Speak Your Mind


Encounters with God which show His intimate knowledge of us

The emerging message: the headlines

Friday, January 12

1 Samuel 3:1-20

The young Samuel has his first encounter with God at night, hearing his voice in the Temple.

Psalm 139:1-10

God knows our true heart attitudes, and we can’t hide from Him. At the same time, we cannot be hidden from His saving help and mercy.

John 1:43-51

The first fishermen-disciples find Nathanael who has an encounter with Jesus, who perceives exactly what he is thinking with prophetic insight.

Revelation 5:1-10

In John’s lengthy encounter with heaven he witnesses a deed of ownership of the earth so top-security that only One has the right to hold and open it.

The emerging message

Friday, January 12

The Lord knows what is in our hearts, and seeks those who are open and true to Him.

The theme that emerges this week is about encounters with the Lord, and how the Lord knows us intimately. Two of these are about being trusted with a revelation of divine purpose, difficult to process and communicate, like the young apprentice priest Samuel in the Temple hearing a warning call for unrighteous Israel and its unrighteous priest, Eli, or the elderly apostle John seeing a mind-blowing vision of the majesty and authority of Christ being given legal charge over the world, and being the one to  record it for posterity. The other two are more gentle pictures of how God knows exactly what is in our hearts and sees what He will help us become, as well as how we are now.

The grown up and mature prophet Samuel said of the youngster David, when God was first singling him out for service:

People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” 1 Samuel 16:7.

Samuel, David, Nathanael Bartholomew and the apostle John were all special, godly and renowned people.

But does that mean that God knew them better, or took more of an interest in them? All were pretty ordinary at the time of their first encounter – a foster child, a youngest and somewhat despised son of a big family, a bookish Jew from an obscure up-country village, an apprentice fisherman. God is no respecter of persons – no lover of human pride, position or presentation. He looks for the qualities He find inside, in the heart – true or false, self-determining or submitted. We can’t choose the standing in society of our family, our educational opportunities, or to be born with influence and connections. We can choose to love God, know His love, love others with His love, and love His ways. We can choose to learn from Him and grow in Him. The qualities we see in the four whose encounters are described, are qualities we can aspire to All were wholehearted disciples – Samuel a literal apprentice, David a lifelong worshipper and close follower of God, turning mistakes into opportunities to learn painful lessons and grow from them; Nathanael was a named disciple of Jesus, as was his young friend John whose reflection and writing has given us a gospel account and invaluable New Testament teaching about the developing doctrine and practice of the early Church.

Four people who heard God and to whom God revealed Himself again and again in different ways at different times, as we know from the rest of Scripture. The common factor is their willingness and submission to His purpose, whether they understood it at the time or not; and a quality of transparency, able to be very honest with God about how they were. They were anointed, revered, had distinction and greatness – yet none is seen in Scripture as putting themselves forward or being self-promoting.

We can hear God, walk with Him, learn from Him and have memorable encounters with Him – exactly the same principles apply to us.

Only the Lion of Judah is worthy to open the deed-scroll

Revelation 5:1-10

Thursday, January 11

In John’s lengthy encounter with heaven he witnesses a deed of ownership of the earth so top-security that only One has the right to hold and open it.

1  Then I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals.  2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”  3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.

  • What is described would have been recognised as a contract or deed in the first century. The legal details were written on the inside, and on the outside was a summary of the document. Hebrew title deeds required a minimum of three witnesses and three seals. Romans sealed their will seven times. This is a vision of the title deed to the earth!

4  I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.  5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

  • The language and imagery in Revelation is charged with symbolism.
  • The Root of David, a messianic title that recalls Isaiah 11:1-10
  • The Lion of Judah, one of the earliest titles of the Messiah, which looks back to the tribe of Judah in Genesis 49:8-12. It speaks of his strength and fierce qualities, glimpsed during the gospel period of Jesus’ first time on earth, seen more strongly here.
  • By contrast, The Lamb is a little pet lamb, bearing scars, which symbolises Jesus’ servant nature and sacrifical role, however not powerless – horns always symbolise power.

6  Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

  • Seven horns symbolises not just power, but complete power. The seven spirits of God, 4:5 the seven lamps of fire burning before the throne.

7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 And when He had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.

  • Harps were used for praise, but also as accompaniment for prophecy. Here they symbolise the prophetic validity of all the prophets that had spoken out, which was about to be fulfilled.
  • Incense was used in the OT twice-daily temple worship ritual where priests burned incense before the inner veil so that the smoke would carry into the Holy of Holies, symbolising the people’s prayers rising to Him.
  • “The prayers of God’s people” – specifically, every prayer that the redeemed have ever prayed about final redemption.

