Speak Your Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lions and bears were common in Palestine in this period.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

Question

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice  

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

Question

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In practice

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

Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

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

Question

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

Ezekiel 17:22-24 (additional reading)

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord Himself plants this shoot from the very top growth

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

Question

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

Question

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Mark 3:20-35

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

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

Question

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

Mark 3:20-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

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

Question

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

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

Question

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

The call and the cost

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

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

Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

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

Question

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

One God who offers us three relationships

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

Introduction to theme

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trinity Sunday readings, May 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

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

In practice

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

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

Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with Him.”

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

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

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

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

4  “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

5  Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

“You” – not just Nicodemus, everyone.

8  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

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

9  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

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

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

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

11  Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

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

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

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

14-15  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.

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

16  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

Question

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

The life of the Spirit comes at Pentecost

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

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

Question

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

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

Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

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

Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

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

Question

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

FRIDAY, November 24

John 10:11-16

Additional to the lectionary readings

The Good News of knowing that we are His

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THURSDAY, November 23

Ephesians 1:15–23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TUESDAY, November 21

Psalm 95:1-7

We are His flock in His care, people of praise

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

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

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

  • A call to worship by recalling the covenant.

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

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

Today, if only you would hear His voice…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY, November 20

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

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

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

Ezekiel 34:11–16, 20–24

I will gather and care for My sheep with justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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