Pride leads to a fall but humbly accepting Jesus is salvation and life

Five marks of renewed lives – Ephesians 4:25-5:2

TLW32 August 12, 2018. Theme: Pride leads to a fall but humbly accepting Jesus is salvation and life

QUICK SUMMARY  The story of Absalom’s shameful death, caught up in the mane of hair which was so much his image, is a parable of how not to do life. Absalom’s arrogance and rebellion is a picture of our sinful, independent state and where it leads. By contrast, the story of Jesus patiently explaining that the way to life is He Himself – like the bread that was shared out with no one excluded, and all able to internalise it,  – so spiritually internalising Him and what He stands for is our choice to know God personally and receive His gift of life. That brings with it a new lifestyle, the life of the Spirit, which empowers us to say ‘no’ to traits which harms us and others, and to say ‘yes’ to the opposites, which are living and Christlike. The Way of God for us to imitate is to live in an attitude of love. We can do it because we are transformed and Spirit-empowered.

Readings set in the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday, August 12

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 – Absalom loses his life in self-condemnation

John 6:35, 41-51 – Jesus says He is the bread of life, our salvation

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – Paul urges living renewed lives in transformation

 

 

 

OLD TESTAMENT

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 » Absalom loses his life in self-condemnation

Defeat in the Forest of Ephraim ends a life marred by arrogance and rebellion

5 The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.

“Be gentle” – whether out of fatherly love or a sense of guilt towards Absalom is not clear.

6-8 David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great – twenty thousand men. The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.

“Forest of Ephraim” – not in Ephraim at all but an area east of the Jordan in Gilead, settled by the tribe of Ephraim. The larger army was unable to move effectively in the hazards of a forest, and fell prey to David’s experienced force.

9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

“Riding his mule” – the usual mount for the king’s sons, 2 Sam. 13:29.

“Absalom’s hair” – what he gloried in, 2 Sam. 14:25-26, became the instrument of his downfall. As in life he had exalted himself with his own monument, 2 Sam. 18:18, in death he was thrown into a pit heaped up with rocks, like stoning, and a monument of shame.

15 And ten of Joab’s armour-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.

“Joab’s armour-bearers” – David’s senior officer and his close support had conflicting feelings about the leader of a bloody rebellion. The narrator stresses, e.g. verse 5 above, David’s order to spare Absalom, but Joab had fallen for his deception before, 2 Sam. 14:1-24, and with the king’s safety in view, acted against David’s instructions.

31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”

“Cushite” – “man from Ethiopia’, NLT. Joab had chosen an alternative to the priest’s son to carry the news, in case David overreacted.

32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”

The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”

33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!”

“If only I had died” – David had lost Absalom’s love and respect, and now he had lost his son and any possible reconciliation. From the tone of David’s exclamation, it appears that he is seeing what Nathan prophesied, 2 Sam. 12:10-11, is now happening – His sin with Bathsheba, repented of and forgiven by God, still has consequences which are now playing out.

IN PRACTICE  The story of Absalom’s death, caught in a tree by the long hair he so gloried in, brings with it a reflection on his way of life. He ingratiated himself with others, gained a following over and against his father, and even built a monument to himself just outside Jerusalem. It is a story of pride that leads to a fall, of man-centred values that can never play out well; a story of self-condemnation. In our sinful state apart from God, it’s how we all start. We can recognise the desire to be something for ourselves, and the rebellious streak. This is the ‘how not to” example that brings out the new life in Jesus, and the life of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to make positive choice and live differently – not needing people’s attention to boost our egos, but able to live for Jesus and even look a little bit like Him.

QUESTION  What stands out in the story of Absalom and his death that is the lesson for you?

 

 

GOSPEL

John 6:35, 41-51 »  Jesus says He is the bread of life, our salvation

Some recognise Christ, the Messiah, and His mission to save while others struggle with believing who He is

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.

“I am” – there are a number of statements where Jesus refers to Himself using the words “I am”, purposefully making His hearers think of the Father’s words to Moses in Exodus 3:14, and prophetically through Isaiah e.g. Isaiah 43:25. This is the first of seven such sayings recorded by John.

“The bread of life” – the crowd had said in verse 34, not getting it at all, “Always give us this bread” or ‘keep on giving us free food’. So Jesus makes it very clear He is speaking of Himself.

41-43 At this the Jews there began to grumble about Him because He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can He now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered.

“Began to grumble about Him” – The complaint recalls the attitude in the desert which was the root of the delay in entering the Promised Land. The synagogue crowd are showing the same inflexibility of thought and expectation – and lack of faith – as their ancestors who grumbled about the provision of manna. They consider that they ‘know’ He is the son of Joseph, miracle worker and possible national leader, and refuse to see beyond, to Him being the Son of the Father.

• For further study, read Exodus 16:8, Numbers 14:27 and the recollection in Psalm 95:8-9.

44-45 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’  Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from Him comes to Me.

“No one can come… they will all” – the word ‘can’ is dunamai, which has the fuller meaning of ‘no one is able’. Jesus also quotes Isaiah 54:13 – His bigger vision is all being saved and coming to a knowledge of the truth, also the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34. A balanced view holds these tensions of God’s election “no one can come… unless the Father… draws them” and “they will all” in man’s free will in responding to the tug of the Holy Spirit, in tension. This is a process of grace from God to us, to which we are divinely enabled to respond as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. Scripture emphasises in different places God’s initiative of grace, and our responsibility of responding, in the initial spiritual transformation we call salvation or becoming a Christian.

46-48 No one has seen the Father except the One who is from God; only He has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.

“No one had seen… the one who believes” – as in John’s prologue, John 1:18. If we simply accepted what we could see, that would not be faith. We are required to go out on the line of putting our trust in the goodness of someone we have not physically encountered.

49-51 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

“Ate the manna… yet they died”. Manna gave them food at that time, but Jesus, the Living Bread, confers enduring life.

“This bread is My flesh” – ‘this bread is Me’. Jesus is the true living bread who satisfies the spiritual hunger of those who believe in Him. In a more physical sense, He becomes this ‘bread’ by sacrificing His body – “My flesh” – to death on the Cross. His perplexed hearers would reflect on this and some would later understand.

IN PRACTICE  The crowd who heard Jesus give this teaching didn’t find it easy to grasp. Many of them had known Jesus for 30 years. But recently, they had seen miracles of healing and provision which pointed to a different kind of identity, His divine Messiah identity, which He was now explaining to them. Some had faith to see Jesus beyond the carpenter’s shop, while others struggled.

It’s the same with us. Every encounter with God requires two things of us: our need of God (depending)  and taking Him at His word (believing). John doesn’t use words like ‘faith’ and ‘trust’ but prefers the action word ‘believing’. Jesus, not our efforts or good deeds, is the source of empowered life now and the way to life eternal. He chooses us, reminding us that He does out of love for us, and hold out an offer. When we trust Him for that offer, everything changes.

QUESTION  How would you explain to someone else simply, what Jesus had done out of love for them, and how they might respond to that?

