Speak Your Mind

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Change! The Righteous Lord is coming.

His winnowing fork is in His hand… (Image credit http://www.stmarycanons.org/blog/category/chapter-05)

(TLW50) Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, December 16, Advent 3

Theme: ABCD of Advent – Change as Christ’s coming beckons

Zephaniah 3:14-20 — The alienated ones are gathered with rejoicing.
God’s wrath over man’s rebellion is real, but so is His mercy for all who turn to Christ

Luke 3:7-18  — Whose values are we agreeing with?
John challenges hearers with the need to change their stance before God at the coming of the righteous Lord who baptises in the Holy Spirit and in fire

Philippians 4:4-7 — Anxiety stalks, but praise and thanksgiving overcomes.
Knowing God through Jesus, and knowing His nearness by the Holy Spirit, is to rejoice

Also: Song of Praise: Isaiah 12:2-6

SUMMARY   The Lord is taking delight in His faithful people, gathering them and bringing them home. John foretells that One greater than him will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire, warning people to get right with God. Paul reminds his churches, don’t be anxious but rejoice, for the Lord is near!

OLD TESTAMENT READING 

Zephaniah 3:14-20 – The alienated ones are gathered with rejoicing

God’s wrath over man’s rebellion is real, but so is His mercy for all who turn to Christ

14-15 Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment, He has turned back your enemy.

“Be glad and rejoice” — a complete reversal of the pronouncement of woe and wrath earlier in the chapter, after which a remnant arises again to find God’s favour.

The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.

“Taken away your punishment” – stated as if judgment day had already happened. God removes His wrath and lifts the curse of transgression through Christ.

For further study, read Romans 5:9, Rom. 8:1, Gal.. 3:13-14.

“The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you” – the true king of Israel was always the Lord, Yahweh, and other rulers were to represent Him. The NT uses this title of Jesus the Messiah, John 1:49, Matt. 27:42 and John seems to apply this verse to Jesus at His Triumphal Entry, John 12:13.

16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.

“Hands hang limp” – do not be discouraged.

17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.’

“The Mighty Warrior” – Yahweh is the supreme Commander, Psalm 24:8.

“Will… delight in you” – like a bridegroom with his bride, Isaiah 62:4-5, Isaiah 65:18-19. Zephaniah was possibly a disciple of Isaiah who shared something of the same vision. His message is that when God’s people seek Him, Zeph. 3:12-13, and rejoice in Him in a relationship of trust, vv.14-15 above, the Lord is so delighted He bursts forth with celebration and loud singing.

18 I will remove [or gather] from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you.

“All who mourn over the loss” – all translators agree that this is a difficult verse. The context esp. vv.19-20 below suggests this is God’s promise to make things right, by both gathering and removing those who remain rebels to God’s truth, and also gathering and bringing back those driven from Jerusalem by oppressors.

19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honour in every land where they have suffered shame.

20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honour and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes [bring back your captives] before your very eyes,’ says the Lord.

“I will rescue… gather… give honour and praise” — special favour in an intimate way for those who have held on to faith through the deprivation and shame of exile.

The weak and humble that the rebel majority abused (Zeph. 1:9; 3:1–2; cf. Ezek 34:21) are the very ones upon whom Yahweh’s justice would shine (Zeph. 3:5; cf. 2:3; 3:12)

IN PRACTICE  This week’s theme of ‘Be Prepared’ starts with a passage that is set in the context of God’s wrath. The start of Zephaniah 3 is about Jerusalem, the city of oppressors, and God’s judgment which, as always is intended to be a wake-up call and bring correction, Zeph. 3:1-7. However, following the inevitable punishment, a refining takes place and God delights in those that remain, who have kept faith in Him. In our world, we can see where God’s judgment for ‘doing our own thing’ has resulted in a dramatic fall in church attendance and prosperity. Perhaps it’s needed, so that we wake up and think again about whose church it is,  and whether we are in love with God the Father and His Son Jesus, or the traditions we are attached to. The bottom line is that God is good, He loves us and He has a real purpose for all of us – for which some discipline is also a measure of His love.

QUESTION  What does God want from us as a faith community, that is a tension with what we want?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 3:7-18 – Whose values are we agreeing with?

John challenges hearers with the need to change their stance before God at the coming of the righteous Lord who baptises in the Holy Spirit and in fire

7-9 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’

“Vipers” — a way of challenging them about having become the seed of the Serpent, Gen. 3:15, in their attitudes and actions. These vipers, Isaiah 59:5 are the rebellious people of  God who turned the way of the Lord into crooked roads, Isaiah 59:8.

“We have Abraham” –  the erroneous and somewhat arrogant belief of some Jews who believed that descent from Abraham was their assurance of salvation, John 8:33-39, Acts 7:2.

“The axe… tree… good fruit” – genuine faith produces good fruit. Claiming the ancestry of Abraham was meaningless if not matched  with righteous, just and generous-spirited living including a willingness to engage in repentance responding to John’s call.

10 ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.

11 John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’

“Two shirts” – a long tunic undergarment.

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptised. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’

13 ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ He told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked Him, ‘And what should we do?’
He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.’

“Tax collectors…soldiers” – probably a form of police in the employ of Herod Antipas to protect the tax collectors, a rejected community seen as supporting the Roman oppression. John preaches honesty and concern for those in need, against the fraudulent dealings and extortion that had become part of the accepted way of life.

15-16 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with [in] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with [in] the Holy Spirit and fire.

“The Holy Spirit and fire” – a holy ‘drenching’ that will transform and purify.  Fire is often used in the OT as an illustration of the judgment that purifies, exposing what is insubstantial and ‘combustible’. The Holy Spirit also reveals what is not of God and exposes our self-deceptions in a transformation that can be a fiery and radical purification.

17-18 His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

“Wheat… chaff” – the righteous versus the unrepentant. John’s theme throughout is on the need for a humility before God which brings with it a sincere dependence on God and a lifestyle of willingness to recognise and deal with everything in life which is not God’s way. “Winnowing fork” – many Jews had assumed a false sense of entitlement, believing that when the Messiah came, only pagans would be singled out, but John makes clear that judgment and punishment that judgment will come on all who do not repent.

“Proclaimed the good news” – John’s message heralded the coming of a Saviour, both imminently and also in the final judgment – a message of joy and justice for all who would receive Him but a stark warning for those who would not, both present and future. 

IN PRACTICE  The Jews were confident that they deserved favour from God because of their heritage, rather conveniently overlooking the swatches of of their Scriptures (Old Testament to us) which speak of rebellion and apostasy and the inevitable consequences which they suffered in exile and then a series of invasions. The hated (but for the most part, just and professional) Roman rule was just the latest of a number of occupations.

What about us? We live in a so-called Christian country. We may have served our church or fellowship faithfully, with others looking to us as the ones who ‘keep things going’. But has that given us a false sense of entitlement? This “be prepared” season is a good time to ask if we are holding faithfully, or perhaps just tenaciously, on to what God actually wants us to let go of, so He is able to “do a new thing”, Isaiah 43:18-19. And to be humble enough to let go of any sense of entitlement is definitely a good way to “be prepared”.

PRAYER  Lord, as I mentally line up for John’s baptism and wonder what in me has more of the hallmark of the snake, rather than the Spirit, help me to let go of attitudes that need to go, and to embrace the change and holiness You are revealing in this season. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

EPISTLE READING

Philippians 4:4-7 – Anxiety stalks, but praise and thanksgiving overcomes

Knowing God through Jesus, and knowing His nearness by the Holy Spirit, is to rejoice

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!

“Rejoice… always” – the back-story here is a disagreement – we might say, a church split – serious enough for the parties to be named in a letter to be read out. The enemy’s strategy is always to find ways to cause disagreement and division, and the God-given remedy is the capacity that Christians have to see beyond themselves, and find agreement. Rejoicing is an attitude of relationship with God, not circumstances, and in that relationship His way becomes clear.

5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

“Gentleness” – the quality of Christlike consideration, generosity of spirit, especially required of church leaders, 1 Tim. 3:3, Titus 3:2.

“Near” – A reminder repeated elsewhere in the NT that the next great event in God’s salvation schedule is Christ’s return. The whole span from Christ’s coming at Bethlehem to the final consummation of the kingdom is “the last time” in which, from God’s perspective, a thousand years are like a day,  . “Near” or “at hand” also speaks of the Lord’s nearness in the prayer relationship, the presence of One poised to return.

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

“Do not be anxious” – because the Lord is near. Prayerful thanksgiving in every situation is the antidote to anxiety which makes way for God’s peace.

7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

“The peace of God” – the assurance of those who know their sins are forgiven and, receiving God’s love, can trust Him beyond their perspective of circumstances.

IN PRACTICE The Lord is gathering those that are really His with rejoicing, not with arguing. However, we have an enemy who is utterly opposed to the love, grace and acceptance that is the heart of the Gospel, and will work on our thoughts wherever our independence from God (the short word is ‘sin’) has given him a way in… and we may not realise where it from until it is too late. Church politics, often linked to religious inflexibility, has resulted in millions that believe in God but don’t believe in His church. If, however, we are characterised as those who “Rejoice always” because we know that God is good even when things are challenging, then that is a very attractive proposition. Anxieties abound in our complex and conflicted world – and everyone is looking for the people who can deal with doubt and fear by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving. A tall order? God has called us, as Christians, to live differently and has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do it.

QUESTION  The adversary, Satan, was real enough to Jesus – in the wilderness and wherever He found people oppressed by sickness or other difficulty. Have I become too rational and educated to look for these spiritual realities, and tackle them as Jesus did?

PRAYER  Lord, as I draw near to You in this season of preparation, I recognise that preparation involves change, and You are asking all of us to be prepared to check our thoughts, consider our priorities, review our responses – and give them all to You! Help me to let go of all that hinders, so I can grasp with both hands all You have for me that is lifegiving. In Jesus’ name and for His glory, Amen.

Also: Isaiah 12:2-6 – Song of Praise

2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.

The Lord, the Lord Himself, is my strength and my defence [or song];
He has become my salvation.’

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

4 In that day you will say:‘Give praise to the Lord, proclaim His name;
make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that His name is exalted.

5 ‘Sing to the Lord, for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.

6 ‘Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.’

Advent 2 – Be prepared

TLW49 December 9 Advent 2

Malachi 3:1-4

Luke 1:68-79

Luke 3:1-6

Philippians 1:3-11

19 + 10vv

Theme: Advent ABCD. Be prepared – for Christ to come again in a glorious return

Luke 1:68-79 — Praise for God’s plan of mighty salvation. Zechariah’s prophetic song over the forerunner, John.

Malachi 3:1-4 — A messenger will prepare the way for the Lord. When He appears He will come to refine and purify.

Luke 3:1-6 — God’s word to John is to preach repentance. He is Isaiah’s prophesied voice in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’

Philippians 1:3-11 — Prepare for the day of God’s work completed in us. Paul prays with joy for the believers in Philippi with a view to God’s eternal purpose for them.

Summary

ABCD of Advent: Be prepared – for Christ to come again in a glorious return

The messenger of the Lord will prepare the way and then suddenly the Lord, the Refiner, will come to His temple. The word comes to John son of Zechariah, to call people to repentance and prepare the way for the One to come. Christians in the Early Church are reminded that God’s work in us is always a ‘work in progress’, with its completion date the day of Christ Jesus.

CANTICLE – INTRODUCTION TO ‘BE PREPARED’ THEME

Luke 1:68-79 – Praise for God’s plan of mighty salvation

Zechariah’s prophetic song over the forerunner, John

68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come to His people and redeemed them.

“Praise be” — Benedictus in the Latin translation.

“His people… redeemed” — Zechariah is correct about the Jewish people, but His perspective does not extend to God’s desire for inclusive salvation, Luke 3:6.

69-71 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us

“Horn” — of a powerful animal, a ‘mighty salvation’, Ps. 18:2.

72-73 to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham:

“His Holy covenant… to Abraham” — although the original promise to Abraham had a focus on the land, this now emphasises the people of the land.

74-75 and to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

“Rescue us” — the people of Israel wanted freedom from physical, Gentile enemies, the Romans. God’s plan through His Son Jesus was for spiritual freedom from sin, from Satan and from death.

