Listening to the Lord and speaking for Him

Image credit: St George’s Anglican Church, Burlington, Canada

Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, September 16 (Pentecost 18)

Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s voice?

Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples

James 3:1-12 | Listening to God first – does He have our tongue?

Also in this Sunday’s readings: Psalm 19

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Summary

The theme for this Sunday is about who we listen to, and what is in our hearts as we speak.

Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s choice?

The voice of wisdom is like a woman whose advice (in that culture) could be ignored and even mocked, revealing arrogant obstinacy. Do we respond as learners or mockers?

Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples

Peter and the disciples were put on the spot about who people thought Jesus was and who they said He was, but Peter’s declaration sealed their belief in Jesus as Messiah.

James 3:1-12 | Listening to God first – does He have our tongue?

This teaching from the apostle James stresses power of words for good or harm, and the importance of speech which comes from a heart submitted to God, not human opinions.

The message this week is a reminder that the words we speak are like fruit, showing whether we are a thorny briar or a sweet variety. As disciples of Christ we guard against lapsing into the old, selfish nature, but rather show the Lordship of Jesus over our speech.

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Proverbs 1:20-33 | Listening and speaking out – our opinions or wisdom’s choice?

The voice of wisdom gives sound guidance for living, for all who will hear

Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:

“Wisdom calls aloud” – personified as a woman (the Hebrew word is feminine) who cries out, for all to hear in the marketplace, and at the place of business and debate, the city gate. 

22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?

“Simple… mockers… fools” – Proverbs addresses three sets of people who need God’s wisdom and are progressively less receptive. Those who are simple or inexperienced, pethim, are the most open to God’s truth, Prov. 1:4. Fools, kesilim, have heard God’s wisdom but are resisting it. Mockers, latsonim, oppose wisdom with ridicule and are condemned in Proverbs as those too arrogant and contentious to learn.

For further study on kesiyl, kesilim see Proverbs 17:10, 12, 16, 21, 24-25 and a related word in Prov. 17:7.

23 Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.

“Repent… then…” – the consequence of heeding the warning is a blessing, where wisdom is like a fountain of constant refreshment and, “I will make known”, though revelation.

24-25 But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke…

“Stretch out my hand” – in appeal, like Isaiah 65:2 where God holds out His hands all day to “an obstinate people”

26-27 …I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you – when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

“Laugh” – not heartlessly but at the predictability of those who spurn wisdom’s guidance and find themselves in difficulty as a consequence.

28-29 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.

“Call to me” – sounds like 1 Samuel 8:18, but this is probably not about prayer; wisdom is a personification, not God. The sense is that mockers and scoffers will frantically seek wisdom when they get into trouble, but ‘too little, too late’.

30-31 Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.

“Eat the fruit… be filled with the fruit” – like the NT phrase “A man reaps what he sows”, Gal. 6:7. Evil people suffer the punishment of living out the consequences of their own actions, and will find themselves consuming the fruit of calamity, fear and destruction that they meted out to others.

32-33 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.

“Waywardness” – a play on the Hebrew word for turning which can mean positively “repent” or negatively “turn wayward”. Not heeding wisdom (being wayward) causes destruction; the remedy would have been to turn in repentance.

“Whoever listens to me” – those who listen to wisdom’s voice experience security.

IN PRACTICE  The voice of wisdom is not the same as the voice of God, but closely aligned. It is more the sense of how we live out what we hear as the voice and truth of God.

Wisdom is evident, or lacking, in all our attitudes of heart – and our heart determines what we say. Here we meet those who come across as uninstructed, or a stage worse, just stubbornly foolish and wrong-intentioned. But worst of all is the arrogant mocker, the opinionated “I know best” person who is proud that they have no need to listen and learn. This is the root of dissention, and derogatory slander, that is the devil’s strategy to impede the kingdom of God. To the extent that we allow it.

QUESTION  How proactive are you in seeking God’s wisdom to live by, day by day?

Mark 8:27-38 | Listening to the Lord and speaking as His disciples

Speaking as disciples of Jesus – who do we say He is?

Jesus and His disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way He asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

“Caesarea Philippi” – named after Herod the Great’s son Philip the Tetrarch, the recently-built town was on the slopes of Mount Hermon, a prominent landmark 25 miles to the north of Galilee.

