Catching God’s heart to change ours

Jesus gently challenges the rich young ruler, to tease out where his security and his heart really is, Mark 10:17.

TLW41: Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, October 14

Theme: How much have we caught God’s heart, and He ours?

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 — Job’s heart is tested under oppression. A righteous man is blamed by his counsellors, but still holds out for God’s justice.

Mark 10:17-31 — Jesus tests the heart of a wealthy follower. Mark’s story of the rich young man who had ticked the boxes for observance, but overlooked the priority of love.

Hebrews 4:12-16 — The word of God judges our heart’s attitudes. Everything in us is accountable to God but Jesus, our great high priest, has lived in our world and meets us as One who understands

Also: Psalm 22:1-15

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 — Job’s heart is tested under oppression

A righteous man is blamed by his counsellors, but still holds out for God’s justice

Eliphaz, in the previous speech, has treated Job as a sinner, in the darkness of sin and for whom he has a remedy. Zophar, the the speech before that, went further in aligning Job’s grave difficulties with his rebellion before God. There is some truth in both positions, but Job does not accept either of them: he humbly asserts that they do not apply. Job is an interesting exception to the general assumption, that everyone’s need can be met by preaching the gospel.

1-3 Then Job replied: “Even today my complaint is bitter; His hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.

3 If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling!

“If only I knew where…” – Job, true to his name (‘iyyob, Where is the heavenly Father?), is trying to find God from his sense of abandonment. Eliphaz had instructed Job “Return to the Almighty” but Job (vv. 8-9 below) cannot find God to encounter Him anywhere.

4 I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments.

5 I would find out what He would answer me, and consider what He would say to me.

6 Would He vigorously oppose me? No, He would not press charges against me.

“Would He… oppose Me?” – Job’s change of heart, expecting to find justice, Psalm 97:2 having worked through his earlier fear that God would be too powerful for him to be heard, Job 9:14-20, 33-34.

7 There the upright can establish their innocence before Him, and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.

“I would be delivered” – Job is confident, as a God-fearing worshipper, of a fair hearing, leading to acquittal. The gospel is here in this passage, which looks forward to the justification to be found, not in the tally of our good deeds, but through the relationship we have with Jesus Christ alone, Romans 4:25-5:1; 8:1.

8 “But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him.

9 When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him.

= = = = = =

16 God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me.

17 Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.

“Made my heart faint” – Job’s affliction was physical (sores and wasting) but also what we categorise as mental illness. The devil’s oppression is a combined attack on (human) spirit, (thinking, feeling) soul — and (physical) body. “Thick darkness” – Job was fearful and anxious, feeling like he was groping in darkness, familiar to anyone battling depression.

IN PRACTICE  Despite physical illness and mental torture, Job’s heart is proving to be true. Far from blaming God for his misfortune, the devil’s scheme, He is trusting God for his deliverance. He feels sure that if he could have that conversation, that hearing, that He would find that God was for him. God is for us. It will always be the devil’s strategy to sow thoughts in our minds that God is for others, but not us; that we have done (or not done) something that exposes us to judgment and keeps us out of favour. This is the folly of the religious mind. The spiritual person, who knows God personally through Jesus, will know that it is our heart, and the relationship with God that guards our heart, that gives us assurance – and ultimately deliverance.

QUESTION  Why would God allow such a good person as Job to go through this trial of sickness and a feeling of “thick darkness”? How does Job’s faith, even while questioning, help us?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 10:17-31 — Jesus tests the heart of a wealthy follower

Mark’s version of the story of the rich young man who had ticked the boxes for observance, but overlooked the priority of love

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“A man ran up” – previously in Mark’s story Jesus encountered small children who had no standing and were completely dependent. By contrast this was a young man, probably a member of a council or court, Luke 18:18, Matt. 19:20, commandment-keeping and rich. Jews of that time would consider him (wrongly!) to have a great standing with God and therefore claim to salvation.

“What must I do” – the question of a religious, but not spiritual, person. He showed respect to Jesus (“fell on his knees”) but simply didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching of how the kingdom of God is entered, Mark 10:13-16.

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone.

19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.’”

“Why do you call Me good” – Jesus is not denying His goodness, but making the man think about his question and focus on God. Will he recognise the goodness of God incarnated in Jesus? Will he recognise that only God Himself is intrinsically good?

“You know the commandments” – Jesus mentions the six that address wrong actions and attitudes to others including “fraud” for covetousness.