76-77 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,

“My child… a prophet” — at this dedication and naming of the baby as John, Zechariah prophesies over Him. John was the last of the OT prophets and was called by Jesus the greatest, Luke 7:28.

78-79 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

“Rising sun” — the Messiah is described in the OT as the sun rising and dispelling darkness, Isaiah 9:2, 60:1; Mal. 4:2-5.

“Path of peace” — or the way of the Lord: God’s purpose is people finding peace with God through faith in Christ Jesus, Romans 5:1.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Malachi 3:1-4 — A messenger will prepare the way for the Lord

When He appears He will come to refine and purify

“I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

“My messenger” – a play on the name Malachi. This messenger is Isaiah’s “voice in the wilderness”, Isa. 40:3 which the NT understands as the ‘Elijah’ of Malachi 4:3, the role which John the Baptist fulfilled, at least at the first coming of Christ. It was the custom in that culture for a king to send a messenger ahead to address obstacles to their visit – one way of seeing John the Baptist urging people to repent and prepare for the greater Messenger to come.

For further study, read Matt. 3:3, 11:14, 17:10-13; John 1:14-17

But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.

“The day of His coming” – a picture of judgment and also purifying. The launderer’s work with lye soap and beating with sticks was not gentle; neither was the heat needed to raise the dross of impurities from molten metal.

3-4 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

“Purify the Levites” – the term messenger was usually applied to prophets and priests – and the priestly class of the Levites, who were supposed to be an example in serving at the altar, will be purged of their unfaithfulness. 

IN PRACTICE Malachi’s message here about the Lord and messenger of the covenant focuses on the refining and purifying aspect, particular for its guardians, the priests and Levites. Bring that into today and the NT reminds us, James 3:1, that teachers will be judged more harshly. For those given privilege and responsibility, more is expected, Luke 12:38. The priests and religious leaders of Jesus’ time were not proclaiming God’s purpose but thwarting it.

Jesus is poised to come again, and the more that reality becomes clear, the more it is plain that He simply wants His Church back. He wants it to be His church, holding His values and proclaiming the unashamed message to the various empires of man, that He is the way to salvation into the kingdom of God.

Creating our own version of temple and priesthood may be more accessible for us – but it’s not what He had in mind. It’s not the New Covenant way of knowing God that the Early Church began to work out.

Our honouring His first coming, and preparing ourselves for His return, must involve pruning back what doesn’t belong, to reveal a church that Jesus will recognise.

QUESTION  What simple changes would bring your church closer to Jesus’ intention?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 3:1-6 — God’s word to John is to preach repentance

He is Isaiah’s prophesied voice in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’

1-2 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar – when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene – during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

“Herod tetrarch of Galilee… Philip tetrarch of Iturea. When Herod the Great died in 4 BC his sons Antipas (Galilee) and Philip (Iturea), also Archelaus, not mentioned, succeeded him as tetrarchs ruling quarters of his former kingdom. Also mentioned by Luke, Lysanias, the fourth tetrarch and the overseeing Roman governor Pontius Pilate.

He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

“Preaching a baptism of repentance” – John heralded the coming Messiah saying that people needed to repent of their sins and prepare spiritually; the response and demonstration of repentant intention was water baptism.

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.

“Prepare the way” – before a royal visit, workers would clear and level the road. The quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5 was associated with the Jews’ return from exile, Ezra 1-2, and end-times salvation. The picture for Jewish hearers was of another deliverance like the Exodus from Egypt.

Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.

“Every valley… filled in” – a poetic way of saying the Lord’s purpose will not be thwarted. There are also moral overtones. The humble and lowly are to be built up, the crooked changed, and the proud and arrogant, particular obstacles to God’s purposes, will be humbled.

And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”

“All people” – Luke’s  gospel was written with Gentile believers being added to the church in mind. All four gospel accounts quote Isaiah 40:3 but only Luke takes the quotation further: “…the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” Luke, a Gentile, asserts, from Scripture, that all people – not just those included in the original covenants – would see God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. It would be 20 years after the Resurrection, at the Council of Jerusalem, that this was recognised, a huge and controversial shift of attitude, see Acts 15, Galatians 2.

“All… will see God’s salvation” – God’s intention, that His covenant people would act as a light and model of righteousness to the nations around them, was clearly set out by Isaiah, Isa. 42:6 and 49:6: “The Servant… is called… to be **a light for the Gentiles**…” “…He says, ‘You will do more than restore the people of Israel to Me. I will make you a **light to the Gentiles**, and you will **bring My salvation to the ends of the earth**.’ ” Luke also reports the aged, godly Simeon’s prophetic blessing at the dedication of Jesus, Luke 2:28-32 “…My eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The purifying of the Levites, Mal. 3:3, addresses their negligence of this important widening of the mission of God.

IN PRACTICE  Luke’s picture of John, the prophetic voice in the wilderness of Isaiah 40 is a call for us to be prepared for the expected order to be upset.

The Jews expected their Messiah to come to them and deliver them, as their entitlement.

We think of our church attendance and charitable actions, and feel we should be the ones lining the way for the royal visit.

God often does things differently from our expectations. In recent years there have been increasing testimonies of how God shocks people that don’t really know Him with His love. We have been challenged by His perplexing grace to those we consider, in our judgment, rather undeserving as we hear stories of prisoners in jail receiving Jesus and Muslims of harsh views having visions of the Lord.

This gospel passage emphasises our being prepared for His return in expecting – and praying for – people who are not like us, to begin to see His salvation.

QUESTION  Who, in our world and culture, are to us like the ‘Gentiles’ that Jews of Jesus’ time struggled to accept as a focus of His salvation?

EPISTLE READING

Philippians 1:3-11 — Prepare for the day of God’s work completed in us

Paul prays with joy for the believers in Philippi with a view to God’s eternal purpose for them.

I thank my God every time I remember you.

“I thank my God” – Paul is writing from closely-guarded imprisonment, but his tone is thanks and joy for what God is doing among others.

4-6 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus.

“Day of Christ Jesus” – His return. God (the Holy Spirit) initiates salvation, works the ongoing salvation in us needed beyond the change of heart of initial salvation, and will bring salvation for all to its conclusion on this future day. Paul writes with this longer, eternal timescale in view.

For further study, read Phil 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:2–11; 2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 20:11–21:8)

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

“In chains or… confirming the gospel” – the Philippians stood with Paul and supported him practically and financially, despite the stigma of imprisonment in their culture. The partnership remained strong although Paul’s ability to “defend and confirm the gospel” seemed to have been removed by imprisonment. His perspective is that God is always “carrying on” the “good work” that He began through good times and hard. God always completes what he starts.

8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,

“Love may abound… in knowledge and… insight” – in knowledge of God’s Will and so able to move from the immediate picture and the judgments we make, to seeing the bigger picture of what God, in His unconditional love, is doing in others.

10-11 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

“Pure and blameless” – questioning what will be found in us on the day of Christ’s return. Harbouring wrong attitudes, especially the judgmental or resentful kind, will bring the Lord’s censure  — we are commanded to forgive, to show grace, to treat people better than they deserve and above all, to love. It’s only treating others as God treats us.

“The fruit of righteousness” — not something we can achieve by any amount of effort or discipline. Rather, it is being yielded to the Holy Spirit, such that He can grow righteousness in us, from the inside out.

IN PRACTICE  God’s timescales can be difficult for us in a world where up-to-the-minute news is on the ‘phone in our pocket, ‘instant’ drinks and food offer to save us time and we can be in another country for a meeting and back again the same day. Having to wait is challenging for us, and the waiting for Jesus’ return that the Early Church seemed to measure in years is counted for us in millennia. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the good work begun by the Lord is taking a long time to bring to anything like completion: the world has got bigger and vastly more complex. The message of this epistle is to have faith in God for all the loose ends that we see. He will bring to completion the good work that He has started, whether that is in us personally or the mission of the church we are involved in or the bringing about of a just world order.

QUESTION  What does it look like, to be filled with the fruit of righteousness?

PRAYER  Lord, we want Your glorious return but we are so unprepared. Teach us to wait actively but also to willingly put right with You those traits which have no place in Your presence. Amen.

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A for Anticipate – the coming of the kingdom

Image credit: https://lutheran-church-regina.com

Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, December 2, 2018. Advent 1, Year C.

TLW48

Theme: Advent ABCD: Anticipate – the coming of the kingdom

INTRODUCTION  The Lord Himself will become righteousness for us, offering us a radical new relationship with God. Yet to come is the full and final redemption and its turmoil of end-time signs, but the anticipation for believers is not fear, but joy, living in daily expectation of Christ Jesus returning with His heavenly retinue.

PSALM READING

Psalm 25:1-10 – Anticipation founded on confidence in God’s goodness. A preface to the theme of looking forward to God’s kingdom coming in full.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Jeremiah 33:14-16 — The Lord to become our righteousness, foretold. Anticipation of an ancient promise to be fulfilled in a radical new relationship

GOSPEL READING

Luke 21:25-36 — Anticipation of final redemption in end-times turmoil. Believers are to recognise the signs of the Son of Man coming again, in joy and trust

EPISTLE READING

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 — Be blameless and holy in anticipating the Lord’s return. Live in expectation of the imminent return of Christ Jesus with His heavenly retinue.

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PSALM – PREFACE TO THEME

Psalm 25:1-10 – Anticipation founded on confidence in God’s goodness 

A preface to the theme of looking forward to God’s kingdom coming in full

1-2 In You, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in You; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.

“I trust in You… shame” – honour and its opposite, shame, were emphasised in Jewish culture and the psalms make frequent mention of trust in the Lord as the way to avoid being shamed, Ps. 22:5, 31:1, 69:6, 71:1 etc.

3 No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.

“Hopes in You… shame” – hope, unlike the weaker, aspirational English meaning, is a solid confidence in God’s good purpose, Ps. 33:22, 130:5. Hope, which is trusting in God’s covenant goodwill, answers the threat of shame.

4-6 Show me Your ways, Lord, teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Saviour, and my hope is in You all day long. Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

“Your ways… paths… truth… great mercy and love” – language recalling God’s covenant with His people. The Lord has promised to return again, at which time His Way will be fully established.

7 Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to Your love remember me, for You, Lord, are good.

8-10 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in His ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of His covenant.

“Good and upright” – because God is perfectly good and upright, He must extend mercy to humble, i.e. repentant, believers while not allowing the guilty and rebellious to escape judgment.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Jeremiah 33:14-16 –  The Lord to become our righteousness, foretold

Anticipation of an ancient promise to be fulfilled in a radical new relationship

14 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will fulfil the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“The days are coming” – looking forward from Babylonian conquest to a time of restoration, but also to a future time beyond that. The discussion of sheep and shepherds becoming visible again, Jer. 33:12-13, leads naturally into the prophecy of the Shepherd and Saviour of David’s line to come, in what we know as the first coming of Jesus and we anticipate as the second coming of the Messiah king.

15 “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; He will do what is just and right in the land.

Righteous branch ” – the language is very similar to Jer. 25:5-6.

16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour.”

“Judah will be saved and Jerusalem…” – The Messiah’s coming will be transformational. Jerusalem – the holy community – will be so changed that it will be called by the same name as its Saviour, “The Lord our righteousness” (Yahweh tsidqenu). This is one of the great covenant names of God, prophetically ascribed in Jeremiah 23:6 to the Messiah. His work is to be our righteousness. The ones who will be counted righteous, are those who have given their lives to Jesus.

For further study John 10:9, 11:26, John 14:6, John 3:16; and coupled with the warning about God’s wrath, John 3:36.

“Live in safety” – this prophecy was given while the Babylonians were breaking down the walls of Jerusalem and removing people and property.

17-18 For this is what the Lord says: “David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.”

“David will never fail” – meaning, the covenant with David (and other covenants), will not fail even in the judgment coming on Jerusalem.

