to love God and, by extension, have God’s love for others, Mark 12:29-30; Exodus 20:3; Deut. 6:5. Entering the kingdom of God is always a step of repentance, Mark 1:5; 6:12.

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

“Sell everything… give to the poor” – not a general command, but addressing the stronghold of self-sufficiency that was holding this man back from salvation.

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24-25 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

“Camel…through the eye of a needle” – the largest animal and the smallest opening. The idea of a laden pack animal shedding its baggage to be led through a narrow postern gate is a great illustration that may (or may not) have been in Jesus’ mind.

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

“Amazed…Who then can be…” – Jesus has overturned the generally accepted idea that riches are a sign of favour from God.  

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

“Who then… with man this is impossible” — this man, they would have thought, was an outstanding  candidate. Jesus explains that there is nothing we can achieve of ourselves to gain salvation. It comes only by relationship with God and receiving His gift.

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29-30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life.

31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

“Left… for me… will receive…” — followers of Jesus share a family generosity that transcends social and geographical borders. In this context, the hospitality if a hundred homes and families sharing the same values.

“First… last and… last first” — the kingdom order up-ends the accepted order of wealth, privilege and the merit of having kept the externals. The kingdom is experienced by disciples with no other claim than looking to Jesus and accepting the challenges of His humble way.

IN PRACTICE  This favourite story, also told by Matthew and Luke,  goes right to the heart of our walk with God. Here was a man who had done all the right things that the law said were to be done, but how he felt about God was still a bridge to be crossed. Throughout history, man has put the first commandment – to love God with all our heart – on a shelf while working at all the others. The intention was to be so captivated by God and broken by His love, that everything else follows as a consequence. The rich young man had a theology of ‘doing’ – we might call it religiosity – but who had his heart? 

QUESTION  Jesus asks us the same question from time to time: where is our heart? Can we do no other but to follow Him wholeheartedly, or is our human desire for self-sufficiency holding us?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 4:12-16 — The word of God judges our heart’s attitudes

Everything in us is accountable to God but Jesus, our great high priest, has lived in our world and meets us as One who understands

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

“The word of God penetrates” – a warning to those living a sham that faithless disobedience will be exposed by the living power of the word of God which acts like an all-seeing eye.

“Soul and spirit” – the human spirit together with the thinking, feeling, wilful soul. Taken together to mean the whole inner person.

13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

“Everything… laid bare” – The word of God (v.12) is speaking and acting as the judgment of God Himself. All our thoughts and intentions are exposed, and accountable to the living, written Word, John 6:63, 68, Acts 7:38 as to the living God who is the author.

14-15 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,  Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.

“Great high priest” – for Jewish Christians, coming out of the Old Covenant priest and sacrifice tradition, knowing Jesus as the Great High Priest of the complete, final sacrifice was an important faith connection.

16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

“Confident… that we… receive mercy and grace” — because this high priest has the unique qualification of having been tested through suffering and death for us, Hebrews 2:9-10.

IN PRACTICE  The ‘quiet time’ of starting the day with God and the Bible, letting Him speak through His word, has deep roots in Christian tradition. Fashions change in discipleship, as everything else, but in a busy and confusing world, the need for this discipline seems to gain renewed emphasis. The ‘down side‘, if there can be a disadvantage to learning to hear God speak to us, is that His word is truth. It is that sharp penetrating sword that exposes our heart. It is, very helpfully, a lamp to our feet and our path but also a bright light over the mirror that shows all our blemishes – the part we don’t much like. However, God, in His love, is not so much about showing up what is in our heart, as revealing to us what in our heart we still need to let Him purify. He is in the business of redeeming and recreating and regenerating, and in Jesus a ‘new heart for old’ is  His ongoing promise.

QUESTION  The devil will always find ways to try to prevent you having a quiet time in the word. How resolved are you not to be put off meeting with God in this way?

TLW41/October 14 to print in A5 booklet form

Heaven’s justice exposes man’s way

Leon Bonnat’s classic depiction of Job – the name means ‘Where is the heavenly Father?’ –crying out to God in his severe and unfair affliction. Job is the epitome of all that is unfair, unjust – and of Satanic origin.

Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, October 7

Satan is allowed to oppress righteous Job to try to get him to blame God

Theme: Heaven’s fairness confronts man’s pride and control

Job 1:1, 2:1-10 — God is over the tests of life which come to all. Satan is allowed to oppress righteous Job to try to get him to blame God.

