April 5, 2020. Passion Sunday. TLW12A
Sunday Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, shared across the denominations.
Theme: Jesus paid a high price for us to be able to call Him Lord
Read the passage first and let it speak for itself. The link takes you to the NIV text which combines accuracy with clarity. The order follows the sequence of the Bible, which is a progressive revelation from Old Testament, to a Gospel account, to the teaching of the early church who knew the perspective and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Following the Bible’s own sequence makes it much easier to grasp the overall thrust of what God is saying through it.
Then there are links to the verse-by-verse commentary and brief application.
Isaiah 50:4-9 — The messenger of good news knows God’s purpose will bring pain and shameful accusation – but also vindication
Matthew 27:11-54 — Following Pilate’s sentence, as Jesus surrenders His life on the Cross, an earthquake destroys the temple curtain
Philippians 2:5-11 — How God became man in Jesus, the humble servant put to death under a curse and now honoured as Lord of heaven and earth
And also read: Psalm 31:9-16
Isaiah 50:4-9 — The messenger of good news submits to God’s purpose
There will be pain, and shameful accusation – but also vindication
4-5 The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens Me morning by morning, wakens My ear to listen like one being instructed. The Sovereign LORD has opened My ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.
“A well-instructed tongue” – in this third Servant Song the Messiah, submissive to God, is being perfected through unwavering persistence.
“The word that sustains the weary” – refers back to an earlier prophecy, that the Lord, “who will not grow tired or weary”, sends His messenger with the good news that “He gives strength to the weary”, Isaiah 40:28-31.
6 I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting.
“I offered My back” – and other torment, what Jesus experienced at His crucifixion, Matthew 26:67, 27:30.
“Mocking” – see Matt. 27:27-31 (below).
7 Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
“Shame” – at first, but the servant foresees the God-ordained outcome.
8 He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against Me? Let us face each other! Who is My accuser? Let him confront Me!
“Vindicate” – or justifies. Christ fulfilled this prophecy. As the human but sinless Saviour, He is uniquely empowered to cancel charges brought against those who choose to belong to Him.
9 It is the Sovereign LORD who helps Me.
This preview of what Jesus went through for us, helps us regain God’s perspective when we are wearied by the constant attacks of the enemy of our souls.
“Who is My accuser?” is the language of a legal victory in a courtroom. “Accuser” is similar in meaning to satan, adversary, reminding us that our spiritual enemy relies on finding legal grounds to oppress (our sin) and is stymied by the removal of those grounds (by finding grace, in Jesus).
When life is draining and we feel discouraged, where do those thoughts come from?
Matthew 27:11-54 — Pilate sentences Jesus to be flogged and crucified
As He surrenders His life, an earthquake rips apart the temple curtain
11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, “Are You the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
“The governor” – the Roman historian Tacitus records Christ’s execution after sentencing by the prefect Pilate “in the reign of Tiberius”. The blasphemy accusation held little sway for a Roman official, so the Jews framed Jesus as a political rebel deserving of death.
12-14 When He was accused by the chief priests and the elders, He gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against You?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge — to the great amazement of the governor.
“Great amazement” – Pilate has not encountered a defendant who did not plead for mercy; if allegations of treason were true, Pilate would have been forewarned.
15-16 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas.
17-18 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him.”
“That innocent man” – a disturbing nightmare was a significant sign to people of that time, Roman law was clear that an innocent man should not be put to death, and Pilate’s judicial instinct told him the charges were constructed. Yet he was more influenced by fear of the crowd.
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas, and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify Him!”
23 “Why? What crime has He committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him!”
“Why?” – Pilate clearly thought the crowd would want the release of a doer of good, rather than Barabbas, seen as a violent robber in Mark 15:7, John 18:40. The crowd that noisily acclaimed Jesus as He entered the city, now proved strangely fickle.
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
“His blood is on us” – the self-curse found fulfilment among those present in the Jerusalem’s bloodshed and destruction in AD 70 (but is not an indictment against Jews in general).
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.
“Flogged” – Roman flogging was so brutal it sometimes killed the victim. The “By His stripes” quotation about our healing being in Jesus’ wounding sees this as part of the execution, Isaiah 53:5. 1 Peter 2:24.
27-29 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand. Then they knelt in front of Him and mocked Him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said.
“Mocked Him” – Isaiah 50:6 (above). His trial by the Jews, Matt. 26:67-68, mocked Him as a prophet; now He is mocked as king. See also vv. 37-44 below.
• For further study: Jesus’ unique spiritual authority combines that of prophet, priest and king, Hebrews 1:1, Hebrews 10, and Hebrews 2:8.
• Read also Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
30-31 They spat on him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again. After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.
32-34 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced Him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it.
“A man from Cyrene, named Simon” – Simon, from N. Africa, is named as someone later known in the community of believers.
The place of the skull” – either a skull-like rocky place, or where skulls remained from previous executions – or both. None of the gospels mentions a hill.
35-37 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
38 Two rebels were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
41-43 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. “He saved others,” they said, “but He can’t save Himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
“Let God rescue Him” – “let God deliver Him”, an allusion to Psalm 22:8.
44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him.
“Rebels… crucified with Him” – as predicted, He was “numbered with the transgressors,” Isaiah 53:12, Luke 22:37.
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”).
“Why have You forsaken Me?” – Jesus had to experience the full extent of God’s wrath (holy requirement for justice) for the sins of humanity – possibly the bitterest blow of all. Matthew translates the Aramaic for us.
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48-49 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave Him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save Him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit.
“Cried out” – not anguish but the victory shout of “It is finished!”, John 19:30. Jesus had completed His purpose in coming into the world and in this tortured death had settled the redemption charge for the sin of all mankind.