 

 

EPISTLE

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 » Paul urges living renewed lives in transformation

The hallmark of those who belong to the Lord, who is Love personified, is that they walk in love like Him.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…

Each of you must” – in the context of, each of you, redeemed by Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit,  is now enabled to live like this. A list of five instances follows, each with an aspect not to do, an aspect to do positively instead, and a spiritual principle.

“Put off falsehood” – twisting of the truth comes with anger and bitterness. The emotional response of anger (like any emotional response of the moment) is not of itself sin, but anger that takes root i.e. carries over to the next day and beyond forms a resentful, bitter and often slanderous attitude that is the visible effect of unforgiveness – and that is denying the gospel.

27-28 …and do not give the devil a foothold…

“A foothold” – all sin gives the devil legal rights to oppress us and the sin of unforgiveness and unresolved conflict is perhaps the most common strategy the devil uses to gain a measure of control over our thoughts and lives. Sin is the access he looks for.

…Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

“Steal no longer but… work” – repentance can be defined as stopping something harmful, starting something positive instead, and a changed lifestyle that all can see.

29-30 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

“Only what is… building others up” – a practical guideline and the opposite of obscene language, gossip and slander which like a rotten fruit spreads and corrupts, doing so much damage to individuals and the whole community.

“Grieve the Holy Spirit” – showing the Holy Spirit to be a person and One who is sensitive to any harshness of attitude, perhaps more than we are

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

“Bitterness…anger” – resentment and malice have no place in people who have been forgiven of much -– and so morally cannot withhold from others that same grace. Failure to forgive results in the anger, clamour and malice which follow logically in the sentence.

32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

“Be kind” – be kind, chrestos, because of Christ, Christos.

“Compassionate… forgiving – the opposite of the bitter attitude. God’s forgiveness of us is the standard we apply to others: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors, Matt. 6:12.

For further study, compare with Hosea 3:1, Colossians 3:13.

Eph. 5:1-2 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

“Follow God’s example” – more literally, “Be imitators of God”. Believers have been exhorted to learn about Christ, and not to grieve the Spirit, Eph 4:20-21, 30. Now they are set the challenge of adopting and demonstrating God’s values to the world around them.

“Walk in the way of love” – a summary of the section. Christ’s demonstration of loving us was fragrant, i.e. acceptable to God; our fragrant offering is following His example in walking in love towards others.

IN PRACTICE  The new life which comes through asking Jesus to be Lord of our lives is – new. ‘The old has gone, the new has come,’ in Paul’s words elsewhere. Foul language and petty dishonesty doesn’t seem clever any more. A lot of our more selfish traits lose their hold on us. But there’s plenty of baggage we need to recognise and lay down, and Paul sets out some choices for us – what not to do, what to do positively instead and the spiritual principle involved. In the flesh, or selfish nature, we can be harsh and critical of others, with standards of behaviour that don’t align with our new spiritual identity. This ‘mixed message’ destroys our witness but more seriously, offends the Holy Spirit and causes Him to distance Himself. Someone whose very nature is love is going to be a sensitive person, and the Holy Spirit is that sensitive person. On the other hand, He is the very One who enables us to grow more Christlike and loving. There’s a part we do, but we cannot do it by ourselves – we need to work with His empowering.

QUESTION  Out of the “get rid of” things listed and the challenge to love unconditionally, like Christ, which speak to you most?

PRAYER  Father God, as we come to You in Jesus, we are so grateful for the new life You hold out to us. Jesus, You are the Bread of Life! Help us to grasp this with both hands, eagerly, and with the help of Your Spirit, to live it out for all to see what You have done. Amen.

Lifegiving gift of God, freely given

I am the Bread of Life

Image credit: http://riveroflifetheriverwalk.org

TLW31 using the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, August 5.

Theme: Lifegiving gift of God, freely given

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a – a ‘gift’ violated in immaturity

John 6:24-35 – Jesus’ gift to us of eternal lifegiving food

Ephesians 4:1-16 – Maturity grows through Christ’s gifts to His church

To read additionally: Psalm 51:1-12

SUMMARY THIS WEEK  David knew about relying on God’s provision yet He was tempted to seize what was not his in a shameful episode. Jesus multiplied food in a miracle for His listening crowd and then explained that the true eternal sustenance was He Himself. They didn’t get it. Paul, writing to Spirit-filled Christians in Ephesus, urges them to keep hold of the unity the Holy Spirit has given them and to keep on growing and seeking spiritual maturity.

OLD TESTAMENT

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a » A ‘gift’ violated in immaturity

David becomes convicted of his sin on hearing a story told to him by the court prophet, Nathan.

26-27 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.

“Displeased the Lord” – a dramatic understatement. David had misused his royal power, 2 Sam. 5:2, 2 Sam. 7:7, and broken the 6th, 7th and 10th commandments, Exodus 20:13,14,17.

12:1-3 The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“The Lord sent Nathan” – Nathan, a court prophet, was acting as the Lord’s emissary sent with the Lord’s message. He had spoken before prophetically, 2 Sam. 7:2.

“Now a traveller came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveller who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

5-6 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

“As surely as…” – David’s exclamation is in the form of an oath.

“Four times over” – the customary restitution. David later lost four of his sons, three of whom died violently.

7-8 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.

“Gave your master’s house…” – meaning the throne and its benefits being conferred on David.

9-10 ‘Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

“You struck down…you killed…” – A figure of speech; David was responsible for Uriah falling in battle.

11-12 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ ”

“In broad daylight” – foretelling Absalom rebelling and sleeping with the royal concubines on the palace rooftop, 2 Sam. 16:22.

13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

The story continues with David’s wholehearted repentance, and being met by God’s grace in it despite the seriousness of his offences.

IN PRACTICE  From a plain reading of the story, David is in denial of his wrongdoing until nine months or more after the affair with Bathsheba and the birth of his son, when Nathan the court prophet comes to him with a story. At this point, the enormity of his sin impacts David – the adultery, deception of Uriah and his constructive murder – and blatant disregard for God’s order. David immediately repents in a wholehearted way. However, sin sets in train consequences. To do what we know not to do, is costly for us as it was for David.

QUESTION  ‘Repent’ is a word we shy away from, yet David turned to God from the most serious sin, and received grace. How ready are you to admit to God where you have been wrong?

 

GOSPEL

John 6:24-35 » The gift of Jesus, bread of life from heaven

The bread that never spoils is to believe in the One that God sent

24 Once the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

“Capernaum” – Jesus had been seen to leave the scene of the miracle of the feeding of the crowd alone, and the crowd went to search for him in the most likely place.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”

26-27 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs I performed, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.”

They saw the sign but regarded Jesus as a miracle worker. Like the 12 disciples, Mark 6:53, they needed Jesus to teach them further, to grasp the fuller meaning.

“Food that endures to eternal life” – Jesus’ miracle with ordinary bread is a sign of who He is, uniquely authorised by the Father as His giver of spiritual, eternal ‘food’ that gives life.

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”

“What must we do…” – The crowd followed the merit-based Jewish religion and misses the point that eternal life is not earned, but God’s gift simply received, Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5. These two verses make a succinct statement of the gospel. The one and indispensable ‘work’ is to exercise faith and believe in Jesus Christ. See Paul’s explanation in Romans 3:20-28.

