The Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, February 23, 2020
Theme: The mountain top encounters which reveal God’s plan for us
Exodus 24:12-18 – God summons Moses to wait on Mt Sinai and meet Him
After six days he hears God call and enters the cloud
Matthew 17:1-9 – God’s voice is heard as Jesus is transfigured
Jesus named as God’s Son gave the disciples confidence about God’s plan
2 Peter 1:16-21 – Jesus will surely come again as Scripture tells us
An eyewitness reminds us to pay attention to the prophetic message
Exodus 24:12-18 — God summons Moses to wait on Mount Sinai and meet Him
After six days he hears God call and enters the cloud
12 The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”“Come up to Me” — at this time of establishing the first covenant, only Moses could draw near to God.+ Good News for us: By contrast, under the post-resurrection second covenant we are all called to draw near to God, which we are enabled to do through Jesus. Read Matthew 7:7-11, Hebrews 4:4-16, Hebrews 7:19, Hebrews 10:22, James 4:8.
“I will give you the tablets” — first mention of the divine directives inscribed on stone. The custom for ancient Near Eastern treaties was for each party to deposit a copy in the other’s temple, which might explain the two tablets. In this case both God’s copy (tablet) and man’s would be kept in the Ark of the Covenant.
13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God.
Joshua his aide – first mention of Joshua in this significant role. It appears that Joshua helped Moses on the climb up Mount Sinai but was not ‘cleared’ to come right into the presence of the Lord.
14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”
“Hur” – previously mentioned in the battle with Amalek when Hur helped Aaron hold up Moses’ hands in praise as the battle below them on the plain proceeded.
15-16 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud.
“Six days… seventh” – a possible allusion to creation. Moses and Joshua waited on God in faithful worship, in the tradition of Abraham’s faithfulness. By contrast, the Israelites did not wait as instructed, but broke their vigil and began to worship a golden calf, Exodus 32.
17 To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.“Glory of the Lord” – a plainly visible and brilliant presence. Moses had seen such a fire in the burning bush, Exodus 3:2.
18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.“Moses entered” – and Joshua stayed outside the cloud while Moses stayed “forty days”, a term meaning a long time rather than an exact duration.
Moses was tested by a series of difficulties as he prepared to meet God on the mountain.
- He had met God previously at the burning bush encounter (Exodus 3:6) and that memory of encountering God in His majesty and holiness was a still a frightening one.
- This mountain ascent was difficult.
- He would have to leave the rather wayward tribes to their own devices for a time – it turned out to be weeks, not days.
- He would have to draw on faith, trust and patience in large measure, going where no one else could go, doing what for another person would spell certain death by coming face to face with God Almighty.
God often tests and stretches our faith when we need His direction – He needs to know, and perhaps we need to know, whether we are sincere about seeking Him.
The huge shift from Moses’ time to us now, is that drawing close to God is no longer a privilege restricted to Moses and his priestly family. ANY believer who has submitted to Christ as lord of their lives has become part of His new priesthood, the new order of the post-resurrection New Testament. Anyone who has chosen to submit to Christ as their Lord can freely draw near to God, for themselves – or standing in the gap for others.
Looking back, where has your faith been tested and how have you grown through it?
Matthew 17:1-9 – God’s voice is heard as Jesus is transfigured
Jesus named as God’s Son gave the disciples confidence about God’s plan
1 After six days Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
“After six days” – following Peter’s breakthrough declaration of Jesus being the Christ (or Messiah), Matt. 16:16-17. Luke counts the time as eight days. Matthew, writing for mainly Jewish readers, makes the allusion to Moses waiting six days on Mt Sinai.
2 There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.
“He was transfigured” – His appearance dramatically changed. “His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes.” (The Message).
“His face shone” – recalling how Moses was transformed as he encountered God’s glory, Exodus 34:29-30, 35.
3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus
“There appeared… Moses and Elijah” – with similarities to Moses’ experience on the mountain, now clearly showing Jesus to be unique and superior to these renowned historic figures who represent the law and the prophets respectively.
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
“Three shelters” – shelters as memorials (NLT) or tabernacles, as in the feast of tabernacles. All Jewish men were used to constructing such tents. Peter simply wanted to preserve and commemorate the moment.
5 While He was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!”
“A bright cloud” – following the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the presence and the shekinah, visible glory of God, covers them. As in Moses’ encounter, Exodus 24:16, the voice of God comes from the cloud. They hear His voice pronounce the same words as at Jesus’ baptism, Matt. 3:17, with the addition of the command to listen to Him.
“Listen to Him!” – from Deuteronomy 18:15. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, has come to fulfil a messianic purpose in which He speaks for God. The disciples must hear this.
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.
“Facedown… terrified” – the fear of God is the awesome reality of the reality of God’s presence. This is a scene which would make anyone terrified, but Jesus’ intention is to reveal… and encourage.
7-8 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
“They saw no one” – the experience was not to be prolonged.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
“Don’t tell” – the purpose of the visitation was to reveal Christ for who He was, but an essential part of that, the significance of the His death and resurrection, would be understood by them only later. They could not explain what they did not yet fully understand.
The problem with the big and often terrifying encounters with God is that we tend to think we need to be invited to meet Him on a mountain.
Mountains can certainly be ‘thin places’ where the curtains of heaven seem more ready to draw back a little, and allow us a glimpse within. But we, as present-day aspiring disciples of Jesus, are charged to be ready for Him at any time — prepared For His return. We should be just as ready and expectant for His everyday fellowship, or to use the older word, communion.
Communion? Again, sharing the cup and breaking the bread with one another is special way to experience the fellowship of the Lord, unseen but present in the gathering. But that’s only one way, a way that is also communion with others of the fellowship, meeting wit h the Lord together. You can meet Him any time. What about being ready to step aside, go somewhere quiet and different, and wait on Him for whatever He will give you? Not because you should, but because you can.
