Theme: God’s realm reaches out to outsiders
From the set readings (Revised Common Lectionary) used by many denominations, for Sunday August 16. Read, reflect and prepare before your worship service.
And also read: Psalm 67
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 — God calls all kinds of people to worship Him
Those who were excluded will now be able to know the joy of the Lord
1 This is what the LORD says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for My salvation is close at hand and My righteousness will soon be revealed.
“Maintain justice” — summarising the focus of chapters 1-39.
“Do what is right” — Isaiah is not suggesting salvation by righteous works, but rather calling people to live the way the Lord has revealed as ‘right’, in anticipation of the salvation to be revealed. Obedience is a response to the promise of deliverance to come.
6 “And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to Him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be His servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to My covenant —
“Foreigners” — now are not to be rejected: a milestone prophetic statement.
“Who bind themselves to the Lord” — the true people of God are those who honour a covenant relationship with Him.
7 “…these I will bring to My holy mountain and give them joy in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
“House of prayer for all nations” — a radical change. This verse is quoted in Matt. 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46.
• For further study, read 1 Kings 8:41-43; Isaiah 2:2-3; 25:6-8; Mark 11:17 (combining it with Jer. 7:11
8 The Sovereign LORD declares — He who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”
“The exiles of Israel” — those dispersed in the Assyrian and Babylonian deportations. They would be joined by “still others” in this new, inclusive move of God.
SUMMARY Live right and relate to others honestly and fairly — because God is on the move. He is about to reveal Himself in a new way, and we must up our game to be ready for Him. That is the message of verse 1, which is itself a fair summary of the whole early part of Isaiah. The passage goes on to make a big, and to some upsetting, announcement. Outsiders are to be admitted to the club! Those who were banned for bad behaviour will be invited back, and those who didn’t qualify for membership will now be admitted.
APPLICATION This story unfolds through Jesus’ teaching in the gospel and Paul’s in his letter to Rome. We become comfortable with our understanding in life of who belongs, and who does not — in a variety of situations. But these are man-made conventions. God takes a more generous view. Here, Isaiah states His intention to bring salvation to all of His creation. Even the temple, the exclusive focus of worship for God’s chosen people, has a bigger destiny (in the sense of representing worship). It will be a house of prayer for all nations, all types of people. This is a reminder of our need to see the “new thing” God is doing, announced in Isaiah 43:19. This remains a challenge to man’s inflexibility, right up to the present-day church and how it keeps the message while adapting the means, to reach outsiders for Jesus.
QUESTION Is the worshipping community we belong to a house of prayer and praise for all kinds of people — or are we “birds of a feather”? What does God want?
Matthew 15:10-28 — Words of faith prove a Gentile woman undefiled
Jesus’ first call is to the Jews but He is moved by an outsider believing in Him
10-11 Jesus called the crowd to Him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
“What goes into someone’s mouth” — Jesus does not here go as far as declaring all foods clean, Mark 7:19, but to the ceremonial-obsessed Jews His words were revolutionary and upsetting.
“What comes out of the mouth” — His Pharisee hearers over-emphasised external ritual obedience, and they overlooked the importance of internal values of character and kindness.
12 Then the disciples came to Him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
13-14 He replied, “Every plant that My heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
“Blind guides” — the offended hearers, whose failure to address their hypocrisy would result in their end-time destruction.
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
“Parable” — more like a short analogy, in verse 9.
16-18 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.
“Don’t you see” — they couldn’t imagine that Jesus would treat so casually the laws about clean and unclean and “what enters the mouth”, Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14:4-21, cf Acts 10:13-16.
19-20 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
“Out of the heart come evil thoughts” — and the expressions of them, leading to truly evil actions that directly contravene the Ten Commandments. Jesus taught that the human heart is corrupt (Jer. 17:9-10) but also that His followers are “pure in heart”, Matt. 5:8. Asking Jesus into our lives gives us a new heart.
• For comparison read Mark 7:18-23.
21-22 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
“Tyre and Sidon” — leading cities of Phoenicia, deep inside Gentile territory .
“Canaanite woman” — former Canaanites displaced by the Israelite conquest centuries before had moved north to Phoenicia. Matthew is making the point that she is pagan, Gentile, and descended from Israel’s most notorious enemies — an outsider.
“Lord, Son of David” — although a Gentile, she recognised who Jesus was, and she knows that blessings were extended to Gentiles through Abraham, verse 27, Genesis 12:3.
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So His disciples came to Him and urged Him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
“Did not answer” — not dismissive (like the disciples), but beginning to test her faith.
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
“I was sent… to the lost sheep of Israel” — especially those who had been abused by their spiritual leaders, Matthew 10:5-6. However, with a little probing, Jesus seems to invite her disagreement.
