How to live God’s way

Living in God’s word like well-watered trees, Psalm 1.

Image credit: Joni Shaffer

Church calendar readings for Sunday, May 13, in Bible order

Prepare for Sunday by reading and reflecting on the word for the week. Formerly this was structured with a passage to read and reflect on for each day, but I felt that was overly prescriptive. Use this as a weekly resource to divide up or come back to, as seems best to you. The principle of ‘having the Scriptures in us’ before hearing the Scriptures preached is well-proven, however. And it is a good stand-alone Bible study! –IanG

Ezekiel 36:24-28 – Living God’s way from within

Psalm 1 – Living like well-watered trees

John 17:6-19 – Living as those united by Jesus

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 – Living as witnesses that Jesus is alive

1 John 5:9-13 – Living the new life that the Son of God gives

The saying “Whoever has the Son has life” in 1 John 5:12 is like a headline over the theme that emerges from this week’s Sunday readings (you may only hear two or three of them in church). This is about living God’s way – living as those who belong to God through receiving Jesus – and give five complementary pictures of what that means.

= = = = = = =

 

Ezekiel 36:24-28 » Living God’s way from within

• In the regathering, the Holy Spirit is promised to be a personal enabler of righteous living

24  “ ‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.

“Out of the nations” – out of a pagan land.

25  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.

“I will cleanse you” – as Jews, they were defiled by ungodly pagan practices all around them, but also by their history that had caused the fall of Jerusalem.

26  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

This is a repeated theme in Ezekiel – a revelation the prophet caught and expressed at different times, Ezekiel 11:19, 18:31.

27  And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws.

The Law instituted by Moses and subsequently turned into a detailed ‘do this, don’t do that’ religious system was near-impossible to keep – as any religious system is for people trying to work it out in their own strength. To be empowered by the Holy Spirit to WANT to live right by God was to be a seismic change in the whole order of things, that would happen at Pentecost.

28  Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be My people, and I will be your God.

“Your God…My people” – the covenant language reminds hearers of God’s kind, not harsh, intentions. The relationship between God and His people would be restored.

In practice

When the relationship breaks down, God is always looking for ways to restore it, on His initiative. That was always part of His covenant promise. The covenant required His people to obey, but promised to treat them better than they deserved – with His unearned, faithful love – when things went wrong.

Life is like that. Relationships do get strained, damaged and broken. But in God’s view, that is not the end, but the beginning of a restoring process. This is God’s intentional work of renewal. He is always about this work of renewing and inviting us to see the need, and join Him.

These verses also set out a huge change: the Law instituted by Moses had not been working. Man has been created with free will, and that means there is an independent and at times wayward tendency in all of us. The promise of His Spirit was to counter that with a desire and therefore tendency to get better and better at both knowing and following God’s ways. We can only do that with His Holy Spirit in us – a heart change that comes as a result of us recognising who our Saviour Jesus really is, and inviting Him to reign in us.

Question

Is God’s gift of new life an opportunity to decide for Him, or the start of a process of renewal that goes on in us and even through us?

 

Psalm 1 » Living like well-watered trees

• The righteous person who loves living in the Word is blessed in the relationship with God that brings

1  Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers,

2  but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

“Blessed” – Happy or fortunate

Both Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 use the same word, hāgâ,  to contrast the righteous person who  “meditates” on God’s word, v.2, with Psalm 2:1 where God’s enemies “plot”, or meditate on, rebellion. Another part of the contrast is the determination of the righteous individual to seek God’s way, and not be swayed by the crowd of those who feel they know best, described as wicked mockers.

3  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—

whatever they do prospers.

“That person” – As in “blessed is the one” (v.1), the individual who goes against the more acceptable unbelieving crowd but who has a philosophy of life that is rooted in the Word. This is the way that “prospers”, knowing the constancy of God’s provision and protection rather than a life of blips and dips.

For further study see Jeremiah 17:5-8, Joshua 1:8, Matthew 6:33.

4-5  Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

“The wicked” – showing a disregard for God and his Way. Not being anchored in God’s truth leaves us too lightweight and blown around by mere opinion, to be a good influence in the community (or church)

6  For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

“Watches over” – an intimate, relational word. “Wicked – our ‘I know best’ independence casts us loose from the security of being held in relationship with God.

In practice

Those individuals who choose to go against the crowd and maintain a close relationship with God through His Word, are contrasted with the many who are disdainful.

There is no fast track to the prosperity of life that the Bible describes, which is a broad prosperity in which financial sufficiency is just a part. However, there are simple ways we can follow which attract God’s blessing and favour. Because God is essentially relational, these will all be ways for us to stay close to Him. The number one way is to learn to hear His voice, by reflecting on His revelation of Himself in His Word.

If we think we don’t need to read God’s Word and seek His guidance day by day, we are an accident waiting to happen. Independence doesn’t play out well for God who wants us to know His love and respond to Him in a relationship.

Question

What is needed for a tree or shrub to prosper? How well does that picture what we need to grow well and true?

John 17:6-19 » Living as those united by Jesus

• Jesus’ prays for those that are His to be united in knowing God’s love and protected from the tendency to division

6-7  “I have revealed You to those whom You gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to Me and they have obeyed Your word. Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You.

“I have revealed You…” – there are two particular ways Jesus revealed the Father. Firstly, by being God in human form – God incarnate, the Word became flesh, John 1:14 – and secondly, by being the Way to the Father, John 14:6. See ‘In practice’.

