Tests grow our dependence on God

Church calendar readings for the week leading up to Sunday, April 29

MONDAY  Genesis 22:1-18Abraham and Isaac tested on Mount Moriah

TUESDAY  Psalm 22:25-31Test of believing for unlikely people turning to the Lord

WEDNESDAY  John 15:1-8Teaching on the test of abiding in Jesus

THURSDAY  Acts 8:26-40Philip the Evangelist tested with a nudge from God

FRIDAY  1 John 4:7-21The test for believers of living out the love they profess

MONDAY, APRIL 23
Genesis 22:1-18

Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah. The Lord sees and provides, and establishes a covenant principle

1  Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Tested” – the Hebrew verb nissah means to prove the quality, not incite to do wrong as implied by ‘tempted’ in some versions.

2  Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Mount Moriah is generally agreed to be the site of Solomon’s temple, 2 Chronicles 3:1, and also Calvary. This sacrifice of Abraham’s precious and only son foreshadows the place of sacrifice which the temple became, and Calvary nearby being the place of the full and final sacrifice of God’s only son.

3-4  Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.

“Early the next morning” – There is a lot of detail about the preparations and the early start, implying facing up to a very difficult assignment resolutely.

5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

“We will come back to you” – Spoken in faith. Abraham was certain that God’s promise would be fulfilled through Isaac – “it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned” – and the writer of Hebrews explains that he expected Isaac to be resurrected, Genesis 21:12, Hebrews 11:17–19.

6-7  Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

This brings to mind the hard-to-grasp partnership expressed in Isaiah 53:7, 10. Both foreshadow the Cross and force us to relinquish our perspective, in order to grasp God’s higher purpose.

We can have all the arrangements and means in place for worship – the wood; and the fire of the Holy Spirit is always ready to be invited to ignite the wood. But where is the lamb? Where are our hearts in making the sacrifice? It was Abraham’s heart that was being tested.

8  Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

“God Himself will provide” – Abraham’s life motto and an example for us of the faith principle of speaking out what has been ‘seen’ in faith, not as empty presumption but in the way of agreeing with what is being revealed dimly.

For further study: Does Abraham’s practice follow God, who spoke the Creation into existence? Romans 4:16-18

9  When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12  “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

The pace of the story slows right down as it reaches its climax. Abraham is prepared to offer to God in sacrifice what is most dear to his heart, what represents the whole of his life’s purpose and God’s promise, to build a nation.

13-14  Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

“The Lord Will Provide” – This translates ‘Yahweh Yi’reh’ or more popularly, Jehovah Jireh (which is easier to say and read and work into a song). The ‘Yi’reh‘ component is from ‘ra’ah‘ which means ‘to see’. It can also have the secondary sense of  ‘see to it’, or ‘provide’.

We hardly need reminding that God ‘provided’ His own Son for the ultimate sacrifice that would positionally spell forgiveness for mankind, on this very mountain. Also v.8.

15-18  The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,  because you have obeyed me.”

“I swear by Myself” – If we swear, it would be by someone or something greater than ourselves, but who is greater than God? This is explained in Hebrews 6:13-18.

Abraham’s life story was about successive tests of his devotion, loyalty and obedience to God, which are always followed by a new encounter and renewed assurance – as in Genesis 13:14-15 and here in v.17.

Application

There is a principle here, that we cannot out-give God. As we give to Him, He gives back to us.

The test was whether Abraham was prepared to risk all that was most precious to him, prepared to give up Isaac who was not only his precious son but also the living representation of his life’s purpose. Abraham was brought to the point of being prepared to trust God in giving it up.

The sets out a wider principle in how we walk through our lives with God.

It is the test that comes to each of us at the point of deciding to ask Jesus to be Lord of our lives, which by definition involves giving up to Him all that is most precious, and trusting Him in that. The encounter and new life that people recount in their stories of how they found Christ is what follows a difficult step of obedience.

It is the test behind our decision to tithe the first tenth or first part of what the Lord gives us as income or provision, giving it back to Him in faith – typically giving to church and/or other mission representing the Lord’s work. Can we afford it? Of course not. Will the Lord honour it? Again, many testimonies demonstrate how God’s economics seem to overturn the rules of ours.

