Theme: Who exactly is Jesus and what is the source of His authority? (Christ the King)

Image credit: http://www.standingwithchrist.com/whoisjesus.html

To read in the week of Nov 18, to prepare for Sunday, November 25 (TLW 47)

2 Samuel 23:1-7 — Final words from a renowned and godly ruler of Israel. David recalls God’s covenant with him and looks forward to a promised royal descendant

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 — the majesty of the Ancient of Days. A glimpse of heaven for Daniel who sees amid a myriad angels attending the throne of God the honouring of “one like a son of man”.

John 18:33-37 — Jesus is questioned by Pilate about who He is. Jesus explains that He is no political figurehead but His kind of kingdom is rooted elsewhere.

Revelation 1:4b-8 — The freedom to serve God as His priests now. Jesus, present from the beginning will return as the completion of truth

Also: Psalm 132:1-18

2 Samuel 23:1-7 — Final words from a renowned and godly ruler of Israel

David recalls God’s covenant with him and looks forward to a promised royal descendant

23 These are the last words of David:

‘The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse, the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, the hero of Israel’s songs:

“The utterance of the man exalted” – testimony to God’s work through his life, having been raised up as king of Israel, from shepherd to ruler, 2 Samuel 7ff; like the Bible’s wisdom literature, what follows contrasts just rule in the fear of God with un righteous leadership.

2 ‘The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue.

“Spoke through me” – not presumptuous, but in awe at God using Him prophetically.

 3 The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me:
When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God,

4 he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morninglike the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.”

“When one rules… in righteousness… in the fear of God” – in the style of a prophet, David sets out in bold strokes a picture of a God-centred ruler – unmistakably alluding to the One he foreshadowed, Jesus Christ.

5 ‘If my house were not right with God, surely He would not have made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part;

surely He would not bring to fruition my salvation and grant me my every desire.  

“An everlasting covenant… secured in every part” – even though his household had failed God, David believes rightly that God’s promise recorded in 2 Sam. 7:12-16 will hold good with a descendant of David as the Eternal King, fulfilled in Jesus Christ when He return to rule in perfect justice and peace.

For further study, similar prophecies in Isaiah 11:1-10; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jer. 33:15-18; Zech.9:9-10. Fulfilled in part, Matt. 4:14-16; Luke 24:25-27,44-49; John 5:45-47; John 8:28-29.

6 But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns, which are not gathered with the hand.

7 Whoever touches thorns uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear; they are burned up where they lie.’

“Thorns” – worthless but also dangerous, needing to be shifted with an weapon or implement. “Burned up”, literally ‘consumed with fire in the sitting’ or as we would say, on the spot. For God’s judgment as fire, see Isaiah 9;18; 10:17. The fate of the rebellious when the Messiah, in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant finally establishes His rule on earth, Isa. 63:1-6.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 – the majesty of the Ancient of Days

A glimpse of heaven for Daniel who sees amid a myriad angels attending the throne of God the honouring of one like a son of man

9 ‘As I looked, ‘thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat.

His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool;
His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.

“The Ancient of Days” – pictures God as a king of great power and immense maturity giving judgment in court. The description symbolises His wisdom in white hair; righteousness by white clothing; and power in judgment, as fire. The description is similar to that of an angel in Matthew 28:3 and Jesus in Revelation 1:14.

10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before Him.
Thousands upon thousands attended Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated, and the books were opened.

“Thousands attended” – a very great number of angelic beings stood before Him. John also recorded that there ‘thousands and millions”, i.e. too many to count, surrounding God’s throne and ministering to Him. Angels are spiritual beings created by God for worship and for mission (like us) who, largely unseen, help in carrying out God’s work on earth.

13-14 ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, [enash] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

“One like a son of man” – an Aramaic phrase ‘bar enash‘ meaning a human being, a phrase used throughout Ezekiel e.g. Ezek. 2:1,3,6,8. But this appearance is clearly not a human being, but “one like a son of man”, a description that the various authors of the NT were quite sure referred to Jesus Christ and probably what was in Jesus’ mind when He used this of Himself, Matt. 8:20. Hence the translation used here. There is more than one time-frame in view. At the end of history, the NT references these verses to teach us that Christ will return, riding the clouds to finally confront evil and enforce its defeat.

