God’s ways are higher

Jesus demonstrates God’s higher purpose: incarnate Word of God, dying as the full and final sacrifice, and then resurrected and elevated as everlasting Great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek

TLW42

Revised Common Lectionary readings for October 21

Job 38:1-7 — God’s perspective is far higher than Job’s opinions

Isaiah 53:4-12 — God’s eternal purpose is higher than man can conceive

Mark 10:35-45 — The kingdom of God is a higher order than human status

Hebrews 5:1-10 — Jesus has gained special qualification to represent us to God

Also: Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

FIRST OLD TESTAMENT READING

Job 38:1-7 — God’s perspective is far higher than Job’s opinions

Yahweh announces His presence and cross-examines Job

1  Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:

The the Lord spoke” – Following Elihu’s speech, Job 32:6-37:24, the Lord – Yahweh – spoke, first mention since the prologue, Job 1:8; 2:3. Significant because God’s covenant name is also His character and His promise, Exodus 34:14-15. “Out of the storm” – God announcing His presence in a covenantal gesture. 

2  “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?

Job has been complaining from his human perspective, showing up his inadequate knowledge of who God is. 

Brace yourself like a man; I will question you,   and you shall answer Me.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?   Tell Me, if you understand.

“I will question you… where were you…” – questions to which Job must confess ignorance. God says nothing about Job’s suffering but neither does He agree with the counsellors or condemn him.

“Tell Me” – whether rhetorical or demanding a response from Job, he is unable to answer.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!   Who stretched a measuring line across it?

6-7  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone — while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

Hearing from the Lord here, Job 38:1-40:2 and subsequently, Job 40:6-41:34, bring Job to a better understanding of God’s goodness and wisdom, while leaving his earlier questions hanging.

IN PRACTICE We have opinions, and we like to express them, and we know that we are right… the problem always being the limited perspective on which we base those opinions. Job, who was entitled to try to work out what was happening to him and defend himself from his friends’ well-meaning but flawed attempts to blame him for his downfall, hears from God that He has a higher purpose for His creation including mankind. Who is Job to argue? We take from this two lessons of everyday life,
(1) to hold our opinions lightly because God is likely to show how flawed they are, and
(2) to always try to see God’s higher purpose in the struggles we find ourselves in.

QUESTION Have you held an opinion which you sensed God was challenging, and then discovered it was unfounded?

SECOND OLD TESTAMENT READING

Isaiah 53:4-12 — God’s eternal purpose is higher than man can conceive

The disfigured, suffering servant, a picture of Christ that Isaiah saw

4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.

“Surely he…” – the servant, introduced in Isaiah 52:13 is so disfigured to be almost unrecognisable; people were appalled at the sight.

“We considered him punished by God” – people would conclude he had been struck down by God for his own supposed sins. But there is something far greater going on here, Matt. 8:14-17. He was beaten and hurt, for us to become whole.

5 But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.

“Punishment that brought us peace” – brought us shalom, a huge word, far more than freedom from anxiety. Healing of spirit, the emotional/thinking life of the soul, and physical healing are all part of this divine exchange. This much quoted as the heart of the gospel, salvation and entry into the life of God’s kingdom, which cannot be earned or achieved, just received through the Servant.

For further study, see Psalm 22:16; Zech. 12:10; Romans 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24-25.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

“Each of us… turned to our own way” – repentance is the exact opposite, a turn from our own way, to God’s way. The point is that every person has sinned, Romans 3:9, 23, and deserves God’s righteous wrath. However the servant has taken the consequences of that sin and borne the righteous wrath warranted by that sin.

“Laid on Him the iniquity” – recalls the high priest on the Day of Atonement laying hands on the scapegoat and symbolically putting the sins of the people on it.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away. Yet who of His generation protested? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of My people He was punished.

“By oppression and judgment” – In Jesus’ ‘kangaroo court trial’ no one spoke up on His behalf, and neither did He defend Himself.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.

“A grave with the wicked and…rich” – Jesus’cave tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, a rich and righteous man. Isaiah associates the rich with the wicked, because such wealth was often gained by oppression or dishonesty.

10  Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin,  He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

“The  Lord’s will to crush him” – at first sight an incomprehensible cruelty but “His life [made] an offering for sin” expresses the Lord’s equally hard-to-grasp sacrificial love for a world that has lost its way. The result is literally billions of spiritual sons and daughters.

11  After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge My righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

“Numbered with the transgressors” – or rebellious ones, identifying with them (with us) and making intercession that they might again become servants of the king.

IN PRACTICE The enormity of what God has done for us, having His own Son take the punishment and pay the price in our place, leaves us with gratitude that words are inadequate to express. But what about the knocks of life and the attacks on health and finances and well-being we all face? This punishment that has brought us heavenly shalom is a practical remedy for ourselves and for others. When the truth of this sinks in, it changes the way we pray, from passively asking God to help us, to an active stance of being able to declare in a spirit of praise how He HAS helped us.