IN PRACTICE  In the ABCD of Advent, we start with Anticipation, not of Jesus being born at Bethlehem (that happened!) but of a potentially terrifying time when Jesus as the heavenly host will come again. How will we be counted on that Day of the Lord? Righteous or unrighteous? Jeremiah was prophesying in the first instance about his own people, symbolised by Judah and Jerusalem being saved by the ‘righteous branch’ of David’s line, the Anointed One or Messiah. We know the Messiah with the Greek title Christ (anointed one) Jesus. Like many prophecies, this extends over more than one time and happening. Jesus will come again at an unknown future time – which we are to hold as an immediate prospect, not a distant one. However, the heart of the Gospel is in this Old Testament verse about the Lord who becomes our righteousness. The keeping of the Law was a hard path, but now Jeremiah foretells how the Lord will Himself become righteousness for sinful man. Our heartfelt response to Jesus, acknowledging Him as Saviour and giving Him the say-so of our lives is our release from judgment, not our good works. This is hard to grasp in a world whose values are so much about earned merit. At times in its history the Church has been muddled about this, where the priority of Scripture has been weak, but Jesus’ teaching that He is the gate for the sheep and believing in Him is the one requirement, is crystal clear through the NT.

PRAYER  Lord, help me to be crystal clear about what You have done for me in a way that I could not possibly have earned or merited; and help me to be clear in sharing this saving truth with others.

GOSPEL READING

Luke 21:25-36 — Anticipation of final redemption in end-times turmoil

Believers are to recognise the signs of the Son of Man coming again, in joy and trust

25-27 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

“There will be signs” – Jesus’ focus is now on the end times, an allusion to Joel 2:30-31, also quoted by Luke (writer of Acts) in Acts 2:20. The prophets expected arresting celestial signs at the end of age, Isaiah 13:9-10; Jeremiah 4:23,28; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10.

“They will see” – the second coming of the Son of Man will be a visible return accompanied by turmoil of the elements, and many people will be distressed, not knowing what is happening.

28 “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

“When these things… take place” – in the turmoil, believers are to look up in joy and trust, knowing that these are signs of the deliverance of Jesus’ followers in the final redemption, 1 Cor. 15:53; Romans 8:23.

29-31 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig-tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

“Look at the fig-tree” – leaves appear and change appearance, heralding the seasons. “When you see these things” – signs will show the kingdom coming fully.

32-33 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“This generation” – Jesus was not setting a time for the present age to end. He continually emphasised a time scale between His being present with His disciples, and His return, Luke 21:9,12,24.

34-36 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

“Will close on you suddenly” – but not unannounced, for those that will hear. For those who are not ready, “that day” is judgment closing against them. The point of the discourse is to be ready and alert for Christ’s return at any time.

“Suddenly… it will come on all those… on the whole earth” – the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem would follow in AD 70 but Jesus teaches that the coming Day of the Lord will be a crisis encounter for everyone, not just the Jews.

IN PRACTICE  Jesus taught about the end times, and His language conveyed a sense of urgency and expectancy, even if He also set out the kind of eternal time scale that no calendar can represent. As believers, we are to live in constant expectation of His sudden return, although the teaching gives us the kind of warning we should expect – being watchful and observant, as country people are about weather and seasons and threats to their livestock. A for Anticipation gets us thinking about where we stand with the Lord, should He return – now! The “suddenly” He speaks of will show last-minute decisions to be false decisions. Our anticipation is about being real about what will happen and positioned to welcome Jesus’ return rather than fear it.

QUESTION  How would you explain in your own words to someone who doesn’t believe in God, that there’s a day of judgment coming, but they can turn to Jesus who has made a way for them.

EPISTLE READING

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 — Be blameless and holy in anticipating the Lord’s return.

Live in expectation of the imminent return of Christ Jesus with His heavenly retinue.

9-10 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

“Thank God… for you” – the church in Thessalonica had been through a testing time, which Paul had experienced himself, in strong local opposition and rough treatment in Philippi, 1 Thess. 2:2,14-16; 1 Thess. 3:7. Testing is part of Christian life and opposition experienced as persecution is to be expected as carriers of the Gospel, Paul has already made clear, 1 Thess 3:3-4. However, he is greatly concerned for this church of believers new in their faith.

“Supply what is lacking” – the mission team’s teaching was cut short when they had to leave suddenly, 1 Thess 2:17. Part of the purpose of the letter is to make good the shortfall.

11-12 Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.

May our God… may the Lord… may He strengthen” – Paul’s lifestyle of prayer is such that he breaks into prayer in his letter. In this prayer he is in effect asking God, but in the manner of making a declaration in faith, in agreement with God’s purposes.

13 May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.

“When our Lord Jesus comes” – in Paul’s mind is the Second Coming which he will discuss more fully later in the letter, 1 Thess. 4:1-5:22. “With all His holy ones” – used of Christian believers, often translated ‘saints’, in many passages in the NT e.g. Romans 1:7. Could also refer to the angels who will accompany the Second Coming.

IN PRACTICE  The church calendar and its seasons was an idea that arose many centuries after Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica. However, A for Anticipation in the ABCD of Advent was something that Paul lived out and taught. “When our Lord Jesus comes” is a clear statement of anticipation, the sense of keeping the house clean and tidy for the important visitor expected to drop in at any time. To personalise it, we see the ‘house’ as our lives, so that ‘clean and tidy’ is about keeping short accounts with God in confessing sin and tidying up our wrong priorities.

QUESTION  In the words of v. 13, will you be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father – if Jesus comes again now? Reflecting on the Old Testament and Gospel readings and notes, how do you know assuredly that you are counted blameless?

PRAYER  Lord, show me what in me is getting in the way of the coming of the kingdom in its fullness? What is me needs to be put out of my life, put right with You, put in a better place spiritually or forgiven in my relationships with others? Amen.

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Who is Jesus?

Theme: Who exactly is Jesus and what is the source of His authority? (Christ the King)

Image credit: http://www.standingwithchrist.com/whoisjesus.html

To read in the week of Nov 18, to prepare for Sunday, November 25 (TLW 47)

2 Samuel 23:1-7 — Final words from a renowned and godly ruler of Israel. David recalls God’s covenant with him and looks forward to a promised royal descendant

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 — the majesty of the Ancient of Days. A glimpse of heaven for Daniel who sees amid a myriad angels attending the throne of God the honouring of “one like a son of man”.

John 18:33-37 — Jesus is questioned by Pilate about who He is. Jesus explains that He is no political figurehead but His kind of kingdom is rooted elsewhere.

Revelation 1:4b-8 — The freedom to serve God as His priests now. Jesus, present from the beginning will return as the completion of truth

Also: Psalm 132:1-18

2 Samuel 23:1-7 — Final words from a renowned and godly ruler of Israel

David recalls God’s covenant with him and looks forward to a promised royal descendant

23 These are the last words of David:

‘The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse, the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, the hero of Israel’s songs:

“The utterance of the man exalted” – testimony to God’s work through his life, having been raised up as king of Israel, from shepherd to ruler, 2 Samuel 7ff; like the Bible’s wisdom literature, what follows contrasts just rule in the fear of God with un righteous leadership.

2 ‘The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue.

“Spoke through me” – not presumptuous, but in awe at God using Him prophetically.

 3 The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me:
When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God,

4 he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morninglike the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.”

“When one rules… in righteousness… in the fear of God” – in the style of a prophet, David sets out in bold strokes a picture of a God-centred ruler – unmistakably alluding to the One he foreshadowed, Jesus Christ.

5 ‘If my house were not right with God, surely He would not have made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part;

surely He would not bring to fruition my salvation and grant me my every desire.  

“An everlasting covenant… secured in every part” – even though his household had failed God, David believes rightly that God’s promise recorded in 2 Sam. 7:12-16 will hold good with a descendant of David as the Eternal King, fulfilled in Jesus Christ when He return to rule in perfect justice and peace.

For further study, similar prophecies in Isaiah 11:1-10; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jer. 33:15-18; Zech.9:9-10. Fulfilled in part, Matt. 4:14-16; Luke 24:25-27,44-49; John 5:45-47; John 8:28-29.

6 But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns, which are not gathered with the hand.

7 Whoever touches thorns uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear; they are burned up where they lie.’

“Thorns” – worthless but also dangerous, needing to be shifted with an weapon or implement. “Burned up”, literally ‘consumed with fire in the sitting’ or as we would say, on the spot. For God’s judgment as fire, see Isaiah 9;18; 10:17. The fate of the rebellious when the Messiah, in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant finally establishes His rule on earth, Isa. 63:1-6.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 – the majesty of the Ancient of Days

A glimpse of heaven for Daniel who sees amid a myriad angels attending the throne of God the honouring of one like a son of man

9 ‘As I looked, ‘thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat.

His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool;
His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.

“The Ancient of Days” – pictures God as a king of great power and immense maturity giving judgment in court. The description symbolises His wisdom in white hair; righteousness by white clothing; and power in judgment, as fire. The description is similar to that of an angel in Matthew 28:3 and Jesus in Revelation 1:14.

10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before Him.
Thousands upon thousands attended Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated, and the books were opened.

“Thousands attended” – a very great number of angelic beings stood before Him. John also recorded that there ‘thousands and millions”, i.e. too many to count, surrounding God’s throne and ministering to Him. Angels are spiritual beings created by God for worship and for mission (like us) who, largely unseen, help in carrying out God’s work on earth.

13-14 ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, [enash] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

“One like a son of man” – an Aramaic phrase ‘bar enash‘ meaning a human being, a phrase used throughout Ezekiel e.g. Ezek. 2:1,3,6,8. But this appearance is clearly not a human being, but “one like a son of man”, a description that the various authors of the NT were quite sure referred to Jesus Christ and probably what was in Jesus’ mind when He used this of Himself, Matt. 8:20. Hence the translation used here. There is more than one time-frame in view. At the end of history, the NT references these verses to teach us that Christ will return, riding the clouds to finally confront evil and enforce its defeat.

For further study: Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62; Luke 21:27; Rev. 1:7.

IN PRACTICE  The first aspect of who God is comes through David’s final testimony about ruling in the fear of God, and Daniel’s picture of awe as he is given a prophetic insight into the heavenly court – and the Ancient of Days. At first living, and especially leading, in the fear of God looks like lahigh risk venture. Do we bring on ourselves fire and brimstone or other destruction if we get it wrong? The history of northern and then southern kingdoms of Israel falling, and the misery of people being enslaved in exile, underlines the cost of getting it wrong, but this is in the context of having rejected countless warnings and appeals by God’s prophets. However, remembering that the Bible teaches us plainly that God is love, and his overriding character qualities are mercy and truth, there is a truth here about whether we really know God, and as a consequence desire to live out His character. This is the fear of missing God best and God’s pleasure in us. For Christians, who come to know God personally through embracing Jesus, our grasp of the Lordship of Jesus on our lives and our church involvements is crucial. When relationships get strained, or vision confused, it is a fair assumption that what has slipped has been the awe, or fear, of God through knowing Him and loving His ways.

QUESTION  Daniel’s vision of thousands and millions in the heavenly court was extraordinary and unrepeatable. What kinds of spiritual practice help us to have some sense of a glimpse of heaven and the majesty of the heavenly court?

John 18:33-37 – Jesus is questioned by Pilate about who He is

Jesus explains that He is no political figurehead, but His kind of kingdom is rooted elsewhere

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’

34 ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about Me?’

“Are you…” – Pilate’s first words to Jesus are the same in each of the four gospels. There were two possible questions here with different political overtones – was Jesus a rebel leader in opposition to Roman rule, or was He the Jews’ religious leader, the Messiah?

35 ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’

“Pilate replied” – he is exasperated, despising the Jews and their ways and not wanting to get involved with their affairts, yet seeing no real basis for their extreme animosity. Ironically, he ends up supporting their position in which we see God’s providence in allowing Jesus to be executed by being ‘lifted up’ and not by stoning, as Jews were inclined to do.

36 Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now My kingdom is from another place.’

37 ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me.’

“My kingdom is from another place” – heaven is the place of eternal and absolute truth. Jesus came as the Way, the Truth and the Life, John 14:6. Relationship with Him is the only way to God and the only means of that life-bringing truth being revealed – a conundrum for intellectual theologians because it is not logical or understandable. Jesus came as living truth for all who would receive Him. Pilate, a politician, considered all truth relative in the shifting sands of people’s opinions; however Jesus of Nazareth and his philosophical-sounding answer did not present as a threat to law and order.

