Theme: Jesus’ resurrection is the axis our whole faith turns on
Let the whole text speak for itself first, then reflect further with the verse to verse view
Psalm 16:7-11 – David the songwriter foresaw the resurrection
The Messiah will not be abandoned but will find the path of life
Peter quoted this psalm (vv.8-11) in his address on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:25-28, below.
7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
“My eyes… on the Lord” – like Psalm 23, faith and trust is emphasised. A warrior stationed to the right is placed to protect with the shield in the left hand.
9-10 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will You let Your faithful one see decay.
“You will not abandon me” – Paul, like Peter, applied this to Jesus’ resurrection when speaking at Pisidian Antioch, Acts 13:34-35.
11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.
“Joy in Your presence” – in the context of David’s song, the expectation of eternal glory for the faithful, but prophetic of Jesus and for His worshippers.
The Jewish early church knew that significant events didn’t just happen: they understood from Scripture that “the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets,” Amos 3:7.
We will see that Peter used these words to remind the crowd gathered at Pentecost that everything that had happened – the resurrection of Jesus in particular – was part of God’s plan.
How much do we value the Old Testament to give foundation to what we learn from the gospels and post-resurrection teaching?
John 20:19-31 – The resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples.
He breathes the Holy Spirit on them in an initial impartation
19-20 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
“The disciples were together” – the apostles and others, fearing arrest for being followers of Jesus. His appearance in a body through locked doors was miraculous.
21-23 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” And with that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
“As the Father has sent” – Jesus is sending them to continue His work but this verse gives the full Trinitarian mandate of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“Receive the Holy Spirit” – the first of a number of occasions of receiving, preparing them for the outpouring to come, Acts 1:4-5, 2:1-47. Anecdotally we can say that people who have had an experience of the Spirit’s infilling are more receptive to further impartations.
24-25 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus ), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
“Thomas” – missed Jesus earlier and thought the others had seen a ghost, Matt. 14:26. John is careful to affirm Jesus as the incarnate Word, resurrected with a real body.
• For further study, read John 1:14; 1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 7.
26-27 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
“My Lord and my God” – the climax of John’s gospel which he wrote to show Jesus as the Christ or Messiah who fulfilled God’s promises to Israel by being God in the flesh.
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Those who have not seen” – are at no disadvantage; Jesus points to later believers coming to personal faith through the testimony of others. 1 Peter 1:8, 2 Cor. 5:7.
30-31 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Written that you may believe… and… have life” – the emphasis of John’s gospel.
The apostles (now eleven) and other disciples saw Jesus alive, in a resurrection body and He had close fellowship with them. These two occasions mention Thomas the twin, not present the first time. A typical ‘late adopter’, he wants to be sure for himself. On the second appearance a week later, when Thomas was present, Jesus chides him, more in encouragement than rebuke. Thomas doesn’t need to ‘test the scars’ but expresses the one of the strongest statements of Jesus’ deity in the Bible, “My Lord and my God”, and John honours Thomas in making this moment the high point of his gospel account.
Do you talk about God a bit impersonally and generally – or do you readily praise “My Lord and my God”?
Acts 2:14a, 22-32 – Peter tells the crowd he witnessed the resurrection.
It happened as David had foretold in song, long before
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.
Addressed the crowd” – with a message typical of those repeated throughout the early church:
- promises of the OT fulfilled in life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ;
- apostles eyewitnesses of all Jesus’ ministry and His chosen representatives;
- call to repent and to believe; and
- salvation and Holy Spirit impartation for those who respond.
2 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know.
Miracles, wonders and signs” – proving Him to be Messiah and recalling Exodus 7:3, Deuteronomy 4:34-35.
3 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the Cross.
God’s… plan and foreknowledge” – God exercising permissive will which allows wicked men freewill while upholding His greater purpose.
4 But God raised him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.
“Death to keep its hold” – verse 36; Romans 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:12-20.
25-28 David said about Him [in relation to Jesus]: “ ‘I saw the Lord always before Me. Because He is at My right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore My heart is glad and My tongue rejoices; My body also will rest in hope, because You will not abandon Me to the realm of the dead, You will not let Your holy one see decay. You have made known to Me the paths of life; You will fill Me with joy in Your presence.’
“David said about Him” – writing Psalm 16, he had a prophetic insight about the death and resurrection of the Messiah to come.
9-32 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.“
“One of his descendants” – Peter explains the significance of his quotation. Jesus, a descendant of the great King David, was the very Messiah David foretold, even down to His miraculous resurrection.