Mark 10:2-16 — God’s justice and good is for everyone equally. Man’s sense of hierarchy, status and privilege is confronted by Jesus’ teaching on marriage and children.

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 — Jesus redeems mankind by entering our messy world. He provided purification from sins by identifying with sinful mankind, so that He could be enthroned at the place of majesty in heaven.

Also: Psalm 26

C of E only: alternative OT reading Genesis 2:18-24. At Creation, God creates woman out of man.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Job 1:1, 2:1-10 — God is over the tests of life which come to all

1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.

“Job… was blameless and upright” – his name is a Greek/English way of saying the Hebrew ‘iyyob meaning ‘Where is the heavenly Father?’ This sets the scene for the testing of Job in the story. He is depicted as having a consistent spiritual life (but not sinless), faithful before God and of spotless character – in contrast to the assumptions of his three friends. This is the tension explored in the whole book.

2:1 On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before Him.

2 And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

“On another day” – a second glimpse of angels of the heavenly court with Satan elbowing in, an unwelcome presence. The scene of Job’s second test is like the first, Job 1:6-12. In the first test Satan was bound from harming Job’s person and in this second Job’s person is vulnerable but his actual life is protected, verse 6 below.

3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited Me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

“You incited me” – God cannot be stirred up to act against His will. “Have you considered my servant Job” is an indication that God allowed what happened to Job as part of His purpose. God doesn’t send afflictions but may allow difficulties which test our trust of Him, hence “Lead us not into temptation” linked to “the evil one” in Jesus’ model prayer for disciples, Matt. 6:13.

“Without any reason” – translates the same Hebrew word used for Satan insinuating that Job did not serve God “for nothing”, Job 1:9. The Lord throws “for nothing” back at the Accuser.

4-5 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out Your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse You to your face.”

“Skin for skin” – as we would say, quid pro quo. Job maintained his integrity in a test that cost him his skin and the “skin” of his animals. Satan, always the accuser, alleges that Job is only concerned for himself.

6 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

7-8 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

“Painful sores” – the terms used for the ‘plague of boils’ in Egypt, Exodus 9:9-11. Also used for ‘painful boils’, Deuteronomy 28:35, which was set out as a specific covenant curse for the disobedient. This would all the evidence Job’s friends needed to tell him that he was being punished for sinning – a severe test of faith.

9 His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

“Are you still…” – Job’s wife sarcastically echoes God’s words in Job’s hardest trial so far, and uses a figure of speech to narrowly escape blasphemy. She mistakes Job’s dogged faith for religious obstinacy.

10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

“Shall we accept good… and not trouble” – Job’s controlled retort cancels his wife’s dangerous near-agreement with Satan and makes the central point of the Book of Job, that spiritual maturity recognises that God is sovereign over our lives whether in good times or adversity, and is able to trust Him while not understanding why bad things happen.

IN PRACTICE Job’s miserable experience meets us where we are, in struggling to understand why bad things happen to good people. Job is presented to us as man of integrity, who honoured God and took trouble to avoid evil. So why is he singled out for affliction? Those who mistakenly (or even subconsciously believe) that God is a fickle creator can stop and reflect right here. We can see that some who are not deserving prosper, while people we know who are unselfish and upright before God face trials, in way which defies all human reason. Job and his friends struggled with this! The lesson is that we have an enemy, perhaps particularly targeting those who have a close walk with God. However, God’s purposes are higher, using affliction to test, prove and grow our faith and demonstrate that ultimately He has sovereignty over our lives and circumstances.

QUESTION  How would you explain this lesson to a struggling or health-challenged friend, bring out the need for faith and trust in God in the face of human logic?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 10:2-16 God’s justice and good is for everyone equally

In the kingdom of God, husbands, wives and children are esteemed together

2 Some Pharisees came and tested Him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Tested Him by asking” – test sometimes translated ‘tempt’, meaning ‘try to catch out’. John the Baptist had been beheaded for teaching that Herod Antipas’ divorce and remarriage was unlawful. With Jesus in Herod’s territory, the Pharisees thought they could indict him before the ruler for agreeing with John the Baptist.

“A man to divorce his wife” – the only possibility under Jewish law, however in Jesus’ time there was much discussion about how to interpret the grounds which allowed divorce. Many Pharisees were advocating that men could initiate a kind of ‘no fault‘ divorce.

