The call and the cost

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

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

Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In practice

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

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

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

Question

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

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

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14
Mark 1: 9-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Application

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

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

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

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

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

For reflection and discussion

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

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

Jesus ‘looks on the heart’ of Nathanael and calls him

John 1:43-51

Wednesday, January 10

The first fishermen-disciples find Nathanael and he has an encounter with Jesus, who perceives exactly what he is thinking with prophetic insight.

43  The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

  • The first two disciples, Andrew (named) and John (not named, but probable) joined Jesus on the testimony of John the Baptist. Peter came because of his brother Andrew. Greek-named Philip, from the fishing village of Bethsaida and probably a fisherman, was chosen by Jesus Himself. Later, when Greeks in Jerusalem sought Jesus, it was Philip they approached, John 12:20-22. Jesus’ message spanned both cultures.

44-45   Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

  • His reference to “the one Moses wrote about in the Law” is an allusion to Deuteronomy 18:18 where the Lord says to Moses, ‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.’
  • Joseph was not the natural father of Jesus, but he was his legal father.

46  “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

  • Nathanael, probably the personal name of Bartholomew, is later referred to in John 21:1-3 as Nathanael of Cana when seven of the disciples were together and went fishing, but caught nothing. The account of Nathanael’s call in John is immediately followed by the story of the first miracle in Cana, John 2:1-11. There are about three locations where Cana might have been, 1-3 hours walk to the north of Nazareth. Perhaps Cana was bigger and looked down on Nazareth – or Nazareth just had a poor reputation, not helped by having a Roman detachment stationed there. To be a ‘Nazarene’ was a way of saying ‘despised’; Galilee as a whole was looked down on and it was said no prophet could come from there, John 7:52, although Jonah came from Gath-hepher, a little north of Nazareth. God is no respecter of persons – or locations, Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11.

47  When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

  • “No deceit” – literally, in whom there is no guile, dolos. The father of Israelites, Jacob, used dolos to take his brother’s blessing dishonestly, Gen. 27:35. Jesus goes on to relate Jacob’s experience at Bethel, John 1:51. Perhaps Nathanael had been sitting and reading about Jacob’s experience, Genesis 28:1-17 and Jesus perceived this supernaturally by a word of knowledge.

48  “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

  • Jesus means He had a prophetic insight about Nathanael-Bartholomew joining Him. It was a sign to him (v.50).
  • “Under the fig tree” was an expression meaning someone who studied the Law (or Scriptures).

49  Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the king of Israel.”

  • His earlier cynicism about anyone significant coming out such a small place as Nazareth (which is not mentioned in the O.T.) are overcome by Jesus’ word of knowledge and insight into his integrity.

50  Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

Application

Central to the passage is the story of Nathanael’s call. He was a well-read young man, perhaps a little too confident in his good values, who saw, initially, a tradesman carpenter-builder, from a neighbouring village which people looked down on because its main claim to fame was having a Roman detachment stationed there. Jesus shared a word of knowledge in which he had “seen” Nathanael and his character. This was transformational: The sceptical Nathanael now changes to address Jesus as “Rabbi” or Master and recognises Him as Messiah.

In the flesh we carry all sorts of prejudices about class and status and appearance which we are inclined to apply before we have sought the Holy Spirit’s insight. We don’t always receive such a dramatic word of knowledge, but as we know God looks on the heart; with the leading of the Holy Spirit we can see beyond the immediate presentation of a person or situation. Jesus was asking His Father who He was calling, and Nathanael was also open to what God would show Him, we can surmise. It is an object lesson for us.

Discussion starter

When in your experience has initial prejudice been shown up by God, or its counterpart, initial favouritism, shown to have been misplaced?