For further study: Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62; Luke 21:27; Rev. 1:7.

IN PRACTICE  The first aspect of who God is comes through David’s final testimony about ruling in the fear of God, and Daniel’s picture of awe as he is given a prophetic insight into the heavenly court – and the Ancient of Days. At first living, and especially leading, in the fear of God looks like lahigh risk venture. Do we bring on ourselves fire and brimstone or other destruction if we get it wrong? The history of northern and then southern kingdoms of Israel falling, and the misery of people being enslaved in exile, underlines the cost of getting it wrong, but this is in the context of having rejected countless warnings and appeals by God’s prophets. However, remembering that the Bible teaches us plainly that God is love, and his overriding character qualities are mercy and truth, there is a truth here about whether we really know God, and as a consequence desire to live out His character. This is the fear of missing God best and God’s pleasure in us. For Christians, who come to know God personally through embracing Jesus, our grasp of the Lordship of Jesus on our lives and our church involvements is crucial. When relationships get strained, or vision confused, it is a fair assumption that what has slipped has been the awe, or fear, of God through knowing Him and loving His ways.

QUESTION  Daniel’s vision of thousands and millions in the heavenly court was extraordinary and unrepeatable. What kinds of spiritual practice help us to have some sense of a glimpse of heaven and the majesty of the heavenly court?

John 18:33-37 – Jesus is questioned by Pilate about who He is

Jesus explains that He is no political figurehead, but His kind of kingdom is rooted elsewhere

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’

34 ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about Me?’

“Are you…” – Pilate’s first words to Jesus are the same in each of the four gospels. There were two possible questions here with different political overtones – was Jesus a rebel leader in opposition to Roman rule, or was He the Jews’ religious leader, the Messiah?

35 ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’

“Pilate replied” – he is exasperated, despising the Jews and their ways and not wanting to get involved with their affairts, yet seeing no real basis for their extreme animosity. Ironically, he ends up supporting their position in which we see God’s providence in allowing Jesus to be executed by being ‘lifted up’ and not by stoning, as Jews were inclined to do.

36 Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now My kingdom is from another place.’

37 ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me.’

“My kingdom is from another place” – heaven is the place of eternal and absolute truth. Jesus came as the Way, the Truth and the Life, John 14:6. Relationship with Him is the only way to God and the only means of that life-bringing truth being revealed – a conundrum for intellectual theologians because it is not logical or understandable. Jesus came as living truth for all who would receive Him. Pilate, a politician, considered all truth relative in the shifting sands of people’s opinions; however Jesus of Nazareth and his philosophical-sounding answer did not present as a threat to law and order.

IN PRACTICE  The second aspect of who God is, concerns the Son of Man who Daniel sees in his vision, approaching the Ancient of Days. On earth this picture is recalled, ironically, as Jesus of Nazareth is brought before Pontius Pilate. The Roman governor Pilate was used to factions, pressure-groups and politics in general. Appointed as Prefect of the Roman province of Judea, he encountered the religious politics of Jews and Samaritans, eventually being recalled to Rome after complaints from both. So it is not surprising that when Jesus of Nazareth was brought before him by the Jews, he saw Him at first as yet another political activist. Jesus immediately corrected that perception with His statement: “My kingdom is from another place”. The lesson for us is that human politics on earth and heaven’s purposes follow different agendas. There are spiritual connections – and tensions – between the two. We often pray and expect answers as though the kingdom of God and our world dominated by man’s organisation and control were the same, but the reality is that we pray through Jesus, who is the king of “a kingdom not of this world”.  The better we know Jesus, the more we will discern His kingdom, and the more clearly we’ll see the difference — and learn to live and pray in the right alignment with what He is doing.

PRAYER  Lord, I say you are a king – the king, King Jesus, to whom all authority is given. Help me to hold less tightly the priorities that seem to apply on earth, and to begin to see matters from a different perspective – Your heavenly perspective.