3 “What did Moses command you?” He replied.
4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

“Moses command… Moses permitted” – the Pharisees came back with Deut. 24:1-4 which was not a command but an acknowledgement that marriages fail; it gave some protection for the woman’s rights. Like many of their interpretations of the Law, this had become conveniently twisted over time; divorce permitted in Deut. 24:1 for ‘something indecent’ had been changed from ‘something’ to ‘anything’.

5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied.

6-9 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

What God has joined” – Jesus uses Scripture to move the argument from man’s interpretation of the rules, back to God’s intentions at creation and before sin had entered; marriage is between man and woman, and is divinely established, Gen. 1:27, 2:24, Exodus 20:14

10-12 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

The disciples asked Jesus about this” – they were taken aback by Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Law. As He said elsewhere, He expected a higher moral righteousness than merely keeping within Israel’s civil law, Matthew 5:20.

13-16 People were bringing little children to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And He took the children in His arms, placed His hands on them and blessed them.

“He was indignant” – a strong word, He was angry. People, probably parents, were bringing children for a blessing (the practice of laying on hands to bless was ancient). Challenging the pecking-order mentality of Judaism, in which children were not honoured and largely excluded, Jesus makes the point that the kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven) must be received, and cannot be earned by merit. A child comes and simply receives a gift without asserting rights – in the same way, people must receive God’s kingdom as a gift, by coming to Jesus and receiving Him. See Matt. 5:3.

IN PRACTICE Like the Jews of Jesus’ time, we want to make our own rules about marriage and divorce to accommodate shifts in culture, although this is strongly resisted in some parts of the world e.g. Africa. He entered a world that was male-dominated with a strong sense of privilege and rank and ‘small people’, typified by the small people who were children, being dismissed as of little account. His intervention, today as then, is to call us back to God’s creation intention. The kingdom of heaven’s order is about heaven’s equal-handed fairness without privilege or discrimination.

QUESTION What is our sense of entitlement to Jesus’ kingdom order, and how might He tease out if we have really received it?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 – Jesus entered our messy world to redeem mankind

The divine prophet, priest and very radiance of God became human, and endured man’s sin and oppression to sit at the right hand of God.

1-2 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe.

3-4 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So He became as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs.

“In the past, God spoke” – through the many instances and styles of His prophets, and then by the One who was a new category of revelation, not just a prophetic voice but His Son.

“By His Son who…” – seven praise definitions follow: (1) heir of creation; (2) creator or co-creator of the universe; (3) the radiance of God’s glory; (4) the exact expression of God’s nature; (5) the Word of God Himself, the only prophet who is also God; (6) the priest of God, who purifies from sin; (7) the majestic king enthroned at the right hand of the Father.

“Superior to the angels” – first-century Jews were fascinated by angels and held them in high esteem as those who minister before the throne of God and who revealed the Mosaic law at Sinai, Hebrews 2:2. Synagogue-tradition Jews were inclined to denigrate Jesus divine status and view Him as a mere angel. Jesus, whose name and therefore essence is Son, is not to be equated even with angels.

5 It is not to angels that He has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him?

7-8a “You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honour and put everything under their feet.”

8b-9 In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

“Someone has testified” – the author shows how Psalm 8:4-6 is fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus needed to become incarnate as man – and for that time, lower than the angels – so that the “son of man”, the Messiah, could be the truest representative of mankind, Daniel 7:13. The role intended for mankind at creation came to fulfillment in Jesus Christ sharing our humanity.

10-11 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what He suffered. Both the One who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

“Perfect through what He suffered” – not questioning Jesus’ sinlessness, but showing Jesus to have been qualified for His unique role “through what He suffered”, obeying perfectly, dying as the perfect sacrifice for sins on our behalf. The Amplified Bible adds to “perfect” “should bring to maturity the human experience necessary to be perfectly equipped for His office as High Priest”.
“I will declare Your name… in the assembly…” – from Psalm 22:22, showing that Jesus Christ is present in the gathered church.

