Speak Your Mind

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“One more chance” to seek the Lord while He is near

Lent 3 – Sunday, March 24

Theme: “One more chance” to seek the Lord while He is near

OT READING

Isaiah 55:1-9 — Come back to God while He may be found. Don’t pay for palliative peace, when the Lord’s real goodness is there for the asking.

GOSPEL READING

Luke 13:1-9 — Come back to God with a changed heart. Everyone needs the new start Jesus offers us.

EPISTLE READING

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 — Come back to God in living His way as His witness. And if you think you are strong spiritually, be especially careful you don’t fall off

Read also: Psalm 63:1-9

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OT READING

Isaiah 55:1-9 — Come back to God while He may be found.

Don’t pay for what cannot sustain, when the Lord’s real goodness is there for the asking?

The imagery – full of allusions – is of the water seller, with other market vendors in the background. It is an invitation to God’s people to “buy” His forgiveness – the point being, that it is free.

1 ‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

“Come… come… come” – expressed with urgency, and applied to all hearers. Water stands for spiritual refreshment, Prov. 9:5, wine and milk for abundance and nourishment.

“Buy… without cost” – it is all free, following on from the Suffering Servant whose death paid for the gift of life, Isaiah 53:5-9.

• For further study, Christ offering the water of life, John 4:14, 7:37; also Rev. 22:17.

2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?

“What is not bread” – the exiles were urged not to meet spiritual needs with empty pagan practices.

Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.

3 Give ear and come to Me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, My faithful love promised to David.

“Everlasting covenant” – for the immediate hearers, a reminder that the broken covenant that resulted in exile, is on God’s side an enduring promise of faithful love (chesēd). The double meaning points to the new and better covenant through David’s descendant, Jesus Christ.

4 See, I have made Him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples.

5 Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for He has endowed you with splendour.’

“Witness to the peoples” – the Messiah was, and is, a light to the nations, Isaiah 42:6, 49:6.

“Nations… will come” – The promises to David are here extended beyond the Jewish nation, to other nations, fulfilling the “all nations will be blessed by you” promise to Abraham, Genesis 12:3.

6 Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.

“Seek the Lord” – This is God’s offer for this time, and people should not delay, Psalm 32:6.

• For further study, the prophets’ frequent call to seek the Lord, e.g. Jer. 29:13-14, Hosea 3:5, Amos 5:4,6,14

7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on them, and to our God, for He will freely pardon.

“Let them turn” – or repent. The way of entering a saving relationship with God is to seek God’s ways, turn from what is unrighteous, and humbly look to His mercy and pardon.

8 ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.

“My thoughts… not your thoughts” – the man-made obstacle, wanting to reduce God’s work in our salvation to something we can understand and perform.

9 ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

“So are My ways higher” –  Jesus came to make a way of grace and new life for us, commanding simply “Believe in Me”, John 11:25.

IN PRACTICE  Isaiah’s message is a follow on from the Suffering Servant prophecy. The Servant in the earlier passage will enable people to do what the later passage urges. It is about coming back to God, calling on Him and listening. His ways are higher, and He has a ‘higher’ way for us to approach Him which is not about labouring on what does not satisfy. Then as now, a religious approach that simply works to please God is easier to grasp than finding the path to a relationship with someone holy and majestic. Yet the call to “Listen… give ear… come to Me” tells us that what God wants most is our response to His love. And Jesus, the Servant, makes that connection for us.

QUESTION  In what ways do we “labour on what does not satisfy” and “spend money on what is not bread”?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 13:1-9 —Come back to God with a changed heart.

Everyone needs the new start Jesus offers us

Jesus continues to call people to repent and discern the times. In the context of two local calamities He emphasises that everyone needs to repent.

1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.

“Galileans whose blood” – apparently Pilate killed Galileans offering sacrifices at a major festival. Like the Tower of Siloam collapse, this is not known outside this account.

2 Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?

3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.

4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?

“Tower in Siloam” – the tower was probably part of the southern wall near the Pool of Siloam.

“More guilty?” – those unscathed by recent calamities were not to see themselves as innocent and immune from judgment. Suffering does not always correspond to God’s wrath, John 9:1-3.

5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’

“Unless you repent” – every person has to come to their own decision to turn to Christ and part of that is turning from independence to live for Him.

6 Then He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig-tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.

“In his vineyard” – God is the owner of the vineyard, which with some fig trees represents the nation of Israel.

7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”

“Cut it down” – like God’s judgment in Psalm 105:33

“If it bears fruit” – there is a limited time of grace and opportunity for Israel to produce the fruit of repentance, in receiving Jesus’ miracles and message.

8-9 ‘“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”’

“I’ll dig round it” – human sinfulness deserves judgment but God’s mercy prevails and maybe ‘water’ will reach the roots and stimulate change… Jesus urges people to repent while there is time.

• For further study, Jesus urges repentance, Luke 10:13-16; 11:29-32; 12:13-21; 13:1-5, 31-35.

IN PRACTICE  Like us, the people Jesus addressed were too quick to find reasons why they did not need to repent. Being untouched by two local disasters was, for some, a sign of God’s favour and blessing. Jesus was forthright in demolishing their complacency, repeating the phrase “unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

“Repent” is often seen as a difficult word, implying a judgment that offends our pride. Yet turning from what offends God, is also a turning towards Him and experiencing His love and gracious enabling. When we learn to see repentance as the realignment with God’s purposes, and the way to connect with and receive the undeserved blessing He wants to give us, a ‘difficult’ word becomes an enabling one.

QUESTION  This Lent season is, for many, an opportunity to realign with God by taking hold in a deeper way of Jesus’ lordship of us. What does that look like for you?

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 —Come back to God in living His way as His witness

And if you think you are strong spiritually, be especially careful you don’t fall off

Warnings from Israel’s history: Paul uses the example of the judgment on God’s people in the desert for putting their trust other than in God.

1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.

2 They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

“Our ancestors” – Paul draws a continuity between the mainly Gentile Corinthians and OT Israel, delivered from Egypt’s slavery by miraculous passage through the sea and the cloud’s leading in the wilderness, Exodus chapters 12-17.

3-4 They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

“Drank from the spiritual rock” – Paul interprets the miracles of water from the rock, at the beginning and the end of the desert journey, Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:7-11 as Christ being with them.

5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

“Not pleased” – their spiritual food and drink did not prevent bad choices and consequent judgment then, vv.8-10. Spiritual food now does not absolve us from poor choices, vv. 16-17, 6, 11.

6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.

7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.’

“Do not be idolaters” – Paul is alluding to the shameful golden calf incident, Exodus 32:5-6, 17-19. The idolatry for the Corinthians is their double-mindedness in participating in pagan temple banquets, 1 Cor. 8-10.

8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did – and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.

“Sexual immorality” – Paul compares Corinth’s immoral customs with the time Midianite women seduced Israelite men into idolatry, bringing the judgment of a plague, Numbers 25:1-9 and 31:16

9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes.

“Should not test Christ” – again seeing Christ as spiritually present during the desert wanderings when Israel complained about the manna suffered the judgment of deadly snakes – but by gazing at a bronze snake on a pole were miraculously delivered, Numbers 21:8-9.

10 And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.

“Culmination of the ages” – When Jesus’ came He fulfilled God’s promises and opened the final act, the last days, Hebrews 9:26.

• For further study, read 2 Cor. 5:1-5, 1 Thess 5:4-8, Hebrews 1:2, 1 Peter 1:20.

“No temptation” – temptation is not sin but yielding to temptation, or testing is, Matt. 6:13.

12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

“Be careful” – Paul warns Corinthian believers, surrounded by temples and Aphrodite worshippers, against the compromise of joining in pagan functions, but he also reminds them of God’s overarching grace and protection.

IN PRACTICE  The Corinth church was richly blessed with the experience of Jesus through an openness to His Spirit, and the flow – which was messy at times – of all the spiritual gifts. However, Corinth was a cosmopolitan city with all sorts of temples and beliefs, and to belong to a trade guild or just participate in Corinthian society presented Christians with difficult choices. Some believers there seemed to have a kind of spiritual pride, that they were immune to the dangers of guild dinners in honour of a pagan deity. Paul reminds them about the fate of the Israelites in the desert who had lost sight of their pledge to worship the Lord God and Him only. To mock God is no light matter, as he told the Galatian church in a different letter. We can all make poor choices and slip into unholy compromises with the values of the world system around us. And when we think we are “standing firm” against temptation, that’s the time of greatest danger.

QUESTION  What are some common compromises that are harmful spiritually, in our world? Freemasonry is an obvious prime candidate…

PRAYER  Father God, as we come to you in Jesus we ask Your Holy Spirit to reveal to us areas of our life practice and thinking which have slipped into unholy ruts. Help us in this preparation season to come back to You with a renewed commitment. Amen.

Believing the promises of God

TLW11

NIV Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, for Sunday, March 17 (Lent 2)

SUMMARY

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 — God establishes His covenant with Abram. God respects his trust as righteousness, and blesses him with an enduring promise

Luke 13:31-35 — Jesus promises His continuing ministry. Lamenting the nation again putting itself outside the covenant, He predicts many Jews coming to faith in Him before His second coming

Philippians 3:17-4:1 — Paul promises heaven’s honour for keeping faith. In contrast to self-exalting and unbelieving teachers, Paul’s example of Cross-aware, heaven-centred living is the model to follow

And also: Psalm 27

OLD TESTAMENT

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

God establishes His covenant with Abram.God respects his trust as righteousness, and blesses him with an enduring promise

Abram and Lot have travelled south as far as Egypt, then returned to Canaan, where they agreed to separate, Lot taking the Jordan valley to the east and Abram the western Canaan lands around Hebron. A tribal battle ensues in which Lot is captured but then released in a victory by Abram’s small army. To the astonishment of other tribal leaders, he refuses any spoils of war in an encounter with the angelic figure of Melchizedek, described as the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High – another test of his trust of God for the outcome.

1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“In a vision” – showing Abram’s role as a prophet. The vision came at night, with stars visible, verse 5.

Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. ”

“Do not be afraid” – a frequent command in the Bible. God meets us with conditional love, in contrast to the enemy, Satan, who attempts to influence through fear.

2-3 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

“Your shield… your reward” – the vision had a command, an assurance and a promise. Abram was to trust without fear, to be assured, and to know God’s promise of provision.