God’s word to the frightened disciples was “Listen to Him!” How good or not very good are you, at listening to Jesus and taking on board what He says?
2 Peter 1:16-21 – Jesus will surely come again as Scripture tells us
An eyewitness reminds us to pay attention to the prophetic message
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
“Cleverly devised stories” – literally ‘invented myths’, which was the accusation made by false teachers who were dismissing the promise of Christ’s return and judgment. Peter relates his irrefutable firsthand experience and warns against this heresy, 2 Peter 3:3-4.
“Eyewitnesses of His majesty” – Peter, James and John witnessed the transfiguration, which revealed Jesus as the Son and gave a foretaste of His return as king of His eternal kingdom..
• For further study, see Matt. 17:1-8 (above) and Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36.
17 He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
“The Majestic Glory” – Jews were anxious about using God’s name and ‘The Glory” was a form of words to overcome this; for Jews it would reinforce the connection between Jesus’ transfiguration and Moses’ encounter on Mt Sinai.
18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.
“We ourselves heard this voice” – corrupt and deceiving church leadership was a problem the apostles frequently faced. They had staked their lives on the certainty of the gospel, and their eyewitness status added to their unique call by Jesus as the true authorities of His Church.
19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
“Also… the prophetic message” – the Hebrew Scriptures we call the Old Testament. Peter is saying that the written Scriptures are even more authoritative than his personal experience of being with Jesus.
“Completely reliable” – Peter is saying that his first-hand experience of hearing God’s audible voice, something hard to dismiss, gives evidence to what the prophets had said about the Messiah, and His coming as Lord of all, at the end time.
“Until the day dawns… the morning star rises” – Jesus’ kingly return. Peter’s point is to keep going back to the prophetic Scriptures until the Second Coming finally happens.
20-21 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
“Prophets… spoke from God as… by the Holy Spirit” – Scripture was written by hand of someone anointed and filled with the Holy Spirit. Therefore the understanding of Scripture is not down to human opinion (as with the false teachers) but by the Spirit-filled church as whole.
God has revealed Himself to Moses and revealed His Son to three of the disciples. The clear and divinely-inspired message of Scripture all points to who Jesus is: the majestic Son of God who came to offer a path of salvation to all who would believe in Him, and who promised to return at the end of the era to rule over a fair and harmonious kingdom.
Who Jesus is and His vital role in our lives and eternal life is revelation that takes place in our hearts as we take the step of faith that says “yes” to Him as a decision of trust. We don’t know Him and then decide to trust Him — we trust Him to know Him. It is like the bright planet Venus heralding the dawn and then light coming into our hearts. Jesus is real, He is the Son of God who rules and reigns in heaven and He will come to earth again to establish His eternal Kingdom.
What is your story about taking the step of faith that says “yes” to trusting God? At what point did you grasp the reality of who Jesus is, and how did that move you to respond to Him?
Dear Father, You may not often call us up a mountain to talk to us, but You do reveal Your plans to us in many ways as we seek you. Enliven us by Your Holy Spirit to hear You, to perceive Your kingdom purpose over and above the conflicts and complexities of life, and to know how we should pray and join You in what you are doing. To the glory of Jesus, Amen.
TLW06A. Sunday, February 16, 2020
Theme: Loving God is living a transformed life in Jesus
The Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, Feb 16, 2020
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 — Choose to love God and choose life
The way of life that works is single-minded worship of God
Matthew 5:21-37– The spirit of the law is fulfilled in Jesus
Disciples know how God’s law works and don’t look for ways around it
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 — New life in Jesus is life in the Spirit not the flesh
The church isn’t about people’s preferences but God’s plan
Also read: Psalm 119:1-8
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 — Choose to love God and choose life
The way of life that works is single-minded worship of God
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.
“I set before you today” – With the Israelites close to entering the Promised Land, Moses reminds them to choose for God, in ways that “are not too difficult for you… a word… that is in your heart so you may obey it.”
“Life and… death” – stark opposites: one way bringing God’s blessings of life, the other the withholding of divine blessing, Psalm 1:6, 23:6.
+ Good News for us: Jesus offered us His own way to enable us to make a choice for life, Matt. 7:13-14, John 5:24, John 14:6.
16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to Him, and to keep His commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
“To love the LORD your God” – paraphrasing the Shema saying, Deut. 6:5, Matt. 22:37. Loving God results in walking in obedience.
17-18 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
“This day” – don’t delay responding to God’s call, it is dangerous to assume that there will be another chance: Moses’ point.
19-20 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him. For the LORD is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
“Now choose life” – applying first to the Israelites successfully settling their new land, but also echoing down the centuries, through Jesus’s words and to us today.
+ Good News for us: Psalm 36:9; Micah 6:6-8; John 11:25-26, John 17:3; Gal. 2:20.
The covenant the Jewish nation enjoyed with God had many facets, but they all came down to one thing, the Shema saying, Deut. 6:4-5, that every Jew recited every day: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”.
This passage is a paraphrase and a reminder of that. Their success, property and peace came from choosing to trust God. Their love and respect of Him would show by living and relating the way He wanted.
It’s a very simple principle we’ll see unfolded in the way Jesus taught people the real meaning of the law, and Paul exhorting the early church in Corinth to raise their game and live as spiritual people. God created us, and loves us, and all those years ago He simply asked people to catch His heart – as He is asking us today.
What does loving the Lord your God mean to you? How would you show it?
