Church calendar readings for Sunday, August 26, in Bible order
Prepare for Sunday by reading the Bible passages beforehand – read again to reflect on Sunday’s teaching
1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43 » God presences himself in the glory cloud
John 6:56-69 » Jesus promises Himself as food for eternal life
Ephesians 6:10-20 » How we position ourselves in the spiritual battle
Theme: Living in the connection between heaven and earth
SUMMARY The three readings all speak of how the presence and purpose of God and the heavenly host affects events in our lives – and how choices we make, and the spiritual position we take, affects the spiritual reality behind what we experience. Yahweh’s presence was visible to the Israelites in the pillar of fire and cloud, on Mount Sinai and in the desert wanderings, and then at the consecration of Solomon’s temple. Jesus taught how He was the bridge between heaven and earth in a way that had to be spiritually discerned. And Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, teaches them that the struggles against evil that we all face are spiritual battles won in the place of holiness and prayer, not human argument and political strength.
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OLD TESTAMENT READING
1 Kings 8:1,6,10-11, 22-30, 41-43 » God presences himself in the glory cloud
The reverent placing of the ark in the temple
Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David.
6 The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim.
“Ark… to its place” – moved from David’s own shrine into the temple, probably in the 12th year of Solomon’s reign.
10-11 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord, Yahweh, filled His temple.
“The cloud” – The presence of the Lord appearing in a visible cloud, as at Sinai.
For further study, Exodus 24:15-18; Exodus 40:33-38; Numbers 11:24-25 and 2 Chron. 7:1-3.
22-23 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven and said:
“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth below – You who keep Your covenant of love with Your servants who continue wholeheartedly in Your way.
“No God like You” – Yahweh was quite different from the impersonal, fickle deities of other nations, directing events to fulfil His covenant promises. See Exodus 15:11, Deut. 7:9,12, and Psalm 86:8-10.
“Covenant of love” – Hebrew
24 You have kept Your promise to Your servant David my father; with your mouth You have promised and with Your hand You have fulfilled it – as it is today.
25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for Your servant David my father the promises You made to him when You said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before Me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before Me faithfully as you have done.’
“If only your descendants are careful” – a clear, unambiguous condition amplified in the “But as for you… but if you” statement of 2 Chron 7:17-22.
26 “And now, God of Israel, let Your word that You promised Your servant David my father come true.
27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built!
“How much less this temple” – Yahweh could not be contained, but the cloud of glory and physical temple led to a false belief that God’s assistance was assured however people lived, Jer. 7:4-14, Micah 3:11.
28 “Yet give attention to Your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that Your servant is praying in Your presence this day.
29 “May Your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which You said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that You will hear the prayer Your servant prays toward this place.
Verses 30 and 40-43 in the longer reading speak of God’s mission to all peoples of the earth, that they might know His name and His ways.
30 “Hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, Your dwelling place, and when You hear, forgive.
“Toward this place” – Israelites who could not pray in the temple directed their prayers to the temple, the place where God has promised to be present among His people, e.g. Daniel 6:10.
41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to Your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of Your name –
“Foreigner” – not an alien living in Israel but someone who has journeyed to Jerusalem to pray to Israel’s God.
42 for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm – when they come and pray toward this temple,
43 then hear from heaven, Your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears Your Name.
“All peoples of the earth” – the wider intention of God’s mission, which we sometimes overlook in the OT, but plainly stated here.
IN PRACTICE Solomon and the priests involved in the consecration of the new temple had never seen the glory cloud, but they knew about Moses entering the cloud on the top of Mount Sinai to receive the commandments, and the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle tent. For the people of the Old Testament era, the relationship was remote, not personal, with prophets and priests speaking for God and acting as His intermediaries. However our relationship through Jesus is to be personal, not mediated through priests. The story sets out a scenario where we can see that the affairs of heaven and of earth are not compartmentalised, but closely linked.
QUESTION How is God’s covenant of love distinct from other world faiths?
John 6:56-69 » Jesus promises Himself as food for eternal life
By receiving Him totally our lives are transformed
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in Me, and I in them.
57 Just as the living Father sent Me and
“Feeds on Me” – as John Wesley put it, Jesus becoming the meat and drink that feeds the soul. The Hebrew idiom ‘flesh and blood’ refers to the whole person.
58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?
62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before!
“Ascend” – to the realm He came from, and harder to comprehend than Jesus offering Himself for them to feed on spiritually.
63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life.
Jesus’ hearers, not discerning the spiritual truth behind His words, were shocked and offended. The Jews believed that study of Scripture and ‘doing works of God’ were enough for spiritual understanding. Jesus is patiently explaining to them that the Holy Spirit is needed to provide revelation that human reason cannot – refer back to John 5:39, 6:27-29.