9-10 And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because You were slain,

and with Your blood
You purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language
and people and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom,
and priests to serve our God
and they will reign on the earth.”

  • A new song is symbolic of praise for deliverance or redemption – here anticipating the glorious redemption that is about to begin.
  • Only Christ, having been put to death sacrificially on behalf of sinners, is worthy to take the deed-scroll.

• For further study 1 Cor. 6:20, 1 Cor. 7:23, 2 Cor. 5:21, 1 Peter 1:18

All spiritually birthed believers share a dual role: to represent the order and just rule of God on the earth – His kingdom domain – and to both represent not-yet Christians to God in prayer, and to represent truth about the goodness and mercy of God to them. All share the kingdom rule, and all share the priestly role. The Jewish priesthood came to an end at the time of Jesus’ full and final sacrifice and the N.T. knows of no separate order of priesthood but rather the equippers of the saints who are called apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, Eph. 4:11-13. Those sent on an apostolic mission to establish a new work may combine these roles, but generally those who lead churches major in one or two and work with others, sometimes under a traditional title such as vicar or pastor.


This arresting glimpse into the praise of heaven and its order, which is outside time, is a awesome reminder of the majesty and authority of Jesus Christ, the king of kings and lord of lords, a fearsome figure to the wicked, and the ultimate advocate for all those who have suffered injustice at their hands. At the same time it is a reminder that the affairs of earth and the affairs of heaven are not separate or disconnected. The body of believers on earth have responsibility together to prayerfully assert the kingdom of God. We also stand before almighty, holy God to intercede on behalf of those who do not yet know Him, whose sins are still being counted against them, and who are not yet seeing the spiritual dimension of their lives and taking responsibility for it.

Discussion starter

We are told that the golden bowls contain the prayers of God’s people. Having read this passage, what kinds of prayers do you want to offer to fill these golden bowls and be brought before the Lamb?

Jesus ‘looks on the heart’ of Nathanael and calls him

John 1:43-51

Wednesday, January 10

The first fishermen-disciples find Nathanael and he has an encounter with Jesus, who perceives exactly what he is thinking with prophetic insight.

43  The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

  • The first two disciples, Andrew (named) and John (not named, but probable) joined Jesus on the testimony of John the Baptist. Peter came because of his brother Andrew. Greek-named Philip, from the fishing village of Bethsaida and probably a fisherman, was chosen by Jesus Himself. Later, when Greeks in Jerusalem sought Jesus, it was Philip they approached, John 12:20-22. Jesus’ message spanned both cultures.

44-45   Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

  • His reference to “the one Moses wrote about in the Law” is an allusion to Deuteronomy 18:18 where the Lord says to Moses, ‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.’
  • Joseph was not the natural father of Jesus, but he was his legal father.

46  “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

  • Nathanael, probably the personal name of Bartholomew, is later referred to in John 21:1-3 as Nathanael of Cana when seven of the disciples were together and went fishing, but caught nothing. The account of Nathanael’s call in John is immediately followed by the story of the first miracle in Cana, John 2:1-11. There are about three locations where Cana might have been, 1-3 hours walk to the north of Nazareth. Perhaps Cana was bigger and looked down on Nazareth – or Nazareth just had a poor reputation, not helped by having a Roman detachment stationed there. To be a ‘Nazarene’ was a way of saying ‘despised’; Galilee as a whole was looked down on and it was said no prophet could come from there, John 7:52, although Jonah came from Gath-hepher, a little north of Nazareth. God is no respecter of persons – or locations, Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11.

47  When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

  • “No deceit” – literally, in whom there is no guile, dolos. The father of Israelites, Jacob, used dolos to take his brother’s blessing dishonestly, Gen. 27:35. Jesus goes on to relate Jacob’s experience at Bethel, John 1:51. Perhaps Nathanael had been sitting and reading about Jacob’s experience, Genesis 28:1-17 and Jesus perceived this supernaturally by a word of knowledge.

48  “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

  • Jesus means He had a prophetic insight about Nathanael-Bartholomew joining Him. It was a sign to him (v.50).
  • “Under the fig tree” was an expression meaning someone who studied the Law (or Scriptures).

49  Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the king of Israel.”

  • His earlier cynicism about anyone significant coming out such a small place as Nazareth (which is not mentioned in the O.T.) are overcome by Jesus’ word of knowledge and insight into his integrity.

