Speak Your Mind

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God reveals Himself and His moral intentions for us in spoken words

Scriptures for Sunday, March 4 (Lent 3) to study through the week:

MONDAY 26 – Exodus 20: 1-7 – 10 Commandments

TUESDAY 27 – Psalm 19: 1-14 – The law of the Lord is perfect…

WEDNESDAY 28 – John 2: 13-22 – Jesus clears the Temple and says “Destroy this temple…”

THURSDAY, MARCH 1 – 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25 – Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

FRIDAY, MARCH 2 – The emerging message


MONDAY, FEBRUARY 26
Exodus 20:1-7

In a superstitious culture of many deities that must be appeased, God wants His people to look to Him and His ways only

1  And God spoke all these words:

  This title is simply “All these words”. The Ten Commandments title comes later, Exodus 34:28, Deut. 4:13 and the way of making up the traditional 10 is not defined and may vary.

1  The Hebrew emphasises that these are spoken words – words of revelation, from God Himself. God has many ways of speaking to us, through the word and by the Holy Spirit, but His voice speaking these words is a unique occasion of divine gravitas. See also Hebrews 12:19.

1  A document of treaty or covenant or command would normally begin with a sentence identifying the writer, e.g. Nehemiah 7:12.

1  The importance of these ten words of command is reinforced by their being repeated e.g. Deuteronomy 5:6-21 and Jesus referring to them in the three narrative gospels, Matt. 19:18, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20.

2  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 2  God has aligned His name, Yahweh (sometimes written YHWH with the vowels implied as in the Hebrew) with Israel’s deliverance: “I am YHWH… who brought you out… This is not calling for belief in God in general but in God in Person who acted to bring them out of Egypt.
3  “You shall have no other gods before Me. 3  The ‘plural majesty’ also allows “no other god” and the expression could be before Me or beside Me. The meaning is straightforward and unambiguous – in a surrounding polytheistic culture, the children of Israel were to look to no other God but Yahweh. Period.
4  “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

4  The original form of the Hebrew (from comparing Deuteronomy 4) was short and sharp: “You shall not…” and the specific thing i.e. pesel, statue – a form of words which could be engraved on a stone.

4  There is no prohibition of artistry here, as the Exodus passages about the craftsman Bezalel and the description of the divinely-ordered design of the tabernacle make clear. What is forbidden is carving an object (later, casting an object in metal like the golden calf for the purpose of worshipping it, verse 5 below.

5a  You shall not bow down to them or worship them… 5  This phrase is a figure of speech where two expressions, “Bow down” and “worship” are used to form one idea. “Bow down and worship” is only used in the Bible of the forbidden practice of offering worship to pagan deities.
5b  …for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me…  “Zealous” is easier to understand than “jealous”. However God’s version of jealous is not distrustful or envious, but it is the part of God’s character that makes the righteous demand of our exclusive devotion.
6  …but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep my commandments.  6  God’s covenant love ‘hesed‘ extends to a thousand generations, while His punitive judgement is still generational, but only to the next two or three generations (verse 5 above). This can be put right and cut off, by prayerfully renouncing the sins of ancestors.
7  “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

7  Being a jealous or zealous God (the Hebrew words, like in English, have the same root and similar sound) embraces our undivided devotion, but is a jealous anger when He is opposed, and a jealous vindication of those who are His.

For a Bible study on these three aspects of God as jealous or zealous, see (1) jealous of our devotion, Exodus 34:14, Deut. 4:24, 5:9, 6:15; (2) His jealous anger, Numbers 25:11, Deut. 29:20, Psalm 79:5;  and (3) His jealous vindication 2 Kings 19:31, Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah 37:32, etc.


Application

As God reveals Himself here, He wants people for Himself, and He wants His people to love Him and belong to Him wholeheartedly.

That’s a challenge in a multifaceted, multicultural and free-flowing society, where commitment (let alone duty) is for many people not a high value.

Earlier generations knew about loyalty, to your hometown, the way or worshipping you grew up with, your occupation or employer, the political persuasion of your family and friends, the team you cheered for and the shops you patronised.

Now in a postmodern era, all of those ‘traditions’ are held up to question. Movement and diversity have taken over from ‘belonging’.

The command by God to “love Me” and “have no other before Me” and more than a thousand years later, the insistence by Peter following the healing of the man at Beautiful Gate that “there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” are not ‘politically correct’. It is a loving challenge that confronts the deepest roots of our desire for independence.

Not all diversity is wrong – some diversity is found even in the Old Testament. But being anything less than sure about who God is, and who we are listening to, leads to bad outcomes. The Nation of Israel became unable to listen to God and the repeated warnings of His prophets; they were simply unable to trust God. In 589 BC the holy city and presumed dwelling place of God, Jerusalem was razed and all its people of substance deported.