IN PRACTICE  The second aspect of who God is, concerns the Son of Man who Daniel sees in his vision, approaching the Ancient of Days. On earth this picture is recalled, ironically, as Jesus of Nazareth is brought before Pontius Pilate. The Roman governor Pilate was used to factions, pressure-groups and politics in general. Appointed as Prefect of the Roman province of Judea, he encountered the religious politics of Jews and Samaritans, eventually being recalled to Rome after complaints from both. So it is not surprising that when Jesus of Nazareth was brought before him by the Jews, he saw Him at first as yet another political activist. Jesus immediately corrected that perception with His statement: “My kingdom is from another place”. The lesson for us is that human politics on earth and heaven’s purposes follow different agendas. There are spiritual connections – and tensions – between the two. We often pray and expect answers as though the kingdom of God and our world dominated by man’s organisation and control were the same, but the reality is that we pray through Jesus, who is the king of “a kingdom not of this world”.  The better we know Jesus, the more we will discern His kingdom, and the more clearly we’ll see the difference — and learn to live and pray in the right alignment with what He is doing.

PRAYER  Lord, I say you are a king – the king, King Jesus, to whom all authority is given. Help me to hold less tightly the priorities that seem to apply on earth, and to begin to see matters from a different perspective – Your heavenly perspective.

Revelation 1:4b-8 — The freedom to serve God as His priests now

Jesus, present from the beginning, will return as the completion of truth

4 To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

“The seven churches” – the letters were addressed so they could be sent out and passed on via the Roman road which ran north of Ephesus and then in an arc inland and back towards Ephesus, connecting the Roman province called Asia in modern western Turkey.

Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,

“Seven spirits before His throne” – better, ‘sevenfold spirit’ as NIV footnote. The number seven symbolises completeness and perfection. There may also be an allusion to the ‘angels of the seven churches, Rev. 1:20.

5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

5-6 To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father – to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Who loves us… has freed us…has made us…” – stated as present-time blessings.  There is a dimension of the kingdom of God (God’s reign bringing God’s order) which is not just anticipated when Jesus comes again, but in some measure experienced now. 

“A kingdom and priests to serve” – here, clearly and simply, is set out the essential difference between the Old Covenant way of relating to God (rules, hierarchical and formal rituals, led by a special order of priests who make connections by proxy, with God who is holy and remote) and the New Covenant (freed from the burden and guilt of sin by Jesus’ blood and now able to draw close to God as those who know Him and know His love, to serve Him in worship and mission without intermediaries). The human tendency is to revert to what is more ordered and more controlled, requiring less personal investment and responsibility, which is why the New Covenant remains a challenge for much of the Christian church today. As Jesus taught, the ‘taste of the old wine’ seems preferable.

7 ‘Look, He is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of Him.’ So shall it be! Amen.

8 ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’

“The Alpha and the Omega” – the alphabet is an ingenious way of representing knowledge through words. Christ, the Living Word, is supreme in this, ruling sovereignly over all human history including the part that for us has not yet unfolded.

“All peoples on earth will mourn” — rejoicing at the return of the Messiah by those that are His, swept up in the air to meet Him, 1 Thess. 4:16-17. Others, the ones still on earth, mourning their sin and judgment. The combined quotation headlines the theme of Revelation, the sweepingly majestic yet human-related Lord, Daniel 7:13 who evokes both the sorrow of sin in the face of One so holy but also finding grace, Zechariah 12:10

IN PRACTICE  The third aspect of who Jesus is, also says a lot about who we are.. Not only does His shed blood remind us powerfully of His love for us, we are reminded of the power of His blood in freeing us from sin, and from the subtle accusations of the enemy trying to gain a point of access into our thought lives. Why does this matter? It is because the Son of God enthroned in the heavenly court needs those who have stood at the Cross, who have given their pride and their self-sufficiency to Him, to be His partners in bringing His Kingdom. That is why He has conferred a new kind of priesthood on all He knows as His, a holy community where His rule and authority enriches life and relationships. It’s the priesthood of believers, of fellowship in the Great High Priest – the highest distinction. It’s easy to look around and see, where the believers are bringing the presence of Jesus and making a difference in the world. It looks different from the stereotype of the institutional church. These are the ones who know they have been freed, who know they are loved, and who are serving him in worship and mission through transformed lives.

QUESTION  What is meant by priesthood in the post-resurrection New Testament? What should we call those who are set apart and trained as preachers, shepherds and leaders in the church?

PRAYER  Lord God Almighty, may we grow in loving You and walking in awe of You, as we seek to represent You to our world, and bring the needs of our world to You.

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How faith destroys the devil’s destruction

Image: https://starvingchristiansblog.com/2017/01/16/in-your-name-i-pray-a-mans-prayer/

Revised Common Lectionary Bible readings to prepare for Sunday, November 18

Theme: The devil’s destructive works are overturned by faith in God’s purpose

1 Samuel 1:4-20 – God’s answer to a desperate prayer impacts history. Hannah’s failure to conceive does not dampen her trust in God’s goodness.

Daniel 12:1-3 – End-times resurrection: either everlasting life, or shame. The archangel Michael will arise to protect those whose name is written in book of the saved, in the final conflict.

Mark 13:1-8 – Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple. The end-times conflicts will be characterised by wars, disasters and widespread spiritual deception.

Hebrews 10:11-25 – Our confidence is in knowing who we are in Jesus. The Holy Spirit witnesses to us the New Covenant in Jesus blood and the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

Extras: 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Hannah’s prayer), Psalm 16

OLD TESTAMENT READING 1

1 Samuel 1:4-20 – God’s answer to a desperate prayer impacts history

Hannah’s failure to conceive does not dampen her trust in God’s goodness

4-8 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

“But to Hannah” – the name means ‘grace’. The wider story is God’s miraculous intervention with a faithful woman, Hannah, raising up the last of the judges of Israel at a time of crisis for Israel, who will oversee the transition to a monarchy.

“Peninnah… Hannah” – monogamy was the rule, two people becoming one flesh, Gen. 2:24. But there were social pressures through young men being killed in battle and the need to continue the family line – and produce more offspring to help with the work.

9-11 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.  And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

“Shiloh” – the original settled location of the tabernacle where the land was divided among the tribes, Josh. 18:1-10; modern Khirbet Seilun, about 20 miles north of Jerusalem. It was destroyed, Psalm 78:60; Jer. 7:12-14 perhaps as a result of the mistakes of 1 Sam. 4 when the ark was taken from Shiloh to be with the army, who were then defeated and the ark captured by pagans.

“Eli…on his chair by the…Lord’s house” – by this time a building with rooms, not just a tent. The chair (like a vicar’s stall in a C of E church) is the priest’s place and denotes his authority. Rabbis would sit to teach. Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

“Deep anguish” – barrenness in OT times was considered a failure and a social embarrassment for her husband, on top of the natural disappointment.

12-14 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

“Kept on praying” – Hannah had reason to be swamped by discouragement; unable to conceive, mocked by a woman who shared her husband and by the high priest who failed to understand her motives. But she kept praying, kept her focus on God and opened the way for Him to work.

15-16 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

“Not… a wicked woman” – to drink in the tabernacle precincts would be considered a grave offence; for a priest, a death sentence, Lev. 10:9; Ezek. 44:21.

17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

18 She said, “May your servant find favour in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

19-20  Early the next morning they arose and worshipped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. So in the course of time, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”

“Samuel” – the literal meaning is ‘name of God’ but it sounded like ‘heard by God’, a double meaning important to Hannah: God had heard her prayer.

OLD TESTAMENT READING 2

Daniel 12:1-3 – End-times resurrection: either to everlasting life, or shame

The archangel Michael will arise to protect those whose name is written in book of the saved, in the final conflict

1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.

“At that time” – the events of the previous paragraph detailing the antichrist’s attempt to annihilate the Jewish people, Dan. 11:36-45. It will be a time of unprecedented distress but at the same time, tempered with hope for true believers, who have turned in faith to their Messiah Jesus, Zech. 12:10; Romans 11:25-27.

Michael” – the name of the archangel Michael who prevailed over a principality demon controlling the Persian empire, after a 21-day struggle.

“Name… written in the book” – the book of the saved, Mal. 3:16-4:3; Luke 10:20; Rev. 13:8

2-3 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

“Multitudes who sleep… will awake” – the first reference in the Bible to the physical resurrection of the righteous, and also with a different outcome, of the wicked. The bodily resurrection of both the saved and the lost was a not part of the common belief.

For further study, read Job 19:25-26; Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 26:19; John 5:24-29.

“Everlasting life” – the phrase is unique here in the OT.

IN PRACTICE The story of Hannah speaks loudly of God’s goodness, to all of us who have been misunderstood, disappointed again and again and put down by others. Her self-esteem had been shredded, but not her faith. She knew God is good, even if it didn’t feel that way to her, and she kept on praying. We know that pride and self-sufficiency are a barrier to God working in our lives. And He will root that out, especially if he is about to do something big. His purpose is always to grow us and always has a bigger picture than the one we see.

Hannah’s story reminds us that at times of apparent disaster, God is working for His salvation purposes. For God’s people taking God’s kingdom purpose forward, persecution goes with the territory! Paul reminded Timothy of this (2 Timothy 3:10-13 especially) and it is our encouragement to keep on keeping on, for heaven’s reward in heaven’s time.

PRAYER  Lord, open my eyes to the bigger picture that is not just my fight of faith, that I may see and declare that You are good and Your purposes for me are protective.

GOSPEL READING

Mark 13:1-8 – Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple

The end-times conflicts will be characterised by wars, disasters and widespread spiritual deception

1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Massive stones” – think of foundation stones on the scale of a double-decker bus. The building project would not be complete for another 30 years.

2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

“Every one… thrown down’ – the temple was completely destroyed by the Romans in AD70 together with most of the city. The authorities, who sought to murder the Messiah, Mark 11:18, rather than welcome Him, Mark 11:9-11, 27-33, were rebellious tenants marked for destruction, Mark 12:9-10.

3-4 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

“What will be the sign” — the disciples were expecting the temple destruction to herald the last times. Jesus is speaking of future events and future times but, confusingly for us, free of chronological order. Prophetic foretelling in Scripture often applies to more than one future time.

5-8 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

“Watch out… be on your guard” – Jesus’ commanding tone points to deception being a primary danger for the disciples, requiring them (and us) to be skilled in spiritual discernment together with Scriptural principles.

IN PRACTICE  Jesus had warned the disciples that there would be consequences for those who rejected their Messiah. The cause and effect relationship would result in the pulling down of the focus of national pride, the new temple and even its massive foundations. Their ‘sign of the end times’ came less than 40 years later with terrible bloodshed as Jerusalem and its revolt was destroyed by the Romans. Jesus’ words point to a greater conflict yet to come, while the end-times seem to us to go on and on. Perhaps the greatest danger is not just hatred and war, but its root causes in satanic deception. The kingdom message of knowing God’s love and loving Him and others is so straightforward we can miss it – but we are to watch for the ways it is twisted into an ugly caricature, and recognise which kingdom is dark, and which is light.

QUESTION  Do our attitudes and actions play out with effects now, or effects later, or in eternity – or not at all?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 10:11-25 – Knowing who we are in Jesus is our confidence

The Holy Spirit witnesses to us the New Covenant in Jesus blood and the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice for us

11-14 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time He waits for his enemies to be made His footstool. For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

“Every priest stands… this Priest… sat down” – Christ is seated because His work is finished, whereas every levitical priest stood, for religious duties which were continually repeated. The author heavily underlines this contrast with the layered emphases “one sacrifice”, “for all time”, “He sat down…and…waits”, “He has made… those…being made holy”…”holy forever”.

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First He says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

“I will put my laws in their hearts” – as Jeremiah had prophesied, Jer. 31:31-34, seeing a future era of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding believers which, post-Resurrection, should be our experience. These verses explain the apparent conundrum of “being made holy” or sanctified by the Holy Spirit’s influence on us, while being regarded positionally as “made perfect” by the finished work of Christ, v.14. We are seen according to our new nature in Christ, outcome assured, while as we are aware, we remain on earth a ‘work in progress’.

17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

“Sins…remember no more” – contrasts with “annual reminder of sins”, Heb. 10:3. The religious mindset (as in the Old Covenant) holds on to a false need to confess sins repeatedly. This new spiritual perspective of the New Covenant has the revelation that Christ forgives sins completely, Psalm 40:6-8. Sins we confess and renounce are both forgiven and forgotten.