25 The woman came and knelt before Him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Children’s bread… to the dogs” — but of course the children would frequently give their bread to a treasured pet. The phrase about the kynarion, lap dog, comes across all wrong in English, but it was an endearment, not a racial slur. Jesus ministered to Gentiles on many other occasions.
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
“Yes it is, Lord” — the quick-witted response which reveals the faith Jesus is looking for. The point she makes is, for Him to meet a Gentile’s need does not mean the Jews are deprived.
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
“You have great faith” — and she had shown the humility, v.25, which opens the door for faith.
“Her daughter was healed at that moment” — although God’s plan was to meet the spiritual need by bringing salvation first to His chosen people, then through them to the Gentiles, Jesus is recorded as responding to all who call on Him in true faith.
• For comparison see the story of the centurion, Matthew 8:5-13.
SUMMARY Both the short parable saying and the story about the Canaanite woman seeking deliverance for her daughter revolve around food. What we eat is not of itself defiling, except according to the legalism of the Pharisees; but what comes out of the mouth, the spoken overflow of the heart, often is. Then food as a picture of God’s life-giving provision comes up again — should it be for the insiders of the family first, or shared more widely? Jesus made it clear that He came first and foremost for His own. However, whenever He found genuine faith, He didn’t judge or quibble.
APPLICATION Jesus challenges first the exclusivity of the Pharisees and their narrow understanding of the law. Then we see him confront the ethnic exclusivity of the disciples when they wanted to dismiss the Gentile woman and her need. Both stories emphasise the kingdom priority of character and concern for others.
QUESTION What lessons have we learned from Christians who came from the Caribbean and found racial discrimination and cultural alienation in UK churches?
Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 — Paul exemplifies a Jew who is saved
The inclusion of Gentile believers is not a rejection of God’s chosen people
1 I ask then: Did God reject His people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.
“I am an Israelite” — there has always been a faithful remnant among Jewish people, Romans 9:27-29. Part of the proof is Paul himself, a Benjamite Jew — chosen by God to become a believer and also apostle.
2 God did not reject His people, whom He foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah — how he appealed to God against Israel.
“God did not reject His people” — in Samuel’s time the people rejected God as king and chose a human king. In Elijah’s time there was such apostasy it seemed Israel was finished, but God had preserved a remnant. In Paul’s time the people rejected Jesus as Messiah, but many Jews believed in Jesus and were saved.
• For further study, see 1 Samuel 12:22; 1 Kings 19:14-18; John 19:15.
29 For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.
“Irrevocable” — the opposite of “repent”. God does not change His mind about His call, especially when it has been expressed in a unilateral covenant with Abraham. His call and His gifts for Christians today are similarly enduring.
30-31 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.
32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all.
“Everyone” — both groups under discussion, Jews and Gentiles, have been through a time of disobedience, so that they might receive and recognise God’s mercy. This is not an argument for universal salvation.
SUMMARY The insider/outsider theme develops further with Paul’s teaching in his letter to the ethnically divided church in Rome. Both have come to experience God’s mercy. God’s acceptance of Gentiles is not a rejection of those who were historically His people. Many Jews believed in Jesus and were saved and changed – including Paul himself, a Jew with excellent Benjamite credentials, now chosen by God to be His envoy.
APPLICATION Sometimes we can be too complacent as insiders to recognise that we have missed a turning and become detached. This has happened in many spiritual renewals over the centuries, where the fiercest critics have been the unrenewed establishment. Paul, writing to the church in Rome, bore scars from beatings and stonings by Jews who were angered by the Good News of Jesus that he brought to them. But God’s gifts and God’s call are determined in heaven and are not set aside by human whim or prejudice. Opposition to God’s kingdom will not stop its advance.
QUESTION What sort of people is God choosing now? Why do we expect them to be people like us?
PRAYER Lord God, we are so grateful that when we were far from Your kingdom, You revealed Yourself to us.
In our twists and turns of disobedience You pursued us with love.
We were outsiders but You called us in.
We were foreigners, outside Your covenant,
yet You called us, showed us Your love, gave us Your Son Jesus;
You helped us to choose Him as our Saviour and make Him our Lord,
and You showed us that we were included.
Thank You for giving us the joy of knowing You —
together with all others, of any tribe, race or culture,
who love You and are part of Your House of Prayer. Amen.
Also to read for Sunday, August 16 — Psalm 67
1-2 May God be gracious to us and bless us, and make His face shine on us — so that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.
3 May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise You.
4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for You rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth.
