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?

The emerging message

RECAP

Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise

Psalm 22: 23-31
From a background of anguish and apparent abandonment, the tone turns to praise and even revival

Mark 8:31-38
God’s great plan of redemption through Jesus is a stretch of faith for His disciples

Romans 4: 13-25
The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’

The emerging message – ‘It’s all about faith, stupid’

God’s desire is to reveal Himself, to make Himself known. But there’s a problem – God is Spirit, and in our unregenerate state we are not. Even when we have come to know God personally through turning to Jesus and inviting him to be our Lord, there is still a gulf to be bridged. That bridge is what we call faith. It is choosing to believe beyond what we see, what we know, what we understand, what is logical or feasible to us. To see with the “eyes of the heart”.

Abraham is the father of faith, not just to Jews, but to all who look to God in faith. God appeared to him on a number of occasions and made promises that didn’t stack up and didn’t happen – or so it seemed. Abraham hung in there. God had said it – that settled it. This was a 25-year test; Abraham believed, and kept on believing, and “it was credited to Him as righteousness”.

We face trials, and seek what God is saying – and we may hear clearly. And we hang on to that word and it seems to us that nothing happens. What was all that about? The way God grew Abraham through a test of faith, is the way He grows us.

David, in Psalm 22, writes (probably prophetically) about desperate anguish and pain and the questioning of where God is in that. Where we pick up the reading the tone changes to praise, based on God’s character, never mind what it feels like. And the result of that barefaced, impudent faith to praise God in the face of the enemy is a knock-on effect of people turning to God. We call it revival.

Jesus explains to His disciples, now that they have recognised that He is the Messiah, that God’s plan for mankind will be fulfilled in His capture, mock trial and torture to death. No one wants that – but this most difficult-to-grasp purpose has to be seen with eyes of faith.

We have tried to turn faith into religious practice, as the Jews did with their complicated system to achieve righteousness. Peter teaches us that it doesn’t work that way. Look back to Abraham, He says, and you can see that salvation by faith alone began with Him. We want something more complicated, something to work at rather than – simply believing.

Sometimes the straightforward way, looks way too simple – but the straightforward response of faith is what God desires from us more than anything else.

God’s purpose is overarching – and merciful

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16
Recap and message

Genesis 9:8-17 (Monday reading)

God’s way of mercy established in the first unconditional covenant, with Noah

Psalm 25:1-10 (Tuesday reading)

An appeal to the covenant and pledge to keep God’s ways even in the face of personal adversity

Mark 1:9-15 (Wednesday reading)

Jesus demonstrates the way of dependence on God as a key to a Holy Spirit empowered life

1 Peter 3: 18-22 (Thursday reading)

Peter explains God’s higher purpose in Jesus’ incarnation and death on the cross, making a way for us to have a clear conscience before God

The emerging message – God’s loving purpose is not limited by our perspective

From not quite the earliest times, but from very early times, God acted in judgment but also spoke a covenant promise for all time against such a flood disaster being repeated. Given the wickedness of the then world, to wipe out mankind would have been a just decision – but God’s mercy and greater purpose overruled.

David faced constant and at times vicious opposition, including a rebellion led by his son Absalom, but it was the attacks on his character which he struggled with most. Keeping a clean heart in the face of betrayal is one of the hardest things any of us is called to do, and David calls down God’s higher purpose in the language of covenant, to help him do this.

Jesus is the incarnation of God’s higher purpose – and the incarnation of God’s mercy and love. Jesus told Philip that having seen Him, he had seen the Father. Or certainly seen what the Father is like. He shows this sense of higher purpose in his first public appearance, by the banks of the River Jordan where John was preaching repentance and baptising those who responded. For Him to be baptised was not just symbolic, or giving a lead to others, but an act of repentance which released His Holy Spirit-empowered ministry. There’s a challenge there for us in discerning where God intends for our ministry with Him to be, and whether we are “fit for purpose” and prepared to live in constant repentance and dependence. That fights with our human self-sufficiency at every level.

Peter refers to our call to be baptised as a statement that we are turning to Jesus and away from our old lives. He links what we know as baptism with a precursor, a kind of global baptism, which Noah knew as he escaped destruction. Then he links this with those in the spirit world who have merited destruction, and describes Jesus preaching to them.

God is so merciful that He is always looking for a response, even when it seems that no response could be expected.

