Man’s way and understanding vs trusting God for His way

1 Samuel 8:4-20, and 11:14-15

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Mark 3:20-35

 

1 Samuel 8:4-20, and 11:14-15

God’s way is superseded by man’s way of leading Israel, despite Samuel’s warning

4-5 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

“A king to lead us” – The leaders come up with a couple of insubstantial reasons for wanting a king, rather than a judge who would direct them to Yahweh; Samuel’s sons taking bribes, and the continual threats of the Ammonites and Philistines (v.20) did not help. However, the real reason will become clear.

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.

It was quite a rejection of Samuel, who had served them well. And another rejection – the Lord’s people of Israel were supposed to be distinct from the surrounding nations in doing things differently.

7-9 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you that they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

“Rejected Me as their king” – meaning they had rejected God’s ways. This would be played out again with Christ.

For further study, read Acts 3:13-15, 7:51-53.

Samuel warns the people of the cost of taking this new direction, based on the practices of the Canaanite kings that surrounded them.

10-15 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plough his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.

“Take a tenth” – in reality, another tenth. Israel was instructed to devote a tenth to the Lord. The demands of an earthly king would double up on all the land, produce and people that would be consecrated to the Lord.

16-18 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

“His slaves” – conscripted labour. Later widely used by Solomon.

“The best of your fields… and.. cattle” – Saul would give his officials military commands and farms, 1 Sam. 22:7

19-20 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us.  Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

The motive becomes clear. God wanted all of them to be spiritually-led and spiritually dependent, as they were during the Exodus – but it was a tall order. The Israelites wanted to appear as a match for the nations around them, with a king as a figurehead, and to lead them in battle.

1 Sam. 11:14-15 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.

Meanwhile, Saul who came from a noble family and who looked the part, was anointed (on the Lord’s instructions) by Samuel and now receives his coronation. It is the start of a reign characterised by independence from God that would last for 40 difficult years. Kingship was allowed, but not required, by the law, Deut. 17:14-20.

In practice

The people of God, Israel, had been commanded to be set apart for Him – to be holy, as He is holy. Therefore they were to follow His ways and uphold His values as distinct from the nations around.

Yahweh led them out of Egypt and He led them through the desert with the visible presence of fire and cloud.  But now they wanted a “king to lead us, such as the other nations have” and to “go out before us” in battle.

This headlines the enduring tension between God’s way and man’s way that we all struggle with today. God’s way often requires a high level of listening and trust. We usually prefer to choose man’s more predictable way – and then spiritualise it. He just wants us to listen to Him, to be guided out of that relationship – and like Israel, to how His kingdom to others around us.

Question

Think of an example where you, or your church, seem stuck in “man’s way”. What would God’s way look like?

Mark 3:20-35

Jesus teaches on the danger of allowing prejudice to attribute the Holy Spirit’s work to the devil

20-21 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that He and his disciples were not even able to eat. When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”

“Out of His mind” – Jesus is acting strangely to His family; they were familiar with the ‘previous’ Jesus, the carpenter, and were still seeing Him in a worldly way. However, the evil spirits He confronted knew exactly who He was: The Son of God, Mark 3:11.

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons He is driving out demons.

The word about Jesus’ following has reached Jerusalem and a commission was sent to Galilee to investigate this ‘unauthorised’ rabbi. Threatened by a man who could do in the power of God what they could not do, they resort to slander, accusing Him of the exact opposite of the plain truth. Mark’s gospel doesn’t mention the blind and dumb demonised man, Matt. 12:22, Luke 11:14, that prompted the accusation that he was in league with Satan, Beelzebub, the prince of demons, John 10:20.

23-26 So Jesus called them over to Him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.

Jesus points out the ridiculous nature of their accusation. History teaches us that revivals bring opposition and the most bitter accusations are made by those who profess the same faith and should be on-side.

27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.

The strong man in this instance is tied and healing miracles are taking place. Jesus is demonstrably more powerful than Satan’s hold, strong though that may be.

28-29 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

Jesus says that only one sin puts a person beyond forgiveness — attributing the redemptive work of God to Satan. This may be because a person locked in such prejudice is unable to make the turn of repentance – we have to acknowledge our need of forgiveness. Anyone who fears having committed the unforgivable sin has, by definition, showed the capacity to turn.

30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

31-32 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call Him.  A crowd was sitting around Him, and they told Him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for You.”

