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?

Heaven meets earth as Moses and Elijah appear before the transfigured Jesus

Mark 9:2-9

Heaven appears to those on earth at the transfiguration of Jesus

This event follows a week or so after the Feeding of the Five Thousand and Peter’s declaration, in answer to Jesus’ question, “You are the Christ!”. Jesus teaches the disciples about self-denial and His coming rejection and death at the hands of the religious leaders – and also resurrection. He tells them that some will live to see the kingdom of God come in power – possibly what follows next, but more likely the pivotal point of His death, the Resurrection, Ascension and then the Pentecost outpouring. Three disciples accompany him up the mountain where they experience the dazzling glory of God which gives them an insight into heavenly events that accompany what happens on earth.

2  After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.

“A high mountain” – unknown, but possibly Mount Hermon, although tradition points to Mount Tabor.

3  His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.

This radiant glory is a glimpse into the ‘other world’ of Jesus, who set aside His divine nature so that He could incarnate God for us by being born as man, Philippians 2:6-7. However, this glimpse is a reminder that in the background to the incarnation, Jesus always was, and is, fully God – and therefore almost impossible to see in the brightness of the glory surrounding Him.

4  And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Elijah and Moses had both individually met with God on Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb. The only other place in Scripture where Moses and Elijah are mentioned together, is at the finale of the OT in the passage about turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, Malachi 4:4-6.

For further study, read Exodus 24, 1 Kings 19:8-18

5  Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Peter may have reacted unthinkingly in line with the tradition of the Feast of Tabernacles, Leviticus 23:42. Despite having in the past week recognised Jesus as Messiah, he is confused at this point and treats them all as equals.

6  (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Elijah, representing the Prophets, and Moses, representing the Law, are talking with Jesus, demonstrating the Jesus is greater than either of them and representing the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, 1 Kings 19:8, Exodus 24:1, 9.

7  Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Cloud symbolises God’s presence in protecting and guiding, Exodus 16:10, 24:15-18, 33:9-10

“Listen” carries the meaning of willingness to act on what is heard.

8  Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

9  As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

“Son of Man” is the title Jesus most often applied to Himself and not used by anyone else. It is a messianic title and a response to Peter, who has just acclaimed Him as the Christ (or Messiah). The Son of Man in Daniel is a heavenly figure who is given glory, authority and sovereign power by God, Daniel 7:13-14.

After the resurrection was the time for the disciples to tell everyone – when Jesus’ finished work had been demonstrated.

Application

God speaks to us – but the lesson of this event is that He speaks of what we are ready to believe. He speaks into our readiness to hear. In this instance, Peter, James and John were a little inner circle among the twelve disciples. Among the first to be called, they were possibly at a slightly higher level of faith than the others at this point. Peter, who was on one hand quick to receive, but on the other not so good at consolidating it or processing it, has already come out with his “You are the Christ!” statement.

Our heartfelt expression of praise for who God is – not to be confused with thanksgiving for what He has done – is for us a way into God’s presence and encountering Him. We need to put down whatever else we may be carrying, and bring our faith to focus on the might, majesty, mercy and mystery of God, as transcendent and “other”.

God is also immanent, meaning evident and involved in our world, incarnated in Jesus and in a lesser way, incarnated in all of us who carry the smile and the love of Jesus around with us. But the Transfiguration showed the window of heaven being momentarily opened – and in that, God is “other” and awesome.

For reflection or discussion

This was an encounter with God beyond the scope of imagining for most of us. Could you imagine being in a situation where you draw so near to God that His glory becomes real to you?

 

Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11

Everything holds together in Jesus

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 1
Colossians 1:15-20

A quotation from a hymn of praise to Christ, Lord of creation and redemption

The first stanza of this poem or hymn proclaims Jesus as the regent of Creation; the second, as the Reconciler of Creation. The Cross is absolutely instrumental in the second, and the Church is where this is seen and experienced and mediated to others.

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

  • “The image of the invisible God” – this further explains the monogenes word of John’s gospel, meaning the only and unique and exactly similar Son of the Father, John 1:14

16 For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him.

  • Jesus is the agent of creation. In another way, He is the objective of creation because everything has been created for Him. He became fully man; He must also be fully God if He is the recipient of creation.

17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

  • Not only does all hold together in Christ Jesus, He was before all things – in other words, He was before creation was. An early departure from truth, the Arian heresy, claimed that Jesus was the first thing created. In fact He was the creator of the first things, as clearly stated here.

