One God who offers us three relationships

The ESV Study Bible diagram is a good attempt at depicting what cannot easily be fitted into our three-dimensional world (credit: Crossway)

Introduction to theme

Trinity Sunday (this year May 27) is a special Sunday with the main theme of God being one God in three persons. How can that be? How can God be “one God” – clearly stated in the Bible – and also be known to us as three distinct persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? The quick answer is that heaven is not restricted to our three-dimensional and humanly logical worldview. This is an exciting truth, and not so perplexing if we look at it from above, rather than from below.

This article on Understanding the Trinity of God goes into a little more detail and offers an explanation.

The second theme that comes through all the readings is the way each Person of the Trinity is involved in the one work of salvation

The Bible readings for May 27 begin with Isaiah’s call as a prophet, in the context of Isaiah needing to become a spokesman for God to the Israelite nation which is growing increasingly self-sufficient and proud. As one of this wayward nation, how can Isaiah respond? The answer comes as an angel symbolically purifies his speech with burning coal taken from the place of sacrifice and the voice of the Lord is heard to ask who He can send, and “who will go for us”. Is this the royal “we” or the trinitarian “we”?

The psalm adds little to the theme, but the Gospel reading in John 3 contains some of the clearest and most essential truths of what we call the Good News. Jesus makes it clear to Nicodemus, the learned and aristocratic Jewish teacher, that despite such good religious credentials he must have anew spiritual start to experience the reality off the kingdom of God. Jesus says to him, and by extension to each of us, “You must be born again”. Nicodemus states his position as one of the Pharisee sect saying “We know…” and goes on to acknowledge Jesus ad teacher and worker or miracles. Jesus replies with His own “we”, saying with great emphasis “Amen, amen…we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen”. He is delivering a vital and incontrovertible statement of truth delivered jointly from the Father, from Himself, the Son, and from the Holy Spirit.

The NT epistle reading from Romans 8 reinforces this change from the realm of the flesh to the realm of the Holy Spirit and human spirit which was the nature of the new birth and spiritual empowering of believers in the Early Church. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ is here a little like an old-fashioned aristocrat with several titles, which adds to our understanding of the Trinity. The teaching of the passage adds to our understanding of the new identity we gain as children of God and also heirs as a result of our spiritual transformation. Jesus said, “You must be born again”. Paul says that you will know a new and special intimacy with the Father as part of the new identity you come into, when you give your life to Jesus and open the door to His Spirit.

Trinity Sunday readings, May 27

The one God we worship is revealed in the three Persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Isaiah 6:1-8 – The Lord’s call to Isaiah is in the words “Who will go for us?”

Psalm 29:1-11 – A call to join the united worship of heaven of Almighty God

John 3:1-17 – Jesus says “We speak of what we know”: a new birth is needed

Romans 8:12-17 – the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ and the life of the Spirit are one

= = = = = = =

Isaiah 6:1-8 » The Lord’s call to Isaiah is in the words “Who will go for us?”

God speaks of Himself as plural at the time of his call to Isaiah

A vision at a time of national crisis, King Uzziah’s death in 740 BC. The prophet’s own experience of being called follows a long introduction about Israel’s call to be pure, righteous people through whom other nations would learn God’s ways. But his question is, how could such a perverse and proud people fulfil such a call? His own questioning about his own suitability to be called is the same question scaled down and made personal.

1  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple.

“I saw the Lord” – No one has ever seen God, because God is Spirit, John 1:18, 4:24. However, at times He clothes Himself with visibility, as here in Isaiah’s vision, or Joshua’s challenge, Josh. 5:13–15.

2  Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.

“Seraphim” – the word suggests that they looked like flames. “Covered their faces” – even heavenly creatures could not look upon holy God and covered their faces.

3  And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”

4   At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

5  “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

“Unclean lips” – or unholy attitudes. Apparently not – but Isaiah is comparing himself to holy God, and reflecting on his guilt by association. “The King” – Uzziah has died and Isaiah has glimpsed the real Almighty King.

6  Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.

7   With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

“Live coal… from the altar” – God has provided a way for the sin and guilt of humankind to be put right, taken from the place of sacrifice. This is symbolic of the final and perfect sacrifice to be provided by God in Jesus, to take away the sin of the world.

8  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

“Go for us” – plural as in Genesis 1:26, 11:7. One of many implied references to the Trinity, and an allusion to God speaking in the presence of angels, the heavenly council, 1 Kings 22:19-22, Jeremiah 23:18, 22.

In practice

We may find it difficult to believe that Almighty, majestic, holy God would deign to speak and offer guidance to us. If Isaiah, a humble and holy man and renowned prophet, felt unworthy in himself and as part of the proud people of his time, what kind of audience can we expect?

The answer is that we have a new identity in Christ, clothed in His righteousness and with the rank of sonship, no less, conferred upon us. We can enter into the courts of heaven because they know who we are! What sort of reception do we get from the council of heaven, the angels that surround the throne? What is the conversation of heaven? Of course, we can go right up to the throne of God the Father, but there is something encouraging for us in this picture of meeting God via the plurality of heaven and its complete unity.

Question

What sense do you have, perhaps a beginning sense, of heaven calling you? What might the council of heaven be saying about the nature of that call and their choice of you?

Psalm 29:1-11 » A call to join the united worship of heaven of Almighty God

1   Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2  Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.

“You heavenly beings” – The psalmist begins this hymn of praise showing how God touches all of nature and creation, with a call to join the angelic throng in attending to God, all honouring Him and giving Him glory. This is our way of expressing agreement with heaven as we join with the Spirit and the Son and the heavenly throng in their united worship of Almighty God

3  The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.

4  The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.

4  The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.

6  He makes Lebanon leap like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox.

7  The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.

8  The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.

9  The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

10  The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.

11  The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace.

John 3:1-17 » Jesus gives Nicodemus the key statement of the whole gospel

1  Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.

“A Pharisee” – the Pharisees were the most influential Jewish sect in Jesus’ time and unlike the more political Sadducees, held a conservative, fundamental theology – which could be too inflexibly ‘correct’ to accommodate the challenge of Jesus’ teaching. Nicodemus was also a member of the Sanhedrin controlling body which was generally antagonistic to Jesus.

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.”

His cautious visit after dark – and as a person in some spiritual darkness himself – showed a genuine desire to find out for himself who Jesus was, while avoiding censure for meeting Him.

3  Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“Very truly” – amen, amen. Jesus prefaced what He was going to say with the strongest emphasis. It was essential for Nicodemus to grasp this truth. It is essential for us.

