Theme: God’s kingdom purpose and its signposts
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19 – Bringing the Ark of the Lord to Jerusalem foreshadows Temple worship
Mark 6:14-29 – John the Baptist’s execution foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice
Ephesians 1:3-14 – How the Holy Spirit foreshadows our heavenly destiny
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19 » The Ark of God becomes central to the nation of Israel again
The procession celebrates before the Lord with passion, safeguarding the holiness of the ark
1 David again brought together all the able young men of Israel – thirty thousand.
2 He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark.
“Baalah” – the more familiar name is Kiriath Jearim, where the ark had stayed for 20 years during Saul’s reign.
“Called by the Name” – meaning that God owned it. A phrase used elsewhere to indicate ownership.
“Who is enthroned between…” – in 1 Chron. 28:2 the ark is referred to as ‘the footstool of our God’ – the footstool of God’s earthly throne. David, recognising the ark as symbolising God’s ultimate kingship and rule, wanted it to be prominent and central, unlike Saul who concealed the ark, among other failures of spiritual leadership.
3-5 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.
“Uzzah and Ahio” – sons, meaning more broadly, descendants. They decided to move the ark on a new cart (carelessly imitating the pagan Philistines) but the standing instruction was to move the ark by having Levites carry it by its rings, Exodus 25:12-15, Numbers 4:4-6. This was a strategic error leading to Uzzah’s death when he stumbled and touched the ark, verses 6-7 omitted, 1 Chron. 15:13-15.
12 Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God. So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing.
“Blessed…Obed-Edom” – The Lord had blessed the Levite who had taken good care of the ark, and David’s deduction was that this blessing would come on Jerusalem if the ark was reverentially cared for there. Aware that his own care and reverence had been found lacking, David is leading the procession in praising, celebrating and sacrificing wholeheartedly.
13-14 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
“Those who were carrying” – now the Kohathite Levites are carrying the ark on their shoulders. After a few steps, David consecrates the new phase of the journey in sacrifice. No need to assume he does this every few steps.
“Linen ephod” – a priestly garment worn for ministering to the Lord, as the boy Samuel did, 1 Sam. 2:18.
16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
“Daughter of Saul” – also a statement of attitude. David was a very different character, which for her undermined her father’s memory.
“She despised him” – Michal, a princess, was holding values of dignity and royal propriety about David’s kingship. David had another royal propriety in mind, before the King of kings; his sense of submission to the Lord in heartfelt worship overrode his personal dignity, verses 21-23.
17-19 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.
“Blessed the people” – as Moses and Aaron had, long before, outside the tent of meeting, when the glory of the Lord appeared, Lev. 9:23. And as Solomon would at the dedication of the temple, 1 Kings 8:55-61.
In practice Israel had lost the experience of having the presence of God with them, under Saul’s woefully disappointing kingship. The Ark of the Lord was out of sight in an obscure place. The faith of the nation was at low tide.
Saul was a proud person and everybody knew he was king. David was a worshipful person who exalted Yahweh as the real King of Israel – so that sometimes people forgot that David was set apart to lead, and not just one of them.
David made mistakes but he was a quick learner. He recognised that bringing up the ark as the ‘footstool of God’ at the heart of the nation would get everyone looking to God. This led to the Temple, his vision but not his achievement, and looked forward to ‘God with Us’, his descendant Jesus the Emmanuel and a time which each of us would be a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Question David didn’t care what anyone thought when he was worshipping God exuberantly. How could you be more expressive, more released, more abandoned to God?
Mark 6:14-29 » John the Baptist’s execution foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice
King Herod has John the Baptist, a righteous and holy man, executed
14 King Herod heard about [the widening ministry of Jesus and the disciples with signs and wonders], for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
“King Herod” – he was a lesser order, a tetrarch or ruler of four provinces. Perhaps some irony here in Mark’s account
15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”
And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
“He is Elijah” – the return of Elijah (or one ministering as Elijah did) was one of the last prophecies recorded, Malachi 4:5. As Elijah was the forerunner to Elisha, to ‘Elijah’ would be the new forerunner to the Messiah. It was John who ministered in the “spirit and power of Elijah”, Luke 1:17 and we would say, in the style of Elijah, in being a prophetic preacher and a wilderness-dwelling outsider.
16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
Herod was fearful, disturbed by a bad conscience – and superstitious.
17-20 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
John’s imprisonment, in the fortress of Machaerus, is described by the independent Jewish historian Josephus in his ‘Antiquities’.
The vindictive, manipulative Herodias and indecisive ‘king’ Herod parallel the original Elijah’s persecutor Jezebel and weak husband Ahab, 1 Kings 19:1-2, 1 Kings 21:1-16
21-22 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.”
