God’s promise of inclusion and rest

Readings for Sunday, July 22 – God’s promise of inclusion and rest

2 Samuel 7:1-14a – The promise of rest from oppression with God present

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 – The promise of Jesus’ compassion for all who draw close

Ephesians 2:11-22 – The promise of access to the Father without exclusion

Quick summary

The theme is based on three Bible promises of peace and rest and being included in God’s promise of hope and protection. King David is promised rest from the oppression of enemies – a promise that we can stand on when we face oppression – in Galilee crowds finding Jesus’ compassion give us a promise of God’s mercy, including healing, and the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles makes a present-day promise to all of being included in God’s promises without religious separation.

OLD TESTAMENT

2 Samuel 7:1-14a » David desires a fitting place of worship for God to retain the nation’s rest

God will have a dwelling for people to draw close, but not built by David. He will, however, grant David longevity of rule and lineage

1-2 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

David, as king, now had a palace built of stone and imported cedar while the ark remained under a tent covering, 2 Sam. 6:17. David felt that the heavenly King should be more prominently honoured than him.

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

This word is also referred to as the Davidic covenant. It contains both national (v.10) and person (v.11) promises.

For further study of references to this as a covenant, see 2 Sam. 23:5, Psalm 89:3,28,34,39 and Ps. 132:11

5-7 “Go and tell My servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build Me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as My dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, “Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?” ’

“Are you the one?” – David’s God-given task was to fight the Lord’s battles to achieve rest, freedom from oppression, in the land that had been promised. See 1 Kings 5:3, 1 Chron. 22:8-9.

“Now then, tell My servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over My people Israel.

I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.

“Cut off all your enemies” – Bible material is often arranged according to topic rather than the exact chronology we would expect. The events of 2 Sam. 8:1-14 probably happened before this chapter.

10-11 And I will provide a place for My people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“Provide a place… for Israel” – the real purpose behind making David king.

“Since…I appointed leaders…” – meaning the time of the judges who preceded Saul and David and the kings.

“ ‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord Himself will establish a house for you:

“Establish a house” – the play on words is plain in translation. God does not David to build Him a house, or temple, but God will build David a house, or royal dynasty.

Many Bible covenants are conditional with an”if” clause, but this covenant with David is unconditional, as with Noah, Abram and Phinehas.

12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.

13 He is the one who will build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever.

14 I will be His father, and He will be My son.

The covenant points forward to its greater fulfilment in Jesus Christ, born of the tribe of Judah and the house of David, Matt. 1:1, Luke 1:32-33 etc

IN PRACTICE  This teaching in the Old Testament from King David’s time contains the first of three promises from God of ‘rest’ which is a state of peace and trust from enemies.

David’s enemies mostly appeared with a spear in their hands, and his battles are trials of military strength worked out in combat on the battlefield. In our world of NATO and Europol and summit talks, is all that irrelevant? Certainly not. Spiritual conflicts in the heavenlies, where the hosts of the defeated enemy, Satan, are still pursuing a vicious rearguard action, are played out in acts of terrorism, persecution and imprisonment of political opponents, and every kind of cruelty and injustice.

When we encounter evil actions and evil people, we need to see the evil that is finding people’s vulnerabilities and insecurities to work through.

Now turning to submit to God in worship, who has promised His rest, starts to make very present-day, practical sense.

QUESTION  When evil in one of its forms draws near to us, who do we draw near to? How do we bring God’s promises to bear?

 

GOSPEL

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 » The promise of Jesus’ compassion for all who draw close

People recognise the Messiah and draw close. Wherever Jesus went crowds gathered and brought their sick

30-31 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

“Get some rest” – two meanings here. Another definition of finding rest is taking time in a quiet place with Jesus.

32-34 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.

Or crossed the shoreline. Gennesaret (modern-day Ginosar) is down the coast a little way, towards Tiberius.

54-56 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognised Jesus.

The crowd from vv.32-34 could see the boat and follow its progress on foot.

They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard He was. And wherever He went – into villages, towns or countryside – they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged Him to let them touch even the edge of His cloak, and all who touched it were healed. 

“All who touched it…” – a clear statement. See also Matthew 8:16-17.

IN PRACTICE  To seek a divine encounter with the promise of healing is entirely in line with this teaching, but out of line with most of our experience. It’s controversial. We all know people who have struggled with illness. For some, their earthly life appears to have foreclosed early and suddenly.

The account of people flocking to Jesus, pressing in to Him and the statement that “all who touched [His cloak] were healed” leaves us with both a promise and also a problem.

The promise seems clear enough, but so is the expectation of coming to the Lord (who we can’t touch) and trust in Him, when we have so many alternatives to trust in. Some we know from their stories are miraculously healed; for many it is a process and good medicine may be experienced as God’s gift. For some, the healing is total in transition to new and eternal life. Our philosophy is inadequate to explain this, but let’s not let lack of predictability and our sense of control and reason stop us from simply trusting and believing what God has written.

QUESTION  In the battle that goes on in our minds between reason and logic and trusting in what God says, how do we referee the contest?

 

EPISTLE

Ephesians 2:11-22 » The promise of access to the Father without exclusion

The new relationship with God includes Gentiles on the same basis as Jews

11-13 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) – remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

“Remember that formerly… at that time” – referring to those outside a personal relationship with Christ, as they were when they “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air…”, Eph. 2:1-10. We are either committed to belong to Christ, or we are by default under the sway of the devil.

“You who are Gentiles” – most of those in the church in Ephesus.

The rite of circumcision was a clear mark of distinction and also pride. A major exclusion in the ancient world, between people groups hostile to each other, is reconciled in Christ.

14-15 For He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace…

“Two groups one” – believing Jews and believing Gentiles.

“Destroyed the barrier” – a barrier of prejudice. Jews and Gentiles practised strict religious isolation from one another. Gentiles in the Jerusalem temple area were not allowed past the barrier in the Court of the Gentiles.

16 …and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the Cross, by which He put to death their hostility.

“One body” – God sees those who are the Lord’s, those who are His, as one body of Christ.

17-18 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

“Far away and… near” – Gentiles, unlike Jews, had no cultural experience of the Living God and so were not as “near”, although both had shared the same need to come into personal relationship through Jesus and His Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household…

“Foreigners and strangers” – addressing what had been a deep-seated division.

20 …built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

“Cornerstone” – hundreds of years before Christ, Isaiah spoke of God laying a “tested stone” as a cornerstone foundation, Isaiah 28:16, meaning the Messiah to come.

“Foundation of apostles and prophets” – the early church was built on these ministries as people were sent out in ground-breaking roles. Church planting in our time, both overseas and new congregations at home, require the equipping ministries mentioned later in the letter, Eph. 4:11-13.

21 In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

22 And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

“In Him… built together” – Peter also refers to Jesus as the Living Stone in whom we ‘living stones’ are being built into a spiritual ‘house’. See 1 Peter 2:4-6

IN PRACTICE  The third teaching in this theme of God’s promise of our inclusion in His hope and His promises, and therefore our rest, is about who is included and whether there is a kind of hierarchy of privilege. We think there is. We think that our religious obedience, however that is expressed, gets us up the queue line because that’s how we as humans are programmed – so much in our education, professional life and general experience is based on merit.

When ministers began to take the Good News of Jesus outside the confines of pews and pulpit (as John Wesley did in the 1700s and many others since) God’s love and grace for the apparently underserving presented many surprises to the religious mind.  He loves to overturn our comfortable theology! Back in the first century, it was the same. The Jews really did consider themselves God’s chosen people, even if they had largely rejected their own Messiah. They wanted to treat the ‘outsider’ Gentiles as second class, if they had dealings with them at all. God confronted that exclusivity of attitude in them, and He still does in us. Formal religion has created all kinds of barriers to knowing God’s love and He delights in opening another door that needs no ticket other than a desire to enter in and experience Him.

QUESTION  If you see another person in church who dresses differently, behaves differently and just is – different, how do you view them and how does God view them – and how will you love them anyway?