For reflection and discussion

Abraham had been through some tests with the Lord before – and most likely you have known what it is for whatever faith you had to be stretched. How have you grown through it?

As those who are loved, we are called to love others, sometimes in ways which are sacrificial

FRIDAY, APRIL 20
1 John 3:16-24

Are we free to love in a way that is authentic and comes out of our character – or are we still talking about it?

16  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

“Jesus Christ laid down His life for us” – This is the reference point for true, unconditional love and a clear Bible definition of God’s love for us.

17-18  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Love is about sharing possessions and resources as well, James 2:15–16. Love is ‘the willingness to surrender that which has value for our own life, to enrich the life of another’ (C. H. Dodd)

19-20  This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence:  If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.

This references teaching earlier in this passage about determining not to sin in hatred but rather, uphold God’s way of love. Hatred characterizes the world, whose prototype is Cain and origin is in the devil, is motivated to murder and is evidence of spiritual death, 1 John 3:11-15. Love characterizes the church, whose prototype is Christ and origin is in God, produces self-sacrifice, and is evidence of eternal life.

“Belong to the truth” – or more literally ‘of the truth’, a phrase used by Jesus before Pilate in John 18:37: “I came… to testify… to the truth… everyone of the truth listens to Me.” This is about the love of God being in a person, not a claim or insincere action but out of character that is ‘of the truth’ or authentic. We have rest before the God of truth, if we are of the truth. But if there is a dissonance within us, if we talk it better than we walk it, our hearts will be disturbed and sensing that He who is so much greater knows it all.

21-22 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him.

If we are real before God, who sees and knows everything, we can come into God’s presence and make our requests in confidence and faith

23-24  And this is His command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.

The mark of the Christian is believing and loving. Believing and accepting Christ brings new birth and the release of the love of God through the Spirit of God in us. John is helping readers discern who among them have believed and received – who are the ones genuinely born again into a new nature where there is a demonstration of faith and unconditional love. The false teachers, for all their talk, were unchanged.

Application

Being “of the truth” or being real, as we tend to say, is an embrace of both arms. We cannot do it if one hand is holding up a mask of how we would like to be seen. This is also a key to how we “love one another as He commanded us”.

If we are carrying the baggage of unresolved insecurities – fears, hurts, rejection responses, little pockets of unforgiveness of others – these will kick in and make it difficult to for us to relate to others and show the Lord’s love. It will come across as part of our self-interest, rather than sincere.

The call is to lay down our life for others – and that includes laying down the right to retribution or to hold on to hurt.

For reflection or discussion

What is the Lord prompting you to put down (or resolve), so your heart will no longer condemn you?

The unmistakable healing of the crippled man brought Peter’s forthright proclamation of the present reality of Jesus to heal and save

THURSDAY, APRIL 19
Acts 4:5-12

Peter and John have been brought before the court whose main prosecutors are those that condemned Jesus to death.

5-6  The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. 

The Sanhedrin was the Jewish senate and its membership of 70 comprised the Saduccee temple hierarchy of the high priest dynasty, lay people of power and influence, and mainly Pharisee teachers of the law. Annas called himself high priest even though he had been deposed by the Romans more than 15 years earlier. Luke is at pains to show us that despite a wide representation, the power was in the hands of one aristocratic Sadduccee family, the same that had arraigned Jesus. In this context, Peter the fisherman’s defence is especially bold.

7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Peter and John were arrested because they were preaching and teaching about the Resurrection in the Temple precincts, Acts 4:1-3, Solomon’s colonnade where Jesus Himself had taught, John 10:23-24. The presence of the formerly disabled man as a witness (v.10), had rather overtaken the original reason. The Sadduccees were particularly angered because they did not believe in resurrection, which they did not consider to be found in Genesis to Deuteronomy, the only part of the Scriptures they recognised as authoritative. They were the focus of the early opposition to Christianity.

8  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!

Peter addresses the two main groups, the minority Sadduccee priestly rulers, and the elders who included the teachers of the law and were the majority Pharisees.

Jesus had foretold exactly this kind of charge and the enabling of the Holy Spirit to answer in court, Luke 12:11-12; 21:14-15.

9 “If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed…

“Healed” – the same word as is used for “saved” in v.12. We use different words, including ‘delivered’, for what is God’s salvation received in different ways.

