God of the new start, and new life

TLW02

January 13, 2019

Isaiah 43:1-7 — Tough times lead into new start for God’s faithful people as His love takes them through trials and gathers them again.

Acts 8:14-17 — Jews and Samaritans are reconciled in receiving the Holy Spirit. 

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 — John speaks of the greater work to follow his as Jesus has a baptism  encounter with the Holy Spirit that is the start of His ministry

Also: Psalm 29

Isaiah 43:1-7

Tough times lead into new start for God’s faithful people. His covenant love saw them through impassable waters and fiery trials and will gather them again.

But now, this is what the Lord says…

“Now” — Isaiah is seeing well ahead of his relatively settled lifetime to God’s wrath and the exile to come, with the perspective that Yahweh allowed the disaster and His love for His people will work out in restoration.

…He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel:  “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

“He who formed you” — God created man and woman, Genesis 1:27, Isaiah 43:7,15,21 and formed — as a potter draws shape out of clay — the nation of Israel, coaching them in His ways. There is ownership and also intimacy in being called by name, as those who are His. The assurances that follow are predicated on this intimacy.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;  and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

“Pass through the waters… rivers… fire” — Isaiah’s original hearers would have made the connection with the nation’s miraculous deliverance at the parting of the waters of the ‘Red Sea’ and later, another miraculous temporary shallowing of the Jordan River as they crossed into the Promised Land; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were hurled into a furnace to emerge later unsinged and unharmed. God is promising protection in the midst of life’s threats because we trust Him as those who are His. When we deny His love and abandon faith and trust, He allows trials to serve as a lesson, Isaiah 42:23-25.

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For further study, read Exodus 14:21-22; Joshua 3:14-17; Daniel 3:25-27; Psalm 66:6,12

For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;  I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.

“Egypt, Cush and Seba” — Egypt and further south roughly equating with modern day Ethiopia, southern Arabia. King Cyrus of Persia decreed that Judah should be restored and his successors conquered (or were “given”by Yahweh) Egypt and adjoining territories. 

Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. 

Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west.

“Bring your children” – exile is devastating but particularly for the Jews and their history, it meant children growing up in a culture that was hostile to their beliefs. God promises through Isaiah that He will restore and re-gather the generations that follow.

6-7  I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’  Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made.”

“Bring My sons and daughters” – from the north as well, e.g. Hamath, Isaiah 11:11. The first exile, after the fall of the northern kingdom, was to the north rather than east. There were several returns, earlier under Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel, later under Ezra and Nehemiah. The Lord kept his promise!

IN PRACTICE  Someone worked out that the command “Do not fear!” is repeated in the Bible once for every day of the year. Two of them are in these few verses. When things go wrong – the prophecy looks forward to the catastrophic loss of trust and relationship with the Lord that led to the exile – we tend to doubt that God is for us, let alone that He has a continuing, good plan for us. Fear and rejection start to dominate. This is where Isaiah’s prophecy, many hundreds of years before Jesus, captures God’s heart –  the promise of new life for old, and the offer of a new start when all seems to have failed. In God’s order, the punishments of life may be graciously recycled into strengthening and learning experiences. It is what Jesus came to enable and to demonstrate, and we call it the Good News.

QUESTION  It is sometimes said that FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real, and we are told “Do not be afraid, for I am with you”. How difficult is it for you to accept this promise of Scripture?

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

John speaks of a much greater baptism than his.Jesus comes to be baptised in an encounter with the Holy Spirit that is the start of His ministry

15  The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 

“People… waiting… and… wondering” — John knew some among the throngs of people were trying to work out if he was the Messiah, and his answer was that there no comparison between Him baptising in water, and Messiah’s baptism which was to come.

16 John answered them all, “I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 

The OT prophets predicted God pouring out his Spirit on His people in the last days, fulfilled at least in part on the Day of Pentecost. This prophecy was at least partially fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.

For further study, read Joel 2:28; Ezekiel 36:28-29; Isaiah 32:15, Acts 2.