The steps that foreshadowed God’s kingdom plan

Theme: God’s kingdom purpose and its signposts

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19 – Bringing the Ark of the Lord to Jerusalem foreshadows Temple worship

Mark 6:14-29 – John the Baptist’s execution foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice

Ephesians 1:3-14 – How the Holy Spirit foreshadows our heavenly destiny

David is ‘undignified’ in his priestly ephod and no kingly robes as he offers effusive praise at the head of the Ark of God procession into Jerusalem. Image credit: Darlene Slavujac

 

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19 » The Ark of God becomes central to the nation of Israel again

The procession celebrates before the Lord with passion, safeguarding the holiness of the ark

David again brought together all the able young men of Israel – thirty thousand.

He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark.

“Baalah” – the more familiar name is Kiriath Jearim, where the ark had stayed for 20 years during Saul’s reign.

“Called by the Name” – meaning that God owned it. A phrase used elsewhere to indicate ownership.

“Who is enthroned between…” – in 1 Chron. 28:2 the ark is referred to as ‘the footstool of our God’ – the footstool of God’s earthly throne. David, recognising the ark as symbolising God’s ultimate kingship and rule, wanted it to be prominent and central, unlike Saul who concealed the ark, among other failures of spiritual leadership.

3-5 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.

“Uzzah and Ahio” – sons, meaning more broadly, descendants. They decided to move the ark on a new cart (carelessly imitating the pagan Philistines) but the standing instruction was to move the ark by having Levites carry it by its rings, Exodus 25:12-15, Numbers 4:4-6. This was a strategic error leading to Uzzah’s death when he stumbled and touched the ark, verses 6-7 omitted, 1 Chron. 15:13-15.

12  Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God. So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing.

“Blessed…Obed-Edom” – The Lord had blessed the Levite who had taken good care of the ark, and David’s deduction was that this blessing would come on Jerusalem if the ark was reverentially cared for there. Aware that his own care and reverence had been found lacking, David is leading the procession in praising, celebrating and sacrificing wholeheartedly.

13-14 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

“Those who were carrying” – now the Kohathite Levites are carrying the ark on their shoulders. After a few steps, David consecrates the new phase of the journey in sacrifice. No need to assume he does this every few steps.

“Linen ephod” – a priestly garment worn for ministering to the Lord, as the boy Samuel did, 1 Sam. 2:18.

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

“Daughter of Saul” – also a statement of attitude. David was a very different character, which for her undermined her father’s memory.

“She despised him” – Michal, a princess, was holding values of dignity and royal propriety about David’s kingship. David had another royal propriety in mind, before the King of kings; his sense of submission to the Lord in heartfelt worship overrode his personal dignity, verses 21-23.

17-19 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

“Blessed the people” – as Moses and Aaron had, long before, outside the tent of meeting, when the glory of the Lord appeared, Lev. 9:23. And as Solomon would at the dedication of the temple, 1 Kings 8:55-61.

In practice  Israel had lost the experience of having the presence of God with them, under Saul’s woefully disappointing kingship. The Ark of the Lord was out of sight in an obscure place. The faith of the nation was at low tide.

Saul was a proud person and everybody knew he was king. David was a worshipful person who exalted Yahweh as the real King of Israel – so that sometimes people forgot that David was set apart to lead, and not just one of them.

David made mistakes but he was a quick learner. He recognised that bringing up the ark as the ‘footstool of God’ at the heart of the nation would get everyone looking to God. This led to the Temple, his vision but not his achievement, and looked forward to ‘God with Us’, his descendant Jesus the Emmanuel and a time which each of us would be a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Question  David didn’t care what anyone thought when he was worshipping God exuberantly. How could you be more expressive, more released, more abandoned to God?

 

Mark 6:14-29 » John the Baptist’s execution foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice

King Herod has John the Baptist, a righteous and holy man, executed

14 King Herod heard about [the widening ministry of Jesus and the disciples with signs and wonders], for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

“King Herod” – he was a lesser order, a tetrarch or ruler of four provinces. Perhaps some irony here in Mark’s account

15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

“He is Elijah” – the return of Elijah (or one ministering as Elijah did) was one of the last prophecies recorded, Malachi 4:5. As Elijah was the forerunner to Elisha, to ‘Elijah’ would be the new forerunner to the Messiah. It was John who ministered in the “spirit and power of Elijah”, Luke 1:17 and we would say, in the style of Elijah, in being a prophetic preacher and a wilderness-dwelling outsider.

16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

Herod was fearful, disturbed by a bad conscience – and superstitious.

17-20 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

John’s imprisonment, in the fortress of Machaerus, is described by the independent Jewish historian Josephus in his ‘Antiquities’.

The vindictive, manipulative Herodias and indecisive ‘king’ Herod parallel the original Elijah’s persecutor Jezebel and weak husband Ahab, 1 Kings 19:1-2, 1 Kings 21:1-16

21-22 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.”

23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

“Half my kingdom” – more of a saying than a promise, see Esther 5:3,6. But keeping up appearances mattered in the company of so many military commanders.

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26-29 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her.

Clearly Herod recognised John’s integrity, moral courage and prophetic gift, vv. 17-20. But, a vain man in the company of military officers and people of power, he felt constrained not to appear weak.

So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Disciples of John existed for a century or more after his death. He was the last of the Old Testament-era prophets.

In practice  John was an Elijah-like figure who announced Jesus, made preparations for Jesus by baptising in the River Jordan, and made a way for Hims ministry, preparing people for a Messiah who was expected but not at all understood. He completed his forerunner role a little too well and a little too early, by being executed on a whim at the request of the tetrarch’s wife, who resented him deeply. He died a righteous man; His cousin was to die a worse death on a Roman cross a couple of years later as a righteous man who was also without sin.

David’s initiative in bringing up the Ark of the Lord, led to the temple order of worship of the Lord and then to the Lord Himself. John the Baptist’s obedience to his call led to the dawning of an understanding that the realm of God’s rule and realm, the kingdom of God, was starting to be realised.

Question  Can you think of something you have done for God’s kingdom that didn’t seem to result in much glory but made a preparation for someone else’s contribution? Why is this important?

Ephesians 1:3-14 » How the Holy Spirit foreshadows our heavenly destiny

The seal of the Holy Spirit is evidence of God choosing us for the praise of His glory

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

“Praise be” – or “Blessed be” more literally. This follows the style of Jewish prayers that were recited at times during the day.

Paul is straight in here with a vital statement of the spiritual identity of a believer in this era of the life of the Holy Spirit. These good things are ours because of who we are “in Christ”.

There is an assumption here which we often miss – that there is no disconnection between the “heavenly realms” and our earthly life. Our spiritual blessing and spiritual life is located in heaven, with Christ, influencing our different, but not disconnected, everyday life on earth.

4-6 For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.

“Chose us in Him” – God is outside the constraints of time and space which define us – which makes it easier to understand how He could choose us, at the beginning of creation, in the Son and for our own adoption into sonship. This is not flowery prose but the most profound statement of how God sees us “in Christ” as those who have put their lives under Christ’s lordship.

“Praise of His…grace” – because it is unearned and conferred. Our worldview which emphasises merit (and deprecates hereditary titles) makes it difficult for us to simply receive God’s grace in Jesus, without imagining we have worked for His favour in some religious or sacrificial way.

7-9 In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ… 

“Redemption through His blood” – The first redemption was the nation of Israel released from slavery in the Exodus, with the Passover sacrifice and applying of the lamb’s blood to the doorframes foreshadowing for Christian believers the provision of Christ’s shed blood from His sacrifice of Himself. The redemption now is Christ’s price paid for our release from slavery to sin and independent action.

“Made known to us the mystery” – the Holy Spirit gives us the key, enabling spiritual ‘mysteries’ to be spiritually discerned.

10 …to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will…

There is a balance in Scripture between being chosen in a way which was predestined, and putting ourselves in a place to be chosen, which is our decision (below) to 1. put our hope in Christ, 2. hear the message of truth and 3. believe.

