TUESDAY, MARCH 2O
David knew God’s faithfulness when he was under attack – prophetic of Jesus’ time of torment also
Context note: The first eight verses of the psalm (a psalm of David) express confidence in God and praise for His deliverance “You have set my feet in a spacious place”. But it doesn’t feel like that. Now the support completely expected under the covenant seems delayed; help is needed now.
9 Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.
The psalmist knows that under the covenant he can expect the Lord to act on his behalf, but the situation is increasingly desperate. He cannot wait. He cries out for the mercy of the Lord.
10 My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.
This is a description of someone drained emotionally and physically, which is the effect of the ’emotional murder’ of hatred.
11 Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbours and an object of dread to my closest friends – those who see me on the street flee from me.
12 I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.
The victim of the hatred and slander experiences rejection and contempt, even from former friends, v.11, and hopelessness, v.12, is joined by terror.
13 For I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side!” They conspire against me and plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.”
In this dire situation, the psalmist moves – with the agility of a swordsman – from defending his feelings to offensive faith. He turns the tables on his oppressors (which may be human or spiritual) with prayer declarations.
15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
He pledges trust and gives God the sovereignty and the outcome: “My times are in Your hands”. Only then does he petition God to give him favour, to save him and vindicate him.
16 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in Your unfailing love.
Seeking God’s blessing in the familiar words of Numbers 6:25. The appeal to God to save in His unfailing love is an appeal to Him to act in accordance with the covenant.
17 Let me not be put to shame, Lord, for I have cried out to you; but let the wicked be put to shame and be silent in the realm of the dead.
18 Let their lying lips be silenced, for with pride and contempt they speak arrogantly against the righteous.
The outcome David wants more than any other is for an end to what is most damaging: the slander.
The threats, and even murderous threats, of enemies are not unfamiliar to us. Perhaps the hardest part of such an ordeal is the mental stress – and fear. The enemy is always active trying to put anxious thoughts and to turn our focus from faith to fear. He often uses malicious gossip and slander – getting vulnerable people to do his work for him.
The psalmist, David in this case, expresses this well. However, set alongside the “terror on every side” experience is the statement “I trust in You, Lord… my times are in your hands”.
We may not be able to avoid fear – it is a human emotion and some kinds of fear are necessary, and even healthy. The lesson here is that whatever fears and anxieties the enemy is trying to bind us with, we can come through to a place in that fear and anxiety where we declare, over and against it, “I trust in You, Lord… My times are in your hands.”
Whatever we face, Jesus has faced it already – and won through.
For reflection, or as a discussion starter
Could you draw a statement of faith from the second half of this psalm? What would be your basis for speaking it out in faith, and confidently?
Readings this week, leading up to Palm Sunday, March 25
MONDAY, MARCH 19
A picture of a true disciple’s false accusation, punishment – and assurance of the Lord’s vindication
Context and application note: This is called the third Servant Song of Isaiah, following Isaiah 42:1-9 (first) and 49:4, 7 (second). The first hearers might have seen Isaiah as the servant, or a purified Israel as the servant; with the advantage of hindsight it seems clear to us that this looks forward to Christ. John Wesley in his Notes said of the phrase “given me” that “this and the following passages may be in some sort understood of the prophet Isaiah, but they are far more evidently and eminently verified in Christ, and indeed seem to be meant directly of Him.”
4 The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
“Well-instructed tongue” – the tongue of one being taught, or a disciple’s tongue
“Word that sustains” – the Hebrew translated “sustains” is a rare word, probably the equivalent of our sense of a timely word or a word in season, and emphasising the Servant’s prophetic role in hearing and speaking. As with any understanding of being a disciple, hearing from the Lord and responding to Him comes before speaking.
5 The Sovereign Lord has opened My ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.
“Opened my ears” – a sign of obedience. As we would say, the servant is “open” to hearing about the test of obedience that the Lord is presenting. Israel has been rebellious; by contrast the Servant is attentive – and resolute about what follows.
6 I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting.
“Who beat me” – beatings were for fools, or criminals Proverbs 10:13, 19:29, 26:3, Matt 27:26, John 19:1.
“Pulled out my beard” – a way of showing contempt, 2 Samuel 10:4-5, Neh. 13:25.
“Mocking and spitting” – associated with the insult and disgrace of hatred, Job 30:10, Deut 25:9, Job 17:6, Mt 27:30.
