Speak Your Mind

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God is creative in renewing His people and His world

TLW14 for Sunday, April 7 – Lent 5

Theme: God is creative in renewing His people and His world

OT READING

Isaiah 43:16-21 — The Lord is doing a new thing. Don’t expect earlier moves of God to be repeated, but discern His purposes now.

GOSPEL READING

John 12:1-8 — Mary does a new and shocking thing to honour Jesus. Unintentionally she foretells His death in anointing Him.

EPISTLE READING

Philippians 3:4b-14 — Paul changes radically to gain new life in Christ. He trashes his former achievements as barriers to the far greater worth of knowing Jesus.

Also: Psalm 126

Isaiah 43:16-21 —The Lord is doing a new thing

Don’t expect earlier moves of God to be repeated, but discern His purposes now.

16 This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters…

“A way through the sea” – a reference to the exodus through the Red Sea at the birth of the Hebrew nation.

17 …who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:

“Chariots and horses” – representing the most advanced (and costly) military resources. The Israelite refugees, on foot, were no match – apart from God.

18 ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.

“Forget the former things” – The Lord is speaking through Isaiah 200 years before the exile, and 300 years before the return of the exiles. However, people are not to dwell on the Lord’s past means of deliverance – He is not to be restricted to a certain way of doing things. Today, we are not to look to a previous revival, as the pattern for the next.

19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

“Doing a new thing” – not like the “way through the sea” of verse 16 but this time “a way in the wilderness”. The common factor is miraculously reversing nature, this time releasing “streams in the wasteland” rather than turning back the sea.

20 The wild animals honour Me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to My people, My chosen…

“I provide water in the wilderness” – benefitting the animals who live there, but also spiritual refreshment and new freedom for the oppressed exiles coming out of Babylon.

21 …the people I formed for Myself that they may proclaim My praise.

“That they may proclaim My praise” – God’s purpose is for people tto turn to Him and declare His praise. Looking beyond revivals, His ultimate purpose looks forward to a time when creation generally will turn to God, Isaiah 42:11-12, Romans 8:20-21.

​​IN PRACTICE In a world that presents us with frequent, ongoing change it is natural to seek to preserve and maintain what we have known and loved. We visit stately homes and take trips on steam railways and rediscover former breeds of farm animals. However, spiritually we must keep moving on — because God is always moving on. The Bible gives us God’s timeline of faith, and He constantly surprises us by doing what He has not done before, and saying, in various ways, “I am doing a new thing”. We would rather cling to the last ‘new thing’. If we have known the excitement of a move of God in revival or renewal or just gentle revitalisation, first we want more of the same. Then we recognise that we just need more of God — whatever He is doing now. The challenge is agreeing that it won’t be the same.

​​QUESTION   What was the last ‘new thing’ we experienced in church or Christian life? How much are we looking back to that time? How much are we seeking signs of a different move?

John 12:1-8 — Mary does a new and shocking thing to honour Jesus

Unintentionally she foretells His death in anointing Him.

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

“Before the Passover” – on Thursday that year, and Jesus arrived the previous Friday, just before the Sabbath.

“Bethany” – two miles east of the city, which was already filling up with pilgrims travelling in; it made sense for Jesus to stay with friends a little way out.

2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him.

“Lazarus… reclining at the table” – this was a main-meal deipnon, dinner, and reclining at table implies a special occasion where guests would recline three or four to a table. Evidently Jesus and Lazarus were at the same table. Lazarus, Martha and Mary were close friends of Jesus.

3 Then Mary took about half a litre of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

“Pure nard” – the oil of a fragrant plant from North India, that smelled like gladiola perfume. An extravagant act of devotion, and a humble one – only servants attended to guest’s feet. Women usually had their hair covered, possibly not a single woman at home.

4-5 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

“Worth a year’s wages” – Judas, a less-than-honest witness, was not concerned for the poor and may have been exaggerating.

6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“He used to help himself” – the one verse which tells us that Judas was dishonest, although he had been trusted with the money bag. For a group’s treasurer to steal money would be scandalous, and bring shame on the whole group, in the view of outsiders.

7 ‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial.

“Leave her alone” – Jesus defending Mary gives meaning to the deed. Nard was one of the burial spices for the dead and Mary was, perhaps without realising, anticipating His death and anointing Him for burial.

8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me.’

“You will always have the poor” – Jesus is quoting Deut. 15:11, not discouraging helping the poor. His impending death leaves little time for His disciples to share His earthly ministry. Mary’s devotion to Him is a right priority.

​​IN PRACTICE  Mary shocked the people in her village with her unexpected and dramatic action. You can imagine them talking about it, using their expressions for ‘over the top’ and ‘irresponsible’. But Mary’s reputation has now spread worldwide, and billions of people see her as someone who gave the devotion the Lord is seeking in a real way. Sometimes we can find ourselves carrying out what turns out to be a prophetic act, even if we never saw it that way when it happened. Mary ‘wasted’ a stock of perfume oil of great value, but gave a lead in her devotion of He who is of incalculable worth.

​​QUESTION  Is our worship of Jesus extravagant and demonstrative? If not, why not?

Philippians 3:4b-14 —Paul changes radically to gain new life in Christ

He trashes his former achievements as barriers to the far greater worth of knowing Jesus

4b-6 If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

“Confidence in the flesh” – the danger of confidence in yourself and your attributes, inherited or earned. Paul sets out his impeccable Jewish credentials, a glowing record as a zealous Pharisee. By contrast he wrote to Corinth church, reminding them “…Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential…”.

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

“Gains to me I now consider loss” – the language of a balance sheet. On the road to Damascus, every ‘credit’ in Paul’s glowing CV now became something he had to lay down to accept Christ. A kernel of seeds to fall to the ground and die, John 12:24.

8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.

“Knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” – he does not mean knowing about the life and works of Jesus, but the transformation that comes from really coming to know a person – in this case, the highly transforming Person of Christ.