51-53 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
“Curtain” – the Holy of Holies in the Temple was divided off by heavy woven barrier; remarkably the earthquake ripped it. At this point, the order of priesthood was made redundant because through Jesus it was now possible for every believer to come into God’s presence, needing no other intermediary.
• For further study, see Ephesians 2:11-22; Hebrews 6:19; Hebrews 9:1-10:25.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely He was the Son of God!”
“Terrified” – the earthquake, and the prisoner like no other, revealed the divine connection.
Any one part of what Jesus took on Himself is too much for us – false accusation, shame, brutality at the whipping post – and the horror of dying a cursed death on a cross taunted by mockers. Jesus knew it would be horrific. Yet He understood that He had to satisfy the wrath, the legal remedy of justice, for His Father. Only a sinless human being could pay the price for us to know Him as Savour and as Lord, – and Jesus did.
Given the enormity of what Jesus did for us, what inhibits us from joy and praise?
Philippians 2:5-11 — How God became man in Jesus
The servant put to death under a curse is now honoured as Lord of heaven and earth
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6-7 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
“Being in very nature God” – this hymn of praise contrasts Jesus’ pre-existence and divinity with His incarnate existence in which “He made Himself nothing” in human likeness, but drew on the Holy Spirit’s empowering. We can live above ourselves with Jesus-like love for others, continuing His ministry, by the enabling of the same Holy Spirit.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
“Even death on a cross” – Jesus went voluntarily to the most shameful of deaths possible for a Jew. This divine exchange included coming under a curse from God on our behalf, Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13.
9-11 Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“Jesus Christ is Lord” – “Lord” refers to the right to rule. Disciples of Jesus “bow the knee” by acknowledging His Lordship of our lives, as well as all creation.
How do we go about having the same mindset as Jesus? This praise hymn to Jesus both raises the question, and ends with the answer, which is about celebrating His Lordship of us.
Like the old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” When we hold someone in awe, we’ll want to do what they do and take on their values. This sets us wanting to live above ourselves – and welcoming the enabling of the Holy Spirit, the Helper, makes it possible.
Calling Jesus our Lord is not, ultimately about obedience. That is being a Pharisee. It is about loving who He is so much, that we WANT to grow like Him.
Which comes first, doing what Jesus says, or being with Him and wanting to grow more like Him?
Father God, we are so grateful for Jesus, making a way for us to You in such a horrific self-sacrifice, so we can have fellowship with Him as Lord of our lives.
We thank you, too, that in Jesus we have His authority to say ‘no’ to evils like the present pandemic, and a welcoming ‘yes’ to what we hear You saying.
Humbly we give You charge of our lives again — and volunteer again as junior partners in Your saving strategy. Amen.
The Living Word 09A for Sunday, March 8, 2020
Theme: How to be completely accepted by Almighty, holy God
Sunday readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. First read the passage in its entirety (NIV text) and let it speak for itself; then, the links below take you to the verse-by-verse commentary.
Genesis 12:1-4a – God promises to make a nation through Abram, who takes God at His word and sets off to the unknown
John 3:1-17 – Jesus tells Nicodemus, ‘the teacher of Israel’, that even he needs to be born again spiritually to enter the kingdom of God
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – Like Abraham, we are made right with God by believing Him, not by any merit from our good works
Also read: Psalm 121
Genesis 12:1-4a – God promises Abram to make a nation through him
Taking God at His word he set off for a new land
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“The Lord” — Yahweh, explained later in Moses’ encounter, Exodus 3:14-15.
“Go from your country” — God spoke to Abram about leaving “while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran”, Acts 7:2. His name occurs in other ancient texts from 20th-19th centuries B.C.
2-3 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
I will make… I will bless…” — A sevenfold promise expanding the LORD’s original blessing of the whole human race, Gen. 1:28 into a covenant which is largely just on God’s side (unlike others), and everlasting.
4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.
“Abram went” — with limited understanding of what God was saying; a model of faith which obeys and trusts understanding to follow.
Believing God is always a step into what we do not know – otherwise it would not be believing. Abram’s willingness to trust God’s purpose absolutely, leaving a settled existence to seek an unknown destination in another land, leaves us wondering how we would respond. God was clear about the outcome of Abram responding in faith – he would know God’s blessing and also become part of God’s blessing to others. But we are left with the sense that Abram understood very little about his unique call. And that’s the point: faith doesn’t seek to understand everything first.
- Faith is able to trust God to work out the details. “So Abram went, as the LORD had told Him…”.
Do you want God to show you the whole map before you set off on the journey?
Page with additional detail and Bible reference links
John 3:1-17 – Jesus tells ‘the teacher of Israel’ even he must be born again
Nicodemus learns that spiritual regeneration is the way into the kingdom
1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.
“Nicodemus” – an influential, educated and genuine-hearted lay representative of the Jewish religious establishment. A wealthy person of this name is mentioned in other Jewish sources of this period.
2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with Him.”
“He came… at night” –- for privacy and a longer discussion than crowds would allow. John also suggests the double meaning, as he does elsewhere, that there is a spiritual darkness, out of which Nicodemus seeks to escape.
“Rabbi” – remarkable respect from a renowned teacher, v.10 below, to a Galilean not formally trained as a rabbi.
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“See” – perceive, recognise, or simply enter.
“Born again” – also “born from above” e.g. The Message which helps to answer Nicodemus’ question, below. This is a spiritual birth, a faith transaction in which the human spirit is kindled into spiritual life by the Holy Spirit, vv. 5-6.
