Readings this week, leading up to Easter Sunday, April 1
Isaiah 25:6-9 – The prophecy of death swallowed up in victory on Mount Zion
Mark 16:1-8 – The women’s shock at finding the tomb empty
Acts 10:34-43 – Jewish Peter enters Roman officer Cornelius’ house
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – Paul reminds the Greek church in Corinth of their core beliefs
MONDAY, MARCH 26
Isaiah’s prophecy: death swallowed up for ever
They will say, “We trusted in Him and He saved us”.
6 On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.
“On this mountain” – Mount Zion. This connects back to Isaiah 24:23: “The moon will be dismayed, the sun ashamed; for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders — with great glory.”
The prophet has already foretold a time when Gentile nations will come to Mount Zion for worship, Isaiah 2:1-4.
7 On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations;
The allusion is to death; it could also encompass the blindness of spiritual death among the Gentile nations – which is set to be reversed.
8 He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.
Paul in setting out the doctrine of resurrection quotes the first part of verse 8 (but not literally) at 1 Cor. 15:54. “…the saying that has been written is true: death has been swallowed up in victory.”
Christ by His death destroyed the power of death; He took away the sting of the first death, and prevented the second (everlasting death) for those who would turn to Him.
This victory also spells – positionally – the end of the disgrace God’s people commonly experience in a world of conflicting values.
9 In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and He saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
“Saved” is yasha and the noun form is yeshua (as in Jesus’ name in Hebrew). The saving is God’s work; our part of the partnership is trusting and rejoicing.
Here Isaiah sees in the Spirit a time when disgrace and death will no longer rule and God will delight in honouring all kinds of people.
God’s intention for those created in His image has always been life and peace – shalom in all its rich meaning. The Garden of Eden is an enduring picture of such an environment, where everything that man needed for life and health and companionship – everything that was life-giving – was freely provided. Man was created with freewill but also with a close relationship with God to guide choices in that freewill. The one thing that wasn’t on offer was independence from God. As we know, appropriating the one thing God did not want us to have, allowed in every source of pain, fear and death. And these influences rule our lives more than we like to admit.
What Isaiah saw in the Spirit was a different order of things. Instead of the inevitable slide of all things to rot and corruption and death, he saw the shroud of death torn, the vision for good choices restored and the power of death submerged by an unstoppable tide of God’s generosity. This is God’s kingdom in the Lord Jesus Christ, which we can experience in Him as a foretaste of the full realisation of His kingdom rule on His return. We still have the freewill to choose – either to satisfy our desire for independence, or to break its hold by choosing dependence on God who is so good and so loving and so worthy of our trust in Him.
For reflection or as a discussion starter
How much influence does fear, and the ultimate fear of death itself, have in our thought lives? How does Jesus, who said “I am the Way”, lead us to take authority over this influence?
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14
As the ‘prince of this world’ hears the announcement of his judgment, Jesus foretells that His death will draw all kinds of people to Him
|20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.||
20 “Greeks” – God-fearing Gentiles from a Greek-speaking area such as the ten towns of Galilee , or Greek-speaking converts to Judaism.
|21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”||21 Or rather, converse with Jesus. Perhaps they knew Philip, who had a Greek name.|
|22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.|
|23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.||23 Jesus had often said that His hour had not yet come. Now it had. Now, what must happen, is about to happen. Jesus’ death, and then His resurrection, were supreme demonstrations of the glory of His actions and the glory of who He was and is.|
|24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.||24 Jesus’ death results in an abundant harvest, 1 Cor. 15:36-38. The Greeks coming with Philip gave Jesus a picture of the harvest to come which would be a harvest of Gentiles as well as Jews.|
|25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.||25 “Anyone who loves… who hates their life” – this is an exaggeration for effect, a common Jewish figure of speech
25 The first word for “life” is more usually translated ‘soul’ and has the meaning of individual personality and achievement. The second is usually coupled with “eternal” as ‘eternal life’ or spiritual vitality in God’s presence.