Revelation 1:4b-8 — The freedom to serve God as His priests now

Jesus, present from the beginning, will return as the completion of truth

4 To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

“The seven churches” – the letters were addressed so they could be sent out and passed on via the Roman road which ran north of Ephesus and then in an arc inland and back towards Ephesus, connecting the Roman province called Asia in modern western Turkey.

Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,

“Seven spirits before His throne” – better, ‘sevenfold spirit’ as NIV footnote. The number seven symbolises completeness and perfection. There may also be an allusion to the ‘angels of the seven churches, Rev. 1:20.

5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

5-6 To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father – to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Who loves us… has freed us…has made us…” – stated as present-time blessings.  There is a dimension of the kingdom of God (God’s reign bringing God’s order) which is not just anticipated when Jesus comes again, but in some measure experienced now. 

“A kingdom and priests to serve” – here, clearly and simply, is set out the essential difference between the Old Covenant way of relating to God (rules, hierarchical and formal rituals, led by a special order of priests who make connections by proxy, with God who is holy and remote) and the New Covenant (freed from the burden and guilt of sin by Jesus’ blood and now able to draw close to God as those who know Him and know His love, to serve Him in worship and mission without intermediaries). The human tendency is to revert to what is more ordered and more controlled, requiring less personal investment and responsibility, which is why the New Covenant remains a challenge for much of the Christian church today. As Jesus taught, the ‘taste of the old wine’ seems preferable.

7 ‘Look, He is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of Him.’ So shall it be! Amen.

8 ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’

“The Alpha and the Omega” – the alphabet is an ingenious way of representing knowledge through words. Christ, the Living Word, is supreme in this, ruling sovereignly over all human history including the part that for us has not yet unfolded.

“All peoples on earth will mourn” — rejoicing at the return of the Messiah by those that are His, swept up in the air to meet Him, 1 Thess. 4:16-17. Others, the ones still on earth, mourning their sin and judgment. The combined quotation headlines the theme of Revelation, the sweepingly majestic yet human-related Lord, Daniel 7:13 who evokes both the sorrow of sin in the face of One so holy but also finding grace, Zechariah 12:10

IN PRACTICE  The third aspect of who Jesus is, also says a lot about who we are.. Not only does His shed blood remind us powerfully of His love for us, we are reminded of the power of His blood in freeing us from sin, and from the subtle accusations of the enemy trying to gain a point of access into our thought lives. Why does this matter? It is because the Son of God enthroned in the heavenly court needs those who have stood at the Cross, who have given their pride and their self-sufficiency to Him, to be His partners in bringing His Kingdom. That is why He has conferred a new kind of priesthood on all He knows as His, a holy community where His rule and authority enriches life and relationships. It’s the priesthood of believers, of fellowship in the Great High Priest – the highest distinction. It’s easy to look around and see, where the believers are bringing the presence of Jesus and making a difference in the world. It looks different from the stereotype of the institutional church. These are the ones who know they have been freed, who know they are loved, and who are serving him in worship and mission through transformed lives.

QUESTION  What is meant by priesthood in the post-resurrection New Testament? What should we call those who are set apart and trained as preachers, shepherds and leaders in the church?

PRAYER  Lord God Almighty, may we grow in loving You and walking in awe of You, as we seek to represent You to our world, and bring the needs of our world to You.

This post in booklet form to print out for your church, respecting ©2018 The Living Word/Ian Greig

Who is Jesus?

Theme: Who exactly is Jesus and what is the source of His authority? (Christ the King)

Image credit: http://www.standingwithchrist.com/whoisjesus.html

To read in the week of Nov 18, to prepare for Sunday, November 25 (TLW 47)

2 Samuel 23:1-7 — Final words from a renowned and godly ruler of Israel. David recalls God’s covenant with him and looks forward to a promised royal descendant

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 — the majesty of the Ancient of Days. A glimpse of heaven for Daniel who sees amid a myriad angels attending the throne of God the honouring of “one like a son of man”.

John 18:33-37 — Jesus is questioned by Pilate about who He is. Jesus explains that He is no political figurehead but His kind of kingdom is rooted elsewhere.

