Speak Your Mind


God of the new start, and new life


January 13, 2019

Isaiah 43:1-7 — Tough times lead into new start for God’s faithful people as His love takes them through trials and gathers them again.

Acts 8:14-17 — Jews and Samaritans are reconciled in receiving the Holy Spirit. 

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 — John speaks of the greater work to follow his as Jesus has a baptism  encounter with the Holy Spirit that is the start of His ministry

Also: Psalm 29

Isaiah 43:1-7

Tough times lead into new start for God’s faithful people. His covenant love saw them through impassable waters and fiery trials and will gather them again.

But now, this is what the Lord says…

“Now” — Isaiah is seeing well ahead of his relatively settled lifetime to God’s wrath and the exile to come, with the perspective that Yahweh allowed the disaster and His love for His people will work out in restoration.

…He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel:  “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

“He who formed you” — God created man and woman, Genesis 1:27, Isaiah 43:7,15,21 and formed — as a potter draws shape out of clay — the nation of Israel, coaching them in His ways. There is ownership and also intimacy in being called by name, as those who are His. The assurances that follow are predicated on this intimacy.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;  and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

“Pass through the waters… rivers… fire” — Isaiah’s original hearers would have made the connection with the nation’s miraculous deliverance at the parting of the waters of the ‘Red Sea’ and later, another miraculous temporary shallowing of the Jordan River as they crossed into the Promised Land; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were hurled into a furnace to emerge later unsinged and unharmed. God is promising protection in the midst of life’s threats because we trust Him as those who are His. When we deny His love and abandon faith and trust, He allows trials to serve as a lesson, Isaiah 42:23-25.


For further study, read Exodus 14:21-22; Joshua 3:14-17; Daniel 3:25-27; Psalm 66:6,12

For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;  I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.

“Egypt, Cush and Seba” — Egypt and further south roughly equating with modern day Ethiopia, southern Arabia. King Cyrus of Persia decreed that Judah should be restored and his successors conquered (or were “given”by Yahweh) Egypt and adjoining territories. 

Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. 

Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west.

“Bring your children” – exile is devastating but particularly for the Jews and their history, it meant children growing up in a culture that was hostile to their beliefs. God promises through Isaiah that He will restore and re-gather the generations that follow.

6-7  I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’  Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made.”

“Bring My sons and daughters” – from the north as well, e.g. Hamath, Isaiah 11:11. The first exile, after the fall of the northern kingdom, was to the north rather than east. There were several returns, earlier under Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel, later under Ezra and Nehemiah. The Lord kept his promise!

IN PRACTICE  Someone worked out that the command “Do not fear!” is repeated in the Bible once for every day of the year. Two of them are in these few verses. When things go wrong – the prophecy looks forward to the catastrophic loss of trust and relationship with the Lord that led to the exile – we tend to doubt that God is for us, let alone that He has a continuing, good plan for us. Fear and rejection start to dominate. This is where Isaiah’s prophecy, many hundreds of years before Jesus, captures God’s heart –  the promise of new life for old, and the offer of a new start when all seems to have failed. In God’s order, the punishments of life may be graciously recycled into strengthening and learning experiences. It is what Jesus came to enable and to demonstrate, and we call it the Good News.

QUESTION  It is sometimes said that FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real, and we are told “Do not be afraid, for I am with you”. How difficult is it for you to accept this promise of Scripture?

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

John speaks of a much greater baptism than his.Jesus comes to be baptised in an encounter with the Holy Spirit that is the start of His ministry

15  The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 

“People… waiting… and… wondering” — John knew some among the throngs of people were trying to work out if he was the Messiah, and his answer was that there no comparison between Him baptising in water, and Messiah’s baptism which was to come.

16 John answered them all, “I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 

The OT prophets predicted God pouring out his Spirit on His people in the last days, fulfilled at least in part on the Day of Pentecost. This prophecy was at least partially fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.

For further study, read Joel 2:28; Ezekiel 36:28-29; Isaiah 32:15, Acts 2.

17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

“Burn up the chaff with… fire” — a picture of what will happen to all that is not genuine “wheat” on Jesus’ return, when there will be a separation, like a winnowing: both an outpouring of the Spirit and the very presence of Jesus as Lord of lords, together with the foretold judgment. The Pentecost outpouring saw a great many baptised in the Holy Spirit (water baptism followed on as a response to what was already happening) and the sudden and vivid conviction of sin that came with the intense presence of the Holy Spirit of Jesus was the baptism of fire. But this and all recent outpourings are small tremors which point to the seismic magnitude of the Day of the Lord to come.

– – – – – –

21-22  When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as He was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

“As He was praying” — Luke alone notes Jesus praying (prayer is a particular theme of Luke) and the Holy Spirit appearing in bodily form, as a dove. In John’s story, he sees this more as a sign, John 1:32-34.

“A voice came from heaven” — and on two other occasions that the gospels record, the Transfiguration, Luke 9:34-36, and during Jesus’ teaching in the temple courts during His final week, John 12:28-29. See also Psalm 2:7.

IN PRACTICE  In trying to draw parallels between Jesus’ life and experience, we back off, saying, “That was Jesus! Son of God!” as if no parallel exists. But in this incident, which was the start of Jesus’ public ministry, a transition from carpenter-builder to rabbi and miracle worker, we see Jesus’ need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit just as we do. Paul was later to teach the Philippians how Jesus, fully God and fully man, emptied Himself of the divine nature, Philippians 2:6-7. Here He submits to the same act of repentance in baptism as others in the crowd – and His Father meets Him there, affirms Him and empowers Him. “That was Jesus!”. Indeed, and how much more we need that empowering, that new start, the Father’s affirmation – and in our frailty, again and again.

