This is The Living Word (TLW) Bible study on the Sunday lectionary readings shared by many denominations (Revised Common Lectionary). This is Sunday, February 28, 2021 (Year B) reference TLW08B. It’s a Bible study and so we don’t follow the form of any particular liturgy but allow the Bible to tell its story in the order of its own progressive revelation from Old Testament, the time of Jesus recorded in the NT gospels, and the era of the early church experiencing the leading of the Holy Spirit in the NT letters. We recommend you read the passages through as they stand and let t he Holy Spirit begin to reveal them to you, and then go deeper with the verse to verse commentary ands the reflection notes. This will be a preparation for what you hear on read and preached Sunday or discuss in your home group.
Genesis 17:1-8, 15-16 — God extends His earlier covenant promise beyond the nation of Israel
Mark 8:31-38 — Jesus explains how the Messiah must suffer rejection and death
Romans 4:13-25 — Salvation by faith in Christ Jesus is a truth rooted in Abraham’s righteousness
And also read: Psalm 22:23-31
Theme: Salvation comes by our trust in God
Genesis 17:1-8, 15-16 — God extends His earlier covenant promise
The vision is an inclusive one embracing other people groups and their rulers
1-2 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty (El Shaddai); walk before Me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make My covenant between Me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”
“El Shaddai” — meaning something like ‘The Lord of boundless sufficiency’, emphasising God’s generosity and power to overcome impossible circumstances.
“Then I will make My covenant”— God has already covenanted with Abram to give him the land, Genesis 15:18-21, and now adds the promise of descendants on condition that Abram maintains his unwavering trust of God.
3-5 Abram fell face down, and God said to him, “As for me, this is My covenant with you: you will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram (Exalted Father); your name will be Abraham (Father of many), for I have made you a father of many nations.
“Your name will be Abraham” — a person’s name was their identity. The new name also conveys the purpose of this covenant.
6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.
“Nations… and kings will come from you” —not just the Israelites; he is father of Ishmael and the Arab peoples. This covenant has a wide reach.
• For further study see Romans 4:16-18; 15:8-12; Galatians 3:29; Revelation 7:9; 21:24
7 I will establish My covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
“Everlasting covenant… for the generations to come” — the covenant will have the same force generations later.
8 The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”
“I will” — much repeated by God assumes a response from Abram e.g. “I will walk before You faithfully, I will be found blameless before You” like marriage vows today.
15-16 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.“
“Mother of nations” — parallel to “Father of… nations”, v5. The covenant is for Sarah as well.
SUMMARY God visits Abram, whose unshakeable faith has been tested over many years, and makes a covenant with him, promising to give him a dynasty of believers. This will not be restricted to his own tribe, but he and Sarai will become the father and mother of nations. Included is the land of Canaan, future possession of his descendants — the “Promised Land’.
APPLICATION Most of us reading this have no biological claim to be descendants of Abraham. But as the patriarch and shining example for all who trust God and walk with Him in faith, Abraham has a special place in the Christian tradition. When God made the first part of this covenant with Abram, promising him a huge number of descendants, “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited to him as righteousness”. Biblical Christianity asserts that we are made right with God, not through any merit or ritual, but by our faith meeting God’s grace, in the same way as Abraham.
QUESTION Which is harder, to work away at things that might make us more right with God — or, like Abraham, to believe what God says and receive it?
Mark 8:31-38 — Jesus explains how rejection and death must come
The disciples did not expect Messiah to suffer but to be an overcomer
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again.
“Son of Man” — refers to Daniel 7:13 and Jesus’ most common title for Himself. Closely linked to Peter’s “You are the Christ”, this declaration shows Him to be the representative human agent of God who is vindicated by God.
“And be rejected… and… killed” — the sacrifice that will bring about reconciliation between God and man. Jesus’ disciples expected to follow Him to a victorious kingdom, not the suffering servant and martyrdom foretold by Isaiah.
“Elder… chief priests… teachers of the law” — the three power groups of the Jewish ruling Sanhedrin.
32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.
“Peter took Him aside” — because to him, what Jesus was saying was nonsense.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” He said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
“Jesus turned and looked at His disciples” — this was a rebuke for all of them, not just Peter, and the line of thought was satanic, not the person.
34 Then He called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.
“Deny themselves” — not the medieval idea of self-abasement, but letting go of all that it self-centred to be dependent on the Lord.
35-39 “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
“Save their life… loses their life” — living a self-determining life is not the way to find eternal life with God, but giving up independence from God by responding to Christ and the gospel.