12 …in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

13-14 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.

The Holy Spirit takes up residence when we invite Him into our lives, which we do by believing who Jesus is and what He has done for us personally – saying ‘Yes’ to Him. The Holy Spirit gives us an inner witness of who we are, and how we are, in Christ – not our righteousness, but His. We know we are saved

In practice  Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus is written to a spiritually mature readership. He reminds them of their identity in Christ and their adoption into sonship – with all the connotations of the privileges of a family heir that Roman adoption conferred. But this was living as a believer in a Roman colony of an empire where persecution of those who were Followers of the Way was all too real a prospect and death could be the result. These believers had a real experience of the empowering of the Holy Spirit – and Paul reminds them that the inner witness of the Spirit of God is like a down payment on the experience of heaven. They were to be assured of their destiny, and so are we.

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p class=”p9″>Question  Why does Paul put so much emphasis on us knowing who we are in Christ? Why does this help us to live well for Him?

How human dishonour grows God’s nature in us

TLW 27. Readings set for Sunday, July 8 (Revised Common Lectionary).

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 – After years of dishonour, David is crowned

Mark 6:1-13  – Jesus faces dishonour in his hometown

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 – Paul says public dishonour helps to reveal Christ’s power

 

Mount of the Precipice at Nazareth – believed to be where the crowd reacting in offence took Jesus to push Him over the edge, Luke 4:28-30 re Mark 6:3-4. Image: Bibleplaces.com

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 » After dishonouring delay, David is anointed king

The northern tribes seek unity under one monarch

1-2 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’ ”

“Your own flesh and blood” –  Despite a separation between Judah and the northern tribes, they still had a strong sense of kinship. Under David, they came together.

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

David had been made king over Judah by his tribe, and over Jerusalem by conquest. His kingship over the northern tribes came by covenant, or treaty. This was the third time David was anointed.

4-5 David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

“When he became king” – David had been anointed by the prophet Samuel as a youngster, 15-20 years earlier. His God-fearing leadership had been seen by all. The tribal elders had been very slow to recognise the working out of the Lord’s ‘shepherd of Israel’ word, when the crowning actually took place.

9-10 David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

David has gone north to Jebus which was a terraced area south-east of the modern city and below the rock, or stronghold that became the rebuilt City of David, Jerusalem. It was a strategic move:  central, naturally fortified and between Judah and the northern territories.

In practice  David was anointed for high office as a teenager – and then had to live with that call on his life, being faithful to God in the face of much public dishonour, even being treated as an outlaw. It was about 20 years many years before even his own tribe recognised his leadership in Judah, and then another wait before he could bring the northern tribes on board. Later he was to write, Psalm 18:25, “To the faithful you show yourself faithful…” Was he faithful? He made mistakes, even serious mistakes like sending Uriah to his death, but he recognised his faults and learned from them, and was revered as a good and godly king who established just rule, the way God wanted. The lesson for us is that our loyalty and trust of God will be tested, and He allows this testing to be like a blacksmith’s heating and hammering, to forge strength and relience.

Question  When you feel you are being dishonoured, where are you between blaming God for not standing by you, or accepting the test that strengthens, knowing that God is faithful?

 

Mark 6:1-13 » Jesus faces dishonour in his hometown

The Twelve are empowered and sent out in twos to minister in the villages.

1-3 Jesus left there and went to His hometown, accompanied by His disciples. When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were amazed.

Probably the same event as Luke 4:16-30 where Jesus reads the beginning of Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor…” (etc).

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given Him? What are these remarkable miracles He is performing?

“Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t His sisters here with us?” And they took offence at Him.

“Isn’t this the carpenter?” – people had known Jesus in His ‘ordinary life’ prior to His baptism. To them, He is ‘just a carpenter’ and, implied in “Mary’s son”, of illegitimate birth, unlike his brothers and sisters.

“Took offence” – in Luke’s account, serious offence, as the crowd hustled him to the brow of the town hill and tried to push him over the edge.

4-6 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.

“Without honour” – this rejection in Nazareth (the last time in the Gospel where Jesus is associated with a synagogue) is a small version of the much greater rejection to come in Jerusalem. The dishonour shown to him results in a lack of fruit there.

7 Calling the Twelve to him, He began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

“Two by two” — the OT requirement for ‘authority’ was two witnesses, Numbers 35:30, Deut. 17:6, 19:15, Matt. 18:16. Spiritual authority over spiritual iniquity or “impure spirits” would be needed on the mission.

“Authority over impure spirits” – the proclamation of God’s kingdom comes in actions and deliverance, including healing, not just words (vv.12-13).

For further study see Matthew 10:1, 5-15; Luke 9:1-6

8-11 These were His instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

Nazareth had proved to be hard-hearted and scornful with only a “few sick people” healed. This was a lesson to the disciples, to discern which people were open to God by seeing who would welcome them and by receiving their hospitality.

12-13 They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

“That people should repent” – not so much a ‘hard message’ as God working through the disciples. Proclaiming and showing the goodness and grace of God results in willing change of hearts and lives – repentance – among those who receive the Good News.

In practice  With the revelatory insights that Jesus possessed, the “wisdom that had been given  Him”, it is hard to imagine Jesus being amazed at the rejection and lack of faith he experienced in his hometown. He both demonstrated and explained who He was – the signs of the kingdom in His ministry left little doubt of that – but those who had known him as a carpenter/builder were scornful, asking him who He, just a regular working man like them, thought He was.

Often it is those near and dear to us, and those who we would naturally expect to be affirming us, who can present the most difficult opposition. Becoming a Christian by asking Jesus into our lives does change us and does make us seem different – progressively more like Him! And that can be threatening to others. But if Jesus was so dishonoured and rejected, should we be upset if we experience a little of the same?

Question  If Jesus gave His first disciples authority over evil spirits, how are we to view a life made miserable with a spiritual dimension to it?

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 « Paul says public dishonour simply reveals Christ’s power more

His testimony of a heavenly encounter which God initiated has made him especially aware of his reliance on God

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows.

“Third heaven” – not the atmosphere where birds fly, and not the higher ‘heaven’ of sun, moon and stars, but the unseen realm of God’s uncontested presence, the place of blessedness where God dwells, referred to in the NT as paradise, Luke 23:43, Rev. 2:7. Jesus is “exalted above the heavens”, Hebrews 7:26.

3-4 And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

Paul had a vision or visions of such unusual intensity he was reluctant to talk about his experience, using the third person as a way of avoiding appearing boastful about something that was God’s initiative.

5-7a I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations.

87b-9a Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

“Thorn in the flesh” – the meaning of this is disputed. Many commentators explain this by a physical affliction like malaria or migraine attacks. However, the phrase is used in the OT of a personal enemy, Numbers 33:55, Ezek. 28:24 and Paul had persistent opponents – and often quoted the Hebrew Scriptures (or OT to us).

“Three times” – like Jesus’ threefold prayer, Mark 14:32-41, a way of saying that he has prayed to completion and received his answer.

9b-10 Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The Corinth church had a problem with self-appointed and self-congratulatory leaders, who considered themselves more polished speakers than the small, bald Jewish man who had introduced them to Christ. Paul, by contrast, wouldn’t let anything, any ‘success’ of man, get in the way of his utter focus on Jesus as Lord. Divine power only finds its expression in our human weakness and recognition of the need of the Lord’s empowerment — Paul is forthright about his need of help.

In practice  This passage can present difficulties in reading it, because Paul uses an elaborate language and style to try to insulate the person, Paul, from being defined by an astounding and life-changing spiritual experience. As if the blinding vision on the Damascus road wasn’t enough… Paul’s point is that it is all about God and not about him, all about what God does, not what he does, and all the dishonour and difficulties simply serve to beat down any sense of human pride and self-sufficiency. Boasting about our weaknesses doesn’t seem so counter-intuitive in the context of God needing a clear and therefore humble channel for His grace to flow. And God’s way of clearing the channel seems a little less unreasonable!

Question  Could you give an example of God’s strength being able to work, as a result of your own obvious absence of strength?