“Born again” – birth is how we enter this world, and spiritual birth is how we enter the spiritual dimension of this world. Nicodemus would have believed that to have been born a Jew was to be an inheritor of the kingdom of God. That is like us claiming that to be a churchgoer or have been through some religious rite brings us into the kingdom of God. “Very truly” v.5 below, we have to hear what Jesus says.

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!”

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” – water cleanses from impurity and the Spirit transforms hearts. It cannot refer to things Nicodemus would not have understood, like Christian baptism, but must come from the Scriptures, which as a religious teacher he knew well. Water in the OT often refers to renewal or cleansing, Ezekiel 36:25-27.

6  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

Everyone has had a start in life through natural birth, and everybody needs a spiritual birth, too.

For further study: The Bible uses “born again”, “born of God” and becoming a “child of God” to talk about the same thing. John 1:12-13, Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 1:3 and 23, 1 John 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:1 and 4 and 18.

7  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

“You” – not just Nicodemus, everyone.

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.”

Whatever language they were using – probably Aramaic – Nicodemus would have picked up on the allusion to ‘wind’ or ‘spirit’, which with ‘breath’ and ‘breathe’ are all the same word group in Hebrew. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that He is the living reality of the ‘life into dry bones’ prophecy of Ezekiel 37:1-14 (see TLW OT last week).

9  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

For Nicodemus to be told that he, a prestigious and knowledgeable teacher, could not enter the kingdom of God based on his merit and good works, was shocking. If he could not, what hope was there for others?

10  “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

He knew the Scriptures, but his understanding of the Scriptures followed a framework of religious tradition. He had not come to an independent spiritual understanding of them. Hint: We need to delve into Scripture to check things out for ourselves.

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.

Jesus is positioning Himself here as one of the Trinitarian godhead, who was with God from the beginning, John 1:1-2. He ironically refers to Nicodemus saying “we know” in verse 2, as if to say “We are God and we really do know…”

12  I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

13  No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man.

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” – we think immediately of Jesus’ crucifixion, but Nicodemus would not have made this connection until some years later. Lifted up, as in the bronze ‘snake in the wilderness’, Numbers 21:4-9, is also raising a symbol of judgment for people to recognise both the judgment and the deliverance. The crucifixion of Jesus is a picture of a terrible judgment for our sin, and also the deliverance.; God grants spiritual, eternal life through Jesus who, unlike the bronze icon, has life in Himself, John 1:4, 5:26.

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.

Commonly recited as a procession sentence at Christian funerals. This is a key statement of the Good News. The Gospel is more than this, but this is a fundamental truth.

17  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

“To condemn… to save” – The holiness and righteousness of Jesus shows up the selfishness and independence of the world, which is condemned already. But His purpose is to provide another way, as the bronze snake provides another way: believe, and live. Faith is not about doing, but believing. The choice is to believe in the Son and know salvation and eternal life; or to choose not to believe with the consequences of perishing – utter failure, loss and eternal separation. God’s love for humanity is such that He has “lifted up” and make plain, not just a symbol on a pole to help one nation to look to Him, but His unique Son’s life and death for the whole world to see, take stock and believe.

In practice

An aristocratic Jewish religious teacher visits a rabbi with the calloused hands of a carpenter/builder and asks a question. The reply contains the most profound and most direct explanation of what the Good News is all about. It is a choice to see the kingdom of God – the way God’s order works – or not to see it, and it only comes by being humble enough to recognise the need for a new spiritual start. This is the new birth which so shocks Nicodemus.

His worldview, like most Jews, was about merit and attainment. It was about living ‘a good life’ in the right religious way, and doing ‘good works’. If a person of such renowned goodness and achievement could not enter the kingdom of God, who could?

Jesus’ answer is as difficult as it is disarmingly simple. It is about recognising that we cannot do anything of ourselves to secure salvation – no good works, no religious performance, no merit. It is simply about believing God, who must judge sin but who loves to save.  We do this by receiving His Son Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. It is a gift which we can receive, but only by believing we need to receive it.

The concept isn’t difficult – a child could get it. But the more we have set out to earn God’s favour, the more value we place on ‘our’ good works or achievements or religious obedience, the more baggage needs to be shed before we can come to the place of simply asking out of need.

God loves the world just like He loved those errant and grumbling Israelites who were being bitten by a plague of deadly desert snakes. Would this get their attention? He devised a simple way for them to look upwards, and recognise the judgment but also see the source of salvation. Jesus used this example of Himself. His presence highlighted both where God’s judgment fell, and where God’s salvation was found. We choose for Jesus, His way and  His kingdom life now and for eternity; or we choose our way, which is to perish. There is no ‘muddling along the middle’, because that is not choosing His way.

Once we choose for Jesus, a lot that’s confusing becomes much more clear. We start to sense God speaking to us through His word, and in other ways.

A weight drops off, and a light comes on… (Link to salvation prayer in May 13 post).

Question

Have you looked into the eyes of Jesus, recognised your need and received love? What changed for you?

Romans 8:9-17 » The life of the Spirit will always be at odds with our selfish desires and ambitions

9-11   You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

“Have the Spirit of Christ… belong to Christ” – being brought up according to Christian values, or even attending church regularly, does not make us Christians, any more than frequenting the gym for coffee makes me a gymnast (or even fit). It is a decision to “belong” to Christ, as a result of which the Spirit of God comes to live in us and transform our human spirit. See note to vv.12-13 below.

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.

“Spirit of God… Spirit of Christ… Christ in you” – the Trinity (God in three persons who are one) is not an explicit teaching in the Bible but a number of passages including this one make it clear, albeit indirectly.

12-13  Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

“To the flesh…by the Spirit” – the selfish human nature is contrasted with the Spirit-led nature which grows out of the new birth. Paul is referencing what he wrote earlier; Romans 8:1-8 explains this, especially verses 5-8. When we come to give ownership of our lives to Jesus, there’s a profound change spiritually: we become a new creation, 2 Corinthians 5:17. This new spiritual person grows around what God wants and the “what I want” part has less influence. Living by the Spirit doesn’t do away with the tendency to “live according to the flesh” but more and more, we don’t want to go there. We are putting it to death as we grow spiritually, Galatians 5:16-17.

14  For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.

15  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

“Abba, Father” – Jesus used this form of address, Mark 14:36, which shocked religious Jews with its relative informality and intimacy.

“Fear…adoption to sonship” – slaves lived in fear of arbitrary punishment as those without rights. The Greek-Roman pattern of adoption was often used to secure a male heir; at least one Caesar was adopted. Adoption conferred the full rights (and authority) of the son of an aristocratic family, without any of the stigma that we associate with it. Christians are not to live in fear of possible punishment, but in the security of being held by God’s love.