8  For I gave them the words You gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent Me.

“They knew with certainty” – that what Jesus taught was from the Father and was truth. They would need more time to fit the pieces together to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection, and how the OT Passover lamb, priest, temple and suffering servant was fulfilled in Him.

9-10  I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given Me, for they are Yours. All I have is Yours, and all You have is mine. And glory has come to Me through them.

11  I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name you gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one.

“That they may be one” – of one mind and heart about God’s purpose and their mission.

12  While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name You gave Me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

13-14  “I am coming to You now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of My joy within them. I have given them Your Word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

“The world has hated them” – which is why we need the joy of belonging to Jesus to be our motivation. His way, as He is teaching here, also John 15:11, releases something deeper and stronger than happiness. When we get religious about what we think is correct or not, or competitive about our way rather than other ways, the joy (and the anointing) quickly fades.

15-16  My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.

Following Jesus brings its own protection, the New Covenant, and it also brings its own attack. Satan does not give up ground easily. We have to learn to live in the world, relating to people and policies that do not reflect our beliefs and values, while drawing our strength from the Father and our guidance from the Holy Spirit as those who are not of the world.

17-19  Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth. As you sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify Myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Our coming to know Jesus, who is the truth, and our being empowered by the Spirit of Truth, does change us and set us apart for God – being sanctified, or made holy, in Bible language.

In practice

Jesus revealed the Father by giving us a key whereby we could come first to Him, and then know the Father: “I am the way… no one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really know Me, you will know my Father as well…”, John 14:6-7. Once we take that decision, there dawns an awareness of a wonderful one-ness we share with other believers who have come to the Father through Jesus, whatever stream they may worship with.

The difference between what is sometimes described as ‘churchianity’ and true organic Christianity is right here in this teaching by Jesus, about those who are His maintaining a united heart and witness. He knew that there would be a tendency for control and competition and division to creep in – that is man’s way – and He was teaching that His Way was not like that.

It is increasingly common for Christians to disregard denominational barriers to pray and worship together and especially to engage in outreach. Recently, outreach has been found to be particularly effective in towns where there is genuine friendship between different streams of the church, with Christians of different streams going out on the streets in threes. We are in it together, for our protection but also for His mission.

This passage makes it clear that we are not soldiers of the barracks but sent out. However, like soldiers, as soon as we step out, we start getting rather too well acquainted with the enemy of freedom and life, Satan. Togetherness and one-ness is vitally important. No one in Special Forces would ever need to be reminded of that!

Question

What more could we do that would emphasise – and bring – the oneness we have as those who belong to Jesus?

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 » Living as witnesses that Jesus is alive

• The Twelve are made complete again to be solid witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection to new life.

15-17  In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about 120) and said, “Brothers and sisters,  the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.  He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

Peter was looked up to as a leader of the apostles in the gospel accounts and especially in the early times of the church described in the first few chapters of Acts. He had (v.20) spoken two well-known sayings from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 “May his place be deserted… May another take his place of leadership” which seem rather like a prophetic word to them to make the Twelve complete in number.

21-22  Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who has been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

“Witness with us” – The two particular requirements were that the person was a witness to Jesus’ resurrection – many people encountered Him at this time, so that was not too difficult. But the other requirement was for their experience of Jesus to be similar to the remaining eleven, knowing Him for the three years of His ministry. The first apostles needed to be authoritative eyewitnesses of how Jesus showed Himself to be Messiah, against the denial and threats of the Jewish rulers.

23  So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.

24-26   Then they prayed, “Lord, You know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two You have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

“Casting lots” – possibly shaking marked stones in a jar until one fell out, a bit like our ‘heads or tails’ – is never mentioned again. It became obsolete at the coming of the Holy Spirit who Himself guides and leads God’s people.

In practice

Here we see God restoring the Twelve who keenly felt the loss and shame of one of their number who was the one who betrayed Jesus, and then died an unpleasant death in the field he bought with the bounty. It was a messy situation – but we see God’s hand in bringing restoration of the first team of eye-witness apostles.

God’s guidance is something we all seek, but we know it is an imperfect art, even with the help and guidance of prayer and the Holy Spirit. This snapshot taken just before the coming of the Holy Spirit shows them casting lots, and no doubt this was done prayerfully. A short time later, they were all much more confident about what they were hearing and seeing – not to mention much more bold in the face of people who wanted to flog them, or worse.

We find guidance today a challenge, but the lesson from this passage is that God uses many ways to guide, and if we give Him time and listen – they were doing plenty of that in the Upper Room – He does speak to us.

Question

What ways do you know that churches use to choose leaders? Does it matter what way is used if it is done prayerfully?

1 John 5:9-13 (verses 6-8 added) » Living the new life that the Son of God gives

• The testimony about Jesus is incontrovertible

6-8   This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

9  We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about his Son.

“Human testimony” – Verse 9 needs the context of 6-8 to be understood. When Jesus encountered people who would not accept His testimony about Himself,  He pointed them to His works, John 10:25. The Holy Spirit (Spirit of Truth) gives witness to who Jesus is, and John’s readers would mostly have experience of this, John 15:26. John calls two widely known works of God, Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion. Generally two or three witnesses were needed for human testimony. John calls three ultra-reliable witnesses of God Himself.

10  Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son.