Studying the preaching that was the style of the early church – there are about 30 examples – it is noticeable how the messages concentrate on a few key facts in a way that is quite repetitive. And the fact of the resurrection of Jesus and the eyewitness evidence of the apostles is central to the Good News they were sharing. They met on the day of the resurrection, to celebrate Jesus who is resurrected and very much alive!
How could we make the resurrection, and the present reality of Jesus, more of an emphasis in our gatherings?
1 Peter 1:3-9 – Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of our new hope
We can be reborn into new life because Jesus is alive
3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
“Praise be” – praise for the privileges God has given believers. Believing the resurrection of Jesus is the key to spiritual rebirth, John 3:3-8. This is our choice to enter into a new life and the promise of eternal life, a privilege which no circumstance can ever devalue.
4-5 This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
“Inheritance kept in heaven” – the promise for people of the new covenant in Jesus, safeguarded by faith and underwritten by the resources of heaven. Inheritance means both hope now and eternal fellowship with God to come.
6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
“Rejoice… trials” – the two sides to Christian faith. Conflicting values and allegiances bring testing, which the joy of new life in Jesus overcomes.
7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
“Genuineness of your faith” – as gold is refined in a necessary heat process, so trials refine and prove how certain we are of the final outcome with God. Peter’s readers who maintain faith without sin in trials shine like pure gold, bringing glory to God.
• For further study on refining, see Job 23:10; Psalm 12:6, 66:10; Proverbs 17:3; Isaiah 48:10; perhaps Jeremiah 11:4.
8-9 Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
“You have not seen him” – only a few believers had seen Jesus resurrected but before He ascended.
“Inexpressible and glorious joy” – the evidence of the new life in Jesus, v.3. The born-again Christian gains a deep inner gratitude and security in God’s love.
• More about the inner joy which is the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts on this page
The early church believers Peter was addressing faced out to a world hostile to their beliefs and values. Persecution and the trials it brought were real to them. It’s happening now! Our increasingly secular and politically-correct culture tries to block the expression of Christian faith and penalises those who uphold Christian values. Employees have been dismissed or disciplined, and businesses taken to court, for being true to their beliefs.
Peter acknowledges the reality of trials, but tells readers to hold on to the confidence given to them. As born-again believers, their destiny is certain and their faith guarded, by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. The resurrection of Jesus, he says, makes all the difference. Rejoice – because Jesus, who was dead, is now alive and with us, so we have a confident expectation of the final outcome. Being born again into new life puts us on a joyful path, an inheritance of salvation now and at the end time. We know we have a destiny with Jesus, who has risen, and we don’t fear death, because He has conquered death. So we face difficulties with the Holy Spirit’s inner joy, allowing them to grow us and bring out our best.
Have you been saved or are you being saved – or both? What does “receiving… the salvation of your souls” mean?
Jesus, Lord, You lived on earth and shared our life but unlike us, sin never caused you to stumble. Unlike us, You were perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit. And on our behalf, You suffered a horrific Roman execution and then were seen alive and engaging with Your disciples on the third day and afterwards. Thank You for holding out the offer of spiritual regeneration and new life. Thank You for being with us and sharing our lives now. Thank You that our human need to worship is not left imitating the example of someone who WAS, but is met fully in the new life of relationship and fellowship with someone who IS. Amen.
Is it true?
Some recommended further reading for you to check out the evidence for yourself. A cynical lawyer, a NT scholar and a journalist bring different approaches to the investigation.
Read the passage in its entirety first, then read again in the verse-to-verse form.
Read Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 text
A prophetic Passover psalm of thanks and praise foretells Christ’s victory and resurrection Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 verse-by-verse
Read John 20:1-18 text
Disciples discover an open, empty tomb with two angels present and then Mary Magdalene hears Jesus and holds Him John 20:1-18 verse-by-verse
Read Acts 10:34-43 text
Peter relates his story of Jesus to a Gentile household as one who stood by the Cross and the empty tomb Acts 10:34-43 verse-by-verse
Read Colossians 3:1-4 text
New life in Christ is about dying to independence, gaining a new mindset and above all, growing in Him Colossians 3:1-4 verse-by-verse
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 — Christ’s victory and resurrection foretold
A prophetic Passover psalm of thanks and praise
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever. 2 Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.”
“Give thanks…” – this Passover psalm was probably sung by Jesus on the night before His death.
14 The LORD is my strength and my defence; He has become my salvation.
“My strength and my defence” – Moses’ words, Exodus 15:2 and Isaiah 12:2.