Matthew 5:21-37– The spirit of the law is fulfilled in Jesus
Disciples know how God’s law works and don’t look for ways around it
21-22 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
“You have heard… it… said” – Jewish teachers were fond of adding “But I say…” And adding some rules of their own. Jesus does this to untangle well-known commands of the law, saying that the true spirit of the law needed more than external obedience. Jesus does not correct the OT but addresses misunderstandings commonly held at that time. The Pharisees considered they had kept this law – not killing anyone – yet were angry enough at Jesus to plot His death.
“Anyone who murders… anyone who is angry” – taking the sixth commandment, Jesus says that unresolved hatred or anger, and murder of reputation, is just as serious.
“Raca” – empty-headed and immoral, an Aramaic curse word.
23-24 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
“First… be reconciled” – first, before offering sacrifice in worship. God welcomes offerings only from those who act justly. For the hearers of Jesus’ time, for the sacrifice to be worthy, this meant leaving the “gift” (sacrifice) at the altar in Jerusalem (the only place where sacrifices were offered) and going to be reconciled with Him in Galilee, a three day journey away, before returning to Jerusalem to make the sacrifice.
• For further study, Genesis 4:4-7; Proverbs 15:8; Isaiah 1:11–17; Jeremiah 6:20; Amos 5:21–24.
25-26 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
“Settle matters quickly” – “Make friends quickly” (NASB), “Don’t lose a minute – make the first move, make things right with him (The Message). Jesus emphasises being proactive.
“The judge… prison” – someone unable to pay a debt could be in prison for the rest of their lives. It an allusion to the heavenly Judge, and to hell, v.30 below.
27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
“Anyone who looks… lustfully” – Jesus uses the word from the tenth commandment, about coveting a neighbour’s wife, linking this with the seventh which prohibited adultery. Adultery of the heart, the intention, is equivalent to the action.
29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
“Right hand… right eye” – graphic overstatement to make a point: the hand represents an immoral action and the eye represents an immoral intention.
“Hell” – the place of eternal punishment for the Devil and those who die without receiving Christ, a banishment associated with the final judgment. Hell is characterised by despair and anguish, Matt. 25.30, and awareness of the total absence of God, Psalm 88:3-5. Jesus was clear about the reality of not “choosing life” in Him, Deut. 30:19 above.
31-32 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Divorce” – in Jesus’ day there were two main Pharisee positions, both requiring divorce for marital infidelity (Joseph’s quandary over Mary, Matt. 1:19). The Rabbi Shammai permitted remarriage for sexual infidelity; Rabbi Hillel permitted divorce for “any good cause.” Some Pharisees were taking “a woman who becomes displeasing…indecent”, Deut 24:1, as allowing divorce for trivial ‘failings’. Here and in Matt. 19:3-9, Jesus reflects God’s original intention that marriage should be a permanent union of a man and woman as “one flesh”, Mark 10:8.
33-35 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.
“Swear an oath” – the OT recognised oaths as guarantees, but Jesus wanted His disciples to have integrity such that their word was its own assurance.
36-37 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
“Do not swear by” – anything God has made, and so risk being like the Devil who tried to usurp authority that is God’s alone.
Jesus’ teaching for the followers gathered on the hillside linked the Old Covenant and His kingdom life. The legal framework from Moses with all its commands and prohibitions was directive. It tempted formality-lovers like the Pharisees into a legalistic way of thinking, where living well was about doing more of the right things, and not doing the wrong things. More and more right and wrong things kept on being added to this.
Jesus brought people back to the heart of how God intended His people to live – forgiving, reconciling, honouring, and above all, loving – and the new and freer way of being His disciples. Their challenge in being disciples of Jesus is the same for us – learning to live, not by rules, but by making our own good choices, the choices He would have us make as His as His followers.
Why is it that making good life choices as those who live for Jesus can seem harder than having a set of rules?
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 — New life in Jesus is life in the Spirit not the flesh
The church isn’t about people’s preferences but God’s plan
1-2 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.
“As people who live by the Spirit” – literally “as spiritual people”.
Paraphrased as “Right now, friends, I’m completed frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God” (The Message).
“As people who are still worldly” – “you are still carnal” (NKJV), “people of the flesh”, ESV. They were not like “the person without the Spirit” of 1 Cor. 2:14; they were Christians, who had given their lives to Christ and were indwelt by His Spirit, but they had not grown and were still spiritually immature, easily falling back into the ways of the old pre-Christian selfish nature.
“Milk… meat” – Paul had given them starter nourishment: the Good News of Jesus, who He was, and what He had done for them through His death and resurrection. He questions whether they have grasped the fundamentals enough to receive the “meat” of more doctrinal teaching about the kingdom of God.
3-4 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
“Still worldly… acting like mere humans” – a rebuke to people who had made a commitment to Christ, with Paul saying that no one could tell the difference. The evidence is in the rivalries and conflicts and the following of personalities instead of allegiance to Christ alone.
5-6 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
“Only servants” – Paul, a church-planting apostle, had started the church and Apollos exercised a significant ministry after he left. But Paul calls them just servants who the Lord has assigned to their task. The implication is, that they are answerable to Him, not to critics.
7-8 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour.
“One purpose” – apostles and teachers share the aim, to proclaim and teach the gospel and equip people to mature. But it is “only God… makes things grow” – all salvation and growth is God’s work of grace, so the glory goes not to any servant, but to Him.
9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
“God’s field, God’s building” – faithful husbandry recognises that the crop growth that follows is from God, and reliable builders construct according to the architect’s plan and specifications.
Jesus has died, and has risen, the Spirit has been poured out, and gatherings of people, churches of people who are following the Way of Jesus have sprung up all across Palestine and Roman Asia. Now there are churches in Macedonia and Corinth – a very different culture.