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

“All these I have kept” – this doesn’t read well to us. But the man is sincere. For him, the law is about conforming to the doing, the externals (like the six commandments Jesus quoted). Jesus makes him think: what is missing? The requirement to have a good heart, to love God and, by extension, have God’s love for others, Mark 12:29-30; Exodus 20:3; Deut. 6:5. Entering the kingdom of God is always a step of repentance, Mark 1:5; 6:12.

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

“Sell everything… give to the poor” – not a general command, but addressing the stronghold of self-sufficiency that was holding this man back from salvation.

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24-25 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

“Camel…through the eye of a needle” – the largest animal and the smallest opening. The idea of a laden pack animal shedding its baggage to be led through a narrow postern gate is a great illustration that may (or may not) have been in Jesus’ mind.

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

“Amazed…Who then can be…” – Jesus has overturned the generally accepted idea that riches are a sign of favour from God.  

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

“Who then… with man this is impossible” — this man, they would have thought, was an outstanding  candidate. Jesus explains that there is nothing we can achieve of ourselves to gain salvation. It comes only by relationship with God and receiving His gift.

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29-30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life.

31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

“Left… for me… will receive…” — followers of Jesus share a family generosity that transcends social and geographical borders. In this context, the hospitality if a hundred homes and families sharing the same values.

“First… last and… last first” — the kingdom order up-ends the accepted order of wealth, privilege and the merit of having kept the externals. The kingdom is experienced by disciples with no other claim than looking to Jesus and accepting the challenges of His humble way.

IN PRACTICE  This favourite story, also told by Matthew and Luke,  goes right to the heart of our walk with God. Here was a man who had done all the right things that the law said were to be done, but how he felt about God was still a bridge to be crossed. Throughout history, man has put the first commandment – to love God with all our heart – on a shelf while working at all the others. The intention was to be so captivated by God and broken by His love, that everything else follows as a consequence. The rich young man had a theology of ‘doing’ – we might call it religiosity – but who had his heart? 

QUESTION  Jesus asks us the same question from time to time: where is our heart? Can we do no other but to follow Him wholeheartedly, or is our human desire for self-sufficiency holding us?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 4:12-16 — The word of God judges our heart’s attitudes

Everything in us is accountable to God but Jesus, our great high priest, has lived in our world and meets us as One who understands

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

“The word of God penetrates” – a warning to those living a sham that faithless disobedience will be exposed by the living power of the word of God which acts like an all-seeing eye.

“Soul and spirit” – the human spirit together with the thinking, feeling, wilful soul. Taken together to mean the whole inner person.

13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

“Everything… laid bare” – The word of God (v.12) is speaking and acting as the judgment of God Himself. All our thoughts and intentions are exposed, and accountable to the living, written Word, John 6:63, 68, Acts 7:38 as to the living God who is the author.

14-15 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,  Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.

“Great high priest” – for Jewish Christians, coming out of the Old Covenant priest and sacrifice tradition, knowing Jesus as the Great High Priest of the complete, final sacrifice was an important faith connection.

16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

“Confident… that we… receive mercy and grace” — because this high priest has the unique qualification of having been tested through suffering and death for us, Hebrews 2:9-10.

IN PRACTICE  The ‘quiet time’ of starting the day with God and the Bible, letting Him speak through His word, has deep roots in Christian tradition. Fashions change in discipleship, as everything else, but in a busy and confusing world, the need for this discipline seems to gain renewed emphasis. The ‘down side‘, if there can be a disadvantage to learning to hear God speak to us, is that His word is truth. It is that sharp penetrating sword that exposes our heart. It is, very helpfully, a lamp to our feet and our path but also a bright light over the mirror that shows all our blemishes – the part we don’t much like. However, God, in His love, is not so much about showing up what is in our heart, as revealing to us what in our heart we still need to let Him purify. He is in the business of redeeming and recreating and regenerating, and in Jesus a ‘new heart for old’ is  His ongoing promise.

QUESTION  The devil will always find ways to try to prevent you having a quiet time in the word. How resolved are you not to be put off meeting with God in this way?

TLW41/October 14 to print in A5 booklet form

Heaven’s justice exposes man’s way

Leon Bonnat’s classic depiction of Job – the name means ‘Where is the heavenly Father?’ –crying out to God in his severe and unfair affliction. Job is the epitome of all that is unfair, unjust – and of Satanic origin.

Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, October 7

Satan is allowed to oppress righteous Job to try to get him to blame God

Theme: Heaven’s fairness confronts man’s pride and control

Job 1:1, 2:1-10 — God is over the tests of life which come to all. Satan is allowed to oppress righteous Job to try to get him to blame God.