Six centuries later the same challenge came from God, this time through His Son, who said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life – no one comes to the Father except through Me John 14:6.

Hearing God speak is hearing a call to stand and be prepared to be different, and bear the cost of that.

For reflection and discussion

What are the values, attitudes, activities or areas of emotional investment we hold which are not negotiable? Which of these might we hold over and above God and His purpose for our lives, and what does He say about that?

The emerging message

RECAP

Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise

Psalm 22: 23-31
From a background of anguish and apparent abandonment, the tone turns to praise and even revival

Mark 8:31-38
God’s great plan of redemption through Jesus is a stretch of faith for His disciples

Romans 4: 13-25
The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’

The emerging message – ‘It’s all about faith, stupid’

God’s desire is to reveal Himself, to make Himself known. But there’s a problem – God is Spirit, and in our unregenerate state we are not. Even when we have come to know God personally through turning to Jesus and inviting him to be our Lord, there is still a gulf to be bridged. That bridge is what we call faith. It is choosing to believe beyond what we see, what we know, what we understand, what is logical or feasible to us. To see with the “eyes of the heart”.

Abraham is the father of faith, not just to Jews, but to all who look to God in faith. God appeared to him on a number of occasions and made promises that didn’t stack up and didn’t happen – or so it seemed. Abraham hung in there. God had said it – that settled it. This was a 25-year test; Abraham believed, and kept on believing, and “it was credited to Him as righteousness”.

We face trials, and seek what God is saying – and we may hear clearly. And we hang on to that word and it seems to us that nothing happens. What was all that about? The way God grew Abraham through a test of faith, is the way He grows us.

David, in Psalm 22, writes (probably prophetically) about desperate anguish and pain and the questioning of where God is in that. Where we pick up the reading the tone changes to praise, based on God’s character, never mind what it feels like. And the result of that barefaced, impudent faith to praise God in the face of the enemy is a knock-on effect of people turning to God. We call it revival.

Jesus explains to His disciples, now that they have recognised that He is the Messiah, that God’s plan for mankind will be fulfilled in His capture, mock trial and torture to death. No one wants that – but this most difficult-to-grasp purpose has to be seen with eyes of faith.

We have tried to turn faith into religious practice, as the Jews did with their complicated system to achieve righteousness. Peter teaches us that it doesn’t work that way. Look back to Abraham, He says, and you can see that salvation by faith alone began with Him. We want something more complicated, something to work at rather than – simply believing.

Sometimes the straightforward way, looks way too simple – but the straightforward response of faith is what God desires from us more than anything else.

Abraham is not just Father of the Jewish nation, he’s the father of all faith

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 22
Romans 4: 13-25

The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’

13  It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.

13  Now in Paul’s words Abraham is seen, not just as the father of many nations, but the father of all who relate to God by faith.

13  Abraham’s heritage in the sense of its geography lies between the River Euphrates and Egypt Genesis 13:14-15, Genesis 15:18. However the NT sees the promises in a spiritual sense, as world-wide and enduring as the Gospel itself, Romans 10:18. The Promised Land in Hebrews is not on a Middle East map marked ‘Canaan’ but “a better country – a heavenly one”, Hebrews 11:16.

13  The promise that Abraham would be “heir of the world” is not so explicit in Genesis. Paul is seeing a bigger picture here. Abraham is a man of huge faith, influencing faith down the centuries.So this “world” is the world of the faithful for whom Abraham is our “father” because, like Him, we are justified by the means of faith. All people of faith are blessed through Him – well in excess of two billion worldwide and growing, which Abraham might have wondered at.

For further study, read Genesis 12:3, Gen. 22:18

14  For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless… 14  A promise which is hedged about with inflexible conditions (in the manner of the law) doesn’t look like a promise anymore.
15  …because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

15  “The law brings wrath” because it demanded obedience and performance; violations were likely so the law may even have encouraged sin, Romans 7:7-11. If the law was violated, wrath ensued – it was not a system of grace.

15  People can certainly sin without the law. The point Paul is making is that can be no transgression – crossing a line – without having a benchmark of law to measure the transgression against. His argument is that the law serves to show people where they have transgressed, but living right by God is all about faith, not about rules. Keeping the rules is not the same as walking with God by faith, and it is the faith relationship He is looking for.

16  Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

16  Abraham had physical offspring, but ethnic descent is secondary compared with spiritual descent – “children of the promise”, Romans 9:11-13.

16  The promise to Abraham was not through the law, which would not come for another four centuries, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.

For further study, read Galatians 3:16-18

17  As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.”  He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. 17  God called the earth into being from nothing. And so God can speak something into being as if it already exists. God is all powerful and His words have this creative ability. And He operates outside time. Our understanding is on a ‘then – now – to be’ timeline, but in a way we cannot explain, God does not have to operate within this constraint.
18  Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

18  “Against all hope” – from human perspective, impossible.

