This is The Living Word Bible study for Sunday, February 7, 2021 (Epiphany 5) TLW05B. Read the Bible passages as they stand, let God speak to you through them, then dig deeper with the verse by verse notes and reflections. There is a print edition you can download at the end.
OT: Isaiah 40:21-31 — Nothing is hidden from God who is Almighty
NT gospel: Mark 1:29-39 — Jesus reveals His authority over sickness and demons
NT letter: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 — The gospel call is uppermost for Paul
And also read: Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
Theme: God is incomparably greater
Isaiah 40:21-31 — Nothing is hidden from God who is Almighty
A series of rhetorical questions reveal God to be all-powerful and all-knowing
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
“Do you not know” — this is within a section where God asks questions which show His unrivalled sovereignty over all nations.
“From the beginning” — emphasising God’s work as Creator (and v.28 below)
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
“Spreads then out like a tent” —possibly the tabernacle of Moses was intended to be a miniature of God in His cosmos.
23-24 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than He blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
“Reduces the rulers to nothing” — God is unimpressed with political or ancestral greatness.
• God as King over all the earth: Isaiah 6:1, Psalm 6:4, 80:1, 99:1, 102:12, 113:5.
25 “To whom will you compare Me? Or who is My equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
“Who created all these?” — Belief in God as creator of heaven and earth was distinctive; the religions of Babylon and Egypt saw sun, moon and stars as gods.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?
“Why do you complain” — despite His people’s unbelief, God is true to His covenant. See Genesis 35:9-15.
“Why do you say… ‘My way is hidden'” — understanding God’s dealing calls for patience and relationship, v.31 below.
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
28-29 He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
“He will not grow tired or weary” — God doesn’t suffer setbacks, but is ready to strengthen those that do.
30-31 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
“Even youths” — the best of human strength fails (like Isaiah 30). Only God’s promise can fuel human perseverance.
“Like eagles” — known for their vigour, ascending to great height and gaining a higher perspective.
“Hope in the Lord” — also rendered “wait” and “trust”, it is an active state of confident expectation, based on knowing God’s character. He is faithful.
“Renew their strength” — from a limitless supply.
SUMMARY Through Isaiah, God asks questions which draw out His unrivalled sovereignty. God spoke the heavens and world into existence, naming each cosmic body and without needing any advice (v.26, also Isaiah 40:12-13). Who is His equal, v.25 also v.18? The answer to all these questions is, of course, no one. God possesses all knowledge, doesn’t defer or refer to anyone else, and cannot be compared to created objects of worship.
APPLICATION Over 60 years ago, Bible scholar, writer and Church of England minister J. B. Phillips wrote a book entitled Your God is too small. It is still in print today. The Bible tells us that we have been created in God’s image, but sadly, man has redefined God according to our image — lacking the might, majesty, dominion, power and unconditional love of the Creator of the Universe. In Isaiah’s day, some would attempt to compare the Living God with the idol deities of other nations — a folly that this passage exposes.
QUESTION How would you explain the greatness of God e.g. to children or grandchildren, or a friend or neighbour with no faith background?
Mark 1:29-39 — Jesus reveals His authority over sickness and demons
Dependence on His Father in prayerful fellowship is key to His power
29-31 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So He went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
“Went… to the home” — probably to share the main Sabbath meal which was served immediately after the synagogue service.
“Took her hand” — Mark mentions no words in this healing, but Luke reports that Jesus spoke to the fever, and it left her. There is no conflict in the different witness accounts and their details. It was a dramatic recovery as she began to wait on them.
32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all who were ill and demon-possessed.
“After sunset” — people waited until the end of the Sabbath before carrying anything, Jeremiah 17:21-22.
“Ill and demon-possessed” — Matthew 8:16-17 brings out more distinction between those healed of sickness, and those delivered of demon oppression.
33-34 The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but He would not let the demons speak because they knew who He was.
“Would not let the demons speak” — disallowing demons to blurt things out gave Jesus opportunity to demonstrate what kind of Messiah He was, overturning popular expectations, before declaring Himself. See also Mark 8:30.
35-37 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for Him, and when they found Him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
“Solitary place” — Mark’s gospel often mentions Jesus retreating from crowds and the demands of the mission,
• For further study, see Mark 6:31-32, 46, Mark 9:30-31, also compare Mark 7:24, 9:2
“Where He prayed” — in a continuous sense. Jesus’ prayer life was a planned, private and prolonged time of fellowship and dependence on His Father.
38-39 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So He travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
“Let us go… to the nearby villages” — despite his popularity in Capernaum, Jesus is not building a following but pursuing the strategy His Father gave Him (v.35 above) of proclaiming the kingdom of God as widely as possible.
