Theme for Sunday, July 19: True disciples of the one true God. Bible study on the set readings — OT: Who is like God? Isaiah 44:6-8. NT Weeds mimic the fruitful wheat, Matt. 13:24-30 and 36-43; NT letter Romans 8:12-25 Kingdom life as a child of God.
Following the set readings (Revised Commmon Lectionary) shared by denominations which use a lectionary scheme. Post no TLW28A.
- Read the passage and let it speak for itself first. Then dig deeper with the verse-by-verse notes. A short summary and reflection following each passage points to the application, and the message of the theme. Readings are given in Bible order to draw on the progressive revelation of Scripture from NT through NT pre-resurrection and NT post-resurrection.
Isaiah 44:6-8 — Who is like God, who knows and foretells the end from the beginning?
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 — Weeds in the wheat mimic the true crop, a story about fruitful and false disciples
Romans 8:12-25 — Kingdom life comes by the Spirit: learning to live as children and heirs of God
And also Psalm 86:11-17
Isaiah 44:6-8 — Who is like God, proven by truth fulfilled?
Only the Lord Almighty knows and foretells the end from the beginning
6 “This is what the Lord says — Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from Me there is no God.
“This is what the Lord says” – beginning a ‘trial speech’ (vv. 6-20) arguing that all who trust in false gods will experience disgrace.
“Apart from Me” – reinforced by “Who then is like Me?” (v.7), “Is there any God besides Me?” (v.8). Only the LORD is God who can be relied upon to keep His promises.
• For further study: “I am the first and last”, used of Christ, Rev. 1:17, 2:8, 21:6 and 22:13.
7 “Who then is like Me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before Me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come — yes, let them foretell what will come.
“Let them foretell” – because only the LORD foretells what will happen through His prophets; as the people of Israel, “My witnesses” (v.8) know full well. See Isaiah 41:22, 26.
8 “Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”
“No other Rock” – from the Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 30-31, also in the Psalms e.g. Psalm 18:2.
“You are My witnesses” – continuing the courtroom language.
SUMMARY This is God asserting that He is the only true God – an exclusive claim to deity. God challenges us to be His witnesses, sharing our faith that He is real and delivers on His promises, quite unlike the man-made gods or idols that people of surrounding nations looked to. The Ten Commandments were clear about not worshipping any false or created god, Exodus 20:3-4, Deut. 5:7-8, and being caught up in Satan’s deception.
REFLECTION We can easily dismiss warnings against idolatry as not relevant — but is that right? Forming and maintaining a relationship with God is costly, so we create form and tradition as easier targets to hit. At this time of lockdown, traditional practices have been suspended, which gives us a God-given opportunity to reflect on how much of what we do is not biblical, but finding actions to satisfy our need to prove something – which Jesus addressed robustly in Matthew 6 and 23.
QUESTION How much have we never questioned, about whether it is a man-made construction that has grown up over the years, rather than biblical faith?
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 — Weeds in the wheat mimic the true crop
A parable’s view of fruitful and false disciples in kingdom and world
24-26 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed ears, then the weeds also appeared.
“The kingdom of heaven is like” – introduces six of the seven parables in this chapter. The one left out, the sower and soils, is also a kingdom parable, but needs a different introduction to allow the story to unfold.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?”
28 ” ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“Enemy… sowed weeds” – extraordinary to us, but there are recorded examples of this malicious crop ruination. “Weeds” (or tares) are bearded darnel, looking like wheat until the heads form with poisonous black seeds.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29-30 ‘“No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling up the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ “
“You may uproot the wheat” – owing to the similarity, and the root systems being intertwined. The whole crop could be lost, but the farmer’s unusual confidence in saving it is a stand-out part of the story.
36 Then He left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37-38 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom.
“The field is the world” – Jesus sets a wide context for the story. Many Jews expected their Messiah to destroy evildoers and affirm the righteous; by Jesus not doing this, He raises doubts about who He is. He shows that He is not the source of evil (also vv.27-28) and that the entire world belongs to the Son of Man, and the devil trespasses by bringing evil into it; and that the punishment and blessing will come at the end of the age.
38-39 “The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will weed out of His kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“At the end of the age” – when the Son of Man returns. He will establish fully His righteous kingdom, that we see in part now. The final judgment will make clear separation between good and evil, submitted and rebellious.
“Weed out of His kingdom” – defining the kingdom of God as those who are righteous and belonging to Jesus. The mystery of the kingdom, brought out by the parable, is that it exists in the world without the weeding out of the wicked, which will occur when Jesus returns.