“I consider them garbage” – he uses a blunt, less genteel word for what is polluting and to be put out straight away. He is saying that his former way of life with its religious credentials was not only worthless, but despicable, see Ephesians 2:3-7.

9 …and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

“Not a righteousness of my own” – here is the dilemma, set out clearly and directly. Everyone starts off claiming to be righteous through ‘doing right’, charitable works and/or the performance of religious actions. Our world is about earning merit, so this is the way that fits our worldview. Paul shatters that worldview with his “garbage” comment and goes on to say that righteousness cannot be earned, but is received from God undeservedly, solely on the basis of our trusting Him in faith.

• For further study: the righteousness of God that comes on us through our trusting relationship with Christ Jesus, 1 Cor. 1:30, 2 Cor. 5:21, Phil. 3:8-9.

“Found in Him” – being “in Christ” is contrasted to “being in Judaism”, Galatians 1:13-14 or “under the Law”, Romans 3:19.

10-11 I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

“To know Christ…and…His sufferings” –  to know Christ personally is to identify with Him and swap the world’s values for His. That brings with it misunderstanding and alienationt, such as Christ experienced and warned about, John 15:18–21. However, the Bible witness is that the suffering of God’s people is never final.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

• For further study, other places where Paul uses the imagery of athletics: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7-8.

13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead,

14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.

“Towards what is ahead… the prize” – the winner in Greek races received a wreath of leaves with the award. This is Paul’s picture of everlasting glory for the Christian who wins through. Eternal life is assured when we turn to Christ as our Saviour and Lord, but Christian maturity emphasises the prize of achieving kingdom of God gains that have eternal, rather than momentary, value.

​​IN PRACTICE  ​​The new thing that God was doing in Paul’s life was costly for him. As a Jew he had plenty to be proud of, but pride is the greatest barrier to us having a real relationship with God. That pride had to be broken for Paul to come to know God personally, and for him that was a dramatic turnaround. To diminish or at least, hold very lightly our achievements, may not be such a big thing for us, as it was for Paul to throw out his first-class degree in religious zeal. However, the principle is the same. God can’t have first place, where there’s no space. We need to make room, starting with the ornaments we used to think were the most precious.

​​QUESTION  What apparent spiritual qualification may be acting as a barrier to the renewal God wants to do in us?

​​PRAYER  ​​Lord, the flesh is weak and it doesn’t like change. Yet Jesus said memorably that He could only be doing what He saw the Father doing. Help us to have that same resolve to talk to You, and walk with You, and to be found doing Your will and pursuing Your mission in the world — whether we find it comfortable or not. To the glory of Jesus we pray, Amen.

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Psalm 126

A hymn of praise to celebrate Israel’s return from exile, with Zion, meaning ‘distinctive’ at the centre of His plan. Zion, specifically the hilltop, here stands for Jerusalem and for the nation. The general thought is that is the Lord can restore Zion, the city, after its season of destruction, He can do the same for the people; and if He can do it in t he past, He can do it again.

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.

“Restored the fortunes” – the disastrous fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 589 BC and exile of most of its people, Babylon itself was conquered 50 years later by Cyrus, King of Persia. Cyrus issued a proclamation allowing the captive people to return to their homelands and rebuild their cities, Ezra 1:1-11; 3:7. The psalm attributes this reversal to the Lord.

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.

Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’

“It was said among the nations” – the Lord’s restoration did more than give the people laughter and joy at the change they experienced – it showed the Lord’s merciful character to the surrounding nations,  frequent theme e.g. Psalm 9:11, 64:9, Isaiah 12:4

3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.

“Restore our fortunes” – repatriation and rebuilding was one thing, the prosperity spoken of by the prophets another. This is a plea to complete the resttlement and bring a full restoration of the prosperity of former times, like the dry river bed of the Negev which becomes a flowing stream when the rains come.

5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.

6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

“Sow with tears” – hard work and the rigours of farming are also used by God. The person who remains humble and dependent on God will experience His blessings on the land.

The rich working of God’s compassion

TLW13. Bible readings for Sunday, March 31 (Mothering Sunday)

Mothering Sunday. Theme: The rich working of God’s compassion.

Exodus 2:1-10 — An Egyptian princess’s compassion saves baby Moses. Moses, born into oppression, is rescued for God’s purpose to be fulfilled in Him.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7— God is the Father of compassion who comforts us. Paul, with rich experience of God’s comfort, shares this with the church in Corinth.

John 19:25-27 — Jesus expresses His  compassion for His mother. Near to death, He assigns a disciple to care for her.

Psalm 34:11-20 — The Lord’s special compassion for those broken to pride

Exodus 2:1-10 —An Egyptian princess’s compassion saves Moses

Moses, born into oppression, is rescued for God’s purpose to be fulfilled in Him.

The Israelite descendants of Jacob who followed Joseph had become numerous and a new Pharoah who knew nothing of the good Joseph had done resolved to enslave them – and ordered all male Hebrew babies to be thrown into the Nile.

1-4  Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman  and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.  His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

“A man of the tribe of Levi” – named Amram and Jochebed, Exodus 6:20.

“She hid him” – there is a strong parallel here with Israel in Egypt. Moses was born into oppression, saved by an “ark” from  a watery death decreed by the pharaoh, rescued and grew to maturity in the pharaoh’s court.

“Papyrus ark” – the same word as used for Noah’s massive barge. Papyrus was strong enough to be used for light craft and pitch was used for waterproofing all boats, Genesis 6:14, Isaiah 18:2.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it.

She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.

“Down to the Nile to bathe” – not just washing but morning devotions to a river regarded by the Egyptians as a goddess with life-giving, healing properties. To discover a crying baby floating in the embrace of the Nile goddess (in her perception) would be a significant sign.

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”

“To nurse the baby” – children were nursed for three years or more before being weaned, often by a ‘wet nurse’. .

“Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother.

Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him.

