God is creative in renewing His people and His world

TLW14 for Sunday, April 7 – Lent 5

Theme: God is creative in renewing His people and His world

OT READING

Isaiah 43:16-21 — The Lord is doing a new thing. Don’t expect earlier moves of God to be repeated, but discern His purposes now.

GOSPEL READING

John 12:1-8 — Mary does a new and shocking thing to honour Jesus. Unintentionally she foretells His death in anointing Him.

EPISTLE READING

Philippians 3:4b-14 — Paul changes radically to gain new life in Christ. He trashes his former achievements as barriers to the far greater worth of knowing Jesus.

Also: Psalm 126

Isaiah 43:16-21 —The Lord is doing a new thing

Don’t expect earlier moves of God to be repeated, but discern His purposes now.

16 This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters…

“A way through the sea” – a reference to the exodus through the Red Sea at the birth of the Hebrew nation.

17 …who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:

“Chariots and horses” – representing the most advanced (and costly) military resources. The Israelite refugees, on foot, were no match – apart from God.

18 ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.

“Forget the former things” – The Lord is speaking through Isaiah 200 years before the exile, and 300 years before the return of the exiles. However, people are not to dwell on the Lord’s past means of deliverance – He is not to be restricted to a certain way of doing things. Today, we are not to look to a previous revival, as the pattern for the next.

19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

“Doing a new thing” – not like the “way through the sea” of verse 16 but this time “a way in the wilderness”. The common factor is miraculously reversing nature, this time releasing “streams in the wasteland” rather than turning back the sea.

20 The wild animals honour Me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to My people, My chosen…

“I provide water in the wilderness” – benefitting the animals who live there, but also spiritual refreshment and new freedom for the oppressed exiles coming out of Babylon.

21 …the people I formed for Myself that they may proclaim My praise.

“That they may proclaim My praise” – God’s purpose is for people tto turn to Him and declare His praise. Looking beyond revivals, His ultimate purpose looks forward to a time when creation generally will turn to God, Isaiah 42:11-12, Romans 8:20-21.

​​IN PRACTICE In a world that presents us with frequent, ongoing change it is natural to seek to preserve and maintain what we have known and loved. We visit stately homes and take trips on steam railways and rediscover former breeds of farm animals. However, spiritually we must keep moving on — because God is always moving on. The Bible gives us God’s timeline of faith, and He constantly surprises us by doing what He has not done before, and saying, in various ways, “I am doing a new thing”. We would rather cling to the last ‘new thing’. If we have known the excitement of a move of God in revival or renewal or just gentle revitalisation, first we want more of the same. Then we recognise that we just need more of God — whatever He is doing now. The challenge is agreeing that it won’t be the same.

​​QUESTION   What was the last ‘new thing’ we experienced in church or Christian life? How much are we looking back to that time? How much are we seeking signs of a different move?

John 12:1-8 — Mary does a new and shocking thing to honour Jesus

Unintentionally she foretells His death in anointing Him.

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

“Before the Passover” – on Thursday that year, and Jesus arrived the previous Friday, just before the Sabbath.

“Bethany” – two miles east of the city, which was already filling up with pilgrims travelling in; it made sense for Jesus to stay with friends a little way out.

2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him.

“Lazarus… reclining at the table” – this was a main-meal deipnon, dinner, and reclining at table implies a special occasion where guests would recline three or four to a table. Evidently Jesus and Lazarus were at the same table. Lazarus, Martha and Mary were close friends of Jesus.

3 Then Mary took about half a litre of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

“Pure nard” – the oil of a fragrant plant from North India, that smelled like gladiola perfume. An extravagant act of devotion, and a humble one – only servants attended to guest’s feet. Women usually had their hair covered, possibly not a single woman at home.

4-5 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”

“Worth a year’s wages” – Judas, a less-than-honest witness, was not concerned for the poor and may have been exaggerating.

6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“He used to help himself” – the one verse which tells us that Judas was dishonest, although he had been trusted with the money bag. For a group’s treasurer to steal money would be scandalous, and bring shame on the whole group, in the view of outsiders.

7 ‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial.

“Leave her alone” – Jesus defending Mary gives meaning to the deed. Nard was one of the burial spices for the dead and Mary was, perhaps without realising, anticipating His death and anointing Him for burial.

8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me.’

“You will always have the poor” – Jesus is quoting Deut. 15:11, not discouraging helping the poor. His impending death leaves little time for His disciples to share His earthly ministry. Mary’s devotion to Him is a right priority.

​​IN PRACTICE  Mary shocked the people in her village with her unexpected and dramatic action. You can imagine them talking about it, using their expressions for ‘over the top’ and ‘irresponsible’. But Mary’s reputation has now spread worldwide, and billions of people see her as someone who gave the devotion the Lord is seeking in a real way. Sometimes we can find ourselves carrying out what turns out to be a prophetic act, even if we never saw it that way when it happened. Mary ‘wasted’ a stock of perfume oil of great value, but gave a lead in her devotion of He who is of incalculable worth.