19-25 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

“Therefore… let us…” – the incredible good news that we are positionally completely forgiven is not a licence for passivity, but rather, the reason to keep on meeting, encouraging one another, going deeper with God and further in faith-prompted love and good deeds.

“Draw near… with…” – it works with certain conditions: sincerity of heart, unhesitating assurance, freedom from guilt, and the impartation of “hearts sprinkled… bodies washed” which points to the value of choosing to declare faith in baptism.

IN PRACTICE  A key word in this passage is ‘confidence’ and a key value in living above all that pulls us down as witnesses to the life of the Spirit of Jesus in us, is confidence in who we are, as viewed by heaven. We might not feel it polite in mixed company to speak vehemently of the blood of Jesus and how it has transformed us – but speak it out we must! The devil, one of the actors in all of these passages, has no manners at all and certainly doesn’t respect our gentility – but will run scared every time when we declare the power of Christ blood and the New Life we have in Him and Him alone. These passages all tell stories of conflict and difficulty, but also God’s eternal, good purpose and salvation plan coming through, which may not be seen in all the smoke and shouting. That presents us with a choice. Who do we agree with? The destroyer, or the Saviour? Our expression of faith in God’s purpose, our words of truth, are not just words, but the force that tips the balance.

QUESTION  What seems to be going badly for you right now? What is God’s good purpose in it, and how do you pray in line with that discernment?

PRAYER  Lord, no one knows the time of Your return and all we really understand about the end-times is that at the end of the book, the Lamb wins! Fill me afresh with the Holy Spirit who gives holy confidence and help me to maintain a praising spirit, as one who knows the final score as well as the cost of Your victory in pain and blood. Amen.

Download this in booklet form ©2018 The Living Word/Ian Greig

I seek the person who’s an open book

Pharisee teachers of the law, Mark 12:38-44. Image: Mike Hayes http://www.googlinggod.com/2011/11/29/have-we-become-the-pharisees/

RCL and Remembrance Sunday readings for Nov 11, 2018

Theme: God hates falsehood, but honours authenticity and trust

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 — Ruth shows her need of a kinsman redeemer. Boaz marries the young Moabite widow and their son is an ancestor of King David.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 — Jonah obeys the Lord and preaches repentance to Nineveh. On overcoming his fears and misgivings and obeying the Lord, he sees Ninevites respond and God’s judgment averted.

Mark 12:38-44 — Jesus condemns the falsehood of the scribes. The teachers of the law lived by show and exploited others, while the powerless widow is seen to honour God in her giving.

Hebrews 9:24-28 — Christ enters the ‘real tabernacle’ of heaven to appear for us. His first appearance was to sacrifice Himself for the sins of many and He will come again to gather others.

Also: Psalm 127

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 — Ruth shows her need of a kinsman redeemer

Boaz marries a young Moabite widow and their son is an ancestor of King David

1-2 One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor.

“Find a home” – literally, resting place, or permanent home. As a close relative, Boaz might act as a kinsman-redeemer for Ruth and Naomi.

Winnowing…threshing floor” – separating the chaff from the grain. It was also customary for the landowner and men to sleep nearby and prevent theft of the grain.

3-4 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

“Uncover his feet” – however it sounds, folding back his long tunic so that he wakes with cold feet, so she can speak privately with him, is not pushing the boundary of moral integrity. Ruth’s action, dressed as a bride, rather than a widow, amounts to a request for marriage. The story of Tamar, Genesis 38:13-30, is another example of appealing to the guardian-redeemer law.

5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered.

“Whatever you say” – Ruth was a Moabite, unfamiliar with Jewish law and custom.

4:13-15 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

“Gave birth to a son” – the story concludes with the ten generations from Perez, the son of Judah (Jacob’s son) to David, grandson of Obed. Ruth and Boaz were ancestors of Israel’s greatest king (and Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus).

16-17 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

“Obed… father of Jesse” – Ruth and Boaz were ancestors of Israel’s greatest king (and Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus).

The conclusion balances the introduction, Ruth 1:1-5, Ruth 4:13-17. Both focus on Naomi, her former emptiness and reliance on the Lord, now reversed by His provision for her. Both passages are similar in being compressed and having the same number of words in Hebrew.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 — Jonah obeys the Lord and preaches repentance to Nineveh

On overcoming his fears and misgivings and obeying the Lord, he sees Ninevites respond and God’s judgment averted

1-2 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

“The message I give you” – a prophet is to proclaim a message from God, not necessarily a foretelling one.

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.

“Jonah obeyed” – this time, unlike his first call to Nineveh, Jonah 1:3, and still reluctantly, Jonah 4:1-5.

“Great city” – it was a sizeable place, about three miles across, not a journey of days, except that it took Jonah time to preach his message, street corner by street corner.

4-5 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

“Nineveh… overthrown” – Jonah’s message did not include an “unless” clause even though he knew God wanted their repentance rather than their destruction, Jonah 3:10, 4:2.

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.

IN PRACTICE The Book of Ruth begins and ends with the Lord’s provision – He “had come to the aid of His people by providing food for them”, “the Lord enabled [Ruth] to conceive” and the Bethlehem women agreed with Naomi, “The Lord… has not left you without a guardian-redeemer”. It was a big issue of trust for them; for Ruth, trusting God who she hardly knew, doing the right thing when it also seemed a wrong thing and for them both, being real about their situation and their need of God’s intervention in providing an unwed and land-owning relative keen to marry Ruth and continue the family line… which reached forward to King David. Jonah’s version of being real before God and trusting Him in a difficult call needed some time to mature, but eventually he found himself preaching to the streets of this notorious pagan capital of the Assyrian empire, for the people to turn from their wickedness to the living God – and they did. God blessed the two women in their plight and their need, and He blessed run-away Jonah back to obedience, who then saw an extraordinary revival unfold.

QUESTION Worshipping as one of a congregation that is led from the front, we can all wear a mask but we need to get real with the Lord about how we are. What other ways of gathering help us to do this?

Mark 12:38-44 — Jesus condemns the falsehood of the scribes

The teachers of the law lived by show and exploited others, while the powerless widow is seen to honour God in her giving

38-40 As He taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

“Teachers of the law” – also called ‘scribes’, were notorious for breaking the law they sought to impose by failing to love God and have His love for people. Jesus names six examples of their self-promoting desire for recognition: wearing long festive garments inappropriate for everyday wear; expecting people to rise and greet them; assuming the right to the prominent places in synagogues, and at banquets; making ‘grandstanding’ prayers; and preying on vulnerable widows.

Devour widows’ houses’ – teachers of the law relied on the generosity of patrons, and widows were vulnerable to exploitation which eventually left them homeless. Defrauding someone else’s mother, Mark 7:11-13, was a denial of loving either God or people, with a lack of mercy that rendered their lengthy prayers empty.

For further study – God’s concern for widows, Deut. 14:29; Ps. 68:5; Ps. 146:9; Isa. 1:17; Jer. 7:6; Jer. 49:11; and condemnation of those who abuse them, Isa. 1:23, Ezek. 22:7, Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5.

41-42 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

The temple treasury” – a number of trumpet-like receptacles to catch money, in the Court of Women, accessible to men and women. Women were barred from going in further.

“Small…coins” – ‘two lepta, which is a quadrans’ – a Roman measure, because Mark wrote his gospel for the church in Rome. It was equivalent to a sixty-fourth of a basic day’s pay.

43-44 Calling His disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.”

“She… put in everything” – the widow did exactly what Jesus had told the influential young man and His disciples to do, Mark 10:21, Mark 8:34-37, Mark 10:28-29.

IN PRACTICE There are times and situations where distinctive uniforms are helpful – we immediately think of peacekeeping and emergency services – and job titles are helpful for recognising people’s roles, from the Queen and Prime Minister to the customer service person. The point in this passage is about those who are in a position to represent God to others failing to demonstrate His mercy, but rather assuming an entitlement to position and distinction and the right to bully others – which Jesus denounces as warranting severe punishment. The lesson here is that God may hear quite short and simple prayers from regular people who have no pretension and nothing to prove, but give themselves to God in authenticity and reliance on Him.

QUESTION Do you have a title or a position that you rather like? What will it cost you to let it go?

Hebrews 9:24-28 — Christ enters the ‘real tabernacle’ of heaven to appear for us

His first appearance was to sacrifice Himself for the sins of many and He will come again to gather others

24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

“Sanctuary… a copy of the true one” – the regulations for ministry given under the old covenant were for a sanctuary on earth that represented God’s transcendent ‘otherness’ with the holy place that people other than the high priest could not enter. Now Christ enters into the very presence of God in heaven.

25 Nor did He enter heaven to offer Himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.

“Blood not his own” – pointing out the difference between a priest sacrificing unwilling animals, and Jesus offering Himself.

26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But He has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

“Many times… once for all” – the animal sacrifice had to be made again and again on the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16:29-34. Christ’s far superior sacrifice was final, for all time.

“Since the creation of the world” – or since the fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3, Hebrews 4:3 there has been the need for a complete and lasting, rather than provisional, remedy.

27-28 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

“He will appear a second time” – but not to deal with sin, because that has already been accomplished. “Those who are waiting for Him” – believers are to live in expectation of Christ’s return at any time, remaining faithful and ready however long the wait.

IN PRACTICE The writer of Hebrews (possibly Apollos and almost certainly not Paul) addresses Jewish-background believers. This gives them a sharply-drawn comparison between the rituals of temple and synagogue (as it was then) and the worship in heaven with Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the adoration of the heavenly throng. One is an earthly imitation, of sorts, and the other is the real thing. Is what we do a pale imitation, or the real thing, albeit scaled down and humanised to make it accessible for us? We can go through the familiar routines – liturgy or not, every church tradition has them – or we can be intentional about inviting the presence of God, asking the Holy Spirit to presence Himself, giving Him permission to upset our carefully prepared order of service. To the extent that we do this (probably little steps at first) we notice the difference. We can’t always define it. But there’s a sense of God’s close presence. We know ‘the real thing’ when we experience it. And Christ has performed the perfect ritual, once and for all, so that we can be free to encounter the Lord and experience a little bit of heaven as we gather and submit to Him.

QUESTION Honest answer, on a postcard… would you rather know the exact order of worship, or know that you have met with the Lord in a way special and personal to you?

PRAYER Father God, I receive Your love afresh and thank You that You know me inside out. You know the ways I am an open book to You, and also where I cling to some life position for my identity. Help me to renounce all that is false, proud or self-sufficient — and offensive to You. I pray this in and through Jesus. Amen.

Priority! Return God’s love to Him and others

Ruth and Naomi: “Where you go, I will go… where you stay, I will stay, Ruth 1:16”

TLW44

Scriptures to read in preparation for Sunday, November 4

Theme: The priority of returning God’s love to Him and others

SUMMARY

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 — First love God with all your heart; the foundation of the First Great Commandment.

Ruth 1:1-18— Ruth decides to trust God and look after Naomi. A choice to do what is right.

Mark 12:28-34 — the Great Commandment, love God, love others. Unselfishness the guiding principle of the kingdom of God.

Hebrews 9:11-14 — Love enabled by the cleansing power of the blood of Christ. Christ’s sacrifice changes us inwardly in a way the blood of calves and goats never could.

Also: Psalm 146

OLD TESTAMENT READING 1

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 — First love God with all your heart

The foundation of the First Great Commandment

1-2  These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.

“Fear the Lord your God” – ‘revere’ for His goodness, would come closer than ‘fear’ (of the consequences) although both are in the meaning. What follows is predicated on Israel’s covenanted relationship with a loving, sustaining, providing God  i.e. Exodus 34:5-7 “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love… and forgiving…”

Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

“Be careful to obey” — needs to be understood in terms of the heart and soul and passion of v.5, see note to vv. 6-8 below.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 

“The Lord is one” — distinctive among other tribes and nations who worshipped, and attempted to placate, various deities who were related to the prevailing threats and needs of life. Scripture is progressive revelation, and “The Lord is one” remains a truth that overarches God revealing Himself in His Son, and then the awareness of the third Person, the Holy Spirit of God, guiding and empowering the Early Church and our mission today.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 

“Hear, O Israel” — recited by Jews in the synagogue and often daily as well, this Shema (Hebrew for ‘hear’) passage is a foundational confession of faith, as the Nicene Creed has become in the Church of England.