Revelation 1:4b-8 — The freedom to serve God as His priests now. Jesus, present from the beginning will return as the completion of truth

Also: Psalm 132:1-18

2 Samuel 23:1-7 — Final words from a renowned and godly ruler of Israel

David recalls God’s covenant with him and looks forward to a promised royal descendant

23 These are the last words of David:

‘The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse, the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, the hero of Israel’s songs:

“The utterance of the man exalted” – testimony to God’s work through his life, having been raised up as king of Israel, from shepherd to ruler, 2 Samuel 7ff; like the Bible’s wisdom literature, what follows contrasts just rule in the fear of God with un righteous leadership.

2 ‘The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue.

“Spoke through me” – not presumptuous, but in awe at God using Him prophetically.

 3 The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me:
When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God,

4 he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morninglike the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.”

“When one rules… in righteousness… in the fear of God” – in the style of a prophet, David sets out in bold strokes a picture of a God-centred ruler – unmistakably alluding to the One he foreshadowed, Jesus Christ.

5 ‘If my house were not right with God, surely He would not have made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part;

surely He would not bring to fruition my salvation and grant me my every desire.  

“An everlasting covenant… secured in every part” – even though his household had failed God, David believes rightly that God’s promise recorded in 2 Sam. 7:12-16 will hold good with a descendant of David as the Eternal King, fulfilled in Jesus Christ when He return to rule in perfect justice and peace.

For further study, similar prophecies in Isaiah 11:1-10; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jer. 33:15-18; Zech.9:9-10. Fulfilled in part, Matt. 4:14-16; Luke 24:25-27,44-49; John 5:45-47; John 8:28-29.

6 But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns, which are not gathered with the hand.

7 Whoever touches thorns uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear; they are burned up where they lie.’

“Thorns” – worthless but also dangerous, needing to be shifted with an weapon or implement. “Burned up”, literally ‘consumed with fire in the sitting’ or as we would say, on the spot. For God’s judgment as fire, see Isaiah 9;18; 10:17. The fate of the rebellious when the Messiah, in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant finally establishes His rule on earth, Isa. 63:1-6.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 – the majesty of the Ancient of Days

A glimpse of heaven for Daniel who sees amid a myriad angels attending the throne of God the honouring of one like a son of man

9 ‘As I looked, ‘thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat.

His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool;
His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.

“The Ancient of Days” – pictures God as a king of great power and immense maturity giving judgment in court. The description symbolises His wisdom in white hair; righteousness by white clothing; and power in judgment, as fire. The description is similar to that of an angel in Matthew 28:3 and Jesus in Revelation 1:14.

10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before Him.
Thousands upon thousands attended Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
The court was seated, and the books were opened.

“Thousands attended” – a very great number of angelic beings stood before Him. John also recorded that there ‘thousands and millions”, i.e. too many to count, surrounding God’s throne and ministering to Him. Angels are spiritual beings created by God for worship and for mission (like us) who, largely unseen, help in carrying out God’s work on earth.

13-14 ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, [enash] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

“One like a son of man” – an Aramaic phrase ‘bar enash‘ meaning a human being, a phrase used throughout Ezekiel e.g. Ezek. 2:1,3,6,8. But this appearance is clearly not a human being, but “one like a son of man”, a description that the various authors of the NT were quite sure referred to Jesus Christ and probably what was in Jesus’ mind when He used this of Himself, Matt. 8:20. Hence the translation used here. There is more than one time-frame in view. At the end of history, the NT references these verses to teach us that Christ will return, riding the clouds to finally confront evil and enforce its defeat.

For further study: Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62; Luke 21:27; Rev. 1:7.