“He asked them” – for the first time, Jesus raises the question of His identity. He must clarify the nature of the Messiah as God’s servant who will suffer and be shamed for His people, a difficult concept (Peter’s response v.32 below) against the popular idea that the Messiah would be a military deliverer like King David.

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“Some say” – the disciples list some the most popular misconceptions.

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

“But what about you?” – more emphatic in the Greek. Jesus compels a deeper response.

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

“The Messiah” – or Christ. Both mean ‘anointed one’. A climax and the first time this is stated in Mark’s story apart from his introduction, Mark 1:1. Peter speaks out the conclusion of all the disciples.

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him.

“Warned… not to tell” – the mission of Jesus as Messiah could not be understood apart from the ordeal of the Cross, which the disciples were not yet prepared for. To announce Jesus as Messiah would only reinforce the misunderstanding about the Messiah. The Jewish people, desperate to be released from Gentile Roman dominion, would try and make Jesus king by force, John 6:15 and see John 12:12-19.

31-32 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.

“Peter… began to rebuke Him” – to Peter, what Jesus was teaching was not only unthinkable but just plain wrong.  In this section, Mark 8:31-10:52 Jesus prepares the disciples for His inevitably, divinely-ordained death as they travel to Jerusalem.

“Suffer… be rejected… be killed and…rise again”. The Messiah had to suffer, as predicted, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and see Luke 24:44, and be rejected, which echoes Psalm 118:22, and die before being raised to life again, promised in Hosea 6:2. The Jews knew these scriptures but misunderstood them. Following the Suffering Servant passage, Isaiah sets out how God’s ways are higher than our ways, Isaiah 55:8-9.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter. “Get behind Me, Satan!” He said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

“He rebuked Peter” – with a seemingly harsh word, but Jesus recognised Peter coming under the same attempted deception that He had experienced in the desert confrontation with Satan, Matthew 4:8-10.

34 Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.

“Take up their cross” – not a medieval-style religion of self-abasement which misses the point made in the sentences around this phrase. The disciple call is to die to the right to determine one’s own life path and success; as in being born anew, willingness to let go of the old life admits new life in Jesus – which will embrace the costs of shame and pain at times.

35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the gospel will save it.

36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

“Save their life” – self-preservation is a strong human instinct. We want to hold on to what we know and we believe represents security. To lose life in the flesh is to gain the spiritual life of the soul.

37-38 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Standing up for Jesus, His values and His words, requires courage in the face of ridicule – but it’s a non-negotiable position for those who choose to walk the Way of Jesus.

IN PRACTICE  Everyone wants to be known as a fan of a popular hero. Even if we have no local affiliation, we support a particular Premier football club ‘because it is the best’. People are intrigued by, and sometimes drawn to, ‘populist politicians’. Some “do a Huw’, the highly individual pose modelled by the revered Welsh newsreader.

Jesus is more of a problem. In our church, He would be an outsider, a disrupter, someone bringing change. In our community, He doesn’t look like a figurehead as a servant of incomparable kindness. In a post-modern inclusive world, some want every spiritual insight to be a path to the truth. The question for us, as well as Peter, is who do WE say Jesus is? And that draws out from us where we really stand in relation to His Lordship of us.

QUESTION  How ready are we to stand up, be counted and speak for Jesus and His values in our sceptical world?

James 3:1-12 | Listening to God before speaking – does He have our tongue?

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

“Become teachers” – the rabbi or teacher was honoured in Jewish and by extension, Christian society, Acts 2:42, Romans 12:7, 1 Cor 12:28, while Christians generally were regarded as social outsiders, James 2:6-7. James points out that few should aspire to a role which could influence for good or harm, and which therefore carried greater penalties in accountability, Matt. 5:19, Acts 20:26-27.

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

“Fault in what they say” – the argument moves from the specific role of those called to teach, to the general responsibility we have for the words we utter, to bless and encourage or to harm. The main issue in the church, then as today, is the twin problem of dissention and slander, James 4:1, 3:9, 4:11.

3-5 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.

Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

“Bits…rudder… spark” – the three images of small things that cause big effects were common in literature of the time. The tongue’s power to influence is way out of proportion to its size in relation to the rest of the body.