18  “So shall your offspring be” – The “count the stars” passage quoted from Genesis 15:5.

19  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 19  Abraham and Sarah kept a stance of hope for a quarter-century. Both hope and faith are in this passage. Hope is confident expectation in God; He is good, His purposes are good, He is faithful, fair and just. Faith is more specific and stands on a bedrock of hope. When God has spoken something concrete, a confirmed word, through any of the ways God speaks to us, that is when hope moves into faith.

20  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,

21  being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

19-21  Abraham’s outlook changed as God spoke to Him with the original promise, Gen. 15:5, and after waiting till it was physically impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have children, spoke again, Gen. 17:5. With no naturally possible way out, he was shut up to God and “strengthened in his faith”, not weakened. His faith grew through this test.

22  This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”

23  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone…

22-23  Abraham’s experience was more than individual – it had broad implications. If justification by faith was true for him, it is true for all (and all people)
24  …but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  24  Justification in the specific faith that Jesus is who He said He was, and the resurrection really was the Resurrection of the Lord who lives and speaks to us as Lord of His church today.
25  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.  25  The core of the gospel. What we couldn’t pay for, he paid for. A justification we couldn’t earn by any amount of good works, He secured for us and still intercedes for us as those justified in Him.
Application

Abraham was counted a righteous because of his deep faith – he believed God and was tested in this over a quarter century. When we wonder where God is, in a situation that stretches our trust and patience, it is worth remembering that Abraham came to the deep – an iconic – place of faith and trust as he grew through the test. God wants to grow us!

Justification by faith, the keel timber of the Christian gospel and indeed the Reformation of the 1520s, is as old as the patriarch Abraham – and much older than the law which Moses expounded.

Judaism has tended to view Abraham as a great man of obedience to the law, an oversight of history as well as theology. Paul redresses this by showing that justification  by faith been taught by Scripture from the beginning.

Justification by faith was the great biblical discovery of the Reformation. Yet, strangely, much of the Christian church is in a muddle, with a stress on ritual and obedience and a ‘salvation by sacraments’ which is seldom overtly taught but preached persuasively in what we emphasise. Yet what was credited to Abraham as righteousness is what God looks for in His church today – faith that simply takes Him at His word.

For reflection and discussion

If you think of your own faith and values – how much is based on faith and believing and trusting, and how much leans towards observance and obedience?

Would Paul need to write to us today and remind us that we are not under law?

God’s plan of redemption is too great for people to grasp

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 21
Mark 8:31-38

Peter’s concern comes from the wrong kingdom

31  He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again. 31  Now that the disciples had heard and accepted what Peter had exclaimed: “You are the Messiah!”, Mark 8:29, Jesus gives the first of three teachings about what He would go through to fulfill God’s plan.

31  “Son of Man” is used more than 80 times in the gospels. It was a term Jesus used about Himself because it was not loaded with expectations and preconceptions. In the OT it often just means “human being” eg Psalm 8:4, Psalm 80:17 but it has the sense of a title in the way God often address Ezekiel in this way. But Jesus hearers would also have been familiar with Daniel 7:13-14 where the Son of Man at the end time brings the kingdom to the oppressed people on earth. The Son of Man sayings in Matthew, Mark and Luke generally combine suffering and death with glory at the end-time.

31  For further study: these sayings in Mark particular seem to refer to Daniel’s Son of Man, Mark 8:38, 13:26, 14:62.

32  He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke Him. 32  John Wesley’s notes, “And Peter taking hold of him – perhaps by the arms or clothes”. The Message: “But Peter grabbed him in protest”.

32  Peter understood that Jesus was the Messiah. Peter understood what Jesus meant by “suffer many things” and “be killed”, v.31. But for Him, the Messiah was about strength, not weakness. A suffering Messiah was unthinkable. He would not at that point have associated Isaiah 53, and Isa. 53:3 especially, with Messiah.

33  But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 33  A sharp rebuke – which was intended for all of them. Peter was voicing an opinion of the flesh – not the Mind of God revealed by the Holy Spirit (and the Holy Spirit had not yet been generally given). Peter loved Jesus and did not want Him to be taken – so he expressed a fear, an anxiety. The devil uses thoughts he tries to plant in our minds as one of his most common strategies – our thoughts don’t all come from us and they certainly don’t all come from the Spirit and it takes practice to sift out the ‘junk mail’. Peter was taking the rap for all the disciples making the commonest of mistakes, which we all make, especially at first.
34  Then he called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. 34  “Take up their cross” or literally, shoulder their stake, which perhaps better gets across the meaning of shameful death.

34  The starting point of being a disciple of Jesus is to be able to deny self. Ego and Jesus do not occupy the same space.