10 “…then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

Peter states formally and using the full name, that it is by the name of Jesus the witness is standing there healed.

“By the Name” – an allusion of God revealing Himself to Moses, Exodus 3:15 and the giving of the Law, Exodus 20:7. It is a provocative reminder that Jesus, the Messiah, is God – the One who the rulers especially, crucified and God raised from the dead.

11 “Jesus is
‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’

A quotation from Psalm 118:22 which Jesus applied to Himself as Messiah, Luke 20:17, and which featured in the apostolic body of teaching, 1 Peter 2:7, together with other ‘stone sayings’ e.g. ‘living stones’.

12  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Jesus is the One and the only One empowered by God to grant salvation to others. This is expressed elsewhere in the N.T. e.g. John 14:6, Hebrews 2:3, 1 Timothy 2:5. Understanding God to have exalted Jesus to His right hand, this position was unique and could not be shared.

Application

This is an early-early-church model for three challenges that Christians meet today.

Firstly, the challenge of what to do when you see someone, not necessarily a person of any faith, who has a need, and the Holy Spirit is prompting you so you start to ‘see’ what God purposes. And it involves you! Bear in mind that Peter and John and the others would have seen this man lying by the Beautiful Gate and asking for money, every day. On this occasion, Peter sensed it was a ‘now’ time, and faith was rising in him for what he needed to do.

Secondly, the challenge of speaking out God’s purpose in faith. Peter may have prayed for this man’s needs to be met many times. No doubt others asked God to heal him. But now Peter was prompted to declare, rather than ask, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!”, Acts 3:6-7. It’s not a formula. The challenge is to hear what the Lord is saying to say and do, and then do exactly that.

Thirdly, doing what the Lord says to do will bring opposition from religious people who would rather you did what they said to do, or what the order of the day says to do. Peter followed up this astounding miracle with a message to the people around, giving the glory fairly and squarely to Jesus who, he explained, had been put to death and then raised by God, as had been long foretold. In effect he said, “Jesus is alive! Here is the evidence”. So he and John were arrested and brought before the court the next day, trusting in Jesus’ promise that on arrest they would be given the words to say.

God wants to extend his kingdom rule and good order, and His means for doing it is us, in obedience and trust.  It can be a bumpy road – the shadow of death even – but He enters into this with us, with His goodness and mercy. That’s the kingdom of God.

For reflection and discussion

Should you be ready to minister in the name of Jesus, or should you leave that sort of thing to a ‘professional’?

Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd foretold in Scripture

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18
John 10:11-18

A farmer would recognise his sheep and they, him – but Jesus speaks of knowing and caring intimately, and being prepared to die for the good of His human flock.

11  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Jesus applies to Himself Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34:12, 15.

This is the fourth of seven “I am” sayings in John.

For further study, read John 6:35, 48, 51; 8:12; 10:7, 9; 10:11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5

12-13 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

Shepherding was an occupation calling for some sacrifices and risks to defend the flock from dangerous predators. However, even a flock-owning shepherd would not die for his sheep, even less a hired hand. Jesus is deliberately extending the picture and saying that He is not just like a shepherd, but a shepherd who would even go so far as to die to save the sheep.

Jesus is contrasting His calling, with the high priests and religious hierarchy who were assigned responsibility as ‘shepherds’ for the flock of Israel, but treated them with disdain liked ‘hired hands’ who “did not own” or had no real relationship with the sheep and “cared nothing” for them.

14-15  “I am the good shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me – just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father – and I lay down My life for the sheep.

“I know My sheep… The Father knows me… My sheep know Me”: The way John uses the word translated as ‘know’ (ginosko) carries the meaning of being intimately acquainted and trusting. For Jesus to say that He and His followers had an intimate and trusting relationship, comparable with His relationship with His Father, was an astounding statement.

16  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They, too, will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

Jesus’ primary calling was to Israel, His own people, Matthew 15:24; cf. Matt. 10:5–6, but always with the further objective of including others. In His resurrection appearances He specifically instructed His followers to go and make disciples among “all nations” i.e. among Gentiles, Matthew 28:19, Luke 24:47, Acts 1:8, and He emphasises unity in His farewell prayer, John 17:20.

“Sheep pen” – the word is aulē which means courtyard. There is an allusion here to the temple and its courts and Jesus is saying that He has some to bring from another courtyard who recognise His voice.