QUESTION  If Jesus needed an encounter with the Father and the Holy Spirit to start to fulfil His call, is our need less, or greater?

Acts 8:14-17

Jews and Samaritans are reconciled in receiving the Holy Spirit.The new church receives the impartation it needs, from the apostles in Jerusalem

14  When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.  

“Sent Peter and John” — Jews and Samaritans had a history of mistrust and hatred. This was partly to check out the claims and partly a big step of overcoming prejudice, and giving the Samaritan believers their own Pentecost experience.

For further study, read Matt 10:5; Luke 9:52-54; John 4:9; 8:48.

15-16  When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.

“Receive the Holy Spirit” — Luke treats the delay in receiving the Holy Spirit (or the fullness of the Spirit) as unusual. There are quite a lot of variations in Acts, but to believe and receive together would have been more usual. It is possible the experience of the Spirit was delayed by God so that the Samaritans would be one with the Jerusalem church, in this time of transition.

17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 

“Placed their hands on them” — the usual  NT pattern of impartation and followed today in ordination and other acts of commissioning, healing prayer, etc.

For further study, read v.18 and Acts 19:1-7, 2 Timothy 1:6, Acts 6:6.

IN PRACTICE  The fledgling church in Samaria had received the gospel, the message of new life in the lordship of Jesus, but had not yet received the experience of the empowering and understanding brought by the Holy Spirit, as the Jerusalem church had. And right there was the danger of a divisive split, over the flaw of centuries of distrust and enmity. At this point the Jewish apostles demonstrated an important principle — giving away what God has given you. The Samaritans would, not have attended the exclusively Jewish festival of Pentecost and Philip’s preaching, unusually, did not bring the Pentecost experience. Later, in the context of an act of reconciliation that must have been difficult for both parties, the blessing was poured out. Two lessons stand out for us. (1), every church needs the fullness and empowering of the Holy Spirit and this is God’s intention for all of His church, and (2), the path that God blesses is the path of reconciliation, unity and humble acceptance of need.

QUESTION  What can our present confusion of denominations and church politics learn from the Samaritan experience? What might this release in terms of the Holy Spirit coming on the church and its mission?

PRAYER  “Father God, as I come to You in Jesus, I recognise situations where man’s independence from You has run the ship aground (name one or more specific situations). So many times in the Bible You have intervened graciously to provide a new start or new direction. I humbly ask for that change, which I believe You have prepared in heaven, to be released now, that Your will and Your way may be done. Amen.”

Also: Psalm 29

The realisation

January 6, 2019 TLW01

Theme: The realisation – light rising in spiritual darkness is for all, not just Jews

Isaiah 60:1-16 — God’s glory on those that are His attracts others to worship Him

Matthew 2:1-12 — The first Gentile worshippers, the Magi, come to Jesus

Ephesians 3:1-12 — Jews and Gentiles share the same promise as one body

Also: Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Isaiah 60:1-6 – God’s glory on His faithful ones attracts others

1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.

“Arise” — a dramatic change of tone from Isaiah 57:9-59:15a where God has been condemning the arrogance of the wicked. Now the remaining righteous ones are affirmed.

“Shine” — when we catch God’s light, we show something of that to others. See “your light” note, v.3

2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you.

“Darkness” — where God is not known, or the joy of knowing Him and living in His love has been forgotten, the consequence is darkness of lacking spiritual vision and understanding.

“Over the peoples” — growing oppression with a lack of joy and freedom, Isaiah 8:22; 9:2; 59:9.

3-4 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.

“Your light” — God’s presence and loving favour being evident among those who are truly His, a quality that attracts others.

“All… come to you” — other nations, i.e. unbelieving Gentiles, finding themselves strangely drawn to submit to God and worship Him.

5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.

6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

“Herds of camels” – a sign of prosperity. “Riches of the nations” — former oppressors (Midian, the time of the Judges and Gideon) bring wealth, as from tr ading centre Sheba, to the people of God. Those formerly demanding tribute, now bring it.

IN PRACTICE  Isaiah sees a picture of what had long been prophesied, of other (Gentile) nations coming to the light of the glory of God in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is best not to make too close a connection with details which seem to allude to the Magi. This is a wider, bigger and more eternal picture of God’s purposes, of which the visit by representatives bearing “the riches of the nations” is a part.

This becomes more clear in the progressive revelation given by the gospel reading in Matthew 2, then taken further by the epistle reading in Ephesians 3. The note and link in Ephesians 3:6, below, is helpful here. A shift from exclusive religion, to being part of the light and the mission, was a huge challenge to Isaiah’s hearers. It is a challenge for every Christian and church today.

QUESTION This is about us, and God in us, being attractive to people not like us. How do we feel about that?

Matthew 2:1-12  The first Gentiles become worshippers of Jesus

A party of Magi, Zoroastrian philosopher-magicians from eastern countries, are drawn to Bethlehem in an extraordinary way

1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”

Magi were an established class who mixed Zoroastrian beliefs with astrology and magic, not worshippers of God.  Paul denounced a Magus he encountered, Acts 13:6-10. Matthew’s story shows that people of other nations and beliefs found themselves worshipping Jesus as Lord.