16  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

“Children of God” – a profound privilege. Understanding this will transform the way you pray – and how you relate to God as a Father in every way.

For further study, read John 1:12, Galatians 3:26, Philippians 2:15, 1 John 3:1, 1 John 5:19.

17  Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.

With the honour of sonship comes the responsibility. It’s a route that brings its attacks and difficulties. At these times we need the Holy Spirit’s nudge (v.16) and the fellowship of other Christians to remind us who we are and where our security lies.

In practice

Paul’s point in this section of his letter to Christians in Rome, is that the way of life we have grown up with – from the tantrums of the “terrible twos” onwards – don’t just disappear when we become Christians. And becoming a Christian is a definite choice, a decision, at which point the Holy Spirit comes in and we take on a new persona. But the old, “me-centred”, and spiritually resistant person hangs on in there. We want to take our lead from Jesus, but it takes practice, faith by its nature has ‘unknowns’ which are challenging and the old, familiar tried-and-tested ways kick in too easily – “I’ll do it…I’ll fix it… I’ll make it happen.

But if we have made a choice for Jesus to be Lord of our lives, then we are on a different track. The belonging and the Spirit’s leading are inseparable. We can’t have one, without the other. If we don’t know, then we should pray the prayer and make sure. And if we are sure, but ting confused about how we respond, or feeling the tug to ‘go with the crowd’, then the Holy Spirit will gently remind us who we belong to, the security we have in that sonship relationship and the help He gives us to do what Jesus would do. To be a spiritual person inside a human body will always feel like a bit of a hybrid, but we do have help – the best kind of coach – and we are empowered to make the good choices He shows us.

Question

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p class=”p1″>How much do you have the sense of being led by the Spirit of God? What might be getting in the way?

The life of the Spirit comes at Pentecost

Image credit New Life Toronto (Mennonite) + excellent teaching summary here

Pentecost marks a huge event in salvation history, God’s plan for the world. The birth of Jesus, marked at Christmas, is rightly a prominent celebration. So is the death and resurrection of Jesus celebrated at Easter. The impartation of the Holy Spirit of Jesus to believers in Christ, not just a select few but all who open their hearts to Jesus and seek His power to live for His kingdom, must rank right up there in its capacity to bring God’s good change. The church of the Holy Spirit — there’s one, despite varied packaging — changes lives and social behaviour, nations and policies while other factions, including denominations, still show the human tendency to argue and divide.

Ezekiel saw this in visions he received and wrote about. He saw man’s unresponsive ‘heart of stone’ being replaced with a sensitive ‘heart of flesh’ that would want to follow God’s will without the crude mechanism of rules and religious regulations. Then he saw the scattered bones of the dispersed nation of Israel, its hope long dead, restored and enlivened by God’s Spirit. Jesus, recorded by John, taught intensively in His last days on earth about the coming of the Holy Spirit which, He said, He would send from the Father after He had gone from the earth. Then at Pentecost we read in Acts how the Holy Spirit came, visibly, and with an impartation that was very evident to the gathered disciples first, and then as the crowd responded, more generally. The church had just received its power to carry out its God’s given mission. Much later, Paul reflects to readers in Rome on the difference the Holy Spirit makes in believers’ lives: the kingdom of God, God’s rule and order in the world, is not yet fully produced, like a long and painful childbirth, but the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life gives us a powerful helper, One who knows exactly what to pray when we are struggling.

The readings this week show the Holy Spirit like God’s breath breathing life into dry bones, and then being promised as Jesus’ parting gift and imparted on the fiftieth day after Passover.

The lesson? Don’t try to live by your own strength — it doesn’t work that way. Live by God’s power imparted to you and you will see, bit by bit, His kingdom come.

Follow this through in the church calendar readings for Sunday, May 20, Pentecost Sunday, given here in Bible order. Prepare for Sunday by reading and reflecting on this word for the week and let the Holy Spirit speak to you through the Word.

 

Ezekiel 37:1-14 – The Holy Spirit breathes new life into dry bones

[Psalm 104:24-34, 35b – The Holy Spirit renews whatever He touches]

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 – The Spirit of Truth is Jesus’ parting gift

Acts 2:1-21 – The Holy Spirit comes with a visible, transforming impartation

Romans 8:22-27 – The Holy Spirit gives believers confidence to pray God’s will

Ezekiel 37:1-14 » The Holy Spirit breathes new life into dry bones

• Ezekiel has a vision of God putting His Spirit into His people to live again for Him

1  The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

This vision follows on from God’s promise of a new heart and new spirit through the impartation of the Holy Spirit. The prophet also heard the Lord speak of repopulating the cities, with ruins rebuilt and numbers increased. But the exiles were scattered, with their hope evaporated.

For further study, see Ezekiel 36:26-27, 33, 35, 37-38

2-3  He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

“Can these bones live” – Can these random, scattered bones become living people again? The people’s hopes were not just dead but dried up and dismembered.

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

4-5  Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.

“Breath enter you” – difficult to capture in English is the wordplay where the one word ruach conveys three meanings, translated spirit, breath and wind.

For further study see Spirit, Ezek. 37:1,14; breath, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10; and wind or winds, 9. This multiple meaning is also in the Greek word pneuma of John 3:8.

6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’ ”

7-8  So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

“There was no breath” – connected bones and tendons and muscle create a body; without respiration, it is still a corpse.

9-10  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.

“Prophesy” – speak out in faith for God. Ezekiel is instructed to speak into the slain God’s breath or Spirit, “from the four winds” or from every direction, a complete and powerful renewal.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’

“Our bones are dried up” – Israel’s hope had gone. There was no way back to being God’s own people, in their perspective. In our language, they were not up for it.

12-14 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’ ”

“I will put My Spirit in you and you will live” – apart from God’s presence, God’s Spirit, there is no hope for God’s people. There cannot be a political and geographical restoration without the spiritual dimension, in Ezekiel’s time or future times.

In practice

Ezekiel saw death on a large scale as one who experienced the deportation following the fall of Jerusalem and in his mind’s eye, saw the nation as scattered bones.

We experience setbacks in life, and in church or Christian life. We are not immune from forces that cause death, in various dimensions. Projects, relationships and policies can all fail. We start by asking “Why?” and then move on to what has been learned. Ezekiel’s vision points to our unwillingness to work in the spiritual dimension. God can bring Israel alive again, even standing as a mighty army. Without His Spirit, there is no life, no hope.

Whenever there has been a crisis and the wind of the Spirit has been lost, the focus must be on catching that wind again. With the Holy Spirit, there is no life, just dead orthodoxy.