“I will pay you” – There is an implication that the princess knew who the mother was, and the two women had an unspoken understanding

10  When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”

“I drew him out” – a wordplay on the name Moses, which sound like the Hebrew mashah, ‘to draw out’ and may be related to a common Egyptian word for ‘son’.

IN PRACTICE  The thread linking this week’s readings is compassion and in this account of Moses’ birth and early life we see how God’s Father heart of compassion stirred an Egyptian pagan princess to fulfil His purposes, not just for Moses but eventually for the whole nation. The crying baby floating in a papyrus basket is a salvation story which stirs many emotions, and it seems a far cry from the Egyptian chariots, a generation later, bearing down on the Israelites who seemed to face annihilation at the water’s edge – until they were “drawn through” the parting waters to be saved from destruction on the other side. God’s overriding characteristic is mercy and compassion, and His favourite action is saving. In a world fallen through Adam’s sin and largely rebellious towards God, and therefore all too open to the predations of the devil and his minions, there will always be threats, curses and conflicts. A merciful God of compassion stands over all of them, waiting for those who will turn to Him. (169)

QUESTION  Given the wars and conflicts we see far away and close to home all the time,  how would you explain what God is like, and why the world He created is not like Him?

John 19:25-27 —Jesus expresses His  compassion for His mother

Near to death, He assigns a disciple to care for her

In John’s Gospel, this event takes place during the account of the crucifixion, after the soldiers had cast lots for Jesus’ clothes, but before Jesus’s last utterances.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

“Near the cross of Jesus” – soldiers would guard the execution and keep spectators at a distance, but women were a low risk for acting violently and were expected to express their mourning, perhaps near to a dying prisoner.

“His mother’s sister” – the only reference in the NT to Jesus’ mother’s sister, who might have been the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John, see Matt. 27:56.

26-27 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

“The disciple who He loved” – John is given the responsibility to provide for Mary (on the assumption above, his aunt), almost certainly widowed and without income and therefore dependent on the provision and protection of others.

“This disciple took her into his home” – A Jewish family law could be used to assign the care of one person to another. There is another dimension to this as the embryo church community gathered – Jesus wanted them to love and care for each other, as He had taught with great clarity, John 13:34, John 15:12, 17.

IN PRACTICE  Every Christian believer dwells on what is was like for Jesus to give up His life, and not only give it up, but voluntarily take on Himself the punishment and torture and shame that is so graphically recorded. We can dwell on it, but we don’t get close – perhaps hold off from getting too close – to the reality of that experience. In all of this, which is beyond our human capacity to understand, there is this exchange which is even  more incomprehensible. Jesus, dying in tortured agony where every breath adds to the pain, speaks out His concern for His mother, standing and sobbing in a family group nearer to the Cross than other observers. There is a saying that, what is in us, is what comes out when we are under extreme pressure. What came out of Jesus was His compassion, forgiving His tormentors and charging the disciple who had shown similar qualities with care of His mother. He loves us with that same love today.

QUESTION  Jesus wanted those who were close to Him to love each other – He had made that plain, and demonstrated it again as He was dying. What sort of priority should we make this in our church gatherings and interactions – and why?

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 —God is the Father of compassion who comforts us

Paul, with rich experience of God’s comfort, shares this with the church in Corinth

Paul, the much persecuted apostle sent to the Gentile nations, praises God for seeing him through many life-threatening difficulties, and uses this to encourage troubled believers in Corinth.

3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

“Praise be to God” – Paul extols God for the suffering and difficulties that his opponents use against him to call into question his apostleship.

“Father of compassion”– a reflection on God’s limitless compassion, and never failing comfort. This letter frequently refers to God’s strengthening and refreshing of believers who face difficulty.

For further study, read Psalm 145:9; Lam. 3:22; Micah 7:19; Isaiah 40:1; 51:3, 12; 66:13.

5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

“Share… in the sufferings of Christ” – cannot, of course, refer to Christ’s unique atonement for sin, Romans 5:8-10; Romans 6:10. Paul endured danger, opposition and adverse conditions for the sake of God’s people and the gospel, much as Jesus did.

6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.

“Distressed… for your comfort” – one’s own suffering is a qualification to come alongside others and empathise. Paul’s opponents sought to use Paul’s many hardships to discredit him as one out of favour with God. Paul maintains that his sufferings are a way God uses to connect with a strengthen other believers.

7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

IN PRACTICE  Few would disagree that Paul was a courageous and good man, who came back after a very bad start to fulfil a vital and far-reaching mission and give us much of the NT teaching. However he alludes to the extreme difficulties he has faced, detailed later in this letter. His point is that, to set out to follow the Son of God who was love and compassion incarnate, is to set out on a rough road through bandit territory. But it is a great training ground, for understanding both the challenges faced by every believer, but also the comfort of God which flows to every believer. The fallacy we all fall for is that of not needing God in the good times, the lure of self-sufficiency, which is an attraction to our humanness. But Paul says, expect trouble – and also expect God to be right with you in the dark valley, our confidence against the fear that evil oppression stirs up. And self evidently Paul, who has taken more hits than anyone, is a survivor. God who has so often comforted Him, is the same God who is there to comfort us.

QUESTION  Paul starts by praising God for His goodness against a backdrop of hurt and hopelessness. How is he coaching us to respond to our pain and difficulty?

PRAYER  Father God, as we come to You as Your children, we are overwhelmed by Your care and comfort while the world is trying to overturn us with hurts and rejections. We call to mind the difficulties and challenges we are facing now – and we praise You that You are not only greater than all of them together, but that You turn the assaults of the world, the flesh and the devil into a training exercise and a fresh encounter with Your mercy. We receive Your love afresh, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Psalm 34:11-20 —The Lord’s special compassion for those broken to pride

11 Come, my children, listen to Me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

“Come, my children” – the earlier part of the psalm, praise for deliverance, now turns to wisdom, which often used the language of parents instructing children.