30-31 So they asked him, “What sign then will You give that we may see it and believe you? What will You do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

“What sign will You give” – there was a popular expectation that the Messiah would be known in the provision of manna again. The crowd had witnessed a single miracle with ordinary bread; Moses (in their perception) had fed a whole nation with heavenly bread for a generation.

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.

“Bread from heaven” – far more than manna, the significance emphasised by a seven-fold repetition, here and vv. 38,41,50-51,58.

33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Jesus gently corrects them. God gave the manna in the past, but what is important is the “true bread”, life through the Son, which God is giving now.

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.

“Jesus declared, “I am…” – in Greek the tone is solemn and emphatic, echoing God’s words in Exodus 3:12-15.

For further study: This is the first of seven key “I am” sayings in John’s gospel, John 6:35, 8:12, 10:7,9; 10:11,14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1,5.

IN PRACTICE  The people who had received the miraculous provision of bread to eat on the remote hillside wanted more of the same. They had met Jesus, the provider, but had not yet properly met with Jesus the Son of God – and so didn’t understand the real gift of Jesus to them. The disciples weren’t getting it easily, either. It’s the same today. We are so indoctrinated with the idea of working for a reward, and of achieving preference on the basis of merit, that we baulk at the idea of simply believing and receiving. The bread, or food, that Jesus offers us, which is lifegiving in an eternal way and which never spoils or runs out, is Himself. We create all kinds of substitutes: church heritage and religious observance and good deeds add up in our minds to a completely false sense of our entitlement. This is the barrier and the reason why we find it hard to turn to Jesus as Saviour and as Lord, and to simply and humbly receive what He has done for us.

QUESTION  Everyone has struggled with this and everyone has a story… How would you explain how you received Jesus’ life-giving gift to someone exploring Christian faith?

 

EPISTLE

Ephesians 4:1-16 » Maturity grows through Christ’s gifts to His church

Spiritual maturity and unity are a priority for the church to thrive

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

“Worthy of the calling” – The kind of life that demonstrates following Christ’s call will have hallmarks apparent to others

For further study, see 1 Thess. 2:12; Romans 12:1; Col. 1:10.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Freedom from needing to prove oneself and being free to absorb tensions and show grace to others, is part of growing in Christian maturity, vv. 13-16. It is a call to the corporate humility and forgiving love that emphasises reconciliation, Col. 3:12-13. This is attractive to people looking from the outside in. Where those claiming to be Christians are seen to be harsh, arrogant and judgmental, it sends out a mixed message, which is damaging.

3-5 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

“Make every effort” – words of urgent priority, to maintain the unity that the Holy Spirit brings. The experience of baptism of the Spirit is to be one with others in that common experience – but it must be defended from the enemy’s attempts to bring division.

“One body and one Spirit” – seven foundational facets of this spiritual unity, expressed in the form of a prayer declaration.

7-8 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When He ascended on high, He took many captives and gave gifts to His people.”

Paul loosely quotes Psalm 68:18, which itself refers to the victory song of Deborah in Judges 5:12, lit. “He took captivity captive”. Christ took captive the bondage imposed by Satan, for all who would turn to Him. The psalm refers to taking gifts; Paul changes that around. Ancient kings would *take* tribute as part of victory, but sometimes *share*  booty and show generosity in acts of clemency – the Hebrew words sound similar, hence the word play. Paul here emphasises the goodness of God in giving victory gifts, so it is fitting that He gives victory gifts to His church, in particular the gifts of specific and valuable leadership qualities.

9-10 (What does “He ascended” mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

“He also descended” – in this passage, to earth, rather than Hades. The One who ascended and now fills the earth with His graces and presence is none other than the one who descended to become incarnate to live in humble circumstances, and then to be put to death for us.

11-12 So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…

Christ’s gifts to the church are seen as five defined kinds of ministry working through church leadership functions of overseers, also called elders who pastor the flock, Acts 20:17,28. The point of this whole passage is encouraging spiritual maturity which will maintain unity, through these five strands in concert.

  • An apostle type of leader may be sent out to pioneer a new work;
  • a prophetic leader may be gifted in knowing and encouraging in God’s present purposes and praying them in;
  • the evangelist kind of leader is adept at communicating the Good News simply and engagingly;
  • another different gifting is the shepherd who cares for the flock, most likely also…
  • a teacher who has the gift of explaining the Bible’s stories and message simply and clearly.

These gifts are not mutually exclusive, but the picture is of a team where all the gifts are represented.

13 ...until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

“Fullness of Christ” – the full expression of what Christ is like, Eph. 1:23. People who are filled with Christ are by definition not filled with their own sense of importance, and will be builders of faith and unity, both within the congregation and (vitally in our day and age) between churches and congregations of other streams.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

“Infants” – small children are suggestible, and prone to squabbling. By contrast, maturity means growing up into Christ, knowing Him and becoming like Him. Unity is not mere tolerance, but a one-ness in Christ and His values. The Holy Spirit always works for unity (why wouldn’t He?) but it is man’s stubborn and arrogant unredeemed attitudes which create disunity.

15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

“The mature body” – Christ’s people, in all their diversity, working together, supporting each other and growing together in Him, v.16 below.

16 From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

IN PRACTICE  Turning to Jesus and receiving His gift of new life is a vital and life-changing decision. But we’re not supposed to live that time over and over. We don’t find a signpost and then camp there! As we know, the real formation of the church took place with the general bestowing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This was an empowering time when the continuing presence of Jesus became real for all of them and they grew in this new life of the Spirit. Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus, urging them to keep on growing true, humble and loving – and together. With an enemy whose tactic is to spoil and cause division in the body, unity is of paramount importance. Of course there will be tensions, but it’s too easy to divide over them – maturity demands that we have the character to absorb tensions and stay focused on Christ and stay together in Him.

QUESTION  When someone, perhaps a leader, says or does something that you find difficult, what are the two or three responses you can choose to make?

PRAYER  Father God, You are good all the time, gracious when like David we recognise our mistakes and giving beyond anything we could earn or deserve. Help me to love You by being trusting and open to simply receive from You. Amen.

God’s promise of inclusion and rest

Readings for Sunday, July 22 – God’s promise of inclusion and rest

2 Samuel 7:1-14a – The promise of rest from oppression with God present

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 – The promise of Jesus’ compassion for all who draw close

Ephesians 2:11-22 – The promise of access to the Father without exclusion

Quick summary

The theme is based on three Bible promises of peace and rest and being included in God’s promise of hope and protection. King David is promised rest from the oppression of enemies – a promise that we can stand on when we face oppression – in Galilee crowds finding Jesus’ compassion give us a promise of God’s mercy, including healing, and the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles makes a present-day promise to all of being included in God’s promises without religious separation.

OLD TESTAMENT

2 Samuel 7:1-14a » David desires a fitting place of worship for God to retain the nation’s rest

God will have a dwelling for people to draw close, but not built by David. He will, however, grant David longevity of rule and lineage

1-2 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

David, as king, now had a palace built of stone and imported cedar while the ark remained under a tent covering, 2 Sam. 6:17. David felt that the heavenly King should be more prominently honoured than him.