“Time of King Herod” — from Idumea (Edom), Herod was made a ‘client king’ of Judea. He financed splendid buildings in the Roman Empire, ruled with a heavy hand and murdered people freely, including his own family.

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

“Disturbed” – reports of the birth of a real King of the Jews, reinforced by a visit from foreign dignitaries, was threatening to Herod..

4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.

5-6 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

“Bethlehem in… Judah” – the chief priests and scribes knew from Scripture, John 7:42, that the southern Bethlehem was the Messiah’s birthplace. Nonetheless, they did not join the Magi on their visit, and they opposed Jesus’ teaching later.

“Will come a ruler” – Matthew quotes the Micah prophecy as “ruler who will shepherd Israel” from Micah 5:4 rather than simply “ruler” in Micah 5:2. He sets the context in the whole of Micah 5, emphasising that Jesus is eternal and with influence far beyond the Jewish nation.

7-8 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

“Time the star… appeared” –  assuming that the star appeared at the time of birth, Herod formed a plan to execute children aged two and under, v.18. This implies that the wise men took a similar time to journey to Jerusalem.

9-10 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

Star…went ahead of them” – the moving source of guidance was quite close and specific, not a planetary conjunction or comet but supernatural guidance.

11-12 On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

“On coming to the house” – they came to a house, and found a child, clearly a year or two after the birth.

“They bowed down and worshipped” – the Magi worshipping Jesus expands the meaning of Immanuel, “God is with us” (Matt. 1:23)

“Gifts” – gold with the two aromatic resins, frankincense and myrrh, were the most costly commodities to offer as gifts. Rather than symbolic offerings, these were gifts of value – and providential, Matt. 2:13-15.

IN PRACTICE  The church calendar name for this Sunday is Epiphany, meaning ‘realisation’. We love the story of the visitors from afar, number unknown and certainly not kings, but we easily miss the point: this was a turning point, where for the first time non-Jewish people offer worship to the newborn Lord of Lords for every living person who would turn to Him. The Good News was always intended to break out of its religious confines; that would happen a generation later. The challenge for us, as church, is to resist the urge to put it back into a setting we think of as our own – and like to control. Archbishop William Temple famously said that the church was the only institution that existed for others. This is the realisation!

QUESTION  Sometimes people of little or no faith will allow us to pray for them at a time of need. Would God hear that prayer and if so, why?

Ephesians 3:1-12 — Jews and Gentiles share the same promise as one body

New life in Jesus is proclaimed by the Church to the spiritual hierarchy, both good and evil, and thereby released to all people, everywhere

1-3 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles… surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.

“For this reason” – then what follows is as if in brackets until the same thought is continued in verse 14, Eph. 3:13-15.

“For the sake of you Gentiles” – Paul goes on to speak of the mystery of Christ revealed to apostles and prophets. His call was to take the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles

“Mystery” – a word often used by Paul, who defines it here as something unknown or incomprehensible which is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

4-5 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.

“Holy apostles” – set-apart spiritual envoys. An apostolos in other literature was someone charged with bringing the culture and practices of the kingdom or empire. This would also be ‘forthtold’, rather than just foretold, by the prophetic proclaimer. Paul and company acted in this way, making known the mystery – the difficult-to-understand part of Christ and His spiritual kingdom rule – and sharing the new life that comes with it.

6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

“Mystery… Gentiles are heirs together” — there were two dimensions of this shift: (1) Jesus teaching “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” in which Jews saw the dry orthodoxy of their law made real in Jesus, and (2) the later giving of the Holy Spirit which resulted in  close-knit relationships but an inclusive and missional church, in contrast to Jewish exclusivity.

“One body” – for Gentiles and Jews to share organic unity and mutuality was unthought of until this point – although it had been prophesied that Gentiles would turn to God and be saved, and Abraham’s commission was to be a blessing to all families on earth. Reading the scriptures in the order set in the Bible, we see a progressive revelation through the prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus and now the church empowered by the Holy Spirit.

For additional study: read Genesis 12:1-3; Romans 15:9-12

7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.

8-9 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

“Preach to the Gentiles” – Paul had a distinct call as an apostolic pioneer to the Gentiles, to proclaim and teach how this mystery, now revealed, works in practice, see vv. 4-5 and note above.

10-11 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Made known… in the heavenly realms” – the wisdom of God is portrayed like a multifaceted diamond, and the church as the agency of that wisdom, working with it watched by the inhabitants of the heavenly realms, both assisting angels the opposition of Satan’s forces.

For further study, see 1 Cor. 1:26-29, Daniel 10:13,20, 1 Peter 1:12.

12 In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

“Freedom and confidence” – in His eternal purpose, v.11. The church is a divine fellowship and divine agent, with a divine purpose.

IN PRACTICE  It helps to read this story through from Old Testament, through Matthew’s story of the eastern visitors, to Paul’s explanation of why there is no superiority between Jew or Gentile,  Greek or Roman or any other culture. Paul,  theologically trained and of Jewish background, is charged with a mission to people unlike himself. Many things that God does are a mystery to us. We wouldn’t do it that way. We don’t understand His way. We look at the here and now, without the perspective spanning from earliest times to the future yet unknown. The Holy Spirit revealing the Scriptures tell the story of how God is loving and merciful and works to save all those who will turn to Him – “all those” prompting us to have the same generosity of spirit that, presumably, God showed to us.