Question

What “dry bones” need the breath of the Spirit to enliven them? Should we be joining God in speaking life into these bones?

 

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 » The Spirit of Truth is Jesus’ parting gift

• The promised Holy Spirit will show sin and self-righteousness and the devil’s lies for what they are

15:26-27  “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of Truth who goes out from the Father – He will testify about Me. And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning.

The Holy Spirit is as much a ‘personal Person’ as the Father or the Son. He is sent out by the Father, but we are told that He is the Spirit of Christ, 1 Peter 1:11, and the voice and revelation of Christ, vv. 14-15 below.

16:4-6  I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to Him who sent me. None of you asks Me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things.

“When their time comes” – Jesus attracted persecution as a church steeple draws lightning, but He warns that on His departure, the attacks will come to the disciples more directly, requiring their Holy Spirit-empowered testimony.

7-11  But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in Me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see Me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

“Prove… to be in the wrong” –  or “convict”, more formal versions. The Holy Spirit’s prompting to turn to Jesus is a turning away from the world and its values, especially its self-righteousness and lack of sin awareness. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus and contrasts His call with the sin of independence; He shows the difference between the world’s righteousness and the kingdom of heaven’s kind of righteousness; and shows the judgmental voice of the accuser to be lies of one already condemned.

12-15  “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you.”

“The Spirit of Truth… will guide you” – see John 14:26. The thrust of the gospel comes by revelation as well as information. Jesus relied on this, John 5:19-20 and in the same way that Jesus could do what He saw His Father doing, the Holy Spirit will only speak what He hears.

In practice

Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit from the Father comes right at the end of the Old Testament period. We live in the New Testament or more accurately, New Covenant knowing our release from sin secure for us by Jesus on the Cross and new life in Jesus who is resurrected, alive and active in our lives by His Holy Spirit.

Going back to this promise, as it was set out to the disciples before the Holy Spirit was given, helps us to understand more about the life of the Spirit in our lives, now that the Holy Spirit has been given. Turning to Jesus and recognising Him as our Saviour, but also asking Him to come into our lives as Lord, is asking His Holy Spirit into our lives. One of the many facets of this new life in Jesus, which this passage teaches,  is having the Spirit of Truth, or reality, residing in us.

As believers, belonging to the Lord’s assembly, or church (there is only one!) we are enabled to a greater or lesser degree to perceive spiritually beyond what we can see or intellectually understand. This is the working of the Spirit of Truth who brings revelation of the spiritual reality behind what we see – truth and reality are twin meaning of the same word. As we read and study the Bible, or as we look at a situation, we receive information, which we can evaluate. But before we form an opinion, we must allow the Spirit of Truth to give us spiritual revelation of what that information looks like to Him. He will guide us into all the truth (or all the reality) – if we let Him.

Question

What do you find is most helpful to you, in giving the Holy Spirit room to add His dimension to what you are seeing or hearing?

Acts 2:1-21 » The Holy Spirit comes with a visible, transforming impartation

• With a roar like a huge gust and what seemed like a divided flame, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and given a new praise language

1  When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

“Pentecost” – the fiftieth day after Passover and harvest festival for the wheat harvest, was a time for remembering and renewing the covenants with Noah and with Moses and commemorating the giving of the Law on Sinai.

2-4  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

“A sound” – it was a big sound, filling a space for 120.

“All of them” – probably the 120, not just the 12. The Joel prophecy was for men and women, Joel 2:28-32 and quoted below v.18

“Tongues” – the word also means languages. Contemporary experience is that the spiritual gift of an unlearned praise and prayer language often accompanies being filled with the Holy Spirit.

5-12  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

“Each one heard” – where the gift of tongues is used today, sometimes a person of different ethnicity and culture will hear words of praise, often meaningful to them, in their language. Jerusalem was a city population of seven nations and three languages, swelled by “God-fearing Jews from every nation” visiting for the festival.

13  Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14-16  Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17-18  “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

“My Spirit on all people” – In the OT the Holy Spirit came on individuals to empower them in God’s service as righteous kings, prophets, craftsmen etc. This promise, fulfilled at Pentecost, was for a Spirit-filled people, male and female, young and older, all of whom would know a Holy Spirit-inspired confidence in God’s guidance and expressing God’s ways.

“They will prophesy” – broader than foretelling, forth-telling: speaking out for God.

19  “I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.

20  “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

21  “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

“Wonders… and signs… before the coming…” – signs of the future consummation of the kingdom.

“Everyone who calls…saved” – not future timing, but inaugurated by Jesus for anyone who will show intent by responding in faith and turning to Him, Matt. 7:21.

In practice

The disciples, like any of us, were of themselves and independent lot. Peter was a courageous leader who was sometimes a bit too quick to ‘make it happen’. Others were jockeying for position and status. Thomas seemed to withdraw while he struggled with his own unanswered questions.  These were the men we read about but in the upper room, there were many women disciples, too who had their own perspective.

On the day of the festival, they were all together in one place – under one roof, but a careful reading of the ends of the Gospels and the beginning of Acts tells a story of a coming together in one heart and mind as they prayed day by day. Prayer doesn’t change God but it does change us, and then God can change something in the word through us being aligned with Him.

The coming of the Holy Spirit has sometimes been seen as the birth of the Church of Jesus. In reality, the church – the gathering of believers – had already formed, but it couldn’t pick up its mission or go anywhere. That takes the Holy Spirit’s leading and empowering. Where we frequently go wrong is to try to do what we can by ourselves. Where we are fruitful is when we intentionally take time to be changed, become aligned, get into agreement with other believers – and then allow God to magnify the little we have.

Question

Why can it be helpful for us to have a prayer and praise language that we can use without thinking about it first?

Romans 8:22-27 » The Holy Spirit gives believers confidence to pray God’s will

He helps us to know what to pray for in hope and faith, for what is not yet seen

22  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

“Groaning” – creation is personified as a woman in labour. Something is being produced that involves both suffering and hope.

23-25  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

“First-fruits” – a down payment on the fulfilment of God’s blessings. We know of, and can live in the security of,  being adopted with the full rights of sonship, 1 John 3:1, but this is an experience to come, together with renewed bodies.

“Hope” – not so much a ‘will it, won’t it?’ but more of a confident expectation that what is not seen, or not received, will certainly be in the Lord’s timing.

26-27  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

“Spirit Himself intercedes…” – The Holy Spirit is a person, one of the three Persons of the Trinity, whose relationship is so close that they are One God. So the Holy Spirit knows exactly how to pray for a person or situation in a way that matches God’s will. His leading of us may be in words, in expression through an unlearned prayer language, or in ways that are largely silent.