Most likely His younger half-brothers, not believers at this time, not understanding Jesus’ call and identity and concerned that He was overreaching Himself. Sisters are mentioned in Mark 6:3. Joseph, not mentioned, has probably died by this time.

33 “Who are My mother and my brothers?” He asked.

34-35 Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! Whoever does God’s will is My brother and sister and mother.”

“Whoever does God’s will” – see James 1:22. Jesus is not rejecting His natural family but teaching the high priority for Him, of the spiritual relationship that comes through believing in Him. A parallel passage, Luke 8:19, in The Passion Translation reads: “These who come to listen to Me are like My mothers and My brothers. They’re the ones who long to hear and to put God’s word into practice.”

In practice

This opposition to Jesus started in the place of supposed faith, the synagogue, with the healing of a man with a malformed hand. Then a crowd followed Him as He made Himself less prominent and brought with them a deaf and dumb man, who was most evidently healed.

This was a power encounter in which evil spirits manifested and clearly knew exactly who Jesus was – the Son of God. But His own family were fazed by this and Jewish religious leaders present were critical in the extreme.

Why would they attribute the unmistakable, and unarguably good, healings of needy people to the work of the chief of demons, or Satan? This was true blasphemy of the most serious kind. By contrast, Jesus was frequently accused of blasphemy by religious people. This gives us a clue. The religious spirit, where man defines what is correct or right, brings out deep-seated and irrational prejudice. It’s hard to turn from a mind-set like that, and so it is hard to receive forgiveness for it. It is common today for a misplaced sense of ‘religious correctness’ to be a real barrier to the Good News and God’s work in a church or congregation – something we learn from this story.

Question

Where have you found an unfamiliar teaching or an experience of God at work difficult because of your own prejudice or sense of what should or shouldn’t be?

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

• Man’s mortality is temporary but God’s grace and transforming work is everlasting

13-14 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”  Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to Himself.

“I believed… I have spoken” – Paul quoting a version of Psalm 116:10. Exercising faith leads to testimony stories, big and small; testimony is a powerful way to raise faith in others. Paul often told the story of being changed from persecutor to missionary by his encounter with Jesus.

“Present us… to Himself” – the Holy Spirit’s extraordinary power resurrected Jesus, Romans 8:11, 1 Cor. 15:20. His transformative power is at work in us to present us, made holy and acceptable, to God. A trinitarian saying.

15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

Being renewed” – the Holy Spirit’s resurrection life is always renewing us inwardly (and us together as the Church). The more the outward testing – for Paul, this was sometimes brutal – the greater our reliance on God, and the deeper the relationship with Him.

17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

“Light and momentary” – Paul’s irony, but a reminder that as our life is eternal, our perspective should be also. Developed in the following verse.

18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Cor. 5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

“Earthly tent” – a tent or even marquee has a limited life. For all of us, earthly life lasts… until it doesn’t last any more. But the reality is a heavenly life more permanent than a castle.

In practice

Paul is speaking from a perspective of experiencing “light and momentary troubles”. Either this is an unusual and early use of the classic English understatement – or Paul, who is being hammered physically, emotionally and spiritually, is teaching us about keeping a heavenly focus when hell seems to be breaking out.

The more up-front we are about declaring and living in the Lordship of Jesus, the more the forces of darkness will try to throw us off or discourage us into backing away. Paul’s teaching is that spiritual opposition (which often comes through people as other kinds of opposition, attacks on health and in every other way) is par for the course and “momentary”. The gains are eternal. We only see our side of the battle, not the “eternal glory” that results, and the difficulty we experience is temporary, but the results – a person led to Christ, for example – are eternal. “Keep on keeping on”, he seems to be saying, even if our “tents” seem to be in danger of collapsing in the gale.

Question

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p class=”p1″>What is your story of pressing in spiritually – perhaps in prayer for a situation – and feeling the kickback of the enemy’s oppression? How long-lived was this?

The kingdom purpose of God has to be spiritually discerned

THURSDAY, MARCH 1
1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Our opinions can blind us to God’s intentions if we are not prepared to let them be changed – especially by the Gospel

18  For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

19  For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

18-19  Paul is loosely quoting Isaiah 29:14 and allowing God to speak these words again to the Corinth church  which like its city, was characterised by people holding strong opinions, with some arrogance.
20  Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

20  The Athenian statesman Aristides said that on every street in Corinth one would meet a so-called wise man who had his own solutions to humanity’s problems.