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

“A world of evil” – like a little microcosm of the fallen world within us. “Set on fire by hell” – the cause of so many sins when taken over by the devil’s destructive influence. The tongue reveals the worldliness lurking in our hearts, Matt. 15:18.

7-8 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

“All kinds of animals” – probably referring to Genesis 1:26. “No human being” – emphatic: the tongue often has a life of its own and can be like a deadly snake, Psalm 58:3-6, Psalm 14:3, which cannot be tamed except by God’s power working in us.

9-12 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

“We praise…and… we curse” – words have power, either to bless (bringing life and encouragement) or to curse (bringing harm and what is life-sapping). “God’s likeness” – all hearers have the worth of being created in God’s image.

“Can both… flow from the same…” –  it is incongruous for a Christian, reborn with a transformed heart, to utter demeaning words, like a tree producing the wrong fruit or a spring that runs brackish. Only a heart being continually renewed by the Holy Spirit can produce pure and life-giving speech.

IN PRACTICE  The school playground chant “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is good to help children refute name-calling but a poor representation of truth. Words that curse can have an enduringly hurtful effect. Who has carried the words of a parent or authority figure for whom we were never good enough? Prayer ministry later in life often reveals such barriers, words spoken over us that have had the effect of a curse, the word meaning the opposite of a blessing. On the other hand, the encouragement of the person who believed in us at a not-very-successful time is not forgotten. Words spoken have power, and there can be spiritual power behind the emotional or suggestive power as well. What comes from a resentful heart can do harm to us as much as the target. What comes from a pure heart submitted to Jesus can bring much benefit – perhaps, with faith, even a mountain-moving miracle.

QUESTION  What words have stayed with me as an enduring encouragement? And what words do I need to lift off my heart, to be free of their restriction?

PRAYER    From Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart…see if there is any offensive way in me…”  And help me to speak with the tone and truth and compassion of Jesus, whatever is going on around me, and to be quick to forgive those who, like Peter in the Gospel reading, have spoken from the selfish nature and momentarily become a voice for the enemy of our souls.

Trusting God for His power in us

Theme: Good and bad sources of power

2 Samuel 11:1-15 – Folly: power from position

John 6:1-21 – Provision: power that comes by faith

Ephesians 3:14-21 – Revelation: the power of the Holy Spirit

 

OLD TESTAMENT

 

2 Samuel 11:1-15 » Folly – power from position

David falls into the trap of submitting to his lust rather than God’s word and order.

The story of David’s multifaceted, serious sin: coveting another man’s wife, adultery, cover-up and deceit and constructive murder – ultimately the sin of despising the word of the Lord (2 Sam. 12:9-10). Later, 12:13, 16-17, David comes under conviction, admits his guilt and repents.

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

“Rabbah” – in modern Amman. David is complacent in sending Joab to lead the army and take on the Ammonites.

2-3 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”

“Beautiful” – it is rare for someone to be described this way in the Bible.

“From the roof” – a terraced structure several storeys high from this period has been excavated, on which perhaps David’s palace was built to overlook the entire city.

“Eliam and… Uriah” – listed as among David’s elite and most trusted warriors, 2 Sam. 23:34, 39.

4-5 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

This tells us that she could not have been pregnant already. We cannot tell how compliant she was in the adultery.

6-7 So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going.

“David asked him” – a pretence. David would have received regular reports.

“Uriah” – the name, ‘The Lord is my light’, tells us he was a Hittite, from the kingdom to the north of Canaan, who had adopted the Israelite faith.

8-9 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

“Wash your feet” – go home and relax with your wife. Uriah understood what was implied, v.11.

10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

“Staying in tents” – the Ark was with the army in field camp, for worship and to seek guidance in the war. This makes David’s dereliction, contrasted with Uriah’s sense of duty, all the more damning.

“Such a thing” – to have had sexual relations would have gone against the rule of abstinence when on duty, 1 Samuel 21:5, Exodus 19:15.

12-13 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

14-15 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” 

David failed to make it appear that Uriah was the father of Bathsheba’s child, and plots Uriah’s death so he could marry Bathsheba quickly and disguise his sin.