QUESTION Praising God for His goodness and deliverance out of a difficult situation is challenging. What difficulty are you bringing before God, where you can change your prayer in the light of this?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 10:35-45 — The kingdom of God is a higher order than human status

The lesson about who Jesus is and the path to greatness by serving that He sets out

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”

“James and John” – the two other members of Jesus’ inner circle (following on from Peter’s outburst, Mark 8:32-33) show that they still haven’t grasped His essential teaching about who He is and His impending death, and what greatness and leadership in the kingdom of God means.                                              

36 “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked.

37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“In Your glory” – the part they had understood is that Jesus was the Messiah; “sit at Your right…” – they associated it, wrongly, with rank and status.

38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?”

“You don’t know” – they didn’t understand about sharing in Jesus suffering, and the servant nature of leadership in His kingdom. 

39-40 “We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

“Not for Me to grant” – Jesus would not usurp His Father’s authority.

41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.

“Indignant” – they wanted prestige and power for themselves. Jesus now spells out a different understanding of what the leadership of God’s kingdom entails.

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.

43-44 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

“Not so with you” – the values of the kingdom of God turn the values of the world upside down.

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

“To serve, and… give His life” – a climax and one of the most important passages in Mark, emphasising how Jesus’ death as a suffering servant is central to the values of His kingdom.

IN PRACTICE The Letter to the Ephesians teaches that all Christians, in their new nature, are positionally ‘seated’ together with Christ, who is Himself seated at the right hand of God the Father with authority over everything. For us this is no less than a place of sharing His spiritual authority in the battle against evil. So there is a sense that we do get what James and John asked for, but not in the way that they imagined. However, the values of the kingdom of God clash with the values of the world, and put serving above status. The point is that, knowing Jesus, personally and intimately, brings a  different kind of authority, spiritual authority, which is how Jesus uses us to bring His light and presence into our sin-darkened world.

QUESTION What for you is the hardest part of the “Not so for you” (verse 43)?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 5:1-10 — Jesus has gained special qualification to represent us to God

Jesus, having suffered and borne our sins, is called into a high priestly role of a unique order 

The background text to this is Psalm 110:4 in which is God’s stated intention that His Son is to be a priest for ever in the order of Melchizedek. The author expands on this, comparing the priesthood of Aaron’s descendants (vv. 1-4) and that of Jesus, the ultimate high priest (vv. 5-10).

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

“From among the people” – the high priest had to be able to relate to people and their lives, in order to represent them before God.

2-3 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since He himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.

“Weakness… his own sins” – the high priest, subject to human sinfulness, sacrifices first for his own sins, Lev. 16:6,11. By contrast Christ, sinless, Hebrews 4:15; 7:27, exercises a unique high priesthood of a quite different order and extent.

4 And no one takes this honour on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

“Called by God” – the Aaronic high priest must not be self-appointed but have a recognised call to the office. In Jesus’ lifetime the high-priestly office – and the power and control that went with it – belonged to the family who had bought the privilege.

In the same way, Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to Him, “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.”

“You are My Son” – or “Today I reveal You as My Son”, quoted from Psalm 2:7. A turning point in the comparison. 

For further study: read Psalm 2:7-9, Romans 1:4.

And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

“Priest… in the order of Melchizedek” – quoted from Psalm 110:4. This is the first of 10 times this verse is quoted in Hebrews, Ps.110:4,6,10; 6:20; 7:3,11,15,17,21,24,28.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.

“Heard… because of his reverent submission” – Jesus did not shrink from the indescribable agony of bearing mankind’s sins in a suffering of spirit, soul and body. He asked that the ‘cup of suffering’ might be taken from Him, but He still went through with it in full obedience to His Father.

“Save Him from death” – by resurrection.

8-10 Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

“Learned obedience… once made perfect” – or ‘complete, qualified’ from teleios original meaning ‘having reached its end’. Christ was without sin, but proved His humanity in the cost of obedience, walking the path of human experience all the way to death on the Cross, in complete submission to the Father’s will. This finally qualified Christ to represent us by His unique and ultimate high priesthood.

IN PRACTICE This passage exposes the fallacy of any religious system which we “take on ourselves”, v.4. It’s easier to grasp but the only effective and peace-bringing way is through personal relationship with Jesus. He is the only person who, having lived our life with its trials and temptations – without sin – can represent us before the Father. This highest of high priests, who has conquered death, and broken the grip of everything which contends with God’s design and purpose for our lives, is the one who takes up our supplication (asking) prayer – and then reminds us that, sharing His exalted place, we should move from asking, to declaring in faith, what He has done. With the backing of Jesus the great high priest, we can pray with authority – His authority.

QUESTION What in church or Christian life are we inclined to put our faith in, rather than relying on Jesus to represent us?

PRAYER Father God, as I come to You in Jesus I am overwhelmed, not just by Your greatness and higher purpose, but by your goodness and generosity beyond anything I could deserve. Help me to hold on to this great truth, for myself and but also to share with others who need a touch from You.

TLW42e October 14 – Booklet

Booklet to print  4pp A4

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.