How faith destroys the devil’s destruction

Image: https://starvingchristiansblog.com/2017/01/16/in-your-name-i-pray-a-mans-prayer/

Revised Common Lectionary Bible readings to prepare for Sunday, November 18

Theme: The devil’s destructive works are overturned by faith in God’s purpose

1 Samuel 1:4-20 – God’s answer to a desperate prayer impacts history. Hannah’s failure to conceive does not dampen her trust in God’s goodness.

Daniel 12:1-3 – End-times resurrection: either everlasting life, or shame. The archangel Michael will arise to protect those whose name is written in book of the saved, in the final conflict.

Mark 13:1-8 – Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple. The end-times conflicts will be characterised by wars, disasters and widespread spiritual deception.

Hebrews 10:11-25 – Our confidence is in knowing who we are in Jesus. The Holy Spirit witnesses to us the New Covenant in Jesus blood and the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

Extras: 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Hannah’s prayer), Psalm 16

OLD TESTAMENT READING 1

1 Samuel 1:4-20 – God’s answer to a desperate prayer impacts history

Hannah’s failure to conceive does not dampen her trust in God’s goodness

4-8 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

“But to Hannah” – the name means ‘grace’. The wider story is God’s miraculous intervention with a faithful woman, Hannah, raising up the last of the judges of Israel at a time of crisis for Israel, who will oversee the transition to a monarchy.

“Peninnah… Hannah” – monogamy was the rule, two people becoming one flesh, Gen. 2:24. But there were social pressures through young men being killed in battle and the need to continue the family line – and produce more offspring to help with the work.

9-11 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.  And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

“Shiloh” – the original settled location of the tabernacle where the land was divided among the tribes, Josh. 18:1-10; modern Khirbet Seilun, about 20 miles north of Jerusalem. It was destroyed, Psalm 78:60; Jer. 7:12-14 perhaps as a result of the mistakes of 1 Sam. 4 when the ark was taken from Shiloh to be with the army, who were then defeated and the ark captured by pagans.

“Eli…on his chair by the…Lord’s house” – by this time a building with rooms, not just a tent. The chair (like a vicar’s stall in a C of E church) is the priest’s place and denotes his authority. Rabbis would sit to teach. Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

“Deep anguish” – barrenness in OT times was considered a failure and a social embarrassment for her husband, on top of the natural disappointment.

12-14 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

“Kept on praying” – Hannah had reason to be swamped by discouragement; unable to conceive, mocked by a woman who shared her husband and by the high priest who failed to understand her motives. But she kept praying, kept her focus on God and opened the way for Him to work.

15-16 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

“Not… a wicked woman” – to drink in the tabernacle precincts would be considered a grave offence; for a priest, a death sentence, Lev. 10:9; Ezek. 44:21.

17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

18 She said, “May your servant find favour in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

19-20  Early the next morning they arose and worshipped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. So in the course of time, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”

“Samuel” – the literal meaning is ‘name of God’ but it sounded like ‘heard by God’, a double meaning important to Hannah: God had heard her prayer.

OLD TESTAMENT READING 2

Daniel 12:1-3 – End-times resurrection: either to everlasting life, or shame

The archangel Michael will arise to protect those whose name is written in book of the saved, in the final conflict

1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered.

“At that time” – the events of the previous paragraph detailing the antichrist’s attempt to annihilate the Jewish people, Dan. 11:36-45. It will be a time of unprecedented distress but at the same time, tempered with hope for true believers, who have turned in faith to their Messiah Jesus, Zech. 12:10; Romans 11:25-27.

Michael” – the name of the archangel Michael who prevailed over a principality demon controlling the Persian empire, after a 21-day struggle.

“Name… written in the book” – the book of the saved, Mal. 3:16-4:3; Luke 10:20; Rev. 13:8

2-3 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

“Multitudes who sleep… will awake” – the first reference in the Bible to the physical resurrection of the righteous, and also with a different outcome, of the wicked. The bodily resurrection of both the saved and the lost was a not part of the common belief.

For further study, read Job 19:25-26; Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 26:19; John 5:24-29.

“Everlasting life” – the phrase is unique here in the OT.