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p class=”p6″>Prayer  Lord, I hate being mocked and dishonoured, not to mention all the other kinds of spiritual opposition. But I want to learn to pray with authority, to minister to others You may send me to and to bless others with a growing sense of Your kingdom order and peace in their lives. Help me to trust You more, and become more resilient and Jesus-like, as I learn to see the tests of life from Your perspective. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

How the grace of God demolishes our human barriers

The readings according to the lectionary for Sunday, July 1

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 – God’s grace in David lamenting his former persecutor

Mark 5:21-43 – God’s grace shown in special favour for the woman who was excluded

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – God’s grace in Gentiles’ willingness to raise money for the Jewish church

Kilwa, Tanzania. Image: Jonathan Rendell, Oasis Church, Hereford

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 » God’s grace seen in David lamenting his former persecutor

  • No rejoicing after tyrannical Saul is killed

After the death of Saul, David returned from striking down the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.

“After the death of Saul” – the battle of Mount Gilboa did not go well for the Israelites. Saul’s sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua were killed during the Philistine pursuit, and Saul was critically wounded and fell on his own sword, 1 Samuel 31:1-4.

17-18 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):

“Book of Jashar” – mentioned in Joshua 10:13, an early commemoration of Israel’s exploits, now lost. Probably in verse form like the “lament of the bow”, sung during drill with the bow, Israel’s weapon of choice.

19-20 “A gazelle lies slain on your heights, Israel. How the mighty have fallen! “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.

“Gazelle” – figurative language symbolising a special person, here used for Jonathan.

“Proclaim it not” – Gath to Ashkelon was the expanse of Philistine territory. For them to celebrate Israel’s defeat brought reproach, not just to Israel, but to the name of the Lord.

21-22 “Mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, may no showers fall on your terraced fields. For there the shield of the mighty was despised, the shield of Saul – no longer rubbed with oil. “From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.

“May no showers fall” – a curse on the place where Saul and Jonathan perished expressing David’s grief. “No longer rubbed with oil” – the shield no longer maintained, no longer needed.

23 “Saul and Jonathan – in life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.

“Not parted” – Jonathan opposed his father, especially in the way he treated David, but fought to defend Israel and gave his life beside his father.

24 “Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.

“Scarlet” – associated with luxury.

25  “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights.

26  “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.

“Your love for me was wonderful” – No sexual connotation here: Jonathan’s commitment to David, at personal risk, seeing him as God’s choice to succeed his own father, was a truly remarkable bond.

27  “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”

In practice  If someone had spent years cursing you, making life very difficult for you and had attempted to kill you more than once, how would you feel when they themselves have come to a sticky end? Who among us would not gloat, for a while, anyway?

When David hears the news that King Saul and his close companion and friend Jonathan have both been killed while retreating from the Philistines, he does the opposite. He composes a song of lament to honour them in every way he can think of. Human emotions have been overridden – God’s grace is flowing. David had kept his heart clean from resentment for many years; his practice had paid off.

We can do the same and choose not to recount injustice and betrayal, but to love our enemies because we have the Holy Spirit to cause a flow of grace in our hearts.

Question  Why did Jesus say it was so important for us to forgive without condition? Think of the Lord’s Prayer…

Mark 5:21-43 » God’s grace shown in special favour for the woman who was excluded

  • Two different people publicly put faith in Jesus

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around Him while He was by the lake.

“The other side” – He had been on the eastern Gadara and Decapolis side of the lake, and now crossed back to the Capernaum and Galilee side.

22-24 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at His feet He pleaded earnestly with Him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around Him.

“Synagogue leaders” – laymen, mostly Pharisees,  who organised services.

25-26 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.

“A woman was there” – but ceremonially unclean owing to her condition, and not allowed in the temple court reserved for women.

27-29 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

By the law, Leviticus 15:19-23, she renders Jesus ceremonially unclean. However, He demonstrates that He is greater than purity laws by healing her, and therefore making her clean.

30 At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from Him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” His disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched Me?’ ”

“Who touched Me?” – He senses something, a spiritual transaction, more than just touch because He would have felt the nudges of many in the crowd.

32-34 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at His feet and, trembling with fear, told Him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

She had rendered many in the crowd unclean, a shameful thing to have done from the perspective of the Law. Mark depicts how her fear turned to faith.

“Daughter” – from shunned outsider she has become part of the family of God.

“Healed” – the word ‘sozo’ has a broader meaning encompassing healed, delivered, saved. Faith in Jesus which brought her physical healing was the faith that conferred salvation from sin.

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

“Don’t be afraid” – ‘Do not fear…’ as Jesus says to us in many circumstances, ‘but believe’. Fear and faith are opposites, more than unbelief and faith. Once we decide to turn from the grip of fear to regard Jesus, faith dispels fear. We need the willpower to kick-start this change. A big test for Jairus with a dead child.

37-40 He did not let anyone follow Him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at Him.

After He put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with Him, and went in where the child was.

“People wailing loudly” – assisted by community mourners who upheld the noisy custom.

“Peter, James and John” – early days of the ministry and a small room, so a call to the ‘senior apprentices’ only.

“They laughed at Him” – the unbelieving crowd created an unbelieving spirituality.

41-43 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Talitha koum” – Only Mark’s fast-paced gospel includes references to the vernacular that Jesus and the disciples customarily used – giving immediacy to the story.

“Not to let anyone know” – Jesus was never self-promoting. In Galilee he faced two problems: He was a Galilean with fast-growing popularity in his own region, and this was attracting growing hostility from religious leaders which was pointing to premature crisis, before His work was anywhere near complete.

In practice  In Mark’s telling, a story of one extraordinary healing, a raising from the dead, becomes an envelope for another healing and crowd scene.

Jesus’ relationship with synagogues and synagogue leaders was patchy, to say the least. He talked about the kingdom of God and demonstrated the kingdom of God with apparent disregard for the conventions about the Sabbath, but here a synagogue officer faces personal tragedy in the death of his small daughter and appeals to Jesus, who turfs out the wailing mourners and speaks life into her dead form.

Before that, and no less extraordinary, was the covert encounter a chronically ill woman had with him in the crowd, forcing through to touch His robe in a desperate gesture of faith.

Both were held captive by fear and hopelessness but broke free of their feelings to express faith in Jesus: His ‘sozo’ – deliverance, healing and salvation – was the result. The lesson for us is plain – defy your feelings and even facts and conventions, and turn to Jesus. Your prayer might be desperate, but maybe this is what he is listening for.

Question  Have you witnessed any extraordinary answers to prayer? What was spoken out in faith as part of that prayer effort?

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 » God’s grace in Gentile believers’ willingness to raise money for the Jewish church

  • Corinthians who excelled in gifts exhorted to be earnest in their giving

But since you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

The Corinthians – hardly lacking in self-esteem, proud of their public debating heritage and encouraged by Paul in chapters 1-7 – are challenged to lead in financial generosity also.

8-9 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

“Not commanding” – this was not a command to give – telling people to give more often has the opposite effect – but inviting them to test the sincerity of their love. The Macedonian churches in northern Greece like Philippi and Thessalonica, not far distant, had shown their love as they “gave themselves first to the Lord” by giving beyond their means at a time of severe trial and poverty. Would Corinth have the same heart?

“You know the grace of our Lord” – here meaning God’s love shown in saving action for undeserving mankind.

10-12 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

“Eager willingness… is there” – the point is that God looks for faith and joy in giving which is part of our worship of Him. Giving out of duty (by the same logic) is not acceptable. We can encourage each other to give more freely, willingly and joyfully, but to expect people to give more because they ought is the wrong message.

13-15 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

“Too much… too little” –  quoting from Exodus 16:18 which refers to the Israelites gathering manna in the desert, illustrating the kind of equality he has in mind. Like giving out of duty, giving as a kind of religious penance is not the willingness and Spirit-led enthusiasm that God is seeking.