5 May the peoples praise You, God; may all the peoples praise You.
6 The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us.
7 May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear Him.
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Theme for Sunday, August 9, 2020: Faith is learning to see with God’s eyes
Following the set readings (Revised Commmon Lectionary) used across denominations which have set readings. TLW is published a week early to encourage reading and reflecting on the word during the week, as a preparation for Sunday worship. (TLW31A)
See this week’s linked article ‘Understanding… Stepping out in faith’
Also Really Quick Introduction – a one-minute Instagram video
1 Kings 19:9-18 — God shows Elijah that faith sees beyond beyond big events to God working in quiet ways
Jump to 1 Kings 19:9-18 verse by verse
Matthew 14:22-33 — Peter learns to keep his eyes on Jesus while stepping out in faith
Jump to Matthew 14:22-33 verse by verse
Romans 10:4-17 — The righteousness that justifies comes only by faith; trying to be righteous by works cannot succeed
Jump to Romans 10:4-17 verse by verse
And also: Psalm 85:8-13
1 Kings 19:9-18 — Faith sees God working in hidden ways
Elijah encounters God but not in the hurricane, earthquake or fire
8-9 So [Elijah] got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he travelled for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.
“Horeb” – the region around Mount Sinai, a long journey south to the desert place where God revealed Himself to Moses, and later gave His laws. Both Moses on the mountain and Jesus in the wilderness, were sustained by God for this length of time.
• For further study, see Exodus 3:1, Exodus 19:1-3, Exodus 24:18, Matthew 4:2,11.
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
“What are you doing here” – God is asking Elijah why he chose to go rather than God having called him, and whether he knew the significance of the place.
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and put Your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
“He replied” – indirectly, in terms of the unbelief and opposition he had faced, not the recent miraculous victory.
• For further study, read 1 Kings 18:19-40, 19:2-3.
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.
12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
“The Lord was not in the wind… earthquake… fire” – Elijah had experienced God in a spectacular way with fire at Carmel. God was showing how He was at work, powerfully through His word, in quiet ways.
13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and put Your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
“I am the only one left” – Elijah has not yet grasped what God was showing him, about how the power of God had continued working in undramatic ways, not just the confrontation with the Baal worshippers he had been involved in.
15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.
16 “Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.
“Go back… and… anoint Hazael… Jehu… and Elisha… as prophet” – God treats Elijah with grace and mercy, overlooking his self-pity, and giving him three important commissions.
17 “Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.
18 “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel — all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
“I reserve seven thousand” – it felt to Elijah like he was the only believer in Israel. The round number seven thousand signifies completeness – the remnant was enough for God’s purposes.
SUMMARY Elijah’s prophetic passion for the Lord has given way to a similarly intense feeling of despondency — and to be fair to him, he is under a death threat from an evil pagan queen who will stop at nothing to destroy him. On the run, he travels deep into Sinai desert, a significant place where he learns that the power of the Lord is not just big signs but also quiet, steady change.
APPLICATION God is gracious to Elijah, who let one evil woman displace his faith with fear. Like Elijah, we pay too much attention to what we see and feel, and not enough to the unseen work of God bringing change to people’s hearts in quiet ways.
QUESTION Where is God extending His kingdom, not in church attending but ‘under the radar’?
Matthew 14:22-33 — Peter learns about stepping out in faith
As he takes his eyes off Jesus and looks at his situation, his faith caves in
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd.
“Made the disciples… go on ahead” – the word has the meaning of ‘compel’. Following the feeding miracle, the crowd wanted to make Jesus king, John 6:15. To prevent the disciples getting caught up in this, Jesus ‘compelled’ them to find a boat and go.
23-24 After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. Later that night, He was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
“Distance from land” – about three miles out, half way across the Sea of Galilee, John 6:19, but not making much way into the wind.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.
“Walking on the lake” – a demonstration of God’s sovereignty over stormy waters.
• For further study, see Job 9:8; Psalm 77:19; Isaiah 43:16.
26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.
“It’s a ghost” – in a dream or vision, something that is not real. The disciples thought their eyes were deceiving them.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’
“It is I” – literally “I AM”, the name that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus is revealing His divinity.
28 “Lord, if it’s You,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to You on the water.”
29 “Come,” He said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus.
“Out of the boat” – note Peter’s considerable faith in getting out of the boat.
“Walked on the water” – a physical impossibility. The disciples’ lesson is seeing that in the power of Christ, they could do things ordinarily impossible.
30-31 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. “You of little faith,’ He said, “why did you doubt?”
32-33 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshipped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”
“You are the Son of God” – only God could exert mastery over the created order, reminding the disciples of “He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea,” Job 9:8.