“Whoever believes in…” – There’s a difference between believing that Jesus was a historical figure who did good and set an example to follow, and believing in Jesus, Son of God and crucified Saviour who I call my Saviour and Lord.

11  And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

12  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

To have the Son comes simply through turning to and believing in the Son. It is through faith in Christ, not any observances, that we have life, which is experienced as a new dimension of life now, as well as assurance of eternal life (v.13), John 14:6, Acts 4:12.

13  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

In practice

The Jewish religious leaders didn’t want to believe who Jesus was, let alone that Jesus is resurrected and alive. The followers of Gnosticism were a discordant strain in the early church who didn’t believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man, and John was writing partly to counter their unbelieving influence.

We get that today. There’s a lot of Christian religion that has been constructed around a set of beliefs and observances but with no recognition that the Lordship of Jesus and personal submission to  Him comes first and holds central place.

John would say to us today, the baptism and transfiguration of Jesus both happened and the audible voice of God was heard to affirm His Son. No one seriously challenges that the crucifixion of Jesus happened – secular historians of the time noted it as an important event. But those who have turned to Jesus and believed in Him have their own inward witness, the witness of the Holy Spirit of God who brings a revelation and understanding that goes beyond what can be understood intellectually. They know. They have a new dimension of life which is close to a definition of Christian joy. And they are secure in themselves, held by the love of God and with the assurance of being in the early stages of eternal life with Him.

Question

Have you been invited to pray this prayer? It’s always good to pray it again:

Lord Jesus, I turn to You now, believing that You are the only Son of God, who was born as man, lived a perfect life of obedience to Your heavenly Father, and then went willingly to a shameful execution to pay the price of my sins.
I ask that all my independence from God, my rebellion against God, my selfishness in wanting to be the master of my own destiny – all my sin, past present and future – be put under the cleansing of Your blood shed in your death on that Cross.
And I ask, Jesus, that You fill me with Your Holy Spirit now, to give me revelation of what I do not understand, that I might know the fullness of new life with Your peace, and be empowered to learn to walk with You in life, join You on Your mission and then dwell with You always. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

This is a big decision that will bring release and joy, but a decision that will be tested as well. Talk it over with your parish priest, pastor, or trusted Christian friend so that you have some prayer and practical companionship on this exciting leg of your journey with God!

The emerging message – empowered to live out the Way

The early disciples of Jesus were known as followers of the Way before they were known as Christians, Acts 11:25-26. They were followers of the Way of God, not the rigid and religious way the Pharisees would have people do it, but the new Way and new life demonstrated by Jesus.

This Way was foretold by Ezekiel who saw in the Spirit a picture of the old, hard, stone-like ‘heart’ which is our inner being – the heart of our desires and motivations – being replaced with a new feeling, sensitive, spiritual heart, alive to God. With this new heart, the Way of God would no longer be a drudge but a joy, not hard-won by effort but experienced through exploration.

The ‘exploration’ is allowing God to speak to us through His word. Psalm 1 puts this rather formally as “the law of the Lord” but says this is something we can delight in. Exploration is fun. When we sense God speaking to us personally through words and phrases that are eternal, it is exciting. The “wicked”, who think they know best, miss out on all of this, but being rooted in God’s word is how we live fruitful lives, following God’s Way.

Everyone who belongs to Jesus has a special affinity with everyone else who belongs to Jesus, although the churches or buildings we gather in to worship may have very different names and represent different styles. That one-ness is spiritually powerful, not just in terms of mutual encouragement, but because the humble prayer “when two of you… agree” Matthew 18:19 is the prayer with God’s power behind it. Jesus, knowing the heavenly principle of one-ness, prayed that believers would be protected in it, knowing full well that the enemy of souls who comes to kill, steal and destroy the new life John 10:10 would be active in sowing distrust, competition and division. The world sees churches in competition, and sometimes they are. The Way of Jesus has nothing to do with this form of pride and everything to do with collaboration.

The Way of the Lord leads us to the Cross, a place where we can be real about those things in our life and attitudes which grieve God but also the place where we can lay them down and receive the forgiveness that cancels the record of sin. The Way of Jesus doesn’t leave us there, but propels us into new life beyond the Cross, the life that is lived in the presence of Jesus who is alive. The first apostles needed to be a full number, strong in their resolve to face persecution in proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. The Way of Jesus for us, is to know and to tell others that He is alive, a very real and also approachable Saviour and Lord.

Those who know Him – “whoever has the Son” – have a dimension of life and joy that is infectious. We are the testimony to who Jesus is, the Son of God, because the Holy Spirit in us testifies, not just to us but through us to others.

As present-day Followers of the Way, we have a new heart and reborn spirit, we have the delight of the Scriptures speaking to us, we have the unity with other believers, the excitement about the resurrection and a desire to be a testimony and witness to others. The Way of God is to walk with Jesus who told people “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” John 14:6. Whether by actions, or attitudes, or perhaps by words of explanation, we have both the responsibility and also the privileged and empowered commission, to show the One who is the Way of God to a world that needs Him.

As changed people, we are empowered to live unselfishly

FRIDAY, MAY 4
1 John 5:1-6

True believers who love God will always be known for loving other believers  – His children

1  Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well.

“Born of God” – born again, the spiritual rebirth. John quotes a common saying to emphasise that true believers who love the Father, will be known for their also loving other believers, His children.

2  This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands.

Having said earlier that love for one another is evidence that we love God, 1 John 4:7-8, 20; the other side of the coin is that loving God is inseparable from loving His way of unconditional love and therefore being loving towards all who are His children.