In practice  The Corinthians have taken hold of new life in Christ with enthusiasm – sometimes a little too much enthusiasm, it seems. But they were also early to respond and raise money when news of the need in Jerusalem reached them across the Mediterranean in Greece. But Paul instructs them, it is not dutiful giving that God smiles on, but the joyful kind that relies on His provision and shares it willingly and joyfully. “God loves a cheerful giver” because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or rather, worship.

Question In what ways can you worship God in your freedom to give and meet needs for others?

When it isn’t humanly possible, God’s providence – God’s kingdom purpose – prevails

TLW25 Church calendar readings (lectionary) for Sunday, June 24

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 17-23, 32-49 – The providence of God in personal vulnerability

Mark 4:35-41 – The providence of God in calming a storm

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – The providence of God through hardships and opposition

The diminutive David takes on the giant Goliath. Image: moneymover.com

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 17-23, 32-49 » The spiritual battle between fear and faith personified in Goliath

  • The young David meets the abusive challenge of his huge, armoured opponent and kills him

1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah.

“Sokoh” – The Philistines encroached on Israelite territory through Saul’s reign, here about 15 miles on the Philistine (west) side of Bethlehem. They faced each other on opposite hills across a strategic valley, the Elah, which offered the Philistines a route into the hill country of Judah.

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span.

“A champion” – in ancient times it was sometimes agreed that a stand-off would be settled by selected individuals; see another instance in 2 Sam. 2:12-17.

Gath and some other Philistine cities were known for having a number of giant inhabitants. Goliath, more than nine feet tall, would have presented a terrifying spectacle.

5-7 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armour of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.

“Five thousand shekels” – 55kg or 125lb. This is more than the weight of the massive plate armour worn by medieval jousting knights on horseback. His spear tip was like wielding a large sledgehammer at 7kg.

8-9 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.”

10-11 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

“Dismayed and terrified” – the intention of this strategy. It was Saul’s job to accept the challenge and step forward.

= = = =

17-19 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”

“Bring back some assurance” – literally, take their pledge. Of course Jesse was concerned about his sons.

20-21 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other.

“Army going out” – ‘Standing to’ at dawn and moving forward from the camp.

22-23 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it.

“Defiance” – not just cursing Israel, but the living God. Silencing Goliath’s defiance of God was a greater motive for David than Saul’s offer of reward, vv. 24-26.

= = = =

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

In contrast to Saul’s fear, verse 11, David has courage – the courage of faith, verse 37.

33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

34-36 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.

Lions and bears were common in Palestine in this period.

37 “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

38-39 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.

40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

Between the opposing armies was a valley – and a stream.

41-42 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield-bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

“Glowing with health” – ruddy-faced, the word emphasising David’s youth and inexperience

“Come at me with sticks” – David appeared weaponless, apart from his staff.

“The Philistine cursed…” – By contrast, David praised. Victory over Goliath would demonstrate God’s victory over Dagon, chief god of the Philistines.

45-46 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.

47 “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.”

“The battle is the Lord’s” – a declaration of faith and praise. David is choosing to agree with the perspective that the Lord is showing him, over his apparent great disadvantage. To David, this is a spiritual battle, not just a physical one, see Eph. 6:12.

48-49 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

David’s sling would have been a leather cup with two thongs to whirl it. Loosing one thong at the right time released the projectile which stunned Goliath so that David could decapitate him. With practice, this could be a highly accurate weapon.

In practice

It is easy to see this as just a heroic battle, the youth who defeats the bully. However, note that David saw this as the Lord’s battle – spiritual as much as physical. So should we. We face ‘goliaths’ of fear and hopelessness and bad news which the enemy of our souls brings out, to taunt us and challenge us. The battle takes place in our thought life, but we can speak out praise of the One who has settled that battle like David did – and see how that praise becomes a slingshot in the face of the ‘giant’.

Question

What has the Lord already provided for your present thought-battle?

 

Mark 4:35-41 » The providence of God in calming a storm

  • Jesus takes authority over the elements that threatened to swamp the boat – and tells the disciples they should have exercised their faith in doing this

35-36 That day when evening came, He said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took Him along, just as He was, in the boat. There were also other boats with Him.

In 1986 a 26 ft boat big enough to hold 15, dating from this first century period in Galilee, was recovered from mud that had preserved it.

37-38 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

“A furious squall” – the Sea of Galilee is 200m below sea level, giving rise to strong downdraughts and sudden storms.

“On a cushion” – probably one of the bags of ballast sand used to stabilise the boat.

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

Jesus’ exercise of authority over the natural power of wind and waves demonstrated who He was.

40 He said to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!”

“No faith…terrified” – the disciples had seen Jesus’ authority in action many times but still lacked faith. The Holy Spirit was to transform their faith and confidence later.

“Wind and waves obey” – they knew that in the OT, God commands wind and waves, Job 12:15 and 28:25, Psalm 107:25-30.

For further study on Jesus’ authority witnessed by the disciples, see Mark 1:21-34, 1:40-45, 2:1-12, 3:1-5.

In practice  

Just as we face ‘giants’ of fear, so there are storms of life. One tries to slay us, the other threatens to swamp us. But Jesus rebuked the wind – “Do not do this!” and ordered the rough sea to be calm. “But that was Jesus!”, you say. But the implication of the story is that the disciples should have exercised their faith and spoken authoritatively to the elements. And we have the Holy Spirit, the very presence of Jesus, in us to raise faith and bring the right words.

Question

When trouble threatens, do you have a person you trust you can turn to, and pray with you? Why is it important to have a prayer partner you can call?

 

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 » The providence of God through hardships and opposition

  • Overcoming a catalogue of hardships is proof of Paul’s genuine call

1-2 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For He says, “In the time of My favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

“Receive God’s grace in vain” – e.g. by turning back and continuing to live independent from God and self-centred. Or still under a burden of condemnation. Or, as below, showing the very opposite of God’s nature. Saved, but not living as having been saved.

“Time of My favour” – Paul, by quoting Isaiah 49:8, is aligning his apostolic ministry with Isaiah’s prophetic call to repentance in view of the coming day of redemption and judgment, which is salvation.

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.

“Now is the time” – This salvation era has already arrived in Christ. God is starting to bestow blessings of the age to come and there is an urgency to turn to God by receiving Jesus in this period of particular favour, between Jesus’ first and second comings.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.

Paul and his companions’ character was always being questioned. Slander was their travelling companion – “genuine, yet regarded as imposters”, below.

4-10 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;  in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;   sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

“Dishonour…bad report…regarded as imposters” – there was continual opposition from false apostles who in character were self-serving and self-promoting. By contrast, “as servants of God” Paul always puts the focus of his gospel message on the Lord and God’s power coming through his own weakness. The apostolic team’s genuineness is shown by their “yet we live on” attitude of following God’s call.

The nine hardships listed (see also 2 Cor. 4:7-18) are also detailed in Acts e.g. Acts 14:5-6, Acts 14:19-20, Acts 16:19-24, Acts 21:30-36.

For further study: imprisonments are mentioned in Acts 16:3, Eph. 3:1, Phil. 1:13-14, Col. 4:18, 2 Tim 1:16, Philemon 1.

11-13 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange – I speak as to my children – open wide your hearts also.

The self-appointed leaders at Corinth have tried to persuade the people there that Paul does not really love them. Unswerving despite the hostility, Paul asserts his true affection, also in 2 Cor. 7:2.

 

In practice

Paul suffered a lot for his faith in pursuing his being called to share what the Bible calls the Good News: forgiveness with God, new life and eternal salvation, all through simply turning to Jesus Christ and asking Him to be Lord of your life. It’s a decision that totally changes us – yet the people who were trying to discredit Paul and stir up trouble for him, were often part of the churches he had started. Jesus had said, you will know a tree by whether its fruit is good or bad. Paul kept on loving people in Corinth who were clearly not motivated by love themselves. In the Christian walk, the most bitter opposition may come from within the church, not outside it, and it may be triggered by doing what is right in God’s sight – keeping Jesus central – not what is wrong. Be encouraged, it has happened to many better people who made a stand for Jesus Christ and His values. Giants threaten us, storms of life blow up out of nowhere and attacks come from people who should be there for us – but God’s providence is over all. His kingdom purpose prevails.