As we consider the world of not-yet-believers around us,  the few who are seeking to find out who God is and the many who appear to be mocking or scoffing, the message of these passages is surely to aim higher. It is to find out what God is doing, in the context of what He is always doing, and seek to love into the kingdom even those with the hardest hearts.

Peter extends our limited perspective of Jesus’ death and our baptism

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 15
1 Peter 3: 18-22

Peter explains God’s higher purpose in Jesus’ incarnation and death on the cross, making a way for us to have a clear conscience before God

18  For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. “Suffered once” is hapax which means once, for all time. This has given rise to some misunderstanding of the RSV “once for all”, although the translators’ meaning was “one time, for all times”. Previously, under the Old Covenant, animal sacrifices had to be offered repeatedly. But this is the full and final sacrifice that Jesus made of Himself, once, effective for all who turn to Him as Lord in every generation. No further sacrifice, no additional payment for the debt of our sin, is needed.

“To bring you to God”. A clear statement of the central truth of the Gospel, that Christ’s death enables a personal connection and a personal relationship with the three of the godhead, which makes salvation a personal encounter: “You did it for me!”.

“Put to death in the body” – died on earth. “Made alive in the Spirit” – the new state of human existence in the realm of the Spirit which Christ inaugurated.

19-20  After being made alive, He went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water…

Verses 19-20 can be understood in more than one way. The traditional view has been that between the Friday of His death and the Sunday of His resurrection, Christ “descended into hell” (Nicene creed) and preached to the souls of people who were disobedient in the days of Noah, or alternatively to fallen angels who incited people to the evil that required God to send a flood to wipe out. Another view is that this happened later; “after being made alive”, the Resurrection and Ascension with Jesus in person were a proclamation of victory, sealing the eventual doom of extreme powers of evil.

“Only a few people… were saved, through water”. It was the most severe judgment, for the most severe evil. The human race deserved to die out, such was the rebellion, but this underlines God’s grace in His readiness to save those who accept His mercy.

21  …and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

Baptism saves, only in the sense of what it represents. It represents cleansing from sin and a clear conscience towards God achieved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The new believer who tells their story of accepting Jesus as Lord and their desire to seal this publicly by being buried under the water to the old life and rising again to new life is already learning to enjoy being a child of God. However, the public sharing of baptism seals that decision and makes it harder for the enemy to “kill, steal and destroy” that new life in Jesus.

An act which pledges a clear conscience toward God is positioning oneself for a fresh impartation of God’s Spirit – as the Spirit came down on Jesus, Mark 1:10.

22  …who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him. A reminder that in the words of the  Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-19, all authority has been given to Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of the Father having put all things under his feet Ephesians 1:20-22. In the hierarchy that exists in the heavenly realm of both good and evil forces, Jesus is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked”.

Application

Religion has made God out to be many things – an exacting deity, requiring the performance of religious rituals, looking on us in judgment and possibly wrath if we should lapse from His commandments.

From an Old Testament, Old Covenant perspective this wasn’t entirely wrong. His covenant of unconditional love and provision, His nature of mercy and grace was less emphasised than in the New Testament, the life and teaching of Jesus and especially the New Covenant in Christ Jesus which came into force around the events of the Cross, the Resurrection and the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit when “God’s law written in our hearts”, Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26, became a reality for the new order of Spirit-filled believers.

Peter’s explanation of Christ’s full and final sacrifice, one sacrifice spelling redemption for all sin for all time and for all who would receive is about God’s mercy writ large. So is Peter’s account of Jesus appearing to imprisoned spirits from the time of Noah, and the greatest rebellion the world had known, to proclaim the victory of the Cross and the possibility of God’s mercy in Jesus.

Jesus has had all authority in heaven and earth conferred upon Him. He also represents the full force of God’s love and mercy for a world which wants to be independent from God. As Noah and his family and livestock made a good choice and rose above the water that blotted out the sin of the world, so Jesus is in a far greater way our Saviour and way out from the sin that characterises the selfish world of mankind. We make that choice publicly in affirming Jesus as Lord of our lives and dying to the old life in baptism.

For reflection and discussion

If we understand that Jesus went to the rebellious spirits to proclaim the Cross, His victory and Lordship, should they, in all their wickedness, have opportunity to repent and receive grace through Jesus? How does this shape our attitude to extremely wicked people, such as (in the news) the London cab driver rapist or the IS torturers now in captivity?

