The connection between the heavenly realm and life on earth

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 9
Recap, reflection – and the message that emerges

2 Kings 2: 1-12

Elisha succeeds Elijah, in a demonstration of utter reliance on the Lord and His anointing

Reflection 1: How do you work out the partnership between what God has made you uniquely capable of doing, and what He is uniquely able to do? What might Elisha’s example be teaching us in this?

Psalm 50:1-6

God calls the consecrated people to the court of His covenant – both heaven and earth together

Reflection 2: How do we, post-resurrection and relating to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, celebrate and renew our covenant relationship with Him? What does God really want from us?

For further study, read the whole of Psalm 50 and the passages on ‘insincere sacrifices’ in Isaiah 1:11, Amos 4:4, Micah 6:6-8; NT and post-resurrection perspective Luke 22:20, Galatians 4:6.

Mark 9:2-9

Heaven appears to those on earth at the transfiguration of Jesus

Reflection 3: This was an encounter with God beyond the scope of imagining for most of us. Could you imagine being in a situation where you draw near to God and His glory becomes real to you?

2 Cor. 4:3-6

Heaven’s strategy in the good news of Jesus is contrasted with scheme that the god of this age, the devil, operates

Reflection 4: Where are you, along the line from a closed-mind unbeliever to a person of strong and open faith in God? Where are there pockets of ‘unbelieving’ which give the god of this world opportunities to block the light to that part of your heart?

The emerging message – how heaven and earth are connected

Although three of the readings show us how “God shines forth” in dazzling light, a light that shines in hearts to reveal the glory of Jesus, the real message that emerges is the close connection between the affairs of heaven and earth. How do we understand it, and how do we work with it?

It’s an important question. The lack of understanding of the interactions of heaven and earth, the spiritual world and our victories and setbacks, has left us, Jesus’ church, a lot less effective for Him than we should be.

The four strands of this teaching on interaction start with utter reliance on God in the handoff by Elijah to his pupil Elisha – the power and right to confer it belonged to God alone.

Psalm 50 teaches us about covenant and, unusually in a psalm where usually man speaks to God, God speaks to man about the responsibilities of covenant relationship and being ready to be called to account – for reward or for rebuke.

The Transfiguration is where we see the interaction most closely, as it seems that the top of the mountain is a ‘thin place’, so thin that Moses and Elijah are instantly recognisable conversing with Jesus in a scene that is both heavenly and earthly. This tells us that heaven is a real ‘place’, with real people. In heaven there are actions and conversations that impact ours, on earth. It’s not too big a jump to see behind the scene a strategy – and if we can join in that strategy, making our moves in step with heaven, that is a covenant relationship to strike fear into the devil and his minions.

That is really the point Paul is making in his second Corinthian letter. Not only has righteous heaven a plan and purpose being worked out, so the enemy of souls has a scheme. It’s always the same scheme – to keep people in fear, confusion and spiritual blindness. Knowing that scheme is the key to overcoming the scheme.

Many of us have grown up with the perception that there is a heaven, a kind of spiritual layer ‘above’, and we know all about the human realm on earth. We have believed that between these there is an ‘excluded middle’ like thick insulation keeping the two apart.

The reality is that the separation is caused by man’s pride and sin, but God’s mercy and our standing in Christ is such that we can bring the two back into a measure of connection by our praise, devotion, and especially repentance. Having an awareness of how the connection works, is a large part of making that connection. And that is where the kingdom of God, the major theme of Jesus’ teaching, begins to be manifest.