Mark 10:2-16 — God’s justice and good is for everyone equally. Man’s sense of hierarchy, status and privilege is confronted by Jesus’ teaching on marriage and children.

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 — Jesus redeems mankind by entering our messy world. He provided purification from sins by identifying with sinful mankind, so that He could be enthroned at the place of majesty in heaven.

Also: Psalm 26

C of E only: alternative OT reading Genesis 2:18-24. At Creation, God creates woman out of man.

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Job 1:1, 2:1-10 — God is over the tests of life which come to all

1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.

“Job… was blameless and upright” – his name is a Greek/English way of saying the Hebrew ‘iyyob meaning ‘Where is the heavenly Father?’ This sets the scene for the testing of Job in the story. He is depicted as having a consistent spiritual life (but not sinless), faithful before God and of spotless character – in contrast to the assumptions of his three friends. This is the tension explored in the whole book.

2:1 On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before Him.

2 And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

“On another day” – a second glimpse of angels of the heavenly court with Satan elbowing in, an unwelcome presence. The scene of Job’s second test is like the first, Job 1:6-12. In the first test Satan was bound from harming Job’s person and in this second Job’s person is vulnerable but his actual life is protected, verse 6 below.

3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited Me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

“You incited me” – God cannot be stirred up to act against His will. “Have you considered my servant Job” is an indication that God allowed what happened to Job as part of His purpose. God doesn’t send afflictions but may allow difficulties which test our trust of Him, hence “Lead us not into temptation” linked to “the evil one” in Jesus’ model prayer for disciples, Matt. 6:13.

“Without any reason” – translates the same Hebrew word used for Satan insinuating that Job did not serve God “for nothing”, Job 1:9. The Lord throws “for nothing” back at the Accuser.

4-5 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out Your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse You to your face.”

“Skin for skin” – as we would say, quid pro quo. Job maintained his integrity in a test that cost him his skin and the “skin” of his animals. Satan, always the accuser, alleges that Job is only concerned for himself.

6 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

7-8 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

“Painful sores” – the terms used for the ‘plague of boils’ in Egypt, Exodus 9:9-11. Also used for ‘painful boils’, Deuteronomy 28:35, which was set out as a specific covenant curse for the disobedient. This would all the evidence Job’s friends needed to tell him that he was being punished for sinning – a severe test of faith.

9 His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

“Are you still…” – Job’s wife sarcastically echoes God’s words in Job’s hardest trial so far, and uses a figure of speech to narrowly escape blasphemy. She mistakes Job’s dogged faith for religious obstinacy.

10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

“Shall we accept good… and not trouble” – Job’s controlled retort cancels his wife’s dangerous near-agreement with Satan and makes the central point of the Book of Job, that spiritual maturity recognises that God is sovereign over our lives whether in good times or adversity, and is able to trust Him while not understanding why bad things happen.

IN PRACTICE Job’s miserable experience meets us where we are, in struggling to understand why bad things happen to good people. Job is presented to us as man of integrity, who honoured God and took trouble to avoid evil. So why is he singled out for affliction? Those who mistakenly (or even subconsciously believe) that God is a fickle creator can stop and reflect right here. We can see that some who are not deserving prosper, while people we know who are unselfish and upright before God face trials, in way which defies all human reason. Job and his friends struggled with this! The lesson is that we have an enemy, perhaps particularly targeting those who have a close walk with God. However, God’s purposes are higher, using affliction to test, prove and grow our faith and demonstrate that ultimately He has sovereignty over our lives and circumstances.

QUESTION  How would you explain this lesson to a struggling or health-challenged friend, bring out the need for faith and trust in God in the face of human logic?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 10:2-16 God’s justice and good is for everyone equally

In the kingdom of God, husbands, wives and children are esteemed together

2 Some Pharisees came and tested Him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Tested Him by asking” – test sometimes translated ‘tempt’, meaning ‘try to catch out’. John the Baptist had been beheaded for teaching that Herod Antipas’ divorce and remarriage was unlawful. With Jesus in Herod’s territory, the Pharisees thought they could indict him before the ruler for agreeing with John the Baptist.

“A man to divorce his wife” – the only possibility under Jewish law, however in Jesus’ time there was much discussion about how to interpret the grounds which allowed divorce. Many Pharisees were advocating that men could initiate a kind of ‘no fault‘ divorce.