In practice

This short passage is taken from a letter written to a Holy Spirit-led and Holy Spirit-filled group of believers. The New Testament letters all make this assumption. Without this understanding, the letter can read as little more than chiding by the apostles to do more that is right, and less that is wrong. We have probably heard that kind of message in church, and left wondering how we do it.

The rules and regulations and religious strictures that applied to Jesus and the disciples applied to every Jew before the Cross and the Resurrection. But then, everything changed. The life of the Spirit was a new experience of being motivated and enabled and empowered to live for God, in a new identity. This is quite different from trying to keep within the requirements of the law, or within the legalism of any ordered religion. The Holy Spirit – Spirit of Jesus, Spirit of God – resident in us, by our invitation, shapes our will in a more holy direction.

This changes how we pray as well. If we pray what we want, or what is in line with our opinions, we may not be agreeing with the will of God. If, however,  we allow the Holy Spirit to direct how we pray, either with our words, or with His prayer language, or without words, He checks our heart motives and strengthens our desire for God’s will, interceding for us and drawing us into that intercession. If prayer does not appear to be answered, it is for us to check whether it is of the first kind, that needs to progress to the help of the Holy Spirit in the second kind.

Question

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p class=”p4″>Think of a prayer situation where you have been interceding, in other words, praying for someone or something else. How does God want you to pray so you are agreeing with Him? How do you find that out?

FRIDAY, November 24

John 10:11-16

Additional to the lectionary readings

The Good News of knowing that we are His

The Ezekiel 34 passage uses the language ‘shepherds of Israel’ to denounce those who have only taken care of themselves, who have ruled selfishly and harshly and have ‘scattered the flock”. Our reading alludes to this abusive ‘shepherding’ in preceding verses and begins with the Lord saying that He Himself will search for His sheep and look after them. As David wrote at the start of His well known psalm, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want Ps.23:1. There is also a promise of a shepherd of the line and character of David – who we know as the Good Shepherd of the Gospels.

John 10:1-16, where Jesus speaks of Himself as the Shepherd who knows His sheep and whose sheep know His voice, is not part of this week’s readings but it summarises the theme nicely. In this well known Good Shepherd passage, Jesus emphasises in verses 11 and 14 His taking the divine title (“I am”) of the Good Shepherd. His first hearers would have recognised His applying to Himself the Shepherd of Israel prophecy of Ezekiel.

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know me,
15 just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Jesus knowing who are His, is fundamental to the Gospel. So is our knowing without doubt that we are His, fundamental to the Gospel. Everything centres on this personal and revealed relationship. It is not a claim we can make or a pretence we can keep up or a mantle we can put on for Sunday morning and take off during the week. Knowing, following and belonging to the Good Shepherd impacts every part of life; everything we say, every decision, every choice, every relationship. We either follow the Way of Jesus, or we are not fully His. We either know and belong – or we have not made that decision.

The separation of the sheep and goats in the Gospel reading, Matt. 25:33, reminds us that the Lord knows exactly who is His. In Ephesians 1 the spirit of wisdom and revelation is something we should ask for – revelation to know the hope, or assurance, of our salvation and to understand what it means – not just at the end of earthly life but daily salvation and deliverance at every twist and turn.

Knowing who we are in Christ is crucial to be able to live a victorious Christian life and contend with the undermining and accusing attentions of the enemy. Who is he to accuse us, if we belong to Jesus? Who is he to slander us, if we know we are sons of God? Why should we plead for what God has already promised us, if we are His? When we contend in prayer for a difficult situation, for ourselves or for others, knowing we are His gives us a confidence and authority in that prayer.

This new position in Christ, of belonging to God, of knowing that he is committed to us as the Shepherd of the sheep and that we live as the “sheep of His pasture” brings certain responsibilities to live and relate to others as he would have us do. But this is not a religious requirement; it is more of an outworking of the life of God in us. If we are His, the Holy Spirit has freedom to direct us. He will be speaking to us and we will listen to Him. We will find ourselves standing up for justice and opposing any harshness or selfishness in dealings with others. There will be a joy in our expression, and praise will be our natural response. We will have a generosity of spirit because the Spirit of Jesus gives us the generosity of spirit which is His, and our actions and reactions to the needs of others will demonstrate this. And we will think and speak and react differently, because we are receiving the revelation of who we are and the ongoing salvation which is His gift to us – we know because we know because we know, that there is always a way to be found through the red lights and road closures and bumpy sections of life, because we are His.

THURSDAY, November 23

Ephesians 1:15–23

People empowered by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people,
16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

  • What follows draws out Paul’s practice of interceding for people in the churches (and therefore his readers) to have the spiritual insight to grasp what they have in the Father, the Son and the Spirit which he sets out in the preceding verses.

17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.

  • The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not stated explicitly in Scripture which is one reason why it took until the end of the fourth century (Athanasius) for this essential doctrine to become established. For further study see 1 John 5:7 and the prologue to John, John 1:1–14)
  • Verses 3 to 14 set out consecutively the blessings that come through the Father (vv. 3–6), the Son (vv.7–12), and the Holy Spirit (vv.13–14). The role of the Holy Spirit is primarily to reveal (bring revelation) of the Father and the Son. That is what happens when we come to saving faith, putting our trust in One we cannot know intellectually but can know by faith, a particular perception imparted by the Holy Spirit. The New Testament epistles assume hearers in the churches who have this dimension of revelation. The Gospels draw a picture of people encountering Jesus Christ who promised the Holy Spirit.

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people…

  • “That you may know the hope…” is more akin to certainty than the common use of the word, which is aspirational. To replace “hope” with “confident expectation” brings out the true meaning. Knowing who we are in Christ Jesus, knowing the basis of our calling and salvation, knowing that we are precious sons and daughters – this is foundational to a Christian life which overcomes the battle that the enemy wages in our thought life.

19 and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength…

  • The incredible, miraculous working of power that resulted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the same power that we can tap into by faith.

20 …He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms,

  • At the right hand is a position symbolic of the highest honour and authority.

21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

  • There is a power struggle being played out in the heavenliness, but one where Christ has won the ultimate authority. In the present evil age this is largely imposed by us as people of faith. In the age to come the Messiah will return and there will be righteousness on earth.

22 And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church,

  • Later in Ephesians we read that we are seated together with Christ in heavenly places Ephesians 2:6. Therefore what is positionally under His feet, is under our feet, as we take our place with Him. This releases us into spiritual expressions and prayers that are authoritative, not simply asking. We are expected to use the authority we have been given as His body on earth.