“Love the Lord” — ‘love’ in English has a broad range of meanings. This has the specific sense of ‘adore, revere, be committed to’ in the way people show their devotion to a popular monarch, like Trooping the Colour in London every June.

6-8 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

“0n your hearts… foreheads” — the sense of verse 6 was lost on some Jewish sects who in religious zeal tied a small box containing the text over their heads. This is what we all tend to do: try to turn a heart relationship into a set of religious rules and routines which we find easier to control. But the Lord simply wants our hearts, and when He has our heart, that will be evident enough.

Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Application follows…

…OLD TESTAMENT READING 2

Ruth 1:1-18 – Ruth decides to trust God and look after Naomi

A choice to do what is right

1-2 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

“When the judges ruled” – following Joshua and preceding Saul and David, probably around 1100 BC.

“Ephrathites” – the area around Bethlehem village, as in Micah’s prophecy foretelling the Messiah’s birth in “Bethlehem Ephrathah”, Micah 5:2

“Mahlon and Kilion” – both names descriptive of a weak constitution.

3-5 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

“Married Moabite women” – not forbidden although classed as outsiders – there was a 10-generation (male) ban on “entering the assembly of the Lord”. However, marriage and continuation of the family line was socially essential.

“Naomi was left” – the plight of Ruth’s mother-in-law is set out early in the story. Life could be very hard and vulnerable for an unsupported widow in that culture.

6-7 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

“The Lord had come to the aid of His people” – this story emphasises the Lord’s sovereignty over events.

8-9 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

“Show you kindness” – Naomi had blessed her daughters-in-law with God’s hesēd, meaning the covenant, loyal love of God, although the daughters-in-law were not Israelites and in a foreign country.

9-10 Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

11-13 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons — would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

Naomi sees her difficult circumstances, wrongly, as the Lord’s enmity or discipline of her – as we often do. The book as a whole tells a different story of God’s gracious provision.

14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

“Clung to her” – dabaq, a strong word, also used of a man being joined to his wife, Genesis 2:24, or remaining faithful to the Lord, Deut 4:4, Joshua 10:20; Josh 22:5.

15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God.

“Your God my God” – Ruth probably grew up worshipping the Moabite god Chemosh.

17-18 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

“May the Lord” – Ruth invokes the name of Yahweh for the first time, showing her commitment to Naomi and the Lord, with no other prospects in view. She is embracing uncertainty, leaving kinspeople and familiarity to go where she has no family and friends, as an outsider.

IN PRACTICE  Ruth and Naomi walk us through what it means to return God’s love by trusting Him and choosing His way in our relationships with others. They faced an uncertain future as women in a man’s world, their menfolk having been taken from them. Do they blame God, or trust Him? Do they do what gives them most opportunity, or choose to do what is right? Life and its pressures and choices hasn’t changed in three thousand years, except that we have many more choices we can make, and many more options for self-determination rather than seeking God’s best and trusting Him in it. We have too much practice in making easy but low-value choices, and we need to work up our skills in making high-value and lasting ones — seeking God and trusting Him for His way.

QUESTION  Trusting God, doing what is right by Him, making high value choices is difficult. Who can share this with you, and encourage you?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 12:28-34 – the Great Commandment, love God, love others

Unselfishness a guiding principle of the kingdom of God

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“One of the teachers of the law” – until now, in Mark, they have been hostile; this was probably a Pharisee, but a friendly and teachable one.

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

30 ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

“The most important…” – the rabbis had codified the law into 613 statutes, and debated which were ‘weighty’ and which were ‘lighter’. Jesus starts where they are, quoting the familiar ‘Shema’ or ‘Hear’ passage (which opens worship in synagogues today)._

31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“The second is this” – Jesus puts two sayings together (see For Further Study note below) that were widely separated in the law, and so not expected to be combined. The first summarises commandments 1-4 about loving God wholeheartedly, the second summarises commandments 5-10 about moral responsibility and treating others well. His point is that they cannot be separated. God, who loves us, expects us to return His love by putting Him first and also by honouring others, loving them as He does. 

32-33 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

“You are right” – this particular scribe had understood that God’s overriding characteristic was mercy. Without the accompaniment of just and merciful behaviour, without which the ceremonial was meaningless.

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask Him any more questions.

“Not far from the kingdom” – the scribe had the right priorities, but entering the kingdom would require him to recognise and speak out Jesus as being the Son of God, (who would shortly die in his place as a sacrifice for his sins).

For further study: The Great Commandment unfolds, Deut. 6:46; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43; Matthew 22:36-40; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14.

IN PRACTICE

This man had grasped the teaching and understood the way it fits together. He knew the priorities – a lack of moral compass and concern for others cancels out any good religious intentions we can perform. First things first, and with God, that is always mercy!

The second teaching here is about the spirit of the law versus the legalism of the law. Jesus upholds the broad intention of the law by being the fulfilment of the law. He shows what it looks like to know God’s love, and so to be provoked into returning it in devotion to God, that results in having a heart of mercy and generosity to others. By contrast, the Jewish teachers and scribes majored on the fine details of observance, where their response to God had become formulaic rather than feeling.

We can’t reduce the teaching of Jesus to a formula; either it is heartfelt or it is reduced to head-knowledge. To change the world around us – being bringers of the kingdom of God – must start with us having a demonstrable heart change. We can’t give what we haven’t got.

QUESTION  How can we, as the Church representing Jesus, be more effective at showing His transforming love to the world, rather reducing it to the kind of rituals and regulations which Jesus so clearly derided?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 9:11-14 – The cleansing, releasing power of the blood of Christ

Christ’s sacrifice changes us inwardly in a way the blood of calves and goats never could

11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.

“Greater… perfect tabernacle” – a comparison between the tent that preceded the temple with its hammered gold lamp stand for seven lamps and its consecrated bread, and the ‘heavenly tent’ around God’s presence. The man-made one was a poor shadow of the real thing which Christ entered to take his high priestly seat.

12-13 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.

“Once for all” – a comparison between the repeated sacrifices of the Levitical priest, each of which amounted to a partial remedy for sin, and Christ’s sinless sacrifice, final, effective and unrepeatable.

14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

“How much more” – an argument from less to greater. The comparison emphasises the power of remembering, enacting and declaring what Christ’s blood has done for us. The balance between these actions varies across Christian traditions. 

IN PRACTICE  The flesh nature — how we behave naturally as humankind — is inherently selfish and self-protective, and therefore not disposed to be generous to others. We live in competition, not collaboration. Loving others is optional, depending on what we feel – because we readily store up resentments accumulated by emotional collisions with others.

Coming to Christ and having a personal relationship with God brings the Holy Spirit’s dynamic to counteract and change this self-centred flesh nature.  We have hurt God by our selfishness and rebellion, but He has forgiven us — massively. This is the work of the blood of Christ, not only spiritual forgiveness for sin, but emotional cleansing of conscience from the effect of sin. Now we can think and act differently, with a generosity of spirit towards others. It is still a choice — we need to constantly be reminded how Christ’s blood has cleansed us — but it is an empowered choice. We can reflect God’s love and generous spirit to us, in how we relate to others.

QUESTION  Christ’s blood is all-powerful and effective, but how do we assert this? What is the balance between remembering, and speaking it out, in your tradition?

= = = = = = =

PRAYER  Father, we see selfishness, hatred and war all around us yet You sent Jesus to be the embodiment of your way of love and the means to achieve it. Fill us with Your love and empower us to use it to bring change to the bit of the world we can influence. Amen.

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God and His purposes are good, all the time

The disciples and Jesus – and the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. God had a higher purpose than the injustice suffered by the ‘son of uncleanness’.

TLW 43

Scriptures to read in preparation for Sunday, October 28

Theme: God and His purposes are good, all the time

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 – Job’s encounter with God opens his eyes. He repents of his earlier poor understanding of God and His ways.

Jeremiah 31:7-9 – Distraught Israel is promised a new relationship with God. The remnant, exiled people without rights in a foreign land, will return rejoicing.

Mark 10:46-52 – Blind Bartimaeus implores Jesus to heal him. A man without physical sight sees Jesus and His kingdom purpose more clearly than the disciples.

Hebrews 7:23-28 – priests could sacrifice for sins, but only Jesus can save completely. Jewish Christians brought up under priesthood are taught about Jesus’ unique position as the only intermediary we ever need.

Also: Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 – Job’s encounter with God opens his eyes

He repents of his earlier poor understanding of God and His ways

1-2 Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.

“I know…” Job has realised two things from what the Lord has said to all of them, in His summing-up speech: (1) how unlike God he is, and (2) the message that God is both loving and all-powerful.

For further study: read Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:17; Matt. 19:26. Nothing can stop God’s plan, Job 23:13; Isa 14:27; 46:10.

3 “You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures My plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;   I will question you,   and you shall answer Me.’

“You asked…You said” – Job quotes, with humility, what God had said at the beginning of His first speech. He is seeing God in a new way.

“Things I did not understand” – Job has spoken about God with accuracy and integrity, even if his understanding was now shown to have been limited. His friends had not, and their spokesman Eliphaz, Job 4:12-16, 42:7, had implied that his advice came from prophetic insight. God affirmed Job but not Eliphaz and his friends in their superficial doctrine about God who they clearly did not know.

5  “My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You.

“My eyes have seen you” – a deep encounter with God. Up until now, Job had not seen God, Job 23:8, but now, like Isaiah, He had known God’s close presence and holiness, a massive leap in his relationship with God

6  “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

“I despise myself…I repent…” – Job is saying that he recognises the ignorance behind his words earlier and he repents of having such a weak understanding of God; not as his friends had urged, of moral issues.

10-11 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

“The Lord restored… him” – The last words we heard from Job are repentance (v.6). Now we hear of Job’s restoration and the extent to which God blessed him. The two are linked.

12 The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys.

13-15 And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

“He had…” – wealth was counted in head of livestock as much if not more than possession of silver. The tally is twice the number of animals, but not children – Job already had seven sons and three daughters waiting for him in heaven.

16-17 After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years.

“Full of years” – ripe old age, like Abraham  and Isaac, Gen. 25:8; 35:29, being a sign of God’s blessing.

Who was Job?

Job’s friends seem to have come from the Edom or south Euphrates region. If Job is an abbreviation of Jobab, he was son of Zerah and great-grandson on Esau, and second king of Edom, Genesis 36:33. He was a person of great influence, in his own words, Job 29:7-25 “When I went to the gate of the city, and took my seat in the public square, the young men saw me and stepped aside and the old men rose to their feet; the chief men refrained from talking… because I rescued the poor… and the fatherless… was a father to the needy… broke the fangs of the wicked…I thought…’My glory will not fade’…people listened…I chose the way for them and sat as their chief.” His long life was probably a generation or so before Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush and his story would have told in Midian at that time, before the Israelites’ flight from Egypt.

Jeremiah 31:7-9 – Distraught Israel is promised a new relationship with God.

The remnant, exiled people without rights in a foreign land, will return rejoicing

God promises Israel that “I will be … God … , and they shall be my people,” Jer. 31:1-14 and in a number of other places in Jeremiah,, with the additional promises that He will have mercy on weary Israel, Jer. 31:15–26, and will make Israel secure, Jer. 31:27–30.

7 This is what the Lord says: “Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, ‘Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’

“The foremost” – because they are God’s elect. “Lord, save…” – the Hebrew for this word is the basis of Hosanna, the cries of people outside Jerusalem at the triumphal entry (Palm Sunday), Matt. 21:9.

“The remnant” – those who have survived exile, to be called back.

See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labour; a great throng will return.

“North… and from the ends of the earth” – Assyria and Babylon and the remoter parts of the then known world. A regathering with all included. About 50,000 returned between 538-536 BC.

They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is My firstborn son.

“Weeping… they will pray” – with joy and praise, verse 7 above

For further study, see Ps. 125:5-6, Isaiah 55:12, Psalm 23:1-3, Isaiah 49:10, Isaiah 40:3-4.

“Ephraim is My firstborn” – meaning first in rank and priority, Exod. 4:22. David, eighth son of Jesse, is referred to in this way, Psalm 89:27 and Jesus is called the firstborn over all creation, Col. 1:15; Rev. 1:5. The prophets referred to Ephraim and Judah as a shorthand for the nation of Israel.

