The difference between man’s ways and God’s kingdom order

Bible readings for Sunday, June 17 (based on the Revised Common Lectionary)

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 – In God’s order, character trumps appearance

• Samuel anoints David saying that the Lord looks on the heart, not appearance

Mark 4:26-34 – God’s realm grows unseen where it is planted

• Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is a hidden influence like seed that sprouts from the soil

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 – New life brings vision of the kingdom of God

• Living as a spiritual person will always be in tension with living the human life

Image from https://newlifenarrabri.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/reflection-on-1-samuel-161-13-2/

 

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 » In God’s order, character trumps appearance

  • Samuel anoints David saying that the Lord looks on the heart, not appearance

34-35 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.

“Ramah… Gibeah” – it was a separation but archaeology has revealed that Ramah and Gibeah were only a few miles apart.

“The Lord regretted…” – echoes 15:11 and God’s regret at the time of the flood, Genesis 6:7. This is not a conflict with 1 Sam. 15:29 where ‘will not regret’ in some versions means will not ‘relent’ or ‘change His mind’. Saul’s call to kingship had started well, 1 Sam. 9-10, but his character was to self-justify and on this test of how he had followed a very specific command he lied twice, 1 Sam. 15:3, 13, 20-22.

For further study, see 2 Sam. 11:27, 12:7-12, Hebrews 13:7

1 Sam. 16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth, of Bethlehem.

But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

Samuel had reason to be cautious – he had told Saul that God had rejected his kingship.

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’

Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Bringing a sacrifice gave Samuel a pretext for going to Bethlehem and following what the Lord would show him next.

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

Like Saul, Jesse’s oldest son looked impressive, but God could see into the motivations of his heart, Psalm 139:1. His true character comes out in 1 Sam. 17:28

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

“The Lord looks at the heart” – a much-quoted verse, which headlines a principle. The Lord is concerned with what is on the inside, i.e. character and spiritual disposition, whereas we are swayed by more evident attributes including appearance. Saul stood out in appearance and height, 1 Sam. 9:2, but in character he turned out to lack stature.

8-11 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

With v. 14 this is the pivotal moment when by this physical anointing there is a transfer of the spiritual anointing of God’s Spirit from Saul to David (which he recalled in worship, Psalm 51:11). It is the beginning of a long process over seven years in which Saul’s hold on the kingship is displaced by David’s growing influence.

In practice

It is hard for us to grasp how, with foreknowledge, God can allow something to happen which then turns to failure. This makes a powerful statement about the principle of man’s free will, but also the seriousness with which God regards a failure of leadership through the wrong exercise of free will.

In the O.T. the Holy Spirit comes on a person of God’s choice for a purpose, for them to step up to an anointed role e.g. as prophet or king or leader.  In the NT the Spirit was given at Pentecost and all believers can ask and receive, and are later instructed to “be being filled”, Ephesians 5:18, in an ongoing way for an empowered ministry.

The principle of “trust and test” applies to us as it did to Saul and David. Saul’s arrogant and self-justifying personality meant that he lacked the honesty to know his need of God and need to put right with God his mistakes. David made mistakes, but God had his heart – a crucial difference.

Question

We have free will to obey (or to take God at His word) or not. How have you grown through being tested on this?

Ezekiel 17:22-24 (additional reading)

22 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain.

“A shoot… and plant it” – one of David’s line, Isaiah 11:1, Zech. 3:8, made king. A parable of a messianic future in sharp contrast to the destruction foretold in the preceding prophecies.

“High and lofty mountain” – Jerusalem, Isaiah 2:2-4

23  On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.

“Birds of every kind” – people of every nation.

The Lord Himself plants this shoot from the very top growth

24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.

“Bring down the tall tree” – 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Isaiah 2:12-18.

Trees represent the royal line. The pride and failure of David’s descendants would not stop God’s purpose for the dynasty of David, which was fulfilled in Jesus.

“ ‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’ ”

In practice

Ezekiel was a later prophet who became one of the exiles and a contemporary of Jeremiah, Daniel and Obadiah. He had seen how king after king, and generation after generation, had rejected God’s ways – with disastrous consequences. He also caught a higher perspective: God’s purpose would be fulfilled by God’s action overruling man’s failure. When all around us appears hopeless, in the higher, heavenly perspective God is already bringing His good purposes about. 