IN PRACTICE  The story this week is about right and wrong sources of power, and it starts with an embarrassing human failure by a popular figurehead. Perhaps this highlights the danger of success. When we think ‘we can do it’, we are already moving away from trusting and obeying God. David’s success had also given him a lot of power – if he sent for someone, they came, and he could do what he liked. Or so he thought. This was David’s most serious mistake, and also his most profound lesson, in which he discovered another power – the power of repentance, and the power of God’s love shown in undeserved forgiveness and grace.

QUESTION  What do you take for granted is your area of decision in life, and how might God be challenging that for you?

 

GOSPEL

John 6:1-21 » Provision – power that comes by faith

Jesus tests His disciples, who are facing an immense crowd with nothing to eat

1-4 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed Him because they saw the signs He had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with His disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

“Some time after” – six months or more after the end of chapter 5. Jesus and His disciples have proclaimed the Good News throughout Galilee. Herod, having killed John the Baptist, is after them. They move their pitch.

“Far shore” – north-east shore, probably near Philip’s home area of Bethsaida, Luke 9:10.

“Jewish Passover…near” – and there were many pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem in the crowd. The context of the Passover remembrance gives deeper meaning to what happens next. The first Passover, when the Israelites left Egypt, they entered the desert relying on God’s provision of food and water, Exodus 15:22-16:3.

5-6 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for He already had in mind what He was going to do.

This was a deliberate test of Philip’s faith. The more we get to know the Lord, the more we understand apparent ‘annoyances’ as being about His purpose for us: growing our faith.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

“Half a year’s wages” – literally 200 denarii. A denarius was a labourer’s daily rate.

8-9 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

“Loaves” – like small, coarse pita breads. With the salted fish, making one meal.

10-11 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

“Five thousand” – with women and children the crowd could have been three or four times greater.

“Distributed” – miraculously, the food multiplied, and everyone ate as much as they wanted. Luke’s gospel account brings out the food multiplying in the hands of the disciples as they gave it out, Luke 9:13,16.

12-13 When they had all had enough to eat, He said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

“Wasted”  – in the Graeco-Roman and Jewish world, it was taught that waste was immoral; at the same time, the Roman custom at a gathering was always to have food left over to show that the provision was more than enough.

“Twelve baskets” – may symbolise meeting the needs of the 12 tribes of Israel.

14-15 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself.

“The prophet” – like Elijah, or like Moses, as foretold in Deut. 18:15. The background here is the needy widow’s oil multiplying in 2 Kings 4, and the abundant provision of manna in Exodus 16, stories well known to the crowd.

“Make Him king by force” – the people misunderstood the promised Messiah to be a political saviour of the nation after the manner of King David, not Lord and Saviour of the world.

16-17 When evening came, His disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them.

18-21 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.   But He said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take Him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

“Don’t be afraid” – turbulent storms sometimes occur the Sea of Galilee late in the day. The disciples’ greater fear was seeing a ghost-like Jesus walking out to help them, recalling Moses leading Israel through the water, Exodus 14, Ps. 77:19-20.

IN PRACTICE  The disciples were looking at a stadium-sized crowd and no doubt there were children crying and others showing their need of something to eat. And they were completely powerless to provide anything! Later on, they were rowing hard against the wind and seemed powerless to reach the far shore, until Jesus arrived like a ghost and suddenly they had reached land. This story of reliance on God to provide is a better place to start than King David, who could snap his fingers for action without seeking God at all. The boy’s pickled pilchards and pita bread became the ‘gift that goes on giving’ in the astonished disciples’ hands. There are well-attested stories of multiplication that have happened in our time. It takes a stretch of faith – but nothing is impossible for God.

QUESTION  Do you have a story, or know someone with a story, of a ‘desperate prayer’ that resulted in a lack being turned into more than enough?

 

EPISTLE

Ephesians 3:14-21 » Revelation – the power of the Holy Spirit

Paul explains how the Holy Spirit reveals the immensity of God’s love when we give our hearts to Jesus

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesus church starts and ends with submission, praise and adoration, vv.14-15 and 20-21. This sandwiches his three appeals, vv.16-19. A good pattern for our prayer.

14-15 For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

“I kneel” – expresses deep reverence. Most people stood to pray.