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
“How…” – difficult to understand from human perspective and life experience.
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.
“Born of water and the Spirit” – made clean and made spiritually alive, a spiritual regeneration that comes about only as a result of an intentional decision to trust Christ. In Paul’s letter to Titus is the “trustworthy saying” describing rebirth as washing, Titus 3:4-7. Nicodemus could not have understood this as a reference to baptism. Christian baptism, from Pentecost onwards, is an intentional, symbolic dying to the old life and rising to the new, after receiving Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
6. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
“You (singular) should not be surprised at My saying, ‘You (plural) must be born again.’ ” – Jesus is saying that Nicodemus and all the Jewish ruling council he represents need spiritual rebirth to see the kingdom of God, and grasp the nature of His call – and applies this to all people.
8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“Wind blows wherever it pleases” – Heb. Ruach and Gk pneuma means both wind and Spirit. We cannot control how the wind blows; nor the new birth, which is, in effect, the opposite – relinquishing control to God.
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?
“Do you not understand” – emphasised, because Nicodemus the teacher should have known from Scriptures familiar to him, about new birth allusions in the breath (Spirit) entering the dry bones of Ezekiel 37, and the heart of stone replaced by a new living heart with the Holy Spirit indwelling and enabling, in both Ezekiel and Jeremiah.
• For further study, see Deuteronomy 30:6, Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26-27, Ezekiel 37.
11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.
“We speak of what we know” – not hearsay. Jesus focuses on how believing faith, more than intellect, is needed to receive this teaching.
12-13 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man.
“Gone into heaven… came from heaven” – like Proverbs 30:4, “Who has gone up to heaven and come down… what is His name?” Only Jesus descended from heaven and then returned there (on His ascension, Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9).
14-15 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.”
“Lifted up” – the first of three uses by John of this phrase. Another double meaning: Jesus “lifted up” on the Cross to die for us, and His “lifting” in resurrection and also exaltation to the highest place of honour. The Israelites, afflicted by venomous snakes in the desert, were commanded to look up at the bronze serpent and believe that God would save them; so we are to look at Christ, “lifted up” on the Cross and believe what He has done for us, to gain life spiritually and eternally. A way of understanding the new spiritual birth.
• For further study, read Numbers 21:4-9
16 For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
“God… loved the world” – a truth at the foundation of Christian faith. God’s love is without condition and extends to “so loving the world”, which must include “whoever” does not know Him, or who opposes Him before they come to believe: He loves us first, 1 John 4:9-10.
17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
“Not… to condemn the world” – Jewish people believed that the end of the age would bring both judgment and salvation with eternal life. But in Jesus those promises start to take effect, with salvation and new life starting in the present, through new spiritual birth.
Abram (who became Abraham) came into in right relationship with God, simply by what he believed. Or to put it another way, by trusting God with his life. This is what Jesus encouraged the renowned “teacher of Israel” and wealthy man of business, Nicodemus, to take hold of when he visited Jesus privately. What God is looking for in us is usually a lot less complicated than we want to make it. That was certainly true for Nicodemus, and for Pharisees generally, who maintained an oral tradition of layer upon layer of ‘good practices’ that had been constructed as a way to keep the law perfectly. Except that it missed the point: the Law of Moses was a rule-based way of trying to define a relationship between loving, merciful God and somewhat wayward man. Jesus told this worthy teacher, “You must be born again”. Rules and strict observance cannot change us spiritually – only the Holy Spirit does that. Nicodemus simply needed a new spiritual start to be put in right standing with almighty and holy God. Now that he had met Jesus, he needed to believe, accept and trust who Jesus was.
- It’s the same for us – we need to meet Jesus, acknowledge what He has done for us that we (like Nicodemus) could never do, and receive Him as Lord. No one else can do that for us – it is simply our decision, to invite Him in.
In what way have you been a good observing person like Nicodemus? Why does that not have the power to bring new life?
Link page on how Nicodemus was reminded by Jesus of teaching he already knew
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – Like Abraham we are made right with God by faith
The gift of God comes only by believing, not by any merit from good works
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter?
“Abraham, our forefather” – the Father of the Jewish nation is now Father of faith to all believers.
2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.
“Justified by [good] works” – Over the centuries the faith of the patriarch ancestors had degenerated into a ‘works-righteousness’ where keeping the many rules (like Nicodemus) had taken the place of the faith relationship with God. In Jewish writings familiar to Paul’s contemporaries, Abraham had been wrongly portrayed as someone justified by his good works (e.g. in the non-canonical Apocrypha writings 1 Maccabees 2:52, Sirach 44:19-21).
3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
“Abraham believed God” – Paul quoting Genesis 15:6, where nothing is mentioned about works, Paul shows Abraham to be the example of righteousness to follow, because of his relationship with God. Abraham kept no law, carried out no service and performed no ritual that earned credit to his account with God. His righteousness was awarded simply on the basis of his believing faith, a model now for Christians.
4-5 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
“The one who works… the one who… trusts God” – wages received for work are earned, not a gift. By contrast, what God gives is gracious (unearned and undeserved) and a gift. Therefore people cannot be declared righteous because of their good works.
“Credited”– a financial/legal word much used in this chapter, which means to add to the account something that belongs to another. The implication of these verses is shocking, because in God’s accounting He breaks the world’s rules and grants salvation to, or justifies, His ungodly enemies turning to Him in faith.
13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.
“Abraham… received the promise” – of Genesis 12:2-3 (above), but not by fulfilling any condition, but by believing and acting on it.
14-15 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
“Depend on the law… [depend on] faith” – opposites: believing faith and good works are mutually opposed, because faith trusts in God’s work, rather than relying on ours.