Mark 4:26-34 » God’s realm grows unseen where it is planted

  • Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is a hidden influence, like seed that sprouts from the soil

26-29 [Jesus] also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like.

The disciples thought the kingdom of God was a righteous political rule – looking back to David. Not so. All of Jesus’ teaching sought to demonstrate and explain how the kingdom of God, God’s rule and purpose, impacts man’s freewill existence. God’s kingdom exists and grows and produces its good effect in ways that are largely unseen and unrecognised – in our hearts, and through us as changed people, bringing God’s order in righteous, beneficial change to our world.

A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

“He also said” – Mark recounts some further seed parables which are about the hidden life of the kingdom of God which will appear. The kingdom of God is hidden, 4:21, but will certainly become established like a crop, and grow.

30-32 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

“Like a mustard seed – the contrast between a very small beginning – the mustard seed was proverbially small – and spectacular growth.

33-34 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when He was alone with His own disciples, he explained everything.

Mark shows that he is including a compilation of these parables, not a chronological account.

In practice

This teaching reminds us that God’s kingdom does come and does grow whether or not we can see the impact of praying ‘Your kingdom come’.  The change and growth keeps on happening “all by itself” as God’s will is done with the patchy support and partnership of His people. This teaching emphasises God’s sovereignty in fulfilling His purpose, but the witness of the Bible as a whole is on the way God chooses us to be His ‘executive partners’ through our lives and relationships.

Heroes of faith like William Wilberforce and John Wesley whose hearts were changed by the Holy Spirit were passionate in their mission and persevering in setbacks and opposition and lack of progress. Centuries later, we see with more clarity what their prayer and persistence achieved for eternity.

Question

Can you recall something you have prayed for persistently without seeing change at the time – and then, looking back, you could see the shift?

 

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 » New life brings a vision of the kingdom of God

  • Living as a spiritual person will always be in tension with living the human life

6-7 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight.

“At home in the body” – spiritual life is constrained by human existence.

This is not an exhortation to be super-spiritual and believing the unbelievable, but rather living one’s whole life with God in a trust relationship which believes His promises and takes an eternal view, not just the immediate one. This looks back to 2 Cor. 4:18-5:1.

8-10 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

“Appear before the judgment seat” – in our courtroom language we speak of being ‘called to appear before the bench’. This was the bēma, where the Roman governor sat to deliver judicial verdicts.

“Receive what is due” – there is judgment in heaven and we will have to give account for what we have done “in the body”, our here-and-now lives.  Where we fall short of  “living for Him” we should keep short accounts with God and others.

= = = = = 

14-15 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.

“Christ’s love compels us” – Paul’s motivation is the strong awareness of the price paid for him by Jesus, and the relationship of love which holds him. The revelation of how Jesus loves us through His sacrificial death compels us to live for Him, not for ourselves.

16-17 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

This is a change of identity, from the old unregenerate person to the new, spiritual person. New creation also brings new perspective – we see things differently and the old, worldly point of view seems narrow and inadequate. The worldly view of Christ as a historical figure and perhaps a model to follow is radically overturned by the experience of the Holy Spirit  Christ in us – and a growing understanding of who we are “in Christ”, our heavenly identity.

In practice

There’s a tension in living for Christ and in the tension of the world’s ways, in being made a new creation person, but with a lot of old creation habits and attitudes hanging on. The life of the Spirit which is the context of this letter and others written to early church believers demands that we see ourselves as heaven sees us, and live up to this new identity. Too easily we slide back into responding to the world around us as we see it with our eyes rather than as we perceive it, drawing on the spiritual awareness given by the Holy Spirit. People let us down – that is what humans do. The worldly view will be condemning and judgmental; as those in Christ we are equipped to perceive what is going on in a person that impact us unhelpfully, and as those compelled by Christ’s love, we can choose to return to them the grace and forgiveness we ourselves have received from God.

Question

What excites you about the new life, in Christ as a new creation? What holds you back from experiencing it fully?

The New Covenant for a new era

Readings in the church calendar for March 18 (Lent 5)

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 51:1-13

John 12:20-33

Hebrews 5:5-10

Jeremiah foresees a covenant of heart rather than statute

MONDAY, MARCH 12
Jeremiah 31:31-34

The law, so inflexible and easily broken, will now become a spiritual motivation to live a godly and righteous life

31  “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.