7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps Me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set My face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
“Set my face like flint” – as Luke 9:51, “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (NIV), ” steadfastly and determinedly set His face…” (Amplified).
8 He who vindicates Me is near. Who then will bring charges against Me? Let us face each other! Who is My accuser? Let him confront Me!
This is the language of a courtroom, where the devil performs his role as accuser and the Sovereign Lord gives judgment. The sanctity of the heavenly legal process, which of course is completely fair, must be upheld.
Whatever the nature of the Servant’s call (v.5) and its cost in suffering (v.6) and resoluteness (v.7), these must fulfil the legal requirements. In v.8 “near” is a parallel word to gōʾēl, the Redeemer or Next-of-Kin of Ruth 2:20, 3:12. See also Lev. 21:2–3, 25:25, Num. 27:11.
“He who vindicates” – As this is fulfilled in the Messiah, it is also good news in the lives of those whose lives are hidden in Him. As Christ was sinless, He is able to nullify the charges brought against His own who have put their trust in Him, Romans 8:31-34.
9 It is the Sovereign Lord who helps Me. Who will condemn Me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.
“Condemn” means proven guilty. The Servant is confident of a favourable judgment. The vindication, in Jesus’ trials, did not spare Him the unjust punishment, even though the charges did not stick (see further study references). In the same way we experience injustice at the hands of men, but the verdict of heaven is a resounding ‘not guilty’ and freedom from any shame. There is also destruction for those involved in the wrongful action.
Jesus challenged His enemies: “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”, John 8:46.
“The moths” – what John Wesley called ‘the secret curse’ of destruction of false accusers, reiterated in Isaiah 51:8.
For further study, see Matthew 27:3–4, 19, 24; Mark 15:3; Luke 23:4, 10, 14–15, 41; John 8:46; John 19:6 and the ultimate vindication, 1 Timothy 3:16.
This is a picture of utter devotion and obedience in the face of harsh treatment and false accusation. There is a courtroom scene where accusations are made, defence made and the Lord’s judgment will be pronounced after the legalities are thrashed out.
Earlier readers would have seen this as applying to Isaiah himself – Israel had a poor record of heeding God’s messages and honouring God’s messengers.
How does this sit with us? Life is frequently unfair and a particular difficulty Christians have is being singled out for harsh treatment, often at the hands of religious people. Bad things do happen to people who are by no means bad or deserving of it. The extreme case was the mock trial and then execution of Jesus. This passage reminds us that eventually false accusers self-destruct and vindication by the Lord is assured – but people of malicious intent still have free will to cause a lot of hurt through their slander.
It took faith for the first disciples to hold on to God’s greater plan and it took them time to see God’s purpose in it all, even though they had been taught and reminded by Jesus Himself. It takes faith for us to hold on to God’s goodness and promises when everything appears to be under the devil’s domination, knowing that “because the Sovereign Lord helps Me, I will not be disgraced – who will condemn me?” Faith that is not stretched and tested is not mature faith.
For reflection, or as a discussion starter
When everything is going wrong and spiritual oppression is causing confusion, does God speak and how do we best position ourselves to hear Him?
Jeremiah 31:31-34 Jeremiah foresees a different kind of covenant entirely, a covenant of heart rather than statute.
Psalm 51:1-13 Selfishness and independence is inherited from mankind’s fallenness, but the mercy of God’s unfailing love and His Holy Spirit can create a new heart.
John 12:20-33 As the ‘prince of this world’ hears the announcement of his judgment, Jesus foretells that His death will draw all kinds of people to Him.
Hebrews 5:5-10 The new covenant is explained to Jewish Christians in terms of the new, enduring and entirely different level of priesthood now held by Christ Jesus.
FRIDAY, MARCH 16
New covenant, new way
The transition from obeying to partnering
Our Father God wants His children to know Him personally, to share in His values – such as drawing everyone to Himself – and to partner with Him in bringing transformation to this world.
That wasn’t always how it worked. In the desert, then in the Promised Land, with the influence of prophets, priests and kings, a people that would obey and stick to Moses’ Sinai covenant was what brought His favour. That is, when they did obey – when the ‘marriage’ was working. But more and more, the relationship began to fail.