 

Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11

How the good news is kept hidden by ‘the god of this world’

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 8
2 Cor. 4:3-6

Heaven’s strategy in the good news of Jesus is contrasted with scheme that the god of this age, the devil, operates

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

  • Earlier Paul talked about people whose minds were unreceptive and hearts veiled, in their attitude of turning away from God and so unable to hear His call or let it reach their hearts. Only in Christ, in other words whenever someone turns to the Lord, is this religious blindness removed. The Holy Spirit gives a freedom to see differently – and spiritually. Before we turn to trust Jesus and allow Him to be Lord of our lives, the good news is confusing and even a bit threatening. The moment we ask Him in, a change occurs in us (“the veil is taken away”) and suddenly what was confusing becomes clear – and a truly exciting discovery. Paul sets out this transition in the preceding verses, 1 Cor 3:14-17.
  • “Our gospel” is the gospel that Paul proclaims – Jesus Christ crucified who is Lord – and that he seeks to live out and make authentic as a Christlike servant.

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

  • Some people find it difficult to believe that there is a real and spiritually active devil setting out to spoil all that God purposes for good. The Bible here explains clearly that we have a personal opponent, Satan, called here the “god of this age” because he exercises dominion in those who allow him to. His major work is keeping people blinded to the truth about Jesus – and the truth about his existence and activities. Turning humbly to Jesus and asking Him to be your Lord is a move he will resist and tell you not to make – but it is a stepping into the light where what was seen dimly becomes distinct (explained further in verse 6, below).

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

  • Paul is following a radically different path from his self-promoting opponents, 2 Cor. 11:4

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

  • The light of God’s Spirit that comes into our hearts not only gives us a different means of understanding – revelation – but it is also an attractive light that can be perceived by others, the life of Jesus in us, verse 10, which is clearly not an earned attribute, verse 7.
Application

This seems to be Paul’s comment on people who don’t understand the good news of redemption that He is preaching, the truth that is “set forth plainly” in the words of the verse preceding this passage. They are unbelievers, so they are just not getting it.

That doesn’t inform us much about the problem, except perhaps to find more opportunities to preach and a more persuasive method – a man-centred solution. It has been tried, over the centuries, and the 16th-century persecutions of anyone deemed to be an ‘unbeliever’ added to the ranks of martyrs in a variety of horrible ways.

Paul gives us a much better answer in verse 4, where the apistoi, unbelieving ones, cannot see the light. The words are words, but the Word, Jesus Christ the image of God, is like light penetrating and bringing vision. This is not about the knowledge of the gospel of Christ, a mental/intellectual process. It is about the revelation of the gospel, a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, or inner being.

In May 1739 John Wesley, an Oxford graduate, knew all about the gospel and had spent time in Savannah, a new American colony – with spectacularly disappointing results. Back in London and visiting the Moravian chapel in Aldersgate Street, on the east side of the City of London, he heard the reading of the beginning of John’s gospel – and had an encounter with God where in his words his “heart was strangely warmed”. The rest, as they say, is history. It is a vivid illustration of the difference between knowing what the Bible says and receiving what the Bible says, as a spiritual transaction of the heart. It is salutary to note that Wesley returned with his pride and self-sufficiency broken – and so then God could meet with him. Pride, of the Pharisees and other religious Jews, got Paul beaten up, thrown out and slandered in place after place. Pride is what keeps the veil in place and the heart untouched. Turning in need to God, believing with the belief you have, is what removes the veil and allows the spiritual light to reveal the reality of Christ.

This insight from the Bible of what keeps people from a personal, heart faith in God shows us how to disrupt the strategy of the devil to keep people blind to their need of God and the light that is from God.

For reflection or discussion

Where are you, along the line from a closed-mind unbeliever to a person of strong and open faith in God? Where are there pockets of ‘unbelieving’ which give the god of this world opportunities to block the light to that part of your heart?

 

Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11

Heaven meets earth as Moses and Elijah appear before the transfigured Jesus

Mark 9:2-9

Heaven appears to those on earth at the transfiguration of Jesus

This event follows a week or so after the Feeding of the Five Thousand and Peter’s declaration, in answer to Jesus’ question, “You are the Christ!”. Jesus teaches the disciples about self-denial and His coming rejection and death at the hands of the religious leaders – and also resurrection. He tells them that some will live to see the kingdom of God come in power – possibly what follows next, but more likely the pivotal point of His death, the Resurrection, Ascension and then the Pentecost outpouring. Three disciples accompany him up the mountain where they experience the dazzling glory of God which gives them an insight into heavenly events that accompany what happens on earth.