17-18  “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Jesus’ three-times-repeated assertion that it is His decision to lay down His life underlines the sacrificial purpose of His death, which defines His love, 1 John 3:16. No one can take His life unless He permits it, as He pointed out to Pilate, John 19:10-11; similarly, He has the authority to overrule His own death. He had this authority because it was what He had been commanded to do by His Father to fulfil the plan of salvation. This is the only place it is stated that Jesus is instrumental in His resurrection – in most places it is God who raises Jesus from the dead.

Application

Who decides whether we are Jesus’ flock or not? We do! The understanding of this question is in transition here, because of the Jews’ long-held traditional understanding of being exclusively God’s chosen people. The early Christian believers were challenged to see people with God’s eyes, not religious eyes.

We have, wittingly or unwittingly, carried this over into modern day ‘churchianity’ where we create our groups of ‘chosenness’ which are exclusive to others. Perhaps this is a form of self-protection. Whatever it is, the Gospel confronts exclusivity. Wherever we try to set the boundaries of our particular sheepfold, Jesus will be telling us He has others who are His, who know Him and are known by Him

For reflection and discussion

How accepting are we of Jesus followers who follow in different ways to us?

Do we expect people to conform and believe before they belong? What happens in practice in growing churches?

Guided on the right paths of life by the Shepherd

TUESDAY, APRIL 17
Psalm 23

Knowing the goodness and love of the Lord who is with us in the twists and turns of life

A psalm of David.

1  The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.

“My shepherd” – this form of personal address is unique in Psalms, although “my God” is often used. It is the most intimate metaphor David uses in contrast to the more impersonal ‘rock’ or ‘shield’,  and the more remote ‘king’ or ‘deliverer’. The shepherd lives out with his flock as their guide, healer and protector.

2  He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters,

The true shepherd sees things from the perspective of the flock – the quality of pasture, the safe and relatively still water which sheep need.

3  He refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

“Refreshes my soul” – in more formal versions, ‘restore’. A parallel verb has the meaning “makes wise”. ‘Causes my soul to repent’ is possible and amounts to the same as ‘refreshes’ or ‘renews’.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

“You are with me” – only the Lord will go on with us where others turn back, continuing to guide along the “right paths” which may at times take us through the valley of the shadow of death. But not alone, with an armed escort.

5  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Specially honoured guests would receive an anointing on the head of perfumed oil

6  Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

“Your goodness and love” – God is good, God is loving and He is the Lord (v.1) the Shepherd, in a covenant relationship.

“All the days of my life” – in the O.T. world, to eat and drink with someone was to establish a covenantal relationship – like at the Last Supper and the shared cup that Jesus said was the New Covenant, 1 Cor. 11:25.

God’s goodness and love, covenantal and bestowed, rather than earned, follows us into the dark and threatening places – and out again. The outcome is assured.

Application

We enter into a relationship with God and we enter into a covenant of salvation. His part is as the provider, guide and protector. Our part is being committed to trust Him, even when life takes a turn down what looks like death valley.

He is with us. Are we with Him? This is the nature of a covenant relationship, and it requires faith. There are times when we feel secure in God’s guidance and provision. Then life takes a turn down a different kind of path which is potentially more fearful. Is God still guiding? Where is His provision now?

The point of the psalm is that we can say, definitively, “Yahweh is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” This brings us into agreement with His intention. The Valley of the Shadow of Death is the place where the devil will try to deceive us into agreeing with him, and believing the fears and the apparent lack – what we see with our eyes. But we are in a different covenant – a covenant with Almighty God in which nothing has changed. However, we need eyes of faith to see that and the resolve of faith to agree with the covenant-giver. With eyes of faith, we can turn for a moment and see that He is with us, and that His goodness and mercy are following us right into this adverse terrain – and out again.

Knowing we are in covenant with God gives us a choice in what we hear, which is where the spiritual battle is fought. We can choose to agree with what God is saying.

For discussion and reflection

Think of a test you are facing in your life right now. Who are you agreeing with?
The voice of God, the whisper of the Holy Spirit reminding you of promises which cover you?
Or the more sarcastic tone of the enemy showing you what appear like impossibilities?