“Father… family” – related words in Greek where God is shown as Father to angelic beings “in heaven” and humanity “on earth”, giving both a shared identity as His creation and in His care.

16-17 I pray that out of his glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love…

“Inner being… hearts” – the same thing, the centre of moral being and consciousness. Not the same as the “new self” Eph. 4:24 or “new creation” 2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15, but related.

“Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” – or ‘make His home in your hearts…’ (NLT). This is what happens at conversion, an act of our will in which we invite Christ, by His Spirit, to come into our hearts. It is both a decision and an event, but also as Paul sets out here, an ongoing process of further ‘little conversions’ and encounters in which we grow in spiritual maturity.

For further study, read also John 3:1-21 esp. vv. 5-8 and 14-17.

18-19 …may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Paul prays for his Ephesian friends to have spiritual power and spiritual revelation of Christlike sacrificial love, together with spiritual maturity, to show what God is like to others.

20-21 Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

God is glorified in Christ, whose sacrificial death brought the church into existence. God is glorified in the Church – the body of believers – as it shows His power and compassion.

IN PRACTICE  This is one of the key Bible passages that explain the new birth and new awareness of God that comes through our conversion from a religious knowledge of God, to a heart-changing personal relationship in which God becomes real to us as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit. What is difficult to explain in words becomes disarmingly straightforward in experience, as we ask Christ to take up residence in our hearts. The power of the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to those who are truly His, to live for Him and to become aware of His love which touches everyone and everything. With the Holy Spirit’s eyes, we begin to see where heaven connects with earth, where we thought they were quite separate.

QUESTION  Is “being strengthened with power in your inner being” an aspiration you look forward to? A story of an event that you can tell? Or your ongoing experience of growing in faith and Christlikeness?

PRAYER  Lord, I realise that man’s power corrupts but Your power provides and reveals and releases love. I am sorry for the times I have relied on my influence or ability, instead of turning to You. Help me to know You better, and trust You more as I grow in awareness of Your Holy Spirit in my life and world. Amen.

The steps that foreshadowed God’s kingdom plan

Theme: God’s kingdom purpose and its signposts

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19 – Bringing the Ark of the Lord to Jerusalem foreshadows Temple worship

Mark 6:14-29 – John the Baptist’s execution foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice

Ephesians 1:3-14 – How the Holy Spirit foreshadows our heavenly destiny

David is ‘undignified’ in his priestly ephod and no kingly robes as he offers effusive praise at the head of the Ark of God procession into Jerusalem. Image credit: Darlene Slavujac

 

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19 » The Ark of God becomes central to the nation of Israel again

The procession celebrates before the Lord with passion, safeguarding the holiness of the ark

David again brought together all the able young men of Israel – thirty thousand.

He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark.

“Baalah” – the more familiar name is Kiriath Jearim, where the ark had stayed for 20 years during Saul’s reign.

“Called by the Name” – meaning that God owned it. A phrase used elsewhere to indicate ownership.

“Who is enthroned between…” – in 1 Chron. 28:2 the ark is referred to as ‘the footstool of our God’ – the footstool of God’s earthly throne. David, recognising the ark as symbolising God’s ultimate kingship and rule, wanted it to be prominent and central, unlike Saul who concealed the ark, among other failures of spiritual leadership.

3-5 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.

“Uzzah and Ahio” – sons, meaning more broadly, descendants. They decided to move the ark on a new cart (carelessly imitating the pagan Philistines) but the standing instruction was to move the ark by having Levites carry it by its rings, Exodus 25:12-15, Numbers 4:4-6. This was a strategic error leading to Uzzah’s death when he stumbled and touched the ark, verses 6-7 omitted, 1 Chron. 15:13-15.

12  Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God. So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing.

“Blessed…Obed-Edom” – The Lord had blessed the Levite who had taken good care of the ark, and David’s deduction was that this blessing would come on Jerusalem if the ark was reverentially cared for there. Aware that his own care and reverence had been found lacking, David is leading the procession in praising, celebrating and sacrificing wholeheartedly.

13-14 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

“Those who were carrying” – now the Kohathite Levites are carrying the ark on their shoulders. After a few steps, David consecrates the new phase of the journey in sacrifice. No need to assume he does this every few steps.