64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.
65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless the Father has enabled them.”
“The Father has enabled” – only those who seek on God’s terms, and not their own, will receive. Jesus knew some would choose not to believe, and would not allow themselves to be drawn by God – a fine balance between the free will choice to respond, and being drawn to a choice by the Holy Spirit. Different theological streams often give more emphasis to one or the other.
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.
“Many turned back” – Jesus is not surprised that many potential disciples have turned away at this watershed point in John’s gospel..
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68-69 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God.”
“To whom shall we go” – the twelve disciples are beginning to get this hard teaching, although for others it was too hard. They don’t want to transfer to another rabbi.
“Holy One of God” – God was called the Holy One of Israel, e.g. Psalm 71:22, Isaiah 43:3 and 54:5.
IN PRACTICE Jesus reminded His hearers of the manna, God’s day by day provision from heaven for His people dwelling in a desert. Then Jesus challenged them with a steep step of logic – now God’s ‘manna’ from heaven was He Himself. He was God’s provision to them for life, and indeed eternal life and they were to feed on Him by taking Him to heart.
We live on earth in an awareness of God – and through Jesus this becomes a real and personal relationship with Him. But we still see a gap between what happens in heaven and what happens, good or bad, in our earthly lives. This teaching of Jesus reminds us that He is the connection. To the extent our lives are lived in Him, and we are placing ourselves under His lordship, what is played out before our eyes is harnessed to the hope we have in the heavenly realm.
QUESTION In a practical, day to day way, how would you explain what it means to you to feed on Jesus?
Ephesians 6:10-20 » How we position ourselves in the spiritual battle
The real conflict behind events we experience, is won in a different way
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
“Be strong in the Lord” – being strong humanly is not enough. Recognise the need to summon God’s invincible power.
11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
“Put on” – earlier in the letter Paul has written, “Put on the new self” i.e. the new attitude of who we are in Christ, born anew into true righteousness and holiness. This is countering false witness and fear in the opposite spirit of integrity.
For further study, see compare with Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10.
“The devil’s schemes” – the Bible is clear about the present reality of the devil, a personal enemy, who deploys a few predictable strategies to exploit sin, fear and guilt by using accusation and division. Knowing those strategies is a key to recognising their origin, and then standing on who we are in Christ to overcome them.
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
“Our struggle” – it is a mistake to resist human opponents or institutions without recognising the dark spirituality that is manipulating them, and taking a spiritual stand in the authority of Jesus. Even those who know the Lord may well have remaining vulnerabilities that the different levels of spiritual opposition are able to exploit.
13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
“Full armour of God” – a picture of the ‘
“Stand” – repeated four times in this passage for emphasis. Rather than invade the domain of evil, we are to firmly maintain the decisive victory already won by Christ, Eph. 1:20-22, 4:8, Col 2:15.
IN PRACTICE The spiritual connection between heaven and earth is real and vital, and that is made explicit here. Struggles are real experiences — our lives are under attack, both in the fears and anxieties and negativities that assail our thoughts, and in all the practical difficulties, health issues, relationship conflicts, adverse weather and accidents. The devil and his minions are personal opponents, always working to steal our peace and cause division wherever they can gain a foothold. The world’s advice is to be strong. Money in the bank, a robust constitution, influential friends… life has taught us how to ‘tough it out’. And this is exactly what we have to ‘unlearn’. This clear lesson from Paul’s teaching is that to prevail, is to prevail spiritually. It requires us to put down our worldly ‘weapons’ in order to take up a very different set of spiritual ones, where growing holiness, integrity and trust in the face of difficulty are the very qualities feared most by our spiritual opponents.
QUESTION What makes it difficult for us to take up spiritual weapons? What in Christian life and fellowship helps us to see the spiritual dimension?
PRAYER We live in a cruel and difficult world but so, Lord, did You – and we put our trust in You. Help us to perceive more clearly the spiritual realities behind our lives and to constantly give You the Lordship, and praise for Your sacrificial victory. Amen.
Readings for Sunday, July 22 – God’s promise of inclusion and rest
2 Samuel 7:1-14a – The promise of rest from oppression with God present
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 – The promise of Jesus’ compassion for all who draw close
Ephesians 2:11-22 – The promise of access to the Father without exclusion
The theme is based on three Bible promises of peace and rest and being included in God’s promise of hope and protection. King David is promised rest from the oppression of enemies – a promise that we can stand on when we face oppression – in Galilee crowds finding Jesus’ compassion give us a promise of God’s mercy, including healing, and the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles makes a present-day promise to all of being included in God’s promises without religious separation.
