Theme of the week
Scripture is holy and lifegiving, leading to eternal life and given to us to trust — in the historic words of the collect prayer for the week, “to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest”. This vital Christian principle of becoming familiar with God”s revelation of Himself is for each generation to embrace — and for each generation to entrust to the next.
FIRST OLD TESTAMENT READING, Deuteronomy 34:1–12
Pass it on — it is God-given to give away Moses, aged 120, ascends Mount Nebo from the Plain of Moab from where the Lord shows him the distant promised land — Gilead, Judah and the Jericho valley — but this is the end of his journey; it is not to be his land. He dies and is buried in Moab.
Moses has laid hands on Joshua to be his successor, full of wisdom.
1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho.
As the Lord had told him to Deut. 32:28–32. Nebo (range) and then to the top of Pisgah.
- It is no mean ascent — like Pen-y-Fan (highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons) and then as much again, and in a hot climate.
There the Lord showed him the whole land — from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar.
- That is describing a view north, north-west, west and then south.
4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, “I will give it to your descendants.”
- A number of references in Genesis, the clearest being Gen. 12:7; 13:14–17
I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”
- The explanation has been made a little earlier, Deut. 32:48–52
On that same day the Lord told Moses, 49 “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. 50 There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. 51 This is because both of you broke faith with Me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold My holiness among the Israelites. 52 Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”
- ”Broke faith with Me”: These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarrelled with the Lord and where He was proved holy among them.
Exodus 17:7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
- Numbers 20:12–13 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
5 And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. 8 The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.
- The point of the passage is that the revelation of God is continually being passed on. The principle is always, what we have, we give away, remembering that God is continually giving, for us to give.
9 Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.
- Laying on of hands was practised by Jesus e.g. Luke 4:40, in the early church e.g. 2 Tim. 1:6 and is done today, in the impartation of ordination as well as in healing and general prayer ministry. It is a sacramental action where we make a visible and outward sign in faith, as the means of an unseen blessing by the working of the Holy Spirit.
10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face,11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt — to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
- Moses appeared (with Elijah) on the special occasion on a mountaintop we call the Transfiguration of Jesus, when Jesus” face and garments began to shine brilliantly. Matt. 17:3–4
SECOND OLD TESTAMENT READING, Leviticus 19:1–2, 15–18
Pass it on — by living and relating by God”s standards
Moses sets out five key practicalities about how to maintain holy relationships. How we love God is surely demonstrated in how we do, or don”t, love one another. Jesus was later to teach that all the law and prophetic writings were predicated on this principle.
1–2 The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ”Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
- “Speak to the entire assembly” meant that it was for everyone to keep the covenant by living as those set apart for God and therefore living by His standards.
- The character of God is behind His commandments. No other deity of ancient times could relate man’s moral duty to the deity’s holiness.
15–18 “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly.
“Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
“Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the Lord.
“Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.
- A remarkably contemporary list of warnings about how relationships commonly founder and therefore how to be different as those loving the Lord and His ways.
- From a longer list, the five key relational commandments. Jesus quoted the “love your neighbour as yourself” in His statement of the Great Commandment, Matt. 22:37–38 (see below).
READING FROM THE PSALMS, Psalm 1; Psalm 90:1–6,13–17
Pass it on — use the time and opportunity we have profitably
Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night.
- Taking heed of God’s revelation of Himself, the “law of the Lord” or we might say, the Bible and the Gospel leads to choices — who we listen to — and blessings due to those who listen to God and choose for Him.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers. 4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
Psalm 90:1 Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.
3 You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
4 A thousand years in Your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
5 Yet You sweep people away in the sleep of death — they are like the new grass of the morning:
6 In the morning it springs up but by evening it is dry and withered.
- Generations and generations come and go, but God”s perspective is eternal. However the psalmist sets out how the Lord has been the security throughout all generations. How? Because one generation passed this relationship and this assurance on to the next.
12 Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on Your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with Your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as You have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May Your deeds be shown to Your servants, Your splendour to their children.