3  In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome,

Following the way that God loves to see in us may at times be demanding but that is not the same as being under a heavy burden. If we are His, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be like Him in attitude and action; through faith, rather than effort, it comes (super)naturally.

4  for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

5  Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

“Born of God” – the decision to believe and trust Jesus as Lord is a spiritual rebirth. If we have decided to allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives, that is a decision (v.4) by which we have ‘overcome’ the pull of the world’s values, to live by His values. It is also (v.5) an ongoing overcoming of sin and selfishness and independence in victorious Christian living.

6  This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

“By water” – Jesus was empowered for His ministry at baptism, a ministry which reached its fulfilment “by blood” at the Cross. In this letter, John has emphasised that Jesus was fully God and fully man – the Son of God as was confirmed at His baptism, but also the Son of God, confirmed again, at His death.

Application

Being born again comes as a result of trusting and owning who Jesus is as the Son of God – and asking Him to be Lord of your attitudes and decisions and actions. It’s a big decision, and it results in a big change. A new spiritual person with a new nature emerges – more forebearing and forgiving, and a one-ness with other believers which transcends the different emphases of denominations. Christians love unity and love fellowship, and are generous-spirited to people who don’t hold the same beliefs and values.

Of course, not all who profess to be Christian are like that. In every church there’s good and bad, affirming and judgmental – a mixed bag. But the point John is making is that it’s easy to tell who belongs to the Lord, because they will be the ones who are the comfortable people to be around.

Living in God’s love, John emphasises, must result in living in God’s love towards others, or else it isn’t real. It isn’t a heavy burden, something to strive for. The more open we are to allowing Jesus to work in us – or allowing His Spirit to work in us  – the more we’ll find ourselves doing and saying what he would do.

For reflection and discussion

The world looks to find fault, looks for someone to blame, looks to protect its own interests. How good or bad are we at doing what Jesus would do, and as John puts it, overcoming the world?

The emerging message

We live in a fast-changing world and it can seem that our church traditions are the only anchors we have to avoid being swept away.

The problem is, the kind of religious security we crave is nowhere found in Scripture, but the challenge to the early church of adapting to the missionary task among different people in different lands and cultures is everywhere.

God’s ways are higher, but we praise Him because He is always about bringing life change through salvation.

Jesus gave us the capacity to receive His love and joy by staying prayerfully and spiritually close to Him and His ways. It’s life-changing for us and our lives in Him can be fruitful and life-changing for others around if we let Him work through us. However, the message seems to be that God never stays still, and constant change is the only thing that is here to stay.

Peter’s experience was in many ways the most shocking, but the most joyful. Arrested by the audible voice of God speaking to him and showing him in a vision that he needed to reinvent himself as a disciple, he saw a move of the Holy Spirit he couldn’t have anticipated.  The rule book he had known all his life had been torn up and his journey with God had changed forever.

Our fast changing world needs our message, but although the message does not change, the way of telling the story and presenting the invitation must change to remain relevant. As we see in this week’s readings, God knows this and is ready to show us – if, like Peter, we listen and learn.

A big change for Peter – to share the gospel in a Roman officer’s house

THURSDAY, MAY 3
Acts 10:44-48

Our challenge is to change how we regard people who are not like us

The context of this short passage is the longer story of how Peter came to enter a house of Gentiles and see God’s glory fall on them. First, Peter had a rooftop vision of different animals and hearing the audible voice of God telling him not to call anything impure that God had made clean. Immediately after, three men sent by Cornelius the Centurion asked him to go to the Roman officer’s house with them and speak to the household. The Jews hated the occupying Romans and didn’t associate with Gentiles, so Peter was challenged to his core. But he entered the house with a generous spirit and gave the message of how God had anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and He had done many good things, only to be killed on a cross. However, Peter explained, God had raised Him from the dead on the third day and the resurrected Jesus then commanded the disciples to proclaim to all the people, that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness through His name.

44  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.

45  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.

The early Jewish Christians had been told through the Scriptures in many places and explicitly by Jesus, that the Good News was for Gentiles as well as Jews, but just couldn’t grasp that all would now share equally in the gift of redemption – until they saw it for themselves.

46  For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

The experience of the disciples at Pentecost and other disciples at Ephesus, Acts 2:4,11 and Acts 19:1, 6.

Then Peter said,

47  “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

48  So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

“Baptised with water” – the external sign of their spiritual salvation.

“Received… just as we have” – The Gentile believers had received the same gift as the Jewish ones, Acts 11:17, and were given an unlearned prayer and praise language just as the Jewish Christians had been at Pentecost, v.46 and note above. This was strong evidence for treating the Gentile believers the same.

Application

The essence of this story is that Peter and his friends were challenged to do something which all their upbringing and experience told them was just plain wrong. Jews didn’t have anything to do with Romans, who were not just Gentiles but oppressors. A Roman governor and a Roman execution squad had put their Lord to a cruel and lingering death. Jews were God’s own people, set apart to Him as descendants of Abraham and followers of the law that Moses has instituted. And then the Holy Spirit fell, unmistakably, as these ungodly people received the gift of a praise language just as they had.

God is always doing a new thing.  Jesus, in His words of commission recorded at the end of each of the gospels, told them it would all be different: they were to go beyond their own nation and into the world. They would be fishermen, but ones that broke with the custom and practice of fishing.