IN PRACTICE Who is Jesus? The introduction to the letter written to Jewish Christians in particular, starts with a well-crafted single sentence that sets out Jesus’ identity as the prophet, priest and king who is also God. Yet He was also incarnated as a regular man whose unique role as redeemer of mankind was completed in His suffering and death. That puts Him in a logic-defying situation of being identified with and experiencing with us every abuse and injustice that part of this world’s package, and also being sovereign Lord – the Lord of heaven’s better, higher, more just way – over every aspect of our lives. He transforms us as part of His redeeming purpose, reminding us that in Him we have a family relationship – those being made holy are closely related to the One who is holy.

QUESTION The definitions of who Jesus is are arresting, and to be called His brother or sister is almost beyond our grasp – but how does this help us in life?

PRAYER  Lord Jesus, help me to have a deeper revelation of who You are, and who I am through the transformation and new nature I gain in You. Help me, therefore, to live above my humanness and be a force for Your truth, justice and absence of discrimination. Amen.

True Greatness

“We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves; and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” – Thomas Merton

Proverbs 31:10-31 – Greatness comes through character and diligence

Mark 9:30-37 – Greatness comes through being able to defer

James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8 – Greatness comes through embracing humility

Also in this Sunday’s readings: Psalm 1

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SUMMARY  The theme of the week is True Greatness

Proverbs 31:10-31: Greatness comes through character and diligence, as exemplified by Proverbs’ depiction of the “wife of noble character” whose skill, diligence and business acumen are all examples of the wisdom that comes from “the fear of the Lord”, meaning a willingness to submit everything to Him.

Mark 9:30-37: As the disciples argue about their individual status, Jesus teaches the Suffering Servant’s way of greatness through being able to defer.

James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8: The teaching of the Early Church emphasised conquering pride, envy and personal ambition and embrace godly submission and humility, the true greatness.

MESSAGE OF THE WEEK  The fear of the Lord, submission and conquering pride sound like calls to a rigorous, monastic-style obedience – but the reality is that knowing God personally through Jesus releases and enables. The Life of the Spirit is empowering: it brings a freedom from ambition and status, enabling us to WANT to put God and others first.

Also in this Sunday’s readings: Psalm 1

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Alternative OT reading (C of E option) Jeremiah 11:18-20

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Proverbs 31:10-31 | Greatness comes through character and diligence

Book of Proverbs wisdom illustration about character and respect

Last week’s reading, at the beginning of the Book of Proverbs was about wisdom personified and wisdom’s voice – as it happens, a woman’s voice. Here at the end of Proverbs, we meet the wife of noble character. This wife, who is marked out by her fear the Lord, v.30, is also like the personification of wisdom. This chapter was not written by Solomon but King Lemuel, Prov. 30:1, not an Israelite king but a foreigner who had come to know the Lord.

10-12 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

 “Noble character” – moral and spiritual, but also very able. Elsewhere the term is used for the military exploits of men. Her husband can trust her because she is godly.

13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.

“Wool and linen” – wool spun from the fleece, linen woven from flax fibres. A linen garment sold for half a month’s wage and a woollen garment for four times that.

14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.

15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.

“Like the merchant ships” – she is enterprising: remarkable in a male-dominated culture and “provides… portions” – also considerate, the opposite of Proverbs’ sluggard, Proverbs 6:9-10, 26:14, not one to have servants attend her in bed.

16-19 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

“Considers a field… sees that her trading is profitable” – showing independent judgment and financial wisdom, not the norm for women of that time. “Her lamp does not go out” – not working through the night but a sign of a well-run house where the lamp was kept burning all night as a sign of life.

“Sets about her work” – establishing a vineyard planting and press in stony ground was an arduous undertaking. By contrast, drawing wool thread from the distaff stick on to the spinning wheel was skilled work undertaken by women.

20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.

21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

“Clothed in scarlet” – implies dyed wool and good quality. She makes good clothes for her household and at the same time shows generosity to the less-well off, a characteristic of wise people.

For further study: generosity is characteristic of wisdom as emphasised in Proverbs, Prov. 11:24-26; 21:13; 22:9,16,22-23; 28:27.

22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

This woman’s hard work and good judgment brings security and respect to the household and also her husband, who is valued as a decision-maker “at the city gate”.

26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:

29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”

30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

31 Honour her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

“A woman who fears the Lord” – the poem, an A-Z of wisdom, builds to its conclusion that the reward of wisdom, personified as the woman of wisdom, is about where that wisdom is rooted: in the fear of the Lord, a simple but profound statement, Prov. 1:7, 9:10, 15:33. Being willing to listen to and defer to the Lord is perhaps a more feminine trait, as in this depiction, which wise men do well to acquire.