IN PRACTICE  The first aspect of who God is comes through David’s final testimony about ruling in the fear of God, and Daniel’s picture of awe as he is given a prophetic insight into the heavenly court – and the Ancient of Days. At first living, and especially leading, in the fear of God looks like lahigh risk venture. Do we bring on ourselves fire and brimstone or other destruction if we get it wrong? The history of northern and then southern kingdoms of Israel falling, and the misery of people being enslaved in exile, underlines the cost of getting it wrong, but this is in the context of having rejected countless warnings and appeals by God’s prophets. However, remembering that the Bible teaches us plainly that God is love, and his overriding character qualities are mercy and truth, there is a truth here about whether we really know God, and as a consequence desire to live out His character. This is the fear of missing God best and God’s pleasure in us. For Christians, who come to know God personally through embracing Jesus, our grasp of the Lordship of Jesus on our lives and our church involvements is crucial. When relationships get strained, or vision confused, it is a fair assumption that what has slipped has been the awe, or fear, of God through knowing Him and loving His ways.

QUESTION  Daniel’s vision of thousands and millions in the heavenly court was extraordinary and unrepeatable. What kinds of spiritual practice help us to have some sense of a glimpse of heaven and the majesty of the heavenly court?

John 18:33-37 – Jesus is questioned by Pilate about who He is

Jesus explains that He is no political figurehead, but His kind of kingdom is rooted elsewhere

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’

34 ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about Me?’

“Are you…” – Pilate’s first words to Jesus are the same in each of the four gospels. There were two possible questions here with different political overtones – was Jesus a rebel leader in opposition to Roman rule, or was He the Jews’ religious leader, the Messiah?

35 ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’

“Pilate replied” – he is exasperated, despising the Jews and their ways and not wanting to get involved with their affairts, yet seeing no real basis for their extreme animosity. Ironically, he ends up supporting their position in which we see God’s providence in allowing Jesus to be executed by being ‘lifted up’ and not by stoning, as Jews were inclined to do.

36 Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now My kingdom is from another place.’

37 ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me.’

“My kingdom is from another place” – heaven is the place of eternal and absolute truth. Jesus came as the Way, the Truth and the Life, John 14:6. Relationship with Him is the only way to God and the only means of that life-bringing truth being revealed – a conundrum for intellectual theologians because it is not logical or understandable. Jesus came as living truth for all who would receive Him. Pilate, a politician, considered all truth relative in the shifting sands of people’s opinions; however Jesus of Nazareth and his philosophical-sounding answer did not present as a threat to law and order.

IN PRACTICE  The second aspect of who God is, concerns the Son of Man who Daniel sees in his vision, approaching the Ancient of Days. On earth this picture is recalled, ironically, as Jesus of Nazareth is brought before Pontius Pilate. The Roman governor Pilate was used to factions, pressure-groups and politics in general. Appointed as Prefect of the Roman province of Judea, he encountered the religious politics of Jews and Samaritans, eventually being recalled to Rome after complaints from both. So it is not surprising that when Jesus of Nazareth was brought before him by the Jews, he saw Him at first as yet another political activist. Jesus immediately corrected that perception with His statement: “My kingdom is from another place”. The lesson for us is that human politics on earth and heaven’s purposes follow different agendas. There are spiritual connections – and tensions – between the two. We often pray and expect answers as though the kingdom of God and our world dominated by man’s organisation and control were the same, but the reality is that we pray through Jesus, who is the king of “a kingdom not of this world”.  The better we know Jesus, the more we will discern His kingdom, and the more clearly we’ll see the difference — and learn to live and pray in the right alignment with what He is doing.

PRAYER  Lord, I say you are a king – the king, King Jesus, to whom all authority is given. Help me to hold less tightly the priorities that seem to apply on earth, and to begin to see matters from a different perspective – Your heavenly perspective.

Revelation 1:4b-8 — The freedom to serve God as His priests now

Jesus, present from the beginning, will return as the completion of truth

4 To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

“The seven churches” – the letters were addressed so they could be sent out and passed on via the Roman road which ran north of Ephesus and then in an arc inland and back towards Ephesus, connecting the Roman province called Asia in modern western Turkey.

Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,

“Seven spirits before His throne” – better, ‘sevenfold spirit’ as NIV footnote. The number seven symbolises completeness and perfection. There may also be an allusion to the ‘angels of the seven churches, Rev. 1:20.