23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
“Half my kingdom” – more of a saying than a promise, see Esther 5:3,6. But keeping up appearances mattered in the company of so many military commanders.
24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.
25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
26-29 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her.
Clearly Herod recognised John’s integrity, moral courage and prophetic gift, vv. 17-20. But, a vain man in the company of military officers and people of power, he felt constrained not to appear weak.
So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Disciples of John existed for a century or more after his death. He was the last of the Old Testament-era prophets.
In practice John was an Elijah-like figure who announced Jesus, made preparations for Jesus by baptising in the River Jordan, and made a way for Hims ministry, preparing people for a Messiah who was expected but not at all understood. He completed his forerunner role a little too well and a little too early, by being executed on a whim at the request of the tetrarch’s wife, who resented him deeply. He died a righteous man; His cousin was to die a worse death on a Roman cross a couple of years later as a righteous man who was also without sin.
David’s initiative in bringing up the Ark of the Lord, led to the temple order of worship of the Lord and then to the Lord Himself. John the Baptist’s obedience to his call led to the dawning of an understanding that the realm of God’s rule and realm, the kingdom of God, was starting to be realised.
Question Can you think of something you have done for God’s kingdom that didn’t seem to result in much glory but made a preparation for someone else’s contribution? Why is this important?
Ephesians 1:3-14 » How the Holy Spirit foreshadows our heavenly destiny
The seal of the Holy Spirit is evidence of God choosing us for the praise of His glory
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
“Praise be” – or “Blessed be” more literally. This follows the style of Jewish prayers that were recited at times during the day.
Paul is straight in here with a vital statement of the spiritual identity of a believer in this era of the life of the Holy Spirit. These good things are ours because of who we are “in Christ”.
There is an assumption here which we often miss – that there is no disconnection between the “heavenly realms” and our earthly life. Our spiritual blessing and spiritual life is located in heaven, with Christ, influencing our different, but not disconnected, everyday life on earth.
4-6 For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.
“Chose us in Him” – God is outside the constraints of time and space which define us – which makes it easier to understand how He could choose us, at the beginning of creation, in the Son and for our own adoption into sonship. This is not flowery prose but the most profound statement of how God sees us “in Christ” as those who have put their lives under Christ’s lordship.
“Praise of His…grace” – because it is unearned and conferred. Our worldview which emphasises merit (and deprecates hereditary titles) makes it difficult for us to simply receive God’s grace in Jesus, without imagining we have worked for His favour in some religious or sacrificial way.
7-9 In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ…
“Redemption through His blood” – The first redemption was the nation of Israel released from slavery in the Exodus, with the Passover sacrifice and applying of the lamb’s blood to the doorframes foreshadowing for Christian believers the provision of Christ’s shed blood from His sacrifice of Himself. The redemption now is Christ’s price paid for our release from slavery to sin and independent action.
“Made known to us the mystery” – the Holy Spirit gives us the key, enabling spiritual ‘mysteries’ to be spiritually discerned.
10 …to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will…
There is a balance in Scripture between being chosen in a way which was predestined, and putting ourselves in a place to be chosen, which is our decision (below) to 1. put our hope in Christ, 2. hear the message of truth and 3. believe.
12 …in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
13-14 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.
The Holy Spirit takes up residence when we invite Him into our lives, which we do by believing who Jesus is and what He has done for us personally – saying ‘Yes’ to Him. The Holy Spirit gives us an inner witness of who we are, and how we are, in Christ – not our righteousness, but His. We know we are saved
In practice Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus is written to a spiritually mature readership. He reminds them of their identity in Christ and their adoption into sonship – with all the connotations of the privileges of a family heir that Roman adoption conferred. But this was living as a believer in a Roman colony of an empire where persecution of those who were Followers of the Way was all too real a prospect and death could be the result. These believers had a real experience of the empowering of the Holy Spirit – and Paul reminds them that the inner witness of the Spirit of God is like a down payment on the experience of heaven. They were to be assured of their destiny, and so are we.
p class=”p9″>Question Why does Paul put so much emphasis on us knowing who we are in Christ? Why does this help us to live well for Him?
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
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.
2 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.’
3 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.
4 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?”
5 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.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
7 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.
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.
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.’ ”
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.
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.
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.
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.
What excites you about the new life, in Christ as a new creation? What holds you back from experiencing it fully?
THURSDAY, MARCH 8
How God sees us in Christ Jesus, seated with Him in the heavenly realms
|The context of this passage is God’s kingdom purpose that is being revealed (the mystery of His will) to bring everything together under Christ’s lordship, Eph. 1:9-10. This “unity of all things” happens through the surrender of will and receiving of grace, by individuals.|
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…
1 “Trespasses” are lapses, “sins” are shortcomings.