3 “What did Moses command you?” He replied.
4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

“Moses command… Moses permitted” – the Pharisees came back with Deut. 24:1-4 which was not a command but an acknowledgement that marriages fail; it gave some protection for the woman’s rights. Like many of their interpretations of the Law, this had become conveniently twisted over time; divorce permitted in Deut. 24:1 for ‘something indecent’ had been changed from ‘something’ to ‘anything’.

5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied.

6-9 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

What God has joined” – Jesus uses Scripture to move the argument from man’s interpretation of the rules, back to God’s intentions at creation and before sin had entered; marriage is between man and woman, and is divinely established, Gen. 1:27, 2:24, Exodus 20:14

10-12 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

The disciples asked Jesus about this” – they were taken aback by Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Law. As He said elsewhere, He expected a higher moral righteousness than merely keeping within Israel’s civil law, Matthew 5:20.

13-16 People were bringing little children to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And He took the children in His arms, placed His hands on them and blessed them.

“He was indignant” – a strong word, He was angry. People, probably parents, were bringing children for a blessing (the practice of laying on hands to bless was ancient). Challenging the pecking-order mentality of Judaism, in which children were not honoured and largely excluded, Jesus makes the point that the kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven) must be received, and cannot be earned by merit. A child comes and simply receives a gift without asserting rights – in the same way, people must receive God’s kingdom as a gift, by coming to Jesus and receiving Him. See Matt. 5:3.

IN PRACTICE Like the Jews of Jesus’ time, we want to make our own rules about marriage and divorce to accommodate shifts in culture, although this is strongly resisted in some parts of the world e.g. Africa. He entered a world that was male-dominated with a strong sense of privilege and rank and ‘small people’, typified by the small people who were children, being dismissed as of little account. His intervention, today as then, is to call us back to God’s creation intention. The kingdom of heaven’s order is about heaven’s equal-handed fairness without privilege or discrimination.

QUESTION What is our sense of entitlement to Jesus’ kingdom order, and how might He tease out if we have really received it?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 – Jesus entered our messy world to redeem mankind

The divine prophet, priest and very radiance of God became human, and endured man’s sin and oppression to sit at the right hand of God.

1-2 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe.

3-4 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So He became as much superior to the angels as the name He has inherited is superior to theirs.

“In the past, God spoke” – through the many instances and styles of His prophets, and then by the One who was a new category of revelation, not just a prophetic voice but His Son.

“By His Son who…” – seven praise definitions follow: (1) heir of creation; (2) creator or co-creator of the universe; (3) the radiance of God’s glory; (4) the exact expression of God’s nature; (5) the Word of God Himself, the only prophet who is also God; (6) the priest of God, who purifies from sin; (7) the majestic king enthroned at the right hand of the Father.

“Superior to the angels” – first-century Jews were fascinated by angels and held them in high esteem as those who minister before the throne of God and who revealed the Mosaic law at Sinai, Hebrews 2:2. Synagogue-tradition Jews were inclined to denigrate Jesus divine status and view Him as a mere angel. Jesus, whose name and therefore essence is Son, is not to be equated even with angels.

5 It is not to angels that He has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him?

7-8a “You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honour and put everything under their feet.”

8b-9 In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

“Someone has testified” – the author shows how Psalm 8:4-6 is fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus needed to become incarnate as man – and for that time, lower than the angels – so that the “son of man”, the Messiah, could be the truest representative of mankind, Daniel 7:13. The role intended for mankind at creation came to fulfillment in Jesus Christ sharing our humanity.

10-11 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what He suffered. Both the One who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

“Perfect through what He suffered” – not questioning Jesus’ sinlessness, but showing Jesus to have been qualified for His unique role “through what He suffered”, obeying perfectly, dying as the perfect sacrifice for sins on our behalf. The Amplified Bible adds to “perfect” “should bring to maturity the human experience necessary to be perfectly equipped for His office as High Priest”.
“I will declare Your name… in the assembly…” – from Psalm 22:22, showing that Jesus Christ is present in the gathered church.

IN PRACTICE Who is Jesus? The introduction to the letter written to Jewish Christians in particular, starts with a well-crafted single sentence that sets out Jesus’ identity as the prophet, priest and king who is also God. Yet He was also incarnated as a regular man whose unique role as redeemer of mankind was completed in His suffering and death. That puts Him in a logic-defying situation of being identified with and experiencing with us every abuse and injustice that part of this world’s package, and also being sovereign Lord – the Lord of heaven’s better, higher, more just way – over every aspect of our lives. He transforms us as part of His redeeming purpose, reminding us that in Him we have a family relationship – those being made holy are closely related to the One who is holy.