34  The follow-on point is that there is a cost to following Jesus, and in a world that is very rational and merit-orientated, the values of the servant King can bring plenty of misunderstanding, ridicule – and persecution. The last burning at the stake for presumed heresy, of Edward Wightman, a Baptist in Burton on Trent, was only four centuries ago, in 1612.

35  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the Gospel will save it. 35  Reneging on faith when under trial is not an option. The trials we experience in the western world today are not life and death as they were for our forebears; but our faith is on trial when we either do or do not stand up for Jesus’ values in a world of often opposing values. Do we want to remain popular or do we want to remain and abide in Jesus? Are we sensitive to criticism or secure enough in who we are to be ready for some criticism?
36-37  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

36-37  The only way we gain salvation is by losing the right to attain it ourselves. Our world is so permeated with the idea of performance and merit, it is hard for us to embrace what leads to spiritual life now, and life eternal, because it cannot be earned. Something that good that we don’t earn is difficult to trust. And earning seems more secure to us than trusting.

36-37  Jesus is saying that we try to hold on to life, to build a better life, to secure hope for a future life by doing the best we can in this life – and all of that causes us to miss the one thing that secures our souls. Giving up our rights to a self-determining life, so that Jesus can guide our determining by the truth about Him and His values, is losing ‘our’ life in exchange for His. This recognises what this passage looks forward to – Jesus exchanging His life, for us to be able to look to Him for eternal life.

38  If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”


Application

The difficulty for people of Jesus’ generation is that He didn’t look like a Messiah. Perhaps we would say He doesn’t look like a celebrity. Christ the humble suffering servant is proud humanity’s greatest stumbling block; God in Him is not seen, except with the eyes of faith.

The Anointed One, Messiah, has been linked up to ‘Son of Man’ for Peter and the disciples, but the anticipation of a conquering king so eagerly awaited by Jews who turns  out to be the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:1-12 but also the One who would come again in judgment, Daniel 7:13, presented the disciples with difficulty at every level of intellectual, emotional and spiritual understanding. Mark follows this with the story of the Transfiguration, Mark 9:1-10, where those who have recognised Jesus in his lowliness as the Christ are rewarded and affirmed by being momentarily blinded by His glory.

In regarding Jesus, and for that matter in regarding anything that relates to His way, then or now, the challenge for us is seeing with faith beyond seeing what we want to see.

For reflection and discussion

God’s plan is not readily understandable, defies logic and conflicts with our worldview! So what approaches will you explore, to make the Good News of Jesus accessible to others?

He has done it! And revival will touch the rich and proud as well as the poor

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 20
Psalm 22: 23-31

From a background of anguish and apparent abandonment, the tone turns to praise and even revival

22 I will declare Your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise You. 22  This psalm begins with a heartfelt appeal for help and deliverance: ” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?….All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. It is in places prophetic of the anguish of Jesus on the Cross and His cry “My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Here, at verse 22, there is a complete change of tone.

23  You who fear the Lord, praise Him!

All you descendants of Jacob, honour Him!

23  Praise and thanksgiving naturally go together, but praise is more directed to God for His character: awesome, evoking in us fear of God, better expressed as deep reverence and a desire to honour Him for who He is.

24  For He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one;

He has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry for help.

24  Praise now leans to thanksgiving to God for some specifics: for seeing, for being present, for hearing the prayer for help.

The suffering is not set aside, but there is the assurance of prayer heard.

25  From You comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear You I will fulfill my vows.

25  “I will fufill my vows” is a clue to what verses 22-26 are describing. The Law encouraged those who made a vow of some service to the Lord for answered prayer, to call a votive festival in which they would make sacrifice, publicly declare what God had done for them and the vow of service, and seal the occasion with a feast to which all, especially Levites, servants and the poor and needy of the community were invited (verse 26 below).

26  The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him – may your hearts live forever!

26  Hebrew 2:11-12 relates this passage and verse 22 in particular to Jesus, who does not just stand on high but identifies with us and invites us, the poor and needy, to His thanksgiving feast, to “eat and be satisfied” and also to “live forever”.

27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,

and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him…

27  Now David’s praise becomes expansive and sees a wide-ranging revival. “All the ends of the earth” – Gentiles obviously – will turn to the Lord.

28  …for dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations.

29  All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before Him – those who cannot keep themselves alive.

28-29  “Rich of the earth” – literally, fat ones. Prosperous, thriving, mighty, power-mongers in other versions. A revival turning the hearts of the proud and self-sufficient to humble worship, together with “all who down in the dust”, the sick or anxious or faint-hearted. If they want to gain the life they are unable to command by arrogance they will kneel along with those who lack even essentials.