“Law brings wrath” – for ‘wrath’ understand ‘judgment’. The nature of the law (as opposed to grace) is to flag up every transgression for judgment.
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
“By faith… by grace” – faith and grace go together, as do the opposites, law and judgment.
“Of the law… also…those that have the faith of Abraham” – Abraham is the Father of the Jews but also of those (non-Jews) who share his faith but not the law.
17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
“Gives life… and calls into being things that were not” – different expressions of the same idea. Isaac’s birth to Abraham and Sarah, a life called out of two people well past childbearing; Christ crucified and dead, then called into being in resurrection. God has the ability to create out of nothing. He has the ability to confer life on those spiritually dead in sin – the new birth, John 3:3, 7, 14-16.
In his teaching to believers in Rome, Paul addresses the human desire to aspire to righteousness by a “depending on the law”, meaning human striving with expectation of some credit for it. His shocking answer is that God applies that credit to those who clearly have not earned it. Thoroughly undeserving people find salvation by simply trusting God and not doing anything else! The message for us is direct but also a little difficult: we must root out every strand of entitlement, and every every tendency to man-centred righteousness,. It is the lesson of Abraham, of Nicodemus and now taught to the early church by Paul.
- The promise of new life and eternal life is secured by God’s definition of righteousness, not ours – the righteousness that comes by faith.
Is Christ’s church a gathering of people like us, or is it for us to serve people not like us who are finding their way to faith?
Thank You so much, Father, for making a way for me to be accepted by You in a way I never could have achieved – through believing and accepting Jesus. I hear again Your command to be born of Your Spirit, that I may be counted as being in right standing with you – by faith, nothing more or less. Once again I surrender my baggage of unbelief and accept Your invitation of grace, gladly Jesus, in Your name. Amen.
Sunday, March 1, 2020 TLW08A
Theme: God presents us with choices, whether or not to rely on Him
Sunday readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. First read the passage in its entirety (NIV text) and let it speak for itself; then, the links below take you to the verse-by-verse commentary.
Read Matthew 4:1-11
Read Romans 5:12-19
Also WISDOM READING: Psalm 32
Breaking trust with God in the Garden of Eden introduces sin into the world
15-17 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
“To work it and take care of it” – humanity’s dignifying occupation, responsibilities later applied to the tabernacle.
• For further study, read Leviticus 8:35; Numbers 3:5-8, 8:26.
“The LORD God commanded the man” – the first covenant decree in the Bible. God bound Himself to provide freely from the park-like garden; the man’s acceptance bound him to the one condition, trusting God’s judgment and provision by not eating the fruit of one particular tree.
“You are free… but…” – Typical words of a covenant in the Bible, where Adam is given a choice leading to a benefit. There is also a condition, a test of obedience.
3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
“The serpent” – part of God’s creation, the talking snake appears without introduction. Its motives are unclear but “crafty”, presenting an alternative source of ‘wisdom’ from dependence on God, Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that this is Satan manifesting as a snake, as Paul and the apostle John later taught.
• For further study, read 2 Cor. 11:3; Revelation 12:9, 20:2.
2-3 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”
“Not… the tree… in the middle” – by not naming the tree, the woman skirts round the reason for the ban.
4-5 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
“You will not… die” – with this lie the snake denies God’s clear pronouncement. The lie deceived both Eve and Adam into separation from God and hence spiritual death. Jesus called Satan a liar and murderer from the beginning, John 8:44.
6-7 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
“The fruit was… desirable” – the snake appeals to the woman’s human independence, deceiving her into disobedience. Innocence lost, they now “know” or have experience of evil, and sin is born.
Here in the Garden of Eden — a place and an event which Scripture treats very seriously — mankind’s ancestor, Adam, faces a test. God has given him the freedom of the garden except for one particular tree and its fruit. Will he stay true to what God has told him, or will the suggestion that nothing is stopping him from doing his own thing prove too attractive? Adam gives in to Satan, loses the life he had, and opens the way for every subsequent generation to experience temptation to sin. We face exactly the same choice – whether to entertain the enemy’s latest lie, or to hold on to the truth from God.
How does Satan’s lying, deceiving nature affect us today?
Matthew 4:1-11 — Test: Satan fails to tempt Jesus into sin
Jesus, unlike Israel in the desert, overcomes by declaring God’s word
1-3 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. The tempter came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
“Led by the Spirit… to be tempted by the devil” – “Tempted (tested and tried)” (Amp). “Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it” (Msg). God’s servants frequently face tests of resolve and character as they enter ministry, allowed by God but carried out by the devil.
“Into the wilderness to be tempted” – Adam and Eve gave in to temptation; their failing the test allowed sin to enter the world. Moses recalls how the Lord led the Israelites in the desert for 40 years “to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Jesus, in the desert, is provoked to sin but instead shows Himself the true, or real, Israelite who holds to what God has said to do (below).
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
“It is written” – Jesus’ testing experience teaches us how to declare Scripture truth to deflect the enemy’s evil attentions. He quotes Deut. 8:3 to assert that what God has said, has a powerful spiritual dynamic.
5-6 Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If You are the Son of God,” he said, “throw Yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning You, and they will lift You up in their hands, so that You will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
“If You are…” – following the temptation of material things, the devil tries the temptation of fame, conveniently omitting the promise “to keep you in all your ways” from Psalm 91:11-12, twisting its meaning to suggest that Jesus could test God in a spectacular way.
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
“Jesus answered” – from Deut 6:16, with a principle even higher than trusting God, that of honouring Him. Satan implies God can be called upon to rescue, but Jesus knew that God is trustworthy even when we are suffering. Mocking bystanders observing Jesus on the Cross used Ps. 22:8 to suggest that if God really loved Him He would be rescuing Him. Jesus knew better.