IN PRACTICE The story of Hannah speaks loudly of God’s goodness, to all of us who have been misunderstood, disappointed again and again and put down by others. Her self-esteem had been shredded, but not her faith. She knew God is good, even if it didn’t feel that way to her, and she kept on praying. We know that pride and self-sufficiency are a barrier to God working in our lives. And He will root that out, especially if he is about to do something big. His purpose is always to grow us and always has a bigger picture than the one we see.

Hannah’s story reminds us that at times of apparent disaster, God is working for His salvation purposes. For God’s people taking God’s kingdom purpose forward, persecution goes with the territory! Paul reminded Timothy of this (2 Timothy 3:10-13 especially) and it is our encouragement to keep on keeping on, for heaven’s reward in heaven’s time.

PRAYER  Lord, open my eyes to the bigger picture that is not just my fight of faith, that I may see and declare that You are good and Your purposes for me are protective.

GOSPEL READING

Mark 13:1-8 – Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple

The end-times conflicts will be characterised by wars, disasters and widespread spiritual deception

1 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Massive stones” – think of foundation stones on the scale of a double-decker bus. The building project would not be complete for another 30 years.

2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

“Every one… thrown down’ – the temple was completely destroyed by the Romans in AD70 together with most of the city. The authorities, who sought to murder the Messiah, Mark 11:18, rather than welcome Him, Mark 11:9-11, 27-33, were rebellious tenants marked for destruction, Mark 12:9-10.

3-4 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

“What will be the sign” — the disciples were expecting the temple destruction to herald the last times. Jesus is speaking of future events and future times but, confusingly for us, free of chronological order. Prophetic foretelling in Scripture often applies to more than one future time.

5-8 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

“Watch out… be on your guard” – Jesus’ commanding tone points to deception being a primary danger for the disciples, requiring them (and us) to be skilled in spiritual discernment together with Scriptural principles.

IN PRACTICE  Jesus had warned the disciples that there would be consequences for those who rejected their Messiah. The cause and effect relationship would result in the pulling down of the focus of national pride, the new temple and even its massive foundations. Their ‘sign of the end times’ came less than 40 years later with terrible bloodshed as Jerusalem and its revolt was destroyed by the Romans. Jesus’ words point to a greater conflict yet to come, while the end-times seem to us to go on and on. Perhaps the greatest danger is not just hatred and war, but its root causes in satanic deception. The kingdom message of knowing God’s love and loving Him and others is so straightforward we can miss it – but we are to watch for the ways it is twisted into an ugly caricature, and recognise which kingdom is dark, and which is light.

QUESTION  Do our attitudes and actions play out with effects now, or effects later, or in eternity – or not at all?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 10:11-25 – Knowing who we are in Jesus is our confidence

The Holy Spirit witnesses to us the New Covenant in Jesus blood and the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice for us

11-14 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time He waits for his enemies to be made His footstool. For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

“Every priest stands… this Priest… sat down” – Christ is seated because His work is finished, whereas every levitical priest stood, for religious duties which were continually repeated. The author heavily underlines this contrast with the layered emphases “one sacrifice”, “for all time”, “He sat down…and…waits”, “He has made… those…being made holy”…”holy forever”.

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First He says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

“I will put my laws in their hearts” – as Jeremiah had prophesied, Jer. 31:31-34, seeing a future era of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding believers which, post-Resurrection, should be our experience. These verses explain the apparent conundrum of “being made holy” or sanctified by the Holy Spirit’s influence on us, while being regarded positionally as “made perfect” by the finished work of Christ, v.14. We are seen according to our new nature in Christ, outcome assured, while as we are aware, we remain on earth a ‘work in progress’.

17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

“Sins…remember no more” – contrasts with “annual reminder of sins”, Heb. 10:3. The religious mindset (as in the Old Covenant) holds on to a false need to confess sins repeatedly. This new spiritual perspective of the New Covenant has the revelation that Christ forgives sins completely, Psalm 40:6-8. Sins we confess and renounce are both forgiven and forgotten.

19-25 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

“Therefore… let us…” – the incredible good news that we are positionally completely forgiven is not a licence for passivity, but rather, the reason to keep on meeting, encouraging one another, going deeper with God and further in faith-prompted love and good deeds.