QUESTION  Paul had a clear call to proclaim Jesus and the kingdom of God to Gentiles. Who arenow  ‘Gentiles’ to us?

PRAYER  Lord, at the beginning of this new year, help me to look beyond myself and my circle, to see my call and my mission. I may not have the gifts or the learning or the courage of Paul and his companions, but I can start small – where I am. May Your light shine through me to others, in Jesus name. Amen.

The grace and glory of God appear to us and grow in us

The grace and glory of God appear to us

Isaiah 9:2-7 – the glory of God comes on Israel

A spiritually dark nation receives a peace-bringing ruler like David – and more.

2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

“Light has dawned” – Jesus the light of the world, John 8:12; 9:5, brings the light of His truth first in Capernaum, Galilee, Matt. 4:13-17.

3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.

“Enlarged” – after resettlement and growth.

4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.

“Midian’s defeat” — the Lord using Gideon, Judges 7.

5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

6 For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.

And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

“And He will be called” –  “Wonderful Counsellor” who carries out a plan with the power of “Mighty God” and the “Everlasting Father’s” compassion and protection, and ruling as “Prince of Peace” bringing wellbeing to all.

7 Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Luke 2:1-14 – Shepherds experience God’s glory in terror.

They are directed to seek out Mary and Joseph and their baby, visitors to Bethlehem for the census

1-2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)

“First census” – Jesus’ birth and then flight from Herod the Great must have been between 6-4 BC, before Herod’s death in 4 BC, in the first of two terms served by Quirinius.

3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

“Register” – for the Roman poll tax.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.

“Bethlehem” – as foretold in Micah’s prophecy, Micah 5:2.

5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

6-7 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

“Living out” – between March and November. The time of Jesus’ birth is not known and the midwinter tradition arose much later from pagan origins.

9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

“Terrified” – majestic angels in blazing light appearing in the darkness.

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

11 “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.

12 “This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.”

“Good news” – the word that gives us ‘evangelise’. “On earth peace” – Jesus is the Prince of Peace prophesied by Isaiah, Isa. 9:6 to bring God’s peace; not to all, but all who would turn to Him and come to know  God and God’s favour.

Titus 2:11-14 – Growing in grace while awaiting Christ’s return

Christians are empowered to live above themselves while living in expectation

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

“Grace… offers salvation” – the word used specifically here to mean favour with God, never earned but made possible by Christ’s sinless self-sacrifice. It is offered to (not conferred on) all people – a response to Jesus is called for – but anyone of any state can choose to turn to Him, come to know God in a personal way and be changed.

12-13 It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,

14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.

“Teaches us… to live…” – Salvation and holy living are “not because of anything we have done but because of [God’s] own purpose and grace, 2 Tim. 1:9. The “blessed hope” is expectation that Jesus will come again. Meanwhile God’s grace enables us to live by these values.

IN PRACTICE  The favour of God has come to us through Jesus being revealed to us and our choosing to ask Him into our lives; the Bible is clear that we cannot earn it, and nowhere does the Bible teach that salvation is through the church; widely it teaches that salvation is a choice to invite Jesus as Saviour. Before that decision we are all unable to see the spiritual realities of good and evil, walking in darkness. Then God’s glory was over Bethlehem and the most ordinary of people were impacted by God’s grace. A couple of generations later, believers in the early church are rejoicing in being “a people that are His very own” and knowing the grace of God helping them in their eagerness to “do what is good”. 

PRAYER  Lord we love the nativity scene, but help us to see beyond it to Your Lordship and Your glory.  May the impact of who You are, transform how we are, in this season of remembering Your first coming and preparaing for the next.

1 Samuel 2:18-20,26 – Young Samuel is an apprentice in the tabernacle

He grows in stature and God’s favour, as was said later of Jesus

18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord – a boy wearing a linen ephod.

19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.

“Linen ephod” – an embroidered over-garment worn by priests in the sanctuary. The contrast between Samuel and Eli’s sons, all young Levites, is that Samuel lived up to his calling.

20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home.

26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people.

“Grow in stature and favour” – like Luke’s  description of he boy Jesus, Luke 2:40 and 52.


Luke 2:41-52 – Jesus grows in grace at the temple

He finds rabbis in the temple courts who allow Him to debate with them.

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.

“Every year” – Good observant Jews like Jesus’ family liked to keep the three commanded festivals of Passover (especially), Pentecost and Tabernacles, Exodus 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16.

42 When He was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.

“Twelve years old” – preparing to take adult covenant responsibilities, usually at age 13.

43 After the festival was over, while His parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.

“Unaware” – with whole villages and extended families travelling together.

44-45 Thinking He was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find Him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for Him.

46-47 After three days they found Him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.

“After three days” – a day’s travel of about 20 miles, a day turning back, and a day finding Jesus in the city.

“Listening… asking questions… His answers” – the teachers were scholars of Moses’ law, who instructed by question and counter-question. It was highly unusual for them to entertain a boy, more so to praise His scriptural understanding. Jesus was a prodigy.

48 When His parents saw Him, they were astonished. His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’

49-50 ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them.

“Your father and I…My Father’s house” – Jesus contrasts His Father with his earthly parent. He is aware of His unique relationship, his parents less so.