2  After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.

“A high mountain” – unknown, but possibly Mount Hermon, although tradition points to Mount Tabor.

3  His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.

This radiant glory is a glimpse into the ‘other world’ of Jesus, who set aside His divine nature so that He could incarnate God for us by being born as man, Philippians 2:6-7. However, this glimpse is a reminder that in the background to the incarnation, Jesus always was, and is, fully God – and therefore almost impossible to see in the brightness of the glory surrounding Him.

4  And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Elijah and Moses had both individually met with God on Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb. The only other place in Scripture where Moses and Elijah are mentioned together, is at the finale of the OT in the passage about turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, Malachi 4:4-6.

For further study, read Exodus 24, 1 Kings 19:8-18

5  Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Peter may have reacted unthinkingly in line with the tradition of the Feast of Tabernacles, Leviticus 23:42. Despite having in the past week recognised Jesus as Messiah, he is confused at this point and treats them all as equals.

6  (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Elijah, representing the Prophets, and Moses, representing the Law, are talking with Jesus, demonstrating the Jesus is greater than either of them and representing the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, 1 Kings 19:8, Exodus 24:1, 9.

7  Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Cloud symbolises God’s presence in protecting and guiding, Exodus 16:10, 24:15-18, 33:9-10

“Listen” carries the meaning of willingness to act on what is heard.

8  Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

9  As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

“Son of Man” is the title Jesus most often applied to Himself and not used by anyone else. It is a messianic title and a response to Peter, who has just acclaimed Him as the Christ (or Messiah). The Son of Man in Daniel is a heavenly figure who is given glory, authority and sovereign power by God, Daniel 7:13-14.

After the resurrection was the time for the disciples to tell everyone – when Jesus’ finished work had been demonstrated.

Application

God speaks to us – but the lesson of this event is that He speaks of what we are ready to believe. He speaks into our readiness to hear. In this instance, Peter, James and John were a little inner circle among the twelve disciples. Among the first to be called, they were possibly at a slightly higher level of faith than the others at this point. Peter, who was on one hand quick to receive, but on the other not so good at consolidating it or processing it, has already come out with his “You are the Christ!” statement.

Our heartfelt expression of praise for who God is – not to be confused with thanksgiving for what He has done – is for us a way into God’s presence and encountering Him. We need to put down whatever else we may be carrying, and bring our faith to focus on the might, majesty, mercy and mystery of God, as transcendent and “other”.

God is also immanent, meaning evident and involved in our world, incarnated in Jesus and in a lesser way, incarnated in all of us who carry the smile and the love of Jesus around with us. But the Transfiguration showed the window of heaven being momentarily opened – and in that, God is “other” and awesome.

For reflection or discussion

This was an encounter with God beyond the scope of imagining for most of us. Could you imagine being in a situation where you draw so near to God that His glory becomes real to you?

 

Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11

My spiritual father– I will not leave you!

Readings this week – looking ahead to Sunday, Feb 11

Transfiguration Sunday. Sunday before Lent.

Monday – 2 Kings 2: 1-12
Tuesday – Psalm 50: 1-6
Wednesday – Mark 9: 2-9
Thursday – 2 Cor. 4: 3-6
Friday – The emerging message

 

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 5
2 Kings 2: 1-12

Elisha succeeds Elijah, in a demonstration of utter reliance on the Lord and His anointing

1  When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.

2  Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

  • This is not phrased as a command; probably more of a test for Elisha, who responded with a three-times assertion that he wouldn’t leave his master, here, v.4 and v.6.

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

  • Elisha was aware, with the other prophets, that Elijah’s ministry was drawing to an honourable close and the Lord was about to take him. But he was determined to stay with Elijah until that moment – no sense of ambition or entitlement here. Elisha’s commitment to his master is salutary for any of us who have struggled with ambition!