15-16 Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The LORD’S right hand has done mighty things! The LORD’S right hand is lifted high; the LORD’S right hand has done mighty things!”
“The Lord… has done mighty things” – shouts and declarations of victory, in the camp – and prophetically, in heaven.
17-18 I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done. The LORD has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death.
“I will not die but live” – the experience of deliverance
19-20 Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.
“Gate of the Lord” – like a procession through the double eastern gates of the Temple, an allusion to heaven. Jesus declared Himself the gate to salvation, John 10:9 and these words, echoing Psalm 24, show the perfect King of glory to be the only One who can enter the gates of the Lord of His own accord.
21 I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation.
22-23 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes.
“Cornerstone” – the finest dressed stones were kept to set out the line and level of walls. Used in the OT of the Lord calling a true and submitted leader into a new work.
• For further study, see Isaiah 28:14-17; Zechariah 10:3-5 and also Mark 12:1-12. Paul taught the new work of God as the “new temple” where believers are “living stones” built around Jesus the cornerstone, Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-8.
24 The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.
More familiar as “This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” A powerful praise declaration, especially as speaking of the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This Passover psalm has so many allusions to Christ’s death being a victory, the means of salvation and the “gate” by which others can enter into salvation, it undergirds what we celebrate on Resurrection Sunday. Every line here speaks of Christ’s monumental achievement, from rejection by men to reserved selection by heaven, and its significance: the experience of God’s love for us, His strength, His gift of righteousness by which we can enter into salvation, thanksgiving – and joy. Christian faith is characterised by joy; joy comes from faith in Jesus.
Do others see in us, the joy of knowing Jesus?
John 20:1-18 — Mary Magdalene hears Jesus and holds Him
Disciples discover an open, empty tomb and two angels
1-2 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!”
“First day ” – Sunday, which the first believers set aside to remember the resurrection, Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2.
“While it was still dark” – she left home, arriving just after sunrise, Mark 16:2.
“Removed” – the circular stone, a metre across, requiring several people to roll it aside.
3-5 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.
“The other disciple” – author of this gospel John refers to himself obliquely, John 13:23.
6-7 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.
Cloth… lying in its place” – or folded. No grave robber would have removed the (expensive) linen cloths and left them neatly. A sign to the disciples of intentional ‘undressing’.
8-10 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
“The other disciple… saw and believed” – up to this point they had no expectation of what they now encountered. Their knowledge of the resurrection came through what they “saw and believed” which they later related to Scripture.
11-13 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.”
“Why are you crying” – not the right response, as Mary was about to discover.
14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.
“Did not realise” – people were sometimes prevented from recognising Jesus at first after He was risen. There are hints that His appearance, in resurrection body, was a bit different – like the encounter on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35.
• For further study, read John 21:4; Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:16, 37.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.”
“Thinking He was the gardener” – in the half light and through tears she did not see what she did not expect.
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’ ”
“I have not yet ascended” – Mary did not want to lose Jesus again and probably thought He would resume the former way of life. Like the others, she had yet to grasp the different reality of Jesus’ resurrected appearances, and then ascension.
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that He had said these things to her.
“Mary… went…with the news” – in Jewish culture a woman could not give witness in court. Mary, a woman healed from a broken life, had seen, heard and touched Jesus, and was now the bearer of the news to the others. No Jew of that time would make up such a story.
This story defies logic at every turn. The series of events were so surprising that it was recorded by sources of the time not sympathetic to Christians.
The stone that could not be moved, on a site under guard, Matthew 27:65-66, the neatly left grave wrappings, the dialogue with the angels, the physical contact with the risen Lord and the extraordinary choice of messenger – not to mention the raising to life of someone who had been proven to be dead on the Cross, John 19:33-34. There is too much here that we cannot rationalise.
The alternative is to accept that supernatural happenings point to a God far beyond human comprehension. To not understand is the right response, and to believe what we do not fully understand, is called faith.
Acts 10: 34-43 — Peter relates his story of Jesus to a Gentile household
34-35 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right.
“Does not show favouritism” – no partiality to Jewish ethnicity or a person’s station in life or religious standing. Every kind of person has the same welcome and the test for all is the sincerity of their believing and submitting to God. Peter has put in his own words the commission Christ gave the disciples before departing, Matthew 28:19-20.
36-38 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him.
“The message… sent to the people of Israel” – first, but never to be restricted to them, as “Lord of all” emphasises. “The good news of peace” and “Lord of all” are the language of Isaiah 52:7 and 57:19; Cornelius and his household were always to be included.