|26 Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves Me.||26 Jesus is reflecting on, if not exactly quoting, God’s words spoken to Eli: “Those who honour Me I will honour, but those who despise Me will be disdained” (1 Samuel 2:30)|
|27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.||27 We are more familiar with Jesus’ anguish at Gethsemane which the narrative gospels relate, Matt 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:40-46. John shows us that Jesus had already shared His struggle with what his destiny demanded from Him at this earlier time.|
28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”
28 This was the third time that God’s voice was heard audibly in connection with Jesus, each time affirming the authority of Jesus as His Son. People heard a booming sound but John is quite certain that this was God speaking, as he records.
For further study, see accounts of God speaking at Jesus’ baptism, Matt 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:21-22; and at the Transfiguration, Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35.
29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to Him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.
|30 Another Jewish idiom of exaggeration, like v.25, meaning that it would be more enduringly for the disciples’ benefit as they struggled to make sense of the crucifixion and the events surrounding it.|
31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.
31 Every revelation of Jesus is by its nature a judgment on those who deny who Jesus is, and a judgment on the devil’s attempts to influence the world and individuals. “The world” in John is often used as a shorthand for religious leaders antagonistic to Jesus.
31 Another aspect of the judgment on this world was what was becoming evident to people at this time (not the final judgment). The revelation of who Jesus is always compels a response, to honour Him or not, with consequences either way (v.26).
31 There are a three references to the ‘prince of this world’ in John’s gospel, John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; other descriptions in John are the devil (diabolos), Satan (satanas from Hebrew satan, adversary or accuser) and the evil one (ho poneros), John 8:44, 13:2, 13:27, 17:15.
32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”
He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.
32 John uses elkyo, draw or pull, in the sense of drawing people to Him, 6:44; 12:32; and drawing in the net with the fish, John 21:6, 11.
32 Jesus’ death on the Cross would draw “all people” to Him. Clearly not all would believe. Of those, not all would trust Him and honour Him as their Lord. The sense is drawing all kinds of people, which he had spoken of before.
The context in which John is writing is another world entirely to our sense of multicultural enrichment. Jesus taught, John 10:16, about having other sheep “not of this sheep pen” who would be called to become one flock under one shepherd. However, Jesus drawing people to Him who were not like Him, like the Greek speakers, was a challenge for John and his readers to follow.
The greater the distance from Jerusalem, the more the culture was Greek-speaking and less distinctly Jewish. Jews routinely despised those who they thought were not like themselves – the tax collector at prayer, Matt. 18:10. Nevertheless, “to be a light to lighten the Gentiles” was always part of Israel’s mission, just as the Christian church exists for all those who are not part of it. In this passage John recounts Jesus teaching about living beyond ourselves and holding His own life lightly, in the hearing of Greek-speaking non-Jews.
Living for our own achievement is to lose the true meaning of life, which is to live beyond ourselves in the promise of eternal fellowship with God. Just as agape love is not self-seeking but has a sacrificial quality, so true life is able to die to its own ends, to produce an abundance beyond itself.
The prince of this world presides wherever the reign of selfishness and man’s opinion are valued more than the reign of Christ. Jesus is a confrontation to this worldview – and every revelation of Jesus, such as the audible voice of God, and every glorification of Jesus, on the cross or resurrected and on a heavenly throne, is a judgment on the world and its ‘prince’.
The Cross and Resurrection spell the driving out of the usurper of Jesus’ rule and reign. So the work is done? In one sense, but its all-important enforcement is a task which is now delegated to the continuing Body of Christ. We dare not renege on our responsibility by staying resolutely in our comfort zones.
For reflection or as a discussion starter
How free are you, or is your church, to reach out to those who are not like the regular congregation? What would help?