3  The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

  • At this time, Bethel, the location of this event, Jericho (v.5) and Gilgal (v. 1 and 2 Kings 4:38) all hosted companies of prophets and it seems that Elijah’s instruction from the Lord was to visit all three, one last time.

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

4  Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.

5  The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

6  Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.

7  Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan.

  • A large group of witnesses to the miracle that enabled Elijah and Elisha to cross the river.

8  Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

  • Brings to mind Moses crossing the ‘Red Sea’, Exodus 14;16, 21, 26. Elijah uses his rolled up cloak as Moses had used his staff.

Elijah has crossed over to the region where Moses died, Deut 34:1-6.

9  When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

  • Elisha was saying, “Let me be like your firstborn son, spiritually.” He wasn’t asking for a ministry twice as great as his master’s. He was asking in line with inheritance law whereby the eldest son received a double portion of the father’s possessions, Deut. 21:17.

10  “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours – otherwise, it will not.”

  • In 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21 we learn that Elijah had heard from the Lord that he was to anoint Elisha to succeed him. However, he is being careful here to leave that assignment entirely in the Lord’s hands.

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

  • The heavenly host, or army, has always been with Elijah, backing him up. Now he is permitted to see this reality. As we are prayerfully led and prayerfully engaged, things are happening in the heavenly dimension which are unseen by us but not unconnected with what we see unfolding on earth. Having some understanding of this helps us know how to pray – and listen – in testing situations.
  • Moses saw something like this in the overturning of Pharoah’s chariot-led army in the sea, Exodus 15:1-10.

12  Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more.

  • Elisha saw the manifestation of chariots and horsemen around Elijah, as showing that Elijah had the real authority under God for the nation, rather than a king who had turned away from God.

Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two. He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah…

  • Elisha tore his own clothes – often a sign of mourning but here more likely a symbolic leaving behind of his former life. Taking up Elijah’s cloak symbolised his taking up the ministry that Elijah had exercised. 
Application

Elijah is an iconic figure representing the school of prophets generally and he appeared at the transfiguration of Jesus, representing the wisdom of the prophets, together with Moses, representing the wisdom of the Law (Mark 9:4-5 in this week’s Wednesday reading). Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. In the final writing of the Old Testament, Malachi promised that Elijah would be seen again at the coming of the Messiah, the “day of the Lord” to bring a turning of hearts, a preparation of repentance.

Elijah prepared the way for Elisha.
John the Baptist, clearly identifying with Elijah in his lifestyle and message, prepared the way for the Lord.
Elijah may be one of the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3 to come.

The story of the succession of Elisha from Elijah is about the way the Lord calls and anoints people for service – outstanding, memorable, dangerous service in the case of these two. Although associated with eye-watering miracles, they did not exalt themselves, and were unusually reliant on the anointing and leading that they received from the Spirit of the Lord.

For reflection and discussion

How do you work out the partnership between what God has made you uniquely capable of doing, and what He is uniquely able to do?
What might Elisha’s example be teaching us in this?

Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11

Our role in calling into being the original intention of the Creator

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 2
The emerging message + reflections

Proverbs 8:1 and 22-31

Wisdom is described like a personality, and as the first of God’s works, involved in Creation.

1. Wisdom and folly can seem all too similar – and man’s wisdom can all too quickly turn out to be no wisdom at all. How do we recognise and choose God’s wisdom?

Psalm 104:26-37

Praise to God for His provision and His purpose.

2. Are we more inclined to point out how everything is going wrong, or how God is over all the affairs of our world, “renewing the face of the ground”? Which is more like agreeing with Him?

John 1:1-14

Introducing His gospel, John tells us how the Word who was with God before Creation, later chose to become a human being to show us God’s grace and also glory.

3.  What is your understanding and experience, expressed simply, to start to recognise the true light of Jesus (verses 9-10) and to receive Him and be born of God (verses 12-13),  and come into a new identity as a child of God (v.12)?