“Childless… who will inherit” – in a few words Abram repeats his anxiety about succession three times. Eliezer is a servant who has become ‘family’.

4-5 Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

“Count the stars” – approximately 8,000 are visible in a Middle East night sky.

Credited… as righteousness” – a key statement that teaches that God responds to faith by crediting righteousness to the one who believes. Abram is the “father of all who believe”, and this is the first reference to faith in God’s promises, Romans 4:11, Hebrews 11:8.

6 Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.

• For further study: In the NT, Paul quotes this verse three times, Romans 4:3, 4:22 and Galatians 3:6, showing that Gentile Christians with no Jewish heritage are made righteous through faith. In every age people have claimed salvation by belonging, whether to the Jewish race or a particular church affiliation or a ‘Christian country’. The Reformation and every renewal movement has brought back the truth of salvation by faith alone.

7 He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

“Brought you out of Ur” – Abram had demonstrated faith in a previous test.

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the LORD said to him, “Bring Me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

“Bring Me a heifer…” – Abram would have been familiar with the way royal land treaties were established in this ancient “exchange of contracts”.

10-11 Abram brought all these to Him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

“Cut them in two” – a symbol of staking one’s own life on keeping the agreement, Jeremiah 34:14.

“Birds of prey” – vultures, symbolising the attacks that always come on God’s people following His will. Later, Egypt, like the predatory birds, would try to prevent the covenant being fulfilled, verses 17-18.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

17-18 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.

“When the sun had set” – the ritual is completed in darkness, into which God’s presence comes as a flaming torch and smoking firepot, see also Exodus 13:21-22.

“The Lord made a covenant” – the Hebrew phrase means “cut a covenant”. The reference to descendants and land links this solemn and unconditional pledge, with the earlier conditional promise, requiring Abram to journey to a new location, that he would become a great nation, Genesis 12:1-9.

IN PRACTICE  God appears to His loyal follower, Abram, and sets him preparing a royal treaty covenant ceremony. People of those times were accustomed to ‘cutting a covenant’ together. The splitting in half of the sacrificed animals was symbolic of the penalty for not following the agreement, although in this case God is making His covenant promise unilaterally. This promise was made to Abram, father of the Jewish nation – and all believers. “Abraham [as he became] is the spiritual father of those who have faith… counted as righteous because of their faith.” Romans 4:11.

Taking God at His word and believing it, is the one action, one only, that establishes us as righteous.

QUESTION  If Abraham were to come and speak to us about his life lesson, what would he tell us?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 13:31-35

Jesus promises His continuing ministry.Lamenting the nation again putting itself outside the covenant, He predicts many Jews coming to faith in Him before His second coming

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to Him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

“At that time” – Jesus had been teaching in stories and directly the unpopular truth that many Israelites would be excluded from the kingdom while Gentiles from north, south, east and west would be included.

“Leave this place” – Jesus was probably in Perea and Herod Antipas, a Roman appointed tetrarch, could execute who he wanted to. But most likely the Pharisees just wanted Jesus to leave their region.

32-33 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

“I will keep on” – emphasises Jesus’ continuing ministry. Driving our demons and healing people show God’s kingdom to be present. Jesus’ resurrection on the third day would show that inaugurated the kingdom of God.

“No prophet can die outside Jerusalem” – of course, some had, but Jesus is using irony to show that Jerusalem, from David’s time onwards the centre of Jewish religion and worship, was far more dangerous to a true prophet of God than threats from Herod in Galilee.

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

“You who kill the prophets” – the holy city (standing for the whole nation) had often killed its prophets, 2 Chron. 24:21; Jeremiah 26:23.

“Gather your children” – Jesus repeated many of his teachings and this was declared again on Tuesday of Passion Week, Matt. 23:37-38

“Under her wings” – in the OT tradition, God sheltered His people under His wings, Psalm 17:8, 36:7; 57:1 etc

35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

“Your house… desolate” – Jesus is predicting the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

“Blessed is He who comes…” – quoting Psalm 118, one of the psalms sung by pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem for one of the festivals. Here Jesus is referring to His second coming and the allusion to people coming to worship is a prediction that many Jews will turn and trust Jesus before that time.

• For further study, see Romans 11:12,14; 24-27; 31-32

IN PRACTICE  The Israelites had abandoned the covenant and paid a terrible penalty in seeing Jerusalem overrun and its people taken into captivity and exile. Now Jerusalem, and its proud tradition as the centre of worship for the nation, is setting itself up again for a similar disaster. Jesus foretells that He will join a long line of prophets who were put to death by the city and people that He loves.
Believing in God’s purposes, which are based on a much longer timescale than we are used to, is made difficult by the situations and difficulties which rise up to oppose. We read the circumstances and say, “It can’t happen,” but God repeats the promises which say, “It cannot NOT happen!”. Which do we believe?

QUESTION  When it all seems to be going wrong, what voices do we hear, and which do we listen to?

EPISTLE READING

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Paul promises heaven’s honour for keeping faith.In contrast to self-exalting and unbelieving teachers, Paul’s example of Cross-aware, heaven-centred living is the model to follow.

17  Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

“Following my example” – the concept of discipleship was following an example e.g. Paul’s apostolic demonstration of Christlike living. Christians generally should live lives that are models to follow.

As Paul has written earlier (verse 10) “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death.”

18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the Cross of Christ.

“With tears” – aware of how destructive unbelieving teachers are to God’s work and kingdom.

“Enemies of the Cross” – Christ’s crucifixion was offensive to many, including those who wanted to emphasise observant Judaism, or retain worldly, immoral values.

19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.

“Destiny is destruction” – eternal judgment. They are self-centred and focused on Jewish dietary laws and circumcision, set on present time and place rather than God’s order and eternal purpose.

20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

“Citizenship… in heaven” – Philippi was a Roman colony where many had earned Roman citizenship and privileges through military service. For Christians the far greater, and unearned, citizenship is belonging to heaven.

• For further study: believers are exhorted to think in a heaven-centred, rather than world-centred, way – Colossians 3:1-2; 1 Cor. 15:19; 1 Peter 2:11; and of Christ’s return, 1 Cor. 1:7; Titus 2:13.

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

“Stand firm in the Lord” – in present difficulties and conflicts (detailed in verses that follow), hold on firmly to the Lord and His values.

IN PRACTICE  Paul has founded churches and instructed them to live for God, following his apostolic example. It’s an example we know from other places in the NT, that is laced with considerable danger and personal cost. In his absence, the churches become prey to unauthorised and unspiritual self-appointed leaders who do great damage to the gospel and to people, as Paul recounts with tears.
But we can tell who is true, who has their citizenship established in heaven, and who does not. As Jesus said several times, “A tree is recognised by its fruit.” There will always be people bearing ‘bad apples’ but we don’t have to buy their fruit. Choose what is good and proven and Christlike.

QUESTION  Not everyone who makes their opinions known says what is true and upbuilding. How do we work out who to listen to – and how to say ‘no’ to others?

PRAYER  Lord God, You are light without any darkness, love without any condition, truth without any spin. Help us to believe You, and in taking You at Your word, to be a model to encourage others. To the honour and glory of Jesus, Amen.

Honouring God with His Lordship over all things

TLW10

NIV Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday, March 10, 2019

SUMMARY

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 — Honouring God by giving Him the first of everything. The principle of worshipping God in His lordship of all our provision

Luke 4:1-13 — Jesus overcomes Satan’s attack by honouring the Word. Jesus in the wilderness uses God’s truth to break Satan’s lies

Romans 10:8b-13 — The path to salvation, declaring our faith. We honour God by speaking out our trust in Him

Also: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

OLD TESTAMENT

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Honouring God by giving Him the first of everything. The principle of worshipping God in His lordship of all our provision.

1-3 When you have entered the land the Lord your God (Yahweh) is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”

“Firstfruits” – the principal of giving back to God the firstfruits, the tithe, the first part of anything was established, Deut. 18:4. This, however, was to be an exceptional and one-only offering of the first produce from the new land God would give them.

4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God.

5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.

“Wandering Aramean” – this refers  to Jacob, who married the daughters of his uncle Laban, an Aramean, Genesis 28:5. Arameans were Aramaic-speaking Semitic people. 

6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labour.

7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.

The first declaration of worship in the new land would begin with praising God’s deliverance and provision in the nation’s election, His protection in oppression, deliverance in exodus and the gift of land.

8-10 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that You, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before Him.

11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

“Rejoice” – recalling the earlier commandment of Deut. 12:12 to “…celebrate there in the presence of the LORD your God with your sons and daughters and all your servants.”

IN PRACTICE  Everything we have comes from God, and our relationship with Him works best when we put a high value on His provision. That is not to say we don’t do our part – it is more how we honour Him in His part. This reading assumes the practice of the tithe – literally a tenth, but in spirit, more a heart decision to give to God the firstfruits of any crop or the first part of any earnings. The passage anticipates honouring God with the offering of what is produced first, in this new land of Canaan. They haven’t made it there yet – so faith is involved. Faith, trust and honour are part of the currency of God’s kingdom, because it is a partnership like no other. God provides everything, receives back a small fraction of it as worship, and then allows us to keep all the rest. One key instruction is to celebrate and rejoice in His provision – our worship is to be characterised by joy.

QUESTION  How much do we see God as the provider of everything we have, rather than our efforts in earning it? And how joyful are we in celebrating with Him?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus overcomes Satan’s attack by honouring the Word.Jesus in the wilderness uses God’s truth to break Satan’s lies

1-2 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them He was hungry.

“Full of the Holy Spirit” – Jesus, full of the Spirit from birth, received a special impartation or anointing for public ministry at baptism – and received the oppressive attention of the enemy which usually comes at the start of any faith venture.

“Wilderness… forty days” – Luke’s language explicitly connects Jesus’ experience in a remote place with Israel’s ‘forty years” in the wilderness, Numbers 14:34.

• For further study, read Numbers 32:13; Deut 2:7; 29:5; Nehemiah 9:21; Amos 2:10.

3 The devil said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

“The devil” – the term diabolos is a Greek translation of Hebrew satan, meaning ‘accuser’ or ‘adversary’. Luke uses both terms. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were put to the test, and failed; here, Jesus, the second Adam, resists temptation, thereby reversing the judgment against Adam and Eve, 1 Cor. 15:22, 45.