31  “The days are coming” – looking ahead to the coming of the Messiah, a new era.

31  This is the only explicit reference to the New Covenant in the Old Testament.

32  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

32  The Sinai covenant, unlike the early covenants with Noah and Abraham, were conditional. It was like a marriage, with the expectation that the Israelites would be a faithful partner to God, the husband, provider and protector.

32  It was a covenant that could be broken – and they broke it continually. That the Old Covenant would one day end in failure and exile was revealed to Moses and foretold in Deuteronomy 30:4-6.

For further study, see Deuteronomy 28-30 and read Deuteronomy 30 alongside this passage.

32  “Not like the covenant I made with their ancestors…” Jeremiah is foreseeing a new age characterised by divine grace and the covenant made with Moses is too inflexible for this new relationship to come.

33  “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.

“I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.

33  As had been foretold in the time of Moses, a way of changing hearts to know and want to follow God’s ways, would be needed. Only the Holy Spirit of God received into the heart, could make this fundamental, regenerative change.

34  No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest,”declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

34  One of Jeremiah’s memorable sayings is that the heart is deceitful and beyond cure, Jer. 17:9. Only a change from a law written externally on stone tablets, to being ‘written’ internally on hearts as an internal covenant and a principle of life, Romans 8:1-4, would be effective.

The new covenant would also amount to the gift of a new heart, Ezekiel 36:25-27.

Application

The Old Covenant was a way of living expressed in charter form which would keep tribespeople, relatively ignorant of God’s ways and God’s word, on the right track with the help of the priests. When they went off the track, a system of penalties provided a way to get right with God.

All the time there was good leadership, submitted to God, and a disciplined priesthood, this worked. But the inflexible system had limitations. It did not adequately represent God’s grace and the Israelites and their expectations were evolving. The intention was that the tribes would be separated to God and guard their own values and culture from pagan (and horrible) influences around them. At the same time, they were to be a witness of the true God to those around them.

At the end of a long prophetic ministry and reflecting on the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah heard from God and saw in the Spirit an entirely new kind of covenant, a covenant of the heart and spirit rather than a covenant of precepts to be learned. This foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God, who fulfilled the law and the priesthood in becoming a sacrifice for all time by dying on a cross while remaining sinless.

What does this immediately mean for us? Unearned redemption by God’s grace in Jesus Christ changes everything – “The old has gone, the new has come”, 2 Cor. 5:17. So either we are hanging on to an outdated system, trying to live the best life we can and perform the necessary religious requirements to please God – or we take hold of the truth that God loves us, is for us, and has given us His Holy Spirit to be our guide and enabler in holy living.

Trying to do both doesn’t work. We can’t be set free from the law – it is for freedom that Christ has set us free – and still look to live by a framework. That is saying we are free but living all bound up. Jeremiah would say, make your mind up – but the New Covenant doesn’t break and is much better. And Paul would say to us, “The old has gone…”

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How much are we still constrained  by old covenant thinking? Why is that?

The human heart takes us away from God, His grace brings us back

FRIDAY, MARCH 9
The emerging message

Raising our faith viewpoints reveals the grace God had for us in every situation

These passages describe four common ‘heart conditions’ or attitudes of the heart that are not acceptable to the Lord. They are also explicit about His grace and mercy in such situations which always provides a way back to Him.

Perhaps it is not surprising the Israelites in the desert, short of food and water, should start to grumble. We are inclined to do it if the traffic is bad and this was life-threatening. But when grumbling turns to speaking against the leader, or the Lord, there were going to be bad consequences, and a plague of carpet vipers appeared.

The psalm reading highlights rebellious ways as a second heart attitude to be addressed, and talks about affliction and wasting disease that results from it.

The gospel reading includes one of the best-known verses in John 3 and the heart issue is unbelief. In a multi-cultural, diverse and tolerant society it does not sit well with us to hear that whoever does not believe, stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Then Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, paints a picture of extreme contrast between living selfishly according to the old nature, and the grace of God which saves us and gives us a new identity as those in Christ and with a passport issued in heaven.

It is apparent how God’s faithful love is prominent in all of this, as though waiting for hearts that show signs of changing, if not exactly changed. The keys are repentant prayer and belief in Christ Jesus. The lessons are how we raise our viewpoint – looking up to an image is a symbol of looking up spiritually to gain heaven’s perspective. The first recorded words of Jesus following baptism and the desert testing were the proclamation of the kingdom with the words “repent and believe”.

