God’s ways are higher

Jesus demonstrates God’s higher purpose: incarnate Word of God, dying as the full and final sacrifice, and then resurrected and elevated as everlasting Great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek

TLW42

Revised Common Lectionary readings for October 21

Job 38:1-7 — God’s perspective is far higher than Job’s opinions

Isaiah 53:4-12 — God’s eternal purpose is higher than man can conceive

Mark 10:35-45 — The kingdom of God is a higher order than human status

Hebrews 5:1-10 — Jesus has gained special qualification to represent us to God

Also: Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

FIRST OLD TESTAMENT READING

Job 38:1-7 — God’s perspective is far higher than Job’s opinions

Yahweh announces His presence and cross-examines Job

1  Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

The the Lord spoke” – Following Elihu’s speech, Job 32:6-37:24, the Lord – Yahweh – spoke, first mention since the prologue, Job 1:8; 2:3. Significant because God’s covenant name is also His character and His promise, Exodus 34:14-15. “Out of the storm” – God announcing His presence in a covenantal gesture. 

2  “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?

Job has been complaining from his human perspective, showing up his inadequate knowledge of who God is. 

Brace yourself like a man; I will question you,   and you shall answer Me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?   Tell Me, if you understand.

“I will question you… where were you…” – questions to which Job must confess ignorance. God says nothing about Job’s suffering but neither does He agree with the counsellors or condemn him.

“Tell Me” – whether rhetorical or demanding a response from Job, he is unable to answer.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!   Who stretched a measuring line across it?

6-7  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone — while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

Hearing from the Lord here, Job 38:1-40:2 and subsequently, Job 40:6-41:34, bring Job to a better understanding of God’s goodness and wisdom, while leaving his earlier questions hanging.

IN PRACTICE We have opinions, and we like to express them, and we know that we are right… the problem always being the limited perspective on which we base those opinions. Job, who was entitled to try to work out what was happening to him and defend himself from his friends’ well-meaning but flawed attempts to blame him for his downfall, hears from God that He has a higher purpose for His creation including mankind. Who is Job to argue? We take from this two lessons of everyday life,
(1) to hold our opinions lightly because God is likely to show how flawed they are, and
(2) to always try to see God’s higher purpose in the struggles we find ourselves in.

QUESTION Have you held an opinion which you sensed God was challenging, and then discovered it was unfounded?

SECOND OLD TESTAMENT READING

Isaiah 53:4-12 — God’s eternal purpose is higher than man can conceive

The disfigured, suffering servant, a picture of Christ that Isaiah saw

4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.

“Surely he…” – the servant, introduced in Isaiah 52:13 is so disfigured to be almost unrecognisable; people were appalled at the sight.

“We considered him punished by God” – people would conclude he had been struck down by God for his own supposed sins. But there is something far greater going on here, Matt. 8:14-17. He was beaten and hurt, for us to become whole.

5 But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.

“Punishment that brought us peace” – brought us shalom, a huge word, far more than freedom from anxiety. Healing of spirit, the emotional/thinking life of the soul, and physical healing are all part of this divine exchange. This much quoted as the heart of the gospel, salvation and entry into the life of God’s kingdom, which cannot be earned or achieved, just received through the Servant.

For further study, see Psalm 22:16; Zech. 12:10; Romans 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24-25.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

“Each of us… turned to our own way” – repentance is the exact opposite, a turn from our own way, to God’s way. The point is that every person has sinned, Romans 3:9, 23, and deserves God’s righteous wrath. However the servant has taken the consequences of that sin and borne the righteous wrath warranted by that sin.

“Laid on Him the iniquity” – recalls the high priest on the Day of Atonement laying hands on the scapegoat and symbolically putting the sins of the people on it.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away. Yet who of His generation protested? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of My people He was punished.

“By oppression and judgment” – In Jesus’ ‘kangaroo court trial’ no one spoke up on His behalf, and neither did He defend Himself.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.

“A grave with the wicked and…rich” – Jesus’cave tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, a rich and righteous man. Isaiah associates the rich with the wicked, because such wealth was often gained by oppression or dishonesty.

10  Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin,  He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

“The  Lord’s will to crush him” – at first sight an incomprehensible cruelty but “His life [made] an offering for sin” expresses the Lord’s equally hard-to-grasp sacrificial love for a world that has lost its way. The result is literally billions of spiritual sons and daughters.

11  After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge My righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

“Numbered with the transgressors” – or rebellious ones, identifying with them (with us) and making intercession that they might again become servants of the king.

IN PRACTICE The enormity of what God has done for us, having His own Son take the punishment and pay the price in our place, leaves us with gratitude that words are inadequate to express. But what about the knocks of life and the attacks on health and finances and well-being we all face? This punishment that has brought us heavenly shalom is a practical remedy for ourselves and for others. When the truth of this sinks in, it changes the way we pray, from passively asking God to help us, to an active stance of being able to declare in a spirit of praise how He HAS helped us.