17 May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.
- The psalmist asks that we might experience God’s love and Favour, so we can continue the cycle by relating our experience to our children and beyond.
NEW TESTAMENT GOSPEL READING, Matthew 22:34–45
Pass it on — show it, don’t just say it
Jesus outlines the principle of the Great Commandment
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.
The Sadducees and Pharisees were rivals, holding different doctrinal positions. The Sadducees had apparently been silenced; the Pharisees, in their superiority, were not about to let that happen to them.
35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question:
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
- This was probably a question that came up often for Jesus. The rabbis of His time spent a lot of time summarising the various commands of the law — and also putting them in order of perceived importance. His answer echoes the style, but with confrontationally different substance.
37 Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
- Deuteronomy 6:5 was part of the Shema prayer which opened with a recitation of Deut 6:4–9. Observant Jews would recite this twice daily. So Jesus was starting with something very well known to His hearers — perhaps like quoting part of the Lord”s Prayer to a modern day congregation. He puts this verse together with Leviticus 19:18 (which we read earlier).
- The two commandments stand together. The first without the second is a nonsense (cf. 1 John 4:20), and the second cannot stand without the first because a disciplined sense of duty to do good to others falls far short of love. Our love of others can only come from God”s love received by us. 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
- “Hang” is a more literal word for “depend”.
41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is He?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
- This was a conventionally-correct reply among those who studied and discussed the Scriptures — what we call the Old Testament. Jesus” implied challenge is that this answer didn’t go far enough.
43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls Him “Lord”?
- “David speaking by the Spirit…”, in other words, David speaking prophetically.
- David did speak prophetically in some of his psalm writings. The well-known example is the beginning of Psalm 22, quoted by Jesus in Aramaic as He was dying on the Cross, and verse 22 is quoted in Hebrews 2:12 as a Messianic prophecy.
For [David] says, 44 “The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”
- Jesus is quoting from David’s Psalm 110, the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament. It was a key Old Testament passage for early Christian understanding of the role of Jesus.
45 If then David calls him “Lord”, how can He be his son?”
- The widely held view of the Jewish community was that the coming Messiah would be the son of David. Jesus shows that the OT itself (e.g. Ps 110) tells us that is not the whole story. But if Messiah is not David”s son, whose son is he?
- The solution is given by the beginning section of Matthew (chapters 1–2) and by the voice of God himself Matt. 3:17; 17:5: Jesus is the Son of God. The title “Son of Man”, used by Jesus of Himself, has the double meaning of “human being” (as in Ps 8:4; Ps 80:17 for example) but also the meaning of a heavenly figure who at the end time brings the kingdom to the oppressed on earth Daniel 7:13–14. So there are two aspects to the Messiah. Matthew’s gospel, written with Jewish believers in mind, repeatedly recognises that Jesus the Messiah is Son of David — by title Matt. 1:1; 9:27, by genealogy Matt. 1:2–16, and by portraying Jesus as King of the Jews Matt 2:2; 27:11, 29. Therefore Jesus is both a human Messiah in David”s line but also a divine Messiah who transcends human limitations.
46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
NEW TESTAMENT EPISTLE READING, 1 Thessalonians 2:1–8
Pass it on — with urgency and despite opposition
Paul reminds the church in Thessaloniki how despite opposition with God’s help they dared to proclaim the Good News. The apostolic messengers spoke with God’s approval to be entrusted with the gospel, not for themselves but demonstrate in their lives and to give away.
1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel in the face of strong opposition.
- There is both a cost and an urgency in sharing the gospel. It will bring opposition — overt or covert.
3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.
- This is a question that could be asked of some high-profile and high-budget ministries today. There will always be the human tendency to dishonesty.
4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.
- To be entrusted to do more than tell it — show it in holy lives.
We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed — God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.
- Amplifies the point of verse 4, above. The human nature, or flesh nature, wants something for itself, including recognition! If it doesn’t get it own way, it wants to manipulate or enforce. The apostles chose to be people who were learning and growing, just as their protégés were.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
- What is a mother’s instinct for her baby? To give of her best, sacrificially if necessary. This is a picture of “giving away” the Good News and also living the Good News so that we become Good News to others.