“Preaching in their synagogues” — including the only mention of Nazareth. Paul did the same thing when he visited a new place, also with mixed receptions.
• For further study, read Luke 4:16-30; Acts 13:5, 14-15; 14:1; 16:13; 17:1.
SUMMARY Mark describes Jesus healing what Luke describes as a “high fever”, Luke 4:38, a miraculously rapid recovery from a serious physical sickness. He also brings out Jesus’ mastery over demons, not allowing them to speak and casting them out. These are clear signs to onlookers that He is the Messiah, but He wants people to work this out by what He says and does, before He declares it. The demons both know and reject the truth of who He is and are best silenced to avoid them spreading confusion.
APPLICATION Early in Jesus’ ministry, we see miraculous healings and, as Mark emphasises, many people set free from demons. This was a sign to people that He was more than a prophet. Some expected a David-like political leader, but Jesus showed His Messiahship by His spiritual authority. Mark relates this to His prayer habit which, unlike the recitations followed by most Jews, was private, solitary — and deeply personal. That’s something we can emulate.
QUESTION Jesus is the Son of God. Why does He need to spend much time in prayer, seeking what His Father revealed to Him? What does it tell us?
1 Corinthians 9:16-23 — The gospel call is uppermost for Paul
Wherever he ministers, his way is to relate to people on their own terms
16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
“Compelled to preach” — Paul had not chosen mission work. God had chosen him, and the call of God is not optional.
• For further study, read Exodus 4:13-14, Acts 26:12-18.
17-18 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.
“My rights as a preacher” — food and drink, hospitality, money. Paul let go of his reasonable expectation to be supported, because he wanted the Corinthians to be free to let go of what they considered to be their entitlements.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
“Made myself a slave” — Paul curtailed a lot of his personal freedoms, ‘enslaving’ himself to self-support, to better relate to his less privileged hearers and lead them to Christ.
20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
“I became like a Jew” — in Jerusalem he made a Nazirite vow in the Temple to better relate to Jews there.
21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.
“To those not having the law” — among Gentiles, he did not follow Jewish customs. Jesus had nullified the most distinctively Jewish parts of the Mosaic law, and now in Christ a newly-defined people had arisen with no distinction between Jew and Gentile, Acts 15:9, Romans 3:22, 10:12, 1 Cor. 10:32.
• The law redefined in Christ, Matt. 15:11; Mark 7:19; Romans 14:14; 1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 2:11-14; Gal. 6:2; Eph. 2:14-15.
22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
“To the weak” —not just those of weak conscience but less privileged. Paul was modelling how he wanted Christians in Corinth, especially those who boasted superior ‘knowledge’, to relate to the ones they considered ‘weak’.
23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
“I do all this” — avoiding a know-all approach, finding common ground, making people feel accepted, understanding their concerns — and seeking opportunities to tell them about Christ.
SUMMARY Paul went out of his way to meet people where they were, observing some Jewish customs among Jews but refusing to be defined by his ethnicity and taking a non-religious position with non-Jews. Although Jesus had clearly said that His workers were worthy of support, here in Corinth a lot of converts were not in that position themselves. Paul knows his call from the Lord, and everything else takes a lower priority. God is so much greater than man’s artificial distinctions, and the mission of God is of so much greater importance than anyuthing else — his status and comfort included.
APPLICATION We talk about going out of our comfort zone. Paul, it appears, didn’t have one. He was so singleminded about his mission to share the good news of Jesus, by any means possible, he went to extraordinary lengths to get alongside people. The greatest apostle was, at the same time, the most unassuming and disinterested in rewards for his labours. Where we cling to ideas of hierarchy and position, Paul seems to want to tell us to consider Jesus, and those He wants to reach.
QUESTION Do we want to reach people for Jesus as much as Jesus does? How much are we prepared to hold our culture and preferences lightly, to get alongside people on their own terms?
PRAYER Lord God Almighty, I consider the work of Your hands, creating not just my world but the cosmos and more than we can imagine.
I am sorry for the way we try to contain You within the form of a service or the familiarity of our life and routine. And when we are faced with a complex and threatening situation, as in this pandemic, we are wrong to treat You as a slightly wiser version of ourselves.
You are mighty, majestic, all-powerful and all-knowing — and compassionate and understanding of our failings. You can reveal the cause, the solution and the lessons You are teaching through this difficult time. Every scientific advance has its origin in You. Every medical success story reflects Your healing hand. Nothing is impossible, unknown or uncertain with You, including Your mission to reach those who do not know You.
I magnify You and seek to join You in making Jesus known to all, and I pray this in and through Him. Amen.
PRINT EDITION You can download the print edition of TLW05B here as a PDF to print on A4 paper and produce a four-page Bible-size folder. Permission granted to copy for your own use, for a church home group or for inclusion with the church bulletin.