8-9 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give You,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
“All this I will give you” – Satan, called the prince or ruler of this world, John 12:31, offers Jesus a shortcut to future kingdom reign without the Cross. But this is the worst of the three demands: exchanging the love of God for the worship of Satan.
“I will give” – Satan can exercise a measure of authority over the present sin-damaged world, but the kingdoms of the world belong to God and are promised to His Son.
• For further study, read Psalm 2:8; Luke 4:6; John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4.
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’”
“Away from Me” – Jesus affirms wholehearted worship of the one true God, showing that true worship, expressing love and total submission to God, is a knockout blow in spiritual warfare. As the devil craves our attention, to respond by extolling the goodness of God reverses this strategy.
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended Him.
“Angels… attended Him” – showing Christ’s status as all heaven recognises the significance of His initial victory. The verse Satan had twisted, Ps. 91:11-12 is now fulfilled in God’s way.
The second account of testing also involves the devil appearing and speaking suggestively. Just as deception led Adam and Eve to act independently of God, so the devil uses the same tactic on Jesus to try to get Him to compromise His demanding mission. If Jesus can be persuaded to go outside what God had decreed, He would no longer be the sinless Son of God uniquely equipped to break the hold of sin in the rest of us. The good news is that when we are tested we can find the power of declaring the word of God, as Jesus did.
How do we declare the word of God in common ways we worship?
Romans 5:12-19 — Choice: Receive the gift of God in Jesus
Paul teaches original sin and its remedy, grace that comes from accepting Jesus
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned –
“Sin entered the world” – Paul teaches the need for the gospel, because of man’s fall through Adam.
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.
“Before the law” – the period from Adam to Moses, when human independence from God was widespread but not in the sense of individual violations. The rules for righteous and unrighteous behaviour would follow.
14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
“Death reigned” – Paul continues from his incomplete sentence of v.12, that the original man’s quest for independence was the root of sin, resulting in human mortality.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
“How much more” – a phrase Paul repeats. The reach and extent of God’s grace is immensely greater than even the disaster of Adam’s sin.
16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.
“One man’s sin” – through the “one man”, Adam, sin entered the world and with it the condemnation, or punishment due, for that sin. That is the human state we all inherit, regardless of the kind of life we lead.
+ GOOD NEWS FOCUS: God has offered a way out, “the gift” of God, which we “receive”, v.17, by choosing to belong to Jesus.
17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
“Trespass” – Adam’s offence was an act of trespass, a deliberate going astray. What Jesus Christ did for us was an act of undeserved grace, v.15, allowing us to be counted righteous if we have given our lives to Him.
18-19 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
“One righteous act… justification… for all people” – condemnation “for all people” represented by Adam – the whole human race. The second “all people” is all who are represented by Christ: not everyone, but all who would believe in Him. The Bible is clear and consistent that salvation comes to those who make their choice to exercise faith in Jesus Christ – not everyone.
• For further study, see Matthew 7:13-14, 23; 25:46; Romans 1:16-17, 3:22, 28, 4:5, 13.
The story of the talking serpent appearing in the Garden of Eden, and the continuing curse resulting from Adam’s mistake, does not fit with our human ideas of what is believable and logical – spiritual discernment is needed. Yet other Bible writers, including Paul who makes it a mainstay of his doctrinal teaching, treat this encounter with all seriousness. A bit easier for us to believe, Jesus had His own testing encounter with the devil. Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus proved Himself sinless by responding with what God had said and refusing to entertain any alternative.
Taken together, these passages teach us that:
- Life is full of tests and choices. The battleground is in our thoughts, rather than played out in a garden or desert, but the enemy of our souls is constantly trying to deceive us and trip us up, to lure us off the path God has marked out.
- The good choice is always obedience – believing God and honouring Him in our actions.
- Obedience is more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’. Paul, teaching the early church, only requires us to ‘do’ one thing, which is to believe in Jesus – to receive the gift of grace that is in the one man, the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Jesus in the desert was held by His relationship with His Father. Paul urges us to be living in the gift of righteousness, which comes to us undeserved but as those who are in Christ Jesus – those who have asked Jesus to be Lord of their lives.
We are equipped to recognise the tests and have the confidence to make good choices if we have asked Jesus to be our Lord and invited His Holy Spirit to help us – an obedience not coming from our good deeds or ‘ holy actions’ but the simple consequence of loving the Lord and wanting what He wants.
What strategy of the devil, often repeated, comes out from these passages?
Paul contrasts two states, being under condemnation or being counted righteous as one who is in Jesus Christ. How does it help to counter the devil’s suggestions, if we know we are accepted by heaven rather than guilty?
Father, this harsh and selfish world can make us feel like helpless aliens – but we are reminded again of Jesus’ victory and how by grace we are allowed to participate in it. In ourselves we have few answers to the wiles of the enemy and His tests, but in Christ Jesus he has little with which to answer us back. We praise You again, Lord God, and thank You for Jesus and His victory. And we join with Him in saying: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’ ”. Amen.
Christmas Day OT reading
Christmas Day Gospel reading
Christmas Day Epistle reading
Christmas Day application
Sunday, December 30 OT reading
Sunday, December 30 Gospel reading
Sunday, December 30 Epistle reading
Sunday, December 30 application
THEME 1 (DECEMBER 25):
THE GRACE AND GLORY OF GOD APPEAR FOR US
Readings are in Bible order, Old Testament, Gospel, Epistle, following the logic of progressive revelation. Some churches use a liturgical order with the gospel reading last.