20  “Philosopher of this age” refers to a kind of dispute using clever but devious logic, called sophistry, which the Greeks liked to engage in.

20  Paul uses his own brand of straightforward oratory – four rhetorical questions together with the anaphora of “where is… where is… where is…” to drive home his point to Greeks who expected this form of persuasion.

21  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 21  The preaching is not foolish, but the message of the Cross doesn’t at first make sense to people of the world – whether Jews or Greeks, in this context.
22  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom… 22  Different cultures have different starting points. The Jews’ history was miraculous deliverance (Red Sea, Jehoshaphat’s deliverance, Gideon), encounters (Abraham, Mount Sinai) and signs (e.g. through Elijah and Elisha). The Greek nation had a long background in philosophical debate and oratory. Jesus’ self-sacrifice in shameful, if sinless, death didn’t satisfy either Greek intellect or Jewish desire for God’s intervening hand.
23  …but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…  23  “Stumbling block” originally meant a tree-stump. In Scripture it meant an attitude or action that obstructs others and causes them to sin. The Jews looked for a Messiah of political power. Jesus – in their unbelieving view – had not only failed to remove the Romans, but had been put to death by Romans, the Roman way.
24  …but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 24  Those with spiritual eyes to see, recognise the true power, the power of God in Christ crucified, and the true wisdom of how God saves in Christ.
25  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 25  God’s order has the effect of turning the world’s order upside down. Paul is using irony here, a figure of speech that was much used by the Greeks.

Application

When Paul had a dream in Troas that led to his mission crossing the sea to the Greek and Roman culture of Macedonia, he needed to connect with people in different ways. The Greeks were great debaters and they looked for logical, rather than historic, support for the message they were hearing.

The story of Jesus’ sinless life and then horrific death as an innocent victim who became a sacrifice for sin for all who would believe, is a story that defies logic. It can only be grasped by faith. And the more we seek to understand it and find grounds for it in the way that philosophy demands, the more we distance ourselves from the faith that brings revelation.

Paul is meeting his new Greek converts where they are in their understanding and speaking their kind of language – to tell them, “It doesn’t work that way!”

God’s purposes are higher than our purposes and of course the heavenly perspective is like the view from an aircaft window seat compared with a walk in the valley far below.

Only prayer and an openness to the bigger picture that the Holy Spirit gives us, if we ask Him, can show us how to relate Jesus resurrected, to a world cynical and demanding of proof. Paul knew those barriers too, and he consistently relied on demonstrating and proclaiming Christ, the wisdom of God and the power of God, to overcome them.

For reflection and discussion

How difficult do we find it to stand up for what seems to others to be foolish, illogical, and just not ‘cool’? Who helps us to be credible and relevant?

Father God wants to show His new just order

Leading up to Sunday, December 31: Part 5 out of 5

Friday, December 29: And the Good News is…

God is for us, and not against us, and He wants a new kind of world order where people relate to Him freely and willingly. He wants to show His justice to the nations of the world, so that the righteousness that is sown springs up and grows everywhere.

The response can only be praise – everything and everybody released into unfettered praise of the One who is so good. Creation cannot help but respond to this new way of living with excitement, His hills, trees, creatures of every kind – and those made in His own image especially.

The prophets announced that, after a long and troubled history of God’s entreaty and man’s independence, this new order would come. This was God’s purpose. All Jews knew this, even if they didn’t necessarily know about it in detail. Yet the first announcement of the human birth of God’s own Son, the breaking in of God’s kingdom to our world, was made to the most ordinary people imaginable. Shepherds, who lived with their sheep much of the time, were of low social standing. Yet God sent angels to make the announcement to them first. They did as they were shown and made the discovery first.

What does this say to us? In our world, we gain standing through hard work and privilege comes to certain people whose background or achievements give them particular merit.

The kingdom of God shakes all of this up. Merit is conferred by God by His grace, not earned distinction, and more grace is often given to those the world considers undeserving. So angels appear in the light of glory to shepherds, not religious leaders. Who is going to listen? Who is going to respond? Who will convey the good news simply and clearly to others? God needs people who are not proud and preoccupied and privilege-minded – so He finds some shepherds.

The Good News is good and it is for all – but our attitude of heart makes a big difference to how we receive it. That is a choice we have, and the less we have in ourselves, the easier it is to be available to God.