• For further study, see John 3:16; Luke 2:30-32, 24:47; Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16-17.
39-40 “We are witnesses of everything He did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed Him by hanging Him on a cross, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day and caused Him to be seen.
“We are witnesses” – Peter and the other disciples were with Jesus from the beginning, and saw the extraordinary events of His death and resurrection for themselves.
41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen — by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.
“Seen…by witnesses whom God had already chosen” – after His resurrection, Jesus showed Himself to believers, 1 Cor. 15:5-8, and ate with them, showing that He had been resurrected bodily, Luke 24:42-43; John 21:12-15.
42-43 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the One whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”
“He is the One” – based on their own observation, vv.39-41, the apostles could proclaim Jesus Christ the One foretold by the prophets, and believing in Him as the sole qualification for forgiveness of sins.
• For further study, the whole plan of the Scriptures focuses on Christ, Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; John 5:39.
If the resurrection of Christ is extraordinary and without parallel, then the idea of Gentiles serving the occupying forces becoming believers in the fullness of the Holy Spirit was unthinkable – until it happened. It goes against the grain that God should favour people who, to us, do not qualify. It offends the religious mind, but primes us to the different values that prevail in His kingdom.
How naturally can you talk about who Jesus is and what He has done for you?
Believers die to their independence and gain a new mindset
Colossians 3:1-4 — New life in Christ means growing in Him
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
“Above, where Christ is” – false teachers were turning the Way of Jesus into a religion of following temporal things, like Judaism.
2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
“Not on earthly things” – true spirituality is not about man-made rules but seeking a deeper relationship with Christ, Philippians 3:10, seeking His kingdom, Matt. 6:33 and living a life worthy of His name, Col. 1:10, 2:6.
3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
“Hidden with Christ in God” – language from the Psalms and Isaiah expressing security and hope from having a new nature which comes from a new identity imparted in the new birth; good works and service flow as a result of this.
4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
“Appear with Him in glory” – at His second coming, Rev. 19:11-13, 15-16.
Living in the knowledge of the resurrection of Christ is a call to live for Him, not in a dry memorial sense, but in active, growing partnership. Too easily this can degenerate into ritual and observance; partnership is all about relationship, a relationship in which we have given our sin-marred lives to Jesus.
The whole of the Bible, God’s revelation of Himself, turns on Christ’s victory by dying on the Cross and then His Resurrection to rule and reign eternally. But the perspectives are different, before and after the discovery of the empty tomb. Everything changes at this point. And everything in our lives changes, once we grasp the significance of it.
The only part we played in this was to help put Jesus in the Cross — our sin adding to the burden He carried. There is no good work or religious effort that could reduce that debt. We could only, as it were, watch as He paid the price for us as a suffering human but selfless and sinless sacrifice.
The Jesus we hear about now is not just a historical person, the miracle working Galilean. He is the One who has shown Himself to be Saviour and has conquered death and disempowered all the devil’s strategies. But more than that, we can know Him! Like Cornelius and his household, any of us, wherever we come from, whatever our position in life, can believe and choose to know Him personally. That decision is life-changing, and the big difference is being able to live differently as His Spirit changes us from within.
Which is the point of Paul’s reminder in his letter: “You have been raised with Christ — your life hidden in His.” This is the Good News — new life in Jesus.
Lord Jesus, as we especially focus on the discovery that Mary made — that You are alive! – help us to grasp more fully the magnitude of what you have done for us. And help us to live in it with joy, helping others to find that You are real. Amen.
Living in God’s word like well-watered trees, Psalm 1.
Image credit: Joni Shaffer
Church calendar readings for Sunday, May 13, in Bible order
Prepare for Sunday by reading and reflecting on the word for the week. Formerly this was structured with a passage to read and reflect on for each day, but I felt that was overly prescriptive. Use this as a weekly resource to divide up or come back to, as seems best to you. The principle of ‘having the Scriptures in us’ before hearing the Scriptures preached is well-proven, however. And it is a good stand-alone Bible study! –IanG
Ezekiel 36:24-28 – Living God’s way from within
Psalm 1 – Living like well-watered trees
John 17:6-19 – Living as those united by Jesus
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 – Living as witnesses that Jesus is alive
1 John 5:9-13 – Living the new life that the Son of God gives
The saying “Whoever has the Son has life” in 1 John 5:12 is like a headline over the theme that emerges from this week’s Sunday readings (you may only hear two or three of them in church). This is about living God’s way – living as those who belong to God through receiving Jesus – and give five complementary pictures of what that means.