“Draw near… with…” – it works with certain conditions: sincerity of heart, unhesitating assurance, freedom from guilt, and the impartation of “hearts sprinkled… bodies washed” which points to the value of choosing to declare faith in baptism.

IN PRACTICE  A key word in this passage is ‘confidence’ and a key value in living above all that pulls us down as witnesses to the life of the Spirit of Jesus in us, is confidence in who we are, as viewed by heaven. We might not feel it polite in mixed company to speak vehemently of the blood of Jesus and how it has transformed us – but speak it out we must! The devil, one of the actors in all of these passages, has no manners at all and certainly doesn’t respect our gentility – but will run scared every time when we declare the power of Christ blood and the New Life we have in Him and Him alone. These passages all tell stories of conflict and difficulty, but also God’s eternal, good purpose and salvation plan coming through, which may not be seen in all the smoke and shouting. That presents us with a choice. Who do we agree with? The destroyer, or the Saviour? Our expression of faith in God’s purpose, our words of truth, are not just words, but the force that tips the balance.

QUESTION  What seems to be going badly for you right now? What is God’s good purpose in it, and how do you pray in line with that discernment?

PRAYER  Lord, no one knows the time of Your return and all we really understand about the end-times is that at the end of the book, the Lamb wins! Fill me afresh with the Holy Spirit who gives holy confidence and help me to maintain a praising spirit, as one who knows the final score as well as the cost of Your victory in pain and blood. Amen.

Download this in booklet form ©2018 The Living Word/Ian Greig

The sudden, shocking realisation that the Resurrection of Jesus was a reality

TUESDAY, MARCH 27
Mark 16:1-8

Three women disciples are those entrusted by God with the discovery of the miracle of the open, empty tomb

In a strongly male-dominated society, the only eyewitnesses to Jesus death, burial and then empty tomb are the “least” of the disciples, the women.

1  When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.

The Sabbath ended, shops could reopen for the evening. The women will complete the burial rites left incomplete at the hasty interment earlier.

2  Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb…

“Very early on the first day of the week” – all four gospels state this rather than the “third day”, 1 Cor. 15:3-4. This doesn’t seem to tally exactly with Jesus’ predictions. The reason may be to present the Resurrection as something new.

Mary Magdalene saw where Jesus was laid, so she knew where to go, Mark 15:47.

3  …and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

Tombs like this were constructed with a sloping groove for the heavy circular stone closure, which was designed to stay closed. It would have to be lifted out or rolled back up the incline. Mark keeps to the bare essential facts, while Matthew mentions the earthquake and angelic visitation, Matt. 28:2.

4  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

5  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

They reacted as you and I would react to an unexpected, unexplained sight – and unexpected person.

 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.

There had to be a word from God to explain the inexplicable – the empty tomb. The angelic messenger was God’s provision for this need.

7  But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.’ ”

Peter is specifically included because he was, at this point, an outsider through having denied Jesus, Mark 14:66-72

8  Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Afraid, astonished, confused: not able to believe the angel at first. But when they did, they talked about it – a lot, Matt 28:8, Luke 24:9.

Application

Sometimes God just needs people who will look and listen and learn, and then be the ones who communicate what He has revealed to others. From a society of extreme male domination, we have learned, rather slowly, to recognise the God-given roles of men and women and the power of its partnership. This is brought out in this account of the most jaw-dropping of all miracles and those chosen to be the first witnesses of it.

Another lesson is the way an angelic messenger appears to give essential interpretation and direction. Some things are conceptually and emotionally beyond our grasp. God knows this and graciously provides. So we are reminded to be open to the interactions of angels – heavenly spiritual messengers – in our lives, usually unseen, but we can be aware of their presence. We think that our five senses provide the sum total of reality, but the spirit world and the heavenly dimension is being played out in parallel with everything we see and experience. The sixth sense, our spiritual awareness and connected by prayerful engagement, is just as real even if it is just outside our field of vision.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

If God was about to reveal something extraordinary and hard to believe, could He find in you a willing and reliable witness?

How much does the fear of people’s unbelieving and perhaps scornful reaction put us off telling what we know to be true?