4.  Do you have a story of this kind of encounter with Jesus that you could share very briefly with another person?

Colossians 1:15-20

A quotation from a hymn of praise to Christ, Lord of creation and redemption.

5.  Knowing Jesus is an exciting discovery but also a call to His purpose, to reconcile to the Father the world that doesn’t know Him, before it’s too late. How do we identify that purpose and respond to that call?

Our role in calling into being the original intention of the Creator

God’s original design and intention, distorted by man’s pride and independence, remains the objective of His reconciliation.

As believers, we have experienced our reconciliation, and it is the source of our joy, whatever is going on around us. We know that God has this purpose, to reconcile all things to Himself so that they return to His good design in Creation.

Jesus, we learn, was involved in Creation, and we have life in Him – and a whole new identity in Him, as children of God. So we are not so powerless after all. The heavenlies, both good and evil, have to listen to our words and songs of praise and truth. The angels join in and the demons hide. The creation spirit at the heart of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is still creating and renewing. Jesus, in whom all things were created and hold together, is now risen and ascended to the place of all authority, seated in the heavenlies. His Spirit has been poured out on His church, and He is the active Head of His body of ‘little Christs’ or Christians, anointed ones.

Our oneness, our praise and worship, our declarations and words of blessing are what God is relying on to bring what is fragmented and disordered, back into His creation order. It’s another facet of the same plan He had at the beginning.

Everything holds together in Jesus

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 1
Colossians 1:15-20

A quotation from a hymn of praise to Christ, Lord of creation and redemption

The first stanza of this poem or hymn proclaims Jesus as the regent of Creation; the second, as the Reconciler of Creation. The Cross is absolutely instrumental in the second, and the Church is where this is seen and experienced and mediated to others.

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

  • “The image of the invisible God” – this further explains the monogenes word of John’s gospel, meaning the only and unique and exactly similar Son of the Father, John 1:14

16 For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him.

  • Jesus is the agent of creation. In another way, He is the objective of creation because everything has been created for Him. He became fully man; He must also be fully God if He is the recipient of creation.

17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

  • Not only does all hold together in Christ Jesus, He was before all things – in other words, He was before creation was. An early departure from truth, the Arian heresy, claimed that Jesus was the first thing created. In fact He was the creator of the first things, as clearly stated here.

18 And He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.

  • “The firstborn” alludes to the rights and privileges of the firstborn son of a monarch who would inherit the sovereignty. In Psalm 89:27 the expression is used by another psalmist of David:”I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”
  • Paul explains elsewhere that the church is the Body of Christ, 1 Cor. 12:27. Here he states that Christ is the Head of that Body. We are not just a body of believers in Christ, but His Body submitted to Him and closely identified with Him in the way He modelled for us.

For further study, see Eph. 1:22-23, Eph. 5:25, 1 Cor. 12:20-30

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him…

  • Jesus not only shows God’s glory but more than that, all that God is is also in Him – the Spirit of God, His wisdom, His glory – and His power. The fullness of God in Jesus is saying that Jesus is fully God, Col. 2:9.
  • Christians have themselves come to fullness, Col. 2:10, but having gained a new identity in the One who is over all things. Thrones, powers, rulers and authorities, whether in the heavenlies, good or evil, or in the hierarchy of power on earth must defer to Jesus. As we willingly defer to Him, we gain a confidence not of ourselves, but in Him.

20 …and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.

  • Jesus reconciles all things to Himself as the Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9:6 – reconciliation for believers as His friends and therefore friends of the Father, but a rather different reconciliation to Himself of those elements that are rebellious also. His reign of peace is anchored in the blood of His Cross – that is what it is about, our willing acceptance of what He has done, or our resistance or mocking of what He has done.

Application

When we start to really ‘get’ who Jesus is, and who we are in Him, a lot of things, including the nature and purpose of His church come into focus.

He is the head of His body, the church so that He might have supremacy, show what God is like and reconcile to Himself what doesn’t like, what God is like. Which is where we come in.