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’ ”

“If you are… It is written” – the devil tries to bait Jesus, with some ridicule, to exercise His divine power in a wrong way. Jesus’ role, however was to endure the hardship as a perfectly obedient human waiting for God’s deliverance.

“Not… bread alone” – Jesus answers by quoting the written Word of God in Deut. 8:3. Israel’s needs in the wilderness were met not just by manna but also by the presence of God and His Word.

5-7 The devil led Him up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to Him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If You worship me, it will all be yours.”

“Showed Him” – this temptation is being momentarily shown, and falsely offered, the world’s power structures.

“It has been given to me” – as a result of Adam and Eve’s mistake Satan gained influence in the world, but what he says is a lie: all authority belongs to God.

• For further study, read John 8:44, John 12:31, Eph. 2:1-2, 1 John 5:19; and Psalm 24:1, Daniel 4:17, Romans 13:1-4.

8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’ ”

“Worship… Him only” – Jesus echoes the first of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:3, as He blocks the devil’s lie with the truth of Deut. 6:13.

9 The devil led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw Yourself down from here.

“The highest point of the temple” – this final temptation in Luke’s order (Matthew’s varies) takes Jesus to overlook the Kidron Valley some 100 feet below the temple colonnade.

10 For it is written: “ ‘He will command His angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

“For it is written” – the devil attempts to quote Scripture, Ps. 91:11-12, but blunders by using Scripture in presumption to try to manipulate God’s provision, not faith submitted to God and His purposes.

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

“Jesus answered” – in the words of Deut. 6:16, “Do not put the LORD your God to the test as you did at Massah.”

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time.

“Opportune time” – at Gethsemane and the betrayal by Judas Iscariot, Luke 22:3-6,21-22,39-48

IN PRACTICE  Jesus’ experience of oppressive examination by Satan teaches us an important principle about the Word of God and its power. Firstly, when we step up in faith or mission, so does our enemy. So when things start to go wrong, it can be a sign that we are starting to go right! Then there is the lesson of how we handle it – our way or the Jesus way? Not only does Jesus deftly despatch Satan’s deceptions by His use of the ‘Sword of the Spirit’, to use Paul’s illustrative phrase from Ephesians 6:17-18, but we find that even the devil has a reluctant admiration for the power of the Word. His dark kingdom is based on fear and lies, and these have a power over us, for just as long as we entertain them. The moment we stand up with truth in our mouths and the resolve to speak it out in praise WHATEVER objections our feelings might present, the fear and lies are exposed for what they are and shrivel like a burst balloon. Why is the Bible central in our worship? So that we learn to make it central in life, to thrust and parry like Jesus did.

QUESTION  You probably know more Scripture by heart than you think you do. Will you now use it against those fears and doubts nagging thoughts – and honour the One who is the Word?

EPISTLE READING

Romans 10:8b-13

The path to salvation, declaring our faith. We honour God by speaking out our trust in Him

8b-9 The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”  that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

“Word is near you” – alluding to Deut. 30:11 and 14. The essential principle of the Old Covenant law was not remote; if you were talking about it, you were probably doing it. The New Covenant version of this is speaking out what is in your heart, that Jesus is your Lord. Those who genuinely are the Lord’s will be saying this freely.

“Jesus is Lord” – He is Christ, the Anointed One  (Hebrew Messiah) and shares the same nature with God. Declaring “Jesus is Lord” is also a statement of owning and trusting His lordship of our life – a vital transition.

10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

“Believe and are justified” – made right with God by affirming who Christ your Lord is, His death penalty in your place and His resurrection showing the Father’s approval. The affirmation of faith, freely spoken, is outward evidence of a heart that is changed – and also confirms that faith to the one speaking it.

11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.”

12-13 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

“Everyone” – the OFFER of salvation is for everyone, but it is wrong to conclude that everyone is saved. Faith is required, “anyone who believes in Him…”, v.11, and the response of faith in turning to Christ, “…who calls on the name of the Lord”, v.13 This brings the assurance of salvation. Paul quoted this, from Joel 2:32, to a mainly Jewish audience on the day of Pentecost.

“No difference” – both Jew and Gentile are on exactly the same footing as far as salvation is required. The same would apply to a person given a religious upbringing. Entry to God’s kingdom comes by a personal faith in Jesus, freely expressed.

IN PRACTICE  The word that seals our assurance of salvation is near, not distant or out of reach. Yet so many of us go through our lives without the encouragement to simply do what the teaching on this passage says to do. What is that? To pray out loud our personal declaration of Jesus’ lordship; and our trust in Him as the One crucified to pay our penalty and risen again to eternal life to show the Father’s glory. A ‘religion by proxy’ just doesn’t cut it, and we don’t find that anywhere in the New Testament. It is not enough for others to do the “calling on the name of the Lord” for us, when what He wants is a personal relationship with us. He longs to hear us accept it from Him through Jesus. He really does richly bless all who call on Him. We just need to exercise the bit of faith needed to do the calling, and resolve not to take a lesser path which offers no real salvation and no remedy for our soul’s historic infirmity. “Jesus is Lord” was the cry of praise of the early church. We must make it our day by day confession, too.

QUESTION  How free are you to say the words of praise “Jesus is Lord” over of all areas of your life’s provision, and as one who stands in agreement with His word of truth, and personally, one whose witness is “Jesus is my Lord”?

PRAYER  Father, You have given me everything, and I desire to honour You in that. Help me to steward my possessions as lent to me by You, and to love Your Word as my number one way of hearing from You. May my willingness grow to let You be Lord of my life and my future, that others may see and want to know You, too. Amen.

As we encounter God, His glory shines through us

TLW09

NIV Bible readings (from the Revised Common Lectionary) for March 3, 2019 – Transfiguration Sunday

SUMMARY

Exodus 34:29-35 — Moses comes down from Mount Sinai radiant with God’s glory. After he speaks to the people, he covers his face until he goes in to the Lord again.

Luke 9:28-36 — The glory of God comes on Jesus in a dazzling display. Peter, John and James see Jesus in conversation with Moses and Elijah.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 — Paul brings Moses’ encounter with God into the present. In the life of the Spirit, God’s glory is in us and ongoing.

Also: Psalm 99

Exodus 34:29-35

Moses comes down from Mount Sinai radiant with God’s glory. After he speaks to the people, he covers his face until he goes in to the Lord again.

29  When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.

“Face was radiant” – having asked to see God’s glory, Ex. 33:18,  he is unaware that he is temporarily reflecting that glory. This experience gave rise to the words of  blessing in Numbers 6:24-26 and the refrain to Psalm 80:3,7,19.”

30  When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.

“They were afraid” – as they would be, and as when they heard God speak at Mount Sinai, Exodus 20:19. Yet, the glory of the Lord among them sanctifies both tabernacle and people, Exodus 29:43.

“Removed the veil” – so reminding Israel that Moses’ instruction came from the Lord. The veil also hid the temporary nature of Moses’ radiant face. Paul uses this example to show that the old, or Mosaic, covenant was transient, unlike the new covenant in Jesus which has a greater, and enduring, glory about it.

31  But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them.

32  Afterwards all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33  When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face.

“A veil over his face” – to avoid unhelpful attention to the radiance fading until he went to enter the Lord’s presence again.

34-35  But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

“Whenever he entered the Lord’s presence” – Paul used these verses to explain the transitory glory of the old covenant which drew out the unbelief of the Israelites and so, in a sense, led to death – see Epistle reading.

IN PRACTICE  Having a, ‘up close and personal’ encounter with Almighty God is a life-changing experience. The prelude to the ‘coming down’ part of the story is the ‘going up’ bit where Moses asks to see God’s glory, Exodus 33:18, and is told that while he cannot see God’s face and live, he can come close and be hidden in a cleft in the rock while God passes by. Perhaps this was in James’ mind when he penned the words “Come near to God and He will come near to you, ” James 4:8. The point is, God has made us in his image and given us free will, so that He can enjoy a genuine relationship with us. But at the same time, He is uncompromisingly holy, so initially for the Israelites, after Egypt and years of abuse as slaves, the terms of reference had to be set out. At that stage, it was a relationship by proxy, through a religious framework, and only a few individuals like Moses really encountered God – and were profoundly changed as a result. Father God still seeks that Father-child relationship of love and trust, a very personal one, where knowing Jesus has swept away dependence on priests and the scaffolding of religious expectations. Jesus has given us the way to come into an intimacy that even Moses couldn’t expect.

QUESTION  How do you approach God? For example, “Almighty God” emphasises His majesty  and power, while “Father God” expresses intimacy. How do you see and experience God?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 9:28-36

The glory of God comes on Jesus in a dazzling display. Peter, John and James see Jesus in conversation with Moses and Elijah.

28  About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with Him and went up onto a mountain to pray.

“About eight days” – approximation, depending on whether you include parts of days as here, or just count full days Mark).

“Up on to a mountain” – Jesus with His most trusted disciples, Peter, John and James, climbed a mountain, probably 9,000 ft Mount Hermon, near Caesarea Philippi, where Peter’s confession of faith had just taken place, Luke 9:18-27.

29  As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.

“Appearance… changed… clothes became… bright” – how, exactly, we are not told but clearly a dazzling encounter.

• For further study – see similarities to Moses after he encountered God on Mount Sinai and John’s vision of the Lord on Patmos, Exodus 34:29-35, Rev. 1:13-16.

30  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus.

31  They spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.

“Moses and Elijah… talking with Jesus” – the question “Who is this?” of Luke 8:25, 9:9 which had been answered by Peter in Luke 9:20 is now decisively confirmed by God Himself. References here.

“His departure” – the word is “exodos” links to Moses and the OT exodus and deliverance from Egypt. Jesus’ crucifixion would be like another ‘exodus’ and deliverance for all who would trust Him.

32  Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him.

33  As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)

“Shelters” – the same word is used in the Greek OT for the Tabernacle. It seems that Peter wanted to prolong this literal ‘summit meeting’ of the lawgiver, the renowned prophet and the Messiah. However Jesus had to complete His remaining days on earth.

34  While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.

“A cloud” – indicative of God’s presence and glory.