The selfish nature, or flesh nature, which is our inheritance from Adam, the prototype of humanness, is part of us we have to keep putting to death, because it keeps on kicking. So we should be as ready to repent as we are to take a shower, and for similar reasons. Repentance always opens the way for us to repair or deepen our relationship with God, to hear. Apart from our pride, what is there to hold us back from getting closer to God and raising our perspective to align with His?

The heavenlies proclaim the Lord, but his words move us towards His intentions

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 27
Psalm 19: 1-14

God reveals Himself in the order and beauty of creation, but even more in the words that define His ways

The two main ways that God reveals Himself are contrasted in this psalm, verses 1-6 and then 7-14.

1  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

1-2  “The heavens” can mean God’s dwelling place or, as here, the skies. Here the heavenly skies silently extol God the Creator’s majesty in what theologians term General Revelation.

3  They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.

3  “No words” – by comparison, vv. 7-14 is expressed in words.

4  Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens, God has pitched a tent for the sun.

4  Ps. 104:2 The Lord… stretches out the heavens like a tent. Creation is set out like the Lord setting out a tent, Isaiah 40:22.

5  It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6  It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.

5-6  Many ways have been put forward to explain this, with reference to the mythology of the time which ascribed particular powers to the moon and sun. In Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts the sun-god’s penetrating rays exposed every human activity. However, here the sun is subject to God, the Creator. If its heat and light affect everything, how much more does God’s word refresh and inform and guide (expanded below); there is true joy and security in that.

7  The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul;

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.

7  Here is the change of direction from the general revelation given by creation and specifically, the skies and the sun tracking its way across each day…

8  The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

8  …Now, by comparison, God’s word brings what is far better – specific revelation which can be trusted, which is enlightening, reliable and lifegiving.

9  The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.

The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.

“The fear of the Lord” is usually the reverence of the Lord. Here “the precepts” and “the commands” become the definition of “the fear” and some versions e.g. ESV keep this within the one sentence.

10  They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.

10  The word for “pure gold” or, in some versions “finest gold” is different from the word for “gold” – it is a stronger expression in Hebrew than in English. God’s truth is of rare, remarkable sought-after value.

11 By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

12  But who can discern their own errors?Forgive my hidden faults.

13  Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.

Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

11-12  God’s word, like 24 carat gold in its purity, reveals the truth which confronts attitudes we use to defend our bits of denial. Sharp and penetrating, it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”, Hebrews 4:12.

12-13  The psalmist is seeking to be blameless before God and free of “great transgression” and the behaviour that goes with it. At the same time, the human tendency to have blind spots for our own failings, or “hidden sins”, is acknowledged. We are all creative when it comes to self-justification. 

14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

“Be pleasing” is correct but a bit shallow. Most other versions have ‘acceptable’ for ratzon, a word that goes with sacrifice. The psalmist has seen the glory of God in the wonder and beauty of His creation, and has been impacted by the revealing truth of divine principles in the written word. Now there is a heart response to be offered, a life to be loved as a sacrifice to God.

Application

God’s majesty, glory and creativity affect everyone, whether they acknowledge it or not; anyone who has been struck by a landscape view, or looked up with wonder at the stars and planets on a clear night has had an encounter with the One who created it, even if not a very profound one!

The ancient people of Mesopotamia saw the sun rise and traverse the sky with penetrating heat and light. To them the sun, and the moon also, were deities that observed our actions and required our penitence for our wrongdoings, known and unknown. The psalmist gives a nod to this while explaining the natural revelation of God Almighty that is in His creation and which stirs our conscience to join the heavens in declaring the glory of God.

But God has given us His word, specific revelation of who He is and how He is – and His way of truth for us. This truth is pure and free from any tarnish, like pure gold, and it acts like a mirror, showing up things in us we cannot see or have got accustomed to not seeing in denial and self-justification. At the same time, God’s principles from his word give us the security of good and righteous guidance, and bring us joy in bringing us closer to Him.

Of course, this stirs up a desire in us to respond to this. We want to live according to His purposes for us, to speak what is pleasing, from heart attitudes that reflect the heart of God Himself.