17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

“Burn up the chaff with… fire” — a picture of what will happen to all that is not genuine “wheat” on Jesus’ return, when there will be a separation, like a winnowing: both an outpouring of the Spirit and the very presence of Jesus as Lord of lords, together with the foretold judgment. The Pentecost outpouring saw a great many baptised in the Holy Spirit (water baptism followed on as a response to what was already happening) and the sudden and vivid conviction of sin that came with the intense presence of the Holy Spirit of Jesus was the baptism of fire. But this and all recent outpourings are small tremors which point to the seismic magnitude of the Day of the Lord to come.

– – – – – –

21-22  When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as He was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

“As He was praying” — Luke alone notes Jesus praying (prayer is a particular theme of Luke) and the Holy Spirit appearing in bodily form, as a dove. In John’s story, he sees this more as a sign, John 1:32-34.

“A voice came from heaven” — and on two other occasions that the gospels record, the Transfiguration, Luke 9:34-36, and during Jesus’ teaching in the temple courts during His final week, John 12:28-29. See also Psalm 2:7.

IN PRACTICE  In trying to draw parallels between Jesus’ life and experience, we back off, saying, “That was Jesus! Son of God!” as if no parallel exists. But in this incident, which was the start of Jesus’ public ministry, a transition from carpenter-builder to rabbi and miracle worker, we see Jesus’ need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit just as we do. Paul was later to teach the Philippians how Jesus, fully God and fully man, emptied Himself of the divine nature, Philippians 2:6-7. Here He submits to the same act of repentance in baptism as others in the crowd – and His Father meets Him there, affirms Him and empowers Him. “That was Jesus!”. Indeed, and how much more we need that empowering, that new start, the Father’s affirmation – and in our frailty, again and again.

QUESTION  If Jesus needed an encounter with the Father and the Holy Spirit to start to fulfil His call, is our need less, or greater?

Acts 8:14-17

Jews and Samaritans are reconciled in receiving the Holy Spirit.The new church receives the impartation it needs, from the apostles in Jerusalem

14  When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria.  

“Sent Peter and John” — Jews and Samaritans had a history of mistrust and hatred. This was partly to check out the claims and partly a big step of overcoming prejudice, and giving the Samaritan believers their own Pentecost experience.

For further study, read Matt 10:5; Luke 9:52-54; John 4:9; 8:48.

15-16  When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.

“Receive the Holy Spirit” — Luke treats the delay in receiving the Holy Spirit (or the fullness of the Spirit) as unusual. There are quite a lot of variations in Acts, but to believe and receive together would have been more usual. It is possible the experience of the Spirit was delayed by God so that the Samaritans would be one with the Jerusalem church, in this time of transition.

17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. 

“Placed their hands on them” — the usual  NT pattern of impartation and followed today in ordination and other acts of commissioning, healing prayer, etc.

For further study, read v.18 and Acts 19:1-7, 2 Timothy 1:6, Acts 6:6.

IN PRACTICE  The fledgling church in Samaria had received the gospel, the message of new life in the lordship of Jesus, but had not yet received the experience of the empowering and understanding brought by the Holy Spirit, as the Jerusalem church had. And right there was the danger of a divisive split, over the flaw of centuries of distrust and enmity. At this point the Jewish apostles demonstrated an important principle — giving away what God has given you. The Samaritans would, not have attended the exclusively Jewish festival of Pentecost and Philip’s preaching, unusually, did not bring the Pentecost experience. Later, in the context of an act of reconciliation that must have been difficult for both parties, the blessing was poured out. Two lessons stand out for us. (1), every church needs the fullness and empowering of the Holy Spirit and this is God’s intention for all of His church, and (2), the path that God blesses is the path of reconciliation, unity and humble acceptance of need.

QUESTION  What can our present confusion of denominations and church politics learn from the Samaritan experience? What might this release in terms of the Holy Spirit coming on the church and its mission?

PRAYER  “Father God, as I come to You in Jesus, I recognise situations where man’s independence from You has run the ship aground (name one or more specific situations). So many times in the Bible You have intervened graciously to provide a new start or new direction. I humbly ask for that change, which I believe You have prepared in heaven, to be released now, that Your will and Your way may be done. Amen.”

Also: Psalm 29

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