50  Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”


Central to the passage is the story of Nathanael’s call. He was a well-read young man, perhaps a little too confident in his good values, who saw, initially, a tradesman carpenter-builder, from a neighbouring village which people looked down on because its main claim to fame was having a Roman detachment stationed there. Jesus shared a word of knowledge in which he had “seen” Nathanael and his character. This was transformational: The sceptical Nathanael now changes to address Jesus as “Rabbi” or Master and recognises Him as Messiah.

In the flesh we carry all sorts of prejudices about class and status and appearance which we are inclined to apply before we have sought the Holy Spirit’s insight. We don’t always receive such a dramatic word of knowledge, but as we know God looks on the heart; with the leading of the Holy Spirit we can see beyond the immediate presentation of a person or situation. Jesus was asking His Father who He was calling, and Nathanael was also open to what God would show Him, we can surmise. It is an object lesson for us.

Discussion starter

When in your experience has initial prejudice been shown up by God, or its counterpart, initial favouritism, shown to have been misplaced?

God knows us inside out

Psalm 139:1-10

Tuesday, December 9

God knows our true heart attitudes, and we can’t hide from Him. At the same time, we cannot be hidden from His saving help and mercy.

1  You have searched me, Lord, and You know me.

  • The key phrase of this psalm is “You know” and the key concept is the human heart, although that word is not used. This is praise to God who knows us intimately and knows our heart attitudes – something that David understood, although at the time relationships with God were more typically mediated through the priesthood.
  • The “searched me” or “searched me out” phrase is related to winnowing. This is adoration of God who knows us better than we know ourselves, in an active and engaged way.
  • “You know me” has more depth as in the sense of complete divine discernment. In the final verses of the psalm (Ps. 139:23-24) knowing is also making judgments, but as a fair-minded, if rigorous, judge.

2  You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.

3  You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways.

4  Before a word is on my tongue, You, Lord, know it completely.

  • This gently confronts our tendency to ‘pray a news bulletin’ to God, or at least, to rely on the persuasion of our many words. It is encouragement to enter into a different kind of prayer encounter which lays down the need to explain and persuade, for listening and hearing God’s word for the situation.

5  You hem me in behind and before, and You lay your hand upon me.

  • The psalmist recognises that God is everywhere and sees everything – omnipresent and omniscient in theological language. Not being able to escape scrutiny is not good news for someone with a furtive attitude or lifestyle, but not being able to escape God’s notice and mercy is surely good news for someone set on living openly being known and corrected lovingly by God?

6  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

  • Which is an awesome prospect, but also an unsettling one – am I ready for this?

7   Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?

  • “Your presence” is literally “Your face”  and the first thought of a less-than-holy human who encounters “God’s face” is to hide, as it was in the Garden in Genesis.

8  If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.

  • Heaven and Sheol are opposites; so are the wings of the dawn, farthest east and far side, far west, of the Mediterranean (v.9)
  • This language, perhaps even this expression, is picked up by Amos in Amos 9:2 to describe a fugitive from justice. There is the sense here of a flight from such awesome love, such all-seeing and perfect justice.

9  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10 even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.

  • Here thoughts of fleeing give way to being picked up and held close by God’s love in all its depth and breadth.


Only Job was similarly forthright about God knowing him. The human tendency is to live behind a mask which we present to others, and not want people to know us too well, too soon, because they might find something which causes them to reject us. But God will never reject us, and He already knows everything there is to know. He wants to lead us into freedom from the fear of rejection, to be transparent and with Him and with others, with nothing to prove. That is the journey into maturity.

Difficult times and situations are part of the spiritual battlefield of life. Sometimes they are self-inflicted, but verse 7 reminds us we can never be far from God’s presence. If we head into a dark valley, even if it is of our own making, God’s goodness and mercy follow us, as David wrote in the well-known Psalm 23, verse 6, which supports the assertion of v.10 “…even there your hand will guide me, your strength will support me.

Discussion starter

What initial thoughts does being hemmed in by God (verse 5) conjure up?

Samuel’s encounter with God

1 Samuel 3:1-20      Monday, January 8

The young Samuel has his first encounter with God at night, hearing his voice in the Temple

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

  • The time of the Judges was a time of spiritual drought (Amos 8:11-12) and the young apprentice Samuel, perhaps 12 years old, had not experienced people hearing from God. The word of the Lord was ‘rare’ – Hebrew yāqār, ‘highly valued’ – indicating that there were memories of greater blessing.
  • For further study: during the whole period of the judges, (2 Chron. 15:3 may refer to this time) we are only told of two prophets, Judges 4:4 (Deborah) and 6:8 (unnamed), and five revelations, including two to Gideon, Judges 2:1-3, 6:11-26, 7:2-11, 10:11-14, 13:3-21.