We get set in our ways and especially our religious preferences. We prefer to keep our ‘club membership’ for people like us, but Jesus won’t have any of this. He challenges us to be open-hearted to those He wants to reach, who may be different… quite a lot different. And we, who like to think we are following the ‘right’ way get a reality check as we see how God works.

For reflection and discussion

How do you think God would have us reach our world for Jesus differently?

What changes could we make now that would make church more relevant to seekers?

Jesus’ way changes the world as we abide in His love and joy

WEDNESDAY, MAY 2
John 15:9-17

The joy and love which are characteristics of those who are the Lord’s have the effect of transforming our world

9  “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love.

“Remain in My love” – a parallel, but not identical,  statement to “remain in Me” or “abide in Me”, v.4.

10 If you keep My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.

“If you keep…” – a condition. Doing what Jesus said to do is important and the key to knowing His abiding presence and the security of His love. Jesus, fully God but also fully man, stuck closely to His Father’s instructions and intentions in His human life.

11 I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

“My joy…in you” – a defining characteristic of Christian believers is their joy, the joy of Jesus which is the same as the joy of the Spirit of Jesus. Obeying Jesus is not, as is sometimes supposed, drudgery, John 1:4, John 5:2-3.

“Complete” – our joy in a fallen world flickers in an uncertain way which the Holy Spirit’s joy makes into a secure connection.

12-13  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

“Love each other”, John 13:34.

As I have loved you” – Jesus demonstrated a depth of love that was sacrificial in a final sense. He calls us to love others beyond what is polite, expected and convenient, but showing His love even when it costs us to do so. We can’t claim to love God without showing love that extends beyond ourselves, 1 John 4:11-21.

14-17  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.  This is my command: Love each other.

“If you do what I command” – this is not about formality, discipline and duty in the way the language may suggest. What characterises Jesus’ friends is that they seek to grow more like Him and be found doing more of what Jesus Himself did. Appointed to bear “fruit that will last” is broadly about showing Jesus to the world through our changed hearts and attitudes, which itself attracts God’s provision.

“I have called you friends” – a rabbi’s disciples were seen in a relationship of bond-service, but Jesus’ disciples are in a bond of friendship. This is a key to the way the kingdom of God operates – through people and relationships.

For further study, the OT prophets foresaw an era of people of joy, Isaiah 25:9, 35:10, 51:3, 61:10, Zeph. 3:14-17, Zech. 9:9

Application

We are on a mission to transform a selfish and love-deficient world by demonstrating a new way of relating. First of all, we learn this within the fellowship of the church, but quickly we join Jesus on His mission, letting His love and joy, in us by His Holy Spirit, spill out to bless others. This is showing an unbelieving world what God is really like, and it is what Jesus called “fruit that will last”.

It doesn’t just happen – we have to work at it a bit. And we will find the enemy is ever active in making relationships difficult, wherever he can find a foothold to get in. Then, “remaining in His love” gets more costly. We find ourselves having to lay down parts of our life – being right, having what’s fair, letting go of what is ours – and trusting God for the outcome.

That is what Jesus did. It was His way of life and He says it is ours, too, as His “commanded” followers. But as we do, His love for us becomes more keenly felt, the joy that carries us through kicks in and we are reminded that we are not just followers, but teamed up with Him as his friends.

For reflection and discussion

Think of a time when you came to a decision to let go of something in life to do what was right by Jesus. How difficult was it at the time, and looking back, what did you gain by doing what was right?

Praise God for His changes brought through salvation

TUESDAY, MAY 11
Psalm 98

Praise for the Lord’s purpose which is to bring joy to His world

1  Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvellous things; His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him.

“Sing to the Lord” – This is a song of praise from start to finish, unlike many psalms that begin and end with praise.

“Marvellous things” – Used elsewhere for miraculous encounters such as the picture of salvation which is in the Exodus, Psalm 106:7

2  The Lord has made His salvation known and revealed His righteousness to the nations.

3  He has remembered His love and His faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

“Made His salvation known” – Praise for His victory in bringing His order. God in His faithfulness has remembered His covenant of steadfast love.

4  Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music;

“Shout for joy… all the earth” – this psalm was the inspiration behind Isaac Watts’ hymn ‘Joy to the World’.

5  make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing,

6  with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn – shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

The psalmist invites the whole earth to join in making music to praise God, see also Psalm 96:1. This psalm parallels Psalm 96 in many places.

 Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.

8 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;

9  let them sing before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.

“Judge the world in righteousness” – is expressed here as an eager anticipation of the coming of the righteous Judge, Psalm 96:11-13. God’s judgment, which is always righteous, and His vindication of those who have suffered injustice, often share the same original words, because they are the same idea.

“Judge the earth” – salvation in Christ Jesus (vv.2-3) and the righteous rule of the Messiah brings with it (unlike religions generally) the possibility of renewal and blessing for everyone on earth. All can turn to a personal God.

Application

It’s too easy for us to view our glass as half-empty, when perhaps we should be more ready to praise God for being on standby to fill everybody’s glass.

That’s not always easy – in fact, it might call for an intentional and quite courageous stance, to praise God for His goodness, when our situation seems to be at odds with that. We don’t find ot easy to go against our feelings.