12-13  Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.

14  Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

15  The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry…

“The eyes of the Lord” – Psalms 32, 33 and 34 all use this picture of God seeing everything

16  …but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.

“Keep your tongue from evil” – the apostle Peter quotes vv. 12-16, 1 Peter 3:10-12, making a point about Christians living in a peace-loving way.

“But the face of the Lord” – a sharp contrast between the Lord’s countenance towards those who trust Him and His expression to those who oppose Him in doing evil.

17  The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.

18  The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

“The Lord hears… delivers… is close” – assurance that the Lord looks out for those who, in the Hebrew expressions used, are broken to their own pride and stubbornness, Psalm 147:3.

19  The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;

20  He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.

“Protects all his bones” – the link to the crucifixion in the Gospel reading is that this verse was taken as having been literally fulfilled by Jesus, John 19:36.

Jesus made Himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant – but without losing His divine origins as part of the Trinity

THURSDAY, MARCH 22
Philippians 2:5-11

Paul challenges Christians reading the letter with the standard of humility and obedience shown by Christ

These verses contain a lot of Christology in a few words – however, the main thrust is the unity and selflessness which is the result of humility of heart.

5  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

This verse is the key to what follows in this poetic passage.

Literally “keep thinking this [attitude] among you, which [attitude] was also in Christ Jesus.”

“With one another” or among you. The meaning is more than an exhortation to everyone to be personally virtuous – or ‘nice’. It means “be Christlike in your church fellowship” – continuing to explain what this looks like. The community of salvation created by the Holy Spirit of Jesus, God incarnate, must confront the pride and strife that is always trying to enter in. As believers, we may not be able to replicate the exact ministry that Jesus exercised, but as followers of His Way, we are called to represent His values of sacrificial love and humility which the Cross demonstrated so unmistakably.

6  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage…

“Being in very nature God” – Christ as the second member of the Trinity was, literally, “in the same form as God”, meaning that He shared the image and the glory of God.

He did not regard his existing in a manner of “equality with God a thing to be grasped (NASB, ESV, RSV etc)” or held onto (harpagmos).

Following Lightfoot, an established view is that before becoming incarnate as man, the Son possessed equality with the Father; He resolved not to cling to it.

Another view on this passage is that He had no need to (actively) grasp to attain divine equality because He already possessed it as the eternal Son of God.

7  …rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

“Made Himself nothing” – literally “emptied Himself” (ESV, NASB) “stripped Himself” (Amplified), “gave up His divine privileges” (NLT).

This is best understood as the pre-incarnate Christ letting go of His glory and the omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence of God that make Him so distinctly ‘other’. This limitation was necessary for Him to share our human limitations, albeit more perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit than we can achieve. He gave up the particular privileges of His heavenly existence to be born as man, but did not in any way renounce His deity or identification as part of the Trinity. Having the “form of God”, v.6, could not be given up but “the nature of a servant” could be taken up.

“Likeness” stresses similarity but also allows for differences. Paul is saying that although Christ became a genuine man, in some respects He was not like any other man.

8  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

Verses 6, 7 and 8 are all part of the same sentence and should be understood together – and in the context of Scripture passages that reveal Jesus as using his divine powers and displaying his glory upon occasions such as miracles and the Transfiguration, but always under the direction of the Father and the Spirit

For further study see Luke 4:14; John 5:19, 8:28, 14:10

9  Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name…

The Father’s response to His Son’s extraordinary obedience and humility is to name Him Lord of lords. This underlines a biblical principle which is widely emphasised. The whole passage is about the prerequisite of being in humble submission to God, for His partnership and glory to be realised.

For further study, see Matthew 18:4, 23:12; Luke 14:11, 18:14; Also 2 Corinthians 11:7; Phil. 4:12.

10  …that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There is a connection here to what Daniel saw in the Spirit, Daniel 7:13–14.

This poetic teaching, or perhaps praise song of the Early Church, concludes with a universal acknowledgment of Jesus’ lordship by those living and departed saints, and also the onlooking satanic host and lost humanity in hell in the words of Isaiah 45:23 (cf. Romans 14:11; Rev 5:13).

Application

This teaching is about the power of obedience and humility offered to God for Him to transform. We see Jesus as the supreme example; He who stooped so low is now lifted up, He who made Himself of no rank is promoted to the glorious rank of equality with God. It was a dignity which was His by right but He renounced His entitlement. “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place.”

We are so ingrained with the sense of merit and self-sufficiency, this comes as a difficult lesson. But as the contemporary saying goes, “Less is more”. Less of our egos and opinions so that God can use us without us stealing the glory.

As long as we are human, that will remain a challenge.

For reflection, or as a discussion starter

What area of ego or closely-guarded opinion do you need to let go, like Jesus let go of His divine status? How will you work on it?

The song that pilgrims in festal procession sang came to life in a new way at Jesus’ entry into the city

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21
Psalm 118:1-2 and 19-29

The person whose name had the meaning “You have become my salvation” was to become the “stone that the builders rejected”  in the words of this processional.

This is a song of national deliverance i.e. victory over the Canaanites or victory over enemies following the exile, at the dedication of the second temple or the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, Ezra 6:16, Nehemiah 12:37-43. Psalms 113 to 118 became a set of songs used at annual festivals to celebrate national deliverance after the exile, and as this was the last song of the set, it may have been what Jesus and the disciples sang after the Last Supper, Matt 26:30.

1  Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.

2  Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.”

The Lord is good, and His mercy endures – the covenant affirmation and the conventional call to worship.

19  Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.

20  This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.

The “gates of the righteous… through which the righteous may enter” could be the way in for the festal procession of the righteous, with the gates of the temple inner court symbolically guarding the presence of the Lord from any who are unrighteous. See Psalm 24.