• For further study, the visible presence of God in Exodus 16:10; 24:15–16; 33:9–10 and Numbers 9:15–23; and glory, 1 Kings 8:11; 2 Chron. 5:14; Ezekiel 10:4

35   A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him.’

“Whom I have chosen” – more literally “This is My Son, the Chosen One” which alludes to Isaiah 42:1 in particular, and identifies Jesus as the suffering servant of the Lord.

“Listen to Him” identifies Jesus as the prophet anticipated by Moses, Deut. 18:15

36  When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

“At that time” – Luke contrasts the former politically charged situation with the freedom following Pentecost when Peter, James and John spoke freely about this event e.g. 2 Peter 1:17.

IN PRACTICE  What is it about the top of a mountain, Mount Sinai or Mount Hermon in these examples, that make them the place of choice to meet with God? The remoteness helps, and there’s a different perspective — the man-created world looks very small and insignificant, even from the top of Pen y Fan. Our ‘mountain’ may simply be a means to “be still and know that I AM God”. We may not witness the events in this story, seeing Moses and Elijah in conversation with the Lord, but this tells us that the moves of our earthly lives are in parallel with activity in the heavenlies. That’s why prayer is a vital precursor to change, because it recognises the reality of the spiritual realm. Sometimes we may be given a glimpse of that spiritual world, reminding us that the two worlds, the seen and the unseen, are not disconnected but moving together in an elaborate dance. The only way to make sense of such a complex picture is through knowing Jesus and His Spirit, who reveal what we cannot humanly grasp, and invite us to play our part.

QUESTION  What is your big “Whatever is going on with…” question of the moment? If only Moses and Elijah could come and talk to us about it… Ask the Lord of heaven and earth what is being played out in the spiritual realm, and you’ll have a good idea of how to pray.

EPISTLE READING

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Paul reflects on Moses’ encounter with God at Mount Sinai. God’s glory in us is ongoing in the life of the Spirit

3:12  Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.

13  We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.

“What was passing away” – the order established at Mount Sinai would pass away, like the fading of God’s glory in Moses’ appearance. Knowing God personally through Jesus is to enter into a two-way relationship – the new covenant – which is both ‘unveiled’ and enduring.

14  But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.

“The same veil remains” – the spiritual blindness which is removed when we trust Christ, v.16.

15  Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.

16  But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

“A veil covers… the veil is taken away” – the old covenant, symbolised by Moses’ veil, produced condemnation owing to the sentence of death on a transgressor. The law led to fear, and did nothing to remove spiritual blindness.

17  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

“The Lord is the Spirit” – Paul is pointing out that Yahweh of the OT is not just Father and Son but Spirit also.

“Lord is the Spirit “(who gives life) – link this statement with what Paul said earlier at the end of 2 Cor. 3:6, “the Spirit gives life”. Turning to Jesus and receiving Him as your Lord is lifegiving: it is receiving the Spirit of life in Him. Only this way can the sentence of death be replaced by the grace that is in the new covenant.

18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

“Are being transformed” – a verse underlining how the Holy Spirit’s sanctification is a process, not just an event. Freed from the obscuring veil, we see the Father as He is, replacing the harsh, demanding image that the devil tries to impose, 2 Cor. 4:4.

4:1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.

“We have this ministry” – Paul recognises the privilege of being able to share the message of Good News, 1 Corinthians 15:9-11, 1 Tim. 1:12-17.

Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

“We do not use deception, nor do we distort…” – unlike the false teachers at Corinth, Paul sets out what is true, in a straightforward way. He has nothing to prove.

IN PRACTICE  Moses, hidden in a cleft of the rock of the mountain top while God passes by, and the heavenly trio, dazzlingly bright with the spiritual energy of God’s glory, are arresting and in the true sense of the word, awesome images. Paul’s succinct teaching on the matter is that we, too, are being transformed by the Lord who is the Spirit, but for us it is not a an experience in moment in time but the Holy Spirit’s transforming, ongoing renewal from within. God’s glory appearing on the mountain has become God’s glory as the light of the regenerated life, free from the old constraints, within the believer.
Looking back, the old covenant is about the reality of God being dulled, like trying to see what the weather is like through a curtain. The new covenant draws back the curtain and opens the window to the warmth of the sunlight. Previously God was known by proxy through priests and their practices and the complexities of a religious system. But now we are not under law! Where the Spirit of the Lord is operating there is freedom – to know God and grow in God, as much as we desire. Through the pages of the Bible, from the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the New Jerusalem in Revelation, God simply wants us to know Him, and choose to look to Him, and trust Him. We find this humanly impossible. The key is to find a different entrance, through trusting Jesus as the gate.

QUESTION How free, and how desiring, are we to know God more and more and experience the glory of God within?

PRAYER  Lord, give me a fresh vision of You and of Your glory – but not just me. The bit of the world that I know and live in desperately needs to see who You really are. “Without vision, the people perish.” Give us a fresh vision of You! Amen.

God the Creator of heaven and earth – and man in His image

NIV Bible readings (from the Revised Common Lectionary) for Sunday, February 24, 2019

SUMMARY

Genesis 2:4-9, 15-25 — The creation of man and woman in Eden. Man is created from dust of the ground, and woman from man.

Revelation 4:1-11 — Jesus shows John the praise and worship of heaven. Those surrounding the throne lead in submission as well as praise.

Luke 8:22-25 — Jesus takes authority over a storm on the lake. He prepares the disciples to exercise their own faith.

Also: Psalm 65

= = = = = = = = = =

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Genesis 2:4-9, 15-25

The creation of man and woman in Eden.Man is created out of the dust of the ground and woman is formed from man.

4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

“This is the account” – introduces the story of the creation of man, followed by the curses resulting from man’s independence from God.

“The Lord God” – Yahweh Elohim, the I AM of Exodus 3:14 together with Elohim, the Creator’s power and majesty.

5-6 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.

7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

“A man from… the ground” – wordplay between adam, a man, and adamah, ground.

8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there He put the man He had formed.

“In the east… Eden” – eastwards, the author looking to where the Tigris and Euphrates meet in present-day southern Iraq. Eden has the meaning of bliss or delight.

9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

“Tree of life” – showing God’s intention for Adam and Eve to have access to life.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

“Put him” – literally “caused him to rest” (and his work would be part of that) in the Garden (also v.8).

“Work it… take care of it” – prepare and tend, abar, and keep or guard, shamar. The same words are used of priests and Levites serving in the tabernacle, Numbers 3:7-8.

16-17 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

“Not good” – in God’s perfect creation man still lacked a ‘helper” (also used of God as the Helper for Israel, Isaiah 49:25).

19-20 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

20-22 But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man.

“Rib” – elsewhere translated “side”.

23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

“Woman” – he calls her ‘ishshah, the feminine of ‘ish, man, suggesting an equal and a partner.

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

“United… one flesh” – The marriage covenant is a picture of the covenant relationships between God and Israel, Hosea 2:14-23, and Christ and the Church, Ephesians 5:22-32. References here.

25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame..

“No shame” – shame will enter the world as a result of sin, Gen. 3:7.

IN PRACTICE   Being taken back to ‘first principles’ and the account of the Creator and His creation reminds us of who we worship. He is the God who created the universe, but importantly, wanted to created man in His likeness for fellowship. When we get too rational and scientific – as can easily happen – we tend to lose sight of God who is able: able to create.
Some years ago an author proposed in a book title “Your God Is Too Small” – pointing out that we try to ‘make God in our image’ and reduce Him to our size and capability. We are the created ones and our creator’s capability is, literally, infinite.

QUESTION  In what ways have you slipped into making God too small?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 8:22-25

Jesus takes authority over a storm on the lake.He prepares the disciples to exercise their own faith.

22 One day Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out.

Introducing the first of three miracles that show Jesus’ power and authority before He confers on the disciples spiritual authority over demons and diseases, Luke 9:1-9

23 As they sailed, He fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

“A squall came down” – common on the Sea of Galilee.

24 The disciples went and woke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.

“He… rebuked” – took authority over. Jesus had rebuked diseases and demons, Luke 4:39-41. Now He revealed His origins in showing His authority over nature.

• For further study, see Psalms 65:7, 89:9, 104:6-9; 107:23-32.

25 “Where is your faith?” He asked His disciples.

“Your faith? – the time was near for them to do what Jesus had shown them.

In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him.”

“Fear and amazement” – realisation dawning, provoking them to ask: “Who is this, who even has power over nature?”

IN PRACTICE  The disciples had seen Jesus heal the sick and confront demonic bondage, but to take authority over wind and waves was another thing altogether. They knew from Scripture that only God Almighty could do that. So when Jesus did, and saved them from being swamped in a boat with no buoyancy, something clicked on for them. They still had to make the mental transition from being in a storm with Jesus doing the rebuking, to being sent out in His name to make start on the same kinds of works they had seen Him do. If we are in Christ Jesus, and He is in us, the same challenge faces us. “Where is your faith?” Will we use the faith we have, and grow it?

QUESTION  What should the disciples have been doing, as well as bailing? How does the lesson for them relate to us and our world?

EPISTLE READING

Revelation 4:1-11

Jesus shows John the praise and worship of heaven.Those surrounding the throne lead in submission as well as praise.

1 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

“Door standing open in heaven” – similar to other visions, Ezekiel 1:1, Matt 3:16, Acts 10:11.

“The voice… like a trumpet” – following insight into the seven typical churches on earth, Jesus summons John “in the Spirit” to see into the throne room of heaven.

2-3 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.

“Appearance of jasper and ruby” – Almighty God is One “whom no one has seen or can see”, 1 Tim. 6:16, here described in a roundabout way, as the reflected brightness of precious stones.

4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.

“Twenty-four elders” – an exalted order of angels reflecting the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles and so representative of the whole company of believers in heaven.

5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.

“Lightning… thunder” – as elsewhere in Revelation, a call to attention, symbolic of the awesome majesty of God. “Seven lamps” – symbolises full intensity of the Spirit of God.

For further study, Exodus 19:16-19, Psalm 18:12-15.

6 Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the centre, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.

“Four living creatures” – similar to the cherubim of Ezekiel 1 and seraphim of Isaiah 6, references here. The four creatures symbolise the best of creation, wild animals (lion), domestic animals (ox), humanity (face like a man) and birds (eagle).

“Lay their crowns” – the twenty-four, who are the most exalted among the throng of worshippers, submit to God’s supreme authority and worship (“fall down”) while praising God “You are worthy”, simply for who He is, all-powerful Creator. 