SUMMARY The disciples are rowing hard into the wind at night following a day in which they participated in God multiplying food for many thousands gathered on the hillside to hear Jesus. Now they are crossing the Sea of Galilee, having been rather forcibly dismissed by Jesus who wanted to find a quiet hillside to be alone with His Father and pray. Shortly before dawn they see a ghost-like figure walking over the water who identifies Himself as the Lord and calls Peter. Peter, in rising faith, goes over the side and walks on the water towards Him. But for a moment his focus changes from Jesus to the reality of the wind and the waves – and he starts to sink.
APPLICATION There are times that Jesus calls us to step out in faith and do what logic tells us cannot be done. And with careful attention to Him, we can — but we cannot be double-minded, James 1:6-8.
QUESTION How does ‘stepping out in faith’ work with Jesus ascended and not physically present?
Romans 10:4-17 — How to find the righteousness that is by faith
Trying to be righteous by works and not faith will always fail
4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
“Culmination” – telos, end-point or, as here, fulfilment. Christ makes it possible for anyone who believes (see v. 13 below) to be in right standing before God.
5 Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”
The person who does these things…” – This, from Leviticus 18:5, is the path toward righteousness Israel was called to under the Moses covenant, although relationship with God was also by faith, Genesis 15:6. Paul taught earlier that life cannot come this way because all violate the law, Romans 1:18-3:20.
6-7 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ “(that is, to bring Christ down) or “Who will descend into the deep?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
“Do not say in your heart…” – this from Deut. 30:12-14 is about the law; Paul applies three sayings in a fresh way to the Good News. There is no need to go up to heaven to find Christ and be made right by Him, because He has come to earth as man. Nor do we need to go the the place of the dead to find Him, because He has been raised from the dead.
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim:
“The word is near you” – continuing the quote above, Christ is where we are when we simply believe the message. He explains more in succeeding verses, summarised in v.17 below.
9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
“Declare… and believe” – not just an acknowledgment that that Jesus is Lord of the universe because even demons believe that, James 2:19. This is the deep and unreserved declaration that Jesus is one’s own sovereign. People about to enter the water of baptism would declare this.
10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
“For” – explaining v.9, the condition for righteousness (being justified), is heart faith, which is internal. The condition for salvation from the power of sin and God’s just judgment, is our declaration — an external action.
11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.”
“As Scripture says” – Paul quotes from Isaiah, but this is the essence of the New Covenant foretold by Jeremiah.
• For further study, read Isaiah 28:16, Jer. 31:33-34, Romans 9:32-33
12-13 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
“Jew and Gentile” – who have exactly the same access to the Lord by the same means, declared faith.
14 How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
“How can they call on” – rhetorical questions in reverse order answer the argument that the Jews were not able to hear and respond to the gospel. The necessary elements are: preachers that are sent, the message proclaimed, the hearing of the message – and (where the Jews fell down) believing it.
15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”
17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
“Faith comes from hearing” – unlike hope, a confident general expectation in God and His goodness, believing faith arises on the basis of what God is heard to say. This is through the word, through spiritual gifts, or impartation of God’s truth by preacher, word and Spirit together.
SUMMARY This passage sets out two kinds of righteousness. One is becoming right by God by our own efforts, works or religious involvement. The problem is, we never get there! It is inaccessible. The second is very accessible but we dismiss it because it doesn’t require us to do anything, but to trust in what Jesus has done on our behalf. This is the ‘being justified’ real righteousness that comes from repenting of sin, believing in Jesus, and being able to say so.
APPLICATION A real, personal relationship with God and the assurance that goes with it, is not something we strive for — it doesn’t work that way. The only way we can be completely justifed and made right with God, is by hearing the message, allowing faith to rise and evidently believing who He is and what He has done on our behalf.
• Link to The Jesus Prayer
• Link to article on How God helps us to know Him personally
QUESTION How easy or difficult is it to let go of all your own efforts and simply trust Christ?
PRAYER Lord, like those first disciples we ask, “Increase our faith” but we know you will tell us to put to work the little faith we have. Help us to learn from Elijah and Peter by keeping our focus on You. And protect us from a devotion that becomes an attempt to gain merit. We are so grateful for what You, Jesus, have done for us, and we cannot add to it. Amen.
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Theme for Sunday, August 2, 2020 (TLW30A): Bible study on the week’s set readings — OT1: Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 — The Lord’s love is seen in His compassion to all; OT2: Isaiah 55:1-5 – God’s generosity cannot be paid for, but is given out of an eternal promise ; NT gospel — Matthew 14:13-21 — Jesus reveals Himself by providing food in a reminder of manna in the wilderness; NT letter: Romans 9:1-5 — God’s generosity was to the Jews first, but many could not accept Jesus.