Salvation: from God’s judgment by flood to come on the earth

Church calendar readings for the week leading up to Sunday, April 22

MONDAY  Genesis 7:1-5 and 11-18, Gen. 8:6-18, Gen. 9:8-13 – Saved from the flood of judgment

TUESDAY  Psalm 23 – Saved in the valley of the shadow of death

WEDNESDAY  John 10:11-18 – Saved as part of the flock of the Good Shepherd

THURSDAY  Acts 4:5-12 – Ministering in the only name under heaven by whom salvation comes

FRIDAY  1 John 3:16-24 – Demonstrating the authentic character of the saved

This week’s theme is clearly around God’s gracious salvation

MONDAY, APRIL 16
Genesis 7:1-5 and 11-18, Gen. 8:6-18, Gen. 9:8-13

 

Noah, who God found to be righteous in an evil generation, takes his family, livestock and other animals into a huge ark he had obediently constructed.

7:1-3  The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.

“Clean animal” – There was awareness of the correct animals for sacrifices long before the law concerning clean and unclean animals was given, Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14.

4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

“Seven days” – seven is sometimes used for a closing period, so there is a degree of urgency expressed here.

“Forty days” – The number 40 is used in Scripture for receiving the law, Deut. 9:11 and the temptation of Jesus, Matt. 4:2. The wilderness wandering and King David’s reign over Israel are both stated as 40 years. This is a significant event and a significant time period.

5  And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

= = =

11-12  In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month – on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

“Springs of the great deep… floodgates of the heavens” – evokes the creation and a reversing of the appearance of the land. The precise giving of the date is not symbolic, but evidence of an important fact well remembered by oral tradition.

13-16  On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

Noah and his family were monogamous, and numbered eight in all, 1 Peter 3:20.

“As God had commanded Noah” – also v.5. At this early point of salvation history, righteousness is equated with obedience, and leads to salvation. Just when they could have been wiped out by judgment,  God shows a fatherly touch by shutting them in.

17-18  For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water.

= = = 

8:6-12  After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

The raven and the dove are something of a parable. The raven is a patrolling presence, like a harbinger, whereas the dove flies out and comes back to Noah as his dove, and in its way communicates with him. Much later on, the Holy Spirit chooses to be seen as a dove, Matt 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32

13-14  By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry.  By the twenty-seventh day of the second month, the earth was completely dry.

Noah looked for signs of dry land from 40 days onwards. And looked, and waited. Land appeared and the dove did not return a year and 10 days after the rain started; read together Genesis 7:6, 11 and 8:13-14.

15-17   Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you – the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground – so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

Noah waited for God’s command before leaving the ark.

18  So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives.

There are parallels here with the Creation story in Genesis 1, a picture of returning to “in the beginning”, but this time on the basis of covenant between God and man which is described at length, Gen. 8:20-9:17.

= = =

9:8-11  Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him:  “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

This covenant is a unilateral promise, established by God without any particular participation, not just to Noah and his descendants, but to “every living creature”. This is the forerunner to later covenants, which by contrast are mutual and relational.

12-13  And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

The geological data confirms a flood of the proportions described, over a large but limited area centred on Mesopotamia. However the account should be read and understood in its own terms – a judgment in which the entire living scene is destroyed. This informs the N.T. teaching of an impending greater judgment of the universe itself, 2 Peter 3:5-7.

Application

This is a remarkable account of one stubbornly righteous man, Noah, who obeyed God and not the cultural pressures of his generation, and it speaks down the millennia.

God wants us for Himself, and wants us to to be right with Him in our attitudes and intentions. Every conflict recorded in the Bible and in church history and every contemporary tension turns on this truth.

Wanton independence from God’s way does carry penalties – the severest penalties imaginable in this instance. On the other hand, the account demonstrates that keeping God’s way brings salvation, in the broadest sense.

For Noah, it is simply about obedience to God. For us the relationship is more nuanced; it would be better expressed in our knowing God in such a way that, what we want to do most, is to please Him by walking closely with Him.

There is also an early lesson here about waiting for God, and doing what He says, in His timing and not ours. Noah waited the best part of a year after the water started going down, before he knew – he heard from God – that it was time for him to lead the way out of the grounded ark, which had served its purpose.

For reflection and discussion

Think about an area of your life where you can see a way to move forward but you are still awaiting God’s release.