IN PRACTICE  Job made mistakes in his attitude to God whole he suffered, and the nation of Israel made mistakes in their attitude to God, rejecting the appeals of the prophets and suffering the calamities of two successive deportations, first the northern kingdom and then the fall of Judah and Jerusalem. However, Job was honest in his attempts to challenge God, while his counsellors gave him theological-sounding statements but without demonstrating that they actually knew God who they were claiming to honour. Job got right with God, admitting that his relationship was more knowledge than heart, and he was commended by God for this, while his opinionated counsellors were rebuked. There is a parallel with the Jews in exile, where a remnant survived, both as true worshippers and as those able to return, and God speaks through Jeremiah of leading them back with joy rather than difficulty. They had learned lessons, and come to know God in a far deeper way. God wants us to go deeper with Him. He wants our hearts, not our lip-service and sometimes he allows setbacks in which He gets our attention – and seeks to grow us through them.

QUESTION Are you giving God a faithful one morning a week but sensing that He wants something different – your heart? Who do you know who could help you in praying this kind of prayer?

Mark 10:46-52 – Blind Bartimaeus implores Jesus to heal him

A man without physical sight sees Jesus and His kingdom purpose more clearly than the disciples

46-47 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and His disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Jericho” – the new city built by Herod the Great, to the south of the site of the ancient and abandoned one.

“By the roadside begging” – on the pilgrim route to Jerusalem, where Jesus and those with Him were going.

“Bartimaeus” – Son of Impurity, a derisory name reflecting Jewish tradition that blindness resulted from sin, John 9:1-3.

“Jesus, Son of David” – prepares the hearer or reader for the “Hosanna” shouts of the crowd at Jerusalem, Jer. 31:7 and note, above.

“Mercy” – undeserved kindness, which Scripture repeatedly ascribes to God. Bartimaeus, blind in one sense, is seeing something clearly – Jesus is the Messiah but also personifies God’s merciful character in bringing the kingdom to poor, maimed and blind people like him. This was Jesus’ own understanding, Luke 4:18-19.

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Many rebuked him” – regarding him of no status and no account, as they had earlier with children, and doing what He had taught was wrong then, Mark 10:13-14.                                                                

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”

50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“What do you want…” – Jesus’ ‘unnecessary’ question drew out the blind man’s faith as he then spoke out his expectation. Jesus gives the blind man what he asks for in faith. There is a parallel with the spiritual blindness and slow learning of James and John earlier, to whom he put the same question – probably Mark’s intention.

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

“Your faith has healed you” – this time without touch unlike the previous occasion when a blind man was healed, Mark 8:22-26.

For further study on faith and healing (sozo, literally ‘saved’) see Mark 5:23, 28, 34; Mark 6:56, Matt. 9:22, Luke 8:48.

IN PRACTICE  God’s higher purpose becomes, with Jesus, the realisation of His kingdom purpose and order. True personal faith in Jesus, who he is and what He stands for, is a connection with His rule and order which overturns the devil’s predatory activities. In this case the blind man’s humble acclamation of who Jesus is – Son of David, the embodiment of God’s mercy without condition – leads to an astounding healing miracle. At the same time the disciples, who in another way were somewhat blind to who Jesus was and what his earthly life was about, start to see their world through God’s eyes.

We, too, are short-sighted, seeing our world with us at the centre and a lack of distant perspective. God has a higher purpose and an eternal timescale and wants us to join Him in it, even if it continually challenges our limited understanding.

QUESTION  Does God do these kinds of signs and wonders today? How could we put aside doubts to reach higher in asking Jesus to heal, deliver or save – all the same thing to Him?

Hebrews 7:23-28 – priests could sacrifice for sins, but only Jesus can save completely

Jewish Christians brought up under priesthood are taught about Jesus’ unique position as the only intermediary we ever need

23-25 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.

“Permanent priesthood” – the language is that of something which cannot be changed. Now people will (1) never be without a priest to represent them to God, and (2) one who lives forever and therefore saves forever, (3) in a way which is now fully effective, unlike the old order of priests, expanded in Heb. 10:1-4;10-14.

26 Such a high priest truly meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.

“Holy, blameless, pure, set apart” – contrasting the high priesthood of Jesus, who had no sin nature, with the morality of the Levitical priesthood which by comparison was weak, earthly and with the flaws of unredeemed human nature.

27 Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered himself.

“He does not need to offer sacrifices” – from a different starting point, Jesus represents a completely different order of priesthood “unlike the other high priests” who sacrificed only animals, an imperfect substitute. Our high priest offered Himself.

28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

“The oath… after the law” – a verse which echoes Heb. 5:1-3 and sums up the whole discussion of Heb. 5:1-10; 7:1-28 of Christ’s appointment from perfect (complete) qualification, to a far superior high priesthood that the Levitical priesthood could never achieve. The oath refers to Psalm 110:4, a declaration of God’s promise of an eternal priest, over and above the earlier giving of the law and establishment of temporal priests and high priests.

IN PRACTICE  Jews who were now part of the Christian church, worshipping God through their own relationship with Him enabled both by Jesus and the Holy Spirit, thought they had a problem. For some years after the Resurrection, in fact up to the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Levitical priesthood and temple sacrifice system continued. This is what they had been brought up with. It was important to them. But now they have become aware, as 1 Peter 2:9, Rev 1:6 teaches, that believers are their own priesthood with royal privileges, as sons and daughters of the king! The writer of Hebrews seeks to explain this transition in terms these Jewish believers could relate to. But there’s a message for all of us. The only priestly intermediary any of us need, is Jesus Christ. He has identified totally with our world and our sin, before paying the price for it and ascending to take up a role for which He has uniquely qualified. We are not perfect; He is, and He is poised to take our intercession and pray it with us. This is an important part of the Good News, and it enables us to pray bold prayers by understanding His position and the relationship we have with Him.

QUESTION  If you know Jesus, and are part of this new royal priesthood, how confident are you about representing before God someone with a need who has asked you to pray for them?

PRAYER  Father God, so many things that we think we see clearly have a greater purpose or different timescale or way of working out than we are aware of at first. Help us to be of “earthly use by being heavenly minded” as we grow in faith from Your word in these passages where the story starts one way and ends – Your way!

= = = = = = =

God’s ways are higher

Jesus demonstrates God’s higher purpose: incarnate Word of God, dying as the full and final sacrifice, and then resurrected and elevated as everlasting Great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek

TLW42

Revised Common Lectionary readings for October 21

Job 38:1-7 — God’s perspective is far higher than Job’s opinions

Isaiah 53:4-12 — God’s eternal purpose is higher than man can conceive

Mark 10:35-45 — The kingdom of God is a higher order than human status

Hebrews 5:1-10 — Jesus has gained special qualification to represent us to God

Also: Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

FIRST OLD TESTAMENT READING

Job 38:1-7 — God’s perspective is far higher than Job’s opinions

Yahweh announces His presence and cross-examines Job

1  Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

The the Lord spoke” – Following Elihu’s speech, Job 32:6-37:24, the Lord – Yahweh – spoke, first mention since the prologue, Job 1:8; 2:3. Significant because God’s covenant name is also His character and His promise, Exodus 34:14-15. “Out of the storm” – God announcing His presence in a covenantal gesture. 

2  “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?

Job has been complaining from his human perspective, showing up his inadequate knowledge of who God is. 

Brace yourself like a man; I will question you,   and you shall answer Me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?   Tell Me, if you understand.

“I will question you… where were you…” – questions to which Job must confess ignorance. God says nothing about Job’s suffering but neither does He agree with the counsellors or condemn him.

“Tell Me” – whether rhetorical or demanding a response from Job, he is unable to answer.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!   Who stretched a measuring line across it?

6-7  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone — while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

Hearing from the Lord here, Job 38:1-40:2 and subsequently, Job 40:6-41:34, bring Job to a better understanding of God’s goodness and wisdom, while leaving his earlier questions hanging.

IN PRACTICE We have opinions, and we like to express them, and we know that we are right… the problem always being the limited perspective on which we base those opinions. Job, who was entitled to try to work out what was happening to him and defend himself from his friends’ well-meaning but flawed attempts to blame him for his downfall, hears from God that He has a higher purpose for His creation including mankind. Who is Job to argue? We take from this two lessons of everyday life,
(1) to hold our opinions lightly because God is likely to show how flawed they are, and
(2) to always try to see God’s higher purpose in the struggles we find ourselves in.

QUESTION Have you held an opinion which you sensed God was challenging, and then discovered it was unfounded?

SECOND OLD TESTAMENT READING

Isaiah 53:4-12 — God’s eternal purpose is higher than man can conceive

The disfigured, suffering servant, a picture of Christ that Isaiah saw

4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.

“Surely he…” – the servant, introduced in Isaiah 52:13 is so disfigured to be almost unrecognisable; people were appalled at the sight.

“We considered him punished by God” – people would conclude he had been struck down by God for his own supposed sins. But there is something far greater going on here, Matt. 8:14-17. He was beaten and hurt, for us to become whole.

5 But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.

“Punishment that brought us peace” – brought us shalom, a huge word, far more than freedom from anxiety. Healing of spirit, the emotional/thinking life of the soul, and physical healing are all part of this divine exchange. This much quoted as the heart of the gospel, salvation and entry into the life of God’s kingdom, which cannot be earned or achieved, just received through the Servant.

For further study, see Psalm 22:16; Zech. 12:10; Romans 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24-25.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

“Each of us… turned to our own way” – repentance is the exact opposite, a turn from our own way, to God’s way. The point is that every person has sinned, Romans 3:9, 23, and deserves God’s righteous wrath. However the servant has taken the consequences of that sin and borne the righteous wrath warranted by that sin.

“Laid on Him the iniquity” – recalls the high priest on the Day of Atonement laying hands on the scapegoat and symbolically putting the sins of the people on it.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away. Yet who of His generation protested? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of My people He was punished.

“By oppression and judgment” – In Jesus’ ‘kangaroo court trial’ no one spoke up on His behalf, and neither did He defend Himself.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.

“A grave with the wicked and…rich” – Jesus’cave tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, a rich and righteous man. Isaiah associates the rich with the wicked, because such wealth was often gained by oppression or dishonesty.

10  Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin,  He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

“The  Lord’s will to crush him” – at first sight an incomprehensible cruelty but “His life [made] an offering for sin” expresses the Lord’s equally hard-to-grasp sacrificial love for a world that has lost its way. The result is literally billions of spiritual sons and daughters.

11  After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge My righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

“Numbered with the transgressors” – or rebellious ones, identifying with them (with us) and making intercession that they might again become servants of the king.

IN PRACTICE The enormity of what God has done for us, having His own Son take the punishment and pay the price in our place, leaves us with gratitude that words are inadequate to express. But what about the knocks of life and the attacks on health and finances and well-being we all face? This punishment that has brought us heavenly shalom is a practical remedy for ourselves and for others. When the truth of this sinks in, it changes the way we pray, from passively asking God to help us, to an active stance of being able to declare in a spirit of praise how He HAS helped us.

QUESTION Praising God for His goodness and deliverance out of a difficult situation is challenging. What difficulty are you bringing before God, where you can change your prayer in the light of this?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 10:35-45 — The kingdom of God is a higher order than human status

The lesson about who Jesus is and the path to greatness by serving that He sets out

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”

“James and John” – the two other members of Jesus’ inner circle (following on from Peter’s outburst, Mark 8:32-33) show that they still haven’t grasped His essential teaching about who He is and His impending death, and what greatness and leadership in the kingdom of God means.                                              

36 “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked.

37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“In Your glory” – the part they had understood is that Jesus was the Messiah; “sit at Your right…” – they associated it, wrongly, with rank and status.

38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?”

“You don’t know” – they didn’t understand about sharing in Jesus suffering, and the servant nature of leadership in His kingdom. 

39-40 “We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

“Not for Me to grant” – Jesus would not usurp His Father’s authority.

41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.

“Indignant” – they wanted prestige and power for themselves. Jesus now spells out a different understanding of what the leadership of God’s kingdom entails.

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.

43-44 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

“Not so with you” – the values of the kingdom of God turn the values of the world upside down.