These Greek converts had found new life in Jesus, and were excited to discover the empowering the Spirit. However, it was a mixed-up kind of progress because they still carried a lot of their old way of life, their rivalry and rhetoric, and wanted to put their leaders on pedestals instead of exalting Jesus as Lord of His church.
A lot changes when we give our lives to the Lord and become Christians, but we all bring some baggage with us; growing up in the Lord is learning to recognise those hindrances that we don’t need or want, and knowing how in Christ Jesus we can let them go.
We all know something of the the way our selfish nature fights the spiritual nature. What helps you to grow spiritually?
Thank you, Jesus, that You came to be the fulfilment of the Law and give us a much better way to live for God – by belonging to You. Empower us by Your Spirit to draw others to Your light, by showing how much we love God by living in His way of love. Amen.
Sunday, February 9, 2020.
Theme: What it means to be a worshipper of God and a disciple of Jesus
Old Testament reading. Isaiah 58:1-12 – The people of Israel’s hypocrisy has cut them off from God. A lesson on the difference between paying God lip-service, and heart-felt worship and obedience.
Gospel reading. Matthew 5:13-20 – Worshipping God is respecting His Word in its entirety, as Jesus did, and His disciples of Jesus are to be salt and light to a corrupt world.
Epistle reading. 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 – What is humanly difficult to grasp, becomes clear when revealed spiritually. The reality of the Cross is the wisdom of God.
Isaiah 58:1-12 – Not lip-service but heart-felt worship and obedience.
The people of Israel’s hypocrisy cuts them off from God
1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to My people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
“Do not hold back” – Isaiah’s warning about the danger from rebellion and hypocrisy was to be as clear as a ‘trumpet call pronouncement’, Exodus 19:19; 20:18; Hosea 8:1; 1 Cor. 14:8
2 “For day after day they seek Me out; they seem eager to know My ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask Me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.
“Seek me out… seem eager” – the hypocrisy fleshed out. The people seek God while in their actions rejecting Him.
3 ” ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and You have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
“Fasted… and You have not seen it” – God has not responded because the fast was their idea, and the rest-day Sabbath (His idea) is being defiled by their harsh, unfair treatment.
4-5 “Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
“Only a day” – but not honouring God on the other six, and even on that day there is violence along with a show of religious observance – a mixed message.
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
“The kind of fasting” – if Israel was going to give something up, far better to give up exploitation and the “yoke” of social oppression. True devotion brings an awareness of injustice and need for change.
7 “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
“Light break forth” – salvation, bringing joy and prosperity in the Lord. This light would dawn with the coming of Christ.
“Righteousness… rear guard” – a picture of an advance secured by the vanguard in front and rearguard behind. Israel’s righteous relationships would clear the way for God’s presence and prosperity. “The glory” recalls the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness, Exodus 13:21, 14:20 and Isaiah 4:5-6.
• For further study, read v. 10 below and Isaiah 9:2, 10:17, 59:9, 60:1–3; Luke 1:78, 79.
9-10 “Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: “Here am I.”
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
“The LORD will answer” – similar to Isaiah 30:19 where the context is Yahweh longing to show Himself gracious, when the people turn to Him from their stand of independence. The turn here must be a change from false accusation and oppression to compassionate heart.
11-12 The LORD will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
“Rebuild the ancient ruins” – broken-down Jerusalem in 6th C BC was a symbol of human failure. Nehemiah would lead a rebuilding, and then Jesus would come as the light in the darkness with the Good News of salvation and streams of living water.
The OT era was a time of laws, sacrifices and priests, while the post-resurrection time we live in has none of those things because of the grace, or enabling, of God by His Spirit, whereby we have His law in our hearts to live out as a set of values.
However, the people of Isaiah’s time went off track in the formal, religious system of their time. We also make the same mistake in our more relational way of worshipping God, who we can know personally through Jesus. It’s hard work keeping up a relationship with God, and the human temptation is to create a manageable, repeatable form of devotion instead of the harder work of seeking Him afresh.
- Maybe God is prompting us through this passage to pause, think about our relationship with Him and catch His heart afresh.
How eager are we to really know God’s ways? How do stray into we paying Him lip-service?
Matthew 5:13-20 – Disciples of Jesus are to be salt and light
Worshipping God is respecting His Word, as Jesus did
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“Salt of the earth” – first of two metaphors about disciples of Jesus being being the presence of Jesus to who guard against the world’s corruption (like salt preserving food) as a distinct flavour. Salt that “has lost its saltiness” isn’t salt, but a similar-looking mineral deposit is only good for making paths.
14–16 “You are the light of the world” – because Jesus is the light of the world, while He is in the world, John 8:12 and 9:5, and Jesus’ disciples have the Spirit of Jesus and kingdom life in them.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
“Not come to abolish but to fulfill” – Jesus was accused of overturning the Law, but His antagonists couldn’t understand His answer, that He came to fulfill it – all of it, right down to the tiniest single-stroke letter, the yod.
19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
“These commands” – all the commands in the OT, although many have been fulfilled in Christ and others will be applied differently. This teaches us to receive the word of God in its entirety, as Jesus did, while thinking of how He taught its meaning and intention.
To be a worshipper of God and a disciple of Jesus is a call to be different and possibly unpopular in a world of people who are happy to be self-determining and human-centred – but perishing. The kingdom of God can be a perceived as a threat, before it is received as the Good News of living in what God has done for us.
Jesus followers are called to be followers of Jesus, the Person, who reflect His light and His presence through submitted and joyful lives. Either our witness has the distinctive flavour of salt, or it is something else. Either the light of Jesus in us is seen for what it is, or it isn’t light, it’s just a disconnected bulb.
- Salt is always salty and light is always visible, and the presence of Jesus in us, the energising of the Spirit of Jesus, produces both – as much as we let Him.