7-8 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

” ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”

“Holy, holy, holy” – as Isaiah 6:3. The triple expression makes it the ultimate emphasis. “Who was, and is, and is to come” – expands the name I AM, Exodus 3:14-15, to eternity past and future. References here.

9-10 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to Him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.”

“You are worthy” – heaven praises Almighty God simply for  who He is.

IN PRACTICE  We are used to images on our TV screens from cameras which go everywhere – to battlefields under bombardment, into audiences with dictators, and bringing us the experience of tornadoes. What John was permitted to see was too bright, too holy and too great to scale down to a mere living room screen. Yet this is the place we are permitted to enter because of Jesus. When we accepted Him as our personal Lord and Saviour, a transaction took place and we became clothed in His righteousness. Still on earth, we might be on the outside of the throng, but we can still draw near – and God draws near to us. John’s vision, passed on to us, is a picture for us to follow: submission in worship together with praise for God’s character, as all-powerful Creator.

QUESTION  How easy or difficult is it for you to join in the praise “You are worthy!” as one admitted to be one of the heavenly worshippers? 

PRAYER  Almighty Majestic Creator God, as one whose life is hidden in Your Son, Christ Jesus, I am so grateful that I can draw near to You as my Father. I praise You for your greatness, unmitigated goodness, mercy and truth. Truly, You are worthy of all praise as the One who is over all things, from the beginning and through eternity – and the One who sent His Son to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. I give my heart to You in worship. Amen.

And also: Psalm 65

The Lord transforms our lives now and for eternity

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary) for Sunday, February 17, 2019

SUMMARY

Jeremiah 17:5-10 — Trusting the Lord is to find refreshment and be fruitful. Trusting in man is like trying to survive as a bush in the desert.

Luke 6:17-26 — Jesus’ inaugural teaching according to Luke shows the radically different values of the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 15:12-20 — In Christ alone, who was resurrected, is our assurance of new life and eternal life.

Also: Psalm 1

= = = = = = = =

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Trusting the Lord is to find refreshment and be fruitful. Trusting in man is like trying to survive as a bush in the desert.

5 This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. 

“Cursed” – attracting negative consequences, the opposite of blessed, see v.7

6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. 

“Bush in the wastelands” – lit. juniper in the Arabah, a bush that shrivelled in the dry heat of the valley stretching south from the Dead Sea.

7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. 

“Blessed” – attracting God’s favour, as stable in a life of faith as depending on one’s own strength is unstable.

“One who trusts in the Lord” – The blessing promised to the righteous man, Psalm 1:3, is fulfilled in Christ the perfectly righteous man, Acts 3:14, and in those who are righteous in Him, 2 Corinthians 5:21. References here.

8 “They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

“Planted by the water” – with a deep lifestream that keeps it supplied, in contrast to the dying desert bush.

9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 

“Heart is deceitful” – the first of three wisdom sayings about the flawed nature of human personality.

• For further study: the Lord is able to heal and transform even such a broken and dysfunctional organ, and promises to do so under the new covenant, Jer. 31:33; Jer. 32:40; also see Ezek 36:26; Rom. 5:5; Heb. 10:22.

10 “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”

“I the Lord search” – only the Lord knows how deceitful and wicked the human nature (our selfish motives) really are.

11 Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay are those who gain riches by unjust means. When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them, and in the end they will prove to be fools.

“Riches desert them” – just as the sand grouse hatches eggs it didn’t lay, and the young birds soon leave the bird that is not their mother, wealth unjustly acquired easily evaporates, Proverbs 23:4-5. 

Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,

2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither  – whatever they do prospers.

4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

GOSPEL READING

Luke 6:17-26

Jesus’ inaugural teaching according to Luke shows the radically different values of the kingdom of God.

17-18 [Jesus] went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of His disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases. 

“A level place” – or plateau on the hill; both the contents and the setting suggests Luke is giving a shorter version of the Sermon on the Mount. He leaves out the portions that have to do with the Law, which are found elsewhere, suggesting that Jesus repeated his teaching on various occasions, Luke 11:2-4; 12:22-31, 33-34.

Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch Him, because power was coming from Him and healing them all. 

“Healing them all” – the crowd did not gather to hear Jesus, they came with deep needs of deliverance from spiritual oppression and physical disease, through the power coming out from Jesus.

20 Looking at His disciples, He said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 

“You who are poor” – in Matthew’s account it is “poor in spirit” and “hunger for righteousness, while Luke emphasises material poverty as well.

21 “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 

“Blessed” – experiencing the joy and favour that comes from God’s grace.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 

“Blessed… when people hate you” –  with its associated woe, v.26, Jesus recalls how the prophets were rejected, while false prophets were popular. The implication is that Jesus’ growing rejection by religious authorities was his provenance as a true prophet.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. 

24-25 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 

“Rich… well fed” – the counterpart of poor and hungry, vv.20-21.

“Blessed…woe” – the OT perspective is that Israel is blessed in a covenant relationship, Deut. 33:29, Ps.33:12; Ps. 146:5, therefore woes are God’s judgment owing to unfaithfulness to the covenant, Isa 5:8-15; Jer. 13:27; Amos 6:1; Hab. 2:12-17.

Jesus also describes God’s covenant people this way.

26 “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

EPISTLE READING

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

In Christ alone, who was resurrected, is our assurance of new life and eternal life.

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 

“Some of you say… no resurrection” – probably in their letter to him referred to in 1 Cor. 7:1. Greeks believed either that death was final, or in an immortality of the soul, but not in a possible bodily resurrection.

“Christ has been raised” – expressed in a verb form that conveys certainty, repeated in this passage six times from v.12-20

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 

14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 

“If Christ has not been raised” – Jesus’ resurrection is a foundational truth for Christians; if that is a doubt, the preaching of the gospel is disempowered.

15-16 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 

17-18 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 

“Still in your sins” – the resurrection of Jesus is proof of the sacrifice of Christ and the atonement of human sin, 1 Cor. 15:3; without that we are unforgiven and under the judgment of God for our sins, Romans 3:19; Eph. 2:1-13. References here.

19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 

“Most to be pitied” – without eternal life, Christians just suffer deprivation without the hope and joy of faithful believers who may suffer persecution but like Jesus and Paul, look beyond this life in anticipation and joy. 

• For further study: Hebrews 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Phil. 21-23; Phil 3:7-11.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

“Firstfruits” – In the OT the first crop or sheaf of the harvest was presented to God to show that all the harvest belonged to Him, and would be shown so in dedicated lives, Exodus 23:19, Lev. 2:12. Similarly Christ raised from the dead is the guarantee of the resurrection of all God’s redeemed people, 1 Thess. 4:13-18. It is the beginning of the new creation of Isaiah 43:18-19, Isa. 65:17, Isa. 66:22. Jesus is the “firstborn from the dead”, Rev. 1:5.

Also: Psalm 1

How God calls people who think they are unworthy

TLW06

Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, February 10, 2019

OVERVIEW

Isaiah 6:1-13  Isaiah’s call comes with a terrifying vision of God’s holinessHis speaking out God’s message of both grace and judgment will bring mixed responses..

Luke 5:1-11  Jesus uses Peter and his boat to reveal who He isA miraculous catch of fish is a picture of his call to bring salvation to others.

1  Cor. 15:1-11  Paul stresses the reality of the resurrection of the Lord. Encountering Jesus turned him from persecutor, to proclaimer of the Good News

OLD TESTAMENT

Isaiah 6:1-13

Isaiah’s call comes with a terrifying vision of God’s holiness. His speaking God’s message of both grace and judgment will bring mixed responses

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.

King Uzziah” – also called Amaziah, died after a peaceful reign of nearly 50 years in 740 BC, when Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III, rose to power and threatened Israel.

2-3 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. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”

Seraphim” – the word is suggestive of flames. Even as part of the heavenly host, they could not look at God directly.

“Holy, holy, holy” – meaning God is absolutely, fearsomely holy.

“The whole earth…glory” – despite humanity’s sinful independence from God and wicked regimes, God’s kingdom purpose is to fill the whole earth with His presence and glory. First seen in the incarnation of the Son, John 12:41; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:4-7 and to come fully in His future rule and reign.

• For further study: the cloud in the wilderness, moved into the tabernacle, Exodus 16:7; Exodus 40:34-35 and then the temple, 1 Kings 8:11, Psalm 26:8, 63:2. Several passages look forward to the whole earth becoming a sanctuary filled with the Lord’s glory, Num. 14:21; Ps. 72:19; Hab. 2:14; cf. Isa. 11:9

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

“Thresholds shook” – as the sound of heavenly praise shook the temple, the glory cloud appeared. Isaiah’s call came in the temple, which became the throne room of heaven in his vision.

• For further study: Moses, Jeremiah and Ezekiel received their call in similar encounters, Exodus 3; Jeremiah 1:4-10; Ezekiel 1:4-3:27.

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.”

“Woe to me” – the vision of God and His holiness shocked Isaiah who thought he would die from seeing God, Genesis 16:13; Gen. 32:30; Exodus 33:20.

6-7 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

“Touched my mouth” – Isaiah knew he was unfit to speak the pure word of God. He was symbolically prepared for this task by purifying fire, taken from the place of atonement for sin, touching his lips.

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!”

“Here am I” – overcome by God’s grace, Isaiah (unlike Moses and Jeremiah) committed himself there and then to a life of unpopular ministry, Exodus 4:1-17, Jeremiah 1:6.

9-10 He said, “Go and tell this people:

“ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

“Make the heart of people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

“Make their ears dull” – meaning that he would show up how hard their hearts are (Isaiah 1-5) and closed to what God was showing and telling them. Goes with the prophetic call, then and now.

• For further study: this text is quoted in the NT to explain why some people reject the good news of the gospel, and why Jesus taught in parables, John 12:39-40; Acts 28:25-27; Matt. 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10.

11-12 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?” And He answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.

13 And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

“The holy seed” – like regrowth after a forest fire. Isaiah’s message from God would offer salvation but also spell out out the consequences of refusal. The believing ones that remained would be set apart for God, receiving the same grace that Isaiah experienced.