Question

What is this passage teaching you about opposition and spiritual attack?

The difference between man’s ways and God’s kingdom order

Bible readings for Sunday, June 17 (based on the Revised Common Lectionary)

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 – In God’s order, character trumps appearance

• Samuel anoints David saying that the Lord looks on the heart, not appearance

Mark 4:26-34 – God’s realm grows unseen where it is planted

• Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is a hidden influence like seed that sprouts from the soil

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 – New life brings vision of the kingdom of God

• Living as a spiritual person will always be in tension with living the human life

Image from https://newlifenarrabri.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/reflection-on-1-samuel-161-13-2/

 

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 » In God’s order, character trumps appearance

  • Samuel anoints David saying that the Lord looks on the heart, not appearance

34-35 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.

“Ramah… Gibeah” – it was a separation but archaeology has revealed that Ramah and Gibeah were only a few miles apart.

“The Lord regretted…” – echoes 15:11 and God’s regret at the time of the flood, Genesis 6:7. This is not a conflict with 1 Sam. 15:29 where ‘will not regret’ in some versions means will not ‘relent’ or ‘change His mind’. Saul’s call to kingship had started well, 1 Sam. 9-10, but his character was to self-justify and on this test of how he had followed a very specific command he lied twice, 1 Sam. 15:3, 13, 20-22.

For further study, see 2 Sam. 11:27, 12:7-12, Hebrews 13:7

1 Sam. 16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth, of Bethlehem.

But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

Samuel had reason to be cautious – he had told Saul that God had rejected his kingship.

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’

Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Bringing a sacrifice gave Samuel a pretext for going to Bethlehem and following what the Lord would show him next.

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

Like Saul, Jesse’s oldest son looked impressive, but God could see into the motivations of his heart, Psalm 139:1. His true character comes out in 1 Sam. 17:28

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

“The Lord looks at the heart” – a much-quoted verse, which headlines a principle. The Lord is concerned with what is on the inside, i.e. character and spiritual disposition, whereas we are swayed by more evident attributes including appearance. Saul stood out in appearance and height, 1 Sam. 9:2, but in character he turned out to lack stature.

8-11 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

With v. 14 this is the pivotal moment when by this physical anointing there is a transfer of the spiritual anointing of God’s Spirit from Saul to David (which he recalled in worship, Psalm 51:11). It is the beginning of a long process over seven years in which Saul’s hold on the kingship is displaced by David’s growing influence.

In practice

It is hard for us to grasp how, with foreknowledge, God can allow something to happen which then turns to failure. This makes a powerful statement about the principle of man’s free will, but also the seriousness with which God regards a failure of leadership through the wrong exercise of free will.

In the O.T. the Holy Spirit comes on a person of God’s choice for a purpose, for them to step up to an anointed role e.g. as prophet or king or leader.  In the NT the Spirit was given at Pentecost and all believers can ask and receive, and are later instructed to “be being filled”, Ephesians 5:18, in an ongoing way for an empowered ministry.

The principle of “trust and test” applies to us as it did to Saul and David. Saul’s arrogant and self-justifying personality meant that he lacked the honesty to know his need of God and need to put right with God his mistakes. David made mistakes, but God had his heart – a crucial difference.

Question

We have free will to obey (or to take God at His word) or not. How have you grown through being tested on this?

Ezekiel 17:22-24 (additional reading)

22 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain.

“A shoot… and plant it” – one of David’s line, Isaiah 11:1, Zech. 3:8, made king. A parable of a messianic future in sharp contrast to the destruction foretold in the preceding prophecies.

“High and lofty mountain” – Jerusalem, Isaiah 2:2-4

23  On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.

“Birds of every kind” – people of every nation.

The Lord Himself plants this shoot from the very top growth

24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.

“Bring down the tall tree” – 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Isaiah 2:12-18.

Trees represent the royal line. The pride and failure of David’s descendants would not stop God’s purpose for the dynasty of David, which was fulfilled in Jesus.

“ ‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’ ”

In practice

Ezekiel was a later prophet who became one of the exiles and a contemporary of Jeremiah, Daniel and Obadiah. He had seen how king after king, and generation after generation, had rejected God’s ways – with disastrous consequences. He also caught a higher perspective: God’s purpose would be fulfilled by God’s action overruling man’s failure. When all around us appears hopeless, in the higher, heavenly perspective God is already bringing His good purposes about. 

Mark 4:26-34 » God’s realm grows unseen where it is planted

  • Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is a hidden influence, like seed that sprouts from the soil

26-29 [Jesus] also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like.

The disciples thought the kingdom of God was a righteous political rule – looking back to David. Not so. All of Jesus’ teaching sought to demonstrate and explain how the kingdom of God, God’s rule and purpose, impacts man’s freewill existence. God’s kingdom exists and grows and produces its good effect in ways that are largely unseen and unrecognised – in our hearts, and through us as changed people, bringing God’s order in righteous, beneficial change to our world.

A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

“He also said” – Mark recounts some further seed parables which are about the hidden life of the kingdom of God which will appear. The kingdom of God is hidden, 4:21, but will certainly become established like a crop, and grow.

30-32 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

“Like a mustard seed – the contrast between a very small beginning – the mustard seed was proverbially small – and spectacular growth.

33-34 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when He was alone with His own disciples, he explained everything.

Mark shows that he is including a compilation of these parables, not a chronological account.

In practice

This teaching reminds us that God’s kingdom does come and does grow whether or not we can see the impact of praying ‘Your kingdom come’.  The change and growth keeps on happening “all by itself” as God’s will is done with the patchy support and partnership of His people. This teaching emphasises God’s sovereignty in fulfilling His purpose, but the witness of the Bible as a whole is on the way God chooses us to be His ‘executive partners’ through our lives and relationships.

Heroes of faith like William Wilberforce and John Wesley whose hearts were changed by the Holy Spirit were passionate in their mission and persevering in setbacks and opposition and lack of progress. Centuries later, we see with more clarity what their prayer and persistence achieved for eternity.

Question

Can you recall something you have prayed for persistently without seeing change at the time – and then, looking back, you could see the shift?

 

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 » New life brings a vision of the kingdom of God

  • Living as a spiritual person will always be in tension with living the human life

6-7 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight.

“At home in the body” – spiritual life is constrained by human existence.

This is not an exhortation to be super-spiritual and believing the unbelievable, but rather living one’s whole life with God in a trust relationship which believes His promises and takes an eternal view, not just the immediate one. This looks back to 2 Cor. 4:18-5:1.

8-10 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

“Appear before the judgment seat” – in our courtroom language we speak of being ‘called to appear before the bench’. This was the bēma, where the Roman governor sat to deliver judicial verdicts.

“Receive what is due” – there is judgment in heaven and we will have to give account for what we have done “in the body”, our here-and-now lives.  Where we fall short of  “living for Him” we should keep short accounts with God and others.

= = = = = 

14-15 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.

“Christ’s love compels us” – Paul’s motivation is the strong awareness of the price paid for him by Jesus, and the relationship of love which holds him. The revelation of how Jesus loves us through His sacrificial death compels us to live for Him, not for ourselves.

16-17 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

This is a change of identity, from the old unregenerate person to the new, spiritual person. New creation also brings new perspective – we see things differently and the old, worldly point of view seems narrow and inadequate. The worldly view of Christ as a historical figure and perhaps a model to follow is radically overturned by the experience of the Holy Spirit  Christ in us – and a growing understanding of who we are “in Christ”, our heavenly identity.