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

This word is also referred to as the Davidic covenant. It contains both national (v.10) and person (v.11) promises.

For further study of references to this as a covenant, see 2 Sam. 23:5, Psalm 89:3,28,34,39 and Ps. 132:11

5-7 “Go and tell My servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build Me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as My dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, “Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?” ’

“Are you the one?” – David’s God-given task was to fight the Lord’s battles to achieve rest, freedom from oppression, in the land that had been promised. See 1 Kings 5:3, 1 Chron. 22:8-9.

“Now then, tell My servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over My people Israel.

I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.

“Cut off all your enemies” – Bible material is often arranged according to topic rather than the exact chronology we would expect. The events of 2 Sam. 8:1-14 probably happened before this chapter.

10-11 And I will provide a place for My people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“Provide a place… for Israel” – the real purpose behind making David king.

“Since…I appointed leaders…” – meaning the time of the judges who preceded Saul and David and the kings.

“ ‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord Himself will establish a house for you:

“Establish a house” – the play on words is plain in translation. God does not David to build Him a house, or temple, but God will build David a house, or royal dynasty.

Many Bible covenants are conditional with an”if” clause, but this covenant with David is unconditional, as with Noah, Abram and Phinehas.

12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.

13 He is the one who will build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever.

14 I will be His father, and He will be My son.

The covenant points forward to its greater fulfilment in Jesus Christ, born of the tribe of Judah and the house of David, Matt. 1:1, Luke 1:32-33 etc

IN PRACTICE  This teaching in the Old Testament from King David’s time contains the first of three promises from God of ‘rest’ which is a state of peace and trust from enemies.

David’s enemies mostly appeared with a spear in their hands, and his battles are trials of military strength worked out in combat on the battlefield. In our world of NATO and Europol and summit talks, is all that irrelevant? Certainly not. Spiritual conflicts in the heavenlies, where the hosts of the defeated enemy, Satan, are still pursuing a vicious rearguard action, are played out in acts of terrorism, persecution and imprisonment of political opponents, and every kind of cruelty and injustice.

When we encounter evil actions and evil people, we need to see the evil that is finding people’s vulnerabilities and insecurities to work through.

Now turning to submit to God in worship, who has promised His rest, starts to make very present-day, practical sense.

QUESTION  When evil in one of its forms draws near to us, who do we draw near to? How do we bring God’s promises to bear?

 

GOSPEL

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 » The promise of Jesus’ compassion for all who draw close

People recognise the Messiah and draw close. Wherever Jesus went crowds gathered and brought their sick

30-31 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

“Get some rest” – two meanings here. Another definition of finding rest is taking time in a quiet place with Jesus.

32-34 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.

Or crossed the shoreline. Gennesaret (modern-day Ginosar) is down the coast a little way, towards Tiberius.

54-56 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognised Jesus.

The crowd from vv.32-34 could see the boat and follow its progress on foot.

They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard He was. And wherever He went – into villages, towns or countryside – they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged Him to let them touch even the edge of His cloak, and all who touched it were healed. 

“All who touched it…” – a clear statement. See also Matthew 8:16-17.

IN PRACTICE  To seek a divine encounter with the promise of healing is entirely in line with this teaching, but out of line with most of our experience. It’s controversial. We all know people who have struggled with illness. For some, their earthly life appears to have foreclosed early and suddenly.

The account of people flocking to Jesus, pressing in to Him and the statement that “all who touched [His cloak] were healed” leaves us with both a promise and also a problem.

The promise seems clear enough, but so is the expectation of coming to the Lord (who we can’t touch) and trust in Him, when we have so many alternatives to trust in. Some we know from their stories are miraculously healed; for many it is a process and good medicine may be experienced as God’s gift. For some, the healing is total in transition to new and eternal life. Our philosophy is inadequate to explain this, but let’s not let lack of predictability and our sense of control and reason stop us from simply trusting and believing what God has written.

QUESTION  In the battle that goes on in our minds between reason and logic and trusting in what God says, how do we referee the contest?

 

EPISTLE

Ephesians 2:11-22 » The promise of access to the Father without exclusion

The new relationship with God includes Gentiles on the same basis as Jews

11-13 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) – remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

“Remember that formerly… at that time” – referring to those outside a personal relationship with Christ, as they were when they “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air…”, Eph. 2:1-10. We are either committed to belong to Christ, or we are by default under the sway of the devil.

“You who are Gentiles” – most of those in the church in Ephesus.

The rite of circumcision was a clear mark of distinction and also pride. A major exclusion in the ancient world, between people groups hostile to each other, is reconciled in Christ.

14-15 For He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace…

“Two groups one” – believing Jews and believing Gentiles.

“Destroyed the barrier” – a barrier of prejudice. Jews and Gentiles practised strict religious isolation from one another. Gentiles in the Jerusalem temple area were not allowed past the barrier in the Court of the Gentiles.

16 …and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the Cross, by which He put to death their hostility.

“One body” – God sees those who are the Lord’s, those who are His, as one body of Christ.

17-18 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

“Far away and… near” – Gentiles, unlike Jews, had no cultural experience of the Living God and so were not as “near”, although both had shared the same need to come into personal relationship through Jesus and His Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household…

“Foreigners and strangers” – addressing what had been a deep-seated division.

20 …built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

“Cornerstone” – hundreds of years before Christ, Isaiah spoke of God laying a “tested stone” as a cornerstone foundation, Isaiah 28:16, meaning the Messiah to come.

“Foundation of apostles and prophets” – the early church was built on these ministries as people were sent out in ground-breaking roles. Church planting in our time, both overseas and new congregations at home, require the equipping ministries mentioned later in the letter, Eph. 4:11-13.

21 In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

22 And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

“In Him… built together” – Peter also refers to Jesus as the Living Stone in whom we ‘living stones’ are being built into a spiritual ‘house’. See 1 Peter 2:4-6

IN PRACTICE  The third teaching in this theme of God’s promise of our inclusion in His hope and His promises, and therefore our rest, is about who is included and whether there is a kind of hierarchy of privilege. We think there is. We think that our religious obedience, however that is expressed, gets us up the queue line because that’s how we as humans are programmed – so much in our education, professional life and general experience is based on merit.

When ministers began to take the Good News of Jesus outside the confines of pews and pulpit (as John Wesley did in the 1700s and many others since) God’s love and grace for the apparently underserving presented many surprises to the religious mind.  He loves to overturn our comfortable theology! Back in the first century, it was the same. The Jews really did consider themselves God’s chosen people, even if they had largely rejected their own Messiah. They wanted to treat the ‘outsider’ Gentiles as second class, if they had dealings with them at all. God confronted that exclusivity of attitude in them, and He still does in us. Formal religion has created all kinds of barriers to knowing God’s love and He delights in opening another door that needs no ticket other than a desire to enter in and experience Him.

QUESTION  If you see another person in church who dresses differently, behaves differently and just is – different, how do you view them and how does God view them – and how will you love them anyway?