Peter extends our limited perspective of Jesus’ death and our baptism

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 15
1 Peter 3: 18-22

Peter explains God’s higher purpose in Jesus’ incarnation and death on the cross, making a way for us to have a clear conscience before God

18  For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. “Suffered once” is hapax which means once, for all time. This has given rise to some misunderstanding of the RSV “once for all”, although the translators’ meaning was “one time, for all times”. Previously, under the Old Covenant, animal sacrifices had to be offered repeatedly. But this is the full and final sacrifice that Jesus made of Himself, once, effective for all who turn to Him as Lord in every generation. No further sacrifice, no additional payment for the debt of our sin, is needed.

“To bring you to God”. A clear statement of the central truth of the Gospel, that Christ’s death enables a personal connection and a personal relationship with the three of the godhead, which makes salvation a personal encounter: “You did it for me!”.

“Put to death in the body” – died on earth. “Made alive in the Spirit” – the new state of human existence in the realm of the Spirit which Christ inaugurated.

19-20  After being made alive, He went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water…

Verses 19-20 can be understood in more than one way. The traditional view has been that between the Friday of His death and the Sunday of His resurrection, Christ “descended into hell” (Nicene creed) and preached to the souls of people who were disobedient in the days of Noah, or alternatively to fallen angels who incited people to the evil that required God to send a flood to wipe out. Another view is that this happened later; “after being made alive”, the Resurrection and Ascension with Jesus in person were a proclamation of victory, sealing the eventual doom of extreme powers of evil.

“Only a few people… were saved, through water”. It was the most severe judgment, for the most severe evil. The human race deserved to die out, such was the rebellion, but this underlines God’s grace in His readiness to save those who accept His mercy.

21  …and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

Baptism saves, only in the sense of what it represents. It represents cleansing from sin and a clear conscience towards God achieved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The new believer who tells their story of accepting Jesus as Lord and their desire to seal this publicly by being buried under the water to the old life and rising again to new life is already learning to enjoy being a child of God. However, the public sharing of baptism seals that decision and makes it harder for the enemy to “kill, steal and destroy” that new life in Jesus.

An act which pledges a clear conscience toward God is positioning oneself for a fresh impartation of God’s Spirit – as the Spirit came down on Jesus, Mark 1:10.

22  …who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him. A reminder that in the words of the  Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-19, all authority has been given to Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of the Father having put all things under his feet Ephesians 1:20-22. In the hierarchy that exists in the heavenly realm of both good and evil forces, Jesus is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked”.

Application

Religion has made God out to be many things – an exacting deity, requiring the performance of religious rituals, looking on us in judgment and possibly wrath if we should lapse from His commandments.

From an Old Testament, Old Covenant perspective this wasn’t entirely wrong. His covenant of unconditional love and provision, His nature of mercy and grace was less emphasised than in the New Testament, the life and teaching of Jesus and especially the New Covenant in Christ Jesus which came into force around the events of the Cross, the Resurrection and the Pentecost outpouring of the Holy Spirit when “God’s law written in our hearts”, Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26, became a reality for the new order of Spirit-filled believers.

Peter’s explanation of Christ’s full and final sacrifice, one sacrifice spelling redemption for all sin for all time and for all who would receive is about God’s mercy writ large. So is Peter’s account of Jesus appearing to imprisoned spirits from the time of Noah, and the greatest rebellion the world had known, to proclaim the victory of the Cross and the possibility of God’s mercy in Jesus.

Jesus has had all authority in heaven and earth conferred upon Him. He also represents the full force of God’s love and mercy for a world which wants to be independent from God. As Noah and his family and livestock made a good choice and rose above the water that blotted out the sin of the world, so Jesus is in a far greater way our Saviour and way out from the sin that characterises the selfish world of mankind. We make that choice publicly in affirming Jesus as Lord of our lives and dying to the old life in baptism.

For reflection and discussion

If we understand that Jesus went to the rebellious spirits to proclaim the Cross, His victory and Lordship, should they, in all their wickedness, have opportunity to repent and receive grace through Jesus? How does this shape our attitude to extremely wicked people, such as (in the news) the London cab driver rapist or the IS torturers now in captivity?