IN PRACTICE  God calls ordinary people for extraordinary assignments and usually the qualification is not feeling worthy and not having a spiritual CV that matches the task. It has to be that way, for God to be seen doing the work or speaking the message, with no glory going to any individual. Isaiah was keenly aware that he identified with people who didn’t take God at His word, who were living lives of independence from His covenant. And so God was able to call him to speak His words.
When we  think we have earned some rights and achieved some attainments, we disqualify ourselves from His service. But when we recognise that before God, in ourselves, we score ‘F’ for fail –  that opens us up to be shown His perspective. Our eligibility changes as we come to ask Jesus to be our Lord, and our old lives are hidden in Him.

QUESTION  Why are some people’s hearts hard and spiritual hearing dull? What strategy is given to us, to overcome this?

GOSPEL READING

Luke 5:1-11

Jesus uses Peter and his boat to show him who He is. A miraculous catch of fish reveals his call to bring salvation to others

1-3 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat.

“The fishermen” – the four fishermen brothers, Simon and Andrew, James and John already have a sense of call from an earlier event, Matt. 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20. This story focuses on Jesus’ choice of Simon and his boat.

“Put out… from shore” – in one of many coves with good acoustics around Capernaum. “Gennesaret” is a local name for the Sea of Galilee.

4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

“Put out… and let down the nets of a catch” – Simon answers respectfully, “Master…” but why would a former carpenter/rabbi know anything about fishing? They had caught nothing in the dark, daylight drove the fish deep, and the two-man drag nets were for shallow fishing. “Because You say so” – nevertheless, against all his experience, Simon obeys Jesus in faith.

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

“Partners” – the four (together with Zebedee) ran their fishing business together.

“Filled…so full” – this astounding miracle showed Peter God working through Jesus. It would take a couple more years and the Resurrection for them to fully understand, Luke 24:28-29.

8-10 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”

“Go away from me” – ‘I’m too much of a sinner to be around you’. At the same time, Jesus points to the catch and tells Peter he will ‘fish’ for people to be saved with results like that, Acts 2:41.

11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him.

“Left everything” – most Galileans lived a peasant existence, but fishermen in an organised business were better off. Letting go of their business was sacrificial.

“Followed Him” – their association with Jesus, John 1:40-42, 2:1-2, now becomes the close fellowship of following the Master.

IN PRACTICE   Peter also knew that he was just an ordinary person with failings and misgivings, just a regular fisherman, no one special. And then he finds himself part of a miraculous demonstration of who Jesus really is, and how following Him will transform him from Galilee fisherman to a leading and translocal ‘fisher of men’.

QUESTION  Those first disciples “left everything” to go wherever Jesus went. What is He asking you to let go of, to be more available for Him?

EPISTLE READING

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Paul stresses the reality of the resurrection of the Lord. Encountering Jesus turned him from persecutor, to proclaimer of the Good News

1-2 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

“Remind you of the gospel” – the letter begins by emphasising that the Cross and Christ crucified are primary, essentials of the Good News and assumes the Resurrection. It now develops this as another essential truth.

3-5 For what I received, I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.

“What I received I passed on” – the words mean handing on, intact, information received from others, e.g. Luke 1:2, Mark 7:13. Paul is probably thinking of the substitutionary death of God’s servant and then vindication, in Isaiah 53:3-12.

“Third day” – for Jews, part days count as days, e.g. late Friday, Saturday, and early Sunday make three days.

“Cephas” – Aramaic form of Peter.  Eyewitnesses still living could give first-hand testimony to the truth of the Resurrection.

6-8 After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

“Appeared to James” – brother of the Lord, who led the church in Jerusalem, Gal.1:19, Acts 12:17, Gal. 2:9.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

“I persecuted the church” – or in Jesus’ view, he persecuted Him, Acts 9:4. Paul was in no doubt about the extraordinary grace which was shown to him as the one who rounded up followers of the Way.

10-11 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

“The grace of God” – Paul is keenly aware that God’s grace met him on the road to Damascus, gave Him a vivid vision of Jesus and led him to respond. And so the greatest persecutor of the church became the greatest church planter.

IN PRACTICE  Paul, formerly known as Saul, was the chief prosecutor of those who were followers of ‘The Way’. And then, on a journey to serve arrest warrants, he was blinded by heaven’s glory appearing to him and heard Jesus speaking personally to him. The reality of Jesus — the reality of the Resurrection — hit him with full force and it comes out in his letter.

Jesus is alive and we can ask Him into our hearts and know Him personally. Then everything changes… and whoever we are, rich or poor, influential or not, we are on a mission with Him. We glimpse His kingdom — and we also begin to realise that we, too, have a call to make Him known.

QUESTION  The Pharisee-trained Saul was zealous for his religion and then encountered Jesus – a turnaround transformation. What has your journey been?

PRAYER  Lord, who am I and what can I do? But I place myself in Your hands. Show me how I am to serve – and help me in my human inability. Amen.

The old order changes, the new covenant comes in Jesus

TLW05

RCL readings for Sunday, February 3, 2019

Malachi 3:1-5 — The Lord comes to purify and renew His people

Luke 2:22-40 — Prophetic words over Jesus on His presentation at the Temple 

Hebrews 2:14-18 — Jesus’ sacrifice has broken the power of death

Also: Psalm 71:1-6

Malachi 3:1-5

The Lord comes to purify and renew His people. He calls time on the immoral and unjust; even the most spiritual will be refined

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

“My messenger” – a play on the name Mal’aki, ‘My messenger’. Here, the herald of the Messiah, Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27.

“Messenger of the covenant” – although the focus is on the one who prepares the way for the Lord, the Lord Himself is the “messenger of the covenant, whom you desire” – and sent by Yahweh, the Lord Almighty.

“Prepare the way” – quoting Isaiah’s repeated picture of a roadway being levelled for the procession of a king, Isaiah 40:3; 57:14; 62:10. Applied here to obstructions to the renewing of God’s people.

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

“Who can stand” – alluding to the requirement of clean hands, pure heart and unswerving loyalty, Ps. 24:3-5. It is judgment, or vigorous cleaning with strong alkali soap and beating with sticks. This is like the Lord’s discipline of His children, Hebrews 12:7-11.

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

“Purify the Levites” – stands for those giving a spiritual lead, who will be refined like precious metal in a smelting furnace.

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear Me,” says the LORD Almighty.

“Sorcerers” – gained control of people through divination, occult magic and witchcraft.

“Oppress widows” – Moses’ covenant emphasised social justice to those on the edge of society.

• For further study, see Exodus 22:22; 23:6; Deuteronomy 10:18-19; 24:17; 26:12–13; 27:19.

IN PRACTICE  This first picture of ‘the old order changing’ has a long reach to the Day of the Lord and Jesus’ return, in glory and also in judgment. But from the start of His ministry Jesus was calling people back to the covenant and calling out their double standards. Among many interpretations for the millennial return of Jesus is one that looks like this passage in Malachi. This view sees the period between His ascension and His return as the ‘end times’. We as His present disciples are charged with making Jesus, and the Way and Life and Truth of Jesus, known across the world, in preparation for His return. We, too, who are believers can expect to undergo a special refining, for us to be fit and free to make Him known, and prepare people for what is to come. The old priesthood ceased at the Resurrection; those with new life in Jesus are now charged with being a “royal priesthood”, 1 Peter 2:9. However you understand the end times, it is an awesome responsibility.

QUESTION  Who are we, what are we doing here and why is the life of Jesus-centred faith so difficult at times? How does this give us a sense of God’s purpose and a realistic expectation of difficulties along the way?

Luke 2:22-40

Prophetic words over Jesus on His presentation at the Temple. Those waiting for their Messiah see in Jesus a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.

22-24  When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” ), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

“When the time came” – this account shows Jesus’ family, materially poor, but painstaking in faithfulness to God and keeping of the law.

25-26  Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

“Simeon” – unknown outside this story; a spiritual man who knew the promises concerning the Messiah, and was expecting their fulfilment.

27-28  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Moved by the Spirit” – in the OT era, the Holy Spirit came on certain people at certain times, e.g. moving Zechariah to prophesy about John, Luke 1:67-79 (called the Te Deum canticle in the C of E). Here the Holy Spirit guides Simeon to the temple courts at the right time, having assured him that he will live to see the Messiah; and then gives him the prophetic and enduring words that follow.

• For further study, see Numbers 24:2, 1 Samuel 10:10 and 16:13.

29   “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You may now dismiss your servant in peace.

“Dismiss” – from service on this earth. His final task completed, Simeon is ready to die peacefully – and gives us the words of the Nunc Dimittis.

30-32 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

“Your salvation…a light” – parallel sayings are common in Hebrew literature (think of Psalms and Proverbs). “Salvation… in the sight of all nations” is equivalent to “light for revelation to the Gentiles”.

“Glory of Israel” – the Messiah came through the Jewish nation.

33  The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about Him.

34-35  Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

“A sign… spoken against” – Isaiah had predicted the coming Kingdom of God and salvation outside the nation of Israel, Isaiah 42:6-7 and 49:6. It was deeply controversial. Mary, as well as Jesus, would go through anguish.

36-37  There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.

“Anna” – Greek form of Hannah, like the mother of Samuel (1 Sam. 1-2) and also a prophetic woman, who recognised the Messiah. Before her, there were seven prophetic women recognised in Judaism.

“A widow”– her remarkable age (for the time) would be considered to bring remarkable wisdom. Widows who honoured their husbands memory by not remarrying were esteemed in Israel.

38  Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

“Redemption of Jerusalem” – meaning all the people of Israel, promised by God through his prophets.

• For further study, see Isaiah 52:3 and 62:12; Jeremiah 31:11; Hosea 13:14; Zechariah 10:8.

39-40  When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on Him.

“They returned… to Nazareth” . Luke’s gospel does not mention the Magi’s visit, Herod’s reprisal or fleeing to Egypt, Matthew 2:1-23.

IN PRACTICE  This second picture of how the old order changes, takes us into a scene where deeply devout and experienced folk have been waiting in expectation for their Messiah – with a keen leading from the Holy Spirit that this is imminent. These were people deeply steeped in the old order of Judaism and the Law, yet they were excited to encounter the child who would grow up to change it – change everything they had known. The Holy Spirit used these ‘traditionalists’ to speak prophetic words over the child, words that would be deeply controversial and as He began to work them out 30 years later, would see him pushed out of ‘their’ synagogue by a mob who wanted to push him over a cliff because He spoke of good news for Gentiles also. This story reminds us of how personal devotion to God is they key to perceiving what He is doing

QUESTION  How do you respond to change – as an enthusiastic ‘early adopter’ or a more cautious or even resistant ‘late entrant’? How do you know whether God is behind the change, or not?