How the grace of God demolishes our human barriers

The readings according to the lectionary for Sunday, July 1

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 – God’s grace in David lamenting his former persecutor

Mark 5:21-43 – God’s grace shown in special favour for the woman who was excluded

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – God’s grace in Gentiles’ willingness to raise money for the Jewish church

Kilwa, Tanzania. Image: Jonathan Rendell, Oasis Church, Hereford

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 » God’s grace seen in David lamenting his former persecutor

  • No rejoicing after tyrannical Saul is killed

After the death of Saul, David returned from striking down the Amalekites and stayed in Ziklag two days.

“After the death of Saul” – the battle of Mount Gilboa did not go well for the Israelites. Saul’s sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua were killed during the Philistine pursuit, and Saul was critically wounded and fell on his own sword, 1 Samuel 31:1-4.

17-18 David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament of the bow (it is written in the Book of Jashar):

“Book of Jashar” – mentioned in Joshua 10:13, an early commemoration of Israel’s exploits, now lost. Probably in verse form like the “lament of the bow”, sung during drill with the bow, Israel’s weapon of choice.

19-20 “A gazelle lies slain on your heights, Israel. How the mighty have fallen! “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.

“Gazelle” – figurative language symbolising a special person, here used for Jonathan.

“Proclaim it not” – Gath to Ashkelon was the expanse of Philistine territory. For them to celebrate Israel’s defeat brought reproach, not just to Israel, but to the name of the Lord.

21-22 “Mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, may no showers fall on your terraced fields. For there the shield of the mighty was despised, the shield of Saul – no longer rubbed with oil. “From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.

“May no showers fall” – a curse on the place where Saul and Jonathan perished expressing David’s grief. “No longer rubbed with oil” – the shield no longer maintained, no longer needed.

23 “Saul and Jonathan – in life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.

“Not parted” – Jonathan opposed his father, especially in the way he treated David, but fought to defend Israel and gave his life beside his father.

24 “Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.

“Scarlet” – associated with luxury.

25  “How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights.

26  “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.

“Your love for me was wonderful” – No sexual connotation here: Jonathan’s commitment to David, at personal risk, seeing him as God’s choice to succeed his own father, was a truly remarkable bond.

27  “How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!”

In practice  If someone had spent years cursing you, making life very difficult for you and had attempted to kill you more than once, how would you feel when they themselves have come to a sticky end? Who among us would not gloat, for a while, anyway?

When David hears the news that King Saul and his close companion and friend Jonathan have both been killed while retreating from the Philistines, he does the opposite. He composes a song of lament to honour them in every way he can think of. Human emotions have been overridden – God’s grace is flowing. David had kept his heart clean from resentment for many years; his practice had paid off.

We can do the same and choose not to recount injustice and betrayal, but to love our enemies because we have the Holy Spirit to cause a flow of grace in our hearts.

Question  Why did Jesus say it was so important for us to forgive without condition? Think of the Lord’s Prayer…

Mark 5:21-43 » God’s grace shown in special favour for the woman who was excluded

  • Two different people publicly put faith in Jesus

21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around Him while He was by the lake.

“The other side” – He had been on the eastern Gadara and Decapolis side of the lake, and now crossed back to the Capernaum and Galilee side.

22-24 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at His feet He pleaded earnestly with Him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around Him.

“Synagogue leaders” – laymen, mostly Pharisees,  who organised services.

25-26 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.

“A woman was there” – but ceremonially unclean owing to her condition, and not allowed in the temple court reserved for women.

27-29 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

By the law, Leviticus 15:19-23, she renders Jesus ceremonially unclean. However, He demonstrates that He is greater than purity laws by healing her, and therefore making her clean.

30 At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from Him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” His disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched Me?’ ”

“Who touched Me?” – He senses something, a spiritual transaction, more than just touch because He would have felt the nudges of many in the crowd.

32-34 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at His feet and, trembling with fear, told Him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

She had rendered many in the crowd unclean, a shameful thing to have done from the perspective of the Law. Mark depicts how her fear turned to faith.

“Daughter” – from shunned outsider she has become part of the family of God.

“Healed” – the word ‘sozo’ has a broader meaning encompassing healed, delivered, saved. Faith in Jesus which brought her physical healing was the faith that conferred salvation from sin.

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

“Don’t be afraid” – ‘Do not fear…’ as Jesus says to us in many circumstances, ‘but believe’. Fear and faith are opposites, more than unbelief and faith. Once we decide to turn from the grip of fear to regard Jesus, faith dispels fear. We need the willpower to kick-start this change. A big test for Jairus with a dead child.

37-40 He did not let anyone follow Him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at Him.

After He put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with Him, and went in where the child was.

“People wailing loudly” – assisted by community mourners who upheld the noisy custom.

“Peter, James and John” – early days of the ministry and a small room, so a call to the ‘senior apprentices’ only.

“They laughed at Him” – the unbelieving crowd created an unbelieving spirituality.

41-43 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Talitha koum” – Only Mark’s fast-paced gospel includes references to the vernacular that Jesus and the disciples customarily used – giving immediacy to the story.

“Not to let anyone know” – Jesus was never self-promoting. In Galilee he faced two problems: He was a Galilean with fast-growing popularity in his own region, and this was attracting growing hostility from religious leaders which was pointing to premature crisis, before His work was anywhere near complete.

In practice  In Mark’s telling, a story of one extraordinary healing, a raising from the dead, becomes an envelope for another healing and crowd scene.

Jesus’ relationship with synagogues and synagogue leaders was patchy, to say the least. He talked about the kingdom of God and demonstrated the kingdom of God with apparent disregard for the conventions about the Sabbath, but here a synagogue officer faces personal tragedy in the death of his small daughter and appeals to Jesus, who turfs out the wailing mourners and speaks life into her dead form.

Before that, and no less extraordinary, was the covert encounter a chronically ill woman had with him in the crowd, forcing through to touch His robe in a desperate gesture of faith.

Both were held captive by fear and hopelessness but broke free of their feelings to express faith in Jesus: His ‘sozo’ – deliverance, healing and salvation – was the result. The lesson for us is plain – defy your feelings and even facts and conventions, and turn to Jesus. Your prayer might be desperate, but maybe this is what he is listening for.

Question  Have you witnessed any extraordinary answers to prayer? What was spoken out in faith as part of that prayer effort?

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 » God’s grace in Gentile believers’ willingness to raise money for the Jewish church

  • Corinthians who excelled in gifts exhorted to be earnest in their giving

But since you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

The Corinthians – hardly lacking in self-esteem, proud of their public debating heritage and encouraged by Paul in chapters 1-7 – are challenged to lead in financial generosity also.

8-9 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

“Not commanding” – this was not a command to give – telling people to give more often has the opposite effect – but inviting them to test the sincerity of their love. The Macedonian churches in northern Greece like Philippi and Thessalonica, not far distant, had shown their love as they “gave themselves first to the Lord” by giving beyond their means at a time of severe trial and poverty. Would Corinth have the same heart?

“You know the grace of our Lord” – here meaning God’s love shown in saving action for undeserving mankind.

10-12 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

“Eager willingness… is there” – the point is that God looks for faith and joy in giving which is part of our worship of Him. Giving out of duty (by the same logic) is not acceptable. We can encourage each other to give more freely, willingly and joyfully, but to expect people to give more because they ought is the wrong message.