Jump to message from this reading
The holy tradition leads us in a holy commission
Pass it on — it is God-given to give away
Moses was privileged to enter into God’s presence like no other man, and was entrusted with the ‘Ten Words’ or commandments which formed the basis of God’s instruction for His people. There was a lot of detail, a lot of how to live it out, which those ten words stood for. Through the most testing of circumstances — a chariot army behind and a large body of water in front, provision for a huge number of people an animals in a desert region, attacks by other tribes and more than his share of insurrection — Moses walked a good walk with God, but not perfectly. Not trusting the Lord earlier, at Meribah (v.4 note), was to keep him from realising the vision. He was to hand over the honour of actually entering the Promised Land to a much younger assistant. He died at the age of 120, perhaps symbolic of three periods of 40 years.
Moses had been given the Law; he had led the people in how to keep the Law; and his last challenge was to be willing and gracious in giving all that away, to the person he had particularly mentored — “Joshua son of Nun [who] was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him.” This is a picture of how we are given the word of God by hearing and seeing others, but charged with the responsibility to pass it on to successors.
Leviticus 19:1–2, 15–18
Jesus is the Word of God — the Living Word. Much of what we call the word of God is about Jesus and His teaching (the Gospels) or the Way of Jesus that the early church sought to practice (epistles). But without too much difficulty we can see Jesus in these Old Testament passages, like the detail of the Law in Leviticus. “Be holy… because I am holy”. What does this holy God look like? Jesus said in John 14, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father… I am in the Father, and… the Father is in Me.” Our human nature too easily veers off. We get into judgmental attitudes, say things about others which are not true and defamatory, and go for what we want without regard to consequences for others. Or something in a relationship has become strained — and we’d rather hold on to it than speak to the other person and try to put it right. That turns into a lasting and damaging grudge which is the opposite of love and forebearance.
Have you seen that in your family, workplace, neighbourhood (or even church)? What is different, and holy? Jesus made this accessible by demonstrating that He is the Way, a Way that we can pass on by daring to be like Him in a selfish world.
Psalm 1; Psalm 90:1–6,13–17
It really helps if we spend our time around the right people and not the wrong people. We become like those we hang out with. We’re all concerned that our children don’t “get in with the wrong set”. So we know the way it works. The choice not to “sit in the company of mockers” but delighting and meditating on the law of the Lord comes down to one thing. Where is our focus? What do we think about? There are plenty of people who want to assert their proud thoughts and opinions, but the blessing comes when we consider God”s thoughts. As often as we turn to God’s thoughts — turn to God’s word, practically speaking, we find His love that satisfies, the joy and gladness to make a difference. So much better than joining the circle of negativity. It’s a small investment of time that pays big dividends.
You have heard the expression, “Use it or lose it!” Here’s a slightly different one that is just as compelling: “Show it or blow it!”. People are tired of speeches that don’t deliver, of “fake news” and every kind of insincerity. They do, however, recognise what is real when they see it. Rabbis at the time of Jesus were much occupied with finding snappy summaries of parts of the complex 600 clauses that the Law had become, and saying what was most important. They weren’t so good at equipping people to live holy lives that blessed others.
Jesus took a radically different approach, dressed up as something they would find familiar. In His teaching He used some very familiar words: two commandments which He said were essentially one commandment. We cannot truly claim to love God if we don”t love others. It’s true the other way round as well. Loving those around us (not always easy) draws on the love relationship with have with God: knowing His love, being free to return it.
For 2,000 years people have heard the message of God’s love and seen it in action. This has become the moral anchor for well over two billion people across the world.
Where it hasn’t been successful is where there has been a mixed message — people whose fundamental beliefs are actually the same, but losing sight of what it means in persecutions, conflicts and even wars.
This “Great Commandment” communicates to people, not needing a lot of words, where people can see what loving God and loving others is like, and that it works. Nobody would say they don’t want it; they just don’t trust the religiosity that we have too often made part of the package. What we pass on to others for Jesus’ glory, will look like what Jesus was doing.