1 “Dead” is without authentic spiritual life, where the most vital, spirit part of the human personality is not operating. In this state we can’t of ourselves meet God’s requirements, or engineer a way of having fellowship with Him.
1 The Jews are no better off – all inherit the sinful human nature and start off in independence and disobedience.
|2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.||2 Before God’s intervention, everyone who is born is physically alive but spiritually dead and alienated from God the life-giver. There is a contrast of opposites “between being in transgressions and sins” and being “in Christ”, Eph. 2:5-7 below.|
|3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.||3 “All of us” – Paul, as a Jew, doesn’t exclude himself. Possessing the law is no protection from the desires and thoughts of the flesh. We all like to seek a religious framework in which we avert judgment by doing ‘good’ things – it’s the way we are wired. Once we submit to Jesus Christ as Lord as well as Saviour, a transformation takes place and we see things with new understanding, vv. 4-5 below.
3 As in the great treatise explaining salvation by Christ, Romans chapter 1 through 8, the apostle does not turn to the grace of God, verses 4-8, until he has made very clear humanity’s inherently sinful nature and desperate need of a way out. See also Colossians 1:21-22.
|4 But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy…||4 “But” points to God, in His perfection, having wrath for man’s misdeeds and unholiness. Only God, in His perfection, can hold together this righteous wrath with “great love” and being “rich in mercy”. Only God can reconcile our independence and transgression, with His desire for us. The Gospel is all about reconciliation, led by God Himself.|
5 …made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…
5-6 The “As for you… but because” long sentence resolves here, a linguistic emphasis. The “blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly place” statement of the introduction to the letter, Eph. 1:3 not moves from general to three particular things God has done “in Christ” for every believer:
– From spiritually dead to new life in Christ
– Salvation, the unearned gift of God’s grace
– A citizenship of heaven, backed by heavenly authority, positionally “raised up… and seated… with [Christ]”.
The choice to accept this, remember this, live in this, is ours alone.
For further study: the ‘look higher, live higher’ exhortation is also expressed in Colossians 3:1-3.
|7 …in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.||7 “Might show” – endyknymai means ‘display’ or ‘demonstrate’, Amplified, or ‘point to us as examples’, NLT. The church is God’s exhibition to the world of His grace and love, and also His kingdom purpose, planned from long ago to be relevant long ahead.|
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God –
9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
8-9 Paul emphasises greatly (as he does elsewhere) that we owe our salvation entirely to the undeserved, unearned favour of God. It is His doing; the only part mankind plays is in the words “by faith” i.e. believing, trusting and receiving what God has done in Jesus. It is this in very small part that we find such great resistance of the flesh. The human nature always looks for something that has the feeling of action and reward. The great danger of an elaborate religious framework is that it supports and even feeds this desire for ‘works’ and provides what seems to be an alternative to responding to God’s love in faith.
For further study: 1-3 “all have sinned” and suffer sin’s consequences, Romans 3:22-23. 8-10 Salvation can never be achieved through works, Rom. 3:20, 28; 4:1–5; Gal. 2:16; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5.
10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Christians prove their faith by the fruit of their lives in good character, nature, and in doing good – never the other way round. Paul emphasises this so much, because it is such a widely held fallacy that our good deeds give us credit on heaven. The only credit acceptable is on Jesus Christ’s account, not ours.
For further study, James 2:14-26.
These few verses are some of the richest we can find, in terms of explaining the grace of God and how it works out in our lives. This is God’s initiative in reconciliation, a concept so simple and at the same time so profound, that we find it hard to grasp. And perhaps it is not possible to grasp, without allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us at a deep level, to break down the pride and resistance in us, and bring us to the point of gratefully looking up, to raise our faith to be enabled to live higher, the theme of all these Bible readings.
Of course, this mind-blowing explanation of how God has treated us, has huge implications for the way we set out to treat others.
The actions and attitudes of others deserve our wrath, just as we deserve God’s wrath. How does He see us? His handiwork, being shaped and polished. How does He treat us? Gently, as His handiwork requires. Do we see others as God’s handiwork? And how do we treat them, when they cut in on us, or worse? Living by the truth is challenging, but the alternative is living by falsehood, and it’s a hard act to sustain.
For reflection or as a discussion starter
4 Think for a moment about your relationship with God, your stance against the schemes and deceptions of Satan, and your relationships of all kinds with other people. What practical difference does it make to be in Christ Jesus and seated with Him in the heavenly realms?