13-15 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

“Too much… too little” –  quoting from Exodus 16:18 which refers to the Israelites gathering manna in the desert, illustrating the kind of equality he has in mind. Like giving out of duty, giving as a kind of religious penance is not the willingness and Spirit-led enthusiasm that God is seeking.

In practice  The Corinthians have taken hold of new life in Christ with enthusiasm – sometimes a little too much enthusiasm, it seems. But they were also early to respond and raise money when news of the need in Jerusalem reached them across the Mediterranean in Greece. But Paul instructs them, it is not dutiful giving that God smiles on, but the joyful kind that relies on His provision and shares it willingly and joyfully. “God loves a cheerful giver” because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or rather, worship.

Question In what ways can you worship God in your freedom to give and meet needs for others?

The unmistakable healing of the crippled man brought Peter’s forthright proclamation of the present reality of Jesus to heal and save

THURSDAY, APRIL 19
Acts 4:5-12

Peter and John have been brought before the court whose main prosecutors are those that condemned Jesus to death.

5-6  The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. 

The Sanhedrin was the Jewish senate and its membership of 70 comprised the Saduccee temple hierarchy of the high priest dynasty, lay people of power and influence, and mainly Pharisee teachers of the law. Annas called himself high priest even though he had been deposed by the Romans more than 15 years earlier. Luke is at pains to show us that despite a wide representation, the power was in the hands of one aristocratic Sadduccee family, the same that had arraigned Jesus. In this context, Peter the fisherman’s defence is especially bold.

7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Peter and John were arrested because they were preaching and teaching about the Resurrection in the Temple precincts, Acts 4:1-3, Solomon’s colonnade where Jesus Himself had taught, John 10:23-24. The presence of the formerly disabled man as a witness (v.10), had rather overtaken the original reason. The Sadduccees were particularly angered because they did not believe in resurrection, which they did not consider to be found in Genesis to Deuteronomy, the only part of the Scriptures they recognised as authoritative. They were the focus of the early opposition to Christianity.

8  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!

Peter addresses the two main groups, the minority Sadduccee priestly rulers, and the elders who included the teachers of the law and were the majority Pharisees.

Jesus had foretold exactly this kind of charge and the enabling of the Holy Spirit to answer in court, Luke 12:11-12; 21:14-15.

9 “If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed…

“Healed” – the same word as is used for “saved” in v.12. We use different words, including ‘delivered’, for what is God’s salvation received in different ways.

10 “…then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

Peter states formally and using the full name, that it is by the name of Jesus the witness is standing there healed.

“By the Name” – an allusion of God revealing Himself to Moses, Exodus 3:15 and the giving of the Law, Exodus 20:7. It is a provocative reminder that Jesus, the Messiah, is God – the One who the rulers especially, crucified and God raised from the dead.

11 “Jesus is
‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’

A quotation from Psalm 118:22 which Jesus applied to Himself as Messiah, Luke 20:17, and which featured in the apostolic body of teaching, 1 Peter 2:7, together with other ‘stone sayings’ e.g. ‘living stones’.

12  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Jesus is the One and the only One empowered by God to grant salvation to others. This is expressed elsewhere in the N.T. e.g. John 14:6, Hebrews 2:3, 1 Timothy 2:5. Understanding God to have exalted Jesus to His right hand, this position was unique and could not be shared.

Application

This is an early-early-church model for three challenges that Christians meet today.

Firstly, the challenge of what to do when you see someone, not necessarily a person of any faith, who has a need, and the Holy Spirit is prompting you so you start to ‘see’ what God purposes. And it involves you! Bear in mind that Peter and John and the others would have seen this man lying by the Beautiful Gate and asking for money, every day. On this occasion, Peter sensed it was a ‘now’ time, and faith was rising in him for what he needed to do.

Secondly, the challenge of speaking out God’s purpose in faith. Peter may have prayed for this man’s needs to be met many times. No doubt others asked God to heal him. But now Peter was prompted to declare, rather than ask, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!”, Acts 3:6-7. It’s not a formula. The challenge is to hear what the Lord is saying to say and do, and then do exactly that.

Thirdly, doing what the Lord says to do will bring opposition from religious people who would rather you did what they said to do, or what the order of the day says to do. Peter followed up this astounding miracle with a message to the people around, giving the glory fairly and squarely to Jesus who, he explained, had been put to death and then raised by God, as had been long foretold. In effect he said, “Jesus is alive! Here is the evidence”. So he and John were arrested and brought before the court the next day, trusting in Jesus’ promise that on arrest they would be given the words to say.

God wants to extend his kingdom rule and good order, and His means for doing it is us, in obedience and trust.  It can be a bumpy road – the shadow of death even – but He enters into this with us, with His goodness and mercy. That’s the kingdom of God.

For reflection and discussion

Should you be ready to minister in the name of Jesus, or should you leave that sort of thing to a ‘professional’?

Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd foretold in Scripture

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18
John 10:11-18

A farmer would recognise his sheep and they, him – but Jesus speaks of knowing and caring intimately, and being prepared to die for the good of His human flock.

11  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Jesus applies to Himself Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34:12, 15.

This is the fourth of seven “I am” sayings in John.

For further study, read John 6:35, 48, 51; 8:12; 10:7, 9; 10:11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5

12-13 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

Shepherding was an occupation calling for some sacrifices and risks to defend the flock from dangerous predators. However, even a flock-owning shepherd would not die for his sheep, even less a hired hand. Jesus is deliberately extending the picture and saying that He is not just like a shepherd, but a shepherd who would even go so far as to die to save the sheep.

Jesus is contrasting His calling, with the high priests and religious hierarchy who were assigned responsibility as ‘shepherds’ for the flock of Israel, but treated them with disdain liked ‘hired hands’ who “did not own” or had no real relationship with the sheep and “cared nothing” for them.

14-15  “I am the good shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me – just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father – and I lay down My life for the sheep.

“I know My sheep… The Father knows me… My sheep know Me”: The way John uses the word translated as ‘know’ (ginosko) carries the meaning of being intimately acquainted and trusting. For Jesus to say that He and His followers had an intimate and trusting relationship, comparable with His relationship with His Father, was an astounding statement.

16  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They, too, will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

Jesus’ primary calling was to Israel, His own people, Matthew 15:24; cf. Matt. 10:5–6, but always with the further objective of including others. In His resurrection appearances He specifically instructed His followers to go and make disciples among “all nations” i.e. among Gentiles, Matthew 28:19, Luke 24:47, Acts 1:8, and He emphasises unity in His farewell prayer, John 17:20.

“Sheep pen” – the word is aulē which means courtyard. There is an allusion here to the temple and its courts and Jesus is saying that He has some to bring from another courtyard who recognise His voice.

17-18  “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Jesus’ three-times-repeated assertion that it is His decision to lay down His life underlines the sacrificial purpose of His death, which defines His love, 1 John 3:16. No one can take His life unless He permits it, as He pointed out to Pilate, John 19:10-11; similarly, He has the authority to overrule His own death. He had this authority because it was what He had been commanded to do by His Father to fulfil the plan of salvation. This is the only place it is stated that Jesus is instrumental in His resurrection – in most places it is God who raises Jesus from the dead.