Following the set readings (Revised Commmon Lectionary) used across denominations which a scheme of set readings. TLW is published a week early to encourage reading and reflecting on the word during the week, as a preparation for Sunday worship.
Theme: God’s abundant generosity
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 — The Lord’s love is seen in His compassion to all
Isaiah 55:1-5 — God’s generosity cannot be paid for, but is given out of an eternal promise
Matthew 14:13-21 — Jesus reveals Himself by providing food in a reminder of manna in the wilderness
Romans 9:1-5 — God’s generosity was to the Jews first, but many could not accept Jesus
See also this week’s linked article Understanding… the generosity of God
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21 — God is compassionate to all
The Lord’s love is seen in His generosity of spirit, and watchful provision
8 The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
“Gracious and compassionate” – almost a quotation of Exodus 34:6 in which God reveals Himself to Moses. This is the opposite of the popular view of God as stern and fickle, long on demands and short on tolerance.
9 The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made.
“Good to all” – God’s common grace is benevolent to all people, with one proviso: it does not save the rebellious from judgment, v.20 below. For that, He has special grace to reach out to those who turn and believe, John 1:12; Romans 3:22.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.
“Lifts up all who are bowed down” – in the context, those burdened by oppression or difficulty. God’s kingdom works the opposite way to the world’s ‘success’ culture. Also, in vv.18-20 (below) “upholds… lifts up” can apply to believers bowed down in the submission of worship.
15 The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food at the proper time.
“You give them their food” – in Jesus’ model prayer, “Give us today our daily bread”, Matthew 6:11, connects with this promise.
16 You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in all His ways and faithful in all He does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.
“The Lord is near” – those who trust Him know that God is near, approachable, and ready to help like a friend.
• For further study, see Psalm 138:6; Isaiah 55:6; John 14:14.
19 He fulfils the desires of those who fear Him; He hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.
“Watches over… will destroy” – the verbs sound similar in Hebrew and the form is like a mirror. The point of the psalm is that true faith will see and enjoy God’s goodness.
21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise His holy name for ever and ever.
“Praise His holy name” – the Lord’s name stands for the revealing of His presence, His power and impeccable character.
Isaiah 55:1-5 – God’s generosity in forgiveness and salvation
What cannot be earned or paid for is given, out of an eternal promise
1 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
“Come” – God speaks to the exiles in a tone which is urgent but reflecting opportunity, not a problem. It looks back to the Servant’s redeeming work and kingdom which is for all who will come, Isaiah 53:6.
“Come to the waters” – for spiritual refreshment, similarly wisdom’s invitation in Proverbs and Christ’s invitation to drink the water of life.
• For further study, read Psalm 42:1-12; Proverbs 9:5; John 4:14, 7:37.
“Buy wine and milk… without cost” – all who are spiritually hungry and thirsty find salvation here “without cost”. Salvation cannot be earned or bought.
2 “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.
“What is not bread” – the un-nourishing husks of pagan religious practice, the “bread of deceit” rather than the bread of life, Proverbs 20:17, John 6:32-35. God’s gracious gift of salvation through the death of His Servant is beyond price. People cannot earn it, only act on it, Ephesians 2:8-9.
3 “Give ear and come to Me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, My faithful love promised to David.
“An everlasting covenant… promised to David” – the promise of an unending dynasty, one that would be fulfilled in the Messiah. Acts 13:34 quotes from this verse: Christ’s resurrection was further evidence of this promise to David.
• For further study, read 2 Samuel 7:14-16; Isaiah 9:7, 54:10, 61:8.
4 “See, I have made Him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples.
“A witness to the peoples” – a reference first to David, who exalted the Lord among the nations, and to David’s Son, the Messiah who is a light to the nations.
• For further study, see Psalm 18:43, 49-50; Isaiah 42:6, 49:6.
5 “Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for He has endowed you with splendour.”
“Nations you do not know” – this follows the OT theme of nations being attracted to the God of Israel, Isaiah 2:2-4, 45:14; Zechariah 8:22. Through David’s descendant (and through the church) would come an endless witness to the world that Yahweh, our God, is the only Saviour.
SUMMARY The encouragement to come to God to have your spiritual thirst satisfied was first spoken prophetically to the discouraged exiles. However, it runs through the Bible. When God gave water to the Israelites walking through the desert to Mount Sinai, Exodus 17:1-6, it was drinking water, but in their predicament, it also saved them. This invitation to “come to the waters… without cost” extends grace to the original exiles, alienated by their own breaking of the covenant with God — and it extends grace to everyone of every age, alienated from God by sin.