30  Posterity will serve Him; future generations will be told about the Lord.

31  They will proclaim His righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!

 30-31  Looking ahead to as yet unborn generations who will hear about the Lord and also proclaim that He is righteous and just takes this psalm into the present day. Declaring “He has done it!” surely foretells the preaching of Jesus as Lord, the Cross and Resurrection.
Application

This psalm of David relates extreme anguish and suffering and the highest praise in a revival that touches even the spiritually resistant. What time frame the picture David saw belongs in is hard to say, but it could be the suffering of the Cross and the victory of the Cross and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It could be the tribulation leading up to the return of the Messiah and triumph over evil. It could be a picture of what is happening between heaven and earth and the power of praise in the face of oppression. As is often the case in Scripture, it could speak to more than one time.

At the risk of over-simplification, this psalm is telling the story of someone who has suffered oppression and felt abandoned by God, who however makes a choice. The choice is not to believe their feelings but believe God as the faithful One who has listened to the cry for help, and is most worthy of praise. As a result, there is a great turning to the Lord, even among the Gentiles and the proud and self-sufficient.

There is tremendous power in praise – especially in the face of adversity.

Where is our focus? On what we are going through, or what God is going to do? On our weakness or His power? This psalm seems to suggest we have a choice, and great power is released by exercising it.

For reflection and discussion

How would you find sincere words with which to praise God for His goodness when your more immediate experience may be pain, anguish, or abandonment by God?

The stretch of faith that sees beyond

Readings this week focus on Sunday, February 25 (Second Sunday in Lent)

MONDAY – Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise

TUESDAY – Psalm 22: 23-31
From a background of anguish and apparent abandonment, the tone turns to praise and even revival

WEDNESDAY – Mark 8:31-38
God’s great plan of redemption is difficult for people to understand

THURSDAY – Romans 4: 13-25
The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’

FRIDAY – The Emerging Message

Abram receives the second part of the promise and a new identity

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 19
Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16

God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me faithfully and be blameless. 1  Hebrew El Shaddai. The exact meaning of Shaddai is debated. It amounts to ‘El’, Lord, ‘Sha’, who and ‘ddai’, ‘boundless sufficiency’. The ‘ddai’ part of the word has some connotations with ‘mountain’ or ‘great size’. It is a way of ascribing extraordinary power – hence Almighty.
2 Then I will make My covenant between Me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

2  This comes 13 years after the birth of Ishmael, and Sarai is now 89 years old.

Why did God need to make what appears to be second covenant? Better to see this as two aspects of God’s covenant with Abram in which God gives him the promise of the land, Genesis 15:18-21, and here in part 2 is the promise of an abundance of descendants.

2  Unlike the Genesis 15 covenant, this part of the promise is conditional on Abram’s commitment to God.  Abram has to “walk before God and be blameless”.

3    Abram fell facedown, and God said to him,

4  “As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.

5  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.

3-5  This “father of many nations” statement is part of a threefold promise, unmistakable and memorable. This is an enduring covenant between God and Abram, whose name changes to reflect his new relationship with God, and who he is to become, according to that covenant. God changes his name to ‘Ab’, father, ‘ram’, high, ‘hamon’ (contracted to ham), nations. So from ‘Great Father’ to ‘Great Father of Nations, or Father of a great many Nations. See Romans 4:17.
6  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 6  Not, as might be thought, one tribe or nation, the tribe of Abraham – but ‘nations’ and each nation has to have a king. So “kings will come forth from you” reinforces this part of the promise.
7  I will establish My covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 7  The repetition around “everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you” emphasises that this covenant will have the same meaning and the same force for the descendants many generations down the line, as for Abraham himself. It is in effect a generational blessing as expressed later to Moses, Exodus 20:6.
8  The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

8  “To be your God” is reinforced by the first person direct statement “I will be their God” in verse 8. This is a much-repeated saying in the prophets, and Jeremiah repeats it in his ‘turning point’ prophecy of the New Covenant written on hearts, Jer. 31:33. It is also quoted three times in the NT.

8  For God to say “I will be their God” and for Abraham and his descendants to repeat what God has said in the way of celebrating it, is more important than the detail of lands or offspring. Spiritually a covenant is established personally, God to man and man to God, in these words, rather like the “I wills” of the covenant made between bride and groom in the marriage ceremony.

15  God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 15  This name change is from “my princess” to the more regal and enduring “princess”.
16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” 16  The language does not state but implies “princess of nations” meaning “mother of nations” as the translators’ render it, parallel to “father of… nations”, verse 5.

 

Application

There is a controversial issue which comes out of this passage, and that concerns the present nation of Israel, and the land of Israel which is the cause of tension and even wars.

This goes with another controversial point, the nations which come from Abraham and the story that precedes this passage, of Hagar and Ishmael, Genesis 16:10-12. The angel’s prophecy to the fleeing Hagar is that she, too, will have many descendants, and strife is forecast in the prophecy!