51-52 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

“Jesus grew in wisdom” – Jesus was fully God, but also fully man, having laid aside, His majesty to be born as one one of us. The Expanded Bible renders this: “But He gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing, (lit. emptied Himself)”, Phil. 2:7 Expanded Bible. There is no suggestion in Scripture that Jesus had all knowledge and wisdom from birth.

Colossians 3:12-17 – God’s people are to grow in grace

Growing in Jesus’ character  is what distinguishes the body of Christ.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

“God’s chosen people” — this phrase was used of Israel, Deut. 4:37 and then of the Christian community, 1 Peter 2:9. Being chosen by God, a frequent theme in Paul’s letters, doesn’t lessen our responsibility to live unselfishly. “He chose us… to be holy and blameless in His sight”, Eph. 1:4.

13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

“Bear with… forgive…” – Jesus taught that having received grace and forgiveness from God, we must extend the same grace in forgiving others.

14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

“Put on love”— which will look like attitudes of v.12, and like the fruit of the [redeemed, regenerate human] spirit, Gal. 5:22.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

“Peace of Christ” — where Christ rules and has lordship, His peace will act as an umpire and will result in unity embracing diversity, in Christ-like relationships.

16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

“Psalms, hymns and songs” — psalms of truth from Scripture, hymns of praise and  spontaneous, prophetic songs from the Spirit.

“Do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” — keep on growing in Christian maturity and show Jesus to others by living as those who represent Jesus and His Way.

IN PRACTICE  The grace and glory of God become a growing part of us when we surrender our self-rule and independence, and ask Jesus to come in. That’s the pathway towards Christian maturity. The story of young Samuel, called by God, and the young Jesus, the Son of God, speak to us about our growing up process. Words written to the church in Colossae challenge us to grow in Jesus-like attitudes and relationships. So why do we get conflicts and tensions in the church? Because we have an active enemy, always looking for unresolved tensions that have become sin, that he can use to deceive, divide or destroy. The remedy is the rule of the opposite spirit — someone attacks us angrily and we choose to respond in peace, or someone is hurtful or difficult, and we choose to love them anyway. This is grace and it disarms the enemy and brings God’s glory – especially when we choose to forgive, Matthew 18:21-35.

Defer to the Lordship of Christ

TLW 51 December 23 (Advent 4)

Theme: Advent ABCD – ‘D’ Defer to the Lordship of Christ

Psalm 80:1-7 (theme introduction) — Deferring to God in a plea for His grace. Restored favour with the Lord requires our hearts made right first

Micah 5:2-5a — A great ruler will emerge from humble origins. The whole earth will defer to the greatness of this Shepherd of God’s peace with ancient ancestry

Luke 1:39-45, 46-55 — Elizabeth’s unborn baby defers to the unborn Messiah. As the Elizabeth and Mary meet the Holy Spirit becomes a strong presence with them.

Hebrews 10:5-10 — Knowing and submitting to the Lord is true worship. The priesthood of the Old Covenant, with its elaborate ceremonial and sacrifices, now gives way to Jesus.


From an insignificant place will arise a great shepherd of ancient origins and worldwide majesty. Elizabeth’s unborn baby leaps in the womb as she meets Mary, who is carrying Jesus. In the words of Mary’s song, God scatters those who don’t defer to Him while raising up those who do, in fulfilling His promises.


Psalm 80:1-7 – Deferring to God in a plea for His grace

Restored favour with the Lord requires our hearts made right first

A lament from the time of the fall of the northern kingdom, 150 years before the fall of Judah and Jerusalem.

1-2 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us.

“Between the cherubim” – in the most holy place, the top of the ark of the covenant formed a ‘mercy seat’ with two cherub forms in gold on either side, symbolising the throne of God and therefore His presence.

“Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh” – northern tribes. “Joseph” represents all the tribes.

3 Restore us, O God; make Your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

4 How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smoulder against the prayers of your people?

“Your anger… against the prayers” – Some prayers can provoke God’s anger, and the plea for a change of heart recognises this. The question is, what attitude underlying the prayers is so offensive?

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.

6 You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours, and our enemies mock us.

“Object of derision” – for the Lord to have allowed Gentiles to prevail over them

7 Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

“Restore us” – a prayer for a change to know God’s favour again, in the context of a change of heart and repentant spirit.


Micah 5:2-5a — A great ruler will emerge from humble origins

The whole earth will defer to the greatness of this Shepherd of God’s peace with ancient ancestry

One of the most significant prophecies about the coming of Messiah, which draws out the connection with the nation’s greatest king who was also born in the Ephrathah region. David, as the youngest son of Jesse, was an ‘unlikely candidate’ and was not originally included to appear under the prophetic scrutiny of Samuel, 2 Sam. 16:10-13. In Jesus’ time, Bethlehem was a remote and insignificant village. However, some scholars of Jesus’ time saw in this prophecy a possible association of Bethlehem with the awaited Messiah. 

2 ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’

“Ephrathah” – the district where Bethlehem (‘house of bread’) is located, and where David was born, 1 Samuel 17:12. David was an unlikely choice as king; Bethlehem was an unlikely home town for a subsequent and greater David. 

3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labour bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.

“Abandoned” — the nation Israel was without a king from the exile in the sixth century BC onwards.