1 Thessalonians 2:1–8
There has never been a time in history when the Christian gospel did not attract opposition and persecution. It is said that there have been more Christian martyrs in recent decades, than in all of Christian history. At a lower level, political correctness makes sharing what is good and true in schools or libraries or even by long established Christian festivals more and more difficult. Christians are now being punished in the courts for taking a moral stand or preaching in the streets.
The first apostolic messengers found people stirring up riots. They were beaten, imprisoned and run out of town — but they pressed on with the message of life in Jesus that had been entrusted to them. Unlike other orators of their time, they were not seeking praise or profit, but handled their task and the rebukes that came with it, with humility. This was different!
Don’t think that we are a Christian country. That is long past, and our task is even more urgent and difficult, than if no one had ever seen a Bible or heard its message. But the message, shared in the power of the Holy Spirit, and demonstrated by the same Spirit, is different, lasting and life-changing. And we have been given it, to give away, as best and courageously as we can.
1. Why is it up to us to pass on the Good News?
Think about how Moses addressed the people (Tuesday: Leviticus 19).
2. How do we pass it on?
We may not be great speakers or teachers, or even outward-going personalities. But think about the essence of what Jesus was teaching (Thursday: Matt. 22). How much is taught, how much is ‘caught’?
3. Holy living, by God’s standards? Sounds impossible. But how unrealistic is it to use the list in Leviticus 19 (Tuesday) as a starting point?
If you were to decide on a ‘code of conduct’ for your group, neighbourhood, church or organisation, what would it look like?
4. How do we set out to live God’s way in a world where all the values seem to be against this?
Think about Paul and his companions, the hostility they encountered and the help they relied on Friday: 1 Thessalonians 2). What was the experience of the early church of being empowered by the Holy Spirit? Could this be our experience?
5. Where do you need more courage to live for Jesus and share His life?
Ask God, who knows and will supply all your needs. In a group, you can agree this together in prayer – a powerful thing to do.
Monday: Read Exodus 33:12-end
Tuesday: Supplementary readings, Psalms/Isaiah
Wednesday: Read Matthew 22:15–22
Thursday: Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1–10
Friday: Message: We need God’s presence to change us and our world
God promises Moses His continuing presence
The Lord is the enthroned King but One who names us personally
Jesus teaches discernment about what belongs to God, and honouring Him for what is His
The Thessalonians get hold of the Word in the power of the Spirit, and are transformed
Moses has an encounter with God about the nation he represents and receives a promise that God will presence Himself with them.
12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favour in my sight.”
13 Now if I have found favour in your sight, show me Your ways, so that I may know you and find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”
In this encounter, God begins to reveal His ways by first revealing His character (v.19).
14 [The Lord] said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
15 And [Moses] said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.
16 For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”
- The point is brought out more clearly in the NIV and NLT renderings: Exodus 33:16 NIV
“…unless You go with us… what else will distinguish me and Your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
Exodus 33:16–17 NLT
“For Your presence among us sets Your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”
17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.”
18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.”
19 And the Lord said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
- The name of the Lord here is more a description of His attributes, especially love that is gracious and merciful. This is further expanded later in the encounter which for us is in the following chapter. The “name” is the “I am” of Exodus 20:2 “_ I am _ the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Represented by the Hebrew letters YHWH, we say this as Yahweh or in traditional hymns, anglicised into “Jehovah”.
- Exod. 34:5–7 NIV
Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed His name, the Lord. And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.
20 But,” He said, “you cannot see My face; for no one shall see Me and live.”
21 And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”
Verses from the Psalms and Isaiah about who God is.
1 The Lord is king: let the peoples tremble;
He is enthroned above the cherubim: let the earth shake.
2 The Lord is great in Zion
and high above all peoples.
3 Let them praise your name, which is great and awesome;
the Lord our God is holy.