2-3  One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was.
4 Then the Lord called Samuel…
2-3  “Not yet gone out” implies that it was burning low – perhaps shortly before dawn. It had to be kept burning all night.

  • Owing to Eli’s failing eyesight, Samuel’s place of duty was in the Temple where the seven-branched lampstand would burn all night until morning.

…Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

5  And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
6  Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

  • This may indicate that Eli himself was not attuned to the Lord’s voice at this time of low spirituality in Israel.

7   Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
8  A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy.
9  So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10    The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

  • “The Lord came and stood there” – this is a vision, as well as an audible voice. It was an unmistakable, unforgettable call and Samuel’s response sets the pattern of his life, as a priest who grew into a prophet, such that God’s word captivated him so much that Samuel’s words became as God’s word to the nation (1 Samuel 4:1).

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

  • “Ears… tingle”: an expression used of a particularly severe judgment.

12-14  At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family – from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ ”

  • Eli, as the head of the household, had responsibility for his sons’ insubordination. This points to the seriousness of insubordination or mocking behaviour in a spiritual situation, and also a distinction between committing sin unwittingly, and high-handed rebellious sin. For the guilt to rest on Eli’s family without any possibility of sacrificial remedy was a harsh sentence – a curse on the family line. He was aware of this through having already received a prophetic warning, 1 Sam. 2:25, 31. When people today struggle with life, the pattern may possibly point to an ancestral failing which is being visited down through subsequent generations who are unaware of the spiritual reason. We have a better remedy through the Cross of Jesus!

15-16  Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, My son.”
Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
17-18  “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything He told you.” So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let Him do what is good in His eyes.”

  • Eli accepts the situation and humbly acknowledges the Lord’s sovereignty in it.

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

  • “Dan to Beesheba” – our equivalent expression would be John O’Groats to Lands End.

Samuel has had an early lesson in hearing a word, and handling a word which is hard to deliver, but also knowing the Lord’s enabling in this. With Israel facing many enemies, Samuel’s uncompromising obedience in hearing from God and speaking out was going to be vital.

This is a story of two extremes, Samuel’s obedience and readiness to meet with God and at the same time, receive a word from God which would be difficult to share – as they sometimes are.

One might expect God to bring His word to Eli, the experienced priest and the one in charge. But was Eli in a place to receive? We are told in the opening words of the passage that words from the Lord were rare at that time; the time of the judges lasted about three centuries.

Why were words rare? The immediate reason is in the corrupt and abusive behaviour of Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas in which Eli was compliant. God will not be mocked; wanton, rebellious sin causes His withdrawal and worse. Many churches struggle on wondering why the favour and presence of God seems distant, oblivious to the effects of power struggles and harsh treatment of individuals and resisting moves of God that are part of the history.
Eli’s and his sons died abruptly and family line ceased with Abiathar’s dismissal by Solomon two or three generations later.

• For further study, 1 Samuel 2:30-35, 1 Kings 2:26-27. King Saul’s high-handed actions had a similar effect. God bypassed the hierarchical order and found true faith He could use in the apprentice Samuel, and young leader David; both grew as humble leaders, dependent on God and were renowned accordingly.

Discussion starter
How ready are you to hear the Lord in an unexpected way, or showing you an unexpected direction? Probably not an audible voice, but the Lord has many ways of getting our attention and confirming what we sense we are hearing (discuss).

Good News given to us – for others

The emerging message – Friday, January 5 (Epiphany)

The headlines

Isaiah 60:1-6
“Arise, your light has come…” The light of God’s glory has risen, and it is prophesied that all nations, meaning Gentiles, will come to this light. Meanwhile the nation of Israel is coming home, truly.

Psalm 72
All kings, from the ends of the earth, will defer to the coming king who combines true greatness with a heart to rescue the poor and redeem them from oppression. The godly flourish during his reign, from shore to shore.

Matthew 2:1-12
Distinguished visitors from afar recognise the significance of the birth of Jesus and come to worship Him. Gentiles coming to the Jewish Messiah show that he is their Messiah, too.

Ephesians 3:1-12
God’s plan, which astonished the culture of the time, is revealed by the Holy Spirit: Gentiles and Jews are part of the same church body, with equal share. This united church has spiritual authority and is marked by believers who have confidence in their new identity in Christ Jesus, and confidence coming before holy, almighty God.