“When she… bears a son” — can be interpreted as Mary, the mother of Jesus; or Bethlehem bearing a son; or a son born of the righteous remnant; or (taking the whole verse) the end time deliverance of those able to participate joyfully in the coming of the fullness of the kingdom, Micah 4:9-5:1.

4 He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.

And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.

“Shepherd His flock” — a common metaphor for ruling a nation.

5 And He will be our peace.

“Our peace” — shalom is a broad term of general well-being and prosperity, but in this context, Mic. 5:5-7, peace from Israel’s enemies symbolised by Assyrian invaders.

IN PRACTICE  The need for personal, repentant change in preparing for an encounter with the Lord has been an emphasis of previous week’s. Now it’s about being prepared to change — to accommodate the unexpected ways of God’s order. Corrupt spiritual leadership, Micah 3:9-11, and its consequences — Micah lived at the time the northern kingdom fell to Assyrian attackers in 722 BC — is contrasted with God’s constant heart to restore and bring people back to Himself, all through the Book of Micah. When God moves in restoration the demand in us to change our mindset is the greatest. God is good all the time, but we have to trust Him to allow His goodness to be realised.

QUESTION  What do we have to do to experience God’s desire to be our peace?


Luke 1:39-55 — Elizabeth’s unborn baby defers to the Messiah

As the Elizabeth and Mary meet the Holy Spirit becomes a strong presence with them

39-40 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.

“Hill country of Judea” — A four-day journey.

41-42 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!

“The baby leapt” — a remarkable response which the Holy Spirit caused. The baby John leaping in the womb recognises he is in the presence of someone greater; Jesus is not just a prophet. John is already announcing the coming of the Messiah.

43-45 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!’

“Leaped for joy” — Elizabeth, filled with the Spirit, has prophetic insight about the baby within her expressing joy.

46 And Mary said:

The words that follow are Mary’s Psalm-like song of praise commonly called (from Latin)  the Magnificat, which means ‘glorifies’.

47-48 ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.

49 From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is His name.

“Humble state… all… will call me blessed — At a stroke Mary has changed from a poor Hebrew girl in humble circumstances to a path that will make her the most honoured woman the world has known.

50 His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation.

51-53 He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

“He has performed” — Mary’s experience of change is set in greater and wider change, in which the expected order is turned upside down, and the ones favoured by God’s mercy are simply those who turn to Him without any merit of their own. God is ‘performing’ this.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

“Brought down… lifted up” God’s reversal of the expected order, an emphasis of Luke and Acts. Jewish culture generally saw power and wealth as evidence of God’s favour, and questioned why someone of humble state should be chosen. Mary is part of this reversal which anticipates the reversal to come at Jesus’ coming at the end time.

54-55 He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants for ever, just as He promised our ancestors.

“Remembering… just as He promised” — Mary is aware of the enduring force of God’s covenant promises. The angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary spoke of God’s covenant with David, Luke 1:32-33, 2 Samuel 7:13, 16, and here Mary recalls the older covenant with Abraham, Gen. 12:1-3, 17:3-8.

IN PRACTICE Like the Jews of Jesus’ time, we naturally think of God’s favour resting on people who, in our judgment, have merit. The problem is the value we put on our judgments about people, forgetting that God looks on the heart and places high value on those who have dealt with their pride and self-sufficiency to ‘fear’ God as His humble, dependent and genuinely loving worshippers. Hence the huge responsibility assigned to Mary and Joseph. The challenge to change for us, is that God finds it easier to use us when we have taken off our medals and badges or rank.

QUESTION  What worldly honours or positions do we need resign from, prayerfully and perhaps practically, to be eligible for God’s next assignment?


Hebrews 10:5-10 — Knowing and submitting to the Lord is true worship

The priesthood of the Old Covenant, with its elaborate ceremonial and sacrifices, now gives way to Jesus

5-6 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased.

“With… offerings You were not pleased” — a quotation from the Greek version of David’s Psalm 40, about simple submissive obedience to God’s will being the superior replacement, which God far prefers to the sacrifices of Mosaic Law.

7 Then I said, “Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, my God.”

8 First He said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”– though they were offered in accordance with the law.

“Offerings you did not desire” — the ceremonial system was a stop-gap measure until Jesus should come and die, once, as a final sacrifice for sins. The writer implies that God never liked the previous complex and superficial means of holiness.

9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second.

“The first… the second” — Jesus’ perfect sacrifice of Himself sets aside for all time all previous sacrifices as a means of sinners being made holy.

10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

IN PRACTICE   God is holy, and He seeks holiness in those who are His. The change which is this week’s theme is in how we see the path to holiness. We have two options: to be transformed by inviting Jesus to be lord of our lives as the One who has offered us salvation in Him — a new identity, revealed by His Spirit and centred on receiving new life in the basis of what He has done for us. Option 2 is that we try to achieve holiness by whatever means of ceremonial and modern sacrifice we can devise, in a church setting that mimics the Temple and its worship. Option 2 presents itself as an easier path — we can rely on a modern day priestly figure to do most of the work for us — but, as this passage and Psalm 49 makes clear, it doesn’t work and it ignores God’s good intentions for us. This Advent, get back to what pleases God — our simple, dependent obedience, relying on Jesus and our relationship with Him.

QUESTION  Why do we complicate things? Is it an easier path to follow, or ultimately a harder path that doesn’t find the destination?