The Bible gives us reasons for the present-day tension, but it doesn’t give us black and white answers of how to resolve that tension. How does that covenant play out today, in different people groups, many thousands of years later, with many different views of how instructive it is?

The teaching that we gain from this is about the nature of God’s covenants, which can be in the form of a unilateral decree that He will do (or in the case of Noah and the rainbow) not do something. Or it can be a statement that has conditions. Then we have to enter into what is said, and keep on demonstrating our commitment to the proposer of the covenant.

Our idea of commitments and even legal contracts can be quite situational. There is the concept in law of a “voidable contract”. As is often the case, our worldview and the worldview of heaven are rather different. God’s purposes and intentions are eternal, while ours tend to be more selfish and short-term.

For reflection and discussion

To what extent are we, as non-Jews, descendants of Abraham? As Christians living in the benefit of a new and better covenant established by Jesus, founded on better promises, how do we understand this original promise of one of the covenants: “I will be their God”?

God’s purpose is overarching – and merciful

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16
Recap and message

Genesis 9:8-17 (Monday reading)

God’s way of mercy established in the first unconditional covenant, with Noah

Psalm 25:1-10 (Tuesday reading)

An appeal to the covenant and pledge to keep God’s ways even in the face of personal adversity

Mark 1:9-15 (Wednesday reading)

Jesus demonstrates the way of dependence on God as a key to a Holy Spirit empowered life

1 Peter 3: 18-22 (Thursday reading)

Peter explains God’s higher purpose in Jesus’ incarnation and death on the cross, making a way for us to have a clear conscience before God

The emerging message – God’s loving purpose is not limited by our perspective

From not quite the earliest times, but from very early times, God acted in judgment but also spoke a covenant promise for all time against such a flood disaster being repeated. Given the wickedness of the then world, to wipe out mankind would have been a just decision – but God’s mercy and greater purpose overruled.

David faced constant and at times vicious opposition, including a rebellion led by his son Absalom, but it was the attacks on his character which he struggled with most. Keeping a clean heart in the face of betrayal is one of the hardest things any of us is called to do, and David calls down God’s higher purpose in the language of covenant, to help him do this.

Jesus is the incarnation of God’s higher purpose – and the incarnation of God’s mercy and love. Jesus told Philip that having seen Him, he had seen the Father. Or certainly seen what the Father is like. He shows this sense of higher purpose in his first public appearance, by the banks of the River Jordan where John was preaching repentance and baptising those who responded. For Him to be baptised was not just symbolic, or giving a lead to others, but an act of repentance which released His Holy Spirit-empowered ministry. There’s a challenge there for us in discerning where God intends for our ministry with Him to be, and whether we are “fit for purpose” and prepared to live in constant repentance and dependence. That fights with our human self-sufficiency at every level.

Peter refers to our call to be baptised as a statement that we are turning to Jesus and away from our old lives. He links what we know as baptism with a precursor, a kind of global baptism, which Noah knew as he escaped destruction. Then he links this with those in the spirit world who have merited destruction, and describes Jesus preaching to them.

God is so merciful that He is always looking for a response, even when it seems that no response could be expected.

As we consider the world of not-yet-believers around us,  the few who are seeking to find out who God is and the many who appear to be mocking or scoffing, the message of these passages is surely to aim higher. It is to find out what God is doing, in the context of what He is always doing, and seek to love into the kingdom even those with the hardest hearts.

Peter extends our limited perspective of Jesus’ death and our baptism

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 15
1 Peter 3: 18-22

Peter explains God’s higher purpose in Jesus’ incarnation and death on the cross, making a way for us to have a clear conscience before God

18  For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. “Suffered once” is hapax which means once, for all time. This has given rise to some misunderstanding of the RSV “once for all”, although the translators’ meaning was “one time, for all times”. Previously, under the Old Covenant, animal sacrifices had to be offered repeatedly. But this is the full and final sacrifice that Jesus made of Himself, once, effective for all who turn to Him as Lord in every generation. No further sacrifice, no additional payment for the debt of our sin, is needed.

“To bring you to God”. A clear statement of the central truth of the Gospel, that Christ’s death enables a personal connection and a personal relationship with the three of the godhead, which makes salvation a personal encounter: “You did it for me!”.

“Put to death in the body” – died on earth. “Made alive in the Spirit” – the new state of human existence in the realm of the Spirit which Christ inaugurated.

19-20  After being made alive, He went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water…

Verses 19-20 can be understood in more than one way. The traditional view has been that between the Friday of His death and the Sunday of His resurrection, Christ “descended into hell” (Nicene creed) and preached to the souls of people who were disobedient in the days of Noah, or alternatively to fallen angels who incited people to the evil that required God to send a flood to wipe out. Another view is that this happened later; “after being made alive”, the Resurrection and Ascension with Jesus in person were a proclamation of victory, sealing the eventual doom of extreme powers of evil.