How do we respond? We look beyond our walls and our ‘tribe’ with light and love.

This united church has spiritual authority and is marked by believers who show confidence in their new identity in Christ Jesus and before holy, almighty God. There will always be the human tendency, born of pride, to keep separate. But the Holy Spirit’s work is always to unify, from a heavenly perspective. Jews, Gentiles, Christians or not, denominational barriers, state church or independent – the Holy Spirit gives us a heavenly, rather than worldly perspective, if we allow Him to.

Who is Jesus and what is this Good News? Who is it for?

This is the mystery that was being revealed to those early believers who knew Paul. They struggled with it. But the Holy Spirit gave them a sense of heavenly perspective — the greater vision of what God was about.

This what had been shown to Abraham in those earliest times, composed as prophetic song by David a thousand years earlier, foretold by Isaiah and others more than 800 years before and grasped by Mary, then acted out in a remarkable way by distinguished Gentile visitors. The early church, mainly Jewish to begin with, had to come to a completely new understanding of what they were about.

And so for us — every generation has to get this revelation afresh.

This Good News has been given to us, but not for us alone. It is given, not for people like us, but for us to share with people who are not like us.

That is our task as church — to be confident in the inevitable spiritual battle for souls and for God’s rest and peace, and to be as generous as the Lord Himself in relating to those on the fringe of faith or outside it.

Where does this generosity come from? We are, as the renowned Archbishop Temple said, the only organisation on earth that exists for those who don’t belong to it. We are people on a mission – the mission that springs out of the mystery Paul writes about. It’s a mission that only makes sense as we become empowered by the Spirit of Mission.

Paul writes: “God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by His Spirit He has revealed it to His holy apostles and prophets.” Paul wrote it, but God spoke it to Paul’s heart. This is Scripture —as meaningful for us as the prophecies about the Messiah were for the Jews and Wise Men of Jesus’ time.

This is what we see God doing, and so our call is to be willing to join Him in it.

Who are the ‘Greeks’ and ‘Gentiles’ of our world — the not-yet believers around us? Where is God working outside the church walls?

When we begin to address this honestly and join God in what He is doing, our church attendances and finances and very future will begin to look very different. The kingdom of God will be evident among us. As we seek to mirror something of God’s generosity of spirit, there will be a release. We trust God and give away what we have – and He finds us faithful and gives more.

For reflection and discussion – all the questions

1.  Where do we see the Lord’s light resting, and what response is the Holy Spirit leading us to make?

2.  If this is God’s pattern of leadership, and if this is a picture of Jesus’ kingdom rule, why does the church sometimes struggle financially?

3.  Good science is good – but are you tempted to seek explanations from within our knowledge and experience, and fit the narrative accordingly? Why do we need to try to do this?

4.  God’s plan and God’s purpose are mentioned half a dozen times in this short passage. How are you beginning to see God’s plan in your life, your church, your community?

5.  What are good ways of focusing our attention on God’s plan and purpose and encouraging one another in it?

Readings this week for Sunday, January 7, (Epiphany):
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72
Matthew 2:1-12
Ephesians 3:1-12

The mystery made plain: the Good News unites


Ephesians 3:1-12 Thursday, Jan 4

God’s eternal purpose has always been to reconcile all people to Himself – a mystery gradually unfolded by Word and Spirit

1-2  When I think of all this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the benefit of you Gentiles…  assuming, by the way, that you know God gave me the special responsibility of extending his grace to you Gentiles.

  • 2 In another version: “assuming that you have heard”. Paul had spent three years in Ephesus, so many knew this. But we forget that the N.T. church continually drew in new people and was extending its reach to villages around; there would be many new hearers for Paul’s letter.

3-5  As I briefly wrote earlier, God Himself revealed His mysterious plan to me. As you read what I have written, you will understand my insight into this plan regarding Christ. God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by his Spirit He has revealed it to His holy apostles and prophets.

  • 3 “Mysterious plan” – a plan that becomes more clear. Paul wrote much about mystery and revelation. The Bible represents God’s progressive revelation of His purposes. We can see this unfolding through the precepts of the Law at first and the more developed, interpretative understanding of the prophets e.g. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”, Hosea 6:6  God’s people being a light to people who were not like them was something they had heard, but was a mystery to people drilled in being holy and racially separate. The Spirit-directed mind of the Spirit-filled person begins to see things of God that the carnal, self-directed mind cannot comprehend, 1 Cor. 2:1-16  And God raises up people with a recognised gift as those sent to be groundbreakers, or commissioned as preachers and exhorters – to help others see and share in God’s purposes.