But praise is powerful, especially the praise of Our God for who He is over and above what He has done. When everything is going pear-shaped, it’s time to praise God and remind him and all the heavenlies of who He is. There could hardly be a better place to start than reading out the words of truth in this psalm. It’s telling God that you know His goodness and mercy are following you, even in what seems like the valley of the shadow of death. Try it and see how quickly the oppression and hopelessness lifts!

For reflection and discussion

How ready are you to tell God how good He is, even if events around you seem to be preaching the opposite?

We change: to come into agreement with God’s higher thoughts and ways

Church calendar readings for Sunday, May 6

Isaiah 55:1-11Let us change before God and seek His higher ways

Psalm 98Praise God for His changes brought through salvation

John 15:9-17Jesus’ way changes the world as we abide in His love and joy

Acts 10:44-48Our challenge is to change how we regard people not like us

1 John 5:1-6As changed people, we are empowered to live unselfishly


MONDAY, APRIL 30
Isaiah 55:1-11

A call to come and turn to the Lord and know His love

1  “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

“Come…” – Who is speaking? The voice of wisdom personified speaks in a similar vein in Proverbs 9:1-6.

“Buy… without cost” – Reflecting on Isaiah’s earlier description of the Servant who has paid the price, Isaiah 52:13-53:12.

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

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

“Listen, listen…” – Literally ‘listen listeningly’ which explains the “rich fare” metaphor. Those who are discerning in what they hear will be feeding on what is truly good.

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

“My faithful love promised to David” – David was a faithful and wholehearted worshipper who witnessed God’s truth over his extensive kingdom. In this, he anticipated God’s Messiah. The blessings promised to David are quoted by Paul, Acts 13:34,  in the context of the Resurrection.

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

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

“A witness to the peoples” – This passage brings together Isaiah’s depiction of the Royal Messiah (chapters 1-37) and the Servant Messiah (chapters 38-55) who is clearly shown to be the Lord’s witness, Isaiah 42:1–4, 49:2–3.

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

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

“Seek” – in this context, to come confidently and find. “Forsake” and “turn” are the two dimensions of true repentance, 1 Thessalonians 1:9.

8  “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.

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

“My ways are higher” – These verses are widely applicable, and they inform our prayer relationship. Start with turning from sin, including the sin of thinking we know best, then find God’s ways and words for the situation – what He has already said and what He is is flagging up now.

10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

11 so is My Word that goes out from My mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

“Will not return to me empty” – As we turn to God in repentance, what are we hearing? That act of forsaking and turning opens us up to hear. What word comes to mind as a prompting of the Holy Spirit?  That is the word to agree with and to pray back as a declaration, because this is the word that God has already spoken.


Application

Much later, in dialogue with the Pharisees and recorded in the gospels, Jesus spoke of knowing the truth and being set free by the truth, John 8:32, 36. The devil keeps us in bondage mainly through deception and fear produced by thoughts he nags us to believe, which of course are not true. Nothing the devil says is true. He is the father of lies, according to Jesus.

Truth, and especially truth declared, is the most powerful weapon in our armoury against this onslaught. This passage sets out an important principle of a God-orientated life: finding out what is the truth, agreeing with the truth and saying that we agree with it by returning, in other words speaking out or declaring, the truth. This is a form of praying.

For reflection and discussion

When we are under pressure, what is in our hearts is expressed through our words. Are our feelings true?

Is it better to be sincere in how we feel, or to be agreeing with God in what He says about how we feel?

The test of living out the unconditional love we talk about

FRIDAY, APRIL 27
1 John 4:7-21

If we have been truly born of God His Spirit will overflow His love through us to others

7  Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

“Let us love” – Literally, ‘beloved, let us love’. John starts off by assuring his readers of his love for them, and then develops his argument of the priority of loving relationships based on God’s nature

8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

“God is love” – Not to be understood as one His activities, but what He is in essence. Everything that God does, including judgment, comes out of love.

For further study – in substance and in nature:
God is love 1 John 4:8, 16;
God is Spirit, John 4:24;

God is light, 1 John 1:5;
God is a consuming fire, Heb. 12:29 from Deut. 4:24

9-11 This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

9  The essence of God is love, which has to find expression: sending His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins, so we could live through Him

10  If the presence of God in us is that same love, it must find expression in our relationships with one another.

12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.

12  “No one has ever seen God” – The Gnostics, in the same way as unbalanced ‘super-spiritual’ believers today, claimed visions of God to support their need to demonstrate that they were more spiritual than others. John has already said the God is seen only in the Son, John 1:18 and Paul similarly, Colossians 1:15. The Gnostics talked about God as light and Spirit, but not as love – hence John’s repeated assertion  “God is love”.

12  God is recognised where people love with God’s kind of love. John means first and foremost in the fellowship – “if we love one another” – and in generosity of spirit to others. God’s love finds its fulfilment – “is made complete” – in transforming us from selfish to loving.

13  This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit.

The abiding or remaining principle was taught by Jesus in John 15:4 and following verses. This explains how it works. It is reciprocal. As we heed the command to “be being filled with the Spirit” as Ephesians 5:18 says literally, He will be in us and we will know we are in Him, and it will look like God’s love, v.12.

14-16 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

A trinitarian reference, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Following the OT principle that every matter is established by two witnesses, here we have the first apostles, v.14, together with the Holy Spirit, vv. 13 and 15. This double witness is also stated in John 15:26–27 and Acts 5:32.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

God lives in those who are living in love. Living in God, and living in love, are inseparable (also v.12).