APPLICATION The invitation also speaks to anyone who is distant from God. God’s offer is gracious — no one deserves it. Nothing we can do contributes towards it. God’s purpose is saving people, through His Son Jesus, the “witness to the people” and their just ruler, and our response is simply to “Come to Me; listen, that you may live”.
QUESTION Why is it difficult for us to receive an offer which is made without cost or condition?
Matthew 14:13-21 — Abundance in the mountainside feeding miracle
Jesus reveals Himself in a scene that is a reminder of manna in the wilderness
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.
“When Jesus heard” – about Herod’s hostility, Matthew 14:1-2, He distanced Himself from the threat; His time had not yet come.
14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed those who were ill.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to Him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
“This a remote place” – or “desolate”, ESV, a scene that recalled the tribes in the wilderness, and how God met their need then with manna. “Go to the villages” – even many small villages would have nowhere enough bread for such a huge crowd.
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
“You give them…” – getting the disciples to recognise the impossibility, so that they will see the miracle for what it is. Later, it is the disciples who are hands-on and giving out the multiplying food, v.19 (below).
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
“Five loaves” – small, hard barley rolls, a boy’s portion.
18 “Bring them here to Me,” He said.
19 And He told the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.
“He gave thanks and broke the loaves” – as any Jewish head of the household would do.
“The disciples gave them to the people” – also stated by Mark and Luke.
• For further study, see Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13.
20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
“Twelve basketfuls… left over” – a reminder of Elisha’s miracle where barley loaves were multiplied, 2 Kings 4:42-44. Also a reminder of Jesus’ earlier teaching on God’s abundance, Matthew 6:11, 25-33.
21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
“The number of those who ate” – amounting to more like 10-15,000 counting the women and children together with the 5,000 men.
SUMMARY The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle of Jesus recounted in all four gospels. Shortly afterwards, Jesus underlines its significance by revealing Himself as the true manna or “the bread of life”, John 6:32-35. To people steeped in their history of finding the Promised Land and relying on God’s provision of manna in the desert, this was a powerful and meaningful way of Jesus helping them to work out who He was.
APPLICATION Involving the disciples in the miracle was also a lesson to them on many levels. Although none of the gospel accounts gives detail of exactly how the miracle unfolded, three of them show the disciples having a significant part in the multiplication. It was a partnership requiring them to be involved, and to exercise their faith.
QUESTION Why did Jesus involve the twelve disciples in giving out the food and collecting the scraps?
Romans 9:1-5 — God’s generosity was experienced by the Jews first
Paul laments those receiving the original promises— but who did not receive Jesus
1 I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit –
“My conscience” – not always a reliable guide unless aligned to the leading of the Spirit.
2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
“I have great sorrow” – because Paul observes that most were unable to believe the Good News about Jesus, and respond to Him to be saved.
3-4 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.
“I could wish… myself… cursed” – not an offer that could be accepted – only Christ can stand in for another’s sin. Following the golden calf rebellion, Moses made a similar plea, Exodus 32:32.
“Theirs is adoption” – in their rescue from Egypt, and the glory of God in the tabernacle, the law which prescribed their life and worship and saving promises through the covenants.
5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, for ever praised! Amen.
“The patriarchs” – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were of the Jewish people. Paul’s most painful reflection was that the Messiah they rejected was from their own people, fully human — but also fully God.
SUMMARY Paul, classically educated in Judaism, expresses his devastation that the Good News of Jesus, the final instalment in a long list of covenant promises and privileges, should be dismissed by most of those at the front of the queue! Jesus had taught that He was sent, first, to the lost sheep of Israel, Matthew 15:24, and in His humanity He shared the same ancestry and revered the same patriarchs. Yet His own people proved the most resistant and threatening, and here Paul reflects — with both sadness and love — that his experience was the same.
APPLICATION Those who believe they have it all, are often the most reluctant to receive more. And to be offered something more can be perceived, wrongly, as taking away from what has been offered before, even if it complements what has been given. Another aspect of Paul’s pain here is the reality that often those closest to us, are the hardest to witness to. But he was prepared to go to any length to see them receive Jesus and salvation.
QUESTION When disappointments and discouragements come, how should we handle them before God?
PRAYER Father, You so loved the world that You gave…
and we experience Your grace and generosity in so many ways.
You invite us to draw near for refreshing,
You make provision for us to meet our needs
and You are generous in forgiveness when we turn to You.
May we always be open
to what You want to do next in our lives.
Forgive us our tendency to pride and self-sufficiency,
when we are nothing and we have nothing
and we can do nothing of enduring value — apart from You.
Thank You so much for sending Jesus, our Saviour, in whose name we pray. Amen.