2 Samuel 7:1-14a » David desires a fitting place of worship for God to retain the nation’s rest
God will have a dwelling for people to draw close, but not built by David. He will, however, grant David longevity of rule and lineage
1-2 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”
David, as king, now had a palace built of stone and imported cedar while the ark remained under a tent covering, 2 Sam. 6:17. David felt that the heavenly King should be more prominently honoured than him.
3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”
4 But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:
This word is also referred to as the Davidic covenant. It contains both national (v.10) and person (v.11) promises.
For further study of references to this as a covenant, see 2 Sam. 23:5, Psalm 89:3,28,34,39 and Ps. 132:11
5-7 “Go and tell My servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build Me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as My dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, “Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?” ’
“Are you the one?” – David’s God-given task was to fight the Lord’s battles to achieve rest, freedom from oppression, in the land that had been promised. See 1 Kings 5:3, 1 Chron. 22:8-9.
8 “Now then, tell My servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over My people Israel.
9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.
“Cut off all your enemies” – Bible material is often arranged according to topic rather than the exact chronology we would expect. The events of 2 Sam. 8:1-14 probably happened before this chapter.
10-11 And I will provide a place for My people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
“Provide a place… for Israel” – the real purpose behind making David king.
“Since…I appointed leaders…” – meaning the time of the judges who preceded Saul and David and the kings.
“ ‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord Himself will establish a house for you:
“Establish a house” – the play on words is plain in translation. God does not David to build Him a house, or temple, but God will build David a house, or royal dynasty.
Many Bible covenants are conditional with an”if” clause, but this covenant with David is unconditional, as with Noah, Abram and Phinehas.
12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.
13 He is the one who will build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever.
14 I will be His father, and He will be My son.
The covenant points forward to its greater fulfilment in Jesus Christ, born of the tribe of Judah and the house of David, Matt. 1:1, Luke 1:32-33 etc
IN PRACTICE This teaching in the Old Testament from King David’s time contains the first of three promises from God of ‘rest’ which is a state of peace and trust from enemies.
David’s enemies mostly appeared with a spear in their hands, and his battles are trials of military strength worked out in combat on the battlefield. In our world of NATO and Europol and summit talks, is all that irrelevant? Certainly not. Spiritual conflicts in the heavenlies, where the hosts of the defeated enemy, Satan, are still pursuing a vicious rearguard action, are played out in acts of terrorism, persecution and imprisonment of political opponents, and every kind of cruelty and injustice.
When we encounter evil actions and evil people, we need to see the evil that is finding people’s vulnerabilities and insecurities to work through.
Now turning to submit to God in worship, who has promised His rest, starts to make very present-day, practical sense.
QUESTION When evil in one of its forms draws near to us, who do we draw near to? How do we bring God’s promises to bear?
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 » The promise of Jesus’ compassion for all who draw close
People recognise the Messiah and draw close. Wherever Jesus went crowds gathered and brought their sick
30-31 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
“Get some rest” – two meanings here. Another definition of finding rest is taking time in a quiet place with Jesus.
32-34 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things.
53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.
Or crossed the shoreline. Gennesaret (modern-day Ginosar) is down the coast a little way, towards Tiberius.
54-56 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognised Jesus.
The crowd from vv.32-34 could see the boat and follow its progress on foot.
They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard He was. And wherever He went – into villages, towns or countryside – they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged Him to let them touch even the edge of His cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
“All who touched it…” – a clear statement. See also Matthew 8:16-17.
IN PRACTICE To seek a divine encounter with the promise of healing is entirely in line with this teaching, but out of line with most of our experience. It’s controversial. We all know people who have struggled with illness. For some, their earthly life appears to have foreclosed early and suddenly.
The account of people flocking to Jesus, pressing in to Him and the statement that “all who touched [His cloak] were healed” leaves us with both a promise and also a problem.
The promise seems clear enough, but so is the expectation of coming to the Lord (who we can’t touch) and trust in Him, when we have so many alternatives to trust in. Some we know from their stories are miraculously healed; for many it is a process and good medicine may be experienced as God’s gift. For some, the healing is total in transition to new and eternal life. Our philosophy is inadequate to explain this, but let’s not let lack of predictability and our sense of control and reason stop us from simply trusting and believing what God has written.
QUESTION In the battle that goes on in our minds between reason and logic and trusting in what God says, how do we referee the contest?
Ephesians 2:11-22 » The promise of access to the Father without exclusion
The new relationship with God includes Gentiles on the same basis as Jews
11-13 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) – remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
“Remember that formerly… at that time” – referring to those outside a personal relationship with Christ, as they were when they “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air…”, Eph. 2:1-10. We are either committed to belong to Christ, or we are by default under the sway of the devil.