Hebrews 2:14-18

Jesus’ sacrifice has broken the power of death. Living as God’s children is freedom from the fear of death

14-15  Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

“Children” – those who have accepted the sacrifice Christ made, and thereby have become sons (or daughters) of God.

“Break… the power of death” – in becoming man and suffering an undeserved death the Son broke the power of the devil to bind us with fears, especially those rooted in fear of death.

“Held in slavery” – Satan, a “murderer from the beginning”, John 8:44, does have power to harm people to some extent, Mark 5:2-5; Luke 13:16, and to incite people into sin that leads to death, Romans 6:16 and 23. However, Jesus’ defeat of Satan frees us to know God’s ultimate rule over all life and death.

• For further study, see Deut. 32:39; Job 2:6; Psalm 90:3 and 139:16; Rev. 1:18

16  For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham’s descendants.

“Abraham’s descendants” – heirs to God’s promises to Abraham by faith i.e. all believers.

17  For this reason He had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people.

“Merciful… high priest” – Jesus’ role as our merciful and faithful High Priest, ending the need for an order of priesthood on earth. This is explained in detail in Hebrews 4:14-10:25.

18  Because He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.

“He is able to help” – Jesus took divine retribution on Himself, for us, and was fully human in His experiencing this suffering. Similarly, He knows about trials and temptations as one who has ‘been there’ like us. This high priest “has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet… did not sin”, Hebrews 4:15.

IN PRACTICE  The third picture of the old order changing takes us to the place which is the pivot point of the change – the Cross, Jesus’ place of self-sacrifice. It is the place where He gasped, “It is finished!” and the power of Satan to control us with fear, and the kind of fear that is rooted in death and oblivion in particular, was broken. Of course, fear still exists – it is an appropriate and even helpful emotional response at times – but knowing the truth that the devil’s power is curtailed enables us to say ‘No!’ to fears that come knocking at 3am or any other time. To live free from nagging fears and other bondages, is to experience the rule and order of God which is our foretaste of the kingdom. Jesus did it. We exercise it!

QUESTION  We know that the Cross was about victory. Jesus went there as a human, like Adam, but a second, sinless Adam. How does knowing this enable us to pray confidently?

PRAYER  Father, I praise you again for Jesus and the new kingdom order that we can participate in, with new life in Him. Help me to be willing to be refined and purified – and in my thoughts, words and actions, to be with You, embracing the new order and rule of Your kingdom. Amen.

Proclaiming and teaching and receiving the Word which reveals God

TLW04

January 27, 2019

Theme: Proclaiming and teaching and receiving the Word which reveals God

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 — Ezra reads the Law to the assembled people. They find both conviction and joy in Scripture

Luke 4:14-21 — Jesus reads the Scripture which defines His call. He proclaims freedom, sight for the blind and God’s favour in its entirety

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a — God has put teaching ministry and other gifts in His church. They work in concert in His body, diverse but one

And also: Psalm 19

= = = = = = = =

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Ezra reads the Law to the assembled people. They find both conviction and joy in Scripture.

1 All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.

“Water Gate” — south of the Temple and more open space

“Bring out the Law” — the first five books, probably emphasising Deuteronomy.

2-3 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

“Seventh month” — The people assembled for the Festival of Trumpets, Leviticus 23:24-25 at the beginning of the new year, October 1, 445 BC

5-6 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

“Opened the book… the people… stood… and… lifted their hands” — Ezra unrolling the scroll and publicly reading the precepts was worship, in the presence of God.

8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

“Giving the meaning” — articulate exposition of the Hebrew Scriptures for the Aramaic-speaking people, brought up in Babylon.

9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

“Weeping as they listened” — the word of God, brought worshipfully, brought conviction, Ezra 10:6; Isaiah 57:18 – 19; Jeremiah 31:13; Ezra 3:13. They were becoming painfully aware of their ancestors’ failure before God. However, the New Year festival recalled with joy what God had done for them, Numbers 29:1-6.

10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

“The joy… is your strength” — as the people, rejoicing, received the presence of God afresh, He would show Himself strong for them. 

IN PRACTICE  The Holy Spirit is active in the Old Testament but He is seldom highlighted until later, but he is certainly active in this public reading of Scripture which leads to a profound revelation and repentance among the people. The Law, their heritage as the people of God, had been missing from their lives. They could now see how their ancestors had become independent from God (a good definition of sin), had dismissed warning after warning from God’s prophets, and the cause-and-effect of the exile which was their experience. Scripture is  God’s words of instruction, and also God’s “now” word of direction as the Holy Spirit makes a deep connection with us. The hearers came to repentance before God, not for what they had done, but for others  who had gone before, which is teaches us that we can make the same response. Joy and strength arise through repentance, because God is love, and His very nature is mercy. What he wants most is to give us a second chance – and to do what connects us to this desire.

QUESTION  The people, hearing the law, were aware of how badly the nation had failed. What touches God’s heart to turn their weeping to rejoicing?

Luke 4:14-21

Jesus reads the Scripture which defines His call. He proclaims freedom, sight for the blind and God’s favour in its entirety

14-15 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised Him.

“Returned… in the power of the Spirit” —  Jesus tips up into his public ministry, following baptism and visible encounter with the Holy Spirit.

“Teaching in their synagogues” — in Galilee, including Capernaum. Luke highlights what happened at Nazareth event. Jesus’ followers start to see Him as Messiah; others start to challenge His authority.

16-17 He went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written:

“The scroll… was handed to Him” — synagogue worship followed a pattern which included a set reading from the law (early books), and a reading from one of the prophets (later books), with an exposition which tied both together. Jesus is handed the scroll for Isaiah 61, to be read in Hebrew and paraphrased in the more familiar Aramaic.

18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

“Set the oppressed free” — all five phrases speak about those who are marginalised in society, and “poor”, “prisoner”, “blind” etc carry both material and spiritual meanings.

20-21 Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

“Scripture is fulfilled” — gracious words, they said, from “Joseph’s son” until Jesus, in His exposition, vv. 22-29, dared to apply the good news for non-Jews. Then they became angry.

IN PRACTICE  Here is a reading of Scripture on a different occasion but with similar deep impact, as Jesus unrolls the scroll to Isaiah 61 and reads the opening words as His personal commission. He had attended the Nazareth synagogue countless times as He grew up. Now, following his encounter with the Spirit of God at the riverside in baptism, He reads and speaks with a different tone and greater authority. What He tells them is true, but it is difficult for them, knowing Him as the carpenter who grew up with Joseph and Mary and siblings. Even more shocking was His explanation that the good news was proclaimed for all – for non-Jews as well. Judaism was never intended to be a ‘closed shop’ and neither is the Christian church which particularly exists for the benefit of others. Jesus’ hearers quickly forgot the heavenly authority of His teaching and became angry. The word of God, proclaimed with the Spirit of God, is powerful both to save – and to convict.

QUESTION  In what ways are we bound up, unable to see properly, feeling bad about ourselves and lacking God’s joy in our lives? How does encountering Jesus change us?

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

God has put teaching ministry and other gifts in His church. They work in concert in His body, diverse but one

12-14 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free– and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

“One body” — Paul assumes the Corinthians know that they together form Christ’s body. “Many parts” — Earlier Greek and Roman sources use the state as an analogy for many different members comprising one unified body.

15-17 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

“If the foot should say” — orators of this period often personified objects as speaking.

18-20 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21-24 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.

“Parts… we treat with special honour” — the “parts that we think are less honourable” stay clothed however hot it gets.

“Eye cannot say to the hand” — the Corinthian church had got carried away with the more demonstrative gifts, and Paul will single out the prayer and praise language of tongues as a gift to use wisely, not to show off spirituality, 1 Cor. 12:10, 27, 30.

24-26 But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

“Greater honour” — people with spiritual gifts that stand out to other do not need extra honour.

“Equal concern” — when all the gifts are working together, there will be a mutual concern that will prevent division.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

“The body” — Each individual, in each congregation and every expression of Trinitarian church is part of Christ’s body on earth.

28-30 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

“God has placed in the church” — earlier, different spiritual gifts were discussed but now, people with a specific and established kind of ministry gifting are in view. Paul teaches that ‘showy’ and less showy gifts are of equal value. When it comes to gift ministries there is a certain order, not of value but in function, because of how they edify the church. Not all are the first-to-act pioneers who go out and plant churches, but without them there would be no churches. Not all are commissioned to speak a word from God and shape the church’s vision, but those that are should be recognised in their calling without any jealousy. Similarly with those who instruct others in the faith, or take risks in exercising faith for the miraculous.

31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

“Greater gifts” — emphasising the gift of God’s unconditional love, given to us to to give away. This verse headlines 1 Cor. 13, which is where chapter 12 is going. All gifts are empty gestures unless motivated by God’s love.

IN PRACTICE   Paul’s teaching, arising from tensions in the church in Corinth, makes the assumption that spiritual gifts are part of the life of the church but must be balanced and free from competition or jealousy. Those who lead in giftedness, in breaking new ground, proclaiming, explaining, or in one-to-one personal ministry, are recognised as the ones who equip the congregation.

There is a tension between our desire for predictability – this is “our synagogue” or this is “our church” – and God doing something unpredictable, like Jesus’ message at Nazareth or Holy Spirit-led ministry at Corinth.

God knows our needs, meets us with love, and wants to walk over the bridge of our faith, to work in our lives and community. Will we learn to let Him?

QUESTION  Does the Lord need to remind His church of the centrality of His word again? What would Paul write to our church about practising spiritual gifts and Spirit-led ministry?

PRAYER  In your own words, thank God for His lifegiving, encouraging and at times correcting word. And for gifts in the church who help bring that word.