For reflection or discussion

How much do we value God’s word, and the principles for Christian living we find there? In reading and reflecting on the Bible day by day for ourselves? In holding the Bible readings and exposition through preaching central among the sacraments of Sunday worship?

Catching God’s heart through teaching of spiritual authority

FRIDAY, JANUARY 26
The emerging message

Reviewing again the four readings for Sunday, January 28:

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
One day, God says, He will raise up another prophet who will speak truths from the heart – His heart.

Psalm 111
The Lord’s precepts are not just trustworthy, but His heart is constancy and covenant – “for ever and ever”.

Mark 1: 21-28
Jesus taught from the heart rather than from the mind, and impure spirits recognised the authority of the heart of the Father in Him.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mere knowledge can be arrogant and putting down of others, while the love that is at the heart of life in Jesus builds people up.

The heart of God changes our hearts

Moses was someone who had a very close walk with God. Not so close that he didn’t make mistakes and not so protected that he didn’t make God angry on occasion. But close enough to learn, and listen, and to be able to speak to the Israelites out of the heart of God which had captured his heart.

Jesus was, on one level, another prophet or spokeman for God, whose character and call had similarities to Moses. This was what Moses saw in the Spirit and spoke about. Of course, Jesus Christ was more than that – He was the only and unique Son of God, involved in the original creation, part of the godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so close in relationship that they are not three gods but joined as One, although presenting three points of access for us. Whether we come to the immense and all-encompassing love of the Father’s heart, or encounter the love of Jesus as One who has lived our life and overcome, or received the loving encouragement of the Holy Spirit’s leading and prompting and empowering – our heart is transformed once we catch God’s heart.

That heart connection is what He desires from us in praise and in more intimate worship. As we draw close, we find that God has a very different character value from our human way of being. We blow hot and cold, quickly ‘move on’ and forget, and make promises which are situational. They might be quite sincere at the time but as situations and relationships change, the heart of the promise or intention… kind of fades. And we think that is normal.

With God, His heart and promise never changes or faces. He sees situations with us change and our relationship with Him draws close and veers off wider again, however His intention, His covenant undertaking to love us, does not change at all. And He says, that is His ‘normal’!

Jesus came into the world as the Son of God but born or man, to live a human life but also a perfect life, and as one in whom was no sin, to pray the complete price for all our revellion and selfishness and independence. Along the way, He “taught as One with authority” and everything spiritual, whether dark or light, knew that. Why? Because what Jesus said came from the heart, and it wasn’t just any old heart – His heart was also the heart of the Father. He gave up His divine identity to live on earth as one of us, but He was also doing that living as one fully and perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit – so no wonder His heart was so closely connected to the Father’s heart. However perfectly or, more likely, imperfectly filled with the Spirit we think we are, Jesus modelled a relationship and way of being that we can grow into. And we, too, can speak and serve with the authority that comes from the Father’s heart by the same connection, the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

The outworking of this comes in the witness we give to others who may not be at our place of faith. They may be some way off, spiritually – but they see us and watch us, how we are and how we handle life. They recognise something of the life of God in us, and that is a hallmark, a holiness or setting apart. They watch to see how our interactions with the unholy and unseparated ways of the world play out. Are we so separated and strict that they feel judged, or religiously obligated to be the same? Or are we so good at being accommodating to people of different values, that we are not actually very different or godly? Paul goes to what is in our hearts – is it a pride in knowing who we are in Jesus, so we can do what we want without fear of God’s judgment? Or is it the love that is in Jesus, that gets alongside others wherever they are on the journey, with His encouragement and understanding even though we personally have had an encounter with Him that has changed our hearts?

God’s word is His intention – then, now and for ever

TUESDAY, JANUARY 23
Psalm 111

The Lord’s precepts are not just trustworthy, but His heart is constancy and covenant – “for ever and ever”.

This psalm goes with Psalm 112, written by the same author (probably following the exile) and with the same acrostic structure following the Jewish alphabet on each half-line; so we can say they are intended to be read together.