= = = = = = =
Ezekiel 36:24-28 » Living God’s way from within
• In the regathering, the Holy Spirit is promised to be a personal enabler of righteous living
24 “ ‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.
“Out of the nations” – out of a pagan land.
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.
“I will cleanse you” – as Jews, they were defiled by ungodly pagan practices all around them, but also by their history that had caused the fall of Jerusalem.
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
This is a repeated theme in Ezekiel – a revelation the prophet caught and expressed at different times, Ezekiel 11:19, 18:31.
27 And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws.
The Law instituted by Moses and subsequently turned into a detailed ‘do this, don’t do that’ religious system was near-impossible to keep – as any religious system is for people trying to work it out in their own strength. To be empowered by the Holy Spirit to WANT to live right by God was to be a seismic change in the whole order of things, that would happen at Pentecost.
28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be My people, and I will be your God.
“Your God…My people” – the covenant language reminds hearers of God’s kind, not harsh, intentions. The relationship between God and His people would be restored.
When the relationship breaks down, God is always looking for ways to restore it, on His initiative. That was always part of His covenant promise. The covenant required His people to obey, but promised to treat them better than they deserved – with His unearned, faithful love – when things went wrong.
Life is like that. Relationships do get strained, damaged and broken. But in God’s view, that is not the end, but the beginning of a restoring process. This is God’s intentional work of renewal. He is always about this work of renewing and inviting us to see the need, and join Him.
These verses also set out a huge change: the Law instituted by Moses had not been working. Man has been created with free will, and that means there is an independent and at times wayward tendency in all of us. The promise of His Spirit was to counter that with a desire and therefore tendency to get better and better at both knowing and following God’s ways. We can only do that with His Holy Spirit in us – a heart change that comes as a result of us recognising who our Saviour Jesus really is, and inviting Him to reign in us.
Is God’s gift of new life an opportunity to decide for Him, or the start of a process of renewal that goes on in us and even through us?
Psalm 1 » Living like well-watered trees
• The righteous person who loves living in the Word is blessed in the relationship with God that brings
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.
“Blessed” – Happy or fortunate
Both Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 use the same word, hāgâ, to contrast the righteous person who “meditates” on God’s word, v.2, with Psalm 2:1 where God’s enemies “plot”, or meditate on, rebellion. Another part of the contrast is the determination of the righteous individual to seek God’s way, and not be swayed by the crowd of those who feel they know best, described as wicked mockers.
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.
“That person” – As in “blessed is the one” (v.1), the individual who goes against the more acceptable unbelieving crowd but who has a philosophy of life that is rooted in the Word. This is the way that “prospers”, knowing the constancy of God’s provision and protection rather than a life of blips and dips.
For further study see Jeremiah 17:5-8, Joshua 1:8, Matthew 6:33.
4-5 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
“The wicked” – showing a disregard for God and his Way. Not being anchored in God’s truth leaves us too lightweight and blown around by mere opinion, to be a good influence in the community (or church)
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
“Watches over” – an intimate, relational word. “Wicked – our ‘I know best’ independence casts us loose from the security of being held in relationship with God.
Those individuals who choose to go against the crowd and maintain a close relationship with God through His Word, are contrasted with the many who are disdainful.
There is no fast track to the prosperity of life that the Bible describes, which is a broad prosperity in which financial sufficiency is just a part. However, there are simple ways we can follow which attract God’s blessing and favour. Because God is essentially relational, these will all be ways for us to stay close to Him. The number one way is to learn to hear His voice, by reflecting on His revelation of Himself in His Word.
If we think we don’t need to read God’s Word and seek His guidance day by day, we are an accident waiting to happen. Independence doesn’t play out well for God who wants us to know His love and respond to Him in a relationship.
What is needed for a tree or shrub to prosper? How well does that picture what we need to grow well and true?
John 17:6-19 » Living as those united by Jesus
• Jesus’ prays for those that are His to be united in knowing God’s love and protected from the tendency to division
6-7 “I have revealed You to those whom You gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to Me and they have obeyed Your word. Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You.
“I have revealed You…” – there are two particular ways Jesus revealed the Father. Firstly, by being God in human form – God incarnate, the Word became flesh, John 1:14 – and secondly, by being the Way to the Father, John 14:6. See ‘In practice’.
8 For I gave them the words You gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent Me.
“They knew with certainty” – that what Jesus taught was from the Father and was truth. They would need more time to fit the pieces together to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection, and how the OT Passover lamb, priest, temple and suffering servant was fulfilled in Him.