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

“To serve, and… give His life” – a climax and one of the most important passages in Mark, emphasising how Jesus’ death as a suffering servant is central to the values of His kingdom.

IN PRACTICE The Letter to the Ephesians teaches that all Christians, in their new nature, are positionally ‘seated’ together with Christ, who is Himself seated at the right hand of God the Father with authority over everything. For us this is no less than a place of sharing His spiritual authority in the battle against evil. So there is a sense that we do get what James and John asked for, but not in the way that they imagined. However, the values of the kingdom of God clash with the values of the world, and put serving above status. The point is that, knowing Jesus, personally and intimately, brings a  different kind of authority, spiritual authority, which is how Jesus uses us to bring His light and presence into our sin-darkened world.

QUESTION What for you is the hardest part of the “Not so for you” (verse 43)?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 5:1-10 — Jesus has gained special qualification to represent us to God

Jesus, having suffered and borne our sins, is called into a high priestly role of a unique order 

The background text to this is Psalm 110:4 in which is God’s stated intention that His Son is to be a priest for ever in the order of Melchizedek. The author expands on this, comparing the priesthood of Aaron’s descendants (vv. 1-4) and that of Jesus, the ultimate high priest (vv. 5-10).

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

“From among the people” – the high priest had to be able to relate to people and their lives, in order to represent them before God.

2-3 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since He himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.

“Weakness… his own sins” – the high priest, subject to human sinfulness, sacrifices first for his own sins, Lev. 16:6,11. By contrast Christ, sinless, Hebrews 4:15; 7:27, exercises a unique high priesthood of a quite different order and extent.

4 And no one takes this honour on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

“Called by God” – the Aaronic high priest must not be self-appointed but have a recognised call to the office. In Jesus’ lifetime the high-priestly office – and the power and control that went with it – belonged to the family who had bought the privilege.

In the same way, Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to Him, “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.”

“You are My Son” – or “Today I reveal You as My Son”, quoted from Psalm 2:7. A turning point in the comparison. 

For further study: read Psalm 2:7-9, Romans 1:4.

And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

“Priest… in the order of Melchizedek” – quoted from Psalm 110:4. This is the first of 10 times this verse is quoted in Hebrews, Ps.110:4,6,10; 6:20; 7:3,11,15,17,21,24,28.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.

“Heard… because of his reverent submission” – Jesus did not shrink from the indescribable agony of bearing mankind’s sins in a suffering of spirit, soul and body. He asked that the ‘cup of suffering’ might be taken from Him, but He still went through with it in full obedience to His Father.

“Save Him from death” – by resurrection.

8-10 Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

“Learned obedience… once made perfect” – or ‘complete, qualified’ from teleios original meaning ‘having reached its end’. Christ was without sin, but proved His humanity in the cost of obedience, walking the path of human experience all the way to death on the Cross, in complete submission to the Father’s will. This finally qualified Christ to represent us by His unique and ultimate high priesthood.

IN PRACTICE This passage exposes the fallacy of any religious system which we “take on ourselves”, v.4. It’s easier to grasp but the only effective and peace-bringing way is through personal relationship with Jesus. He is the only person who, having lived our life with its trials and temptations – without sin – can represent us before the Father. This highest of high priests, who has conquered death, and broken the grip of everything which contends with God’s design and purpose for our lives, is the one who takes up our supplication (asking) prayer – and then reminds us that, sharing His exalted place, we should move from asking, to declaring in faith, what He has done. With the backing of Jesus the great high priest, we can pray with authority – His authority.

QUESTION What in church or Christian life are we inclined to put our faith in, rather than relying on Jesus to represent us?

PRAYER Father God, as I come to You in Jesus I am overwhelmed, not just by Your greatness and higher purpose, but by your goodness and generosity beyond anything I could deserve. Help me to hold on to this great truth, for myself and but also to share with others who need a touch from You.

TLW42e October 14 – Booklet

Booklet to print  4pp A4

Catching God’s heart to change ours

Jesus gently challenges the rich young ruler, to tease out where his security and his heart really is, Mark 10:17.

TLW41: Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, October 14

Theme: How much have we caught God’s heart, and He ours?

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 — Job’s heart is tested under oppression. A righteous man is blamed by his counsellors, but still holds out for God’s justice.

Mark 10:17-31 — Jesus tests the heart of a wealthy follower. Mark’s story of the rich young man who had ticked the boxes for observance, but overlooked the priority of love.

Hebrews 4:12-16 — The word of God judges our heart’s attitudes. Everything in us is accountable to God but Jesus, our great high priest, has lived in our world and meets us as One who understands

Also: Psalm 22:1-15

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 — Job’s heart is tested under oppression

A righteous man is blamed by his counsellors, but still holds out for God’s justice

Eliphaz, in the previous speech, has treated Job as a sinner, in the darkness of sin and for whom he has a remedy. Zophar, the the speech before that, went further in aligning Job’s grave difficulties with his rebellion before God. There is some truth in both positions, but Job does not accept either of them: he humbly asserts that they do not apply. Job is an interesting exception to the general assumption, that everyone’s need can be met by preaching the gospel.

1-3 Then Job replied: “Even today my complaint is bitter; His hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.

3 If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling!

“If only I knew where…” – Job, true to his name (‘iyyob, Where is the heavenly Father?), is trying to find God from his sense of abandonment. Eliphaz had instructed Job “Return to the Almighty” but Job (vv. 8-9 below) cannot find God to encounter Him anywhere.

4 I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments.

5 I would find out what He would answer me, and consider what He would say to me.

6 Would He vigorously oppose me? No, He would not press charges against me.

“Would He… oppose Me?” – Job’s change of heart, expecting to find justice, Psalm 97:2 having worked through his earlier fear that God would be too powerful for him to be heard, Job 9:14-20, 33-34.

7 There the upright can establish their innocence before Him, and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.

“I would be delivered” – Job is confident, as a God-fearing worshipper, of a fair hearing, leading to acquittal. The gospel is here in this passage, which looks forward to the justification to be found, not in the tally of our good deeds, but through the relationship we have with Jesus Christ alone, Romans 4:25-5:1; 8:1.

8 “But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him.

9 When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him.

= = = = = =

16 God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me.

17 Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.

“Made my heart faint” – Job’s affliction was physical (sores and wasting) but also what we categorise as mental illness. The devil’s oppression is a combined attack on (human) spirit, (thinking, feeling) soul — and (physical) body. “Thick darkness” – Job was fearful and anxious, feeling like he was groping in darkness, familiar to anyone battling depression.

IN PRACTICE  Despite physical illness and mental torture, Job’s heart is proving to be true. Far from blaming God for his misfortune, the devil’s scheme, He is trusting God for his deliverance. He feels sure that if he could have that conversation, that hearing, that He would find that God was for him. God is for us. It will always be the devil’s strategy to sow thoughts in our minds that God is for others, but not us; that we have done (or not done) something that exposes us to judgment and keeps us out of favour. This is the folly of the religious mind. The spiritual person, who knows God personally through Jesus, will know that it is our heart, and the relationship with God that guards our heart, that gives us assurance – and ultimately deliverance.

QUESTION  Why would God allow such a good person as Job to go through this trial of sickness and a feeling of “thick darkness”? How does Job’s faith, even while questioning, help us?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 10:17-31 — Jesus tests the heart of a wealthy follower

Mark’s version of the story of the rich young man who had ticked the boxes for observance, but overlooked the priority of love

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“A man ran up” – previously in Mark’s story Jesus encountered small children who had no standing and were completely dependent. By contrast this was a young man, probably a member of a council or court, Luke 18:18, Matt. 19:20, commandment-keeping and rich. Jews of that time would consider him (wrongly!) to have a great standing with God and therefore claim to salvation.

“What must I do” – the question of a religious, but not spiritual, person. He showed respect to Jesus (“fell on his knees”) but simply didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching of how the kingdom of God is entered, Mark 10:13-16.

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone.

19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.’”

“Why do you call Me good” – Jesus is not denying His goodness, but making the man think about his question and focus on God. Will he recognise the goodness of God incarnated in Jesus? Will he recognise that only God Himself is intrinsically good?

“You know the commandments” – Jesus mentions the six that address wrong actions and attitudes to others including “fraud” for covetousness.

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

“All these I have kept” – this doesn’t read well to us. But the man is sincere. For him, the law is about conforming to the doing, the externals (like the six commandments Jesus quoted). Jesus makes him think: what is missing? The requirement to have a good heart, to love God and, by extension, have God’s love for others, Mark 12:29-30; Exodus 20:3; Deut. 6:5. Entering the kingdom of God is always a step of repentance, Mark 1:5; 6:12.

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

“Sell everything… give to the poor” – not a general command, but addressing the stronghold of self-sufficiency that was holding this man back from salvation.

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24-25 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

“Camel…through the eye of a needle” – the largest animal and the smallest opening. The idea of a laden pack animal shedding its baggage to be led through a narrow postern gate is a great illustration that may (or may not) have been in Jesus’ mind.

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

“Amazed…Who then can be…” – Jesus has overturned the generally accepted idea that riches are a sign of favour from God.  

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

“Who then… with man this is impossible” — this man, they would have thought, was an outstanding  candidate. Jesus explains that there is nothing we can achieve of ourselves to gain salvation. It comes only by relationship with God and receiving His gift.

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29-30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life.

31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

“Left… for me… will receive…” — followers of Jesus share a family generosity that transcends social and geographical borders. In this context, the hospitality if a hundred homes and families sharing the same values.

“First… last and… last first” — the kingdom order up-ends the accepted order of wealth, privilege and the merit of having kept the externals. The kingdom is experienced by disciples with no other claim than looking to Jesus and accepting the challenges of His humble way.

IN PRACTICE  This favourite story, also told by Matthew and Luke,  goes right to the heart of our walk with God. Here was a man who had done all the right things that the law said were to be done, but how he felt about God was still a bridge to be crossed. Throughout history, man has put the first commandment – to love God with all our heart – on a shelf while working at all the others. The intention was to be so captivated by God and broken by His love, that everything else follows as a consequence. The rich young man had a theology of ‘doing’ – we might call it religiosity – but who had his heart? 

QUESTION  Jesus asks us the same question from time to time: where is our heart? Can we do no other but to follow Him wholeheartedly, or is our human desire for self-sufficiency holding us?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 4:12-16 — The word of God judges our heart’s attitudes

Everything in us is accountable to God but Jesus, our great high priest, has lived in our world and meets us as One who understands

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

“The word of God penetrates” – a warning to those living a sham that faithless disobedience will be exposed by the living power of the word of God which acts like an all-seeing eye.

“Soul and spirit” – the human spirit together with the thinking, feeling, wilful soul. Taken together to mean the whole inner person.

13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

“Everything… laid bare” – The word of God (v.12) is speaking and acting as the judgment of God Himself. All our thoughts and intentions are exposed, and accountable to the living, written Word, John 6:63, 68, Acts 7:38 as to the living God who is the author.

14-15 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,  Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.

“Great high priest” – for Jewish Christians, coming out of the Old Covenant priest and sacrifice tradition, knowing Jesus as the Great High Priest of the complete, final sacrifice was an important faith connection.

16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

“Confident… that we… receive mercy and grace” — because this high priest has the unique qualification of having been tested through suffering and death for us, Hebrews 2:9-10.

IN PRACTICE  The ‘quiet time’ of starting the day with God and the Bible, letting Him speak through His word, has deep roots in Christian tradition. Fashions change in discipleship, as everything else, but in a busy and confusing world, the need for this discipline seems to gain renewed emphasis. The ‘down side‘, if there can be a disadvantage to learning to hear God speak to us, is that His word is truth. It is that sharp penetrating sword that exposes our heart. It is, very helpfully, a lamp to our feet and our path but also a bright light over the mirror that shows all our blemishes – the part we don’t much like. However, God, in His love, is not so much about showing up what is in our heart, as revealing to us what in our heart we still need to let Him purify. He is in the business of redeeming and recreating and regenerating, and in Jesus a ‘new heart for old’ is  His ongoing promise.

QUESTION  The devil will always find ways to try to prevent you having a quiet time in the word. How resolved are you not to be put off meeting with God in this way?

TLW41/October 14 to print in A5 booklet form