5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

5-6 To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father – to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Who loves us… has freed us…has made us…” – stated as present-time blessings.  There is a dimension of the kingdom of God (God’s reign bringing God’s order) which is not just anticipated when Jesus comes again, but in some measure experienced now. 

“A kingdom and priests to serve” – here, clearly and simply, is set out the essential difference between the Old Covenant way of relating to God (rules, hierarchical and formal rituals, led by a special order of priests who make connections by proxy, with God who is holy and remote) and the New Covenant (freed from the burden and guilt of sin by Jesus’ blood and now able to draw close to God as those who know Him and know His love, to serve Him in worship and mission without intermediaries). The human tendency is to revert to what is more ordered and more controlled, requiring less personal investment and responsibility, which is why the New Covenant remains a challenge for much of the Christian church today. As Jesus taught, the ‘taste of the old wine’ seems preferable.

7 ‘Look, He is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of Him.’ So shall it be! Amen.

8 ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’

“The Alpha and the Omega” – the alphabet is an ingenious way of representing knowledge through words. Christ, the Living Word, is supreme in this, ruling sovereignly over all human history including the part that for us has not yet unfolded.

“All peoples on earth will mourn” — rejoicing at the return of the Messiah by those that are His, swept up in the air to meet Him, 1 Thess. 4:16-17. Others, the ones still on earth, mourning their sin and judgment. The combined quotation headlines the theme of Revelation, the sweepingly majestic yet human-related Lord, Daniel 7:13 who evokes both the sorrow of sin in the face of One so holy but also finding grace, Zechariah 12:10

IN PRACTICE  The third aspect of who Jesus is, also says a lot about who we are.. Not only does His shed blood remind us powerfully of His love for us, we are reminded of the power of His blood in freeing us from sin, and from the subtle accusations of the enemy trying to gain a point of access into our thought lives. Why does this matter? It is because the Son of God enthroned in the heavenly court needs those who have stood at the Cross, who have given their pride and their self-sufficiency to Him, to be His partners in bringing His Kingdom. That is why He has conferred a new kind of priesthood on all He knows as His, a holy community where His rule and authority enriches life and relationships. It’s the priesthood of believers, of fellowship in the Great High Priest – the highest distinction. It’s easy to look around and see, where the believers are bringing the presence of Jesus and making a difference in the world. It looks different from the stereotype of the institutional church. These are the ones who know they have been freed, who know they are loved, and who are serving him in worship and mission through transformed lives.

QUESTION  What is meant by priesthood in the post-resurrection New Testament? What should we call those who are set apart and trained as preachers, shepherds and leaders in the church?

PRAYER  Lord God Almighty, may we grow in loving You and walking in awe of You, as we seek to represent You to our world, and bring the needs of our world to You.

This post in booklet form to print out for your church, respecting ©2018 The Living Word/Ian Greig

Priority! Return God’s love to Him and others

Ruth and Naomi: “Where you go, I will go… where you stay, I will stay, Ruth 1:16”

TLW44

Scriptures to read in preparation for Sunday, November 4

Theme: The priority of returning God’s love to Him and others

SUMMARY

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 — First love God with all your heart; the foundation of the First Great Commandment.

Ruth 1:1-18— Ruth decides to trust God and look after Naomi. A choice to do what is right.

Mark 12:28-34 — the Great Commandment, love God, love others. Unselfishness the guiding principle of the kingdom of God.

Hebrews 9:11-14 — Love enabled by the cleansing power of the blood of Christ. Christ’s sacrifice changes us inwardly in a way the blood of calves and goats never could.

Also: Psalm 146

OLD TESTAMENT READING 1

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 — First love God with all your heart

The foundation of the First Great Commandment

1-2  These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.