In practice

There’s a tension in living for Christ and in the tension of the world’s ways, in being made a new creation person, but with a lot of old creation habits and attitudes hanging on. The life of the Spirit which is the context of this letter and others written to early church believers demands that we see ourselves as heaven sees us, and live up to this new identity. Too easily we slide back into responding to the world around us as we see it with our eyes rather than as we perceive it, drawing on the spiritual awareness given by the Holy Spirit. People let us down – that is what humans do. The worldly view will be condemning and judgmental; as those in Christ we are equipped to perceive what is going on in a person that impact us unhelpfully, and as those compelled by Christ’s love, we can choose to return to them the grace and forgiveness we ourselves have received from God.

Question

What excites you about the new life, in Christ as a new creation? What holds you back from experiencing it fully?

Man’s way and understanding vs trusting God for His way

1 Samuel 8:4-20, and 11:14-15

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Mark 3:20-35

 

1 Samuel 8:4-20, and 11:14-15

God’s way is superseded by man’s way of leading Israel, despite Samuel’s warning

4-5 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

“A king to lead us” – The leaders come up with a couple of insubstantial reasons for wanting a king, rather than a judge who would direct them to Yahweh; Samuel’s sons taking bribes, and the continual threats of the Ammonites and Philistines (v.20) did not help. However, the real reason will become clear.

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.

It was quite a rejection of Samuel, who had served them well. And another rejection – the Lord’s people of Israel were supposed to be distinct from the surrounding nations in doing things differently.

7-9 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you that they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

“Rejected Me as their king” – meaning they had rejected God’s ways. This would be played out again with Christ.

For further study, read Acts 3:13-15, 7:51-53.

Samuel warns the people of the cost of taking this new direction, based on the practices of the Canaanite kings that surrounded them.

10-15 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plough his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.

“Take a tenth” – in reality, another tenth. Israel was instructed to devote a tenth to the Lord. The demands of an earthly king would double up on all the land, produce and people that would be consecrated to the Lord.

16-18 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

“His slaves” – conscripted labour. Later widely used by Solomon.

“The best of your fields… and.. cattle” – Saul would give his officials military commands and farms, 1 Sam. 22:7

19-20 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us.  Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

The motive becomes clear. God wanted all of them to be spiritually-led and spiritually dependent, as they were during the Exodus – but it was a tall order. The Israelites wanted to appear as a match for the nations around them, with a king as a figurehead, and to lead them in battle.

1 Sam. 11:14-15 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.

Meanwhile, Saul who came from a noble family and who looked the part, was anointed (on the Lord’s instructions) by Samuel and now receives his coronation. It is the start of a reign characterised by independence from God that would last for 40 difficult years. Kingship was allowed, but not required, by the law, Deut. 17:14-20.

In practice

The people of God, Israel, had been commanded to be set apart for Him – to be holy, as He is holy. Therefore they were to follow His ways and uphold His values as distinct from the nations around.

Yahweh led them out of Egypt and He led them through the desert with the visible presence of fire and cloud.  But now they wanted a “king to lead us, such as the other nations have” and to “go out before us” in battle.

This headlines the enduring tension between God’s way and man’s way that we all struggle with today. God’s way often requires a high level of listening and trust. We usually prefer to choose man’s more predictable way – and then spiritualise it. He just wants us to listen to Him, to be guided out of that relationship – and like Israel, to how His kingdom to others around us.

Question

Think of an example where you, or your church, seem stuck in “man’s way”. What would God’s way look like?

Mark 3:20-35

Jesus teaches on the danger of allowing prejudice to attribute the Holy Spirit’s work to the devil

20-21 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that He and his disciples were not even able to eat. When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”

“Out of His mind” – Jesus is acting strangely to His family; they were familiar with the ‘previous’ Jesus, the carpenter, and were still seeing Him in a worldly way. However, the evil spirits He confronted knew exactly who He was: The Son of God, Mark 3:11.

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons He is driving out demons.

The word about Jesus’ following has reached Jerusalem and a commission was sent to Galilee to investigate this ‘unauthorised’ rabbi. Threatened by a man who could do in the power of God what they could not do, they resort to slander, accusing Him of the exact opposite of the plain truth. Mark’s gospel doesn’t mention the blind and dumb demonised man, Matt. 12:22, Luke 11:14, that prompted the accusation that he was in league with Satan, Beelzebub, the prince of demons, John 10:20.

23-26 So Jesus called them over to Him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.

Jesus points out the ridiculous nature of their accusation. History teaches us that revivals bring opposition and the most bitter accusations are made by those who profess the same faith and should be on-side.

27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.

The strong man in this instance is tied and healing miracles are taking place. Jesus is demonstrably more powerful than Satan’s hold, strong though that may be.

28-29 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

Jesus says that only one sin puts a person beyond forgiveness — attributing the redemptive work of God to Satan. This may be because a person locked in such prejudice is unable to make the turn of repentance – we have to acknowledge our need of forgiveness. Anyone who fears having committed the unforgivable sin has, by definition, showed the capacity to turn.

30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

31-32 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call Him.  A crowd was sitting around Him, and they told Him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for You.”

Most likely His younger half-brothers, not believers at this time, not understanding Jesus’ call and identity and concerned that He was overreaching Himself. Sisters are mentioned in Mark 6:3. Joseph, not mentioned, has probably died by this time.

33 “Who are My mother and my brothers?” He asked.

34-35 Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! Whoever does God’s will is My brother and sister and mother.”

“Whoever does God’s will” – see James 1:22. Jesus is not rejecting His natural family but teaching the high priority for Him, of the spiritual relationship that comes through believing in Him. A parallel passage, Luke 8:19, in The Passion Translation reads: “These who come to listen to Me are like My mothers and My brothers. They’re the ones who long to hear and to put God’s word into practice.”

In practice

This opposition to Jesus started in the place of supposed faith, the synagogue, with the healing of a man with a malformed hand. Then a crowd followed Him as He made Himself less prominent and brought with them a deaf and dumb man, who was most evidently healed.

This was a power encounter in which evil spirits manifested and clearly knew exactly who Jesus was – the Son of God. But His own family were fazed by this and Jewish religious leaders present were critical in the extreme.

Why would they attribute the unmistakable, and unarguably good, healings of needy people to the work of the chief of demons, or Satan? This was true blasphemy of the most serious kind. By contrast, Jesus was frequently accused of blasphemy by religious people. This gives us a clue. The religious spirit, where man defines what is correct or right, brings out deep-seated and irrational prejudice. It’s hard to turn from a mind-set like that, and so it is hard to receive forgiveness for it. It is common today for a misplaced sense of ‘religious correctness’ to be a real barrier to the Good News and God’s work in a church or congregation – something we learn from this story.

Question

Where have you found an unfamiliar teaching or an experience of God at work difficult because of your own prejudice or sense of what should or shouldn’t be?

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

• Man’s mortality is temporary but God’s grace and transforming work is everlasting

13-14 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”  Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to Himself.

“I believed… I have spoken” – Paul quoting a version of Psalm 116:10. Exercising faith leads to testimony stories, big and small; testimony is a powerful way to raise faith in others. Paul often told the story of being changed from persecutor to missionary by his encounter with Jesus.

“Present us… to Himself” – the Holy Spirit’s extraordinary power resurrected Jesus, Romans 8:11, 1 Cor. 15:20. His transformative power is at work in us to present us, made holy and acceptable, to God. A trinitarian saying.

15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

Being renewed” – the Holy Spirit’s resurrection life is always renewing us inwardly (and us together as the Church). The more the outward testing – for Paul, this was sometimes brutal – the greater our reliance on God, and the deeper the relationship with Him.

17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

“Light and momentary” – Paul’s irony, but a reminder that as our life is eternal, our perspective should be also. Developed in the following verse.

18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Cor. 5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

“Earthly tent” – a tent or even marquee has a limited life. For all of us, earthly life lasts… until it doesn’t last any more. But the reality is a heavenly life more permanent than a castle.

In practice

Paul is speaking from a perspective of experiencing “light and momentary troubles”. Either this is an unusual and early use of the classic English understatement – or Paul, who is being hammered physically, emotionally and spiritually, is teaching us about keeping a heavenly focus when hell seems to be breaking out.