1   Praise the Lord.
I will extol the Lord with all my heart
in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

  • The “council of the upright” is probably a more select group than the assembly and of proven godliness – similarly the “upright” of Ps. 112:2 and 4.
  • “With all my heart” a phrase associated with other psalms and in this context – perhaps what Jesus was alluding to when He gave the Great Commandment beginning “Love the Lord your God with all your heart”, Matt. 22:36-37.
  • Relating to God, heart to heart, is central to the theme this week

2  Great are the works of the Lord;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.

3  Glorious and majestic are His deeds,
and His righteousness endures forever.

4  He has caused His wonders to be remembered;
the Lord is gracious and compassionate.

5  He provides food for those who fear him;
He remembers His covenant forever.

  • “His righteousness endures forever…His wonders to be remembered… He remembers His covenant forever.” Three of about six expressions of the enduring, unchanging, unfailing quality of God’s decrees (see also note to verses 8-10).
  • God’s people serve a God who remembers; on our side, an important part of worship is our remembering publicly what He has done.

For further study: Psalm 42:6, 45:17, 71:16-18, Exodus 17:14, Joshua 4:7.

  • Testimony linked to the Good News (pondered by all who delight in them, v.2, His wonders… remembered v.4) is spiritually powerful. Good News is not a phrase used in the psalms, yet the psalms speak of declaring it: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad” it says in Psalm 126. Therefore, according to Psalm 107, “Let the Redeemed of the Lord say so!” Psalm 126:3, Psalm 107:2

6  He has shown His people the power of His works,
giving them the lands of other nations.

  • “Shown His people…”: God reveals His purposes to His people Psalm 19:1-4, showing Himself to be worthy of complete trust (v.7 below)
  • Part of the promises of the enduring covenant concern “lands of other nations” given to His people, politically controversial or not!

For further study: Psalm 78:55, Genesis 12:7, 15:18

7  The works of His hands are faithful and just;
all His precepts are trustworthy.

  • “All His precepts are trustworthy…”: the theme about the particular authority and anointing on the Lord’s word emerges here.

8  They are established for ever and ever,
enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.

9  He provided redemption for his people;
He ordained his covenant forever
holy and awesome is His name.

10  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow His precepts have good understanding.
To Him belongs eternal praise.

  • “…Established for ever and ever… ordained His covenant for ever… To Him belongs eternal praise.” Three more expressions of how God’s covenant is praiseworthy – and permanent.
  • The much-repeated, classic definition in the wisdom literature: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. True wisdom is living in the light of God’s nature and character. Willing submission to His ways is the key to seeing the Lord’s strategy.

For further study: Job 28:28, Psalm 112:1, Proverbs 1:7, 9:10.

Application

We have little personal experience of decrees that are enduring, in a world where the values are transient and situational – ‘if it fits, it applies – until the time that it doesn’t’. We are casual; God by complete contrast is constant and faithful to His decree. More recently there has been controversy over people taking more notice of social media ‘fake news’ than journalism which is properly researched, backed up and balanced; and the way assertions, even wild assertions, repeated often enough and loudly enough, are given credibility.

By contrast, God speaks in a way which is utterly true and totally trustworthy. He often refers back to what He has said before, and reminds us of promises which are still standing. His intentions, expressed in His Word, remain His intentions, and they go on and on. He may say more about them, or put them into a new context, but unlike a politician’s tweet, they have foundation and real substance.

God wants to receive our praise not as routine but from the heart, and He also wants us to catch His heart, which is about His constancy and love which is eternal, and never fickle.

Discussion starter

What promises has God made long ago which might help us reach people for Him more confidently?

Speaking from the heart of God

Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, January 28 (Epiphany 4)

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
Mark 1: 21-28
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
C of E alternative epistle reading Rev. 12: 1-5a

MONDAY, JANUARY 22
Deuteronomy 18:15-20

One day, God says, He will raise up another prophet who will speak truths from the heart – His heart.

15  The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.

  • “Like me” –  Moses clearly speaking of the ultimate prophet who was to come. The timeline is similar to someone in early Saxon times speaking of something happening in our time.

16  For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire any more, or we will die.”

17  The Lord said to me: “What they say is good.

18  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.

  • Philip alluded to this verse in calling Nathanael over to Jesus, John 1:45
  • Both the OT and the NT view this passage as referring to the coming Messiah who would (with similarities to Moses) proclaim revelation from God and offer extraordinary leadership to His people.

For further study: There are a number of parallels between Moses and Jesus: being spared as a baby, Exod. 2, Matt. 2:13-23; Jesus renouncing a royal court, Phil. 2:5-8, Heb. 11:24-27; remarkable compassion for their people, Numbers 27:17, Matt. 9:36 and making intercession for their people, Deut 9:18, Heb. 7:25; speaking to God face to face, Exod 34:29-30, 2 Cor. 3:7. Both were involved in mediating a covenant, Deut 29:1, Heb. 8:6-7.