The glory of God seen in the church and outside

TLW03

January 20, 2019

Isaiah 62:1-5 — Glory comes to Zion in a new name. God’s gracious vindication will sound until it shines out for all to see

John 2:1-11— Jesus miraculously changes water into wine. Social shame is averted as Jesus shows God’s glory at a community gathering

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 — Paul teaches the balance of spiritual gifts. The glory of God is shown in supernatural enabling of ordinary people

And also: Psalm 36:5-10

Isaiah 62:1-5

Glory comes to Zion in a new name. God’s gracious vindication will resound until it shines out for all to see

This expands the theme of shame erased by glory e.g. Isaiah 60:15; 61:7 and the general thrust of previous weeks’ Isaiah readings, Isaiah 60:1-6 and Isaiah 43:1-7 (Jan. 6 and 13). Isaiah sees the servant-Messiah keeping on speaking out, in the manner of Psalm 28:1-2, until the transformation of Zion – a metaphor for God’s people – is complete. This is a long-sighted view, through rebellion and exile, then regathering, the coming of the Messiah in earthly ministry, and the presently-expected coming again of Jesus in judgment and glory.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.

The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.

“Vindication” – or righteousness. In Isaiah 46:13 the same word in Hebrew is translated “righteousness”.

You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah [My delight is in her], and your land Beulah [married]; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married.

“You will be called” – names often made a statement about a person’s character or reputation or even call, and sometimes people changed their names to reflect this. The change of name for the people of God reflects how God now sees them differently.

“Married” – the change is from a state of loneliness, deserted and desolate, to intimacy, in an exclusive and delightful relationship of love and protection, like the covenant of marriage. The expression of a land being married to a god, especially the One God, is unknown in other literature of the time. This way of expressing the unique covenant between Yahweh and Israel is only found in Isaiah.

As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.

“Your Builder” – the One who has formed you. Other versions render this “so shall your sons marry you”, the idea of the blessing of an expanding household.

IN PRACTICE  Many passages in Isaiah see far ahead of his time to a series of events which will only come to finality when Jesus returns. Here he sees a time of Israel’s “desolation” from abandoning trust in God and failing to listen to those charged to proclaim His message. But Isaiah has also caught God’s heart – that He is for His people, that his fundamental nature is to be merciful, that he can always bring His purpose out of man’s mess. That is reassuring when everything around seems to be a mess, and even if we are convinced that we caused it. God is bigger, and already has a new name and new life for us. Renewing is what He does. Sometimes our little bit of personal glory or fulfilment just has to die, because God will have us see His glory, His alone.

QUESTION  If renewing, vitalising, “re-branding” is what God does, why are we reluctant to let go of what we have and allow Him to bring change?

John 2:1-11

Jesus miraculously changes water into wine. Social shame is averted as Jesus shows God’s glory at a community gathering

1-3  On the third day a wed­ding took place at Cana in Gal­i­lee. Jesus’ moth­er was there, and Jesus and His dis­ci­ples had also been in­vit­ed to the wed­ding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ moth­er said to Him, “They have no more wine.”

“Wine was gone” – a social embarrassment. The family was obligated to provide a feast of the expected standard. There was no variety on offer, and people drank wine, water or a mixture.

“No more wine” – some commentators see here a problem that symbolised Israel’s spiritual barrenness. The OT background of Judaism in the first century saw plenty of wine as a figure for God’s blessing and joy,.

For further study, read Psalm 104:15, Proverbs 3:10, Matthew 26:2

“Wom­an, why do you in­volve Me?” Jesus re­plied. “My hour has not yet come.”

“Woman” – formal but not inappropriate. Perhaps “With the greatest respect, why are you involving Me?” Jesus would not let the nature (and cost) of His ministry be set by a human agenda. There is a hint here that Jesus and the disciples arrived unexpectedly.

His moth­er said to the ser­vants, “Do what­ev­er He tells you.”

Near­by stood six stone wa­ter jars, the kind used by the Jews for cer­e­mo­ni­al wash­ing, each hold­ing from twen­ty to thir­ty gal­lons.

“Ceremonial washing” – as we wash hands before eating, so did they, but with ceremonial law more of a motive than practical hygiene. For a feast with many guests, over several days, large quantities of water were needed.

Jesus said to the ser­vants, “Fill the jars with wa­ter”; so they filled them to the brim.

8-9  Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the mas­ter of the ban­quet.”

They did so, and the mas­ter of the ban­quet tast­ed the wa­ter that had been turned into wine. He did not re­al­ise where it had come from, though the ser­vants who had drawn the wa­ter knew. Then he called the bride­groom aside and said,

10   “Ev­ery­one brings out the choice wine first and then the cheap­er wine af­ter the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

“The best” – symbolising how everything Jesus introduced in the Messianic age He inaugurated, was better.  Good wine was viewed as a sign of God’s blessing, Amos 9:13-14. God’s particular and personal blessing, the Messiah, had now arrived.

11  What Jesus did in Cana of Gal­i­lee was the first of the signs through which He re­vealed His glo­ry; and His dis­ci­ples be­lieved in Him.

“First of the signs” – John records seven or eight, each of which make a statement about who Jesus is, His lordship, and the glory of God.

• For further study, see also John 1:14, 11:4, 11:40

IN PRACTICE  When Jesus turns up, everything is likely to change. Averting shame by the miraculous provision of choice wine was a good change. However, Jesus’ ministry was to get more conflicted. Surely healing the sick could only be good, but for some people, not good if someone was ‘meant’ to be sick or blind, and not on the Sabbath. Life with Jesus at the centre opens up all sorts of possibilities but as it always challenges the established order of how things are, it may not be comfortable, and we sense Jesus’ reticence in performing this miracle as He started out.

QUESTION  Do we want Jesus to show up at our party? For that matter, how much do we want Jesus to show up in our church, knowing that He will disrupty the familiar order?

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Paul’s balanced teaching on spiritual gifts. The glory of God is shown in supernatural enabling for ordinary people

Now about the gifts of the Spir­it, broth­ers and sis­ters, I do not want you to be un­in­formed.

“About the gifts” – the Corinth church flowed in the gifts, which was good, but there had been tensions and a lack of balance where the more demonstrative gifts had been allowed too much prominence. He will continue beyond this passage to teach that sacrificial love is the standard for everything else, where the good of the whole body is a higher value than individual expressions.

2-3  You know that when you were pa­gans, some­how or oth­er you were in­flu­enced and led astray to mute idols. There­fore I want you to know that no one who is speak­ing by the Spir­it of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” ex­cept by the Holy Spir­it.

“Speaking by the Spirit of God” – the mark of true worship, a sincerity of heart beyond words that comes only through the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives. In a pagan society with many processions, temples and idols, expressing Jesus as one of many deities was not the same as exclusive allegiance to Jesus as Lord. The Greek word for Lord is that used to translate ‘Yahweh’ in the old Greek-from-Hebrew OT.

4-6  There are dif­fer­ent kinds of gifts, but the same Spir­it dis­trib­utes them. There are dif­fer­ent kinds of ser­vice, but the same Lord. There are dif­fer­ent kinds of work­ing, but in all of them and in ev­ery­one it is the same God at work.

“Different… gifts” – gifts of grace, i.e. unmerited, and explained in a way that reflects the Trinity (like Matt. 28:19), a way of emphasising the diversity and also unity of spiritual gifts.

Now to each one the man­i­fes­ta­tion of the Spir­it is giv­en for the com­mon good.

To one there is giv­en through the Spir­it a mes­sage of wis­dom, to an­oth­er a mes­sage of knowl­edge by means of the same Spir­it…

“Message of wisdom” – these gifts are familiarly referred to as the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom. The first is a supernatural flash of insight into a person or situation, usually to raise faith as God ‘flags’ what He wants to do e.g. in healing or other release or impartation. The word of wisdom works with the first in the sense of knowing how to go ahead with the insight that has come. Sensitivity to the other person and timing are examples.

…to an­oth­er faith by the same Spir­it, to an­oth­er gifts of heal­ing by that one Spir­it…

“Faith… healing” – faith and healing often work together (as all the gifts work in concert) to raise faith to pray with expectation and confidence for healing. The gift of faith is distinct from general faith or saving faith – it is an impartation of the moment to see heaven’s much bigger picture, and go for it.

10  …to an­oth­er mi­rac­u­lous pow­ers, to an­oth­er proph­e­cy, to an­oth­er dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween spir­its, to an­oth­er speak­ing in dif­fer­ent kinds of tongues, and to still an­oth­er the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of tongues.

“Miraculous powers” – goes with the gift of faith, the ability to ‘see’ God doing something that could not be humanly explained. “Tongues” was the gift that the Corinthians rather over-emphasised and used (wrongly!) as a badge of spirituality. It is essentially an unlearned prayer and praise language. Paul calls it elsewhere “speaking in the tongues of angels”. When you don’t know what to pray, have run out of praise or the mind gets in the way, the Holy Spirit uses this as His bypass. It acts as a conduit for other gifts. A very specific and less usual use is a public’tongue’ where another person (or persons) present will be given an ‘interpretation’ which is the gist of the tongue for others to understand. That is another way God brings a prophetic word.

11  All these are the work of one and the same Spir­it, and He dis­trib­utes them to each one, just as He de­ter­mines.

“Distributes” – anyone may seek any gift, and situationally, God gives you the gift you need to minister for Him. But some people find they have more affinity with a certain gift or group of gifts.

IN PRACTICE  God’s glory is poised to be seen in the church, not exclusively, but as training ground for what He may do with us in the wider community and even with people of tenuous faith. He loves people, and it is narrowly religious and exclusive to suggest people  earn favour by church attendance or service. That denies the basis of the gospel which is God’s grace, unearned. However, church is a great place to learn to exercise gifts of the Spirit, and as Vineyard church founder John Wimber used to teach words of knowledge and healing, “This is the kind of thing we ought to do in church”. It brings God glory when someone is healed, or an intractable problem springs free in a way we couldn’t have predicted. He likes to partner with us and involve us in what He is doing – at a minimum, exercising faith in prayer for what we discern He wants to do. But the bottom line is, the glory is must be His, and He is not about to share it with another, just so that we can become proud – the learning point for the church in Corinth and for us.

QUESTION  What would make church more relevant for 21st century people? Would more of God’s glory seen in extraordinary happenings, help? 

PRAYER  Lord, there will come a time when Your glory will be over all the earth and everyone will confess Jesus Christ as Lord. For now, we see it dimly, here and there. We come to You and ask fervently  for more of You, more of Your light, more transformation, love and justice to break out in our churches and families and communities, and we pray it in Jesus’ name and for Your glory alone. Amen.

Also: Psalm 36:5-10