TLW30A Aug 2 final – BookletDownload
Bible study on the week’s set readings, for Sunday, July 26, 2020 (TLW29A):
OT: 1 Kings 3:5-12 — God assures Solomon He will meet his request for a wide and discerning heart ;
NT gospel — Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52, Nothing we seek is as valuable as God’s life-giving and transforming kingdom;
NT letter: Romans 8:26-39 — If we are in relationship with God, we have assurance that God, out of His love, is working to bring His good order.
This follows the set readings (Revised Commmon Lectionary) used across denominations which use a scheme of set readings. TLW is published a week early to encourage reading and reflecting on the word during the week, as a preparation for Sunday worship.
Theme: God’s kingdom order is also His assurance to us
1 Kings 3:5-12 — God assures Solomon that his request for a wise and discerning heart will be granted
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 — Nothing we seek is as valuable as God’s life-giving and transforming kingdom
Romans 8:26-39 — If we are in relationship with God, we have assurance that God, out of His love, is working to bring His good order
And also read: Psalm 119: 129-136
Article linked to this theme: Explaining… Our assurance in the kingdom of God
See also in Believe the Good News God’s assurance and the five common doubt s we all struggle with
1 Kings 3:5-12 — God assures Solomon He will help him be a good king
His request for a wise and discerning heart will be granted
5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want Me to give you.”
“At Gibeon” – where the tabernacle was located, although the ark was in Jerusalem, 1 Chron. 16:39, 2 Samuel 6.
“In a dream” – God often communicated with people in dreams.
• For further study, read Genesis 37:5 -10; Daniel 4:4-18, Matthew 1:20, 2:13,19.
6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to Your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to You and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.
“Kindness” – Hebrew hesed, which is about upholding a covenant promise, and more generally, God’s gracious and loving treatment of His nation. Covenant faithfulness is an important emphasis of the OT, Psalm 118:1-2, Deut. 7:9, 12.
7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made Your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.
“A little child” – Solomon, aged about 20, expresses a humble reliance on God, which pleases Him (v.10).
8 “Your servant is here among the people You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.
“A great people” – from one family living in Egypt, Genesis 46:26-27, now about four million.
9-10 “So give Your servant a discerning heart to govern Your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of Yours?” The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.
“A discerning heart” – rather than wealth or power or military skill, he asks for the ability to hear all perspectives before ruling — the definition of a ‘good king’, Isaiah 11:2-5.
11-12 So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this, and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
I will give you a wise and discerning heart” – or “mind”, ESV. Not common sense ‘do what is right’ wisdom, 1 Kings 2:6,9, but supernatural wisdom to apply what God reveals, like the spiritual gift of 1 Cor. 12:7-8.
SUMMARY The encounter Solomon has with God in a dream is unusual because it is a two-way conversation. God is pleased that Solomon is not asking for wealth, power, or destruction of enemies, but for the means to govern well and bless others.
APPLICATION What God gives him is an impartation of spiritual insight and wisdom of the kind that would associate with the life of the Spirit in the Early Church. James, in his letter, tells us we should ask God for wisdom but we must ask with faith to receive it, James 1:5-6.
QUESTION What wisdom or other impartation do we need? Are we asking for it?
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 — Nothing is as valuable as God’s realm
God’s order assures transformation rather than revolution
31-32 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
“A mustard seed” – then the smallest known seed, which could become a large bush.
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
“Yeast… worked all through the dough” – enough for 50 good sized loaves, but the amount of yeast needed is miniscule. Like the mustard seed, the point is how transforming kingdom life is.
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
“Like treasure hidden in a field” – paired with the finding of the fine pearl, vv.45-46 below. These discoveries were of such value, any sacrifice was worth making to get them. In ancient times hiding treasure this way was not uncommon.
45-46 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
“Looking for fine pearls” – the first seeker stumbled upon a treasure trove but this one was looking for it, perhaps in the wrong place. The point is the same – it is to take hold of even if it costs you everything. Nothing can buy salvation, but receiving Jesus as Saviour and Lord costs us our old life, pride and independence.
47-48 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.
“Collected the good… but threw the bad away” – the long drag-net being pulled on to the shore, like the parable of the wheat and weeds, Matt. 13:24-30, 38-43, teaches that the world has good and evil co-existing.
49-50 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“The angels will come and separate” – only at the end of the age will there be a separation of the unredeemed, but until then, the church has the responsibility to cast the gospel before all of society.
51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied.
“Have you understood” – Jesus’ teaching had revealed to them things that had been hidden, Matt. 13:34-35 (omitted), giving them a better storeroom to draw on, v.52, than the scribes and Pharisees.