6-7  And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News.

  • Paul was a ‘sent’ person, or envoy of the kingdom of God, the basic meanings of the ‘apostolos’ word. Now he explains that to understand God’s purpose in uniting Jews and Gentiles, men and women, bond-servants and free as being of equal value, equally loved in God’s sight, was formerly a mystery beyond grasping. Before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, to Jesus’ contemporaries and hearers, much would only fall into place following Pentecost.

8-9  Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, He graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning.

  • This is not false humility. Paul is being forthright about his earlier track record which hardly qualified him for his present privilege and responsibility.

10-11  God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display His wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was His eternal plan, which He carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

  • Every time believers come together as church a statement is made to the heavenlies. That is why unity is so vital. The real prayer warfare is our worship and our relationships. On top of that, declarations and prayers are mightily powerful to push back those fallen angels who seek exercise evil authority – and in ways we do not understand, enable the response and overcoming of righteous angels submitted to heaven. What plays out on earth and what is happening unseen in the heavenlies are more closely connected than we realise.

12  Because of Christ and our faith in Him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.


In the Old Testament, they knew that anyone who saw God would die from such a holy confrontation. So to come into the presence of God was hardly different – but on the basis of what Jesus has done for us in dealing with our guilt and rebellion, and who we are in Him, with an unearned righteousness imputed to us, we have confidence to both talk to God and are exhorted to draw near to him, mindful of what Jesus has done for us. “Come close to God, and God will come close to you” in James 4:6-10 is inextricably linked with “humble yourselves before God”. Application This is about the mystery of God’s eternal plan. What God has always purposed, from the beginning of time, has always been ahead of where people were, in their understanding. As the salvation history unfolded over the centuries, the plan became more clear. Abraham saw it at one level. David, writing prophetic psalms, saw something in the Spirit. The prophets over the centures had glimpses of God’s purpose. Jesus came to demonstrate and to explain the kingdom of God. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church and the experience of the Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered life became the norm for the early church, everyone could grow in revelation of God plan and purpose. There will always be temptation to substitute our own plan and purpose; as we begin to see God at work it’s dangerously easy to think we’re something we are not. That’s why it is important to stay humble before God as we grow as seekers of His revelation.

For reflection and discussion

  1. God’s plan and God’s purpose are mentioned half a dozen times in this short passage. How are you beginning to see God’s plan in your life, your church, your community?
  2. What are good ways of focusing our attention on God’s plan and purpose and encouraging one another in it?


Supernatural light draws Gentile mystics to worship Jesus

Matthew 2:1-12  Wednesday, Jan 3

The star-like light of God’s presence guides mystics from far away to come to worship the newborn king

1-2  Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

  • The tradition of three comes from the three gifts of tribute from the baggage train mentioned in v.11. The ‘wise men’ were not rulers but of a priestly caste from that were well versed in astrology and associated a rising star with a significant birth, and a falling star (like a comet) with a ruler’s death. It is possible that they were Jews originally from the Babylon deportation who had remained in the east, or at least those who knew Jews and had studied the Jewish Scriptures which foretold the birth of a Messiah.

3-4  King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

  • Herod the Great, so named because of his building projects, not his character, was not a Jew but an Idumean (Edomite) appointed by the Romans to rule over the four districts of Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee in the north and Idumea in the south (in present day Jordan). Hence his uncertainty about the foretold Messiah and the Scriptures.

5-6  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’

  • As foretold by Micah, Mic. 5:2. Bethehem in Judea, half a day’s walk from Jerusalem (although climbing to 2,000 feet) was sometimes simply called ‘Judah’ from its associations with that tribe. Also foretold by Balaam’s prophecy long before was that “a star will rise from Jacob”, Numbers 24:17.

7-8  Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

  • A non-Jew appointed by the Empire to rule over the Jews was an insecure position. History records this Herod as a murderer of anyone who looked like a threat, even his own wife and family. He would have been much troubled by the report of the birth of another ruler, brought by the arrival of visitors from afar who had been alerted by a ‘rising star’ light in the sky, and reinforced by his own political advisors nervously citing their own writings.

9  After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.

  • This was close guidance on a journey of a few miles: not a distant supernova.
  • Despite theories of planets in conjunction and comets orbiting close, a ‘star’ that moves, and then rests over a specific place, is different – and supernatural. God who made a pillar of luminous cloud and fire to give guidance to the desert journey, created another kind of guiding light on this occasion.