DECEMBER 25 – OLD TESTAMENT READING
Isaiah 9:2-7 – the glory of God comes on Israel
A nation in spiritual darkness receive a peace-bringing mighty king of David’s lineage but heavenly origin
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
“Have seen” – prophetic vision that sees the future with the clarity of it already having happened.
3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
“Enlarged” – no longer a small remnant after five centuries of resettlement and growth.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
“Midian’s defeat” — the Lord using Gideon, Judges 7.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end.
“Wonderful counsellor” – the titles reveal Immanuel as both human and divine: a ‘counsellor to carry out a plan or action; with divine power; bringing the Father’s compassion and protection; and exercising a style of rulership which brings wholeness and wellbeing to the whole of society.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
DECEMBER 25 – GOSPEL READING
Luke 2:1-14 – shepherds experience God’s sudden blaze of glory in terror
They are directed to seek out Mary and Joseph and their baby, visitors to Bethlehem for the census
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
“A census” – for the purposes of the Roman poll tax. Joseph was of the house of David, Mary possibly so.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
“Bethlehem” – as foretold in Micah’s prophecy, Micah 5:2.
5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
6-7 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
“Out in the fields” – so probably between March and November. The time of Jesus’ birth is not known. The midwinter tradition arose much later from Christians re-purposing the pagan midwinter festival.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
“Terrified” – by the majesty of angels in bright light suddenly appearing in the darkness.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
11 “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.
12 “This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.”
“Good news” – the word that gives us ‘evangelise’. “On earth peace” – Jesus is the Prince of Peace prophesied by Isaiah, Isa. 9:6 to bring God’s peace; not to all, but all who would turn to Him and come to know God and God’s favour.
DECEMBER 25 – EPISTLE READING
Titus 2:11-14 – We’re growing in grace while awaiting Christ’s return
Christians are empowered to live above themselves while expecting Jesus to appear in glory
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
“Grace… offers salvation” – the word ‘grace’ is used generally and also specifically, as here, meaning the favour with God, unearned but made possible by Christ’s sinless self-sacrifice. It is offered to, not conferred on, all people – a response to Jesus is called for – but anyone of any state can choose to turn to Him, come to know God in a personal way and be changed by this grace.
12-13 It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,
14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.
“Teaches us… to live…” – Salvation (also called justification, Titus 3:7) and holy living are “not because of anything we have done but because of [God’s] own purpose and grace, 2 Tim. 1:9. Jesus will come again, the “blessed hope” we wait for. Meanwhile, the grace of God through the Holy Spirit enables us to live by these values.
IN PRACTICE The favour of God has come to us through Jesus being revealed to us – the Bible is clear that we cannot earn it. However, there is a personal, active choice we must make to turn to Jesus and receive His lordship. Nowhere does the Bible teach that salvation is through the church; widely it teaches that salvation is a choice to invite Jesus as Saviour. Before that decision we are all walking in darkness, as Isaiah describes, not able to see the spiritual realities of good and evil. Then God’s glory visited the village of Bethlehem and God’s grace was experienced, by the most ordinary of people. A couple of generations later, believers in the early church are rejoicing in being “a people that are His very own” and knowing the grace of God helping them in their eagerness to “do what is good”.
PRAYER Lord we love the nativity scene, but help us to see beyond it to Your Lordship and Your glory. May the impact of who You are, transform how we are, in this season of remembering Your first coming and preparing for the next.
THEME FOR SUNDAY, DECEMBER 30 – THE GRACE AND GLORY OF GOD GROW IN US
DECEMBER 30 – OLD TESTAMENT READING
1 Samuel 2:18-20,26 – the young Samuel is an apprentice in the tabernacle
He grows in stature and God’s favour, as was said later of the boy Jesus
18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord – a boy wearing a linen ephod.
19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.
“Linen ephod” – an embroidered over-garment worn over the robe, by priests in the sanctuary. The contrast between Samuel and Eli’s sons, all young Levites, is that Samuel lived up to his calling.
20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home.
26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people.
“Grow in stature and favour” – like Luke’s description of Jesus as a boy, see Luke 2:52 below, also Luke 2:40.
DECEMBER 30 – GOSPEL READING
Luke 2:41-52 – Jesus grows in grace at the temple
Unknown to His parents, He spends time with the teachers of the temple courts who, remarkably, allow Him to debate with them.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.
“Every year” – Good observant Jews like Jesus’ family liked to keep the three commanded festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, Exodus 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16. Galileans and others at a distance would try to keep Passover at least.
42 When He was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.
“Twelve years old” – preparing to take adult covenant responsibilities, usually at age 13.
43 After the festival was over, while His parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.
“Unaware” – often entire villages and extended families travelled and socialised together.
44-45 Thinking He was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find Him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for Him.
46-47 After three days they found Him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.
“After three days” – a day’s travel of about 20 miles, a day turning back, and a day finding Jesus in the city.
“Listening… asking questions… His answers” – the teachers were rabbis, scholars of Mosaic law. The style of rabbinic instruction was question and counter-question. It was highly unusual for them to entertain a boy, let alone be enthralled by His scriptural understanding. Jesus was a prodigy.
48 When His parents saw Him, they were astonished. His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’
49-50 “Why were you searching for Me?” He asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them.
“Your father and I…My Father’s house” – Jesus makes it clear that God is His true father. He is aware of His unique relationship, his parents less so.
51-52 Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
“Jesus grew in wisdom” – Jesus was fully God, but also fully man, having laid aside His majesty to be born as one one of us. The Expanded Bible renders this: “But He gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing, (lit. emptied Himself).” There is no suggestion in Scripture that Jesus had all knowledge and wisdom from birth, and in this passage we see Him growing up like any other boy.