9-10 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given Me, for they are Yours. All I have is Yours, and all You have is mine. And glory has come to Me through them.
11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name you gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one.
“That they may be one” – of one mind and heart about God’s purpose and their mission.
12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name You gave Me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
13-14 “I am coming to You now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of My joy within them. I have given them Your Word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.
“The world has hated them” – which is why we need the joy of belonging to Jesus to be our motivation. His way, as He is teaching here, also John 15:11, releases something deeper and stronger than happiness. When we get religious about what we think is correct or not, or competitive about our way rather than other ways, the joy (and the anointing) quickly fades.
15-16 My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.
Following Jesus brings its own protection, the New Covenant, and it also brings its own attack. Satan does not give up ground easily. We have to learn to live in the world, relating to people and policies that do not reflect our beliefs and values, while drawing our strength from the Father and our guidance from the Holy Spirit as those who are not of the world.
17-19 Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth. As you sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify Myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
Our coming to know Jesus, who is the truth, and our being empowered by the Spirit of Truth, does change us and set us apart for God – being sanctified, or made holy, in Bible language.
Jesus revealed the Father by giving us a key whereby we could come first to Him, and then know the Father: “I am the way… no one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really know Me, you will know my Father as well…”, John 14:6-7. Once we take that decision, there dawns an awareness of a wonderful one-ness we share with other believers who have come to the Father through Jesus, whatever stream they may worship with.
The difference between what is sometimes described as ‘churchianity’ and true organic Christianity is right here in this teaching by Jesus, about those who are His maintaining a united heart and witness. He knew that there would be a tendency for control and competition and division to creep in – that is man’s way – and He was teaching that His Way was not like that.
It is increasingly common for Christians to disregard denominational barriers to pray and worship together and especially to engage in outreach. Recently, outreach has been found to be particularly effective in towns where there is genuine friendship between different streams of the church, with Christians of different streams going out on the streets in threes. We are in it together, for our protection but also for His mission.
This passage makes it clear that we are not soldiers of the barracks but sent out. However, like soldiers, as soon as we step out, we start getting rather too well acquainted with the enemy of freedom and life, Satan. Togetherness and one-ness is vitally important. No one in Special Forces would ever need to be reminded of that!
What more could we do that would emphasise – and bring – the oneness we have as those who belong to Jesus?
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 » Living as witnesses that Jesus is alive
• The Twelve are made complete again to be solid witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection to new life.
15-17 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about 120) and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”
Peter was looked up to as a leader of the apostles in the gospel accounts and especially in the early times of the church described in the first few chapters of Acts. He had (v.20) spoken two well-known sayings from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 “May his place be deserted… May another take his place of leadership” which seem rather like a prophetic word to them to make the Twelve complete in number.
21-22 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who has been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
“Witness with us” – The two particular requirements were that the person was a witness to Jesus’ resurrection – many people encountered Him at this time, so that was not too difficult. But the other requirement was for their experience of Jesus to be similar to the remaining eleven, knowing Him for the three years of His ministry. The first apostles needed to be authoritative eyewitnesses of how Jesus showed Himself to be Messiah, against the denial and threats of the Jewish rulers.
23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.
24-26 Then they prayed, “Lord, You know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two You have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
“Casting lots” – possibly shaking marked stones in a jar until one fell out, a bit like our ‘heads or tails’ – is never mentioned again. It became obsolete at the coming of the Holy Spirit who Himself guides and leads God’s people.
Here we see God restoring the Twelve who keenly felt the loss and shame of one of their number who was the one who betrayed Jesus, and then died an unpleasant death in the field he bought with the bounty. It was a messy situation – but we see God’s hand in bringing restoration of the first team of eye-witness apostles.
God’s guidance is something we all seek, but we know it is an imperfect art, even with the help and guidance of prayer and the Holy Spirit. This snapshot taken just before the coming of the Holy Spirit shows them casting lots, and no doubt this was done prayerfully. A short time later, they were all much more confident about what they were hearing and seeing – not to mention much more bold in the face of people who wanted to flog them, or worse.
We find guidance today a challenge, but the lesson from this passage is that God uses many ways to guide, and if we give Him time and listen – they were doing plenty of that in the Upper Room – He does speak to us.
What ways do you know that churches use to choose leaders? Does it matter what way is used if it is done prayerfully?