QUESTION The definitions of who Jesus is are arresting, and to be called His brother or sister is almost beyond our grasp – but how does this help us in life?

PRAYER  Lord Jesus, help me to have a deeper revelation of who You are, and who I am through the transformation and new nature I gain in You. Help me, therefore, to live above my humanness and be a force for Your truth, justice and absence of discrimination. Amen.

Mon, Dec 11: Anointing of both authority and servanthood

The Living Word Bible study for Sunday, December 17, 2017 (wk50)

Mon, Dec 11: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Tue, Dec 12: Psalm 126, Luke 1:46-55

Wed, Dec 13: John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Thur, Dec 14: 1 Thess 5:16-24

Fri, Dec 15: The emerging message

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Anointed by the Spirit of praise and joy to rebuild, restore and renew.

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,

  • The anointing of the Spirit is an anointing as both kingly authority – proclamations are what kings do – and as a divine servant, with concern for prisoners and the poor and practical involvement with those who are destitute. This brings together Isaiah’s earlier prophecies of a king to arise, and also the suffering servant of the Lord. Isaiah spells out Jesus Christ in all but name.

2-3 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…

  • This is a well-known passage. Why? Because Jesus applied it to Himself. Following His encounter with the Holy Spirit in baptism and testing in the wilderness, and soon after the start of His public ministry, Jesus attended the regular synagogue worship in Nazareth, in the synagogue He had known from childhood. Synagogue worship was relatively free, with ministry shared. He stood up to read Scripture and was handed the Isaiah scroll. He read the beginning of Isaiah 61 (above) and then said, to the amazement of His hearers, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” Luke 4:16-21.
  • Jesus, in His reading of this, ended as above “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”. He saw His call as divided into two visitations, the first to bring salvation and freedom and favour with God, which we now understand as His human sinless life and giving up that life on the Cross. The second includes the judgment and realised kingdom of God, which fits with the Second Coming.

…and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.

  • “The oil… and a garment…” is a picture of something applied and put on, an impartation. The language of anointing and oil is often used symbolically of the Holy Spirit. So this is describing an impartation which brings dramatic change to those receiving it from mourning and despair, to joy and praise. Without Jesus this life is a slow dying with a grim outcome. Receiving new life and eternal life in a new spiritual birth is coming alive in Christ with a release into the Holy Spirit’s expression of joy and praise.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

  • The immediate meaning of this for the original hearers is about coming out of exile and rebuilding the ruins, as documented by Ezra and Nehemiah. Isaiah saw this restoration, but also a restoration of God that affects every age. For us, the impartation of the Holy Spirit and the life of the Spirit is about being empowered as God’s agents of restoration and transformation. Those who demonstrate the Life of the Spirit are those who will, simply through their lives, bring renewal of church and also society, ministering in Word and Spirit and in engagement with the world that doesn’t necessarily own Christian beliefs or values.

= = = =

8 “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward My people and make an everlasting covenant with them.

  • The community of the people of God are covenanted (for us, under the New Covenant in Jesus) to imitate and display the character of God, who stands for justice and is set against wrongdoing, Micah 6:8; Isaiah 35:15.

9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

  • The people of God are those who represent and uphold God’s values.

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

  • Clothed with salvation, arrayed in a robe of righteousness is a description of how righteousness with God is put on us as part of the faith relationship; we have to come to the point of realising that we cannot earn or achieve any of that righteousness. The theological term is “imputed”, meaning it is assigned or attributed to us through our new standing in Christ Jesus. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”,  2 Cor. 5:21. Both of these verses are major statements of how God sees us in this spiritual transformation. This is the heart of the New Covenant for those who give their lives to Jesus. In Christ Jesus, as people of new creation with a new nature, we become — and are the demonstration of — what God’s righteousness looks like.

11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

  • A supernaturally natural process whereby the kingdom of God would start to be apparent, not just to the Jewish nation but to nations beyond,  Isaiah 49:6 . From the start of Jesus’ ministry his message emphasised the kingdom of God, e.g. Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Application

Isaiah foresees a Holy Spirit anointed ministry, the characteristic of which is freeing and transforming of people, vv. 1-2, communities, v.4 and values, vv.8-9. This is a broad-brushstroke picture of what the ministry of Jesus the Messiah would look like.