52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
“New treasures as well as old” – the order is important: the disciples were receiving an understanding of the New Covenant in Jesus and fuller message of the kingdom, through which the treasures of the old covenant would have new meaning.
SUMMARY The parables Jesus told illustrate the way the realm of God grows and brings its life even from insignificant beginnings. It may be something we just become increasingly aware of, or perhaps we have been searching in the wrong place before we find it, but it is of such unique value we would give up everything else to get it. A different picture of the kingdom comes from the image of fishermen hauling in a drag-net and then sorting the fish caught in it. The gospel net is set to enfold all of them, clean and unclean, but at the end there will be a separation.
This was a far cry from Messiah as a David-like military hero leading an uprising as part of God’s judgment to bring in the kingdom in the future. They were both seeing, and learning, that the kingdom rule of God was happening now – the new treasure that makes the old useful again.
APPLICATION We, too, can miss God’s kingdom if we confuse it with an institution or an exclusive kind of grouping. All the Lord needs us to do is to open ourselves to this dynamic spiritual life and transformation will follow.
QUESTION Where do we see the dynamic spiritual growth of the kingdom that Jesus portrayed?
Romans 8:26-39 — Our assurance is being securely held by God’s love
If we are in relationship with God, we know that He is working for our good
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
“The Spirit Himself” – the third Person within the Trinity of God — “Himself”, not an impersonal force or influence — can bring prayer through us when words do not come.
“Wordless groans” – akin to praying in the Spirit, Jude 1:20; Ephesians 6:18.
27 And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
“Intercedes… in… the will of God” – the Holy Spirit’s requests are in agreement with God, Matthew 18:19, and He always prays according to the Father’s will.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.
“In all things” – references “our present sufferings”, v.18. The promise is that God is always working His good, bringing everything into conformity with Christ, v.20) and His purpose. Romans 8:18-20.
“Those… who have been called” – the object of the promise, “those who love Him” are believers in Jesus.
29 For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
“Those God foreknew” – means simply ‘knew beforehand’. Unlike us, God is able to know beforehand who will respond to His call, v.30, below.
30 And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.
“He predestined… called… justified… glorified” – four time events including one still in the future, showing that God exists beyond our barriers of time.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all — how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?
“He… did not spare… but gave Him up” – by doing what is much greater, we are assured that God will be graciously generous to us – a similar argument to the one Paul used in Romans 5:9-10.
33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.
“Who will bring any charge” – for the Christian, God has already pronounced a verdict of not guilty and no charge can be brought.
34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
“Who… condemns?” – those who are in Christ Jesus are not under condemnation, Romans 8:1, because (1) Christ Jesus died and paid the full penalty for us, (2) He is resurrected and alive and (3) is active on our behalf, interceding for us by the Father’s side. A Friend in the highest place!
35-36 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
“Shall… persecution… famine… danger or sword?” – Paul has proved that crisis situations do not break the bond of God’s love. Do what in life can? Suffering is part of the territory, as Psalm 44:22 reminds us, but so is God being with us.
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“I am convinced” – if God is for us, Romans 8:31 above, and no created thing can separate us, then our assurance and security in Him, Paul asserts, is a certainty.
SUMMARY Paul assures us that God knows us, and being outside time He knew from the beginning that we would choose to know Him, through trusting what Jesus had done for us. He is for us, working for His best in all our circumstances, and whatever charge or accusation may be brought against us, the verdict is settled. Jesus died, paying the full price for our sin was resurrected and now sits in the place of supreme authority representing us to the Father.
APPLICATION The devil is a slanderer works by trying to get us to believe his lies: God doesn’t really love us, what we have done puts us beyond redemption, Jesus’ power wasn’t enough for us, no one will hear us now. Sometimes the truth becomes more clear if we take each lie and consider its opposite. Jesus died for us, God knows us, and is for us in life’s attacks, working for good – getting things back into His order. Jesus conquered sin and death – and we are on the side of victory — His victory!
QUESTION How do we know that God is for us, working for good, when it feels like we are on the side of defeat, not victory?
PRAYER Father, as I come to You again through Jesus,
I thank You for calling me, pursuing me, challenging me
and helping me to respond to Your love ––
and to have the assurance of being a part of Your kingdom.
Thank You for Your Son, Jesus,
being the demonstration of the kingdom,
and teaching us what it means.
May I recognise the working of Your kingdom
with its life and growth, joy and peace.
May I see Your kingdom coming more and more,
both in the church and in the wider community.
And may I be a kingdom bringer together with You. Amen.
Download the print edition, to print as a 4pp A5 folder from an A4 sheet:
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
‘Understanding’ page to go with this theme: Understanding… how deception undermines God’s truth
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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