IN PRACTICE  In a hard-nosed world which prizes knowledge and puts a high value on information, something called wisdom looks like a ‘soft skill’. Perhaps in a different way, it is – set in largely male-centric stories and events, the word for wisdom is feminine. Proverbs begins and ends with wisdom, which it explains in terms of personality and character – a God-fearing, submitted, spiritual woman. It is more than having skills, it is having the character and sense of direction to know what to do with them. This is what brings that elusive quality we call success.

QUESTION  Out of the many attributes of this ‘woman of wisdom’, which particularly speak to you? Should you ask God for wisdom or just rely on Him to provide it?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 9:30-37 | Greatness comes through being able to defer

The disciples are caught in an argument about status

30-32 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because He was teaching His disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise.” But they did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it. ”

“He was teaching His disciples” — they still couldn’t accept His teaching about His death and how it formed part of God’s plan. The resurrection of an individual was a new concept to them – they expected the resurrection of mankind at the final judgment foretold in Daniel 12:2. Luke’s explanation is that “it was concealed from them so that they could not grasp it”, Luke 9:45.

33-34  They came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

“Capernaum… in the house” – probably the one belonging to Peter and Andrew, Mark 1:29.

“But they kept quiet” – they expected disapproval of the argument. It would surface again, Mark 10:35-37. Because they had not yet understood Jesus’ destiny, they didn’t grasp the implication for themselves.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

“Sitting down” – as we would stand up, assuming the role of a teacher. Jewish rabbis taught sitting down.

“Want to be first…last… servant” – (here and below) Rank and status were important in Jewish society at this time. Jesus confronted those assumptions by teaching that in God’s kingdom true greatness comes through being the servant, not the master. Finally He demonstrated this conclusively in His death as the Suffering Servant.

36-37 He took a little child whom He placed among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me but the one who sent Me.”

“Whoever welcomes one of these” – Children had no status and were not romantically considered pure and innocent – just weak and inferior. Welcoming a child was putting yourself last in line, in a dramatically unexpected way.

IN PRACTICE  The disciples belonged to a stratified Jewish society – aristocratic and common, rich and poor, politically powerful and oppressed. Status and hierarchy was discussed a lot in their culture. For us (depending on what newspaper you read) there is quite a lot of emphasis on ‘being a celebrity’. But all of this flies in the face of God’s kingdom order, which turns man’s order upside down, twists it around and shakes it for good measure. Jesus was a servant, a suffering servant to the cause of providing a salvation path for mankind at the cost of His life and reputation. His life on earth made Him the greatest human being who has ever lived. True greatness, in His terms, has nothing to do with our imagined ideas of status, but is achieved by conquering human pride and self-sufficiency, and learning to embrace dependence on God and gain a true servant spirit.

QUESTION  Think of someone you know who is different because you can see Jesus in them? Why is that? What part of status and position would be costly for you to say ‘no’ to?

EPISTLE READING

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a | True greatness comes from humility, not pride

Teaching about dealing with ambition and embracing godly dependence

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

“Humility” – literally ‘meekness’, prautes. ‘Gentleness’ in Gal. 5:23. Greeks considered it a weakness but Jesus made it a fundamental virtue, Matt. 5:5, 11:29. It is not passive or timid but an attitude of trusting God and therefore having no need to self-promote.

“Humility that comes from wisdom” – true wisdom, like true greatness, has nothing to prove.. James writes to Spirit-filled believers in the churches about “deeds done in the humility of the consequential fruitfulness of faith in their day by day experience of God.

14-16 But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

“Selfish ambition… disorder” – worldly teaching based on man-centred values  is unspiritual; more seriously, it invites the conflict and division that is the hallmark of the devil, James 4:1-3 below.

17-18 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

“Peace-loving… considerate” – the list parallels the character qualities of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23  with more than a nod towards the Royal Law James has already mentioned, James 2:8.

“Desires that battle within” – the life produced by the Spirit and characterised by the peace-loving and fruitful unity He brings, contrasted dramatically with the bitter church conflicts and character assassination that result from rivalry and desire to control.