21  I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation.

“Salvation” – the procession entering Jerusalem and the Temple, seen as the dwelling place of God, to celebrate the deliverance of God’s people, time after time, by God’s gracious action. We would say this verse with joy and sincerity in the different understanding of finding salvation with God through receiving the Son of God as a personal Saviour and Lord.

22  The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…

The chief stone in the whole building, by which the several parts of the building are upheld and firmly united together; thus Christ united Jews and Gentiles together (John Wesley). Isaiah says elsewhere that the Israelites had forsaken the God’s cornerstone for their own refuge in a lie, Isaiah 28:15. The NT leaves us in no doubt that the cornerstone of v.22 foreshadows Jesus, Matt. 21:42, Acts 4:11, Rom. 9:32, Eph. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:6ff.

23  …the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes.

24  The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.

The crucifixion of Jesus was like throwing out the main building block; the resurrection of Jesus was his vindication, a focus of “marvellous” rejoicing for the Early Church and Christians subsequently for whom these words have been prophetic and a source of worship.

25  Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!

26  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord, we bless you.

What Jesus had earlier implied by quoting these words, Matt. 21:42, the crowd at the Entry to Jerusalem saw for themselves. The crowd’s  ‘Hosanna’ (hôšîʿ ânnāʾ, ‘Save, pray!’) of v.25 is related to “my salvation of v.21) and followed by their shout “Blessed is He who comes …” which continues the quotation from this psalm.

27  The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.

This verse tells us that the psalm is written for a festal procession, most likely more than a Sabbath. The three big annual pilgrim feasts were Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. There is the sense from these verses of call and answer: one procession, already inside the gates, was greeting another that was arriving.

28  You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.

The processional ends with declarations that “The Lord is God” – the only God – and “You are my God” and the affirmation that the Lord is good and enduringly merciful.

29  Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.

The crowd who took part in these processions year after year could not have imagined that there would be a time when the symbolism would break out into reality, Hebrews 10:1, the horns of the altar would become the arms of the Cross, and the festival would become the full and final sacrifice of “Christ our Passover” 1 Cor 5:7.

Application

This processional song was often sung at the major festivals when people would come into the city from the area around with a common desire to honour God for His goodness – and in remembering the past times of deliverance for the nation.

How good are we at recounting what God has done for us? The situations that turned around, the answered prayers, the unexpected signs of God’s favour?

We may call them coincidences but in the heavenly order, nothing is a coincidence. In the spiritul battles of life, praise is our most powerful weapon, and praise with testimony puts a sharp edge on that weapon.

For reflection, or as a discussion starter

What recent instance of God’s goodness in answered prayer in His provision or in another aspect of salvation, could you speak out to give brief testimony to His goodness?

Confidence in God’s unfailing love at a time of desperation

TUESDAY, MARCH 2O
Psalm 31:9-18

David knew God’s faithfulness when he was under attack – prophetic of Jesus’ time of torment also

Context note: The first eight verses of the psalm (a psalm of David) express confidence in God and praise for His deliverance “You have set my feet in a spacious place”. But it doesn’t feel like that. Now the support completely expected under the covenant seems delayed; help is needed now.

9  Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.

The psalmist knows that under the covenant he can expect the Lord to act on his behalf, but the situation is increasingly desperate. He cannot wait. He cries out for the mercy of the Lord.

10  My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.

This is a description of someone drained emotionally and physically, which is the effect of the ’emotional murder’ of hatred.

11  Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbours and an object of dread to my closest friends – those who see me on the street flee from me.

12 I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.

The victim of the hatred and slander experiences rejection and contempt, even from former friends, v.11, and hopelessness, v.12, is joined by terror.

13 For I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side!” They conspire against me and plot to take my life.

14 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.”

In this dire situation, the psalmist moves – with the agility of a swordsman – from defending his feelings to offensive faith. He turns the tables on his oppressors (which may be human or spiritual) with prayer declarations.

15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.

He pledges trust and gives God the sovereignty and the outcome: “My times are in Your hands”.  Only then does he petition God to give him favour, to save him and vindicate him.

16 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in Your unfailing love.

Seeking God’s blessing in the familiar words of Numbers 6:25. The appeal to God to save in His unfailing love is an appeal to Him to act in accordance with the covenant.

17 Let me not be put to shame, Lord, for I have cried out to you; but let the wicked be put to shame and be silent in the realm of the dead.

18 Let their lying lips be silenced, for with pride and contempt they speak arrogantly against the righteous.

The outcome David wants more than any other is for an end to what is most damaging: the slander.

Application

The threats, and even murderous threats, of enemies are not unfamiliar to us. Perhaps the hardest  part of such an ordeal is the mental stress – and fear. The enemy is always active trying to put anxious thoughts and to turn our focus from faith to fear. He often uses malicious gossip and slander – getting vulnerable people to do his work for him.

The psalmist, David in this case, expresses this well. However, set alongside the  “terror on every side” experience is the statement “I trust in You, Lord… my times are in your hands”.

We may not be able to avoid fear – it is a human emotion and some kinds of fear are necessary, and even healthy. The lesson here is that whatever fears and anxieties the enemy is trying to bind us with, we can come through to a place in that fear and anxiety where we declare, over and against it, “I trust in You, Lord… My times are in your hands.”

Whatever we face, Jesus has faced it already – and won through.

For reflection, or as a discussion starter

Could you draw a statement of faith from the second half of this psalm? What would be your basis for speaking it out in faith, and confidently?

The Lord of lords who appears like a servant

Readings this week, leading up to Palm Sunday, March 25

MONDAY – Isaiah 50:4-9

TUESDAY – Psalm 31:9-16, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

WEDNESDAY – Mark 11:1-11

THURSDAY – Philippians 2:5-11

MONDAY, MARCH 19
Isaiah 50:5-9a

A picture of a true disciple’s false accusation, punishment – and assurance of the Lord’s vindication

Context and application note: This is called the third Servant Song of Isaiah, following Isaiah 42:1-9 (first) and 49:4, 7 (second). The first hearers might have seen Isaiah as the servant, or a purified Israel as the servant; with the advantage of hindsight it seems clear to us that this looks forward to Christ. John Wesley in his Notes said  of the phrase  “given me”  that “this and the following passages may be in some sort understood of the prophet Isaiah, but they are far more evidently and eminently verified in Christ, and indeed seem to be meant directly of Him.”