<

p class=”p1″>When you see a rainbow, what do you sense God is saying to you or reminding you?

Following the healing at the Temple gate, Peter explains the continuing ministry of Jesus

THURSDAY APRIL 12
Acts 3:12-19

This is where authoritative prayer in Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him is modelled for us to follow

12  When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

13  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.

Peter’s message explains the healing of the lifelong cripple at the Beautiful Gate by discounting who he is, and setting out plainly who Jesus is.

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… His Servant Jesus” – Peter names Jesus as the Servant of Isaiah 42-53 and particularly Isaiah 52:13 before his Jewish audience.

14  You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.

15  You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

Following the mention of the Servant of Isaiah, this passage introduces three significant names of Jesus: ‘Holy One’, ‘Righteous One’ and ‘Author of Life’. (In v.22 further on from this passage there is a fourth, ‘Prophet like Moses’.)

It was incomprehensible to the Jewish mind that the author of life, i.e. God Himself, could be killed.

16  By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

The Name was a way that in Jewish piety one could speak of God without naming God – something they felt was improper.

The man was healed by Jesus’ name, and by the faith that comes through Jesus. The Name of Jesus is an invocation of Jesus Himself – Peter’s words in effect became Jesus’ words. The faith was either the faith of the man himself – who later praised God for his restoration – or the faith of Peter, or both.

17  “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.  18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 

This is remarkable for Peter’s conciliatory attitude to his fellow Jews and especially their leaders. He even tells them that their actions allowed God’s purpose to be fulfilled, and that (v.19) their simple repentance would bring “times of refreshing” from the Lord.

19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

This kind of evangelistic message in Acts commonly builds toward a call to repentance from unbelief and faith in Jesus as Messiah – with exactly the same good news offered to Gentiles.

For further study, read Acts 2:38, 3:19, 11:18, 17:30 and 26:20

Application

This passage contains the basis for authoritative prayers and declarations we make where we discern in a situation what Jesus would have us pray, speak out those words in faith and “in the name of Jesus”.

This is not a religious formula – or if it is used in that way, it is ineffective.

The man referred to was healed both by Peter’s using the words and actions that the Holy Spirit showed him to use –  “in the name of Jesus” – and as a result of the exercise of faith for what was, humanly speaking, an impossibility.

Note also that this was a healing miracle which everyone in Jerusalem would have remarked on – the formerly crippled man’s pitch by one of the main routes into the temple would have made him a familiar figure – quite a change if he was not there anymore. And of course it showed Peter in a very favourable light, but only for the shortest possible time, because Peter lost no time in giving God the glory and denigrating his own role in it. That’s an important lesson for us.

For reflection and discussion

<

p class=”p2″>How does Peter’s confidence in this passage help you to move from prayer asking God (supplication), to prayer that calls down God’s will by faith in the name of Jesus?

Following the healing of the cripple at the Temple gate, Peter explains the continuing ministry of Jesus

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11
Acts 3:12-19

 

This is where authoritative prayer in Jesus’ name, and the faith that comes through Him, is modelled for us to follow

12  When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

  13  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.

Peter’s message explains the healing of the lifelong cripple at the Beautiful Gate by discounting who he is, and setting out plainly who Jesus is.

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… His Servant Jesus” – Peter names Jesus as the Servant of Isaiah 42-53 and particularly Isaiah 52:13 before his Jewish audience.

14  You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.

15  You killed the author of life, but God raised Him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

Following the mention of the Servant of Isaiah, this passage introduces three significant names of Jesus: ‘Holy One’, ‘Righteous One’ and ‘Author of Life’. (In v.22 further on from this passage there is a fourth, ‘Prophet like Moses’.)

It was incomprehensible to the Jewish mind that the author of life, i.e. God Himself, could be killed.

16  By faith in the Name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

The Name was a way that Jewish piety could speak of God without naming God – something they felt was improper. The Name of God, the Name of Jesus, the Name… the languages makes the point that Jesus is God.

The man was healed by Jesus’ name, and by the faith that comes through Jesus. The Name of Jesus is an invocation of Jesus Himself – in effect, Peter’s words become Jesus’ words. The faith was either the faith of the man himself – who later praised God for his restoration – or the faith of Peter, or both.