4:1-3 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

7-8 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

“Resist the devil” – the opportunities given to the devil by unholy attitudes have been set out forcefully. Similarly the remedy – recognising the rule and reign of God in willing submission to His values. This ‘repent and resist’ teaching is paralleled by Peter, 1 Peter 5:8-9, in His letter written at a different time, giving weight to the gravity of this teaching.

For further study: the ‘wearing holy attitudes’ teaching in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Eph. 6:10-18.

IN PRACTICE  This week’s teaching follows a familiar pattern. The principles are set out in the Old Testament passage, but at this point, it’s more theoretical than practical. In the Gospel passage, Jesus brings the principles alive in His own life and teaches the values to the disciples. It still needs to be earthed in everyday spiritual life. The epistle is written to believers in the churches who are learning to live in their new life and new identity, as those who are new creations “in Christ Jesus” and who have the Spirit of Christ Jesus in them. They are empowered, they are guided, they have the original Scriptures and the new records of Jesus’ teaching BUT they have to make it work in their lives and their relationships, with all the tensions of a community. They have new life, but as we all find, the test is whether we can avoid being pulled back into what the Bible calls the flesh, or selfish nature. In this case, it’s rivalry, envy and desire to control and, like the weeds in your garden, it’s ready to spring up in every church fellowship to be a vehicle for the conflict and the disunity the devil wants to sow. That’s his strategy to disable the advance of the kingdom of God. We have a better a strategy to disable the devil, and that is the active choice to repent of pride, embrace again utter dependence on God and recognise that whatever we have of worth, is only from Him.

QUESTION  What do you feel entitled to control? Where do you have the need to be in charge? Where is the lordship of Jesus – over or under those perceptions?

PRAYER  Lord, looking into Your eyes is looking into life itself. Help and empower us to be people of the New Life – and life-givers to others who in their pain may need us to exercise our faith on their behalf. I pray this in and through Jesus. Amen.

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C of E alternative OT reading

Jeremiah 11:18-20 NIV

The plot against Jeremiah revealed

18 Because the Lord revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time He showed me what they were doing. 

“Their plot” – people in Jeremiah’s home town of Anathoth. He was a priest from a town of priestly families just north of Jerusalem, Jeremiah 1:1.

19 I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realise that they had plotted against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree and its fruit; let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.”

“Destroy the tree” – they wanted Jeremiah and his memory blotted out. They hated him because of his words against the ruling order at a time when God’s judgment was building, which resulted in Jerusalem’s fall to the Babylonians and deportation of most of the people.

20 But You, Lord Almighty, who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You I have committed my cause.

“Your vengeance” – not personal vengeance. Jeremiah is simply calling for God to judge the actions of his oppressors fairly and handing over any personal desire for retribution to Him.

Listening to the Lord and speaking for Him

Image credit: St George’s Anglican Church, Burlington, Canada

Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, September 16 (Pentecost 18)

Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s voice?

Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples

James 3:1-12 | Listening to God first – does He have our tongue?

Also in this Sunday’s readings: Psalm 19

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Summary

The theme for this Sunday is about who we listen to, and what is in our hearts as we speak.

Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s choice?

The voice of wisdom is like a woman whose advice (in that culture) could be ignored and even mocked, revealing arrogant obstinacy. Do we respond as learners or mockers?

Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples

Peter and the disciples were put on the spot about who people thought Jesus was and who they said He was, but Peter’s declaration sealed their belief in Jesus as Messiah.

James 3:1-12 | Listening to God first – does He have our tongue?

This teaching from the apostle James stresses power of words for good or harm, and the importance of speech which comes from a heart submitted to God, not human opinions.

The message this week is a reminder that the words we speak are like fruit, showing whether we are a thorny briar or a sweet variety. As disciples of Christ we guard against lapsing into the old, selfish nature, but rather show the Lordship of Jesus over our speech.

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Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s choice?

The voice of wisdom gives sound guidance for living, for all who will hear

Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:

“Wisdom calls aloud” – personified as a woman (the Hebrew word is feminine) who cries out, for all to hear in the marketplace, and at the place of business and debate, the city gate. 

22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?

“Simple… mockers… fools” – Proverbs addresses three sets of people who need God’s wisdom and are progressively less receptive. Those who are simple or inexperienced, pethim, are the most open to God’s truth, Prov. 1:4. Fools, kesilim, have heard God’s wisdom but are resisting it. Mockers, latsonim, oppose wisdom with ridicule and are condemned in Proverbs as those too arrogant and contentious to learn.