“Only a few people… were saved, through water”. It was the most severe judgment, for the most severe evil. The human race deserved to die out, such was the rebellion, but this underlines God’s grace in His readiness to save those who accept His mercy.

21  …and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

Baptism saves, only in the sense of what it represents. It represents cleansing from sin and a clear conscience towards God achieved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The new believer who tells their story of accepting Jesus as Lord and their desire to seal this publicly by being buried under the water to the old life and rising again to new life is already learning to enjoy being a child of God. However, the public sharing of baptism seals that decision and makes it harder for the enemy to “kill, steal and destroy” that new life in Jesus.

An act which pledges a clear conscience toward God is positioning oneself for a fresh impartation of God’s Spirit – as the Spirit came down on Jesus, Mark 1:10.

22  …who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him. A reminder that in the words of the  Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-19, all authority has been given to Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of the Father having put all things under his feet Ephesians 1:20-22. In the hierarchy that exists in the heavenly realm of both good and evil forces, Jesus is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked”.

Application

Religion has made God out to be many things – an exacting deity, requiring the performance of religious rituals, looking on us in judgment and possibly wrath if we should lapse from His commandments.

From an Old Testament, Old Covenant perspective this wasn’t entirely wrong. His covenant of unconditional love and provision, His nature of mercy and grace was less emphasised than in the New Testament, the life and teaching of Jesus and especially the New Covenant in Christ Jesus which came into force around the events of the Cross, the Resurrection and the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit when “God’s law written in our hearts”, Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26, became a reality for the new order of Spirit-filled believers.

Peter’s explanation of Christ’s full and final sacrifice, one sacrifice spelling redemption for all sin for all time and for all who would receive is about God’s mercy writ large. So is Peter’s account of Jesus appearing to imprisoned spirits from the time of Noah, and the greatest rebellion the world had known, to proclaim the victory of the Cross and the possibility of God’s mercy in Jesus.

Jesus has had all authority in heaven and earth conferred upon Him. He also represents the full force of God’s love and mercy for a world which wants to be independent from God. As Noah and his family and livestock made a good choice and rose above the water that blotted out the sin of the world, so Jesus is in a far greater way our Saviour and way out from the sin that characterises the selfish world of mankind. We make that choice publicly in affirming Jesus as Lord of our lives and dying to the old life in baptism.

For reflection and discussion

If we understand that Jesus went to the rebellious spirits to proclaim the Cross, His victory and Lordship, should they, in all their wickedness, have opportunity to repent and receive grace through Jesus? How does this shape our attitude to extremely wicked people, such as (in the news) the London cab driver rapist or the IS torturers now in captivity?

God’s way is higher in Jesus’ submitting to the call for baptism

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14
Mark 1: 9-15

Jesus demonstrates the way of dependence on God as a key to a Holy Spirit empowered life.

9  At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. At this point, Jesus had grown up in Nazareth and stayed in the area, as people did. Galilee is the area on the west (Mediterranean side) of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan, and north of Samaria. People from there had a distinctive accent that stood out in Judea or Jerusalem.
10  Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. This is the Son of God, the sinless Saviour who lined up for baptism to identify with sinners needing a fresh start, and receives an impartation of the Holy Spirit, identifying with all of us who are powerless without Him.

In the believers’ baptism practised by many contemporary churches, including these days some Anglicans, it is the practice to hear a brief testimony story of how the person came to know Jesus, and in their story, people often make reference to their former independence and perhaps waywardness. Going down into the water is symbolic of a spiritual death and rebirth in coming out again. Often pastor and friends will pray for the person to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit while they are in the water and prophetic words may be given.

11  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.” There are not many passages in Scripture which are clearly Trinitarian, but this is one of them. Jesus is the centre of the story, the Holy Spirit is visibly involved, and the voice of affirmation is of course the Father’s.
12  At once the Spirit sent Him out into the wilderness, “At once”, euthys, is a word characteristic of Mark, used nearly 50 times in his fast-paced narrative.
13 and He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Forty days recalls Israel’s 40 years of testing in the wilderness. Israel failed at several points, but Jesus was victorious.

Wild animals, which would have included dogs, wolves, jackals, leopards and bears, are only mentioned in Mark’s gospel, which emphasises the protection of angels in this sinister, desolate place.

“Tempted (or tested) by Satan”. Not an impersonal evil, or a figure of speech for a difficult thought – although the difficult or condemning or fear-provoking thoughts we struggle with are put there by the enemy until we decide to put them out. The other gospel accounts have the detail of how Jesus countered the plausible but dangerous lies of Satan with Scripture truth. At this time Jesus is being confronted by a powerful, personal and persuasive deceiver and enemy, not three questions but a 40-days long power struggle.