23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.

  • Human nature with its religious tendencies does its best to create institutions out of what is simply one body of believers united and submitted in Christ in worship, and dedicated to fulfilling His mission. If institutions are necessary, they are something quite different.

Application: Grasping the Christian hope which is ours as those who belong to Jesus is a confident spirituality. Much of our perceived powerless comes from not being aware of who we are in Christ, and the spiritual authority which our words of faith, articulate or mumbled, have in the heavenly realms.
This is about knowing who the King of the kingdom is, and who we are in Him. Understanding this is difficult within the rules of human logic. The Holy Spirit was given, not just for empowering us for witness Acts 1:8 but for enabling that witness by revealing to us truths that we could not grasp otherwise.
The enemy of our souls is always at work trying to plant thoughts in our minds of how powerless we are, how God couldn’t use us because we are disqualified. All lies, of course. This narrative of hopelessness is the opposite to the assurance and certainty and confidence which is the hope spoken of in the Bible – which truth the Holy Spirit highlights for us.

Discussion starter: Do you know the hope to which God has called you (v.18)? How would you set about explaining this Christian life principle to someone who saw something different in you? 1 Peter 3:15

TUESDAY, November 21

Psalm 95:1-7

We are His flock in His care, people of praise

1 Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.

  • “Rock” is a common poetic figure for God.

2-3 Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.

  • A call to worship by recalling the covenant.

4-7 In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.

  • The commitment of covenant extends both ways.
    (The Sunday reading ends at verse 7)

Today, if only you would hear His voice…

  • As Christians, our experience is that worship, whether individual or with others, creates a place of relative spiritual ‘quiet’ where God’s voice comes through. It is quite realistic to say “Today…if…you would hear His voice…”. The choice is then whether we heed what He is saying and hold on to it – or say in a human way, “Not today, thank You”.

8 “…do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,

  • “Meribah”, dispute and “Massah”, testing are the two place names which sum up the crises in the desert at Rephidim Exodus 17:1-7 and the one at Kadesh after which Moses could not enter the promised land Numbers 20:1-13

9-11 where your ancestors tested Me; they tried Me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known My ways.’ So I declared on oath in My anger, ‘They shall never enter My rest.’ ”

  • “Rest” in this context meant a land of their own possession, safe and secure to enjoy with God. It has the sense of entering into the Sabbath day rest of any part of God’s completed work. For further study read Hebrews 4:1-13

Application: The Rest of God comes to His people as they submit joyfully in worship. A wholehearted recognition that God is the Most High, the Creator and Provider and Protector, and by contrast we are the flock under His care achieves a kind of spiritual equilibrium: that is entering His rest. It is an equilibrium that is easily upset by human discord and distrust – the hard lesson of Meribah and Massah which occurred on Moses’ watch, and prevented Him and that generation from entering the the Promised Land, also seen as an expression of God’s Rest.
God’s rest is not the same as unity, but clearly unity and joyful submission to God is what leads to His rest.

Discussion starters:
Taking this passage, which speaks equally of the joyful bowing down in worship of God, and the hard-hearted introduction of conflict, what can we learn about handling disagreements and tensions?

Entering into God’s rest is not complicated, according to this psalm. So why do we find it difficult?

MONDAY, November 20

Bible study on the lectionary readings for the week leading up to
Sunday, November 26, 2017

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7
Matthew 25: 31-46
Ephesians 1:15-23

Knowing we are the Lord’s: Sheep of the Shepherd’s pasture, sons and daughters of the Most High, the body of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit and united in worship and mission.

Ezekiel 34:11–16, 20–24

I will gather and care for My sheep with justice

11 “ ‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for My sheep and look after them.

  • The first ten verses are a judgment on the “shepherds of Israel… who only take care of yourselves”. Harsh ungodly leadership i.e. the kings and their officials but also the prophets and priests have caused harm to the flock and scattered it. Now the Lord says He will remove those who have only taken care of themselves and will rescue the flock and look after them Himself.

12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after My sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.

  • “All the places” – not just Babylonia but also Egypt (Jer. 43:1–17)

13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.

  • Promises of restoration which are an emphasis of Ezekiel 33 to 39.

14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.

  • The “mountains of Israel” represent salvation and judgment past.
  • In the passage where Jesus speaks of Himself as the gate for the sheep, He says they will come in and go out and “find pasture”, perhaps with this verse in mind John 10:9

15 I Myself will tend My sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Reflecting on 400 years of rule by kings who largely lost sight of the covenant and righteous ways, and as a consequence lost first the northern kingdom, then Judah and Jerusalem, the Lord says that he Himself will now tend the sheep.

16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

(Verses 17–19 omitted from Sunday reading) 17 “As for you, My flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.

  • “Rams and goats” – the poorer Israelites were being oppressed by people of power and influence. A recurring theme of the prophets is social justice.

18–19 ‘Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must My flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?’

  • This picture of the flock trying to feed on trampled pasture and drink muddied water is a dramatic depiction of how the selfish greed of the privileged few have affected the rest of the people.

20–21 “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away…

  • Graphic description of the kind of oppression and bullying that this chapter emphasises as a cause of the downfall of the nation.

“… I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.

23 “I will place over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will tend them; He will tend them and be their shepherd.

  • Ezekiel was one of the Jews deported to Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 597 BC. David ruled about 400 years earlier. So this points to a ruler of David’s line and (in the context of the passage) as David was a man after God’s heart, a good shepherd and ruler of justice. This is a less well known prophecy concerning the coming of Jesus the Messiah, the Good Shepherd John 10:11–18 who of course was of David’s line. See also Jeremiah 23:5–6.

24 “I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.”

  • In contrast with Israel’s poor history, God would once more dwell among them.
    As well as a new ruler, the passage continues with the promise of a new covenant.

Application: Leadership that models the principles of God is God’s intention in every area of life,: political, institutional and spiritual. There should be no separation between the three, something upheld by the Reformers of 700 years ago. This does not sit well with the contemporary desire to be politically correct.
Harsh and dishonest rule is condemned in the Lord’s words through His prophet. Perhaps history shows that where God’s values are overturned, the result is instability and insecurity.

Discussion starter: In our society where sports personalities and heads of large corporations are rewarded in £ millions while others rely on food banks and zero-hours contracts at minimum wage, how would God deploy His body on earth?