God’s way is higher in Jesus’ submitting to the call for baptism

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14
Mark 1: 9-15

Jesus demonstrates the way of dependence on God as a key to a Holy Spirit empowered life.

9  At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. At this point, Jesus had grown up in Nazareth and stayed in the area, as people did. Galilee is the area on the west (Mediterranean side) of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan, and north of Samaria. People from there had a distinctive accent that stood out in Judea or Jerusalem.
10  Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. This is the Son of God, the sinless Saviour who lined up for baptism to identify with sinners needing a fresh start, and receives an impartation of the Holy Spirit, identifying with all of us who are powerless without Him.

In the believers’ baptism practised by many contemporary churches, including these days some Anglicans, it is the practice to hear a brief testimony story of how the person came to know Jesus, and in their story, people often make reference to their former independence and perhaps waywardness. Going down into the water is symbolic of a spiritual death and rebirth in coming out again. Often pastor and friends will pray for the person to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit while they are in the water and prophetic words may be given.

11  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.” There are not many passages in Scripture which are clearly Trinitarian, but this is one of them. Jesus is the centre of the story, the Holy Spirit is visibly involved, and the voice of affirmation is of course the Father’s.
12  At once the Spirit sent Him out into the wilderness, “At once”, euthys, is a word characteristic of Mark, used nearly 50 times in his fast-paced narrative.
13 and He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

Forty days recalls Israel’s 40 years of testing in the wilderness. Israel failed at several points, but Jesus was victorious.

Wild animals, which would have included dogs, wolves, jackals, leopards and bears, are only mentioned in Mark’s gospel, which emphasises the protection of angels in this sinister, desolate place.

“Tempted (or tested) by Satan”. Not an impersonal evil, or a figure of speech for a difficult thought – although the difficult or condemning or fear-provoking thoughts we struggle with are put there by the enemy until we decide to put them out. The other gospel accounts have the detail of how Jesus countered the plausible but dangerous lies of Satan with Scripture truth. At this time Jesus is being confronted by a powerful, personal and persuasive deceiver and enemy, not three questions but a 40-days long power struggle.

Who is Satan? For further study see Genesis 3:1; Job 1:6,9; Zechariah 3:1; Rev 2:9-10; Rev 12:9-10.

14  After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

15  “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Three short sentences here succinctly sum up Jesus’ whole proclamation:

• This is the time
• the kingdom of God is near
• repent and believe.

The kingdom was the banner over everything that Jesus taught and demonstrated. It means, simply, that God’s rule and order over people’s hearts and lives is being established. This shows up where God’s rule and order has been lacking – which is a strong incentive to repent (turn and put right) and believe

Application

This is a thought-provoking story, and a challenging one, for at least two reasons: (1) The person in the whole of history with the least need for baptism leads the way of those seeking baptism, and (2) He says it is to do what is right in the sight of God, Matthew 3:15 “…to fulfill all righteousness.”

As John asks “Why?”  Jesus’ words of reply are paraphrased helpfully in The Message as:  “God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.”

So Jesus was doing something that from man’s perspective that seemed unnecessary, because it was very necessary to fulfill God’s higher plan and purpose.

This challenges us to always look above our situation and our perspective, to discern God’s higher and more enduring purpose. The challenge that goes with that, is how we will join Him in that purpose? Are we ready? Are we ready, in God’s sight? The call for repentance, and for an act of repentance especially, makes our flesh nature rebel in anger. Yet this may be necessary, if only for us to pledge our dependence on God and invite the empowering of the Holy Spirit once again. There are also times it is necessary for us to go into repentance on behalf of people and situations that have nothing to do with us, as Daniel and Nehemiah did, “to fulfill all righteousness”. Jesus had no personal repentance to make; a repentance and redemption for all who would turn to Him, from the sins of the whole world, was His life’s work.

We don’t seek to be baptised more than once. However, the Bible tells us to be seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and to open to confess sin in repentance, as a means of constant readiness. The two go together, as at Jesus’ baptism.

For reflection and discussion

How ready are we to join God in what He may show us next that He is already doing?

How ready are we to get before God in repentance and seek His further infilling and empowering of His Spirit, in the face of the resistance of the flesh?