“Linen ephod” – a priestly garment worn for ministering to the Lord, as the boy Samuel did, 1 Sam. 2:18.

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

“Daughter of Saul” – also a statement of attitude. David was a very different character, which for her undermined her father’s memory.

“She despised him” – Michal, a princess, was holding values of dignity and royal propriety about David’s kingship. David had another royal propriety in mind, before the King of kings; his sense of submission to the Lord in heartfelt worship overrode his personal dignity, verses 21-23.

17-19 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.

“Blessed the people” – as Moses and Aaron had, long before, outside the tent of meeting, when the glory of the Lord appeared, Lev. 9:23. And as Solomon would at the dedication of the temple, 1 Kings 8:55-61.

In practice  Israel had lost the experience of having the presence of God with them, under Saul’s woefully disappointing kingship. The Ark of the Lord was out of sight in an obscure place. The faith of the nation was at low tide.

Saul was a proud person and everybody knew he was king. David was a worshipful person who exalted Yahweh as the real King of Israel – so that sometimes people forgot that David was set apart to lead, and not just one of them.

David made mistakes but he was a quick learner. He recognised that bringing up the ark as the ‘footstool of God’ at the heart of the nation would get everyone looking to God. This led to the Temple, his vision but not his achievement, and looked forward to ‘God with Us’, his descendant Jesus the Emmanuel and a time which each of us would be a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Question  David didn’t care what anyone thought when he was worshipping God exuberantly. How could you be more expressive, more released, more abandoned to God?

 

Mark 6:14-29 » John the Baptist’s execution foreshadows Jesus’ sacrifice

King Herod has John the Baptist, a righteous and holy man, executed

14 King Herod heard about [the widening ministry of Jesus and the disciples with signs and wonders], for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

“King Herod” – he was a lesser order, a tetrarch or ruler of four provinces. Perhaps some irony here in Mark’s account

15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

“He is Elijah” – the return of Elijah (or one ministering as Elijah did) was one of the last prophecies recorded, Malachi 4:5. As Elijah was the forerunner to Elisha, to ‘Elijah’ would be the new forerunner to the Messiah. It was John who ministered in the “spirit and power of Elijah”, Luke 1:17 and we would say, in the style of Elijah, in being a prophetic preacher and a wilderness-dwelling outsider.

16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

Herod was fearful, disturbed by a bad conscience – and superstitious.

17-20 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

John’s imprisonment, in the fortress of Machaerus, is described by the independent Jewish historian Josephus in his ‘Antiquities’.

The vindictive, manipulative Herodias and indecisive ‘king’ Herod parallel the original Elijah’s persecutor Jezebel and weak husband Ahab, 1 Kings 19:1-2, 1 Kings 21:1-16

21-22 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.”

23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

“Half my kingdom” – more of a saying than a promise, see Esther 5:3,6. But keeping up appearances mattered in the company of so many military commanders.

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26-29 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her.

Clearly Herod recognised John’s integrity, moral courage and prophetic gift, vv. 17-20. But, a vain man in the company of military officers and people of power, he felt constrained not to appear weak.

So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Disciples of John existed for a century or more after his death. He was the last of the Old Testament-era prophets.

In practice  John was an Elijah-like figure who announced Jesus, made preparations for Jesus by baptising in the River Jordan, and made a way for Hims ministry, preparing people for a Messiah who was expected but not at all understood. He completed his forerunner role a little too well and a little too early, by being executed on a whim at the request of the tetrarch’s wife, who resented him deeply. He died a righteous man; His cousin was to die a worse death on a Roman cross a couple of years later as a righteous man who was also without sin.

David’s initiative in bringing up the Ark of the Lord, led to the temple order of worship of the Lord and then to the Lord Himself. John the Baptist’s obedience to his call led to the dawning of an understanding that the realm of God’s rule and realm, the kingdom of God, was starting to be realised.

Question  Can you think of something you have done for God’s kingdom that didn’t seem to result in much glory but made a preparation for someone else’s contribution? Why is this important?

Ephesians 1:3-14 » How the Holy Spirit foreshadows our heavenly destiny

The seal of the Holy Spirit is evidence of God choosing us for the praise of His glory

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

“Praise be” – or “Blessed be” more literally. This follows the style of Jewish prayers that were recited at times during the day.