For further study on kesiyl, kesilim see Proverbs 17:10, 12, 16, 21, 24-25 and a related word in Prov. 17:7.

23 Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.

“Repent… then…” – the consequence of heeding the warning is a blessing, where wisdom is like a fountain of constant refreshment and, “I will make known”, though revelation.

24-25 But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke…

“Stretch out my hand” – in appeal, like Isaiah 65:2 where God holds out His hands all day to “an obstinate people”

26-27 …I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you – when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

“Laugh” – not heartlessly but at the predictability of those who spurn wisdom’s guidance and find themselves in difficulty as a consequence.

28-29 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.

“Call to me” – sounds like 1 Samuel 8:18, but this is probably not about prayer; wisdom is a personification, not God. The sense is that mockers and scoffers will frantically seek wisdom when they get into trouble, but ‘too little, too late’.

30-31 Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.

“Eat the fruit… be filled with the fruit” – like the NT phrase “A man reaps what he sows”, Gal. 6:7. Evil people suffer the punishment of living out the consequences of their own actions, and will find themselves consuming the fruit of calamity, fear and destruction that they meted out to others.

32-33 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.

“Waywardness” – a play on the Hebrew word for turning which can mean positively “repent” or negatively “turn wayward”. Not heeding wisdom (being wayward) causes destruction; the remedy would have been to turn in repentance.

“Whoever listens to me” – those who listen to wisdom’s voice experience security.

IN PRACTICE  The voice of wisdom is not the same as the voice of God, but closely aligned. It is more the sense of how we live out what we hear as the voice and truth of God.

Wisdom is evident, or lacking, in all our attitudes of heart – and our heart determines what we say. Here we meet those who come across as uninstructed, or a stage worse, just stubbornly foolish and wrong-intentioned. But worst of all is the arrogant mocker, the opinionated “I know best” person who is proud that they have no need to listen and learn. This is the root of dissention, and derogatory slander, that is the devil’s strategy to impede the kingdom of God. To the extent that we allow it.

QUESTION  How proactive are you in seeking God’s wisdom to live by, day by day?

Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples

Speaking as disciples of Jesus – who do we say He is?

Jesus and His disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way He asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

“Caesarea Philippi” – named after Herod the Great’s son Philip the Tetrarch, the recently-built town was on the slopes of Mount Hermon, a prominent landmark 25 miles to the north of Galilee.

“He asked them” – for the first time, Jesus raises the question of His identity. He must clarify the nature of the Messiah as God’s servant who will suffer and be shamed for His people, a difficult concept (Peter’s response v.32 below) against the popular idea that the Messiah would be a military deliverer like King David.

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“Some say” – the disciples list some the most popular misconceptions.

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

“But what about you?” – more emphatic in the Greek. Jesus compels a deeper response.

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

“The Messiah” – or Christ. Both mean ‘anointed one’. A climax and the first time this is stated in Mark’s story apart from his introduction, Mark 1:1. Peter speaks out the conclusion of all the disciples.

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him.

“Warned… not to tell” – the mission of Jesus as Messiah could not be understood apart from the ordeal of the Cross, which the disciples were not yet prepared for. To announce Jesus as Messiah would only reinforce the misunderstanding about the Messiah. The Jewish people, desperate to be released from Gentile Roman dominion, would try and make Jesus king by force, John 6:15 and see John 12:12-19.

31-32 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.

“Peter… began to rebuke Him” – to Peter, what Jesus was teaching was not only unthinkable but just plain wrong.  In this section, Mark 8:31-10:52 Jesus prepares the disciples for His inevitably, divinely-ordained death as they travel to Jerusalem.

“Suffer… be rejected… be killed and…rise again”. The Messiah had to suffer, as predicted, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and see Luke 24:44, and be rejected, which echoes Psalm 118:22, and die before being raised to life again, promised in Hosea 6:2. The Jews knew these scriptures but misunderstood them. Following the Suffering Servant passage, Isaiah sets out how God’s ways are higher than our ways, Isaiah 55:8-9.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter. “Get behind Me, Satan!” He said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

“He rebuked Peter” – with a seemingly harsh word, but Jesus recognised Peter coming under the same attempted deception that He had experienced in the desert confrontation with Satan, Matthew 4:8-10.

34 Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.