4 For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I surname you, though you do not know Me.
5 I am the Lord, and there is no other;
besides Me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know Me,
6 so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides Me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
9 O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;
let the whole earth tremble before him.
10 Tell it out among the nations that the Lord is king.
He has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
Pharisees and others try to trap Jesus in His words with a tricky question about paying the Roman poll tax
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.
16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.
- What the religious leaders said was true, but insincere and deceptive in motive. It was a trap.
17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
- Jewish teaching held that Jews should pay their taxes to pagan overlords — “By Me kings reign…” Proverbs 8:15, also see Daniel 2:21 and 37–38.
18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting Me to the test, you hypocrites?
- Jesus here, empowered by the Holy Spirit, gives them a demonstration of “wisdom from above”: But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere James 3:17
19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought Him a denarius.
- They showed him a copper coin with an image of Caesar and inscription describing him as a high priest and son of a god. Naturally Jews objected to using these coins with an image, except for paying the official tax. They generally used plain copper coinage for commerce. But here the religious leaders were carrying and presumably using the Roman variety as well.
20 Then He said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”
21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then He said to them, “ Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor”s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
- A worldview that is centred on world and self has difficulty in looking beyond man to God. Here Jesus teaches about honouring God for what is His. The taxation may be owed to the emperor but the provision of it is God’s.
22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left Him and went away.
1 Thessalonians 1:1–10
Paul commends the steadfast, persecuted believers in Thessalonika for being transformed by the power of the Spirit and being such an effective witness to others.
1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.
2–3 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
4 For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that He has chosen you
- Being people chosen by God reflects the encounter with Moses, Exodus 33:13, and a nation chosen and set apart by God.
5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction ; just as you know what kind of people we proved to be among you for your sake.
- Only the Holy Spirit can empower us to be a different and Christ-like kind of people.
6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
- They were transformed. In a relatively short time, despite persecution, they had become “imitators”. Now their lifestyle was completely different from what it was before the Gospel came to them, because their conversion led them to imitate Paul and his companions. Paul encouraged this; as one who modelled his life on Christ, he was leading people not to imitate him so much as Christ: ”Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Cor. 11:1
8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.
- These people who had suffered persecution were known beyond their own region as people of faith and witness. The “joy inspired by the Holy Spirit” was their hallmark as a transformed people.
9 For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
The message: We need God’s presence to change us and our world
The presence of God transforms
The teaching of Jesus transforms
The power of the Holy Spirit transforms
The presence of God transforms
God longs to have a relationship with His people. He also longs for His people to DESIRE an intimate relationship with Him, where they perceive Him speaking and guiding, and want to live and express themselves in ways which bring Him pleasure. He doesn’t look for pets; he doesn’t want robots; He has given us free will to make choices. He wants us to make choices for Him, even though our independence often kicks in.
Moses was a particularly godly, humble and tested man who had had a number of profound encounters with God — the Burning Bush, the Red Sea deliverance, Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments are three we think of straight away. So Moses could say to God, “If I have found favour in your sight, show me Your ways, so that I may know you and find favour in your sight.” He could ask God for favour for His people to share that relationship. A mass of refugees, carrying all the rejection of their Egypt experience, and prone to find their security in anything other than God himself — how would that work?
This is how it works. As God presences Himself, we have an invitation to respond. We give up some of our independence, and look to Him. We sense His guidance, we experience favour in the face of adversity, we feel loved and valued in a love that is gracious and merciful — in other words, we come to Him, we fall short and God makes it easy for us to come back to Him again. Welcome to church!
The teaching of Jesus transforms
In sending His Son, Jesus, to live our kind of life with all its threats and dangers and misunderstandings, God made a way for us to know Him in a much more personal way. Jesus said Himself “I am the Way…” John 14:6. Now anyone, Jew or ordinary person, could turn to God and have the amazing experience of knowing God as a personal, caring Father who speaks personally through His word.
This is not the experience of the crowd. This is one-on-one. This is not coming to God through religious means. This is accepting Jesus into your heart and life by giving up your right of self-determination and allowing Him to be your Lord. The religious leaders of the gospel passage had a lot of investment in religious form and order. They were Pharisees. They were people who believed in leading a righteous life — in detail and by the book.