DECEMBER 30 – EPISTLE READING
Colossians 3:12-17 – God’s people are to grow in grace
God is love and Jesus demonstrated unconditional love; growing in His character of kindness and gentleness is what distinguishes the body of Christ.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
“God’s chosen people” — this phrase was used of Israel, and then of the Christian community, Deut. 4:37; 1 Peter 2:9.
13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
“Bear with… forgive…” – Jesus taught that having received grace and forgiveness from God, we must extend the same grace to others. Being forgiven by God means we, too, must forgive, without condition.
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.,
“Put on love”— which will look like attitudes of v.12, and like the fruit of the [redeemed, regenerate human] spirit, Gal. 5:22.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
“Peace of Christ” — where Christ rules, where Jesus is accorded His lordship, His peace will act as an umpire. Allegiance to Christ outranks differences between
16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
“Psalms, hymns and songs” — the model is the book of Psalms, which includes psalms of truth from Scripture, hymns of praise and the spontaneous, prophetic songs from the Spirit.
“Do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” — the bottom line is a requirement to keep on growing in Christian maturity and TO show Jesus to others, by living as those who represent Jesus and His Way.
IN PRACTICE The grace and glory of God become a growing part of us when we surrender our self-rule and independence, and ask Jesus to come in. That’s the pathway towards Christian maturity. The story of young Samuel, called by God, and the young Jesus, the Son of God, speak to us about our growing up process. Words written to the church in Colossae challenge us to grow in Jesus-like attitudes and relationships. So why do we get conflicts and tensions in the church? Because we have an active enemy, always looking for unresolved tensions that have become sin, that he can use to deceive, divide or destroy. The remedy is the rule of the opposite spirit — someone attacks us angrily and we choose to respond in peace, or someone is hurtful or difficult, and we choose to love them anyway. This is grace and it disarms the enemy and brings God’s glory – never more powerfully than when we choose to forgive, Matthew 18:21-35.
QUESTION “It’s just the way I am” – but God sent His son and may not accept that limitation! What can you do this Christmas that will release His change?
PRAYER “Lord, I thank You that You came – and have come for me. I give what I have, myself, to You and I receive from You new grace and life in Jesus. Amen.”
Download TLW52 booklet Dec 25/30 to print for your church
Revised Common Lectionary readings for October 21
Job 38:1-7 — God’s perspective is far higher than Job’s opinions
Isaiah 53:4-12 — God’s eternal purpose is higher than man can conceive
Mark 10:35-45 — The kingdom of God is a higher order than human status
Hebrews 5:1-10 — Jesus has gained special qualification to represent us to God
Also: Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c
FIRST OLD TESTAMENT READING
Job 38:1-7 — God’s perspective is far higher than Job’s opinions
Yahweh announces His presence and cross-examines Job
1 Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
2 “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?
Job has been complaining from his human perspective, showing up his inadequate knowledge of who God is.
3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell Me, if you understand.
“I will question you… where were you…” – questions to which Job must confess ignorance. God says nothing about Job’s suffering but neither does He agree with the counsellors or condemn him.
“Tell Me” – whether rhetorical or demanding a response from Job, he is unable to answer.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6-7 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone — while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
Hearing from the Lord here, Job 38:1-40:2 and subsequently, Job 40:6-41:34, bring Job to a better understanding of God’s goodness and
IN PRACTICE We have opinions, and we like to express them, and we know that we are right… the problem always being the limited perspective on which we base those opinions. Job, who was entitled to try to work out what was happening to him and defend himself from his friends’ well-meaning but flawed attempts to blame him for his downfall, hears from God that He has a higher purpose for His creation including mankind. Who is Job to argue? We take from this two lessons of everyday life,
(1) to hold our opinions lightly because God is likely to show how flawed they are, and
(2) to always try to see God’s higher purpose in the struggles we find ourselves in.
QUESTION Have you held an opinion which you sensed God was challenging, and then discovered it was unfounded?
SECOND OLD TESTAMENT READING
Isaiah 53:4-12 — God’s eternal purpose is higher than man can conceive
The disfigured, suffering servant, a picture of Christ that Isaiah saw
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.
“Surely he…” – the servant, introduced in Isaiah 52:13 is so disfigured to be almost unrecognisable; people were appalled at the sight.
“We considered him punished by God” – people would conclude he had been struck down by God for his own supposed sins. But there is something far greater going on here, Matt. 8:14-17. He was beaten and hurt, for us to become whole.
5 But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.
“Punishment that brought us peace” – brought us shalom, a huge word, far more than freedom from anxiety. Healing of spirit, the emotional/thinking life of the soul, and physical healing are all part of this divine exchange. This much quoted as the heart of the gospel, salvation and entry into the life of God’s kingdom, which cannot be earned or achieved, just received through the Servant.
For further study, see Psalm 22:16; Zech. 12:10; Romans 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24-25.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
“Each of us… turned to our own way” – repentance is the exact opposite, a turn from our own way, to God’s way. The point is that every person has sinned, Romans 3:9, 23, and deserves God’s righteous wrath.
“Laid on Him the iniquity” – recalls the high priest on the Day of Atonement laying hands on the scapegoat and symbolically putting the sins of the people on it.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away. Yet who of His generation protested? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of My people He was punished.
“By oppression and judgment” – In Jesus’ ‘kangaroo court trial’ no one spoke up on His behalf, and neither did He defend Himself.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.