How do I respond to that call and keep it up. Is that about me as an individual, or us a connected body?
1 Corinthians 2:1-16 – The wisdom of God is the reality of the Cross
1-2 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
“Eloquence” – or the “lofty words and impressive wisdom”, NLT, the Corinthians expected of a visitor, someone to be judged as a speaker. But Paul ignored the ‘proper form’ and went all out on the blunt, uncomfortable message of the Cross and Christ’s self-sacrifice for them.
3-5 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
“Fear and trembling” – Paul faced his audience in Corinth as an inadequate, nervous orator, but the power of God that came when He spoke was unmistakable – and it couldn’t have been him!
6-8 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
“Wisdom among the mature” – spiritual wisdom from God is spiritually discerned by spiritually aware people, and “The person without the Spirit…considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them…”, v.14 below. Hence the salvation of sinners through Jesus’ death on the Cross is “a mystery that has been hidden”, which none of the temple hierarchy understood: when they were sentencing Christ to crucifixion they could not see that it was God’s plan for His glory, and for ours.
9-10 However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” – the things God has prepared for those who love Him – these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
“What no eye has seen” – Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4 and 65:17 to show that regular seeing, hearing, reckoning cannot grasp the good things God has in store for those who put their trust in Him; a trust that invites the Holy Spirit to reveal what we could not otherwise know.
11-13 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.
“Who knows” – only we know our own mind. Similarly, the mind of God is known only by God’s Spirit. God has chosen to make Himself known through Jesus His Son, and through the Holy Spirit with the Word giving believers revelatory insight of the spiritual realities.
14-16 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
“Judgments” – the Holy Spirit-influenced person can make spiritual discernments, but should distance themselves from being judged in a human and unspiritual way.
“The mind of Christ” – by walking closely with the Lord, we are given insight by Word and Spirit of what He is saying and thinking.
Our third facet of what is means to be a disciple of Jesus and a worshipper in Spirit and reality is the explanation Paul gives of how Holy Spirit revelation works for believers.
He is explaining this for the converts in Corinth, brought up in a Greek culture that prized intellectual and philosophical understanding. We are also products of this kind of first world, ‘western’ mind set and we, too, have to let go of relying on what is rational, and allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal a different picture.
- When we allow the Spirit freedom, we find He has a whole repertoire of ways to show His power – which is always lifegiving and encouraging.
If Paul came to speak at our church, where might he clash with our expectations?
Lord, as we pray about our world and its social breakdown and injustices, its aimlessness and selfishness, we are getting the message that You need an army of disciples to be beacons and agents of purification for You. A humanly impossible task, but You have given us Your Spirit and it is up to us how closely we walk with You. We can grow in knowing Your mind and Your leading. Humbly we offer ourselves as apprentices of Jesus, for His sake. Amen.
Print version, A4 folded to A5 as pdf (file link above) or image (below)
Sunday, February 2, 2020
Theme: Doing or believing: What does the Lord really require of me?
Old Testament reading from Micah 6:1-8 — Israel is challenged about its false priorities, a lesson for us on learning to imitate the Lord rather than trying to appease Him
Gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12 — The values of the kingdom headlined as the Sermon on the Mount, sets out what godly heart attitudes look like
Epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 — The example of Christ crucified makes no sense except to those being saved, who make the choice of God’s power and wisdom over man’s understanding
Also read: Psalm 15
Micah 6:1-8 — How the Lord wants us imitate Him rather than appease Him
Israel is challenged about false priorities
1 Listen to what the Lord says: “Stand up, plead My case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.
“My case before the mountains” – which are enduring, solid witnesses to God’s covenant.
2 “Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against His people; He is lodging a charge against Israel.
“Hear… listen… a case against” – Micah prophetically speaks to the mountains (which had seen everything) about the people’s unfaithfulness to the covenant.
3 “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer Me.
“What have I done” – the Lord, Yahweh, takes the stance of a defendant.
4 “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.
“Out of Egypt” – the miraculous deliverance that defined Israel as God’s chosen nation.
5 “My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.’
“Remember your journey” – from Acacia Groves (Heb. Shittim) west across the Jordan River into Gilgal of the Promised Land, a key moment in the story of God’s faithfulness to them.
6 “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
“Come… and bow down” – the list of sacrifices grows to the extremes.
7 “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
“Will the Lord be pleased” – the question implies, if this is coming from a wrong heart, even the most costly gifts will not not find favour. Why should they? Answered in v.8:
8 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
“What does the Lord require of you?” – not insincere actions, but an attitude of integrity, love and forbearance which is unconditional (“act justly, love mercy”), together with worshipful humility, “walk humbly with your God”.
For the Jews, observing the Law of Moses was to recall the hillside of Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments which were headlines to all the divine rules of life and conduct. All the details of the Law came down to what Jesus would later summarise as the Great Commandment principle: loving God and loving others. And that was what Micah’s best-known word is all about.
Make the main thing, the main thing – loving God in worship, and upholding God’s love in all our relationships which in Micah’s words is acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly (and closely) with God.
Sacrificial offerings – our equivalent, formal and ritual worship – is rendered worthless if it does not come from really loving God from the heart. This is what God wants from us, and it’s so simple, we easily miss it. The human way we dodge this is that if we feel we don’t have much to give, we create a smokescreen of complexity. We would rather dress it up with elaborate form – a bit like the Corinthians we will meet later, for whom presentation was more important than substance. But all this dodges the essential simplicity of what Father God wants – our hearts.
Matthew 5:1-12 — Headlines of the values of the kingdom
The Sermon on the Mount sets out what godly heart attitudes look like
1-2 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them.