​​QUESTION  Is our worship of Jesus extravagant and demonstrative? If not, why not?

Philippians 3:4b-14 —Paul changes radically to gain new life in Christ

He trashes his former achievements as barriers to the far greater worth of knowing Jesus

4b-6 If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

“Confidence in the flesh” – the danger of confidence in yourself and your attributes, inherited or earned. Paul sets out his impeccable Jewish credentials, a glowing record as a zealous Pharisee. By contrast he wrote to Corinth church, reminding them “…Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential…”.

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

“Gains to me I now consider loss” – the language of a balance sheet. On the road to Damascus, every ‘credit’ in Paul’s glowing CV now became something he had to lay down to accept Christ. A kernel of seeds to fall to the ground and die, John 12:24.

8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.

“Knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” – he does not mean knowing about the life and works of Jesus, but the transformation that comes from really coming to know a person – in this case, the highly transforming Person of Christ.

“I consider them garbage” – he uses a blunt, less genteel word for what is polluting and to be put out straight away. He is saying that his former way of life with its religious credentials was not only worthless, but despicable, see Ephesians 2:3-7.

9 …and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

“Not a righteousness of my own” – here is the dilemma, set out clearly and directly. Everyone starts off claiming to be righteous through ‘doing right’, charitable works and/or the performance of religious actions. Our world is about earning merit, so this is the way that fits our worldview. Paul shatters that worldview with his “garbage” comment and goes on to say that righteousness cannot be earned, but is received from God undeservedly, solely on the basis of our trusting Him in faith.

• For further study: the righteousness of God that comes on us through our trusting relationship with Christ Jesus, 1 Cor. 1:30, 2 Cor. 5:21, Phil. 3:8-9.

“Found in Him” – being “in Christ” is contrasted to “being in Judaism”, Galatians 1:13-14 or “under the Law”, Romans 3:19.

10-11 I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

“To know Christ…and…His sufferings” –  to know Christ personally is to identify with Him and swap the world’s values for His. That brings with it misunderstanding and alienationt, such as Christ experienced and warned about, John 15:18–21. However, the Bible witness is that the suffering of God’s people is never final.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

• For further study, other places where Paul uses the imagery of athletics: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7-8.

13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead,

14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.

“Towards what is ahead… the prize” – the winner in Greek races received a wreath of leaves with the award. This is Paul’s picture of everlasting glory for the Christian who wins through. Eternal life is assured when we turn to Christ as our Saviour and Lord, but Christian maturity emphasises the prize of achieving kingdom of God gains that have eternal, rather than momentary, value.

​​IN PRACTICE  ​​The new thing that God was doing in Paul’s life was costly for him. As a Jew he had plenty to be proud of, but pride is the greatest barrier to us having a real relationship with God. That pride had to be broken for Paul to come to know God personally, and for him that was a dramatic turnaround. To diminish or at least, hold very lightly our achievements, may not be such a big thing for us, as it was for Paul to throw out his first-class degree in religious zeal. However, the principle is the same. God can’t have first place, where there’s no space. We need to make room, starting with the ornaments we used to think were the most precious.

​​QUESTION  What apparent spiritual qualification may be acting as a barrier to the renewal God wants to do in us?

​​PRAYER  ​​Lord, the flesh is weak and it doesn’t like change. Yet Jesus said memorably that He could only be doing what He saw the Father doing. Help us to have that same resolve to talk to You, and walk with You, and to be found doing Your will and pursuing Your mission in the world — whether we find it comfortable or not. To the glory of Jesus we pray, Amen.

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Psalm 126

A hymn of praise to celebrate Israel’s return from exile, with Zion, meaning ‘distinctive’ at the centre of His plan. Zion, specifically the hilltop, here stands for Jerusalem and for the nation. The general thought is that is the Lord can restore Zion, the city, after its season of destruction, He can do the same for the people; and if He can do it in t he past, He can do it again.

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.

“Restored the fortunes” – the disastrous fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 589 BC and exile of most of its people, Babylon itself was conquered 50 years later by Cyrus, King of Persia. Cyrus issued a proclamation allowing the captive people to return to their homelands and rebuild their cities, Ezra 1:1-11; 3:7. The psalm attributes this reversal to the Lord.

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.

Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’

“It was said among the nations” – the Lord’s restoration did more than give the people laughter and joy at the change they experienced – it showed the Lord’s merciful character to the surrounding nations,  frequent theme e.g. Psalm 9:11, 64:9, Isaiah 12:4

3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.

“Restore our fortunes” – repatriation and rebuilding was one thing, the prosperity spoken of by the prophets another. This is a plea to complete the resttlement and bring a full restoration of the prosperity of former times, like the dry river bed of the Negev which becomes a flowing stream when the rains come.

5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.

6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

“Sow with tears” – hard work and the rigours of farming are also used by God. The person who remains humble and dependent on God will experience His blessings on the land.

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