Paul is straight in here with a vital statement of the spiritual identity of a believer in this era of the life of the Holy Spirit. These good things are ours because of who we are “in Christ”.

There is an assumption here which we often miss – that there is no disconnection between the “heavenly realms” and our earthly life. Our spiritual blessing and spiritual life is located in heaven, with Christ, influencing our different, but not disconnected, everyday life on earth.

4-6 For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.

“Chose us in Him” – God is outside the constraints of time and space which define us – which makes it easier to understand how He could choose us, at the beginning of creation, in the Son and for our own adoption into sonship. This is not flowery prose but the most profound statement of how God sees us “in Christ” as those who have put their lives under Christ’s lordship.

“Praise of His…grace” – because it is unearned and conferred. Our worldview which emphasises merit (and deprecates hereditary titles) makes it difficult for us to simply receive God’s grace in Jesus, without imagining we have worked for His favour in some religious or sacrificial way.

7-9 In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ… 

“Redemption through His blood” – The first redemption was the nation of Israel released from slavery in the Exodus, with the Passover sacrifice and applying of the lamb’s blood to the doorframes foreshadowing for Christian believers the provision of Christ’s shed blood from His sacrifice of Himself. The redemption now is Christ’s price paid for our release from slavery to sin and independent action.

“Made known to us the mystery” – the Holy Spirit gives us the key, enabling spiritual ‘mysteries’ to be spiritually discerned.

10 …to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will…

There is a balance in Scripture between being chosen in a way which was predestined, and putting ourselves in a place to be chosen, which is our decision (below) to 1. put our hope in Christ, 2. hear the message of truth and 3. believe.

12 …in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

13-14 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.

The Holy Spirit takes up residence when we invite Him into our lives, which we do by believing who Jesus is and what He has done for us personally – saying ‘Yes’ to Him. The Holy Spirit gives us an inner witness of who we are, and how we are, in Christ – not our righteousness, but His. We know we are saved

In practice  Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus is written to a spiritually mature readership. He reminds them of their identity in Christ and their adoption into sonship – with all the connotations of the privileges of a family heir that Roman adoption conferred. But this was living as a believer in a Roman colony of an empire where persecution of those who were Followers of the Way was all too real a prospect and death could be the result. These believers had a real experience of the empowering of the Holy Spirit – and Paul reminds them that the inner witness of the Spirit of God is like a down payment on the experience of heaven. They were to be assured of their destiny, and so are we.

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p class=”p9″>Question  Why does Paul put so much emphasis on us knowing who we are in Christ? Why does this help us to live well for Him?

Praise God for His changes brought through salvation

TUESDAY, MAY 11
Psalm 98

Praise for the Lord’s purpose which is to bring joy to His world

1  Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvellous things; His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him.

“Sing to the Lord” – This is a song of praise from start to finish, unlike many psalms that begin and end with praise.

“Marvellous things” – Used elsewhere for miraculous encounters such as the picture of salvation which is in the Exodus, Psalm 106:7

2  The Lord has made His salvation known and revealed His righteousness to the nations.

3  He has remembered His love and His faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

“Made His salvation known” – Praise for His victory in bringing His order. God in His faithfulness has remembered His covenant of steadfast love.

4  Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music;

“Shout for joy… all the earth” – this psalm was the inspiration behind Isaac Watts’ hymn ‘Joy to the World’.

5  make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing,

6  with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn – shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

The psalmist invites the whole earth to join in making music to praise God, see also Psalm 96:1. This psalm parallels Psalm 96 in many places.

 Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.

8 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;

9  let them sing before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.

“Judge the world in righteousness” – is expressed here as an eager anticipation of the coming of the righteous Judge, Psalm 96:11-13. God’s judgment, which is always righteous, and His vindication of those who have suffered injustice, often share the same original words, because they are the same idea.

“Judge the earth” – salvation in Christ Jesus (vv.2-3) and the righteous rule of the Messiah brings with it (unlike religions generally) the possibility of renewal and blessing for everyone on earth. All can turn to a personal God.

Application

It’s too easy for us to view our glass as half-empty, when perhaps we should be more ready to praise God for being on standby to fill everybody’s glass.

