Sunday, March 1, 2020 TLW08A
Theme: God presents us with choices, whether or not to rely on Him
Sunday readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. First read the passage in its entirety (NIV text) and let it speak for itself; then, the links below take you to the verse-by-verse commentary.
Read Matthew 4:1-11
Read Romans 5:12-19
Also WISDOM READING: Psalm 32
Breaking trust with God in the Garden of Eden introduces sin into the world
15-17 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
“To work it and take care of it” – humanity’s dignifying occupation, responsibilities later applied to the tabernacle.
• For further study, read Leviticus 8:35; Numbers 3:5-8, 8:26.
“The LORD God commanded the man” – the first covenant decree in the Bible. God bound Himself to provide freely from the park-like garden; the man’s acceptance bound him to the one condition, trusting God’s judgment and provision by not eating the fruit of one particular tree.
“You are free… but…” – Typical words of a covenant in the Bible, where Adam is given a choice leading to a benefit. There is also a condition, a test of obedience.
3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
“The serpent” – part of God’s creation, the talking snake appears without introduction. Its motives are unclear but “crafty”, presenting an alternative source of ‘wisdom’ from dependence on God, Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that this is Satan manifesting as a snake, as Paul and the apostle John later taught.
• For further study, read 2 Cor. 11:3; Revelation 12:9, 20:2.
2-3 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”
“Not… the tree… in the middle” – by not naming the tree, the woman skirts round the reason for the ban.
4-5 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
“You will not… die” – with this lie the snake denies God’s clear pronouncement. The lie deceived both Eve and Adam into separation from God and hence spiritual death. Jesus called Satan a liar and murderer from the beginning, John 8:44.
6-7 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
“The fruit was… desirable” – the snake appeals to the woman’s human independence, deceiving her into disobedience. Innocence lost, they now “know” or have experience of evil, and sin is born.
Here in the Garden of Eden — a place and an event which Scripture treats very seriously — mankind’s ancestor, Adam, faces a test. God has given him the freedom of the garden except for one particular tree and its fruit. Will he stay true to what God has told him, or will the suggestion that nothing is stopping him from doing his own thing prove too attractive? Adam gives in to Satan, loses the life he had, and opens the way for every subsequent generation to experience temptation to sin. We face exactly the same choice – whether to entertain the enemy’s latest lie, or to hold on to the truth from God.
How does Satan’s lying, deceiving nature affect us today?
Matthew 4:1-11 — Test: Satan fails to tempt Jesus into sin
Jesus, unlike Israel in the desert, overcomes by declaring God’s word
1-3 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. The tempter came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
“Led by the Spirit… to be tempted by the devil” – “Tempted (tested and tried)” (Amp). “Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it” (Msg). God’s servants frequently face tests of resolve and character as they enter ministry, allowed by God but carried out by the devil.
“Into the wilderness to be tempted” – Adam and Eve gave in to temptation; their failing the test allowed sin to enter the world. Moses recalls how the Lord led the Israelites in the desert for 40 years “to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Jesus, in the desert, is provoked to sin but instead shows Himself the true, or real, Israelite who holds to what God has said to do (below).
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
“It is written” – Jesus’ testing experience teaches us how to declare Scripture truth to deflect the enemy’s evil attentions. He quotes Deut. 8:3 to assert that what God has said, has a powerful spiritual dynamic.
5-6 Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If You are the Son of God,” he said, “throw Yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning You, and they will lift You up in their hands, so that You will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
“If You are…” – following the temptation of material things, the devil tries the temptation of fame, conveniently omitting the promise “to keep you in all your ways” from Psalm 91:11-12, twisting its meaning to suggest that Jesus could test God in a spectacular way.
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
“Jesus answered” – from Deut 6:16, with a principle even higher than trusting God, that of honouring Him. Satan implies God can be called upon to rescue, but Jesus knew that God is trustworthy even when we are suffering. Mocking bystanders observing Jesus on the Cross used Ps. 22:8 to suggest that if God really loved Him He would be rescuing Him. Jesus knew better.
8-9 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give You,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
“All this I will give you” – Satan, called the prince or ruler of this world, John 12:31, offers Jesus a shortcut to future kingdom reign without the Cross. But this is the worst of the three demands: exchanging the love of God for the worship of Satan.