PRAYER   Lord, we are creatures of routine and habit and look for security in what is familiar when we should find our security in You. Help us to accommodate change, and to be willing to be changed, as we worship You in the Spirit and in the truth of who Jesus is, the only name under heaven by whom we can be saved, and in whom we come to You in prayer. Amen.

The mystery made plain: the Good News unites


Ephesians 3:1-12 Thursday, Jan 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

For reflection and discussion

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


WEDNESDAY, November 22

Matthew 25:31–46

The Lordship of Jesus — His own, evidenced by Christlike behaviour.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne.

  • Verses 31–46 are description of the final judgment which Jesus had often warned about, in many parables e.g. the Ten Bridesmaids and the Three Servants earlier in Matthew 25:1–13 and 14–30, and more explicitly e.g. Matt. 24:36–51.
  • This happens when Christ returns, just before the establishment of an earthly millennial kingdom Revelation 20:4; other interpreters put it with the great white throne judgment Rev 20:11–15

32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

  • Palestinian sheep looked similar to goats and often both grazed together. However, they needed to be separated at night-time for the less hardy goats to be put in a warmer place.

33 “He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

  • The right hand side was the more honourable – as in “sit at my right hand”.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
35 “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in,
36 “I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me.”

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give You something to drink?

  • The righteous are surprised because Jesus says that they have ministered directly to Him, although they do not have a recollection of that. 

38 ‘When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
39 ‘When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.’

41 “Then He will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 ’For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink,
43 ’I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me.’

  • “Depart… you who are cursed…” is the verdict for those who have not shown these kinds of acts of mercy to Christians in need. They may have claimed to belong to Christ, but the fruit of their lives and actions has shown they have never accepted Him as Lord and Saviour 1 John 3:14-15. See also Matthew 7:16 and 20.

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help You?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

  • Not a limited period of purgatory, but unending punishment – contrasted with eternal life

Application: There is going to be a final separation of ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’ and we may be surprised by sheep that look like goats and vice versa. At first sight this might appear to teach that our good actions earn salvation to eternal life. That is our world view – good work gets good marks, effort is recognised with reward. But that is not the different world view of heaven, where God’s favour can never be earned, only received. What is in view here is not a tick box exercise of the good actions but a description of the outworking of a good heart that belongs to Jesus. We can’t do it ourselves. When we are truly His, we can hardly help doing what he would do.

Discussion starter: While acts of mercy are at the heart of living out the Gospel, what particular injustice or area of social need do you feel passionate about? How will you make a difference?

Thursday, November 2

True worship in the true Saviour

Matthew 24:1-14

After the exposing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and religious teachers in the teaching on the Seven Woes, and denouncing them as snakes poised to attack any righteous people sent by God, Jesus leaves the Temple and leaves the disciples to work out where the worship of God was centred – the Temple, as they had always known, or the Lord, as they were coming to know.

  • This reading makes better sense if we start with the end verses of the preceding chapter: Matt. 23:37 “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. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, His disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.

  • The Temple was structurally complete but with additional development going on. It was hard for the Jewish-culture disciples, brought up with such a high view of the Temple as the dwelling place of God and centre of true worship, to see that the symbol of the building was now to give place to the Person of the Messiah. We have hindsight; they were having to see forward into change, like us trying to work out what happens after Brexit.

2 Then He asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

  • Recalls Micah’s prophecy, Micah 3:12 (Monday).

3 When He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

  • The ‘last days’ is a long time period beginning with Jesus’ birth and ending with His coming again. No one knows how long, and the Early Church lived as those understanding it to be imminent. Perhaps this is the point. Later in the chapter Matt 24:36-42 the description of the end times is given as an extended warning for us to be ready and prepared, unlike those of Noah’s time.

4 Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray.

6 And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

  • Dangerous, oppressive cults and unhealthy leaders have arisen and we have become more aware of these in recent years. Similarly, we are more aware of famines and earthquakes. How much of this is because of visual, global reporting and how much is a result of more frequent incidences?

9 “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another.

11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But anyone who endures to the end will be saved.

  • In other words, people say what they like, do what they like and behave as selfishly and harshly as they like. This is in society, but increasingly in the church also.

14 And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.

  • Against this grim picture is the grasping and proclaiming of a kingdom-of-God-centred message, some would say as never before. We see numerical decline in the UK Christian church but there are plenty of examples of very rapid growth, spiritual and numerical. These are in the UK as well as across the world. There are places we can go where there is a rising expectation of meeting with God in a life-changing way, praying prayers that are answered and seeing Him bring His good order in ways we cannot explain.

Applying it

Imitate the saints – who recognised the kingdom of God in Jesus (Matt. 24:1-14)

There is church and there is the kingdom of God.

The church is intended to uphold God’s kingdom order, to demonstrate it and to contend for it in a harsh and unjust world. However, being made up of humans, human faults often cause the agency of the kingdom of God to be less than caring and loving and truth-seeking.

Jesus, no less, had this problem with the bet religious leaders of His time, the Pharisee group who were paradoxically the group who knew and sought to live by the Scriptures more than any other. But they were proud of this, and took a superior stance to the Galilean rabbi with His unfashionable northern accent and builder’s hands. And so the enemy found them easy to turn to hatred and evil.

As you and I seek the kingdom of God – seek what God is truly doing, what His way and what His order of things is – we will find opposition. Often it comes from those quite close to us, believing many of the same things – and convinced that they are right.