Application

Who decides whether we are Jesus’ flock or not? We do! The understanding of this question is in transition here, because of the Jews’ long-held traditional understanding of being exclusively God’s chosen people. The early Christian believers were challenged to see people with God’s eyes, not religious eyes.

We have, wittingly or unwittingly, carried this over into modern day ‘churchianity’ where we create our groups of ‘chosenness’ which are exclusive to others. Perhaps this is a form of self-protection. Whatever it is, the Gospel confronts exclusivity. Wherever we try to set the boundaries of our particular sheepfold, Jesus will be telling us He has others who are His, who know Him and are known by Him

For reflection and discussion

How accepting are we of Jesus followers who follow in different ways to us?

Do we expect people to conform and believe before they belong? What happens in practice in growing churches?

The new, enduring and entirely different level of priesthood now held by Christ Jesus

THURSDAY, MARCH 15
Hebrews 5:5-10

The sinless and perfected humanity of Jesus, and His victory over the severest of tests, make Him the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him

The opening chapters of Hebrews, Hebrews 1-Hebrews 3:2, gives the Jewish readers the letter was written for, a background of who Jesus is – “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”, Heb. 1:3. Christ who was “made a little lower than the angels”, is “now crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death”, Heb. 1:9, and “much superior to the angels”, Heb. 1:4. He is also the “Apostle and High Priest… faithful to the One who appointed Him”, Hebrews 3:1-2. He is the One God sent (apostle) to become the ultimate mediator and source of salvation, high priest, of a different and very special kind.

5  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”, Psalm 2:7.

5  In New Testament times the high priestly office was in the control of the family that had bought the rights.
6  And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek,” Psalm 110:4. 6  Christ was appointed by God – as was Aaron. This is a similarity, but now we see that this is a different kind of priesthood. They made sacrifices for sins on behalf of the people, and dealt gently with the waywardness of the people, but this was not permanent. Aaron and his successors had to make sin offerings for their own sin, as well as the people’s. They had their time of office, and were replaced.
7  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. 7  Unlike Aaron, Jesus made a permanent sacrifice for sin as a sinless person. Unlike Aaron, He learned obedience through suffering, v.8, and offered up prayers and petitions which are heard because of His reverent submission, v.7. Salvation through His priesthood is not here-and-now (until the next sacrifice) but eternal, all-encompassing and without limit.
8  Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered… 8  Not that He was ever disobedient. But being called upon to obey in such a test, facing such temptations, engaging in such a difficult battle for victory, Christ was “made perfect”. His victory overturns Adam’s failure and the consequent curse affecting humanity.
9  …and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him… His humanity completed (another way of expressing “made perfect”), He now acts as “the source of eternal salvation”, see Hebrews 9:12.
10  …and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. 10 Melchizedek had no successors, so strictly speaking there was no order named after him. “A high priest of the same kind as Melchizedek” is better and also conveys the sense that this kind of priesthood is on another level entirely.
Application

The high priest role of Jesus may not be the easiest one for us to relate to – but we reflect on it every time we pray a prayer “in the name of Jesus”. We are asking the resurrected Jesus in His heavenly position to pick up our prayer, to agree with it and then pray it before the Father on our behalf.

Knowing that Jesus, “the radiance of God’s glory”, is by the Father’s side interceding for us, Romans 8:34 gives us a lot of confidence in intercession prayer. But we know that prayer in the face of the one who steals, kills and destroys, John 10:10, is a battle. It is something of a courtroom standoff of legal arguments against a merciless prosecutor, in which God’s word is used to establish precedents. If we know that the high priest role of Jesus is an appointment by God of one tested and found perfected and sinless, even through the most severe trials, and now designated to be the source of eternal salvation for those who follow Him – we are giving our brief to the ultimate Kings Counsel, a barrister of the very highest standing and impeccable reputation.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How has this changed your perspective on what happens in the heavenlies when we pray with requests for ourselves or others?

Jesus refers to the lifting up of the bronze snake in the wilderness

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7
John 3:14-21

God’s love rests on us the moment we turn to Jesus as God’s only Son and believing, receive Him into our hearts

14  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,

15  that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.”

14  Jesus refers to Numbers 21:8-9 and sees this action by Moses as a precursor or foreshadowing of His own call to self-sacrifice.

14-15  This is the first of three “lifted up” sayings of Jesus with a double meaning. The others are John 8:28, John 12:32. Hearers would probably recognise the language that Isaiah used, Isa. 52:13.

16  For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

One of the best known and most quoted verses in the Bible, which may be Jesus’ words or John’s commentary on Jesus’ words. There is no equivalent of quotation marks in NT Greek, so we can’t be sure. But Scripture is Scripture.

“One and only Son” – also John 1:14, 1:18. The word is monogenēs which means the only one of its kind. In the Old Latin translation, monogenēs was translated unicus, the root of our word unique. The essential nature of Jesus as one and only Son, is the same nature as the Father’s

17  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 17  “For God did not send…”  John designates Jesus as ‘the Son sent by the Father’ a number of times, which is the image of the shaliach, messenger or envoy, who is like the sender and able to represent exactly the sender’s interests with the sender’s message.

For further study see John 3:34-36; John 5:19-26; John 6:40; John 8:35-36; John 14:13; John 17:1

18  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

18  John is speaking of settled convictions, not feelings of confidence or doubt which come and go. The “how to” of coming to that settled conviction has already been explained in John 3:5-9 in which Jesus explains to the well-read Pharisee Nicodemus that to perceive the kingdom of God one must have a new start and be born again of the Holy Spirit, and so gain eternal life in the One to be “lifted up” like the bronze snake lifted up by Moses in the wilderness. As God miraculously granted physical life to the dying through the bronze snake, Numbers 21:4-9, so God miraculously gives spiritual and eternal life through Jesus. Unlike the snake, Jesus has life in Himself, John 1:4, John 5:26.

18-21  Two groups of people are starkly contrasted:

Believe in the Son Do not believe in the Son
Have eternal life Shall perish
Are not condemned Are condemned already
Love light Love darkness; hate the light
Live by the truth  Do evil

19  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

20  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

21  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Application

In this excerpt, we come in halfway, to a conversation between Nicodemus, a well-read and thinking man and Jesus. Jesus explains to him that seeing the kingdom of God is a spiritual perception enabled by the Holy Spirit. Entering into the kingdom of God is a spiritual renewal – a spiritual birth experience. This comes through recognising who Jesus is, a raising of perspective and diminishing of self which allows the Holy Spirit to connect with the human spirit.

We so easily slip back into seeing things from a worldly perspective (where Nicodemus started). The challenge is to be ready to move position, to change perspective, to see what is illuminated by the light.

In our politically-correct world where relativism reigns and absolutes are scorned, everyone wants to uphold their own path to their own ‘truth’. That clashes head-on with this stark black and white scenario, where we either do believe in the Son and have eternal life, or we do not believe and we perish. Stark or not, that’s what the Bible says. There is no assurance in anything else – or anyone else, but Jesus.