“I will give” – Satan can exercise a measure of authority over the present sin-damaged world, but the kingdoms of the world belong to God and are promised to His Son.
• For further study, read Psalm 2:8; Luke 4:6; John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4.
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’”
“Away from Me” – Jesus affirms wholehearted worship of the one true God, showing that true worship, expressing love and total submission to God, is a knockout blow in spiritual warfare. As the devil craves our attention, to respond by extolling the goodness of God reverses this strategy.
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended Him.
“Angels… attended Him” – showing Christ’s status as all heaven recognises the significance of His initial victory. The verse Satan had twisted, Ps. 91:11-12 is now fulfilled in God’s way.
The second account of testing also involves the devil appearing and speaking suggestively. Just as deception led Adam and Eve to act independently of God, so the devil uses the same tactic on Jesus to try to get Him to compromise His demanding mission. If Jesus can be persuaded to go outside what God had decreed, He would no longer be the sinless Son of God uniquely equipped to break the hold of sin in the rest of us. The good news is that when we are tested we can find the power of declaring the word of God, as Jesus did.
How do we declare the word of God in common ways we worship?
Romans 5:12-19 — Choice: Receive the gift of God in Jesus
Paul teaches original sin and its remedy, grace that comes from accepting Jesus
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned –
“Sin entered the world” – Paul teaches the need for the gospel, because of man’s fall through Adam.
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.
“Before the law” – the period from Adam to Moses, when human independence from God was widespread but not in the sense of individual violations. The rules for righteous and unrighteous behaviour would follow.
14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
“Death reigned” – Paul continues from his incomplete sentence of v.12, that the original man’s quest for independence was the root of sin, resulting in human mortality.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
“How much more” – a phrase Paul repeats. The reach and extent of God’s grace is immensely greater than even the disaster of Adam’s sin.
16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.
“One man’s sin” – through the “one man”, Adam, sin entered the world and with it the condemnation, or punishment due, for that sin. That is the human state we all inherit, regardless of the kind of life we lead.
+ GOOD NEWS FOCUS: God has offered a way out, “the gift” of God, which we “receive”, v.17, by choosing to belong to Jesus.
17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
“Trespass” – Adam’s offence was an act of trespass, a deliberate going astray. What Jesus Christ did for us was an act of undeserved grace, v.15, allowing us to be counted righteous if we have given our lives to Him.
18-19 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
“One righteous act… justification… for all people” – condemnation “for all people” represented by Adam – the whole human race. The second “all people” is all who are represented by Christ: not everyone, but all who would believe in Him. The Bible is clear and consistent that salvation comes to those who make their choice to exercise faith in Jesus Christ – not everyone.
• For further study, see Matthew 7:13-14, 23; 25:46; Romans 1:16-17, 3:22, 28, 4:5, 13.
The story of the talking serpent appearing in the Garden of Eden, and the continuing curse resulting from Adam’s mistake, does not fit with our human ideas of what is believable and logical – spiritual discernment is needed. Yet other Bible writers, including Paul who makes it a mainstay of his doctrinal teaching, treat this encounter with all seriousness. A bit easier for us to believe, Jesus had His own testing encounter with the devil. Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus proved Himself sinless by responding with what God had said and refusing to entertain any alternative.
Taken together, these passages teach us that:
- Life is full of tests and choices. The battleground is in our thoughts, rather than played out in a garden or desert, but the enemy of our souls is constantly trying to deceive us and trip us up, to lure us off the path God has marked out.
- The good choice is always obedience – believing God and honouring Him in our actions.
- Obedience is more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’. Paul, teaching the early church, only requires us to ‘do’ one thing, which is to believe in Jesus – to receive the gift of grace that is in the one man, the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Jesus in the desert was held by His relationship with His Father. Paul urges us to be living in the gift of righteousness, which comes to us undeserved but as those who are in Christ Jesus – those who have asked Jesus to be Lord of their lives.
We are equipped to recognise the tests and have the confidence to make good choices if we have asked Jesus to be our Lord and invited His Holy Spirit to help us – an obedience not coming from our good deeds or ‘ holy actions’ but the simple consequence of loving the Lord and wanting what He wants.
What strategy of the devil, often repeated, comes out from these passages?
Paul contrasts two states, being under condemnation or being counted righteous as one who is in Jesus Christ. How does it help to counter the devil’s suggestions, if we know we are accepted by heaven rather than guilty?