Saturday, November 18

Readings for Sunday, November 19

Deuteronomy 30:11-19 (additional)
Zephaniah 1:7-18
Psalm 90:1-12
Matthew 25:14-30
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Finding the message

Choose life by following God’s word and God’s ways
The nation of Israel at the time of Moses didn’t have what we take for granted; in particular, they didn’t have the salvation history of Israel to refer to. However, Moses impressed upon them that the word was “near”, in other words, by no means out of reach. They had heard it and it was in their oral tradition.
We have a lot more reference and education, not to mention a personal relationship with God. They related to Yahweh through priests and sacrifices and the Law. We can know God through Jesus and revealed by the Holy Spirit. But we “choose life” through the same fundamental commitment to walk in His ways and not our own.

Choose to heed the voice of the Lord – or remain complacent and face judgment
The challenge moves from “choose life” through pledging obedience to God, to choosing salvation through a change of heart.
In the time of the law and the prophets, this was a change of heart from complacency to response. Whether listening to God speak through Moses setting out the law, or God speaking through prophetic voices at different points in history, who repeatedly recalled people to the law, there was always a tension between those who heard and listened and responded, and those who heard but remained complacent.
The phrase we pray frequently “Your kingdom come” is our way of calling down God’s order into our lives and world, with the realisation that we are responsible for our hearts and attitudes. We are greatly helped in this by being able to choose new life in Jesus, and to receive the revelation of the Holy Spirit who convicts the world “of sin and righteousness and judgment” John 16:8. In other words, He sensitises us to what inevitably leads to God’s wrath, and reveals to us what by contrast is the path of righteousness and ongoing salvation through submitting to the lordship of Jesus. God in His mercy always provides a way out from His judgment. What keeps us from receiving God’s grace and peace, in a world which is inviting His wrath? It is usually our pride and self-sufficiency – and complacency, the point of the passage.

Choose the eternal purposes of God rather than living for the present in what cannot endure.
Part of the key to this prayer to God to have compassion on His servants is to see the timescale measured against eternity as in verse 4. This is hard for us to grasp, as is the reality of God’s wrath, and our experience of it in trials of life, because of man’s sin and sentence of death that is the starting point.
On its own, it is a grim picture of the human state, but the compilers of the Psalter have followed it with a psalm that speaks eloquently of the happiness of those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” and “make the Most High their dwelling” (Psalm 91:1,9). See also Psalm 103.
Another key to how Psalm 90 speaks to us is to think about the contrast between a holy, pure, all-loving God and man’s natural selfish state. For a New Testament perspective of man’s unredeemed depravity, and God’s response to it, read Romans 1:18-32. Of course there is a choice, a way out for those who turn to God, but God’s mercy (like wrath, a big word) would become less arresting, less immense, less of a focus of our unstinting praise, apart from the context of our sin and its consequences.

Choose to honour God in all He gives us, investing to grow His kingdom rather than playing for safety.
The word ‘talents’ used by some translators can take us away from the central meaning of this parable, which is about faith and readiness.
Everyone who has accepted the lordship of Jesus has a measure of faith (Romans 12:3,6), and this grows (2 Cor. 10:15) with maturity. The Lord expects us to put to work the faith that we have; the effect of this is to gain more.
Like the subject of the story who went away, and might return unannounced at any time, we are charged with being ready for Christ’s return at any time and being found faithful and active and working with what He has given us – investing ourselves and our gifts, by faith, in making a better world.

Choose to stay alert and responsive to God as He speaks to us and leads us by His Holy Spirit
This teaching for the Thessalonian church reinforces for us the choice we are given if we are truly the Lord’s. We have been given free will, to respond to God’s love or not; to do what pleases Him or to do what pleases us. That choice is gently guided by the Holy Spirit. We need to be awake and alert to follow His leading and be aware of His prompting.
The Old Testament passages paint a stark picture of God’s holiness contrasted with man’s selfish and willful nature. Here, in Paul writing to a church of Spirit-filled, Spirit-led believers the emphasis is on choosing what we know to be right in God’s sight.
In our world we face constant temptations to worship things that should not take our attention away from God, and our flesh nature will try to pull us off track. However we have the Holy Spirit, depicted in Scripture as a dove, and needing some alertness on our part to discern and to follow on the right path.
Jesus may return at any time. Will He find us in faith, building His kingdom, and aware of our responsibility to make good choices for Him? We don’t have to look for the effects of His wrath and judgment – but we are strongly reminded, we always have the choice, to find our own way or to choose to ‘follow the dove’ and walk toward Jesus.

Discussion starters

  1. We can come across passages in the Bible that seem to ask a lot, yet here is a teaching that the “word is near us”. What help do we have to know and put into practice the word?
  2. Are we inclined to be complacent in our daily or Sunday by Sunday routine? If we suddenly became aware of an urgency to prepare for the imminent return of Jesus, what would we change?
  3. How does being more aware of God’s wrath and the reasons for it, help us love Him more?
  4. Is there a situation that is testing your faith? How is that also growing your faith?
  5. How difficult is it to know and choose what is right in God’s sight?

Friday, November 17

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

The day of the Lord will come when many are caught unaware. In Christ, however, we are aware, like people who have woken up in the daylight, and we can choose faith, love and the hope of salvation rather than judgment.

1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you,
2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

  • The Book of Amos is essentially a warning about the Day of the Lord, a day of judgment. At any time – no one can know the day or time – Christ will return and there will be both joy and judgment – joy as He claims His own, and judgment on others.

3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.

  • At a time of year when days are short and nights long, we adapt to driving and walking in the dark, not seeing much around us. We don’t expect to see beyond where we are. That’s the danger in view here: not so much the not seeing, but the not expecting to see.

5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.

  • Children of the light, therefore born into the light. This only comes by a new spiritual birth.

6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.

  • It is sometimes said, we are either walking towards Christ, or walking away from Him. It is one or the other – there isn’t a fence to sit on. Choosing to walk towards Him is looking to Him, awake and sober and belonging to the light. 

7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.
8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.

  • Paul uses this expression in writing to the church in Ephesus about holy attitudes which are our spiritual protection – including our awareness of choosing to think in a positive way as those who are receiving salvation Ephesians 6:17

9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • It is worth noting that in the much-debated matter of how we understand the tribulation, or the Day of the Lord, this is neverin Scripture associated with the church. There is a wide diversity of views about what how tribulation will play out and its direction. However, from this verse (v.9) it is safe to conclude that we who belong to Jesus, part of His body on earth, are appointed to salvation, not tribulation.
  • The early church were aware of two things with great clarity: God’s wrath is real and deserved, but at the same time those who are in Christ Jesus are receiving His grace, not awaiting His wrath. They were truly thankful for salvation! Our culture tends to play down God’s wrath – and therefore reduces the high value of God’s gracious action in giving us a salvation we could not earn. To empty God’s wrath of its content is to rob the Christian life of much of its joy and purpose.