That’s not always easy – in fact, it might call for an intentional and quite courageous stance, to praise God for His goodness, when our situation seems to be at odds with that. We don’t find ot easy to go against our feelings.

But praise is powerful, especially the praise of Our God for who He is over and above what He has done. When everything is going pear-shaped, it’s time to praise God and remind him and all the heavenlies of who He is. There could hardly be a better place to start than reading out the words of truth in this psalm. It’s telling God that you know His goodness and mercy are following you, even in what seems like the valley of the shadow of death. Try it and see how quickly the oppression and hopelessness lifts!

For reflection and discussion

How ready are you to tell God how good He is, even if events around you seem to be preaching the opposite?

He has done it! And revival will touch the rich and proud as well as the poor

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 20
Psalm 22: 23-31

From a background of anguish and apparent abandonment, the tone turns to praise and even revival

22 I will declare Your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise You. 22  This psalm begins with a heartfelt appeal for help and deliverance: ” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?….All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. It is in places prophetic of the anguish of Jesus on the Cross and His cry “My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Here, at verse 22, there is a complete change of tone.

23  You who fear the Lord, praise Him!

All you descendants of Jacob, honour Him!

23  Praise and thanksgiving naturally go together, but praise is more directed to God for His character: awesome, evoking in us fear of God, better expressed as deep reverence and a desire to honour Him for who He is.

24  For He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one;

He has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry for help.

24  Praise now leans to thanksgiving to God for some specifics: for seeing, for being present, for hearing the prayer for help.

The suffering is not set aside, but there is the assurance of prayer heard.

25  From You comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear You I will fulfill my vows.

25  “I will fufill my vows” is a clue to what verses 22-26 are describing. The Law encouraged those who made a vow of some service to the Lord for answered prayer, to call a votive festival in which they would make sacrifice, publicly declare what God had done for them and the vow of service, and seal the occasion with a feast to which all, especially Levites, servants and the poor and needy of the community were invited (verse 26 below).

26  The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him – may your hearts live forever!

26  Hebrew 2:11-12 relates this passage and verse 22 in particular to Jesus, who does not just stand on high but identifies with us and invites us, the poor and needy, to His thanksgiving feast, to “eat and be satisfied” and also to “live forever”.

27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,

and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him…

27  Now David’s praise becomes expansive and sees a wide-ranging revival. “All the ends of the earth” – Gentiles obviously – will turn to the Lord.

28  …for dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations.

29  All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before Him – those who cannot keep themselves alive.

28-29  “Rich of the earth” – literally, fat ones. Prosperous, thriving, mighty, power-mongers in other versions. A revival turning the hearts of the proud and self-sufficient to humble worship, together with “all who down in the dust”, the sick or anxious or faint-hearted. If they want to gain the life they are unable to command by arrogance they will kneel along with those who lack even essentials.

30  Posterity will serve Him; future generations will be told about the Lord.

31  They will proclaim His righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!

 30-31  Looking ahead to as yet unborn generations who will hear about the Lord and also proclaim that He is righteous and just takes this psalm into the present day. Declaring “He has done it!” surely foretells the preaching of Jesus as Lord, the Cross and Resurrection.
Application

This psalm of David relates extreme anguish and suffering and the highest praise in a revival that touches even the spiritually resistant. What time frame the picture David saw belongs in is hard to say, but it could be the suffering of the Cross and the victory of the Cross and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It could be the tribulation leading up to the return of the Messiah and triumph over evil. It could be a picture of what is happening between heaven and earth and the power of praise in the face of oppression. As is often the case in Scripture, it could speak to more than one time.

At the risk of over-simplification, this psalm is telling the story of someone who has suffered oppression and felt abandoned by God, who however makes a choice. The choice is not to believe their feelings but believe God as the faithful One who has listened to the cry for help, and is most worthy of praise. As a result, there is a great turning to the Lord, even among the Gentiles and the proud and self-sufficient.

There is tremendous power in praise – especially in the face of adversity.

Where is our focus? On what we are going through, or what God is going to do? On our weakness or His power? This psalm seems to suggest we have a choice, and great power is released by exercising it.

For reflection and discussion

How would you find sincere words with which to praise God for His goodness when your more immediate experience may be pain, anguish, or abandonment by God?