18 And He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.

  • “The firstborn” alludes to the rights and privileges of the firstborn son of a monarch who would inherit the sovereignty. In Psalm 89:27 the expression is used by another psalmist of David:”I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”
  • Paul explains elsewhere that the church is the Body of Christ, 1 Cor. 12:27. Here he states that Christ is the Head of that Body. We are not just a body of believers in Christ, but His Body submitted to Him and closely identified with Him in the way He modelled for us.

For further study, see Eph. 1:22-23, Eph. 5:25, 1 Cor. 12:20-30

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him…

  • Jesus not only shows God’s glory but more than that, all that God is is also in Him – the Spirit of God, His wisdom, His glory – and His power. The fullness of God in Jesus is saying that Jesus is fully God, Col. 2:9.
  • Christians have themselves come to fullness, Col. 2:10, but having gained a new identity in the One who is over all things. Thrones, powers, rulers and authorities, whether in the heavenlies, good or evil, or in the hierarchy of power on earth must defer to Jesus. As we willingly defer to Him, we gain a confidence not of ourselves, but in Him.

20 …and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.

  • Jesus reconciles all things to Himself as the Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9:6 – reconciliation for believers as His friends and therefore friends of the Father, but a rather different reconciliation to Himself of those elements that are rebellious also. His reign of peace is anchored in the blood of His Cross – that is what it is about, our willing acceptance of what He has done, or our resistance or mocking of what He has done.

Application

When we start to really ‘get’ who Jesus is, and who we are in Him, a lot of things, including the nature and purpose of His church come into focus.

He is the head of His body, the church so that He might have supremacy, show what God is like and reconcile to Himself what doesn’t like, what God is like. Which is where we come in.

This church is not struggling, and neither are we. There is a confidence, as well as a fullness, of being His, and being part of His purpose. There’s an awakening to this He wants to bring about, because He needs us, in a different but real way to our needing Him.

For reflection or discussion

Knowing Jesus is an exciting discovery but also a call to His purpose, to reconcile to the Father the world that doesn’t know Him, before it’s too late. How do we identify that purpose and respond to that call?

The Word of God, from the beginning the True Light

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 31
John 1:1-14

Introducing His gospel, John tells us how the Word who was with God before Creation, later chose to become a human being to show us God’s grace and also glory.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

  • “In the beginning” as in the Bible’s opening verse.
  • The Word, logos, is a phrase that expresses what God is like – creating, revealing, saving. All of this is in the person who is described as “the Word”. All of this is in another form of God’s self-revelation that we call the word, or the Bible.
  • In Jewish thinking the word of God was the principle by which all things are governed by God, and the law of God He gave them to be their guiding life principle.

For further study: Psalm 33:6, Psalm 119:89, Psalm 147:15,18, Deut 32:47

2 He was with God in the beginning.

  • Meaning before Creation.

3 Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.

  • We may not readily see Jesus as a creator. This tells us that He was –  note the “He was” –from the beginning God’s agent in creating everything that exists: “The world was made through Him, v.10.

4 In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

  • This is the life which the Word is seen as imparting at Creation – John makes this a very significant word, using it 36 times in his gospel, twice as much as any other book. The light that comes from this life, is first, the very essence of our being made in the image of God. There is also a second aspect of light as the general revelation of God – God can be recognised by anyone in His works, His providence and in the way nature ‘speaks’, Psalm 19:1-12 – a revelation which came into clearer focus with the coming of Jesus in human form.

5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

  • “Overcome” could equally be translated understood: the darkness has not understood it. Probably a combination of both meanings is intended. At Creation, the light prevailed. At the coming of the Word in the person of Jesus, the light prevailed, and the darkness didn’t understand it. Choosing the Way of Jesus, such as love and grace, in the face of darkness is an effective strategy because the darkness does not understand it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John.

7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through Him all might believe.

  • “Believe” is another important word for John; his purpose was to draw hearers or readers to belief in Jesus, and he uses the Greek word for believe about 100 times.

8 He Himself was not the light; He came only as a witness to the light.

  • John had an interim role, to create awareness of the light and show people its source.
  • The gospel writer John makes the distinction that John the Baptist, despite his impact at the time, came as a lamp, John 5:35, but “not the light”.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him.