“Fear the Lord your God” – ‘revere’ for His goodness, would come closer than ‘fear’ (of the consequences) although both are in the meaning. What follows is predicated on Israel’s covenanted relationship with a loving, sustaining, providing God  i.e. Exodus 34:5-7 “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love… and forgiving…”

Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

“Be careful to obey” — needs to be understood in terms of the heart and soul and passion of v.5, see note to vv. 6-8 below.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 

“The Lord is one” — distinctive among other tribes and nations who worshipped, and attempted to placate, various deities who were related to the prevailing threats and needs of life. Scripture is progressive revelation, and “The Lord is one” remains a truth that overarches God revealing Himself in His Son, and then the awareness of the third Person, the Holy Spirit of God, guiding and empowering the Early Church and our mission today.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 

“Hear, O Israel” — recited by Jews in the synagogue and often daily as well, this Shema (Hebrew for ‘hear’) passage is a foundational confession of faith, as the Nicene Creed has become in the Church of England.

“Love the Lord” — ‘love’ in English has a broad range of meanings. This has the specific sense of ‘adore, revere, be committed to’ in the way people show their devotion to a popular monarch, like Trooping the Colour in London every June.

6-8 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

“0n your hearts… foreheads” — the sense of verse 6 was lost on some Jewish sects who in religious zeal tied a small box containing the text over their heads. This is what we all tend to do: try to turn a heart relationship into a set of religious rules and routines which we find easier to control. But the Lord simply wants our hearts, and when He has our heart, that will be evident enough.

Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Application follows…

…OLD TESTAMENT READING 2

Ruth 1:1-18 – Ruth decides to trust God and look after Naomi

A choice to do what is right

1-2 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

“When the judges ruled” – following Joshua and preceding Saul and David, probably around 1100 BC.

“Ephrathites” – the area around Bethlehem village, as in Micah’s prophecy foretelling the Messiah’s birth in “Bethlehem Ephrathah”, Micah 5:2

“Mahlon and Kilion” – both names descriptive of a weak constitution.

3-5 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

“Married Moabite women” – not forbidden although classed as outsiders – there was a 10-generation (male) ban on “entering the assembly of the Lord”. However, marriage and continuation of the family line was socially essential.

“Naomi was left” – the plight of Ruth’s mother-in-law is set out early in the story. Life could be very hard and vulnerable for an unsupported widow in that culture.

6-7 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

“The Lord had come to the aid of His people” – this story emphasises the Lord’s sovereignty over events.

8-9 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

“Show you kindness” – Naomi had blessed her daughters-in-law with God’s hesēd, meaning the covenant, loyal love of God, although the daughters-in-law were not Israelites and in a foreign country.

9-10 Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

11-13 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons — would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

Naomi sees her difficult circumstances, wrongly, as the Lord’s enmity or discipline of her – as we often do. The book as a whole tells a different story of God’s gracious provision.

14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

“Clung to her” – dabaq, a strong word, also used of a man being joined to his wife, Genesis 2:24, or remaining faithful to the Lord, Deut 4:4, Joshua 10:20; Josh 22:5.

15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God.

“Your God my God” – Ruth probably grew up worshipping the Moabite god Chemosh.

17-18 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

“May the Lord” – Ruth invokes the name of Yahweh for the first time, showing her commitment to Naomi and the Lord, with no other prospects in view. She is embracing uncertainty, leaving kinspeople and familiarity to go where she has no family and friends, as an outsider.

IN PRACTICE  Ruth and Naomi walk us through what it means to return God’s love by trusting Him and choosing His way in our relationships with others. They faced an uncertain future as women in a man’s world, their menfolk having been taken from them. Do they blame God, or trust Him? Do they do what gives them most opportunity, or choose to do what is right? Life and its pressures and choices hasn’t changed in three thousand years, except that we have many more choices we can make, and many more options for self-determination rather than seeking God’s best and trusting Him in it. We have too much practice in making easy but low-value choices, and we need to work up our skills in making high-value and lasting ones — seeking God and trusting Him for His way.

QUESTION  Trusting God, doing what is right by Him, making high value choices is difficult. Who can share this with you, and encourage you?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 12:28-34 – the Great Commandment, love God, love others

Unselfishness a guiding principle of the kingdom of God

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“One of the teachers of the law” – until now, in Mark, they have been hostile; this was probably a Pharisee, but a friendly and teachable one.