The same Holy Spirit is the enabler of the purposes of God in bringing to bear His kingdom order in all the dimensions of spiritual salvation, physical and emotional healing and deliverance from oppression, as demonstrated by Jesus.

The same Holy Spirit empowers the same purposes of God in us, giving us a growing revelation of how we are to continue Jesus’ ministry, and building our confidence in it.

The same Holy Spirit transforms how we see ourselves. The revelation of how God sees us “clothed” in Christ Jesus transforms our confidence from tentative prayer requests to declaring in faith and spiritual authority what we know God has already said.

Discussion starters

1. If Jesus took this passage (the first two sentences at least) and applied it to Himself, how might it apply to us?

2. How does the Sovereign Lord “make righteousness and praise spring up” before others, today?

Fri, Dec 8: Holy and godly – but not as we have known it

The emerging message

Our call to a holy and godly life – but not as we have known it

What does a holy and godly life look like? Awe, reverence, a pattern of life by which believers are distinctive – many different expressions of this have had their season. Here are some of them:

  • The early Christians faced the risk of death with the joy of being counted worthy to suffer — quite possibly in martyrdom (the word martyr has the root meaning of ‘witness’).
  • The monastic movement was based on communal life around the discipline of 24-7 worship.
  • Religious Christianity grew up as the early community-based Celtic tradition gave way to a more disciplined and church-based Roman practice which emphasised obedience.
  • The Reformation 500 years ago challenged this. Priest became pastor (shepherd) with a return to Scripture as the foundation of faith, and salvation as a Scripture-informed choice to put faith in Jesus.
  • John Wesley, an Anglican cleric who had experienced a profound encounter with God, preached to huge outdoor crowds but relied on discipling new believers in small groups in homes for mutual discipleship and spiritual growth. This ‘high churchman’ actually declericalised the church by equipping ‘lay’ people.
  • Revivals have been born in a discipline of prayer and repentance, from the 100-year-long prayer meeting in 18th-century Moravia onwards, through Georgian and Victorian England to more recent times.
  • The priority of taking the Good News and its lifestyle into the streets and pubs of the poor and needy of the expanding cities took Wesley’s values forward and presented church as a radically alternative mission army for social, as well as spiritual, transformation.
  • The Pentecostal and charismatic renewals of the 20th century brought a new understanding of relating to all three Persons of the Trinity and believers being empowered by the Holy Spirit for lives of intimacy with God and engagement in the mission of God.
  • More recently, traditional streams which grew up from all of the above have given way to highly contemporary forms of church and new expressions of church, with the beginnings of a fusion of formerly separate, competing institutional silos into an organic movement.

How does this answer what does a holy, godly life looks like? None of these ‘flavours’ offers more than a part of the answer. All are needed, complementing each other. The holy, godly life in a (longish) sentence comprises:

Being who the Lord says we are as His children, working this out by engaging with the world, prepared to witness at personal cost, practising worship in all of life, loving the renewing Word and loving the selfish world with Jesus’ love, empowering and direction – and proclaiming the kingdom of God over and above the claims of man’s understanding of church.

God’s announcement of His intentions through Isaiah look far ahead through the coming judgment and exile which Isaiah ‘saw’ but did not experience, to a time of restoration and preparing for the new era of the Messiah’s coming. God wants His glory to rest in the land. Therefore He has promised the peace of ongoing salvation to those of His people who fear Him, Psalm 85:8-9 , and sent John the Baptist as a herald of His Son who is the bringer of peace through salvation. Jesus, having completed His mission on earth, and ascended to His place of authority in heaven, will return, unannounced, to affirm those who are continuing in His way, with inevitable judgment for those who are not.

Our mission is no more or less than to join God in His mission: to announce His Good News for all who will receive Him, prepare the way for His present working and future coming with encouragement for people to turn back to Him. All this, with the forebearing and loving patience of our gracious God who is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”, 2 Peter 3:9.

All the discussion starters

  1. What are the obstacles, or obstructions, to God coming to us again and showing His glory?
  2. How do we do our bit to make straight… a highway for our God?
  3. In what ways do we need God to revive us again?
  4. What does He look for, to be able to do this? What does this psalm tell us, that holds back revival?
  5. Is this turning to Jesus one particular, memorable life event? Or are there many turnings, some particularly life changing and significant, others which are more of a regular course correction?
  6. Can it be that simple? Why is it that we feel more comfortable engaged in practices and actions that amount to earning favour with God?
  7. Are we, like God, lovingly patient and persistent with those who are not yet in a place to turn to God and confess their need of Him?