“You who are Gentiles” – most of those in the church in Ephesus.
The rite of circumcision was a clear mark of distinction and also pride. A major exclusion in the ancient world, between people groups hostile to each other, is reconciled in Christ.
14-15 For He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace…
“Two groups one” – believing Jews and believing Gentiles.
“Destroyed the barrier” – a barrier of prejudice. Jews and Gentiles practised strict religious isolation from one another. Gentiles in the Jerusalem temple area were not allowed past the barrier in the Court of the Gentiles.
16 …and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the Cross, by which He put to death their hostility.
“One body” – God sees those who are the Lord’s, those who are His, as one body of Christ.
17-18 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
“Far away and… near” – Gentiles, unlike Jews, had no cultural experience of the Living God and so were not as “near”, although both had shared the same need to come into personal relationship through Jesus and His Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household…
“Foreigners and strangers” – addressing what had been a deep-seated division.
20 …built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
“Cornerstone” – hundreds of years before Christ, Isaiah spoke of God laying a “tested stone” as a cornerstone foundation, Isaiah 28:16, meaning the Messiah to come.
“Foundation of apostles and prophets” – the early church was built on these ministries as people were sent out in ground-breaking roles. Church planting in our time, both overseas and new congregations at home, require the equipping ministries mentioned later in the letter, Eph. 4:11-13.
21 In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
22 And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
“In Him… built together” – Peter also refers to Jesus as the Living Stone in whom we ‘living stones’ are being built into a spiritual ‘house’. See 1 Peter 2:4-6
IN PRACTICE The third teaching in this theme of God’s promise of our inclusion in His hope and His promises, and therefore our rest, is about who is included and whether there is a kind of hierarchy of privilege. We think there is. We think that our religious obedience, however that is expressed, gets us up the queue line because that’s how we as humans are programmed – so much in our education, professional life and general experience is based on merit.
When ministers began to take the Good News of Jesus outside the confines of pews and pulpit (as John Wesley did in the 1700s and many others since) God’s love and grace for the apparently underserving presented many surprises to the religious mind. He loves to overturn our comfortable theology! Back in the first century, it was the same. The Jews really did consider themselves God’s chosen people, even if they had largely rejected their own Messiah. They wanted to treat the ‘outsider’ Gentiles as second class, if they had dealings with them at all. God confronted that exclusivity of attitude in them, and He still does in us. Formal religion has created all kinds of barriers to knowing God’s love and He delights in opening another door that needs no ticket other than a desire to enter in and experience Him.
QUESTION If you see another person in church who dresses differently, behaves differently and just is – different, how do you view them and how does God view them – and how will you love them anyway?
Listening to God’s promise of peace for those that fear Him – and hearing a promise of revival?
1 You, Lord, showed favour to your land; You restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2-3 You forgave the iniquity of Your people and covered all their sins. You set aside all Your wrath and turned from Your fierce anger.
- This psalm is a communal prayer for those who have come back to Jerusalem from exile, at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah – and were facing significant danger and opposition there.
- Although most psalms were composed earlier e.g at the time of King David, some are after the exile, or at least show prophetic allusions to the return of God’s people as in Psalm 126 and Psalm 14:7 .
4 Restore us again, God our Saviour, and put away Your displeasure toward us.
5-7 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations? Will you not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us Your salvation.
- “Will you not revive us again…?” A prayer to touch the heart of God, who wants to bring revival more than, generally, we want to ask for it. One of a clutch of key revival verses summarised by 2 Chronicles 7:14; Acts 3:19
- “Will You not revive us again…” A prayer we can pray with confidence. Who wants revival more, us or God? What holds back revival?
8-9 I will listen to what God the Lord says; He promises peace to His people, His faithful servants – but let them not turn to folly. Surely His salvation is near those who fear Him, that His glory may dwell in our land.
- God’s gracious salvation being near those who fear Him is a repeated theme in Psalms and Proverbs. It points up the tension between man’s natural self-sufficiency and independence, and the need to submit to God as the One who provides and saves, recognising how the covenant relationship works.
10-11 Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.
- These are ‘returning’ expressions: God’s love meets our return to faithfulness, God’s peace looks for our return to His righteousness. Righteousness is a heavenly quality which looks for a connection with faithfulness to find its expression in our lives and attitudes.
12-13 The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before Him and prepares the way for His steps.
Coming back from exile or from alienation from God may seem to be putting a historic event for the Jewish nation alongside our very different context. But in life, even a faith-centred life, there is the tension between the call of God and our desire for self-determination. There will always be the need for seasons which recognise where we have alienated ourselves, where our independence has inevitably caused God’s righteous anger, and where we need to appeal to His understanding, patient mercy in making our ‘return’.
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?