Just as expectations in the partnership of marriage have changed, as the roles and relationships of men and women have changed, the whole basis for relating to God went through a ‘sea change’. Everything changed in Jesus. The Messiah was the True Light who fulfilled the Law – a huge change. His giving of the Holy Spirit, empowering and bringing revelation, inspiring the gospels and other NT teaching was an even more profound change. The Old Covenant was about doing what was right, doing good works and doing ‘good religion’. The New Covenant, which Jeremiah foresaw, was about being those redeemed by Jesus as the unique High Priest, with hearts changed by the Holy Spirit, resulting in good works and partnership in the mission of God.
In the workplace, it is common to start a new role with an induction to learn the new ways things are done. Have we fully caught on to the new way God is working – or still trying to do things the old way, to His consternation?
THURSDAY, MARCH 15
The sinless and perfected humanity of Jesus, and His victory over the severest of tests, make Him the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him
The opening chapters of Hebrews, Hebrews 1-Hebrews 3:2, gives the Jewish readers the letter was written for, a background of who Jesus is – “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”, Heb. 1:3. Christ who was “made a little lower than the angels”, is “now crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death”, Heb. 1:9, and “much superior to the angels”, Heb. 1:4. He is also the “Apostle and High Priest… faithful to the One who appointed Him”, Hebrews 3:1-2. He is the One God sent (apostle) to become the ultimate mediator and source of salvation, high priest, of a different and very special kind.
5 In the same way, Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son; today I have become your Father”, Psalm 2:7.
|5 In New Testament times the high priestly office was in the control of the family that had bought the rights.|
|6 And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek,” Psalm 110:4.||6 Christ was appointed by God – as was Aaron. This is a similarity, but now we see that this is a different kind of priesthood. They made sacrifices for sins on behalf of the people, and dealt gently with the waywardness of the people, but this was not permanent. Aaron and his successors had to make sin offerings for their own sin, as well as the people’s. They had their time of office, and were replaced.|
|7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.||7 Unlike Aaron, Jesus made a permanent sacrifice for sin as a sinless person. Unlike Aaron, He learned obedience through suffering, v.8, and offered up prayers and petitions which are heard because of His reverent submission, v.7. Salvation through His priesthood is not here-and-now (until the next sacrifice) but eternal, all-encompassing and without limit.|
|8 Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered…||8 Not that He was ever disobedient. But being called upon to obey in such a test, facing such temptations, engaging in such a difficult battle for victory, Christ was “made perfect”. His victory overturns Adam’s failure and the consequent curse affecting humanity.|
|9 …and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him…||9 His humanity completed (another way of expressing “made perfect”), He now acts as “the source of eternal salvation”, see Hebrews 9:12.|
|10 …and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.||10 Melchizedek had no successors, so strictly speaking there was no order named after him. “A high priest of the same kind as Melchizedek” is better and also conveys the sense that this kind of priesthood is on another level entirely.|
The high priest role of Jesus may not be the easiest one for us to relate to – but we reflect on it every time we pray a prayer “in the name of Jesus”. We are asking the resurrected Jesus in His heavenly position to pick up our prayer, to agree with it and then pray it before the Father on our behalf.
Knowing that Jesus, “the radiance of God’s glory”, is by the Father’s side interceding for us, Romans 8:34 gives us a lot of confidence in intercession prayer. But we know that prayer in the face of the one who steals, kills and destroys, John 10:10, is a battle. It is something of a courtroom standoff of legal arguments against a merciless prosecutor, in which God’s word is used to establish precedents. If we know that the high priest role of Jesus is an appointment by God of one tested and found perfected and sinless, even through the most severe trials, and now designated to be the source of eternal salvation for those who follow Him – we are giving our brief to the ultimate Kings Counsel, a barrister of the very highest standing and impeccable reputation.
For reflection or as a discussion starter
How has this changed your perspective on what happens in the heavenlies when we pray with requests for ourselves or others?