17-18  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

There is a confidence, parresia, about living in God and living in love. As Jesus faced the conflict of the world with the confidence of being secure in the Father’s love, so can we. If we know at a deep level that we are loved by God, who is for us and with us and over our circumstances, there is not much room for fear to operate as a driver. Ultimately fear is to do with punishment and judgment. Living in God’s love exposes the lie and replaces it with humble confidence.

19  We love because He first loved us.

God’s people are known by their being secure in God’s love and able to love others beyond their own resources.

20-21 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

“Claims to love…yet hates” – The love from God that drives out fear, must surely drive out hatred. To claim to be one with God yet living, thinking and acting in any way contrary to who God is, is falsehood – living a lie

The reality of God is love – leaving no room for harsh attitudes – and truth. Jesus said, “I am… the truth”. He said that His way was the way of truth, John 14:6.  John described the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth, 1 John 4:6. Professing to be of God yet living at variance with God is falsehood, our willing ourselves a divorce from God who is Truth.

Application

John is not just teaching the churches who would have the letter read out to them, but addressing the confusion sown by so-called Gnostics who had a supposed ‘higher knowledge’ that gave them spiritual superiority and exonerated them from failing to walk the walk while they made much of talking the talk.

In addition to this, the Gnostics didn’t believe that God was love, and they didn’t talk about love – or make a priority of practising it.

These problems exist for us today. We might use the description ‘super-spiritual’ rather than Gnostic but the arrogance of the person who considers themselves above the requirements of Christian discipleship are just the same. There are people who present as having prophetic or other giftings and yet are harsh or judgmental of others. It’s a nonsense – the same nonsense the devil has always used to discredit the fellowship of Christian believers in the eyes of an already cynical world, alert for any hypocrisy. The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of truth and love and empowers us for both. Anyone who wants to be considered ‘Spirit-filled’ needs to make sure they are overflowing what looks like Jesus and not something else.

For reflection and discussion

Jesus was secure in who He was and His difficult call – why was that? Talk about how the experience of God’s love makes you feel.

The test of obeying the Holy Spirit’s prompting

THURSDAY, APRIL 26
Acts 8:26-40

Learning to depend on God for the unexpected opportunity

26  Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”

In Jewish thought, an angel of the Lord speaking, or the sense of the Holy Spirit speaking, were closely aligned, Acts 23:9. The point is that Philip received a clear leading, obeyed it and found a connection (v.27) that was clearly of God’s providence.

27-29  So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means ‘queen of the Ethiopians’). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

This story is about an official of high standing from modern-day Sudan (rather than  Ethiopia), a minister of the exchequer in the service of the executive rule of the Queen Mother whose title “Eunuch” was probably more related to being a court appointee, than literal. He seems to have been a proselyte, or God-fearer learning the ways of Judaism, who was reading a scroll of the book of Isaiah.

“The Spirit told Philip” – Philip receives a further prompting from the Spirit – perhaps needed to approach someone of high social standing. The ‘chariot’ was probably an ox-drawn conveyance and quite slow – not too difficult to keep up.

30  Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“Heard the man reading” – In those days it was usual to read out loud – or to have a slave read out loud to you.

31  “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

“Explains it to me” – The Old Testament in particular needs some interpretation by someone in tune with the Spirit. This is like the occasion on the road to Emmaus, where Jesus in person provided the key to unlock the two disciples’ understanding. Here the key is the Spirit of Jesus in Philip.

32  This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

33  In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

34-35  The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”  Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

Isaiah 53:7 sits in the passage about God’s suffering servant, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, a part of the then-available Scriptures which an evangelist like Philip might have chosen for himself.

36  As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?”

There is an addition made by later scribes that appears as a footnote in many versions:“If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

It was common practice for Gentile converts to Judaism to be baptised, so the idea was probably not unfamiliar. But it is also likely that Philip’s explanation of who Jesus is ended with a call for response similar to Peter’s on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2:28. However the subject of baptism arose, God provided the opportunity also.

38-40 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

“Out of the water, the Spirit…” – A longer form of the text reads: ‘And when they came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit fell upon the eunuch, but the angel of the Lord caught up Philip …’.
‘Down into the water’ and ‘came up out of the water’ reads like a description of baptism by immersion. The eunuch’s joy afterwards is good evidence of a spiritual impartation.

The Spirit transporting a person is found elsewhere in Scripture e.g. 1 Kings 18:12, 2 Kings 2:16, Ezekiel 3:14.

Application

Philip received a prompting from an angel or from the Holy Spirit or both. The point of the story is that he acted on it promptly, and at some inconvenience to himself, heading down a desert road on foot without any clear idea of where he was heading or what it was about. It was a test of whether he would hear, and obey, with such an inadequate brief.

We live in an information age, and we want all the information up front. We Google the route and check the traffic and prefer to set up our own appointments. We don’t want to be disappointed and we like to control the outcome. We’d like to find someone we like the look of – someone like us – before witnessing to them.

But God doesn’t work like that – or at least, He is likely to test us by getting us uncomfortable, to see how well we will press into Him. This story also contains the test of God’s providence, the sense of Him seeing the need and providing as He did for Abraham on Mount Moriah. Older generations were better at this kind of reliance, but God requires it of us still.

For reflection and discussion

Can you think of a time when, perhaps with hindsight, you received a nudge from God’s Spirit. What did you learn from it?