Father, this harsh and selfish world can make us feel like helpless aliens – but we are reminded again of Jesus’ victory and how by grace we are allowed to participate in it. In ourselves we have few answers to the wiles of the enemy and His tests, but in Christ Jesus he has little with which to answer us back. We praise You again, Lord God, and thank You for Jesus and His victory. And we join with Him in saying: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’ ”. Amen.
TLW14 for Sunday, April 7 – Lent 5
Theme: God is creative in renewing His people and His world
Isaiah 43:16-21 — The Lord is doing a new thing. Don’t expect earlier moves of God to be repeated, but discern His purposes now.
John 12:1-8 — Mary does a new and shocking thing to honour Jesus. Unintentionally she foretells His death in anointing Him.
Philippians 3:4b-14 — Paul changes radically to gain new life in Christ. He trashes his former achievements as barriers to the far greater worth of knowing Jesus.
Also: Psalm 126
Isaiah 43:16-21 —The Lord is doing a new thing
Don’t expect earlier moves of God to be repeated, but discern His purposes now.
16 This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters…
“A way through the sea” – a reference to the exodus through the Red Sea at the birth of the Hebrew nation.
17 …who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Chariots and horses” – representing the most advanced (and costly) military resources. The Israelite refugees, on foot, were no match – apart from God.
18 ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
“Forget the former things” – The Lord is speaking through Isaiah 200 years before the exile, and 300 years before the return of the exiles. However, people are not to dwell on the Lord’s past means of deliverance – He is not to be restricted to a certain way of doing things. Today, we are not to look to a previous revival, as the pattern for the next.
19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
“Doing a new thing” – not like the “way through the sea” of verse 16 but this time “a way in the wilderness”. The common factor is miraculously reversing nature, this time releasing “streams in the wasteland” rather than turning back the sea.
20 The wild animals honour Me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to My people, My chosen…
“I provide water in the wilderness” – benefitting the animals who live there, but also spiritual refreshment and new freedom for the oppressed exiles coming out of Babylon.
21 …the people I formed for Myself that they may proclaim My praise.
“That they may proclaim My praise” – God’s purpose is for people tto turn to Him and declare His praise. Looking beyond revivals, His ultimate purpose looks forward to a time when creation generally will turn to God, Isaiah 42:11-12, Romans 8:20-21.
IN PRACTICE In a world that presents us with frequent, ongoing change it is natural to seek to preserve and maintain what we have known and loved. We visit stately homes and take trips on steam railways and rediscover former breeds of farm animals. However, spiritually we must keep moving on — because God is always moving on. The Bible gives us God’s timeline of faith, and He constantly surprises us by doing what He has not done before, and saying, in various ways, “I am doing a new thing”. We would rather cling to the last ‘new thing’. If we have known the excitement of a move of God in revival or renewal or just gentle revitalisation, first we want more of the same. Then we recognise that we just need more of God — whatever He is doing now. The challenge is agreeing that it won’t be the same.
QUESTION What was the last ‘new thing’ we experienced in church or Christian life? How much are we looking back to that time? How much are we seeking signs of a different move?
John 12:1-8 — Mary does a new and shocking thing to honour Jesus
Unintentionally she foretells His death in anointing Him.
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
“Before the Passover” – on Thursday that year, and Jesus arrived the previous Friday, just before the Sabbath.
“Bethany” – two miles east of the city, which was already filling up with pilgrims travelling in; it made sense for Jesus to stay with friends a little way out.
2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him.
“Lazarus… reclining at the table” – this was a main-meal deipnon, dinner, and reclining at table implies a special occasion where guests would recline three or four to a table. Evidently Jesus and Lazarus were at the same table. Lazarus, Martha and Mary were close friends of Jesus.
3 Then Mary took about half a litre of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
“Pure nard” – the oil of a fragrant plant from North India, that smelled like gladiola perfume. An extravagant act of devotion, and a humble one – only servants attended to guest’s feet. Women usually had their hair covered, possibly not a single woman at home.
4-5 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
“Worth a year’s wages” – Judas, a less-than-honest witness, was not concerned for the poor and may have been exaggerating.
6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
“He used to help himself” – the one verse which tells us that Judas was dishonest, although he had been trusted with the money bag. For a group’s treasurer to steal money would be scandalous, and bring shame on the whole group, in the view of outsiders.