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

30 ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

“The most important…” – the rabbis had codified the law into 613 statutes, and debated which were ‘weighty’ and which were ‘lighter’. Jesus starts where they are, quoting the familiar ‘Shema’ or ‘Hear’ passage (which opens worship in synagogues today)._

31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“The second is this” – Jesus puts two sayings together (see For Further Study note below) that were widely separated in the law, and so not expected to be combined. The first summarises commandments 1-4 about loving God wholeheartedly, the second summarises commandments 5-10 about moral responsibility and treating others well. His point is that they cannot be separated. God, who loves us, expects us to return His love by putting Him first and also by honouring others, loving them as He does. 

32-33 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

“You are right” – this particular scribe had understood that God’s overriding characteristic was mercy. Without the accompaniment of just and merciful behaviour, without which the ceremonial was meaningless.

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask Him any more questions.

“Not far from the kingdom” – the scribe had the right priorities, but entering the kingdom would require him to recognise and speak out Jesus as being the Son of God, (who would shortly die in his place as a sacrifice for his sins).

For further study: The Great Commandment unfolds, Deut. 6:46; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 5:43; Matthew 22:36-40; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14.

IN PRACTICE

This man had grasped the teaching and understood the way it fits together. He knew the priorities – a lack of moral compass and concern for others cancels out any good religious intentions we can perform. First things first, and with God, that is always mercy!

The second teaching here is about the spirit of the law versus the legalism of the law. Jesus upholds the broad intention of the law by being the fulfilment of the law. He shows what it looks like to know God’s love, and so to be provoked into returning it in devotion to God, that results in having a heart of mercy and generosity to others. By contrast, the Jewish teachers and scribes majored on the fine details of observance, where their response to God had become formulaic rather than feeling.

We can’t reduce the teaching of Jesus to a formula; either it is heartfelt or it is reduced to head-knowledge. To change the world around us – being bringers of the kingdom of God – must start with us having a demonstrable heart change. We can’t give what we haven’t got.

QUESTION  How can we, as the Church representing Jesus, be more effective at showing His transforming love to the world, rather reducing it to the kind of rituals and regulations which Jesus so clearly derided?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 9:11-14 – The cleansing, releasing power of the blood of Christ

Christ’s sacrifice changes us inwardly in a way the blood of calves and goats never could

11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.

“Greater… perfect tabernacle” – a comparison between the tent that preceded the temple with its hammered gold lamp stand for seven lamps and its consecrated bread, and the ‘heavenly tent’ around God’s presence. The man-made one was a poor shadow of the real thing which Christ entered to take his high priestly seat.

12-13 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.

“Once for all” – a comparison between the repeated sacrifices of the Levitical priest, each of which amounted to a partial remedy for sin, and Christ’s sinless sacrifice, final, effective and unrepeatable.

14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

“How much more” – an argument from less to greater. The comparison emphasises the power of remembering, enacting and declaring what Christ’s blood has done for us. The balance between these actions varies across Christian traditions. 

IN PRACTICE  The flesh nature — how we behave naturally as humankind — is inherently selfish and self-protective, and therefore not disposed to be generous to others. We live in competition, not collaboration. Loving others is optional, depending on what we feel – because we readily store up resentments accumulated by emotional collisions with others.

Coming to Christ and having a personal relationship with God brings the Holy Spirit’s dynamic to counteract and change this self-centred flesh nature.  We have hurt God by our selfishness and rebellion, but He has forgiven us — massively. This is the work of the blood of Christ, not only spiritual forgiveness for sin, but emotional cleansing of conscience from the effect of sin. Now we can think and act differently, with a generosity of spirit towards others. It is still a choice — we need to constantly be reminded how Christ’s blood has cleansed us — but it is an empowered choice. We can reflect God’s love and generous spirit to us, in how we relate to others.

QUESTION  Christ’s blood is all-powerful and effective, but how do we assert this? What is the balance between remembering, and speaking it out, in your tradition?

= = = = = = =

PRAYER  Father, we see selfishness, hatred and war all around us yet You sent Jesus to be the embodiment of your way of love and the means to achieve it. Fill us with Your love and empower us to use it to bring change to the bit of the world we can influence. Amen.

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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?