10-11  When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

  • These were gifts of considerable value – providential in view of the 100-mile+ journey of escape to Egypt (outside Herod’s jurisdiction) that the visit prompted.
  • This was up to two years after the birth, and it was a visit to a home, not a stable. The wise men, if they came from Babylon, would have had a 40-day 800-mile journey and would have needed to bring considerable supplies, accompanied by their servants and guards.
  • How much they understood of Jesus’ divine nature, we cannot know – perhaps they were receiving more revelation than reason would suggest (and also v.12), because their actions were wholly appropriate, as well as foreshadowing the worship of Jesus by all the non-Jewish nations that was to come.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

We are so aware of what can and can’t be done in our worldview that we easily forget that God is not restricted by our experience or even imagination. In this short account of 12 verses, He has caused revelation to come to men in a distant land and different religion, such that they embarked on a long and dangerous journey to bring costly gifts of devotion. He produced a visible, guiding light to bring them hundreds of miles and then take them cross country to a precise location in a remote village. Joseph, Mary and family had a timely warning that they needed to up sticks quickly and head over the border, out of harm’s way. The wise men were warned in a dream to return by a different route. This is a reminder that God does what He has purposed to do – and also tells His servants what He is doing, Amos 3:7.

For reflection and discussion
3.  Good science is good – but are you tempted to seek explanations from within our knowledge and experience, and fit the narrative accordingly? Why do we need to try to do this?

A lover of justice who is king of kings for all nations


Psalm 72:1-15  Tuesday, Dec. 2

The rule of God is to be characterised by righteousness and justice, and rulers who uphold these values will bring prosperity for all

Psalm 72 is entitled a psalm OF Solomon – or equally it could be read as a psalm FOR Solomon. It is a prayer by David for the king, or kings, that succeed him, and was probably used at coronations. Later on, the allusions to a future Messianic king became more important, and the Early Church saw it as a prophetic writing about Jesus. Scripture often conveys God’s truth on several levels, both historic and also contemporary.
1 Give your love of justice to the king, O God, and righteousness to the king’s son.
2 Help him judge your people in the right way; let the poor always be treated fairly.
  • The plea for Solomon – or a successor of the dynasty – to be endued with God’s love of justice and value of righteousness is also a plea for the nation will prosper, according to the cause-and-effect of covenant principles. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Proverbs 14:34 NASB
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for all, and may the hills be fruitful.
4  Help him to defend the poor, to rescue the children of the needy, and to crush their oppressors.
  • A striking feature of the king’s rule would be compassion and protection for the poor and needy. By contrast, the nation’s rulers at the time leading up to the sacking of Jerusalem, were denounced by prophets of that time as harsh and heartless shepherds: see Jeremiah’s prophecy which is also the basis of the covenant name of God “The Lord our righteousness”, Jer. 23:1-6.
5 May they fear you as long as the sun shines, as long as the moon remains in the sky. Yes, forever!
  • This is now pointing to a more enduring reign than the lifetime of one monarch.
6 May the king’s rule be refreshing like spring rain on freshly cut grass, like the showers that water the earth.
7 May all the godly flourish during his reign. May there be abundant prosperity until the moon is no more.
  • Here the blessings of good leadership are set out. Hebrew thought does not have our tendency to separate God’s favour and blessing, from the prosperity achieved by good management of resources — they are one and the same.
8 May he reign from sea to sea, and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth
  • The immediate boundaries are the Euphrates and the Mediterranean coastline, which became the limits of Solomon’s kingdom — however the focus then zooms out to take in the whole of the known world.
  • This verse is almost word for word the same as Zechariah 9:10  the context of which is messianic. So this is a messianic dimension becoming apparent.
9 Desert nomads will bow before him; his enemies will fall before him in the dust.
10 The western kings of Tarshish and other distant lands will bring him tribute. The eastern kings of Sheba and Seba will bring him gifts.
  • Tarshish was a large Western Mediterranean settlement – think modern day Catalonia. Seba, south of Egypt, and Sheba, southern Arabia, faced each other across the Red Sea. Kings would come bringing gifts and tribute to pledge their submission. They did for Solomon; this also looks forward to the bringing of gifts for Jesus, and what this symbolised.
11 All kings will bow before him, and all nations will serve him.
12  He will rescue the poor when they cry to him; he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them.
13 He feels pity for the weak and the needy, and he will rescue them.
  • A parallel is in Psalm 82:3. All Israelites shared responsibility for those who were marginalised (orphans, widows) or otherwise poor or needy. Kings, as God’s royal representatives, were said to have particular responsibility for protecting marginalised groups throughout Psalms e.g. Ps. 10:12-18, Ps. 12:5, Psalm 14:6 etc
14 He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him.
15   Long live the king! May the gold of Sheba be given to him. May the people always pray for him and bless him all day long.
  • The psalm ends (v.17, not shown) with a reminder of the Abrahamic covenant provision that “through your offspring ALL nations of earth will be blessed”: God’s people, and especially their king, were to represent God’s covenant beyond themselves, to the nations.  Genesis 12:2-3, Genesis 22:18.
  • This is clearly and simply summarised by Psalm 67, which is read every day in the parliamentary prayers that precede every sitting of the House of Commons.