Who is Satan? For further study see Genesis 3:1; Job 1:6,9; Zechariah 3:1; Rev 2:9-10; Rev 12:9-10.

14  After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

15  “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Three short sentences here succinctly sum up Jesus’ whole proclamation:

• This is the time
• the kingdom of God is near
• repent and believe.

The kingdom was the banner over everything that Jesus taught and demonstrated. It means, simply, that God’s rule and order over people’s hearts and lives is being established. This shows up where God’s rule and order has been lacking – which is a strong incentive to repent (turn and put right) and believe

Application

This is a thought-provoking story, and a challenging one, for at least two reasons: (1) The person in the whole of history with the least need for baptism leads the way of those seeking baptism, and (2) He says it is to do what is right in the sight of God, Matthew 3:15 “…to fulfill all righteousness.”

As John asks “Why?”  Jesus’ words of reply are paraphrased helpfully in The Message as:  “God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.”

So Jesus was doing something that from man’s perspective that seemed unnecessary, because it was very necessary to fulfill God’s higher plan and purpose.

This challenges us to always look above our situation and our perspective, to discern God’s higher and more enduring purpose. The challenge that goes with that, is how we will join Him in that purpose? Are we ready? Are we ready, in God’s sight? The call for repentance, and for an act of repentance especially, makes our flesh nature rebel in anger. Yet this may be necessary, if only for us to pledge our dependence on God and invite the empowering of the Holy Spirit once again. There are also times it is necessary for us to go into repentance on behalf of people and situations that have nothing to do with us, as Daniel and Nehemiah did, “to fulfill all righteousness”. Jesus had no personal repentance to make; a repentance and redemption for all who would turn to Him, from the sins of the whole world, was His life’s work.

We don’t seek to be baptised more than once. However, the Bible tells us to be seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and to open to confess sin in repentance, as a means of constant readiness. The two go together, as at Jesus’ baptism.

For reflection and discussion

How ready are we to join God in what He may show us next that He is already doing?

How ready are we to get before God in repentance and seek His further infilling and empowering of His Spirit, in the face of the resistance of the flesh?

Remembering God’s ways and trusting God’s ways

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13
Psalm 25:1-10

An appeal to the covenant and pledge to keep God’s ways even in the face of personal adversity

1  In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. More literally, I lift up my soul. Or set my heart on you.
2  I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. David was not perfect, but as we know his essential character was to be God-revering and dependent, walking closely with God and seeking His leading in everything.
3  No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause. David affirms that his actions have not been the cause of the hostility he faces.
4  Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. “Show me your ways” and “teach me your paths” and v8, “instruct in [Your] ways” are phrases we can pray when we seek guidance. They remind us that God’s guidance is like Him — moral and righteous. We pray: God, show us the way! And He shows us to pray to learn and discover His way. So His guidance doesn’t always give us the answer. It may be to align us with His way, and to grow us as we work it out.

5  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.

6  Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

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

See note to verse 3 above. Whether he has given cause or not, he gives the Lord permission to show him his fault, if he has taken an independent path or has not fully repented of former rebelliousness. His motto, which is worth following, is “repent anyway!”

8  Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in his ways.

9  He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

David, who is a king (and a great king at that), here identifies with sinners who need instructing and the humble who look for guidance.
10  All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant. Being humble before the Lord (v.9) – acknowledging our dependence and lack of our own resources – is a first step in keeping the covenant.

Application

The attacks of slander experienced by David comes today when we put the kingdom of God over church-centred religion, or love for those outside a relationship with God above fellowship priorities. Strange though it may seem, our attacks often come from those near to us and professing the same beliefs. Reading the psalms, this seems to have been David’s experience.

David starts off by saying that he has given his enemies no cause for their malicious actions. We all start by justifying ourselves. But this is not what David is doing, as the verses that follow make plain. He appeals to the Lord on the basis of His mercy — not David’s sense of entitlement. That’s an important difference. If the Lord has a word of correction for him (vv.8-9) David is ready to hear.

In these verses, there are a good half-dozen requests for guidance, direct or indirect. David knows that God’s guidance will be guidance of attitude as much as action. In a way he has handed over the problem, declaring his trust that he won’t be put to shame, and that his enemies won’t exult over him (vv.1-3).

Then he positions himself as one who needs help, who needs guidance –– and this is likely to be guidance on how to stay in the Lord’s will, keeping a clean heart (forgive) and clean hands (no retribution) – help and guidance on how to keep reflecting the Lord’s love and mercy. We all need that. Psalm 24:3-5

For reflection and discussion

When we face a situation of hostility and perhaps people saying things that are not true about us, we all want to hit back, at first. How difficult is it for you to let go of your desire for a ‘solution’ and ask Him to show you His way according to His love and goodness?