“Weeping and gnashing of teeth” – a phrase only used (and frequently) by Matthew.
• For further study, see Matt. 13:40, 50, 8:12, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30.
43 “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
“Shine like the sun” – believers reflect the brightness of the glory of God by the Holy Spirit. See Daniel 12:3
SUMMARY Jesus tells the story of the wheat and the weeds growing up together. An enemy has sought to spoil the crop by scattering hard-to-distinguish, poisonous darnel, but the owner has a strategy. Both must be left to grow until harvest time, when it will be clear what is crop and what is not, and the weeds will be pulled and destroyed.
He explains that the field is the Lord’s and it represents the people of the whole world. The good seed and good growth are the kingdom people, while the weeds are the people of the evil one. The harvest comes at the end of the age, tragic for those still in sin, but for the righteous a time to shine and come into their own.
REFLECTION Those who are the Lord’s and those who are not may appear quite similar — so the Lord would not have us make those kinds of judgments. Those who are true will find their reward, but those create the appearance of being believers, but with toxic rather than life-giving fruit, will be found out in the end, and separated to their fate.
QUESTION What good reason lies behind the decision not to remove those who are not true believers? What does this tell us about the Lord and His kingdom?
Romans 8:12-25 — Life comes by the Spirit, (slow) death by the flesh 66
In the kingdom we learn to live as children and heirs of God
12-13 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.
“Children of God” – God called Israel His children, saving them in the exodus and promising them an inheritance in the Promised Land. By using this language, Paul identifies believers in Jesus as the people of God.
• For further study see Exodus 4:22, also Jeremiah 31:9 and 20
15-17 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.
“Adoption to sonship” – in Roman culture, an adopted child gained the full privileges and rights of the family, and became a full heir to the family estate. Becoming a Christian is to become part of God’s family, gaining a new identity, spiritual authority and the privilege of being led by the Spirit, Galatians 4:5-6.
18-19 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
“Our present sufferings” – persecution was expected and remains a reality today. Paul and Barnabas warned new believers in Galatia, saying “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” We set out to live righteously, aware of the kingdom, and in a world of contrary values we experience difficulty in it – as did Jesus.
20-21 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
“Creation… liberated from… bondage to decay” – everything in nature is in a cycle of decay because of sin. Left to itself, everything starts to deteriorate and rot — and not just food and vegetation. Spiritual initiatives unsupported by prayer and left to carry on after God’s presence has lifted, decline and die.
22-25 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
“Creation has been groaning” – like a woman’s labour pains, and a reminder of the curse that Adam brought on creation by his independent folly.
“Wait… for our adoption to sonship” – meaning the end result of our adoption which legally takes place the moment we receive Jesus into our hearts. The redemption of bodies in resurrection awaits the end time, but we have the confident expectation, the hope, in knowing we are included as children of God.
SUMMARY Paul starts with a play on words, saying that believers have an obligation — when he has just been talking about being set free from the law of sin and death by the life-giving Spirit. This obligation, however, is different. Having been set free, we owe it to Jesus to live and grow in the freedom He has secured for us. He emphasises that the Spirit believers receive does not propel them into a different religion that has to be followed; rather, it opens the door to a very special relationship in which we receive family honour and inheritance as God’s children. We won’t know the full extent of this until the end time. However, it is an anchoring hope to hold on to during testing and difficult times — Jesus suffered for us, and to share His glory means also sharing the rejection and hostility that comes with His call.
REFLECTION The challenge for us is to live in the truth and reality of who we are. We have been given new life and new identity by the Holy Spirit, who is an internal coach reminding us that we are now God’s children. But with pressures and put-downs, the question is whether we live up to it. What Jesus gave up for us, demands of us – Paul’s sense of obligation – that we live in freedom and faith, rather than a slavish, religious-style following.
QUESTION How free are we? How much are we bound by the “ought” of traditional observance, or released by knowing that we are God’s children, pleasing Him with our fellowship?
PRAYER No-one, Lord God, can be compared with You,
and with You there is no pretence, no shadow of turning,
You are true, and You call us to be true disciples,
growing up to be fruitful.
We turn from everything that is presentation rather than substance,
and from building our empire without growing Your kingdom.
Help us to live in the freedom and reality
of what Jesus has won for us at such cost —
like the fully adopted children of Yours that we are.
And also read: Psalm 86:11-17
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