QUESTION Praising God for His goodness and deliverance out of a difficult situation is challenging. What difficulty are you bringing before God, where you can change your prayer in the light of this?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 10:35-45 — The kingdom of God is a higher order than human status

The lesson about who Jesus is and the path to greatness by serving that He sets out

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”

“James and John” – the two other members of Jesus’ inner circle (following on from Peter’s outburst, Mark 8:32-33) show that they still haven’t grasped His essential teaching about who He is and His impending death, and what greatness and leadership in the kingdom of God means.                                              

36 “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked.

37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“In Your glory” – the part they had understood is that Jesus was the Messiah; “sit at Your right…” – they associated it, wrongly, with rank and status.

38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?”

“You don’t know” – they didn’t understand about sharing in Jesus suffering, and the servant nature of leadership in His kingdom. 

39-40 “We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

“Not for Me to grant” – Jesus would not usurp His Father’s authority.

41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.

“Indignant” – they wanted prestige and power for themselves. Jesus now spells out a different understanding of what the leadership of God’s kingdom entails.

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.

43-44 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

“Not so with you” – the values of the kingdom of God turn the values of the world upside down.

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

“To serve, and… give His life” – a climax and one of the most important passages in Mark, emphasising how Jesus’ death as a suffering servant is central to the values of His kingdom.

IN PRACTICE The Letter to the Ephesians teaches that all Christians, in their new nature, are positionally ‘seated’ together with Christ, who is Himself seated at the right hand of God the Father with authority over everything. For us this is no less than a place of sharing His spiritual authority in the battle against evil. So there is a sense that we do get what James and John asked for, but not in the way that they imagined. However, the values of the kingdom of God clash with the values of the world, and put serving above status. The point is that, knowing Jesus, personally and intimately, brings a  different kind of authority, spiritual authority, which is how Jesus uses us to bring His light and presence into our sin-darkened world.

QUESTION What for you is the hardest part of the “Not so for you” (verse 43)?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 5:1-10 — Jesus has gained special qualification to represent us to God

Jesus, having suffered and borne our sins, is called into a high priestly role of a unique order 

The background text to this is Psalm 110:4 in which is God’s stated intention that His Son is to be a priest for ever in the order of Melchizedek. The author expands on this, comparing the priesthood of Aaron’s descendants (vv. 1-4) and that of Jesus, the ultimate high priest (vv. 5-10).

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

“From among the people” – the high priest had to be able to relate to people and their lives, in order to represent them before God.

2-3 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since He himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.

“Weakness… his own sins” – the high priest, subject to human sinfulness, sacrifices first for his own sins, Lev. 16:6,11. By contrast Christ, sinless, Hebrews 4:15; 7:27, exercises a unique high priesthood of a quite different order and extent.

4 And no one takes this honour on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

“Called by God” – the Aaronic high priest must not be self-appointed but have a recognised call to the office. In Jesus’ lifetime the high-priestly office – and the power and control that went with it – belonged to the family who had bought the privilege.

In the same way, Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to Him, “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.”

“You are My Son” – or “Today I reveal You as My Son”, quoted from Psalm 2:7. A turning point in the comparison. 

For further study: read Psalm 2:7-9, Romans 1:4.

And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

“Priest… in the order of Melchizedek” – quoted from Psalm 110:4. This is the first of 10 times this verse is quoted in Hebrews, Ps.110:4,6,10; 6:20; 7:3,11,15,17,21,24,28.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.

“Heard… because of his reverent submission” – Jesus did not shrink from the indescribable agony of bearing mankind’s sins in a suffering of spirit, soul and body. He asked that the ‘cup of suffering’ might be taken from Him, but He still went through with it in full obedience to His Father.

“Save Him from death” – by resurrection.

8-10 Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

“Learned obedience… once made perfect” – or ‘complete, qualified’ from teleios original meaning ‘having reached its end’. Christ was without sin, but proved His humanity in the cost of obedience, walking the path of human experience all the way to death on the Cross, in complete submission to the Father’s will. This finally qualified Christ to represent us by His unique and ultimate high priesthood.

IN PRACTICE This passage exposes the fallacy of any religious system which we “take on ourselves”, v.4. It’s easier to grasp but the only effective and peace-bringing way is through personal relationship with Jesus. He is the only person who, having lived our life with its trials and temptations – without sin – can represent us before the Father. This highest of high priests, who has conquered death, and broken the grip of everything which contends with God’s design and purpose for our lives, is the one who takes up our supplication (asking) prayer – and then reminds us that, sharing His exalted place, we should move from asking, to declaring in faith, what He has done. With the backing of Jesus the great high priest, we can pray with authority – His authority.

QUESTION What in church or Christian life are we inclined to put our faith in, rather than relying on Jesus to represent us?

PRAYER Father God, as I come to You in Jesus I am overwhelmed, not just by Your greatness and higher purpose, but by your goodness and generosity beyond anything I could deserve. Help me to hold on to this great truth, for myself and but also to share with others who need a touch from You.

TLW42e October 14 – Booklet

Booklet to print  4pp A4

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?

= = = = = = =

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?