7 ‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial.
“Leave her alone” – Jesus defending Mary gives meaning to the deed. Nard was one of the burial spices for the dead and Mary was, perhaps without realising, anticipating His death and anointing Him for burial.
8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me.’
“You will always have the poor” – Jesus is quoting Deut. 15:11, not discouraging helping the poor. His impending death leaves little time for His disciples to share His earthly ministry. Mary’s devotion to Him is a right priority.
IN PRACTICE Mary shocked the people in her village with her unexpected and dramatic action. You can imagine them talking about it, using their expressions for ‘over the top’ and ‘irresponsible’. But Mary’s reputation has now spread worldwide, and billions of people see her as someone who gave the devotion the Lord is seeking in a real way. Sometimes we can find ourselves carrying out what turns out to be a prophetic act, even if we never saw it that way when it happened. Mary ‘wasted’ a stock of perfume oil of great value, but gave a lead in her devotion of He who is of incalculable worth.
QUESTION Is our worship of Jesus extravagant and demonstrative? If not, why not?
Philippians 3:4b-14 —Paul changes radically to gain new life in Christ
He trashes his former achievements as barriers to the far greater worth of knowing Jesus
4b-6 If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
“Confidence in the flesh” – the danger of confidence in yourself and your attributes, inherited or earned. Paul sets out his impeccable Jewish credentials, a glowing record as a zealous Pharisee. By contrast he wrote to Corinth church, reminding them “…Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential…”.
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
“Gains to me I now consider loss” – the language of a balance sheet. On the road to Damascus, every ‘credit’ in Paul’s glowing CV now became something he had to lay down to accept Christ. A kernel of seeds to fall to the ground and die, John 12:24.
8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.
“Knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” – he does not mean knowing about the life and works of Jesus, but the transformation that comes from really coming to know a person – in this case, the highly transforming Person of Christ.
“I consider them garbage” – he uses a blunt, less genteel word for what is polluting and to be put out straight away. He is saying that his former way of life with its religious credentials was not only worthless, but despicable, see Ephesians 2:3-7.
9 …and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
“Not a righteousness of my own” – here is the dilemma, set out clearly and directly. Everyone starts off claiming to be righteous through ‘doing right’, charitable works and/or the performance of religious actions. Our world is about earning merit, so this is the way that fits our worldview. Paul shatters that worldview with his “garbage” comment and goes on to say that righteousness cannot be earned, but is received from God undeservedly, solely on the basis of our trusting Him in faith.
• For further study: the righteousness of God that comes on us through our trusting relationship with Christ Jesus, 1 Cor. 1:30, 2 Cor. 5:21, Phil. 3:8-9.
10-11 I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
“To know Christ…and…His sufferings” – to know Christ personally is to identify with Him and swap the world’s values for His. That brings with it misunderstanding and alienationt, such as Christ experienced and warned about, John 15:18–21. However, the Bible witness is that the suffering of God’s people is never final.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
• For further study, other places where Paul uses the imagery of athletics: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7-8.
13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead,
14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.
“Towards what is ahead… the prize” – the winner in Greek races received a wreath of leaves with the award. This is Paul’s picture of everlasting glory for the Christian who wins through. Eternal life is assured when we turn to Christ as our Saviour and Lord, but Christian maturity emphasises the prize of achieving kingdom of God gains that have eternal, rather than momentary, value.
IN PRACTICE The new thing that God was doing in Paul’s life was costly for him. As a Jew he had plenty to be proud of, but pride is the greatest barrier to us having a real relationship with God. That pride had to be broken for Paul to come to know God personally, and for him that was a dramatic turnaround. To diminish or at least, hold very lightly our achievements, may not be such a big thing for us, as it was for Paul to throw out his first-class degree in religious zeal. However, the principle is the same. God can’t have first place, where there’s no space. We need to make room, starting with the ornaments we used to think were the most precious.
QUESTION What apparent spiritual qualification may be acting as a barrier to the renewal God wants to do in us?
PRAYER Lord, the flesh is weak and it doesn’t like change. Yet Jesus said memorably that He could only be doing what He saw the Father doing. Help us to have that same resolve to talk to You, and walk with You, and to be found doing Your will and pursuing Your mission in the world — whether we find it comfortable or not. To the glory of Jesus we pray, Amen.