“A grave with the wicked and…rich” – Jesus’cave tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, a rich and righteous man. Isaiah associates the rich with the wicked, because such wealth was often gained by oppression or dishonesty.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
“The Lord’s will to crush him” – at first sight an incomprehensible cruelty but “His life [made] an offering for sin” expresses the Lord’s equally hard-to-grasp sacrificial love for a world that has lost its way. The result is literally billions of spiritual sons and daughters.
11 After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge My righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
“Numbered with the transgressors” – or rebellious ones, identifying with them (with us) and making intercession that they might again become servants of the king.
IN PRACTICE The enormity of what God has done for us, having His own Son take the punishment and pay the price in our place, leaves us with gratitude that words are inadequate to express. But what about the knocks of life and the attacks on health and finances and well-being we all face? This punishment that has brought us heavenly shalom is a practical remedy for ourselves and for others. When the truth of this sinks in, it changes the way we pray, from passively asking God to help us, to an active stance of being able to declare in a spirit of praise how He HAS helped us.
QUESTION Praising God for His goodness and deliverance out of a difficult situation is challenging. What difficulty are you bringing before God, where you can change your prayer in the light of this?
Mark 10:35-45 — The kingdom of God is a higher order than human status
The lesson about who Jesus is and the path to greatness by serving that He sets out
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”
“James and John” – the two other members of Jesus’ inner circle (following on from Peter’s outburst, Mark 8:32-33) show that they still haven’t grasped His essential teaching about who He is and His impending death, and what greatness and leadership in the kingdom of God means.
36 “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
“In Your glory” – the part they had understood is that Jesus was the Messiah; “sit at Your right…” – they associated it, wrongly, with rank and status.
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?”
“You don’t know” – they didn’t understand about sharing in Jesus suffering, and the servant nature of leadership in His kingdom.
39-40 “We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
“Not for Me to grant” – Jesus would not usurp His Father’s authority.
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
“Indignant” – they wanted prestige and power for themselves. Jesus now spells out a different understanding of what the leadership of God’s kingdom entails.
42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
43-44 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be
“Not so with you” – the values of the kingdom of God turn the values of the world upside down.
45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
“To serve, and… give His life” – a climax and one of the most important passages in Mark, emphasising how Jesus’ death as a suffering servant is central to the values of His kingdom.
IN PRACTICE The Letter to the Ephesians teaches that all Christians, in their new nature, are positionally ‘seated’ together with Christ, who is Himself seated at the right hand of God the Father with authority over everything. For us this is no less than a place of sharing His spiritual authority in the battle against evil. So there is a sense that we do get what James and John asked for, but not in the way that they imagined. However, the values of the kingdom of God clash with the values of the world, and put serving above status. The point is that, knowing Jesus, personally and intimately, brings a different kind of authority, spiritual authority, which is how Jesus uses us to bring His light and presence into our sin-darkened world.
QUESTION What for you is the hardest part of the “Not so for you” (verse 43)?
Hebrews 5:1-10 — Jesus has gained special qualification to represent us to God
Jesus, having suffered and borne our sins, is called into a high priestly role of a unique order
The background text to this is Psalm 110:4 in which is God’s stated intention that His Son is to be a priest
1 Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
“From among the people” – the high priest had to be able to relate to people and their lives, in order to represent them before God.
2-3 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since He himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.
“Weakness… his own sins” – the high priest, subject to human sinfulness, sacrifices first for his own sins, Lev. 16:6,11. By
4 And no one takes this honour on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.
“Called by God” – the Aaronic high priest must not be self-appointed but have a recognised call to the office. In Jesus’ lifetime the high-priestly office – and the power and control that went with it – belonged to the family who had bought the privilege.
5 In the same way, Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to Him, “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.”
“You are My Son” – or “Today I reveal You as My Son”, quoted from Psalm 2:7. A turning point in the comparison.
For further study: read Psalm 2:7-9, Romans 1:4.
6 And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
“Priest… in the order of Melchizedek” – quoted from Psalm 110:4. This is the first of 10 times this verse is quoted in Hebrews, Ps.110:4,6,10; 6:20; 7:3,11,15,17,21,24,28.
7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.
“Heard… because of his reverent submission” – Jesus did not shrink from the indescribable agony of bearing mankind’s sins in a suffering of spirit, soul and body. He asked that the ‘cup of suffering’ might be taken from Him, but He still went through with it in full obedience to His Father.
“Save Him from death” – by resurrection.
8-10 Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
“Learned obedience… once made perfect” – or ‘complete, qualified’ from teleios original meaning ‘having reached its end’. Christ was without sin, but proved His humanity in the cost of obedience, walking the path of human experience all the way to death on the Cross, in complete submission to the Father’s will. This finally qualified Christ to represent us by His unique and ultimate high priesthood.
IN PRACTICE This passage exposes the fallacy of any religious system which we “take on ourselves”, v.4. It’s easier to grasp but the only effective and peace-bringing way is through personal relationship with Jesus. He is the only person who, having lived our life with its trials and temptations – without sin – can represent us before the Father. This highest of high priests, who has conquered death, and broken the grip of everything which contends with God’s design and purpose for our lives, is the one who takes up our supplication (asking) prayer – and then reminds us that, sharing His exalted place, we should move from asking, to declaring in faith, what He has done. With the backing of Jesus the great high priest, we can pray with authority – His authority.
QUESTION What in church or Christian life are we inclined to put our faith in, rather than relying on Jesus to represent us?
PRAYER Father God, as I come to You in Jesus I am overwhelmed, not just by Your greatness and higher purpose, but by your goodness and generosity beyond anything I could deserve. Help me to hold on to this great truth, for myself and but also to share with others who need a touch from You.
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