The test of whether we can live in the world and abide in Jesus

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25
John 15:1-8

Jesus speaks of the disciples’ need to remain in close relationship with Him by the Holy Spirit who is yet to be given

1-2  “I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

“I am the true vine” – There are varieties of vine we grow on our walls, which are decorative but not fruit-bearing. A grape variety will produce a lot of leafy growth, and some dead wood, that needs regular cutting back.

3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

There is a word play with the same word being used for our two words, pruning or cleaning.

The pruning or cleaning happens by the Word of God, which confronts sin while encouraging holiness. Jesus’ words of God as the Word of God is a pruning process for them that also grows them spiritually in the right way.
The word of God preached in the power of the Holy Spirit of Jesus, has the same cathartic and also growth-encouraging effect on us now.

For further study, read Ephesians 5:26-27; Titus 3:5.

4 Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.

4  “Remain in Me” – Or in many version “abide in Me”. This has to be read together with Jesus’ promise that He would not leave them alone, John 14:15-18. His remaining in them became reality as He returned to them in the Person of the Holy Spirit. We as present-day disciples of Jesus keep close and personal fellowship with Jesus through prayerful reading and responding to His speaking to us as the Word in the Bible. Jesus “remains in us” through our inviting the Holy Spirit to empower us, and so inspire and enable us to produce ‘fruit’ of love and joy and good works that pleases the Father.

5  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.

5  The life of the Spirit of Christ in a believer or disciple is evident to everybody by being life-giving to all around. We can be believers and consider ourselves disciples without growing or producing anything particularly life-giving. Apart from Jesus – and that means apart from the influence of the Spirit of Jesus – we can’t produce what He calls fruit, which inspires others.

6 If you do not remain in Me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

Those who know Jesus but do not obey Him, rejecting the need to walk with Jesus in life John 14:6, are condemning themselves. Those remaining of the Twelve will soon reflect on the example of Judas Iscariot.

7-8 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.

7  “It will be done for you” – Those who keep that close spiritual connection through Word and Spirit will be asking what Jesus Himself in the flesh would be asking – or what the Enthroned heavenly Jesus is having them ask

Application

Remaining in Jesus, in a world which demands our attention from every direction, is a challenge.

It’s an impossible challenge, both to grasp and to carry out – unless we view this from a post-resurrection, post-Pentecost perspective. Jesus was talking to his close disciples during the last week of His life, and coaching them for the imminent time when it would all change. He was saying “Remain in Me” knowing that He was going, and “if My words remain in you” knowing that they would forget much of it in the shock that was to come.

However, also to come was the impartation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, a very personal experience, bringing to life Jesus’ words earlier in this discourse. At that time He said that the Father would send the Holy Spirit, who would remind them of what He had taught and be their teacher in explaining it, John 14:23-26.

However we understand the need to be part of the vine – part of the Body of Christ, connected spiritually, our desire for independence submitted to Jesus, willing for Him to take some things from us for us to grow more fruitful – it doesn’t happen apart from an awareness of God’s Spirit and our openness to let Him work in us. Apart from Jesus – a spiritual encounter for us – we can do nothing of His kingdom purpose. And the things we insist on doing without Him will inevitably reflect our own empires.

For reflection and discussion

How would you explain in your own words, to a new Christian or someone exploring the faith, what Jesus meant when He said: “Remain (or abide) in Me and let me abide in you…”

The test of having faith for the revival God intends

TUESDAY, APRIL 24
Psalm 22:25-31

A turning to the Lord foretold with future generations proclaiming His righteousness

25  From You comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear You I will fulfill my vows.

25  A vow to the Lord might be made at a time of particular distress or need as part of public worship.

26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise Him – may your hearts live forever!

When a prayer was answered the vow might be fulfilled in a feast to which everyone was invited.

27-28  All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations.

When God’s love and grace is seen by people of other nations, they will be moved to turn to Him. He rules over all the nations, whether they recognise it or not – the basis on which we pray for world issues today.

29  All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before Him – those who cannot keep themselves alive.

30  Posterity will serve Him; future generations will be told about the Lord.

31  They will proclaim His righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!

29  Having received the homage of the Gentiles, v.27-28, now the Lord also sees the proud (literally ‘the fat ones of the earth’) come to Him in worship, v.29. Those who are arrogant and well-supplied choose to join in worship with “all who go down to the dust”, those who are faint-hearted, struggling and not self-sufficient.

30-31  “Future generations” – the vision extends to those as yet unborn down the generational line, surely anticipating the Cross being preached and God’s righteousness (or deliverance, secondary meaning) shared from generation to generation.

31  “He has done it” – Perhaps a prophetic glimpse forward to Jesus’ last words on the Cross: “It is finished!”

Application

The psalmist praises God for His intentions which we now understand as the establishment of His kingdom under the Lordship of Jesus.

Remarkably, this psalm paints a picture of a general revival, touching Gentile nations. It also touches those normally most resistant to the God’s appeal to a change of heart in response to His love, the self-sufficient and proud.

This reminds us that God’s plan of redemption is so much bigger than our mindset which usually centres on us and our likes and dislikes, and how we like to worship in our familiar way with other folk like us. It challenged the people of the time, and it challenges us, to see man-made barriers as the barriers to God’s kingdom purpose that they are – and make changes.

For reflection and discussion

This psalm highlights God’s desire for a revival of people turning to Him – but they might not be the people we would like or expect. How do we feel about that?