A hymn of praise to celebrate Israel’s return from exile, with Zion, meaning ‘distinctive’ at the centre of His plan. Zion, specifically the hilltop, here stands for Jerusalem and for the nation. The general thought is that is the Lord can restore Zion, the city, after its season of destruction, He can do the same for the people; and if He can do it in t he past, He can do it again.
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.
“Restored the fortunes” – the disastrous fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 589 BC and exile of most of its people, Babylon itself was conquered 50 years later by Cyrus, King of Persia. Cyrus issued a proclamation allowing the captive people to return to their homelands and rebuild their cities, Ezra 1:1-11; 3:7. The psalm attributes this reversal to the Lord.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
“It was said among the nations” – the Lord’s restoration did more than give the people laughter and joy at the change they experienced – it showed the Lord’s merciful character to the surrounding nations, frequent theme e.g. Psalm 9:11, 64:9, Isaiah 12:4
3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.
“Restore our fortunes” – repatriation and rebuilding was one thing, the prosperity spoken of by the prophets another. This is a plea to complete the resttlement and bring a full restoration of the prosperity of former times, like the dry river bed of the Negev which becomes a flowing stream when the rains come.
5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
“Sow with tears” – hard work and the rigours of farming are also used by God. The person who remains humble and dependent on God will experience His blessings on the land.
TLW13. Bible readings for Sunday, March 31 (Mothering Sunday)
Mothering Sunday. Theme: The rich working of God’s compassion.
Exodus 2:1-10 — An Egyptian princess’s compassion saves baby Moses. Moses, born into oppression, is rescued for God’s purpose to be fulfilled in Him.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7— God is the Father of compassion who comforts us. Paul, with rich experience of God’s comfort, shares this with the church in Corinth.
John 19:25-27 — Jesus expresses His compassion for His mother. Near to death, He assigns a disciple to care for her.
Psalm 34:11-20 — The Lord’s special compassion for those broken to pride
Exodus 2:1-10 —An Egyptian princess’s compassion saves Moses
Moses, born into oppression, is rescued for God’s purpose to be fulfilled in Him.
The Israelite descendants of Jacob who followed Joseph had become numerous and a new Pharoah who knew nothing of the good Joseph had done resolved to enslave them – and ordered all male Hebrew babies to be thrown into the Nile.
1-4 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
“A man of the tribe of Levi” – named Amram and Jochebed, Exodus 6:20.
“She hid him” – there is a strong parallel here with Israel in Egypt. Moses was born into oppression, saved by an “ark” from a watery death decreed by the pharaoh, rescued and grew to maturity in the pharaoh’s court.
“Papyrus ark” – the same word as used for Noah’s massive barge. Papyrus was strong enough to be used for light craft and pitch was used for waterproofing all boats, Genesis 6:14, Isaiah 18:2.
5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it.
6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
“Down to the Nile to bathe” – not just washing but morning devotions to a river regarded by the Egyptians as a goddess with life-giving, healing properties. To discover a crying baby floating in the embrace of the Nile goddess (in her perception) would be a significant sign.
7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”
“To nurse the baby” – children were nursed for three years or more before being weaned, often by a ‘wet nurse’. .
8 “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother.
9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him.
“I will pay you” – There is an implication that the princess knew who the mother was, and the two women had an unspoken understanding
10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
“I drew him out” – a wordplay on the name Moses, which sound like the Hebrew mashah, ‘to draw out’ and may be related to a common Egyptian word for ‘son’.
IN PRACTICE The thread linking this week’s readings is compassion and in this account of Moses’ birth and early life we see how God’s Father heart of compassion stirred an Egyptian pagan princess to fulfil His purposes, not just for Moses but eventually for the whole nation. The crying baby floating in a papyrus basket is a salvation story which stirs many emotions, and it seems a far cry from the Egyptian chariots, a generation later, bearing down on the Israelites who seemed to face annihilation at the water’s edge – until they were “drawn through” the parting waters to be saved from destruction on the other side. God’s overriding characteristic is mercy and compassion, and His favourite action is saving. In a world fallen through Adam’s sin and largely rebellious towards God, and therefore all too open to the predations of the devil and his minions, there will always be threats, curses and conflicts. A merciful God of compassion stands over all of them, waiting for those who will turn to Him. (169)
QUESTION Given the wars and conflicts we see far away and close to home all the time, how would you explain what God is like, and why the world He created is not like Him?