This church is not struggling, and neither are we. There is a confidence, as well as a fullness, of being His, and being part of His purpose. There’s an awakening to this He wants to bring about, because He needs us, in a different but real way to our needing Him.

For reflection or discussion

Knowing Jesus is an exciting discovery but also a call to His purpose, to reconcile to the Father the world that doesn’t know Him, before it’s too late. How do we identify that purpose and respond to that call?

The Word of God, from the beginning the True Light

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 31
John 1:1-14

Introducing His gospel, John tells us how the Word who was with God before Creation, later chose to become a human being to show us God’s grace and also glory.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

  • “In the beginning” as in the Bible’s opening verse.
  • The Word, logos, is a phrase that expresses what God is like – creating, revealing, saving. All of this is in the person who is described as “the Word”. All of this is in another form of God’s self-revelation that we call the word, or the Bible.
  • In Jewish thinking the word of God was the principle by which all things are governed by God, and the law of God He gave them to be their guiding life principle.

For further study: Psalm 33:6, Psalm 119:89, Psalm 147:15,18, Deut 32:47

2 He was with God in the beginning.

  • Meaning before Creation.

3 Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.

  • We may not readily see Jesus as a creator. This tells us that He was –  note the “He was” –from the beginning God’s agent in creating everything that exists: “The world was made through Him, v.10.

4 In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

  • This is the life which the Word is seen as imparting at Creation – John makes this a very significant word, using it 36 times in his gospel, twice as much as any other book. The light that comes from this life, is first, the very essence of our being made in the image of God. There is also a second aspect of light as the general revelation of God – God can be recognised by anyone in His works, His providence and in the way nature ‘speaks’, Psalm 19:1-12 – a revelation which came into clearer focus with the coming of Jesus in human form.

5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

  • “Overcome” could equally be translated understood: the darkness has not understood it. Probably a combination of both meanings is intended. At Creation, the light prevailed. At the coming of the Word in the person of Jesus, the light prevailed, and the darkness didn’t understand it. Choosing the Way of Jesus, such as love and grace, in the face of darkness is an effective strategy because the darkness does not understand it.

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

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

  • “Believe” is another important word for John; his purpose was to draw hearers or readers to belief in Jesus, and he uses the Greek word for believe about 100 times.

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

  • John had an interim role, to create awareness of the light and show people its source.
  • The gospel writer John makes the distinction that John the Baptist, despite his impact at the time, came as a lamp, John 5:35, but “not the light”.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him.

  • See verse 5 above in the “understood” dimension.
  • The relationship of the Messiah Jesus, the Son of God, to the world is an emphasis of John’s writing. He uses the word for “world” over 100 times in his gospel and letters; by contrast, Paul, who was sent to the Gentile world, uses that word only 47 times in all his writings.

11 He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.

  • Or “to that which was His own [the Jewish nation and heritage], but [the people who were] His own people [around Him].

12 Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God…

  • “Receive Him… believe in His name…”:  two ways of describing turning and welcoming Jesus, trusting Jesus and submitting to Him.
  • John’s gospel explains that the believer becomes God’s child, but only Jesus is God’s son. Paul describes believers as sons – specifically God’s sons by adoption.
  • Children of God, who have in a sense themselves “adopted God” as a Father through giving their lives to Jesus have, in the words of one commentator, “been given a new openness to, and relationship with, God that was not theirs [from] their natural birth.” What was fuzzy and hard to grasp in the natural, becomes clear as a direct result of the new spiritual birth.

13 …children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

  • A new and necessary spiritual birth which John explains more in John 3:3-8.

14 The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

  • Without ceasing to be God, Jesus let go of His divine nature to take on flesh – incarnation – one of the most amazing assertions ever to be put in so few words.

For further study and reflection: Philippians 2:5-8

  • “Only” in English understates the sense of monogenes, “one of a kind, unique” in the sense of being a Son who has all the attributes of the Father, who is exactly the same.
Application

John used the most straightforward vocabulary in the NT in writing the lead in, and in many ways summary of, his gospel account.