1 John 5:9-13 (verses 6-8 added) » Living the new life that the Son of God gives
• The testimony about Jesus is incontrovertible
6-8 This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
9 We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about his Son.
“Human testimony” – Verse 9 needs the context of 6-8 to be understood. When Jesus encountered people who would not accept His testimony about Himself, He pointed them to His works, John 10:25. The Holy Spirit (Spirit of Truth) gives witness to who Jesus is, and John’s readers would mostly have experience of this, John 15:26. John calls two widely known works of God, Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion. Generally two or three witnesses were needed for human testimony. John calls three ultra-reliable witnesses of God Himself.
10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son.
“Whoever believes in…” – There’s a difference between believing that Jesus was a historical figure who did good and set an example to follow, and believing in Jesus, Son of God and crucified Saviour who I call my Saviour and Lord.
11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
To have the Son comes simply through turning to and believing in the Son. It is through faith in Christ, not any observances, that we have life, which is experienced as a new dimension of life now, as well as assurance of eternal life (v.13), John 14:6, Acts 4:12.
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
The Jewish religious leaders didn’t want to believe who Jesus was, let alone that Jesus is resurrected and alive. The followers of Gnosticism were a discordant strain in the early church who didn’t believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man, and John was writing partly to counter their unbelieving influence.
We get that today. There’s a lot of Christian religion that has been constructed around a set of beliefs and observances but with no recognition that the Lordship of Jesus and personal submission to Him comes first and holds central place.
John would say to us today, the baptism and transfiguration of Jesus both happened and the audible voice of God was heard to affirm His Son. No one seriously challenges that the crucifixion of Jesus happened – secular historians of the time noted it as an important event. But those who have turned to Jesus and believed in Him have their own inward witness, the witness of the Holy Spirit of God who brings a revelation and understanding that goes beyond what can be understood intellectually. They know. They have a new dimension of life which is close to a definition of Christian joy. And they are secure in themselves, held by the love of God and with the assurance of being in the early stages of eternal life with Him.
Have you been invited to pray this prayer? It’s always good to pray it again:
Lord Jesus, I turn to You now, believing that You are the only Son of God, who was born as man, lived a perfect life of obedience to Your heavenly Father, and then went willingly to a shameful execution to pay the price of my sins.
I ask that all my independence from God, my rebellion against God, my selfishness in wanting to be the master of my own destiny – all my sin, past present and future – be put under the cleansing of Your blood shed in your death on that Cross.
And I ask, Jesus, that You fill me with Your Holy Spirit now, to give me revelation of what I do not understand, that I might know the fullness of new life with Your peace, and be empowered to learn to walk with You in life, join You on Your mission and then dwell with You always. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.
This is a big decision that will bring release and joy, but a decision that will be tested as well. Talk it over with your parish priest, pastor, or trusted Christian friend so that you have some prayer and practical companionship on this exciting leg of your journey with God!
The emerging message – empowered to live out the Way
The early disciples of Jesus were known as followers of the Way before they were known as Christians, Acts 11:25-26. They were followers of the Way of God, not the rigid and religious way the Pharisees would have people do it, but the new Way and new life demonstrated by Jesus.
This Way was foretold by Ezekiel who saw in the Spirit a picture of the old, hard, stone-like ‘heart’ which is our inner being – the heart of our desires and motivations – being replaced with a new feeling, sensitive, spiritual heart, alive to God. With this new heart, the Way of God would no longer be a drudge but a joy, not hard-won by effort but experienced through exploration.
The ‘exploration’ is allowing God to speak to us through His word. Psalm 1 puts this rather formally as “the law of the Lord” but says this is something we can delight in. Exploration is fun. When we sense God speaking to us personally through words and phrases that are eternal, it is exciting. The “wicked”, who think they know best, miss out on all of this, but being rooted in God’s word is how we live fruitful lives, following God’s Way.
Everyone who belongs to Jesus has a special affinity with everyone else who belongs to Jesus, although the churches or buildings we gather in to worship may have very different names and represent different styles. That one-ness is spiritually powerful, not just in terms of mutual encouragement, but because the humble prayer “when two of you… agree” Matthew 18:19 is the prayer with God’s power behind it. Jesus, knowing the heavenly principle of one-ness, prayed that believers would be protected in it, knowing full well that the enemy of souls who comes to kill, steal and destroy the new life John 10:10 would be active in sowing distrust, competition and division. The world sees churches in competition, and sometimes they are. The Way of Jesus has nothing to do with this form of pride and everything to do with collaboration.