John 19:25-27 —Jesus expresses His compassion for His mother
Near to death, He assigns a disciple to care for her
In John’s Gospel, this event takes place during the account of the crucifixion, after the soldiers had cast lots for Jesus’ clothes, but before Jesus’s last utterances.
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
“Near the cross of Jesus” – soldiers would guard the execution and keep spectators at a distance, but women were a low risk for acting violently and were expected to express their mourning, perhaps near to a dying prisoner.
“His mother’s sister” – the only reference in the NT to Jesus’ mother’s sister, who might have been the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John, see Matt. 27:56.
26-27 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
“The disciple who He loved” – John is given the responsibility to provide for Mary (on the assumption above, his aunt), almost certainly widowed and without income and therefore dependent on the provision and protection of others.
“This disciple took her into his home” – A Jewish family law could be used to assign the care of one person to another. There is another dimension to this as the embryo church community gathered – Jesus wanted them to love and care for each other, as He had taught with great clarity, John 13:34, John 15:12, 17.
IN PRACTICE Every Christian believer dwells on what is was like for Jesus to give up His life, and not only give it up, but voluntarily take on Himself the punishment and torture and shame that is so graphically recorded. We can dwell on it, but we don’t get close – perhaps hold off from getting too close – to the reality of that experience. In all of this, which is beyond our human capacity to understand, there is this exchange which is even more incomprehensible. Jesus, dying in tortured agony where every breath adds to the pain, speaks out His concern for His mother, standing and sobbing in a family group nearer to the Cross than other observers. There is a saying that, what is in us, is what comes out when we are under extreme pressure. What came out of Jesus was His compassion, forgiving His tormentors and charging the disciple who had shown similar qualities with care of His mother. He loves us with that same love today.
QUESTION Jesus wanted those who were close to Him to love each other – He had made that plain, and demonstrated it again as He was dying. What sort of priority should we make this in our church gatherings and interactions – and why?
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 —God is the Father of compassion who comforts us
Paul, with rich experience of God’s comfort, shares this with the church in Corinth
Paul, the much persecuted apostle sent to the Gentile nations, praises God for seeing him through many life-threatening difficulties, and uses this to encourage troubled believers in Corinth.
3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
“Praise be to God” – Paul extols God for the suffering and difficulties that his opponents use against him to call into question his apostleship.
“Father of compassion”– a reflection on God’s limitless compassion, and never failing comfort. This letter frequently refers to God’s strengthening and refreshing of believers who face difficulty.
• For further study, read Psalm 145:9; Lam. 3:22; Micah 7:19; Isaiah 40:1; 51:3, 12; 66:13.
5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
“Share… in the sufferings of Christ” – cannot, of course, refer to Christ’s unique atonement for sin, Romans 5:8-10; Romans 6:10. Paul endured danger, opposition and adverse conditions for the sake of God’s people and the gospel, much as Jesus did.
6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.
“Distressed… for your comfort” – one’s own suffering is a qualification to come alongside others and empathise. Paul’s opponents sought to use Paul’s many hardships to discredit him as one out of favour with God. Paul maintains that his sufferings are a way God uses to connect with a strengthen other believers.
7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
IN PRACTICE Few would disagree that Paul was a courageous and good man, who came back after a very bad start to fulfil a vital and far-reaching mission and give us much of the NT teaching. However he alludes to the extreme difficulties he has faced, detailed later in this letter. His point is that, to set out to follow the Son of God who was love and compassion incarnate, is to set out on a rough road through bandit territory. But it is a great training ground, for understanding both the challenges faced by every believer, but also the comfort of God which flows to every believer. The fallacy we all fall for is that of not needing God in the good times, the lure of self-sufficiency, which is an attraction to our humanness. But Paul says, expect trouble – and also expect God to be right with you in the dark valley, our confidence against the fear that evil oppression stirs up. And self evidently Paul, who has taken more hits than anyone, is a survivor. God who has so often comforted Him, is the same God who is there to comfort us.
QUESTION Paul starts by praising God for His goodness against a backdrop of hurt and hopelessness. How is he coaching us to respond to our pain and difficulty?