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14
As the ‘prince of this world’ hears the announcement of his judgment, Jesus foretells that His death will draw all kinds of people to Him
|20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival.||
20 “Greeks” – God-fearing Gentiles from a Greek-speaking area such as the ten towns of Galilee , or Greek-speaking converts to Judaism.
|21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”||21 Or rather, converse with Jesus. Perhaps they knew Philip, who had a Greek name.|
|22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.|
|23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.||23 Jesus had often said that His hour had not yet come. Now it had. Now, what must happen, is about to happen. Jesus’ death, and then His resurrection, were supreme demonstrations of the glory of His actions and the glory of who He was and is.|
|24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.||24 Jesus’ death results in an abundant harvest, 1 Cor. 15:36-38. The Greeks coming with Philip gave Jesus a picture of the harvest to come which would be a harvest of Gentiles as well as Jews.|
|25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.||25 “Anyone who loves… who hates their life” – this is an exaggeration for effect, a common Jewish figure of speech
25 The first word for “life” is more usually translated ‘soul’ and has the meaning of individual personality and achievement. The second is usually coupled with “eternal” as ‘eternal life’ or spiritual vitality in God’s presence.
|26 Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves Me.||26 Jesus is reflecting on, if not exactly quoting, God’s words spoken to Eli: “Those who honour Me I will honour, but those who despise Me will be disdained” (1 Samuel 2:30)|
|27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.||27 We are more familiar with Jesus’ anguish at Gethsemane which the narrative gospels relate, Matt 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:40-46. John shows us that Jesus had already shared His struggle with what his destiny demanded from Him at this earlier time.|
28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”
28 This was the third time that God’s voice was heard audibly in connection with Jesus, each time affirming the authority of Jesus as His Son. People heard a booming sound but John is quite certain that this was God speaking, as he records.
For further study, see accounts of God speaking at Jesus’ baptism, Matt 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:21-22; and at the Transfiguration, Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35.
29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to Him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.
|30 Another Jewish idiom of exaggeration, like v.25, meaning that it would be more enduringly for the disciples’ benefit as they struggled to make sense of the crucifixion and the events surrounding it.|
31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.
31 Every revelation of Jesus is by its nature a judgment on those who deny who Jesus is, and a judgment on the devil’s attempts to influence the world and individuals. “The world” in John is often used as a shorthand for religious leaders antagonistic to Jesus.
31 Another aspect of the judgment on this world was what was becoming evident to people at this time (not the final judgment). The revelation of who Jesus is always compels a response, to honour Him or not, with consequences either way (v.26).
31 There are a three references to the ‘prince of this world’ in John’s gospel, John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; other descriptions in John are the devil (diabolos), Satan (satanas from Hebrew satan, adversary or accuser) and the evil one (ho poneros), John 8:44, 13:2, 13:27, 17:15.
32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”
He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.
32 John uses elkyo, draw or pull, in the sense of drawing people to Him, 6:44; 12:32; and drawing in the net with the fish, John 21:6, 11.
32 Jesus’ death on the Cross would draw “all people” to Him. Clearly not all would believe. Of those, not all would trust Him and honour Him as their Lord. The sense is drawing all kinds of people, which he had spoken of before.
The context in which John is writing is another world entirely to our sense of multicultural enrichment. Jesus taught, John 10:16, about having other sheep “not of this sheep pen” who would be called to become one flock under one shepherd. However, Jesus drawing people to Him who were not like Him, like the Greek speakers, was a challenge for John and his readers to follow.
The greater the distance from Jerusalem, the more the culture was Greek-speaking and less distinctly Jewish. Jews routinely despised those who they thought were not like themselves – the tax collector at prayer, Matt. 18:10. Nevertheless, “to be a light to lighten the Gentiles” was always part of Israel’s mission, just as the Christian church exists for all those who are not part of it. In this passage John recounts Jesus teaching about living beyond ourselves and holding His own life lightly, in the hearing of Greek-speaking non-Jews.
Living for our own achievement is to lose the true meaning of life, which is to live beyond ourselves in the promise of eternal fellowship with God. Just as agape love is not self-seeking but has a sacrificial quality, so true life is able to die to its own ends, to produce an abundance beyond itself.
The prince of this world presides wherever the reign of selfishness and man’s opinion are valued more than the reign of Christ. Jesus is a confrontation to this worldview – and every revelation of Jesus, such as the audible voice of God, and every glorification of Jesus, on the cross or resurrected and on a heavenly throne, is a judgment on the world and its ‘prince’.
The Cross and Resurrection spell the driving out of the usurper of Jesus’ rule and reign. So the work is done? In one sense, but its all-important enforcement is a task which is now delegated to the continuing Body of Christ. We dare not renege on our responsibility by staying resolutely in our comfort zones.
For reflection or as a discussion starter
How free are you, or is your church, to reach out to those who are not like the regular congregation? What would help?