Imitate the true saints throughout church history who were the humble ones, seeking to bring what God was bringing: His Word in their language, acceptance as His church whether in working clothes or fine, hope for those trapped in destructive lifestyles. Of course opposition comes to us, as it did to Jesus. The eyes of faith see above and beyond opposition, to discern God’s purpose and God’s order.

See page with the week’s posts together

Wednesday, November 1

Saints who knew God’s steadfastness

Psalm 107:1-8

The holy people of the psalmist’s era had their share of difficulty, but they knew that they could absolutely count on the steadfastness of God’s love.

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for He is gracious,
for His steadfast love endures for ever.

  • This powerful ‘soundbite of truth’ about God’s nature occurs more than 40 times, in the Books of Chronicles and Jeremiah as well as the psalms.
  • Steadfast love translates a Hebrew word roughly pronounced ‘heseed’. It combines the sense of God’s love and care with the obligation of covenant (“let the redeemed”, v2 is another statement of covenant) because we are His. Our worldview emphasises individuality. The Jewish worldview emphasised covenant, ‘being in it together’ and the protection of ‘belonging’ to God as one of His redeemed, set-apart children.

2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say this,

  • Like yesterday’s Psalm 43 reading, this is an encouragement to praise God for His goodness, whatever the circumstances may be saying to us. The situation of difficulty says one thing; we choose to say something different, which is objective truth.

those He redeemed from the hand of the enemy,
3 And gathered out of the lands
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
4 Some went astray in desert wastes
and found no path to a city to dwell in.
5 Hungry and thirsty,
their soul was fainting within them.
6 So they cried to the Lord in their trouble
and He delivered them from their distress.

  • The result of choosing and relying on God, who is entirely truthful and and merciful.

7 He set their feet on the right way
till they came to a city to dwell in.
8 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his goodness
and the wonders He does for his children.

  • The psalmist recalls those who have gone before us, who walked a difficult ‘desert path’ at times but kept their trust in God and His faithfulness to bring them through. What they learned, we can benefit from.

Applying it: Imitate the saints – who praised God in all circumstances (Psalm 107:1-8)

Faith in God is faith from knowing God, and knowing God is knowing His nature – faithful, unchanging, merciful and loving without scoring us on what we deserve.

The expression of this gives rise to this refrain we find repeated again and again in the psalms: “O give thanks to the Lord, whose hesēd – covenant love – endures for ever. True faith praises God for who He is, not just for what we may perceive as answered prayers or other blessings. When the answer appears top come slowly, is God’s nature any different? Faith knows that God is the same, just as merciful, just as attentive to us and therefore worthy of praise and adoration, however we may be feeling or whatever we may be experiencing at any one moment.

The enemy will sow thoughts in our minds of how God has abandoned us, because we are undeserving, because God is fickle and sometimes harsh, because we are powerless. All of these are lies, of course – it is how he works. Satan never speaks the truth, but he makes what he says sound like truth.  And we defeat those lies, the doubts and the enemy’s scheme by telling God that we KNOW His nature and hold fast to our covenant with Him in Jesus. Very different from a religious remedy of finding what we need to do, this is imitating the saints of the ages and joining them in choosing an attitude of faith and praise.

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Tuesday, October 31

Separated? No, connected through worship

Psalm 43

Psalm 42 and 43 are part of the same prayer. The sense is of a priest or Levite who has been separated from the place of worship (perhaps captured, or exiled?) but is going to call on God’s light and truth to be His own ‘Temple presence’ as he will worship anyway. This psalm reminds us that the walk of faith in God always brings a spiritual battle – sometimes one that is painfully apparent. However, we are responsible for our walk: being spiritually discerning, trusting God, and being led by God’s light and truth.

1 Give judgement for me, O God,
and defend my cause against an ungodly people;
deliver me from the deceitful and the wicked.
2 For you are the God of my refuge;
why have you cast me from you,
and why go I so heavily, while the enemy oppresses me?

  • The psalmist was referring to physical, and often armed, enemies. However our spiritual enemy, Satan, does much of his work through people he is able to deceive and use for his ends. There is also the oppression of negative and fearful thoughts he puts in our minds – the battle of the mind.

3 O send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me,
and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling,

  • *let them lead me… let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell (NIV rendering)

4 That I may go to the altar of God,
to the God of my joy and gladness;
and on the lyre I will give thanks to you, O God my God.

  • It is not just about the blessing of receiving light and truth from the Lord. it is also the release into praise despite circumstances which is powerful.

5 Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul,
and why are you so disquieted within me?

6 O put your trust in God;
for I will yet give him thanks,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

  • As we look back to Christian saints and heroes of the past (The Bible uses the term ‘saint’ much more widely than those officially canonised by the Roman Catholic establishment) we see over and over again this quality of praising God for His goodness in the face of challenging circumstances. True saints know the light and truth and praise Him as the source of it.

Applying it

Imitate the saints – who held on to God’s light and truth in a foreign land (Psalm 43)

The songwriter who gave us Psalm 42-43 was hearing God as one removed from the worship centre, the Temple, and made to live in a foreign land. Rejected and exiled and having no influence and no position – another kind of outsider.

But that lack of self-reliance, that dependence on God when everything else has been stripped away, that is a heart God can speak into. We can imitate that by choosing not to place reliance on position or a comfortable sense of belonging and tradition. The saints of old knew they needed God, and He met them there.

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