“Up on a mountainside” – or “He climbed a hillside” (The Message), probably finding a natural amphitheatre in the hill country above Capernaum. His mainly Jewish followers would have seen Jesus acting in the way of Moses, giving foundational teaching on a mountainside. He is positioning Himself as ‘the new Moses’ and demonstrating that He is the Messiah (The Christ) while avoiding the accusation of blasphemy by saying so — that confrontation will come much later.
3 He said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are…” – fortunate, prosperous, experiencing hope and joy
Theirs is” – but is Jesus teaching what is attainable, or an impossible ideal? These are the values of the new kingdom order He is setting out, that disciples who commit to Him can embrace. Those still living their lives independently will find it too difficult, but all who choose to belong to Jesus experience a spiritual transformation, and find themselves living by these kingdom values.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Those who mourn” – loss or difficulty in life prompts turning to depend on God. But in this context, Jesus is calling people to lament the spiritual state of Israel, and turn to God in repentance for spiritual renewal.
5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Meek” – or (Phillips) humble-minded and (Amplified) kind-hearted and self-controlled, therefore gentle, as ‘gentlefolk’ are gentle, and also like Jesus (who is quoting Psalm 37:11).
“Poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek” – these first three beatitudes echo Isaiah 61 esp. vv.1-3 and 7 which Jesus linked to His divine call, provoking a sharp reaction in His home town of Nazareth, Luke 4:16-30.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Righteousness” – “hunger and thirst for God’s approval” (God’s Word) with an emphasis on justice.
“Will be filled” – the blessings are a gift of God’s doing that come to Jesus’ followers, not something achieved by our good works.
• For further study, Psalm 11:7, 85:10-12; Isaiah 11:1-4; Jer. 23:5-6, 33:16.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
“Will be shown mercy” – we having God’s mercy in us, give this away in unconditional love to others, and find mercy especially in the final judgment.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Pure in heart” – unlike many of the Pharisees, who disguised judgmental hearts with a rule-bound form of ‘doing right’.
“Will see God” – those born again into new life are transformed by the grace of God, and having received the Holy Spirit to become spiritually alive, are able to perceive God’s plans and purposes.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Peacemakers” – now reconciliation add to mercy, righteousness and justice as kingdom values for Jesus’ followers.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Those who are persecuted” – Jesus says the kingdom belongs to those who suffer for it. Doing right by Jesus and His teaching has always brought opposition, Matt. 10:16-23; 2 Timothy 3:12.
11-12 ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“In the same way… prophets… before you” – owning Jesus as Lord is taking an intentional position in the spiritual battle that has always opposed God’s people since Cain murdered Abel, Genesis 4:8.
There were practical reasons for Jesus to teach the meaning of the kingdom of God to His growing crowd of enquirers and followers on a hillside. Such a large number needed space to see and hear. However the parallel with Moses’ giving of the Law on the slopes of Mount Sinai could hardly have escaped their notice. Micah’s words, “And what does the Lord require of you?”, would have been familiar, and now they were seeing not just a rabbi but the Lord Himself teaching them that the kingdom of God was a reality for those that chose to follow Him.
Choosing to follow is an important distinction. The kingdom of God does not come by a set of principles, much less as a set of rules, although the Church has often put it across like that. The kingdom of God is a reality we see with spiritual eyes, something we ‘get’, and it comes from the presence of Jesus and our response to Him.
This does not need a hillside or any special place, or religious ritual or activity. It requires a humble openness to the Spirit of Jesus, who then empowers us and releases us to live differently under His lordship. As we draw near to Jesus and begin to ‘get’ what He is all about, our hearts are changed – something in the deepest part of us becomes alive – and His kingdom starts to become real, a blessed and joyful discovery.
How many of these attributes can we actually do ourselves?
How many can God do in us, if we let Him?
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 — God’s power and wisdom comes from renouncing man’s
The example of Christ crucified makes no sense except to those being saved
18-19 For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’
“The wisdom of the wise” – everyone in Corinth was trading opinions, to which ‘wisdom’ Paul quotes Isaiah 29:14 in this fresh context.
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
“God made foolish” – The wisdom of this world and God’s spiritual insight are opposed to one another, so that the powerful message of the Cross is unintelligible apart from faith.
21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
22-24 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
“A stumbling block… and foolishness” – to Jews the proclamation of Christ’s victory through being crucified was a contradiction in terms – how could Messiah be associated with a curse? To the philosophical, logical Greeks it made no sense for a God as Saviour to look like the lowest class of offender.
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
“Foolishness of God… wiser” – Paul sets out the upside down nature of God’s kingdom which requires humility and counts man’s wisdom as a barrier.
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
“Not many…. influential” – apart from Erastus, the city treasurer, those in the Corinth church were a mixed lot and quite ordinary – living proof that salvation doesn’t follow from human attributes.
27-29 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.
“But God chose” – not in the way that we would choose. No amount of intellect or education or merit can influence Christ’s work on the Cross, our choice to believe it and God’s choice of us.
30 It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
“Because of Him” – we are transformed from unworthy sinners to become viewed as being right with God and accepted by Him in the new identity we have “in Christ Jesus”. This is what happens when we believe and take hold of the divine exchange Jesus worked, by His death for our new life.
31 Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’
“Boasts” – no Christian has anything of themselves to boast about, but can make a “boast in the Lord” about the divine wisdom and heavenly way of being made right, graciously imparted.
We have heard Micah’s prophetic appeal “What does the Lord require of you?” in its OT perspective. Then we have considered it again at the very end of the OT era, in Matthew’s Gospel, when “the Lord who requires”, Jesus, teaches what this means in announcing the kingdom of God beginning to be visible. Now what God requires of us has taken on a different feel, post-resurrection, with the Holy Spirit active in the believers who made up the church in Corinth.