When He comes” — Mark’s first reference to Jesus’ second coming. Later, Jesus goes into detail about this at Olivet.
• For further study, read Mark 13:1-37.
SUMMARY Jesus gives the disciples a difficult teaching that throws them into consternation. They shared the popular expectation of the time, that Messiah would come as an overcoming leader who would reclaim the nation for God. They had no concept of a leader who would save those who believed in Him by personal and horrific self-sacrifice. Outspoken Peter challenges the Lord about this, because he is convinced that the Lord has got it wrong. This earns him and the disciples a rebuke for putting their desires and popular expectation above God’s plan and purpose.
APPLICATION They — and by extension we — have to learn that the way of a disciple of Jesus is about letting go of all ambition and self-determination to be available to God and His kingdom mission.
QUESTION How can we help people who dismiss Jesus and His teaching as too difficult? What is our story about this?
Romans 4:13-25 — Abraham is the father of all faith
Salvation by faith in Christ Jesus is a truth based on ancient origins
13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.
“Heir of the world” — Genesis 17:6, “I will make nations of you”. Paul is seeing Abraham and his huge faith influencing a “world” of the faithful who look to Abraham as a “father”, v.17, because we, like him, are justified by faith.
“Not through… law… but through… righteousness that comes by faith” — the basis of the whole Protestant church and all others who believe salvation comes simply through our faith meeting His grace, and no “law” of church or other actions.
14-15 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
“The law brings wrath” — the law demanded obedience and violations were likely so the law may even have encouraged sin, Romans 7:7-11. If the law was violated, wrath (meaning God’s righteous judgment) ensued – it was not a system of grace, like the New Covenant in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
16-17 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed — the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
“So that it may be by grace and… guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring” — Paul teaches that the law shows people where they have broken the rules, but truly living right by God is not about rules but personal faith. Keeping the rules is not the same as knowing God through Jesus. God is looking for a relationship with us trusting Him.
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
“Against all hope” – from human perspective, impossible.
“So shall your offspring be” – The “count the stars” passage quoted from Genesis 15:5
19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead — since he was about a hundred years old — and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.
“Without weakening in his faith” — faith and hope are sometimes used interchangeably, but hope is more a general, confident expectation based on God’s goodness, kindness and faithfulness to us. Faith stands on that foundation of hope and is specific, e.g. believing what God has said.
20-22 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”
“He did not waver… but was strengthened” — Abraham’s outlook changed as God spoke to him with the original promise, Gen. 15:5. Still waiting when it was physically impossible to have children, he was ready to hear God speak again, Gen. 17:5. In this test he was “strengthened in his faith”, not weakened.
23-25 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness — for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
“For us… God will credit righteousness… who believe in Him” — it comes to us through believing that Jesus went to His death for our sins and then was raised to life for our justification.
SUMMARY Paul discusses the covenant God made with Abraham. He teaches that Abraham took hold of the promise — that seemed humanly impossible — by faith. This character quality in Abraham, believing God and taking Him at His word for what he could not see, conceive or even imagine in normal life, is what justified Abraham before God. It was “credited to him as righteousness”, in other words, God counted Abraham as righteous, because he had believed and trusted Him.
APPLICATION And as Paul teaches, that wasn’t just for Abraham, but to be a model for us. The three passages this week lay out the basis for our salvation, and there is no mention of things we have traditionally considered important. The emphasis of this Bible teaching, not contradicted anywhere else, is on us simply coming to trust beyond what we can see. Specifically, it’s believing that Jesus, God’s Son, paid for our sins by His death and then was raised to new life so that we can be in a good and ongoing relationship with Him now. This is how we are made right with God and therefore saved.
QUESTION Where is our faith located — how much is about living and worshipping correctly, and how much is about personal faith in God through trusting what Jesus has done?
PRAYER Father God, in this season of reflection and self-examination it is good to be reminded of what You have done for us, or rather Your Son Jesus in His selfless sacrifice.
We are challenged again to simply believe, and to trust, beyond what makes sense according to human logic. Abraham believed You and You counted him a righteous man.
We turn to You again, with no merit of our own, nothing that we have done, no good record to count in our favour. We simply confess Jesus as our Saviour and ask Him to be our Lord, for the first time or perhaps the hundredth.
It is good to know where we stand — completely reliant on the force of your gracious love coming out to meet our wavering faith.
And knowing we belong to You! Thank You, Jesus! Amen.
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