4  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.

“Well-instructed tongue” – the tongue of one being taught, or a disciple’s tongue

“Word that sustains” – the Hebrew translated “sustains” is a rare word, probably the equivalent of our sense of a timely word or a word in season, and emphasising the Servant’s prophetic role in hearing and speaking. As with any understanding of being a disciple, hearing from the Lord and responding to Him comes before speaking.

5  The Sovereign Lord has opened My ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.

“Opened my ears” – a sign of obedience. As we would say, the servant is “open” to hearing about the test of obedience that the Lord is presenting. Israel has been rebellious; by contrast the Servant is attentive – and resolute about what follows.

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.

“Who beat me” – beatings were for fools, or criminals Proverbs 10:13, 19:29, 26:3, Matt 27:26, John 19:1.

“Pulled out my beard” – a way of showing contempt, 2 Samuel 10:4-5, Neh. 13:25.

“Mocking and spitting” – associated with the insult and disgrace of hatred, Job 30:10, Deut 25:9, Job 17:6, Mt 27:30.

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.

“Set my face like flint” – as Luke 9:51, “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (NIV), ” steadfastly and determinedly set His face…” (Amplified).

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!

This is the language of a courtroom, where the devil performs his role as accuser and the Sovereign Lord gives judgment. The sanctity of the heavenly legal process, which of course is completely fair, must be upheld.

Whatever the nature of the Servant’s call (v.5) and its cost in suffering (v.6) and resoluteness (v.7), these must fulfil the legal requirements. In v.8 “near” is a parallel word to gōʾēl, the Redeemer or Next-of-Kin of Ruth 2:20, 3:12. See also Lev. 21:2–3, 25:25, Num. 27:11.

“He who vindicates” – As this is fulfilled in the Messiah, it is also good news in the lives of those whose lives are hidden in Him. As Christ was sinless, He is able to nullify the charges brought against His own who have put their trust in Him, Romans 8:31-34.

9  It is the Sovereign Lord who helps Me. Who will condemn Me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.

“Condemn” means proven guilty. The Servant is confident of a favourable judgment. The vindication, in Jesus’ trials, did not spare Him the unjust punishment, even though the charges did not stick (see further study references). In the same way we experience injustice at the hands of men, but the verdict of heaven is a resounding ‘not guilty’ and freedom from any shame. There is also destruction for those involved in the wrongful action.

Jesus challenged His enemies: “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”, John 8:46.

“The moths” – what John Wesley called ‘the secret curse’ of destruction of false accusers, reiterated in Isaiah 51:8.

For further study, see Matthew 27:3–4, 19, 24; Mark 15:3; Luke 23:4, 10, 14–15, 41; John 8:46; John 19:6 and the ultimate vindication, 1 Timothy 3:16.

Application

This is a picture of utter devotion and obedience in the face of harsh treatment and false accusation. There is a courtroom scene where accusations are made, defence made and the Lord’s judgment will be pronounced after the legalities are thrashed out.

Earlier readers would have seen this as applying to Isaiah himself – Israel had a poor record of heeding God’s messages and honouring God’s messengers.

How does this sit with us? Life is frequently unfair and a particular difficulty Christians have is being singled out for harsh treatment, often at the hands of religious people. Bad things do happen to people who are by no means bad or deserving of it. The extreme case was the mock trial and then execution of Jesus. This passage reminds us that eventually false accusers self-destruct and vindication by the Lord is assured – but people of malicious intent still have free will to cause a lot of hurt through their slander.

It took faith for the first disciples to hold on to God’s greater plan and it took them time to see God’s purpose in it all, even though they had been taught and reminded by Jesus Himself. It takes faith for us to hold on to God’s goodness and promises when everything appears to be under the devil’s domination, knowing that  “because the Sovereign Lord helps Me, I will not be disgraced – who will condemn me?” Faith that is not stretched and tested is not mature faith.

For reflection, or as a discussion starter

When everything is going wrong and spiritual oppression is causing confusion, does God speak and how do we best position ourselves to hear Him?

New covenant, new way

RECAP

Jeremiah 31:31-34   Jeremiah foresees a different kind of covenant entirely, a covenant of heart rather than statute.

Psalm 51:1-13  Selfishness and independence is inherited from mankind’s fallenness, but the mercy of God’s unfailing love and His Holy Spirit can create a new heart.

John 12:20-33  As the ‘prince of this world’ hears the announcement of his judgment, Jesus foretells that His death will draw all kinds of people to Him.

Hebrews 5:5-10  The new covenant is explained to Jewish Christians in terms of the new, enduring and entirely different level of priesthood now held by Christ Jesus.

FRIDAY, MARCH 16
New covenant, new way

The transition from obeying to partnering

Our Father God wants His children to know Him personally, to share in His values – such as drawing everyone to Himself – and to partner with Him in bringing transformation to this world.

That wasn’t always how it worked. In the desert, then in the Promised Land, with the influence of prophets, priests and kings, a people that would obey and stick to Moses’ Sinai covenant was what brought His favour. That is, when they did obey – when the ‘marriage’ was working. But more and more, the relationship began to fail.

Just as expectations in the partnership of marriage have changed, as the roles and relationships of men and women have changed, the whole basis for relating to God went through a ‘sea change’. Everything changed in Jesus. The Messiah was the True Light who fulfilled the Law – a huge change. His giving of the Holy Spirit, empowering and bringing revelation, inspiring the gospels and other NT teaching was an even more profound change. The Old Covenant was about doing what was right, doing good works and doing ‘good religion’. The New Covenant, which Jeremiah foresaw, was about being those redeemed by Jesus as the unique High Priest, with hearts changed by the Holy Spirit, resulting in good works and partnership in the mission of God.