They – like us nearly two millennia later – are expecting the return of the Lord Jesus. In the meantime, the Holy Spirit is enabling them to live new lives in Christ, even in a hostile and unspiritual culture. The Holy Spirit is empowering them to be the kingdom of God where they are.
This is “BBC Question Time” Corinth, where everyone is a bit of a philosopher and likes to compete on the strength of their arguments. Except that Paul, the founder of the church, tells them, that is not God’s way. God’s way is via the shameful, uncomfortable and illogical truth of the Cross. That is where Jesus, having given up all divine privilege, took the burden of our sin to die a cursed, tortured death so that we might walk free, the price of our sin having been paid by Him. It is a scandal that doesn’t make sense but it is the powerful truth by which we can be born again into new and eternal life as part of His kingdom.
This is what the Lord requires of us – to know Christ crucified, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God, and above all to come to a revelation of who we are in Him. Then… living for Him comes, not naturally, but supernaturally.
What do we have to let go to live, not by what we have done, but by what Christ has done for us?
Lord, to be boastful or self-promoting is completely against the gentle, merciful, peacemaking way of life You taught as the values of Your kingdom. Yet when we consider what You have done for us, for all who truly believe in You, how can we not boast about the Saviour we know and love? Give us courage and clarity to speak about You, Jesus, and what You have done, to others that they too might turn to You and come into Your kingdom. Amen.
Print version from PDF file link (above) or image (below)
Study on the Revised Common Lectionary (inter-denominational) lectionary readings for Sunday, January 26, 2020. TLW03A-2020
Theme: In Jesus we find God’s grace and renewal of life
Isaiah 49:1-7 — The servant of God will bring the light of salvation, not just to Jews but to every kind of people.
John 1:29-42 — John recognises how Jesus brings the Holy Spirit to renew and restore as well as being the sacrificial Lamb of God.
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 —The Corinth church is rich in the new life of Jesus, but all grace comes through fellowship with Jesus.
And also: Psalm 40:1-12
Isaiah 9:1-4 — Once-shamed Galilee is where God’s light will appear
The place that fell under a shadow is where God reveals Himself
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan –
“In the past… in the future” – the historic northern tribal settlements of Zebulun and Naphtali (including Galilee and the Way of the Sea trade route) fell to the Assyrians in 734-732 BC. But this shame would be reversed by the honour of being the exact place where Christ’s ministry would begin, Matt. 4:12-16 below.
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.
“Have seen” – an event which has not yet happened described prophetically as though it has. This verse is used in Matt. 4:15-16 to explain the start of Jesus’ ministry.
“Land of deep darkness” – literally “a land where death casts its shadow”, describes what follows after repeated refusal to trust God. Yet, in God’s mercy, “a light has dawned”, the presence of God comes to bring revelation and blessing. Fulfilled in Jesus coming in the flesh.
3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
“Enlarged the nation” – the “darkness” threatened the annihilation of the nation, but God confirms the joyful fulfilment of the original covenant with Abraham to greatly multiply his descendants, Gen. 22:17.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
“As… Midian’s defeat” – the ‘impossible’ victory by Gideon and just a few hundred men trusting God against a large Midianite army, Judges 6-7.
The tribes in the northern settlements were stubborn, refusing to trust God to deliver them when oppressors threatened. The warnings they had not heeded became reality as in three successive waves, the Assyrians seized their lands and carried away their people.
Yet God shows His merciful nature in choosing to reveal Himself in those very territories. Judah and what we might now call the ‘Jerusalem bubble’ couldn’t believe that multicultural. provincial Galilee could become a place of God’s visitation – even when stories of miracles, deliverances and crowds associated with one Jesus of Nazareth began to circulate. The prophet Isaiah had seen this in the Spirit hundreds of years before, how God would bring His light in a place known for its darkness.
The teaching for us here, is about God’s kingdom order coming with this special grace, shown first to the least deserving. God doesn’t work the way we work. He works on the basis of grace – showing His unconditional love by giving what is not deserved.
Today, those who have found new life in Christ out of bad situations of their own making are the living story that the more you have been forgiven, the more the grace and glory of God is seen by all.
What is your story of God’s undeserved mercy when you were facing difficulties – or simply, finding out that God loves you?
Matthew 4:12-23 — Jesus’ call is to turn and receive the kingdom of God
People of Galilee are the first to hear the good news
12-14 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, He went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali – to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
“John had been put in prison” – and put to death, after challenging the local ruler Herod Antipas about taking his brother’s wife, Matt. 14:1-12.
“Leaving Nazareth” – Matthew simply indicates Capernaum, a town on the lake and the trade route, as Jesus’s new base without mentioning how the people of his home town attempted to murder Him after He brought the message of good news in the synagogue there.
15-16 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
“Galilee of the Gentiles” – following the Assyrian deportation and later resettlement, Galilee had more Gentiles in the population than Judea. Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:1-2, above.
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
“From that time on” – signals a turning point, the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
“Repent” – the opening word of this first sermon headlines the whole of Jesus’ earthly ministry, calling people to turn from independence, to trust God’s rule and order, the kingdom of God. Matthew’s gospel for mainly Jewish readers, avoids naming God by speaking of the kingdom of heaven.
18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
“Two brothers” – Simon Peter and Andrew, already followers of Jesus, had returned to their normal work, perhaps while Jesus was in Capernaum, John 1:35-42.
“Casting a net” – a 25 ft circular net, weighted all around to envelop fish as it sank.
19-20 “Come, follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed Him.
“Follow Me” – Jesus alludes to Jeremiah 16:16, calling them to leave fishing and learn His way of life as disciples.
21-22 Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.
“In a boat” – in 1986 the remains of a 27 ft boat, able to hold about 15 men including helmsman and four rowers, was discovered in this part of the lake. Leaving their father and their investment was a considerable cost.