John’s gospel is more theological and less narrative than the other three. The prologue shows this intention: the rest of the gospel develops the theme here of how the eternal “Word” of God, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Son of God, with God in the beginning before the Creation “took flesh” to minister among men so that all who turned to Him and believed in Him could be saved.

More literally, he pitched His tent among us. Think like Jews who saw God’s presence as being located in the tabernacle. Now He has moved to camp out with us.

The words we read here are simple – life, light, witness, glory – but grow in the gospel into awesome, transforming truths.

John demonstrates that God’s most profound truths are also very accessible – such that intellect and logic are often barriers at first. As Matthew later wrote, Matt. 18:3 “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

For reflection and discussion

3. What is your understanding and experience, expressed simply, to start to recognise the true light of Jesus (verses 9-10) and to receive Him and be born of God (verses 12-13),  and come into a new identity as a child of God (v.12)?

4. Do you have a story of this kind of encounter with Jesus that you could share very briefly – what you might tell someone at a bus stop – with another person?

Declaring praise to God for His providential care

TUESDAY, JANUARY 30
Psalm 104:26-37

Praise to God for His provision and His purpose

26 There the ships go to and fro, and Leviathan, which You formed to frolic there.

  • Leviathan is a mighty creature, like a sea monster, who can overwhelm man but is no match for God. Monster or not, the sea creatures are all created by God – reflecting the fifth day of creation, Genesis 1:21 “…God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems…”
  • “Frolic there”: made to play in the sea, New Living Translation. The psalmist says that this feared creature is nothing but the Lord’s pet (NLTSB).

For further study, see Job 3:8, Job 41:1, Psalm 74:14, Isaiah 27:1

27 All creatures look to You to give them their food at the proper time.

28 When You give it to them, they gather it up; when You open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.

  • All of creation depends on God’s providential care. This providence is not remote from us and we should never take it for granted. Our prayerful, worshipful relationship with God calls down what He has already prepared.

29 When You hide your face, they are terrified; when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.

  • This seems to recall Job 1:21 “…The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

30 When You send your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the ground.

  • “Send Your Spirit” (v.30) or “breath” v.29). The word ruach can be translated either way, as in these two verses. God’s breath, or Spirit, is what brings life and renewal to every living thing, including humankind.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in His works –

  • Introduces a section with words of declaration – in other words, speaking truth in faith to the heavenlies – and blessing. “Let” and “may” are usually words which invoke, or call down, God’s good intentions which is what we do as we exercise our choice to bless. Of course God wants His glory to endure, and to be able to rejoice in His works, and the psalmist’s declaration is agreeing with Him. As we say it or sing it, we are agreeing with the Lord and His purpose, which is much more than a nice thing to do. It is spiritually powerful in establishing our partnership with God’s purpose, and against other evil purposes.

32 He who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.

33 I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.

34 May my meditation be pleasing to Him, as I rejoice in the Lord.

  • In the context of the preceding verses, that meditation must surely be to reflect on God’s providence, His sovereign purpose for each of us that overarches the ups and downs of everyday life, and which will in His timing be fulfilled. This is not a passive response to His providence; God works with the natural order of things and also intentionally with us, as covenant partners, to bring about His government, which is why we pray, preach the Gospel and act on what He shows us!

35 But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more.

  • This prayer (or more accurately, declaration of faith) expresses a common plea by Christians, that the curse of the earth be reversed and wicked people no longer have the upper hand in affairs around us. This will be fulfilled fully, in a way we see only partially, at the end time and the return of the Messiah Rev. 20:11-15, Rev. 22:3

Praise the Lord, my soul. Praise the Lord.

  • Meanwhile the power to bring beneficial change comes from praise of God who is good, and whose intentions are always the best, in whom there is no shadow of turning, who is faithful and not fickle – whatever our perceptions might be at any one time. When we feel powerless, praise to God whose character and kingdom purpose sits over and above our trials and difficulties is the attitude the devil fears most of all.