  • See verse 5 above in the “understood” dimension.
  • The relationship of the Messiah Jesus, the Son of God, to the world is an emphasis of John’s writing. He uses the word for “world” over 100 times in his gospel and letters; by contrast, Paul, who was sent to the Gentile world, uses that word only 47 times in all his writings.

11 He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.

  • Or “to that which was His own [the Jewish nation and heritage], but [the people who were] His own people [around Him].

12 Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God…

  • “Receive Him… believe in His name…”:  two ways of describing turning and welcoming Jesus, trusting Jesus and submitting to Him.
  • John’s gospel explains that the believer becomes God’s child, but only Jesus is God’s son. Paul describes believers as sons – specifically God’s sons by adoption.
  • Children of God, who have in a sense themselves “adopted God” as a Father through giving their lives to Jesus have, in the words of one commentator, “been given a new openness to, and relationship with, God that was not theirs [from] their natural birth.” What was fuzzy and hard to grasp in the natural, becomes clear as a direct result of the new spiritual birth.

13 …children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

  • A new and necessary spiritual birth which John explains more in John 3:3-8.

14 The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

  • Without ceasing to be God, Jesus let go of His divine nature to take on flesh – incarnation – one of the most amazing assertions ever to be put in so few words.

For further study and reflection: Philippians 2:5-8

  • “Only” in English understates the sense of monogenes, “one of a kind, unique” in the sense of being a Son who has all the attributes of the Father, who is exactly the same.
Application

John used the most straightforward vocabulary in the NT in writing the lead in, and in many ways summary of, his gospel account.

John’s gospel is more theological and less narrative than the other three. The prologue shows this intention: the rest of the gospel develops the theme here of how the eternal “Word” of God, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Son of God, with God in the beginning before the Creation “took flesh” to minister among men so that all who turned to Him and believed in Him could be saved.

More literally, he pitched His tent among us. Think like Jews who saw God’s presence as being located in the tabernacle. Now He has moved to camp out with us.

The words we read here are simple – life, light, witness, glory – but grow in the gospel into awesome, transforming truths.

John demonstrates that God’s most profound truths are also very accessible – such that intellect and logic are often barriers at first. As Matthew later wrote, Matt. 18:3 “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

For reflection and discussion

3. What is your understanding and experience, expressed simply, to start to recognise the true light of Jesus (verses 9-10) and to receive Him and be born of God (verses 12-13),  and come into a new identity as a child of God (v.12)?

4. Do you have a story of this kind of encounter with Jesus that you could share very briefly – what you might tell someone at a bus stop – with another person?

Jesus turns water into wine

John 2: 1-11

Wednesday, January 17

The first miracle of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, Galilee

1-3  On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.

  • “Third day” – following the calling of Philip and Nathanael, John 1:43.
  • Perhaps the ruined Khirbet Qana, about nine miles north of Nazareth

1-3  Jesus’ mother was there,  and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

  • It was probably the wedding of a relative or family friend, as Jesus, his mother, Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael and John were all attending.

1-3  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to Him, “They have no more wine.”

  • This was wine, not grape juice, and people, then as now, might have too much to drink (v.10). Wine in the ancient world was commonly diluted with two or three parts of water.
  • Running out was embarrassing for the host and groom – and especially so in a culture which emphasised honour and shame. The celebration could go on for a whole week. Often everyone from the village would be invited, and careful preparations were expected.

4   “Woman, why do you involve Me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

  • This is abrupt, but not rude as it comes across in English. The literal phrase was “what does this have to do with us” and this was a common Jewish idiom, Judges 11:12, 2 Samuel 16:10, not unlike our like our “this is not down to me”. Mary had to make a bigger shift than most parents to recognise Jesus for the Messiah He was, not just her son.

His mission must follow God’s timing, not anyone else’s. “My hour has not yet come” always refers to Jesus dying and being exalted e.g. John 7:30 and several other mentions in this gospel. There might also be some symbolism in His answer – the wedding calling to mind the “wedding of the Lamb” at the end of the age, Rev. 19:7 (fourth reading) and foretold in the wedding parables of Matthew 22 and 25.

For further study: Matt. 22:1-14 and 25:1-13, a wedding celebration with wine in abundance, Isaiah 25:6, Jer. 31:12, Hosea 14:7.

5  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”

6  Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

  • The milk churns seen in the country until the 1970s were 10 gallons capacity – so these jars, made of stone, not earthenware, were huge.
  • The ceremonial washing mentioned by John draws a contrast between the old order of Jewish law and religious custom, with Jesus Himself and, looking forward, the complete cleansing in His shedding of blood and death on the Cross.
  • Further on in the story, Jesus went on to Jerusalem for the Passover and cleansed the temple there, John 2:13-16.