At first this psalm is a straightforward blessing on Solomon and those kings who succeed him as godly leadership for Israel. Fairly quickly it becomes apparent that its reach is longer than that, pointing to a Messianic king to come to whom other rulers far and wide defer and serve. Jesus, of course, has the title king of kings (1 Tim. 6:15, Revelation 17:14).

Such a majestic figure would hardly be expected to have much interest in ordinary people, but this king defends the poor and oppressed (v.4), rescues the needy (vv.12-13) and redeems them from oppression and violence as those whose lives are precious to him (v.14). In terms of the culture and history of the time, with slavery common and lives cheap, this is nothing short of extraordinary.

The learning point for us? True greatness is also compassionate. Where authority finds the need to be harsh, it is neither great nor godly.

For reflection and discussion

2.  If this is God’s pattern of leadership, and if this is a picture of Jesus’ kingdom rule, why does the church sometimes struggle financially?

For reflection and discussion

2.  If this is God’s pattern of leadership, and if this is a picture of Jesus’ kingdom rule, why does the church sometimes struggle financially?


Let God’s glory reflected become your light for others

Readings for the week leading up to Sunday, January 7: Part 1 of 5

Readings this week: Isaiah 60:1-6 (Monday), Psalm 72 (Tuesday), Matthew 2:1-12 (Wednesday), Ephesians 3:1-12 (Thursday). The emerging message: Friday

Isaiah 60:1-6   Monday, Jan 1

The glory of the Lord rises to shine on the Israelite nation, for all nations to be drawn to the true light

1 “Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.

  • The glory of the Lord now becomes Jerusalem’s light and beacon for all.

2 Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.

  • An allusion to the pillar of cloud in the wilderness, but in this instance a new experience of God’s glory, like the follow spot that moves to rest on one part of a dark theatre set.

3 All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance.

  • A key verse and headline to all the readings. God is doing a new thing, and this is the early announcement. The light of God’s presence, truth and glory is on ‘Jerusalem’, the centre of worship, and this will draw other nations; people of the highest rank will be stirred to come and see.

4 “Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands; your little daughters will be carried home.

  • Much the same words were used in the context of the return from exile, Isaiah 49:18,22. Here a broader ‘return from exile’ is in view.

5 Your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy, for merchants from around the world will come to you. They will bring you the wealth of many lands.

  • King Darius contributed to the rebuilding of the temple under Zerubbabel, Ezra 6:8-9. Much later, as Temple gave way to Church, Gentiles swelled the numbers.

6 Vast caravans of camels will converge on you, the camels of Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense and will come worshipping the Lord.

  • Frankincense was the only aromatic permitted for altar incense and, like gold, was a commodity of the highest value.


It’s too easy to jump straight to a parallel between verse 6 with its camels and frankincense and gold, and the adoration made to the very young Jesus by astrologer-priests from the east – but these were the gifts of tribute customarily made in that culture. Rather, the point is an impartation of light – the glory of the Lord that comes on His own to draw others. This was always the purpose of God’s chosen people: to be His own, who knew Him and knew His ways and showed them to a wider world.

This was the nature of the first covenantal promise God made to Abraham, Genesis 12:2-3 “I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others… All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” The rebuilding of the Temple, the centre of worship, fits that purpose. God is about rebuilding and restoring His present day ‘temple’ – the temple of the Holy Spirit that is you and I, for us to reflect His goodness and glory that others may be drawn to His love.

Too big a commission? We, His church, are in this together and when we, like His people of long ago, get our focus on God’s eternal plan instead of everything else, and how He needs to use us to fulfil it by showing what He is like to others, people will be drawn to His light. That’s the way it works.

For reflection and discussion

1.  Where do we see the Lord’s light resting, and what response is the Holy Spirit leading us to make?