PRAYER Father God, as we come to You as Your children, we are overwhelmed by Your care and comfort while the world is trying to overturn us with hurts and rejections. We call to mind the difficulties and challenges we are facing now – and we praise You that You are not only greater than all of them together, but that You turn the assaults of the world, the flesh and the devil into a training exercise and a fresh encounter with Your mercy. We receive Your love afresh, in and through Jesus. Amen.
Psalm 34:11-20 —The Lord’s special compassion for those broken to pride
11 Come, my children, listen to Me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
“Come, my children” – the earlier part of the psalm, praise for deliverance, now turns to wisdom, which often used the language of parents instructing children.
12-13 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry…
“The eyes of the Lord” – Psalms 32, 33 and 34 all use this picture of God seeing everything
16 …but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.
“Keep your tongue from evil” – the apostle Peter quotes vv. 12-16, 1 Peter 3:10-12, making a point about Christians living in a peace-loving way.
“But the face of the Lord” – a sharp contrast between the Lord’s countenance towards those who trust Him and His expression to those who oppose Him in doing evil.
17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
“The Lord hears… delivers… is close” – assurance that the Lord looks out for those who, in the Hebrew expressions used, are broken to their own pride and stubbornness, Psalm 147:3.
19 The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;
20 He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.
“Protects all his bones” – the link to the crucifixion in the Gospel reading is that this verse was taken as having been literally fulfilled by Jesus, John 19:36.
THURSDAY, MARCH 22
Paul challenges Christians reading the letter with the standard of humility and obedience shown by Christ
These verses contain a lot of Christology in a few words – however, the main thrust is the unity and selflessness which is the result of humility of heart.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
This verse is the key to what follows in this poetic passage.
Literally “keep thinking this [attitude] among you, which [attitude] was also in Christ Jesus.”
“With one another” or among you. The meaning is more than an exhortation to everyone to be personally virtuous – or ‘nice’. It means “be Christlike in your church fellowship” – continuing to explain what this looks like. The community of salvation created by the Holy Spirit of Jesus, God incarnate, must confront the pride and strife that is always trying to enter in. As believers, we may not be able to replicate the exact ministry that Jesus exercised, but as followers of His Way, we are called to represent His values of sacrificial love and humility which the Cross demonstrated so unmistakably.
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage…
“Being in very nature God” – Christ as the second member of the Trinity was, literally, “in the same form as God”, meaning that He shared the image and the glory of God.
He did not regard his existing in a manner of “equality with God a thing to be grasped (NASB, ESV, RSV etc)” or held onto (harpagmos).
Following Lightfoot, an established view is that before becoming incarnate as man, the Son possessed equality with the Father; He resolved not to cling to it.
Another view on this passage is that He had no need to (actively) grasp to attain divine equality because He already possessed it as the eternal Son of God.
7 …rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
“Made Himself nothing” – literally “emptied Himself” (ESV, NASB) “stripped Himself” (Amplified), “gave up His divine privileges” (NLT).
This is best understood as the pre-incarnate Christ letting go of His glory and the omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence of God that make Him so distinctly ‘other’. This limitation was necessary for Him to share our human limitations, albeit more perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit than we can achieve. He gave up the particular privileges of His heavenly existence to be born as man, but did not in any way renounce His deity or identification as part of the Trinity. Having the “form of God”, v.6, could not be given up but “the nature of a servant” could be taken up.
“Likeness” stresses similarity but also allows for differences. Paul is saying that although Christ became a genuine man, in some respects He was not like any other man.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
Verses 6, 7 and 8 are all part of the same sentence and should be understood together – and in the context of Scripture passages that reveal Jesus as using his divine powers and displaying his glory upon occasions such as miracles and the Transfiguration, but always under the direction of the Father and the Spirit
For further study see Luke 4:14; John 5:19, 8:28, 14:10
9 Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name…
The Father’s response to His Son’s extraordinary obedience and humility is to name Him Lord of lords. This underlines a biblical principle which is widely emphasised. The whole passage is about the prerequisite of being in humble submission to God, for His partnership and glory to be realised.
10 …that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
There is a connection here to what Daniel saw in the Spirit, Daniel 7:13–14.
This poetic teaching, or perhaps praise song of the Early Church, concludes with a universal acknowledgment of Jesus’ lordship by those living and departed saints, and also the onlooking satanic host and lost humanity in hell in the words of Isaiah 45:23 (cf. Romans 14:11; Rev 5:13).