In the workplace, it is common to start a new role with an induction to learn the new ways things are done. Have we fully caught on to the new way God is working – or still trying to do things the old way, to His consternation?

The new, enduring and entirely different level of priesthood now held by Christ Jesus

THURSDAY, MARCH 15
Hebrews 5:5-10

The sinless and perfected humanity of Jesus, and His victory over the severest of tests, make Him the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him

The opening chapters of Hebrews, Hebrews 1-Hebrews 3:2, gives the Jewish readers the letter was written for, a background of who Jesus is – “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”, Heb. 1:3. Christ who was “made a little lower than the angels”, is “now crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death”, Heb. 1:9, and “much superior to the angels”, Heb. 1:4. He is also the “Apostle and High Priest… faithful to the One who appointed Him”, Hebrews 3:1-2. He is the One God sent (apostle) to become the ultimate mediator and source of salvation, high priest, of a different and very special kind.

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”, Psalm 2:7.

5  In New Testament times the high priestly office was in the control of the family that had bought the rights.
6  And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek,” Psalm 110:4. 6  Christ was appointed by God – as was Aaron. This is a similarity, but now we see that this is a different kind of priesthood. They made sacrifices for sins on behalf of the people, and dealt gently with the waywardness of the people, but this was not permanent. Aaron and his successors had to make sin offerings for their own sin, as well as the people’s. They had their time of office, and were replaced.
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. 7  Unlike Aaron, Jesus made a permanent sacrifice for sin as a sinless person. Unlike Aaron, He learned obedience through suffering, v.8, and offered up prayers and petitions which are heard because of His reverent submission, v.7. Salvation through His priesthood is not here-and-now (until the next sacrifice) but eternal, all-encompassing and without limit.
8  Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered… 8  Not that He was ever disobedient. But being called upon to obey in such a test, facing such temptations, engaging in such a difficult battle for victory, Christ was “made perfect”. His victory overturns Adam’s failure and the consequent curse affecting humanity.
9  …and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him… His humanity completed (another way of expressing “made perfect”), He now acts as “the source of eternal salvation”, see Hebrews 9:12.
10  …and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. 10 Melchizedek had no successors, so strictly speaking there was no order named after him. “A high priest of the same kind as Melchizedek” is better and also conveys the sense that this kind of priesthood is on another level entirely.
Application

The high priest role of Jesus may not be the easiest one for us to relate to – but we reflect on it every time we pray a prayer “in the name of Jesus”. We are asking the resurrected Jesus in His heavenly position to pick up our prayer, to agree with it and then pray it before the Father on our behalf.

Knowing that Jesus, “the radiance of God’s glory”, is by the Father’s side interceding for us, Romans 8:34 gives us a lot of confidence in intercession prayer. But we know that prayer in the face of the one who steals, kills and destroys, John 10:10, is a battle. It is something of a courtroom standoff of legal arguments against a merciless prosecutor, in which God’s word is used to establish precedents. If we know that the high priest role of Jesus is an appointment by God of one tested and found perfected and sinless, even through the most severe trials, and now designated to be the source of eternal salvation for those who follow Him – we are giving our brief to the ultimate Kings Counsel, a barrister of the very highest standing and impeccable reputation.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How has this changed your perspective on what happens in the heavenlies when we pray with requests for ourselves or others?

Jesus speaks of His impending death, and God’s audible voice is heard

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14
John 12:20-33

As the ‘prince of this world’ hears the announcement of his judgment, Jesus foretells that His death will draw all kinds of people to Him

20  Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.

20  “Greeks” – God-fearing Gentiles from a Greek-speaking area such as the ten towns of Galilee , or Greek-speaking converts to Judaism.

21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 21  Or rather, converse with Jesus. Perhaps they knew Philip, who had a Greek name.
22  Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23  Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 23  Jesus had often said that His hour had not yet come. Now it had. Now, what must happen, is about to happen. Jesus’ death, and then His resurrection, were supreme demonstrations of the glory of His actions and the glory of who He was and is.
24  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 24  Jesus’ death results in an abundant harvest, 1 Cor. 15:36-38. The Greeks coming with Philip gave Jesus a picture of the harvest to come which would be a harvest of Gentiles as well as Jews.
25  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 25  “Anyone who loves… who hates their life” – this is an exaggeration for effect, a common Jewish figure of speech

25  The first word for “life” is more usually translated ‘soul’ and has the meaning of individual personality and achievement. The second is usually coupled with “eternal” as ‘eternal life’ or spiritual vitality in God’s presence.

26  Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves Me. 26  Jesus is reflecting on, if not exactly quoting, God’s words spoken to Eli: “Those who honour Me I will honour, but those who despise Me will be disdained” (1 Samuel 2:30)
27  “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 27  We are more familiar with Jesus’ anguish at Gethsemane which the narrative gospels relate, Matt 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:40-46. John shows us that Jesus had already shared His struggle with what his destiny demanded from Him at this earlier time.

28  Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

28  This was the third time that God’s voice was heard audibly in connection with Jesus, each time affirming the authority of Jesus as His Son. People heard a booming sound but John is quite certain that this was God speaking, as he records.

For further study, see accounts of God speaking at Jesus’ baptism, Matt 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:21-22; and at the Transfiguration, Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35.

29  The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to Him.

30  Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.

 30  Another Jewish idiom of exaggeration, like v.25, meaning that it would be more enduringly for the disciples’ benefit as they struggled to make sense of the crucifixion and the events surrounding it.

31  Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.

31  Every revelation of Jesus is by its nature a judgment on those who deny who Jesus is, and a judgment on the devil’s attempts to influence the world and individuals. “The world” in John is often used as a shorthand for religious leaders antagonistic to Jesus.