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
“Throughout Galilee” – initially the Jewish population of the 200 towns and villages of the region, later including Gentiles there and further afield.
“Teaching… proclaiming… and healing” – three main aspects of Jesus’ ministry, teaching in his discourses and parables, proclaiming the arrival of the just rule of God, as v.17, and miracles of healing and demonic deliverance.
“Good news of the kingdom” – also called the gospel, the same message as John the Baptist’s: that the anointed One, the Christ, had now come to establish God’s reign and justice on earth. It was good news then, and is good news today, because it is a life-giving message about God’s care and desire to rescue any who would receive it, from the deadly consequences of sin of spiritual and physical sickness. It is good news of hope, freedom, peace of heart and the promise of a new start and everlasting life with God, which comes through turning (repenting) of human self-sufficiency and independence, to humbly receive the message and the Lordship of the One bringing it, Jesus. By contrast with keeping religious rules and observances, the Good News offers new life on the basis of faith in Jesus and what He has already done for us, with the empowering of the Holy Spirit to live for Him.
So, what is the Christian message? Sometimes it seems like one of those weather forecasts that is so full of air movements and conflicting systems we fail to hear what the actual weather is.
Jesus didn’t bury His message in detail. He cut to the chase with a clear challenge: Repent! Turn around! God has knocked on your door with His just rule – now will you open up and let Him it in? What He didn’t say in so many words – but people soon worked out – was that He Himself was that good and just rule.
Where the devil had robbed ordinary people of peace through every kind of sickness and confusion and misfortune, Jesus was giving their lives back. This holds good today. In a world awash with bad news, Jesus is the good news. Anyone can choose to turn around, to recognise the folly of their self-management and review it in the light of Jesus.
He calls us to follow Him, and there is a cost to that – letting go of our precious independence and willingly calling someone else “Lord”. But the good news is that it is not so much a cost, as an investment – the most secure and highest-return investment any of us can ever make – and the offer is to everyone, without condition.
It could be said that Jesus had just one message – the good news of the kingdom of God (v.23). How would you explain the heart of that in a sentence or two?
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 — Paul explains the horrific truth that is our good news
The Cross is offensive but it must not be robbed of its power
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
“I appeal to you” – this gathered assembly had rivalries instead of a shared allegiance to Jesus.
“Brothers and sisters” – belonging to one another as a spiritually-related family in Christ.
“Perfectly united” – an expression commonly used of setting broken bones, dislocated joints or mending damaged nets.
• For further study on avoiding the harm of divisive attitudes, read Romans 16:17, Phil. 1:27.
11-12 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
“Informed” – family members or bond-servants who belonged to the household of Chloe, a woman who lived in Corinth, had appealed to Paul in Ephesus.
“Paul… Apollos… Cephas” – Peter (Cephas) was t he leading original teacher of the church. Paul had first brought the Good News to Corinth and Apollos, a polished speaker, subsequently taught there. Paul knew Apollos well and made many positive statements about him – there is no hint of rivalry between Paul and Apollos. This is about followers who were looking to men rather than Christ.
13-16 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptise any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptised in my name. (Yes, I also baptised the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptised anyone else.)
“I did not baptise” – After the very first converts, Paul did not baptise, to avoid the kind of attachment difficulties he is now addressing.
17 For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
“Not… to baptise, but to preach the gospel” – Paul is not down on baptism but emphasising his God-given task to proclaim the Good News. Baptism in the Bible follows believing, an act of commitment to the gospel, not a means of conveying salvation. Jesus and Peter had other people baptise for them, John 4:2, Acts 10:48.
“Not with wisdom and eloquence” – Paul did not pander to Corinth’s tendency to elevate presentation over substance. He refused to dress up with eloquence the unpalatable message about the brutality and shame of Jesus’ death by crucifixion. He knew this hard, difficult truth was central to the power of God leading people to faith in Him, v.18 (below) and 1 Cor 2:4-5.
18 For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
“The message of the Cross is foolishness” – the idea that God would save the world through the execution of a convicted criminal defies all reason and logic, until faith is kindled: then it has the unique ring of truth that can convict a human heart that doesn’t want to depend on anyone for anything. The rational and presentation-conscious Corinthians, looking for philosophical satisfaction, tended to miss the profound truth of the divine exchange, Christ’s death and resurrection for our sins.
Paul was single-minded about His mission and his message. He would not be diverted from proclaiming the gospel, the good news of Jesus and His rule and reign which the Bible calls the kingdom of God.
But like the story of any rule or reign being established, there is also a battle involved, and this battle to the death with an unusual twist, does not make easy hearing. The Roman way of enforcing the law against errant slaves and criminals was not familiar in Corinth and it was so distasteful that it was not talked about. But as Paul asserted, this hardest of stories to tell and to hear explains how God’s fair and unconditionally loving rule has come about, and its pain and horror brings home the reality of what Jesus carried for us.
The essential heart of the Good News is what God has done for us, as against ideas of what we might think we do for God. We don’t need to strive to please God – He will find His joy in our responding like children to what He has already done for us, allowing Him to be our Father, and us to know Him as those chosen and adopted in love.
If the Good News is so good, why is the Christian message not a popular one?
Father, thank You fork the Cross and for the Good News that comes to us freely from Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the Cross. We struggle to grasp the enormity of this action, His death for our life, and we find it hard to receive such an undeserved gift. We hear Your word to simply repent, and believe, and to be freshly aware of the Power of the Cross to break the hold of sin, and to cancel the effects of sin’s curse. With Your Spirit’s help, we believe, and receive with deep gratitude. Thank You for Your far-reaching love, in Jesus’ name. Amen.