Application

Everything holds together in God – He breathes, and His breath, or Spirit, gives life.

However, the world we live in is caught up in two cycles, gaining life and losing life.

Our praise of God and particularly our declarations of who He is as Creator and His goodness, kindness, greatness and faithfulness, turn what is wilting into what is renewing and growing. That is our purpose.

For reflection and discussion

2. Are we more inclined to point out how everything is going wrong, or how God is over all the affairs of our world, “renewing the face of the ground”? Which is more like agreeing with Him?

Choosing to hear the voice of wisdom

We are using the C of E lectionary readings, which differ from the Revised Common Lectionary passages this week.

Proverbs 8:1 and 22-31
Psalm 104:26-37
John 1:1-14
Colossians 1:15-20

MONDAY, JANUARY 29
Proverbs 8:1 and 22-31

Wisdom is described like a personality, and as the first of God’s works, involved in Creation.

1 Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice?

  • Wisdom and reading on, from 9:13 Folly, are both given personalities and speeches. Both offer a similar initial appeal to the “simple” or undiscerning – but with very different outcomes.
  • The next 20 verses set out why wisdom is good (or better), being trustworthy, true, hating pride and arrogance and leading in awe of the Lord. The next part of the discourse is like a hymn of praise setting out the long history of the Lord’s wisdom.

22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of His works, before His deeds of old;

23 I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.

  • Wisdom is described in the same terms as the Word of God: present from the beginning and therefore eternal.

24 When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water…

  • These verses are sometimes taken to be a description of Christ; better, to take them to show wisdom’s role in creation, alongside Christ as the divine Word (John 1:1-5).
  • Wisdom is not a person, but it comes from a person, namely God Himself, and does not exist outside of God. The highest expression of wisdom is Jesus Christ, Col. 1:15-17, 2:3 and this wisdom is an expression of His character and nature.

25 …before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth,

26 before He made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth.

  • When God set about creating the world, Wisdom – His wisdom – was already operating.
  • Verses 24-26 reflect the account of the Creation:
    v.23 and day one, the earth;
    v24 and day two, water; and
    vv.25-26, day three, the land.

For further study, compare these verses with the Creation account, Prov. 8:23-26, Genesis 1:1-13.

27 I was there when He set the heavens in place, when He marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,

28 when He established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,

29 when He gave the sea its boundary…

  • “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?” See Job 28:8-9.

…so the waters would not overstep His command, and when He marked out the foundations of the earth.

30 Then I was constantly at His side.

  • Where is this argument going? In v.27 above “I was there…” and v.30 “constantly at His side”, so reading ahead to v.33 (not shown) “listen to my instruction…” “…for those who find me (wisdom), find life and receive favour…”
  • If Wisdom and the Word of God are not exactly the same, here it is shown that there is a close affinity. We could hear the Lord saying, “those who find Me, find life…”

I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in His presence,

31 rejoicing in His whole world and delighting in mankind.

Application

It sounds at first as if ‘wisdom’ is a poetic name for the Lord, but it turns out that wisdom has been formed and fashioned, playing its part in Creation and in every aspect of God’s purpose subsequently.

Knowledge is one thing; how to use that knowledge is where wisdom comes in (which is also helpful in understanding the spiritual gifts, word of knowledge and word of wisdom, 1 Cor. 12:8).

This is a description of the outflow of the heart of God, particurlarly the part that knows how the world was created and therefore how everything works.

It is also (by context) a description of how we are constantly presented with choices, with encouragement to choose God’s way rather than the alternative.

How do we receive God’s wisdom? By having the humility to know we need it – and to ask for the Holy Spirit to give us His wisdom, with the intention of receiving and using it, rather than reverting to our own ideas, James 1:5-8.

For reflection or discussion

For further study: read on into Proverbs 9, beyond 9:13.

  1.  Wisdom and folly can seem all too similar – and man’s wisdom can all too quickly turn out to be no wisdom at all. How do we recognise and choose God’s wisdom?