19  I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.

20  But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

  • A prophet, at one level, is what we call a preacher – someone who seeks to speak publicly on behalf of God, speaking God’s truth. OT prophecy was often delivered with a “foretelling” emphasis while NT prophecy, a particularly spiritual gift and ministry,  is more about “forthtelling”. Anyone can claim to speak for God; however in the OT such presumption was to be tested, and if necessary punished.
  • There is a test in view here – will people follow the prophet, or be careful to follow only the Lord and his true prophets? See Deut 13:1-5, Jer. 28:15-17.
  • Compare with v. 18 which refers to a very particular prophet, and this verse which heralds a series of prophetic voices. Both were fulfilled as we know.

Application

The Lord is always speaking to His people. Whether His people are hearing, or even disposed to hear (v.16) is another matter, which is why the Lord has raised up those who will speak and get people’s attention, on His behalf.

It is a serious matter to dismiss what the Lord is saying. Similarly, it is a serious matter to put the Lord’s name to something He is not saying, or to seek to speak authoritatively using an alternative and ungodly source of reference.

The ultimate truth speaker is Jesus, especially in his earthly role where He showed what God was like, alongside God’s self-revelation of Himself in his recorded and enduring word.

Discussion starter

What principles guide us in discerning whether what someone is speaking, is truth from God, or their own presumption – or a mixture?

Encounters with God which show His intimate knowledge of us

The emerging message: the headlines

Friday, January 12

1 Samuel 3:1-20

The young Samuel has his first encounter with God at night, hearing his voice in the Temple.

Psalm 139:1-10

God knows our true heart attitudes, and we can’t hide from Him. At the same time, we cannot be hidden from His saving help and mercy.

John 1:43-51

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

Revelation 5:1-10

In John’s lengthy encounter with heaven he witnesses a deed of ownership of the earth so top-security that only One has the right to hold and open it.

The emerging message

Friday, January 12

The Lord knows what is in our hearts, and seeks those who are open and true to Him.

The theme that emerges this week is about encounters with the Lord, and how the Lord knows us intimately. Two of these are about being trusted with a revelation of divine purpose, difficult to process and communicate, like the young apprentice priest Samuel in the Temple hearing a warning call for unrighteous Israel and its unrighteous priest, Eli, or the elderly apostle John seeing a mind-blowing vision of the majesty and authority of Christ being given legal charge over the world, and being the one to  record it for posterity. The other two are more gentle pictures of how God knows exactly what is in our hearts and sees what He will help us become, as well as how we are now.

The grown up and mature prophet Samuel said of the youngster David, when God was first singling him out for service:

People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” 1 Samuel 16:7.

Samuel, David, Nathanael Bartholomew and the apostle John were all special, godly and renowned people.

But does that mean that God knew them better, or took more of an interest in them? All were pretty ordinary at the time of their first encounter – a foster child, a youngest and somewhat despised son of a big family, a bookish Jew from an obscure up-country village, an apprentice fisherman. God is no respecter of persons – no lover of human pride, position or presentation. He looks for the qualities He find inside, in the heart – true or false, self-determining or submitted. We can’t choose the standing in society of our family, our educational opportunities, or to be born with influence and connections. We can choose to love God, know His love, love others with His love, and love His ways. We can choose to learn from Him and grow in Him. The qualities we see in the four whose encounters are described, are qualities we can aspire to All were wholehearted disciples – Samuel a literal apprentice, David a lifelong worshipper and close follower of God, turning mistakes into opportunities to learn painful lessons and grow from them; Nathanael was a named disciple of Jesus, as was his young friend John whose reflection and writing has given us a gospel account and invaluable New Testament teaching about the developing doctrine and practice of the early Church.

Four people who heard God and to whom God revealed Himself again and again in different ways at different times, as we know from the rest of Scripture. The common factor is their willingness and submission to His purpose, whether they understood it at the time or not; and a quality of transparency, able to be very honest with God about how they were. They were anointed, revered, had distinction and greatness – yet none is seen in Scripture as putting themselves forward or being self-promoting.

We can hear God, walk with Him, learn from Him and have memorable encounters with Him – exactly the same principles apply to us.