17  “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.  18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 

This is remarkable for Peter’s conciliatory attitude to his fellow Jews and especially their leaders. He even tells them that their actions allowed God’s purpose to be fulfilled, and that (v.19) their simple repentance would bring “times of refreshing” from the Lord.

19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

This kind of evangelistic message in Acts commonly builds toward a call to repentance from unbelief and faith in Jesus as Messiah – with the same good news offered to Gentiles.

For further study, read Acts 2:38, 3:19, 11:18, 17:30 and 26:20

Application

This passage contains the basis for authoritative prayers and declarations we make where we discern in a situation what Jesus would have us pray, and having spoken those words, append to them “in the name of Jesus”.

This is not a religious formula – or if it is used in that way, it is ineffective.

The man referred to was healed both by Peter’s using the words and actions that the Holy Spirit showed him to use –  “in the name of Jesus” – and as a result of the exercise of faith for what was, humanly speaking, an impossibility.

Note also that this was a healing miracle which everyone in Jerusalem would have remarked on – the formerly crippled man’s pitch by one of the main routes into the temple would have made him a familiar figure, and quite a change if he was not there any more. And of course it showed Peter in a very favourable light, but only for the shortest possible time, because Peter’s first words were to give God the glory and denigrate his role in it. That’s an important lesson for us.

For reflection and discussion

<

p class=”p2″>How does Peter’s confidence in this passage help you to move from prayer asking God (supplication), to prayer that calls down God’s will by faith in the name of Jesus?

David comes close to God and prayerfully stands against the opposition which has come with leadership

TUESDAY, APRIL 10
Psalm 4

 

The ‘fear’ of God in a secure trusting relationship with Yahweh overcomes the fear of man.

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.

A lament to God and prayer admonition in a situation of difficulty and opposition.

1  Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

David calls on God in His faithfulness to fulfil His promises. The appeal to “my righteous God” – literally, ‘God of my right’ – is no mere formality, but an appeal to God on the basis of His character. God is the protector of His own and the champion of right, Psalm 5:4–6.

2  How long will you people turn My glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?

“You people” or more literally, ‘you men’ – the landowners of wealth and power. They have shown contempt for King David’s God-given authority, and expressing “delusions” have mocked both David and God Himself without counting the cost, in God’s order of things, of doing this.

3  Know that the Lord has set apart His faithful servant for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.

“Know” – the first of a list of seven imperatives (emphasis added)

4  Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.

5  Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord.

The enemies are admonished to respond in a more respectful way, both to God and to His anointed – to recognise that David has been set apart by the Lord and rules under a covenant of His steadfast love (2 Samuel 7:1-15).

6  Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?” Let the light of your face shine on us.

All leadership is subject to the challenge of people’s unfulfilled expectations and David’s rule is no exception. As a considerate ruler, he knows the hearts of his people.

7  Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.

God’s blessing and therefore better times for the people is David’s joy.

 In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

David’s experience through His relationship with God (Yahweh) is a sharp contrast to the negativity of the enemies who want better times by bringing him down. David can go to sleep committing the outcome to God “in safety”, betach, a word related to trust: unafraid.

Application

Any kind of leadership brings a measure of unpopularity and the unjust blame that comes from people’s unfulfilled expectations being piled on the person in authority.

Things don’t appear to be going too well, and two different ways of responding are contrasted here.

In politics, difficult times often result in a opinions becoming factions and a divisive leadership challenge.

Those in leadership have the choice to be reactive to those ganging up against them, or to be proactive in trusting their instincts and supportive advisers. Put faith into the equation, and the ‘instincts’ to trust become God’s guidance and the confidence in His call and higher purpose.

David, Israel’s most renowned king, made mistakes and learned from them, all of which built up his ability to trust in God’s faithfulness and grace, through a lifetime of opposition. His way of dealing with his undermining enemies was to be secure in his call and anointing and call on God to direct them to respect that call, too. David is resolute in making a righteous response. He calls on God to adjure those opposing him to have regard for God’s ways and not just man’s way.

For reflection or discussion

How do you respond to criticism and opposition in a task you have been given responsibility for?

How well do we know God?