This teaching is about the power of obedience and humility offered to God for Him to transform. We see Jesus as the supreme example; He who stooped so low is now lifted up, He who made Himself of no rank is promoted to the glorious rank of equality with God. It was a dignity which was His by right but He renounced His entitlement. “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place.”
We are so ingrained with the sense of merit and self-sufficiency, this comes as a difficult lesson. But as the contemporary saying goes, “Less is more”. Less of our egos and opinions so that God can use us without us stealing the glory.
As long as we are human, that will remain a challenge.
For reflection, or as a discussion starter
What area of ego or closely-guarded opinion do you need to let go, like Jesus let go of His divine status? How will you work on it?
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21
Psalm 118:1-2 and 19-29
The person whose name had the meaning “You have become my salvation” was to become the “stone that the builders rejected” in the words of this processional.
This is a song of national deliverance i.e. victory over the Canaanites or victory over enemies following the exile, at the dedication of the second temple or the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, Ezra 6:16, Nehemiah 12:37-43. Psalms 113 to 118 became a set of songs used at annual festivals to celebrate national deliverance after the exile, and as this was the last song of the set, it may have been what Jesus and the disciples sang after the Last Supper, Matt 26:30.
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
2 Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.”
The Lord is good, and His mercy endures – the covenant affirmation and the conventional call to worship.
19 Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.
The “gates of the righteous… through which the righteous may enter” could be the way in for the festal procession of the righteous, with the gates of the temple inner court symbolically guarding the presence of the Lord from any who are unrighteous. See Psalm 24.
21 I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation.
“Salvation” – the procession entering Jerusalem and the Temple, seen as the dwelling place of God, to celebrate the deliverance of God’s people, time after time, by God’s gracious action. We would say this verse with joy and sincerity in the different understanding of finding salvation with God through receiving the Son of God as a personal Saviour and Lord.
22 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…
The chief stone in the whole building, by which the several parts of the building are upheld and firmly united together; thus Christ united Jews and Gentiles together (John Wesley). Isaiah says elsewhere that the Israelites had forsaken the God’s cornerstone for their own refuge in a lie, Isaiah 28:15. The NT leaves us in no doubt that the cornerstone of v.22 foreshadows Jesus, Matt. 21:42, Acts 4:11, Rom. 9:32, Eph. 2:20, 1 Pet. 2:6ff.
23 …the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.
The crucifixion of Jesus was like throwing out the main building block; the resurrection of Jesus was his vindication, a focus of “marvellous” rejoicing for the Early Church and Christians subsequently for whom these words have been prophetic and a source of worship.
25 Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!
26 Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord, we bless you.
What Jesus had earlier implied by quoting these words, Matt. 21:42, the crowd at the Entry to Jerusalem saw for themselves. The crowd’s ‘Hosanna’ (hôšîʿ ânnāʾ, ‘Save, pray!’) of v.25 is related to “my salvation of v.21) and followed by their shout “Blessed is He who comes …” which continues the quotation from this psalm.
27 The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.
This verse tells us that the psalm is written for a festal procession, most likely more than a Sabbath. The three big annual pilgrim feasts were Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. There is the sense from these verses of call and answer: one procession, already inside the gates, was greeting another that was arriving.
28 You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.
The processional ends with declarations that “The Lord is God” – the only God – and “You are my God” and the affirmation that the Lord is good and enduringly merciful.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
The crowd who took part in these processions year after year could not have imagined that there would be a time when the symbolism would break out into reality, Hebrews 10:1, the horns of the altar would become the arms of the Cross, and the festival would become the full and final sacrifice of “Christ our Passover” 1 Cor 5:7.
This processional song was often sung at the major festivals when people would come into the city from the area around with a common desire to honour God for His goodness – and in remembering the past times of deliverance for the nation.
How good are we at recounting what God has done for us? The situations that turned around, the answered prayers, the unexpected signs of God’s favour?
We may call them coincidences but in the heavenly order, nothing is a coincidence. In the spiritul battles of life, praise is our most powerful weapon, and praise with testimony puts a sharp edge on that weapon.
For reflection, or as a discussion starter
What recent instance of God’s goodness in answered prayer in His provision or in another aspect of salvation, could you speak out to give brief testimony to His goodness?