7  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8-10   Then He told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

  • A characteristic of this new apostolic age which Jesus brings in,  is better and “best” as here.

11  What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which He revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

  • It was the first of eight miracles, or signs, that John is recording, that demonstrate and confirm who Jesus is – “through which He revealed His glory” – and through which others believed in Him. Each of the signs emphasises the exceptional extent of the miracle – wine of the highest quality, the official’s son healed at a great distance, a paralysed man healed after 38 years, 12 baskets of food left over, recovery from lifelong blindness, raising Lazarus after four days in the tomb, exceptionally large and diverse catch. Another emphasis seen in all the signs is that they are people-centred. They were not simply demonstrations of God’s power but demonstrations of His love and care.

For further study:

(Water into wine – John 2:1-11)

Healing of official’s son – John 4:46-54

Healing of paralytic at Bethesda – John 5:1-15

Jesus walks on water – John 6:5-14

Healing man blind from birth – John 9:1-7

Lazarus raised from dead – John 11:1-45

Miraculous haul of fish – John 21:1-14

Application

This first recorded action of Jesus has a spiritual intention, to raise awareness of God’s goodness and to renew faith. The wedding party running out of wine was symbolic of firrrst century Judaism having become spiritually dry. Wine, and plenty of wine (but not drunkenness) was seen in the O.T. as a sign of God’s blessing and of joy, Psalm 104:5, Prov. 3:10.

There is also a practical intention. It was shameful, not just an embarrassment, for a wedding host to run out of the only drink available, after preparing for a week-long event. For Jesus, ministering to shame and every other emotional need is as important as other dimensions of healing, deliverance and salvation.

It is not God’s intention that we carry shame with us. It is His intention that we look to Him for every need and expect Him to have ways of meeting needs that we haven’t considered possible.

Another important strand of this story is about our willing participation in what becomes a miracle. Here the servants filled the jars with water and then served it out – as they did so, the water became wine. The servants didn’t have much choice – they were doing what the Master told them. What about us, as the Master tells us something, a prompt from the Holy Spirit? We have a choice to hear and act, or not. As we move out in our little bit of faith, so God moves in with blessing.

Discussion starter

3.  How much does God’s intervention in a situation depend on us, in the sense of our exercising faith in some way?  Have you ever been prompted to say or do something which took some courage and faith, and seen God do something – as if He was waiting for that first move?

Covenant spells Good News in Jesus

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 4 of 5

Thursday, Dec 21: Romans 16:25-27

Paul exhorts hearers of the letter in Rome to be strong in the Good News, to be made known to Gentiles everywhere to the glory of God.

25 Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says.

  • “My Good News (or my Gospel) might seem to be Paul’s version versus others. Paul’s gospel is perhaps more developed, as one would expect, but no different in essence – and gained at first hand. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Galatians 1:11-12, explains that “his gospel” is not a version of someone else’s gospel but an understanding that he received directly from the Lord by revelation; see also Ephesians 3:2-6.

This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time.

  • The prophets, in stark contrast to the exclusive culture they lived in, saw in the Spirit the nature of the gospel and its universality – “a light for the Gentiles”. This truth was hidden, spoken out by the prophets but still a mystery waiting to be revealed until Jesus came and until the time Paul is writing in.

26 But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him.

  • God has commanded that the message to be made known to all people everywhere, for them to respond and believe. In among His final instructions to the disciples, in a very well-known passage, Jesus told them to go and make disciples “of all nations” or as we would say, all kinds of people – not just people like us.

27 All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.

Application

The passage begins and ends with Paul giving all glory to God. For what? The message of good news which the prophets heard and spoke of first, not just for the Jews but for all mankind. Paul is seeing this unfolding, and he has had a good deal to do with this. However he is quick to point out that it was good news for him first, he was giving what he had been given, and it was God’s message and promise, not his.

He is showing us that when we see God do great things, and we may, by His grace, have had some involvement in that, hold it lightly and give the glory to God as it is due. It all goes wrong when we start to think it is our achievement, not God’s.

Discussion starter

  1. To what extent have you received the gospel from someone else – and found that you needed to outgrow their perspective, as you grew in your own revelation of it, through your relationship with the Lord?