10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.
11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Application

This teaching for the Thessalonian church reinforces for us the choice we are given if we are truly the Lord’s. We have been given free will, to respond to God’s love or not; to do what pleases Him or to do what pleases us. That choice is gently guided by the Holy Spirit. We need to be awake and alert to follow His leading and be aware of His prompting.

The Old Testament passages paint a stark picture of God’s holiness contrasted with man’s selfish and willful nature. Here, in Paul writing to a church of Spirit-filled, Spirit-led believers the emphasis is on choosing what we know to be right in God’s sight.

In our world we face constant temptations to worship things that should not take our attention away from God, and our flesh nature will try to pull us off track. However, we have the Holy Spirit, depicted in Scripture as a dove, and needing some alertness on our part to discern and to follow on the right path.

Jesus may return at any time. Will He find us in faith, building His kingdom, and aware of our responsibility to make good choices for Him? We don’t have to look for the effects of His wrath and judgment – but we are strongly reminded, we always have the choice, to find our own way: or to make the choice to ‘follow the dove’ and walk toward Jesus.

Thursday, November 16

Matthew 25:14-30

Judgment of the worthless servant who hid what had been given to him instead of investing and growing it.

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.

  • Wealthy people in the ancient world often went on long journeys, leaving their property and business interests in the hands of trusted bond-servants or stewards who were free men. Travelling was unpredictable and the servants would not have known when the master might return.

15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.

  • The individual bag of gold weighed a talent, like a really heavy ‘extra-charges’ suitcase – as much as anyone would want to carry. So this is considerable investment and responsibility that is being assigned.

16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.
17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.

  1. To us, this seems an exaggeration – such a high rate of return. And Jewish people were forbidden to participate in usury, lending at high rates of interest. However, there was no prohibition on lending to Gentiles, and rich people tended to be more influenced by Greek practices. Added to this, few people of this time had spare capital, so someone needing to borrow for land or a grand building or to pay a militia would have to pay the asking rate, which without competition could be high. A doubling of the sum in, say, a year was not an unrealistic expectation on the part of the master.

18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

  • Hiding money in the ground was not uncommon; it was considered a safe place. Archaeologists and others have often discovered forgotten hordes of earlier times.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.
20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

4 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.

  • We should not assume that the servant’s allegation was true – there is no hint that the master was harsh, apart from this.
  • The servant is hardly loving to his master in his remarks. Perhaps he was resentful that he was not trusted with a greater amount.

25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?
27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

  • Rather than the greater risk and greater return of arranging a direct loan or investment, the lazy and disobedient servant could have put the money on deposit with a banker or money-changer, and still earned useful interest.

28 “ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.
29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

  • Being ready for Christ’s coming – the unknown time of return, and the main point of the parable – requires active service rather than passivity. Taking the risk (faith) of being found doing what is right, not just avoiding what is wrong, is the expectation.
  • Jesus states this principle in the context of telling the parable of the soils, Matt. 13:12. He is quoting Isaiah 6:9-10. From a worldly perspective, “whoever has will be given more” seems to be a hard saying. From a heavenly or faith perspective, it is not difficult. The ways of God do not follow man’s logic or expectation. A person whose response lacks the dimension of faith will “lose” what is imparted, because understanding is not just intellectual but revealed through faith. A person who “has” even a little faith will understand through faith, and “will be given more”. Jesus asks elsewhere, following the parable of the widow and the unjust judge Luke 18:1-8 “When the Son of Man returns will He find faith on the earth?”

30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Application

Choose to honour God in all He gives us, investing to grow His kingdom rather than playing for safety.

The word ‘talents’ used by some translators can take us away from the central meaning of this parable, which is about faith and readiness.

Everyone who has accepted the lordship of Jesus has a measure of faith (Romans 12:3,6), and this grows (2 Cor. 10:15) with maturity. The Lord expects us to put to work the faith that we have; the effect of this is to gain more.

Like the subject of the story who went away, and might return unannounced at any time, we are charged with being ready for Christ’s return at any time and being found faithful and active and working with what He has given us – investing ourselves and our gifts, by faith, in making a better world.

Wednesday, November 15

Psalm 90:1-12 (NIV)

Entitled: A prayer of Moses, the man of God.

People’s lives are like grass that withers and their days quickly pass under Your wrath; yet we pray You will relent, teach us Your wisdom and give us Your favour.

1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.

  • Psalm 90 to Psalm 100 fit together and are framed by the beginning statement of praise, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” and the similar language of the ending statement of praise “His faithfulness continues through all generations”.

2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”

  • The psalmist praises God as the Creator and recalls the creation of man, Genesis 2:7.

4 A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death — they are like the new grass of the morning:

  • Contrast this grim reality with the much more comforting words of Psalm 91:1-6 especially. Psalm 90 and 91 read together become a more balanced expression.

6 In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.

7 We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.
8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

  • The psalmist’s focus here is man’s depravity, the word used to describe our being born sinful, selfish and independent. With this starting point, we cannot avoid angering God with sins that are both plain “iniquities” and the hidden thoughts and attitudes, or actions unknown to others which are the “secret sins” which of course are all observed by God. The psalmist explains that this is the root of man’s insecurity and anxiety, which are the expression of God’s ever-present wrath. So, too, is the brevity of life.

11 If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.

  • God’s righteous wrath is contrasted with the fear, or loving awe, which is what is due to Him.

12 Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

(Lectionary reading ends here)

13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children
17 May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.

  • The last word of the psalm is about God’s enduring and merciful love (hesed) in language which reflects the covenant relationship between God and His people. It ends with a supplication for God’s favour.

Application

Choose the eternal purposes of God rather than living for the present in what cannot endure.

Part of the key to this prayer to God to have compassion on His servants is to see the timescale measured against eternity as in verse 4. This is hard for us to grasp. So is the reality of God’s wrath, and our experience of it in trials of life, resulting from man’s sin and sentence of death that is the starting point for all of us.

On its own, it is a grim picture of the human state, but the compilers of the Psalter have followed it with a psalm that speaks eloquently of the happiness of those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” and “make the Most High their dwelling” (Psalm 91:1,9). See also Psalm 103.

Another key to how Psalm 90 speaks to us is to think about the contrast between a holy, pure, all-loving God, and man’s natural selfish and independent state. For a New Testament perspective of man’s unredeemed depravity, and God’s response to it, read Romans 1:18-32. Of course there is a choice, a way out for those who turn to God, but God’s mercy (like wrath, a big word with deep meaning) would become less arresting, less immense, less of a focus of our unstinting praise, apart from the context of our sin and its consequences.