To stand with Jesus as one of His, is to see with His perspective. To look up at Jesus on the Cross or in our mind’s eye, in the heavenlies, is to recognise the severe limits of our own perspective and gain a higher one – with eternal benefits.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

3  “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned…” What do you believe about this, and how would you explain it to an enquirer in ordinary language?

The emerging message: Five unusual facets of Jesus’ lordship

FRIDAY, MARCH 23
The emerging message

Isaiah 50:5-9a

Isaiah speaks of a servant who listens to the Lord devotedly and takes a beating from others

A picture of a true disciple’s false accusation, punishment – and assurance of the Lord’s vindication

Psalm 31:9-18

Confidence in God’s unfailing love at a time of desperation

David knew God’s faithfulness when he was under attack – prophetic of Jesus’ time of torment also

Psalm 118:1-2 and 19-29

The song that pilgrims in festal procession sang came to life in a new way at Jesus’ entry into the city

The person whose name had the meaning “You have become my salvation” was to become the “stone that the builders rejected”  in the words of this processional

Mark 11:1-11

Two disciples are sent to find the young donkey the Lord has provided for the fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy

Jesus enters the city to shouts of acclaim from a gathering crowd who offer Him royal homage

Philippians 2:5-11

Paul challenges Christians reading the letter with the standard of humility and obedience shown by Christ

Jesus made Himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant – but without losing His divine origins as part of the Trinity

Five facets of Jesus’ lordship

The Sunday where Jesus’ triumphant entry to shouts of Hosanna! and a path of palm branches is a reminder of a royal procession unlike any we have seen.

Jesus, who we know as King of kings and Lord of lords, is revealed in a prophetic picture in Isaiah 50 as a servant, obedient to the point of being willing to take abuse, in the confidence of eventual vindication

The psalms show us another prophetic insight, the Lord held even through desperate circumstances by knowing God intimately, and His unfailing love. This for us is what film-makers would call a prequel and theologians a foreshadow of what was to come. Man’s cruelty and God’s love were juxtaposed in sharp relief in prophetic destiny, set out in Psalm 118, where rejection by man, always known by God, becomes His glory.

Next we see Jesus fulfilling a prophecy, entering the city as a king who appears as a peacemaker on an unkingly mount, a donkey.

Looking back at the Cross, Paul gives us a fifth facet by explaining how Jesus, Son of God, could let go of His divine rank to take on the nature of a servant for His time on earth – and let this become the route to true glory.

Paul doesn’t say how much more we need to let go of self and let God use us without our glory. The point is already strongly made. However, the church, facing into an unbelieving world, has not made this its manifesto. Millions will own having faith but have been hurt by a church that at times is a caricature of Jesus’ values.

God’s intentions are revealed in Jesus’ prophetic action

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 28
John 2: 13-22

Meeting God in the Temple – in the holy of holies, or in the temple courts accessible to everybody?

13  When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 13  John mentions four or five passovers.

13  This is the beginning of a section on John (up to John 4:54) which recounts Jesus’ ministry to Jerusalem, Judea, and to Samaria and Gentiles. There are two major encounters to come, one with Nicodemus who represented the Jerusalem religious elite, and a second, very different in nature, with the Samaritan woman, representing the Samaritan religion. This temple incident is like a prologue.

14  In the temple courts He found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 14  This was in the temple courts, or court of the Gentiles, the area where non-Jews were admitted to pray in the “house of prayer for all nations” Isaiah 56:7.
15  So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 15  The three synoptic (narrative) gospels record a second, later, clearing of the temple courts by Jesus at the Jewish Passover, just before the Crucifixion.
16  To those who sold doves He said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a market!”

17  His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for Your house will consume Me.”

16-17  This is a prophetic action by Jesus, a little drama depicting what will happen to the Jewish religious leaders who had allowed commerce to overtake worship and become an obstacle to people, especially the non-Jewish ‘God-fearers’, for whom this was the part of the temple courts where they could come and pray. See Psalm 69:9, quoted in part above.

18  The Jews then responded to Him, “What sign can you show us to prove Your authority to do all this?”

19  Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

18-19  Jesus implies that He will have a part in raising Himself from the dead. Elsewhere He says “I am the Resurrection and the Life”, John 11:25. All rather confusing until we step back and recognise that Jesus is in the Father, John 14:10-11, and the Father i.e. the Holy Spirit is in Him, John 10:38 – The Trinity is one, and acts as one. Lacking the insight of faith, they are simply seeing the Jesus who had emptied Himself of the divine nature to be born as man, and standing before them as the Galilean rabbi.  As is so often the challenge for us, the close up picture is not the whole picture.

For further study, other verses tell us that the Father and the Holy Spirit were involved in the Resurrection: Acts 2:24, Romans 6:4, 1 Cor. 6:14, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 1:20, and also Romans 1:4, 8:11

20  They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”

20  Or alternative translation, “this temple was built 46 years ago”. Herod the Great had constructed the temple proper, but the hieron, temple courts, were still unfinished.

20  No one understood Jesus’ reply at the time. This sheds lights on the taunts made three years later at the trial and crucifixion, Matthew 26:62, Matt. 27:40.

21  But the temple He had spoken of was His body. 21  A temple is a place where God dwells. This was a key to Israel’s worship, first around the tabernacle, and then in more permanent temples built by Solomon, then on returning from exile Zerubbabel, and finally Herod the Great. Now all that changes, because Jesus, the new temple, renders all other obsolete, by manifesting God the Father, John 1:14, 18. The final and ultimate once-for-all-time sacrifice took place in this “temple”, His body, which was “destroyed” when He was put to death, but Jesus was “raised” from the dead “in three days”.
22 After He was raised from the dead, His disciples recalled what He had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Application

The idea that God’s dwelling place was in the Jerusalem Temple was looking old-fashioned as soon as Jesus entered the courts. The church is not a building – church building or temple structure.

At the same time, the temple had been built and rebuilt, originally by Jesus’ ancestor Solomon, as a place set apart to God – a holy place – and a centre of worship. Now it was full of sheep and cattle – and bankers. So Jesus was more than entitled to say He wanted His house of prayer back.

This is a picture of how God’s clear intentions can get taken over by the purposes of man, and how God feels about that. Medieval churches in the UK, especially in the country, were commonly used as community meeting places and markets, especially if there were no other market hall. The wider use of the building is not the point.

What is at issue here is whether the church of God, as the people of God, are carrying out His mission, rooted in worship that comes from the faith that can only grow from close personal relationship – or whether they have degenerated into self-serving institutions.

The reformation, revivals and renewals of every century since the Middle Ages suggest that the Holy Spirit is always at work, shaking what can be shaken, and bringing the mission of God to the fore. The temple that Jesus entered was scarcely complete architecturally before it was demolished and much of Jerusalem with it, by which time the church was growing in Asia, Greece, Italy and beyond. If we don’t catch what God is doing now and change course to meet Him in it, we too will become a barrier of dead stones.

For reflection and discussion

Tabernacle, temple building and then Jesus Himself… where is the temple where God resides now?

How does our worship practice reflect this, or perhaps could reflect this better?