The calendar readings for Sunday, April 15 (Easter 3) as a Bible study for this week

Zephaniah 3:14-20 – A time when God will rejoice over us

Psalm 4 – Opposition calls for a close relationship with God

Luke 24:36b-48 – Jesus’ personal appearance opens the disciples’ minds

Acts 3:12-19 – Jesus’ ministry continues through faith in His name

1 John 3:1-7 – Knowing we are children of God helps say ‘No’ to sin

MONDAY, APRIL 9
Zephaniah 3:14-20

Judgment on Israel and dispersion gives way to a new gathering of exiles to receive love and blessing

The prophet Zephaniah was a contemporary and probably mentor of Jeremiah in the late 7th century BC less than a generation before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. This was a troubled time for the nation of Israel where those of true faith were few and far between. King Josiah, also of that period, was a righteous king following a succession of disastrous leaders. His reforms were good but short-lived – perhaps as we would say, too little, too late. Zephaniah was a temple, preacher whereas Jeremiah was more of a street preacher; both warned their hearers of God’s impending judgment on the nations around as well as Jerusalem. At this point of Zephaniah’s teaching, the likely judgment gives way to a note of grace; those that heard and responded and repented before God would know His love and favour again.

14  Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!

Looking ahead, there will come a time of joy for the faithful remnant. This develops as a messianic prophecy.

The Lord’s people are described in three ways, as Israel (roots and ethnicity), and the people of Jerusalem (a description predating David) and Zion, David’s city.

The prophet’s call to worship uses three kinds of praise for emphasis – sing, shout, and rejoice (or exult).

15 The Lord has taken away your punishment, He has turned back your enemy. The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.

Following the call to praise, the prophet now gives the reason for praise – Yahweh is with them and has withdrawn “punishment” or judgment and turned back Israel’s enemies

The apparent contradiction works like this: The Day of the Lord promised earlier is a day of judgment and wrath, Zephaniah 3:8, for the proud and wicked; but within that is grace for those who are humble and able to respond in a purification once the “arrogant boasters” are removed, Zeph. 3:11. Sometimes God lets things go from bad to worse – and some people will question and realise. Any who have the humility to turn to Him in repentance will then find that He has grace for them. Gladness comes from the Lord’s presence; the Lord’s presence is invited by people having a humble heart attitude and following His ways – then, as now.

16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.

The day of judgment and powerlessness and fear under God’s wrath is now depicted as an empowering encounter. The Divine Warrior who led Israel out of captivity and through numerous hostile people groups is still the Mighty God to Israel at its time of need, and the power of the kingdom of God to His church.

For further study, read Psalm 24:8; Isaiah 9:6 and 10:21; Mark 9:1; 2 Cor. 10:4.

17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

God is now saving those who humbly turn to Him and take “great delight in” them, even celebrating with singing.

18 “I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you.

Difficult to translate but probably: “I will remove from you all those who [rightly need to] mourn… the loss…”. Those who regret the distance between God and His people arising from festivals abandoned, and the consequences of that distance, will not be seen to be mourning anymore.

19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honour in every land where they have suffered shame.

For further study, read Genesis 6:17; Exodus 10:4; Jer. 30:10, Ezek. 22:14 and 23:25; Micah 5:15.

20 “At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honour and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord.

“At that time” – as with “on that day”, the prophecy covers more than one appointed time. King Josiah’s reforms followed Zephaniah’s message and were good reforms, but did not endure, and Jerusalem fell with the people exiled to Babylon, less than a generation later. The land came under Greek, then Roman rule. The War of Jerusalem, AD 66-70 which destroyed the later temple cost a million lives with a further 100,000 enslaved. But Christians were dispersed, boosting the rapid growth and spread of the church, which today numbers comfortably more than two billion believers.

Application

Prophecy in Scripture often spans different time frames. For some hearing these words, exile was imminent and the “gather” and “bring…home” would be a further 70 years. Another five centuries or so would see the coming of the Messiah. The cycle of oppression and subsequent vindication stretches and establishes the faith of believers today.

Oppression comes back on the oppressors and God’s intervention is imminent.  For those who doubt that mocking God brings consequences, “at that time” is an adverb of immediacy and there is plenty of support in Scripture for the cause-and-effect relationship of attitudes and actions against God’s ways.

For reflection and discussion

As we come to experience God more and more from our background of selfishness and independence, how free are we to experience His love and rejoicing for us, v.17?