31  Another aspect of the judgment on this world was what was becoming evident to people at this time (not the final judgment). The revelation of who Jesus is always compels a response, to honour Him or not, with consequences either way (v.26).

31  There are a three references to the ‘prince of this world’ in John’s gospel, John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; other descriptions in John are the devil (diabolos), Satan (satanas from Hebrew satan, adversary or accuser) and the evil one (ho poneros), John 8:44, 13:2, 13:27, 17:15. 

32  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”

He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.

32  John uses elkyo, draw or pull, in the sense of drawing people to Him, 6:44; 12:32;  and drawing in the net with the fish, John 21:6, 11.

32  Jesus’ death on the Cross would draw “all people” to Him. Clearly not all would believe. Of those, not all would trust Him and honour Him as their Lord. The sense is drawing all kinds of people, which he had spoken of before.

Application

The context in which John is writing is another world entirely to our sense of multicultural enrichment. Jesus taught, John 10:16,  about having other sheep “not of this sheep pen” who would be called to become one flock under one shepherd. However, Jesus drawing people to Him who were not like Him, like the Greek speakers, was a challenge for John and his readers to follow.

The greater the distance from Jerusalem, the more the culture was Greek-speaking and less distinctly Jewish. Jews routinely despised those who they thought were not like themselves – the tax collector at prayer, Matt. 18:10. Nevertheless, “to be a light to lighten the Gentiles” was always part of Israel’s mission, just as the Christian church exists for all those who are not part of it. In this passage John recounts Jesus teaching about living beyond ourselves and holding His own life lightly, in the hearing of Greek-speaking non-Jews.

Living for our own achievement is to lose the true meaning of life, which is to live beyond ourselves in the promise of eternal fellowship with God. Just as agape love is not self-seeking but has a sacrificial quality, so true life is able to die to its own ends, to produce an abundance beyond itself.

The prince of this world presides wherever the reign of selfishness and man’s opinion are valued more than  the reign of Christ. Jesus is a confrontation to this worldview – and every revelation of Jesus, such as the audible voice of God, and every glorification of Jesus, on the cross or resurrected and on a heavenly throne, is a judgment on the world and its ‘prince’.

The Cross and Resurrection spell the driving out of the usurper of Jesus’ rule and reign. So the work is done? In one sense, but its all-important enforcement is a task which is now delegated to the continuing Body of Christ. We dare not renege on our responsibility by staying resolutely in our comfort zones.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How free are you, or is your church, to reach out to those who are not like the regular congregation? What would help?

David recognises that his injury of others is essentially a sin against God

TUESDAY, MARCH 13
Psalm 51:1-13

David recognises that his selfishness and independence is inherited from mankind’s fallenness; only God’s unfailing love could give him a new heart

1  Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 1  When sin damages fellowship with the Lord of the covenant, there is a pressing need for mercy and forgiveness. The sinner has no right to His blessings; there is, however, the promise to forgive which is used here like a precedent quoted in a court hearing. The appeal is on the basis of God’s stated “great compassion” and “unfailing love”.
2  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 2  “Wash away”  or more literally, “wash me thoroughly” is an expression used of foul garments needing repeated laundry treatment – which goes with the “blot out” image of sin’s persistent stain.
3  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 3  “My transgressions” — or rebellion (NLT).
4  Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when You judge. 4  This is more than introspection and regret (v.3) for constructive murder, and adultery. The psalmist recognises that his real sin is against the Lord, as revealed by the prophet Nathan, 2 Samuel 12:13, Luke 15:18 – and by breaking specific covenant commandments, Exodus 20:13-14, 17 
5  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 5  This verse supports our understanding of original sin and mankind’s depravity. Adam’s sin was passed down from generation to generation and inherited at birth.
6  Yet You desired faithfulness even in the womb; You taught me wisdom in that secret place. 6  God is just, while humankind is tainted by corruption, such that acknowledging sin – which is what God wants from us – cannot happen without revelation, “wisdom from on high”. God’s desire is for His good design to be realised even in the secret place, or womb (the words are parallel).
7  Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 7  A leper was cleansed by a bunch of hyssop (or marjoram), its hairy leaves being suitable for dipping in the sacrificial blood and applying or sprinkling the blood, seven times, Lev. 14:6. After that the pronouncement was made: “And he shall be clean”.
8  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 8  For the psalmist, to talk of bones being crushed was an expression of deep, penetrating torment, e.g. Psalm 6:2, 22:14 etc

9  Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

10  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

10  David is saying that his heart has so turned to sin that he needs a new heart to be created.
11  Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.  11  David had seen how the Holy Spirit had left Saul. He recognises the enabling of the Spirit, and how he needs this more than ever.
12  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  12  He knows that God wants true repentance from the inside out. External observances won’t satisfy and cannot sustain right living.
13  Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, so that sinners will turn back to You.  13  At first sight, this is surprising – that David, caught up in such serious sin, should seek to teach others. However, the context is that, as king, David had spiritual responsibilities. He was prepared to teach the nation from his failings.
Application

David was an outstanding king of Israel, a military strategist, a musician and songwriter with a profound sense of God’s presence in worship and prophetic insight – and the perpetrator of some colossal mistakes, alluded to in this psalm.

Why is that helpful to us? Because we can make some pretty bad calls and find ourselves heading down the wrong path. But David knew God. He knew God was for him, and God’s love is unfailing, and His compassion of a different order, to anything we could imagine.

David teaches us not to make excuses, not to bother justifying ourselves, but to recognise that like all humankind we are flawed. We can come back to God’s mercy, but the path is one that gets us stooping down low. We need to pleased the cleansing of the Blood, and to ask the Holy Spirit to do a work of renewal in us – in this Psalm 1 reads as quite contemporary.

Why do we find contrition and humility so difficult? It’s the same reason that gets us into the mire in the first place. There are places in Scripture where the answer is more explicit, but these verses are rich in clues.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How do you respond to the suggestion that, like King David, you were sinful at birth, or even before (v.5)?