The Way of the Lord leads us to the Cross, a place where we can be real about those things in our life and attitudes which grieve God but also the place where we can lay them down and receive the forgiveness that cancels the record of sin. The Way of Jesus doesn’t leave us there, but propels us into new life beyond the Cross, the life that is lived in the presence of Jesus who is alive. The first apostles needed to be a full number, strong in their resolve to face persecution in proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. The Way of Jesus for us, is to know and to tell others that He is alive, a very real and also approachable Saviour and Lord.
Those who know Him – “whoever has the Son” – have a dimension of life and joy that is infectious. We are the testimony to who Jesus is, the Son of God, because the Holy Spirit in us testifies, not just to us but through us to others.
As present-day Followers of the Way, we have a new heart and reborn spirit, we have the delight of the Scriptures speaking to us, we have the unity with other believers, the excitement about the resurrection and a desire to be a testimony and witness to others. The Way of God is to walk with Jesus who told people “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” John 14:6. Whether by actions, or attitudes, or perhaps by words of explanation, we have both the responsibility and also the privileged and empowered commission, to show the One who is the Way of God to a world that needs Him.
FRIDAY, MAY 4
1 John 5:1-6
True believers who love God will always be known for loving other believers – His children
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well.
“Born of God” – born again, the spiritual rebirth. John quotes a common saying to emphasise that true believers who love the Father, will be known for their also loving other believers, His children.
2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands.
Having said earlier that love for one another is evidence that we love God, 1 John 4:7-8, 20; the other side of the coin is that loving God is inseparable from loving His way of unconditional love and therefore being loving towards all who are His children.
3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome,
Following the way that God loves to see in us may at times be demanding but that is not the same as being under a heavy burden. If we are His, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be like Him in attitude and action; through faith, rather than effort, it comes (super)naturally.
4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
“Born of God” – the decision to believe and trust Jesus as Lord is a spiritual rebirth. If we have decided to allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives, that is a decision (v.4) by which we have ‘overcome’ the pull of the world’s values, to live by His values. It is also (v.5) an ongoing overcoming of sin and selfishness and independence in victorious Christian living.
6 This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
“By water” – Jesus was empowered for His ministry at baptism, a ministry which reached its fulfilment “by blood” at the Cross. In this letter, John has emphasised that Jesus was fully God and fully man – the Son of God as was confirmed at His baptism, but also the Son of God, confirmed again, at His death.
Being born again comes as a result of trusting and owning who Jesus is as the Son of God – and asking Him to be Lord of your attitudes and decisions and actions. It’s a big decision, and it results in a big change. A new spiritual person with a new nature emerges – more forebearing and forgiving, and a one-ness with other believers which transcends the different emphases of denominations. Christians love unity and love fellowship, and are generous-spirited to people who don’t hold the same beliefs and values.
Of course, not all who profess to be Christian are like that. In every church there’s good and bad, affirming and judgmental – a mixed bag. But the point John is making is that it’s easy to tell who belongs to the Lord, because they will be the ones who are the comfortable people to be around.
Living in God’s love, John emphasises, must result in living in God’s love towards others, or else it isn’t real. It isn’t a heavy burden, something to strive for. The more open we are to allowing Jesus to work in us – or allowing His Spirit to work in us – the more we’ll find ourselves doing and saying what he would do.
For reflection and discussion
The world looks to find fault, looks for someone to blame, looks to protect its own interests. How good or bad are we at doing what Jesus would do, and as John puts it, overcoming the world?
The emerging message
We live in a fast-changing world and it can seem that our church traditions are the only anchors we have to avoid being swept away.
The problem is, the kind of religious security we crave is nowhere found in Scripture, but the challenge to the early church of adapting to the missionary task among different people in different lands and cultures is everywhere.
God’s ways are higher, but we praise Him because He is always about bringing life change through salvation.
Jesus gave us the capacity to receive His love and joy by staying prayerfully and spiritually close to Him and His ways. It’s life-changing for us and our lives in Him can be fruitful and life-changing for others around if we let Him work through us. However, the message seems to be that God never stays still, and constant change is the only thing that is here to stay.
Peter’s experience was in many ways the most shocking, but the most joyful. Arrested by the audible voice of God speaking to him and showing him in a vision that he needed to reinvent himself as a disciple, he saw a move of the Holy Spirit he couldn’t have anticipated. The rule book he had known all his life had been torn up and his journey with God had changed forever.
Our fast changing world needs our message, but although the message does not change, the way of telling the story and presenting the invitation must change to remain relevant. As we see in this week’s readings, God knows this and is ready to show us – if, like Peter, we listen and learn.