The more up-front we are about declaring and living in the Lordship of Jesus, the more the forces of darkness will try to throw us off or discourage us into backing away. Paul’s teaching is that spiritual opposition (which often comes through people as other kinds of opposition, attacks on health and in every other way) is par for the course and “momentary”. The gains are eternal. We only see our side of the battle, not the “eternal glory” that results, and the difficulty we experience is temporary, but the results – a person led to Christ, for example – are eternal. “Keep on keeping on”, he seems to be saying, even if our “tents” seem to be in danger of collapsing in the gale.

Question

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p class=”p1″>What is your story of pressing in spiritually – perhaps in prayer for a situation – and feeling the kickback of the enemy’s oppression? How long-lived was this?

The call and the cost

“We are hard-pressed on every side…” 2 Corinthians 4:8 (epistle reading). Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. Acts 14:19

 

Theme: God’s power is seen in trusting Him faithfully in the face of opposition

Church calendar readings for Sunday, June 3, in Bible order

Prepare for Sunday by reading the Bible passages beforehand, or reflect on Sunday’s teaching by looking at the Scriptures again.

1 Samuel 3:1-20 « God appears to Samuel and tests his obedience

Mark 2:23-3:6 » Healing ministry in the synagogue brings religious opposition

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 » Paul’s proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord brings the trials that Jesus knew

1 Samuel 3:1-20 « God appears to Samuel and tests his obedience

• The Lord finds the person He can trust to hear and act on His message

1  The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

“Not many visions” – with the sense that such as there were, were not widely known. Eli had perhaps forgotten, and Samuel never known, the experience of the Lord speaking.

2-3  One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was.

The lamp… had not… gone out” – the seven-branched lamp had to be filled up with oil at nightfall and kept burning all night, Samuel’s duty for the elderly priest. This suggests a time before dawn.

4 Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

“Here I am” – Samuel hasn’t heard the Lord speak before, and his response is tested three times. He shows himself to be willing, even at nighttime, and gives the same response of others greatly used by God, Gen 22:1, 11; Exod 3:4; Isa 6:8.

5   And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

6  Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

7  Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

“Did not yet know” – The young boy was an apprentice priest, not a prophet (although that was about to change) and he did not know the Lord’s voice; he did not yet know the Lord in a personal relationship.

 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy.

9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Samuel’s station was near the Ark of the Covenant, and if God chose to speak, that is where it would be expected to be heard.

10  The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

“The Lord… stood there” – this expression is used in a theophany appearance which is a visible manifestation of God to humans. God is Spirit but on occasion He creates appearance and also audible presence, as here

For further study, see Genesis 18:2, 28:13, Numbers 22:22

11  And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.

“Ears…tingle” – the language of disaster, later used of the foretold destruction of Jerusalem and Judah handed over by God to the Babylonians.

12  At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family – from beginning to end.

13  For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them.

14  Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ ”

Eli’s sons’ actions were deliberate and rebellious and in their contempt of God amounted to blasphemy. Inadvertent sins of priests could be atoned for, but the guilt of defiant sin could not be removed, Numbers 15:30 (reflected also in Hebrews 10:26). Eli was responsible for their upbringing.

15-16  Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

17  “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.”

18  So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in his eyes.”

Eli had already received this word of judgment in detail from the unnamed ‘man of God’, 1 Sam. 2:27-36, which confirmed that the young Samuel had in fact heard from God.

19-20  The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and He let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.

“Dan to Beersheba” – far north to far south.

In practice

Our situation is very much better than in Old Testament times. God has always spoken to His people, but back then it was only the righteous kings, priests and prophets who knew the Holy Spirit, and then not always. Samuel was chosen at a young age to be a leader of his people through hearing and being obedient to God.

If we have come into a relationship with Jesus, and particularly if we have made a regular practice of asking for the infilling of His Spirit, we can hear Him, often through His word. We have to quiet our own thoughts and other noise first.

Question

Samuel heard God call him in the sanctuary in the quiet of night. How would you make it easy for God to speak to you?

Mark 2:23-3:6 » Healing ministry in the synagogue brings religious opposition

• Following a miracle on the Sabbath there are plots to kill Jesus

2:23-24  One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

“His disciples… began to pick…” The disciples, not Jesus. Harvesting (with a sickle) was one of 39 things prohibited on the Sabbath, but picking grains, Deut. 23:24-25, was allowed. Israel’s land was to be seen as the Lord’s.

25-26  He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

27-28  Then He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Jesus is saying that He is Lord of the Sabbath – and possibly also, that it a matter for individual conscience.

3:1  Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there.

2-3  Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched Him closely to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

“Looking for a reason to accuse” – Jesus has already exposed the religiosity of the Pharisees and they react as those who feel threatened.

4  Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

5  He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

“They remained silent… stubborn hearts” – see similar synagogue confrontation recorded in Luke 13:10-17. Note that both this story and the grainfield one follow on in Mark from the ‘new wine needing new wineskins’ teaching, Mark 2:21-22. When the kingdom of God comes near, people are healed but religious inflexibility kicks back.

6  Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

For further study, see 11:18, 12:12, 14:1-2 and 10-11 in this gospel.

In practice

Here we have two views of what is good and proper on the Sabbath sharply contrasted. The disciples were simply doing what everyone was allowed to do, and the man with the disability had a legitimate need, but the problem for some was the Sabbath day and how it should be observed.

This highlights the tension which always arises when the rules of the religious framework, and the reality of what God is doing in His kingdom order, collide.

This passage needs to be read with the two preceding verses, Mark 2:21-22, included. Then we can begin to see the inflexible ‘religious spirit’ that can criticise a healing miracle because it occurs on a  particular day, for what it is. If the Lord of the Sabbath also worked the miracle of restoring a disabled arm, on the Sabbath, surely that says something about how to keep a good sabbath! And there is teaching here to consider about how we position religious correctness with discerning the new wine of how God is moving His salvation into people’s lives.

Question

What does this teaching about the Sabbath say to us, in a fast changing world?

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2 Corinthians 4:5-12 » Paul’s proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord brings the trials that Jesus knew

• God’s power and human vulnerability go together, Paul explains

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

“Preach… not ourselves” – A mark of false teachers, then as now, is the need to prove themselves. Paul didn’t need to, and consistently presented a Jesus-centred message, Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Col. 2:6, as one serving the churches and not as a spiritual overlord, 2 Cor. 1:24. To confess Jesus as our Lord is to say to other Christians that we are their servants, in the Lord’s service.

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

7  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

“Treasure in jars of clay” – the light that comes from knowing Jesus and seeing God’s glory in Him is rich treasure to share with others, but it is packaged in ordinary, rather unattractive containers (that’s us), which show by contrast the priceless nature of the gospel.

8-9  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

“Hard pressed” – Paul backs this up with examples in 2 Cor. 11:23-33.

10  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

“Carry… the death” – this is sharing in the painful mission of Jesus, Colossians 1:24, which is an honour.

11  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.

12  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

“Death is at work in us” – the way of bringing life and eternal life to others, was death for Jesus and Christian ministry and mission is Jesus-like. Paul reflects that bringing the life of Jesus and His Spirit puts him often at risk of death.

In practice

Not many of us have Paul’s kind of call or the readiness of those early believers to lay down their lives for the sake of the gospel. But do we subconsciously expect the Christian life to be a favoured and protected one?

For the born-again believer, both of these strands play out together. There is favour and God’s provision, not to mention knowing that we are loved and being sustained by the joy of the Lord that is our strength. But once we decide that Jesus Christ is our Lord and make that part of our life message, then we become targets for the enemy of our souls. There is spiritual attack, often from unexpected quarters, and persecution. The people we look to as giants of the faith all got pelted, with accusations and insults and in former days, more physical missiles.

Having any kind of authentic faith that can be seen by others puts us on a mission, and mission brings challenges. They are often ‘breaking experiences’ for us and our pride, but at the same time ‘breaking out’ experiences for others who see more clearly what Jesus has put in us.

Question

When you are treated harshly in connection with who you are as someone who has made Jesus Lord of your life, is it fair? And why is that not the right question?

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

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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?