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 15
1 Peter 3: 18-22
Peter explains God’s higher purpose in Jesus’ incarnation and death on the cross, making a way for us to have a clear conscience before God
|18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.||“Suffered once” is hapax which means once, for all time. This has given rise to some misunderstanding of the RSV “once for all”, although the translators’ meaning was “one time, for all times”. Previously, under the Old Covenant, animal sacrifices had to be offered repeatedly. But this is the full and final sacrifice that Jesus made of Himself, once, effective for all who turn to Him as Lord in every generation. No further sacrifice, no additional payment for the debt of our sin, is needed.
“To bring you to God”. A clear statement of the central truth of the Gospel, that Christ’s death enables a personal connection and a personal relationship with the three of the godhead, which makes salvation a personal encounter: “You did it for me!”.
“Put to death in the body” – died on earth. “Made alive in the Spirit” – the new state of human existence in the realm of the Spirit which Christ inaugurated.
|19-20 After being made alive, He went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water…||
Verses 19-20 can be understood in more than one way. The traditional view has been that between the Friday of His death and the Sunday of His resurrection, Christ “descended into hell” (Nicene creed) and preached to the souls of people who were disobedient in the days of Noah, or alternatively to fallen angels who incited people to the evil that required God to send a flood to wipe out. Another view is that this happened later; “after being made alive”, the Resurrection and Ascension with Jesus in person were a proclamation of victory, sealing the eventual doom of extreme powers of evil.
“Only a few people… were saved, through water”. It was the most severe judgment, for the most severe evil. The human race deserved to die out, such was the rebellion, but this underlines God’s grace in His readiness to save those who accept His mercy.
|21 …and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…||
Baptism saves, only in the sense of what it represents. It represents cleansing from sin and a clear conscience towards God achieved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The new believer who tells their story of accepting Jesus as Lord and their desire to seal this publicly by being buried under the water to the old life and rising again to new life is already learning to enjoy being a child of God. However, the public sharing of baptism seals that decision and makes it harder for the enemy to “kill, steal and destroy” that new life in Jesus.
An act which pledges a clear conscience toward God is positioning oneself for a fresh impartation of God’s Spirit – as the Spirit came down on Jesus, Mark 1:10.
|22 …who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him.||A reminder that in the words of the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-19, all authority has been given to Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of the Father having put all things under his feet Ephesians 1:20-22. In the hierarchy that exists in the heavenly realm of both good and evil forces, Jesus is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked”.|
Religion has made God out to be many things – an exacting deity, requiring the performance of religious rituals, looking on us in judgment and possibly wrath if we should lapse from His commandments.
From an Old Testament, Old Covenant perspective this wasn’t entirely wrong. His covenant of unconditional love and provision, His nature of mercy and grace was less emphasised than in the New Testament, the life and teaching of Jesus and especially the New Covenant in Christ Jesus which came into force around the events of the Cross, the Resurrection and the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit when “God’s law written in our hearts”, Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26, became a reality for the new order of Spirit-filled believers.
Peter’s explanation of Christ’s full and final sacrifice, one sacrifice spelling redemption for all sin for all time and for all who would receive is about God’s mercy writ large. So is Peter’s account of Jesus appearing to imprisoned spirits from the time of Noah, and the greatest rebellion the world had known, to proclaim the victory of the Cross and the possibility of God’s mercy in Jesus.
Jesus has had all authority in heaven and earth conferred upon Him. He also represents the full force of God’s love and mercy for a world which wants to be independent from God. As Noah and his family and livestock made a good choice and rose above the water that blotted out the sin of the world, so Jesus is in a far greater way our Saviour and way out from the sin that characterises the selfish world of mankind. We make that choice publicly in affirming Jesus as Lord of our lives and dying to the old life in baptism.
For reflection and discussion
If we understand that Jesus went to the rebellious spirits to proclaim the Cross, His victory and Lordship, should they, in all their wickedness, have opportunity to repent and receive grace through Jesus? How does this shape our attitude to extremely wicked people, such as (in the news) the London cab driver rapist or the IS torturers now in captivity?