Like all people of a religious mindset, they were threatened by Jesus. He was common, He was just a carpenter-builder, He had a provincial accent — and He had also a following as a rabbi with a reputation for wisdom and for amazing healing actions, a fame that was spreading far and wide.
They decided to try to trap him in the net of the Jewish law, so that they could bring him to trial. So they came up with a question. Was it right to pay the Roman poll tax or not?
No Jew wanted to submit to the pagan rule of Rome — it was offensive to them, like admitting slavery. However there was no way out of it; allegiance to Rome was demanded of all. The trap they laid for Jesus was this: to argue against paying the tax would make Him a traitor; to argue for paying the hated tax would alienate most of the population. It was a classic no-win.
This is where the teaching of Jesus and the wisdom of Jesus jumps over hurdles of human logic. If the religious leaders were true to themselves, they wouldn’t be caught carrying or using the Roman coinage with Caesar”s inscription on it. That was just for the poll tax and every good Jew used the plain copper coins which were of the same value, but didn’t have the claim of Caesar”s divinity.
So Jesus asks a question and sure enough, one of them pushes a Roman coin at Him. He points to the image and inscription, and drawing on heavenly wisdom rather than the human variety, turns a lose-lose into a win-win. Honour God, he explains, in His provision of all we have, including money. But follow the Law (Proverbs 8:15) and honour the rulers, Gentile or not, according to their requirement symbolised by what is on the coin.
Life can be like that. We come up against a “no way through” situation. What would Jesus do? He would be seeking revelation from His Father. And do you know what? We can do exactly the same.
The power of the Holy Spirit transforms
I Thess. 1: 1–10
The epistle reading is Paul”s letter to believers in Greek Macedonia. This was a church that had experienced more than its fair share of persecution. He writes warmly, commending them, saying that their joyful and steadfast faith had been a leading light to others.
He writes: “We give thanks to God for you… for we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that He has chosen you.” What was the encounter with Moses that we read in Exodus 33 all about? It was about the tribe being the people of God, having a relationship with God, being chosen by God for His favour. Here is a reminder.
And if you turn to Jesus and open the door of your life and welcome Him in, the Holy Spirit of Jesus will remind you that you, too, are chosen and called into a special relationship of trust and favour and joy, loved so that you can love others. This is what Paul is reminding them.
But people fall off. The Old Testament is a series of stories of people following their own ways and God”s messengers, particularly prophets, calling them back to Him. The essence of sin today is exactly the same as it always was. It is about our independence from God. We want to do life our way. And there”s the drift, right there. God will find ways to call us back — but do we have ears to hear?
Paul tells this early Christian church that they have not only believed in Jesus but they are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live for Him. He told them, “The message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…”.
It’s not easy to live for Jesus and His values in a world which is heading in a hundred other ways. There are always people wanting to trip us or trap us. Rigidly religious people, strangely enough, are not our allies but often our encumbrances, just as they were for Jesus. But we can ask the Holy Spirit, who is the Person of God just the same as the Father and the Son, to fill us afresh and empower us again and give us wisdom from on high to know what is right — and deliver it.
We look like a small minority. How can we transform our world? By being transformed ourselves. It starts with us. And then we can pray with conviction, “Send us out in the power of the Spirit…”
The presence of God among us transforms us, as it always has. The Son of God who we experience in His word, who speaks to us in every part of the Bible, is our transforming wisdom. And the power of the Holy Spirit transforms, not just our sense of guidance and gift but also our world through us, wherever there is darkness and hardship and injustice and confusion.
God is always about His transforming work. The real challenge is that He always chooses to do it through people like you and me, when we choose to walk with Him.
- Think of a time when you have sensed the presence of God, perhaps in a special way.
- What do you think invited His presence?
- What changed in you?
- What stops you giving Jesus all of the lordship of all of your life?
- “Better together”. How could you live so that you become an agent for God”s transformation in your bit of the world?