“Take up their cross” – not a medieval-style religion of self-abasement which misses the point made in the sentences around this phrase. The disciple call is to die to the right to determine one’s own life path and success; as in being born anew, willingness to let go of the old life admits new life in Jesus – which will embrace the costs of shame and pain at times.

35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the gospel will save it.

36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

“Save their life” – self-preservation is a strong human instinct. We want to hold on to what we know and we believe represents security. To lose life in the flesh is to gain the spiritual life of the soul.

37-38 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Standing up for Jesus, His values and His words, requires courage in the face of ridicule – but it’s a non-negotiable position for those who choose to walk the Way of Jesus.

IN PRACTICE  Everyone wants to be known as a fan of a popular hero. Even if we have no local affiliation, we support a particular Premier football club ‘because it is the best’. People are intrigued by, and sometimes drawn to, ‘populist politicians’. Some “do a Huw’, the highly individual pose modelled by the revered Welsh newsreader.

Jesus is more of a problem. In our church, He would be an outsider, a disrupter, someone bringing change. In our community, He doesn’t look like a figurehead as a servant of incomparable kindness. In a post-modern inclusive world, some want every spiritual insight to be a path to the truth. The question for us, as well as Peter, is who do WE say Jesus is? And that draws out from us where we really stand in relation to His Lordship of us.

QUESTION  How ready are we to stand up, be counted and speak for Jesus and His values in our sceptical world?

James 3:1-12 | Listening to God before speaking – does He have our tongue?

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

“Become teachers” – the rabbi or teacher was honoured in Jewish and by extension, Christian society, Acts 2:42, Romans 12:7, 1 Cor 12:28, while Christians generally were regarded as social outsiders, James 2:6-7. James points out that few should aspire to a role which could influence for good or harm, and which therefore carried greater penalties in accountability, Matt. 5:19, Acts 20:26-27.

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

“Fault in what they say” – the argument moves from the specific role of those called to teach, to the general responsibility we have for the words we utter, to bless and encourage or to harm. The main issue in the church, then as today, is the twin problem of dissention and slander, James 4:1, 3:9, 4:11.

3-5 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.

Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

“Bits…rudder… spark” – the three images of small things that cause big effects were common in literature of the time. The tongue’s power to influence is way out of proportion to its size in relation to the rest of the body.

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

“A world of evil” – like a little microcosm of the fallen world within us. “Set on fire by hell” – the cause of so many sins when taken over by the devil’s destructive influence. The tongue reveals the worldliness lurking in our hearts, Matt. 15:18.

7-8 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

“All kinds of animals” – probably referring to Genesis 1:26. “No human being” – emphatic: the tongue often has a life of its own and can be like a deadly snake, Psalm 58:3-6, Psalm 14:3, which cannot be tamed except by God’s power working in us.

9-12 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

“We praise…and… we curse” – words have power, either to bless (bringing life and encouragement) or to curse (bringing harm and what is life-sapping). “God’s likeness” – all hearers have the worth of being created in God’s image.

“Can both… flow from the same…” –  it is incongruous for a Christian, reborn with a transformed heart, to utter demeaning words, like a tree producing the wrong fruit or a spring that runs brackish. Only a heart being continually renewed by the Holy Spirit can produce pure and life-giving speech.

IN PRACTICE  The school playground chant “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is good to help children refute name-calling but a poor representation of truth. Words that curse can have an enduringly hurtful effect. Who has carried the words of a parent or authority figure for whom we were never good enough? Prayer ministry later in life often reveals such barriers, words spoken over us that have had the effect of a curse, the word meaning the opposite of a blessing. On the other hand, the encouragement of the person who believed in us at a not-very-successful time is not forgotten. Words spoken have power, and there can be spiritual power behind the emotional or suggestive power as well. What comes from a resentful heart can do harm to us as much as the target. What comes from a pure heart submitted to Jesus can bring much benefit – perhaps, with faith, even a mountain-moving miracle.

QUESTION  What words have stayed with me as an enduring encouragement? And what words do I need to lift off my heart, to be free of their restriction?

PRAYER    From Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart…see if there is any offensive way in me…”  And help me to speak with the tone and truth and compassion of Jesus, whatever is going on around me, and to be quick to forgive those who, like Peter in the Gospel reading, have spoken from the selfish nature and momentarily become a voice for the enemy of our souls.