TUESDAY, MARCH 13
David recognises that his selfishness and independence is inherited from mankind’s fallenness; only God’s unfailing love could give him a new heart
|1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions.||1 When sin damages fellowship with the Lord of the covenant, there is a pressing need for mercy and forgiveness. The sinner has no right to His blessings; there is, however, the promise to forgive which is used here like a precedent quoted in a court hearing. The appeal is on the basis of God’s stated “great compassion” and “unfailing love”.|
|2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.||2 “Wash away” or more literally, “wash me thoroughly” is an expression used of foul garments needing repeated laundry treatment – which goes with the “blot out” image of sin’s persistent stain.|
|3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.||3 “My transgressions” — or rebellion (NLT).|
|4 Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when You judge.||4 This is more than introspection and regret (v.3) for constructive murder, and adultery. The psalmist recognises that his real sin is against the Lord, as revealed by the prophet Nathan, 2 Samuel 12:13, Luke 15:18 – and by breaking specific covenant commandments, Exodus 20:13-14, 17|
|5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.||5 This verse supports our understanding of original sin and mankind’s depravity. Adam’s sin was passed down from generation to generation and inherited at birth.|
|6 Yet You desired faithfulness even in the womb; You taught me wisdom in that secret place.||6 God is just, while humankind is tainted by corruption, such that acknowledging sin – which is what God wants from us – cannot happen without revelation, “wisdom from on high”. God’s desire is for His good design to be realised even in the secret place, or womb (the words are parallel).|
|7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.||7 A leper was cleansed by a bunch of hyssop (or marjoram), its hairy leaves being suitable for dipping in the sacrificial blood and applying or sprinkling the blood, seven times, Lev. 14:6. After that the pronouncement was made: “And he shall be clean”.|
|8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.||8 For the psalmist, to talk of bones being crushed was an expression of deep, penetrating torment, e.g. Psalm 6:2, 22:14 etc|
9 Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
|10 David is saying that his heart has so turned to sin that he needs a new heart to be created.|
|11 Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.||11 David had seen how the Holy Spirit had left Saul. He recognises the enabling of the Spirit, and how he needs this more than ever.|
|12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.||12 He knows that God wants true repentance from the inside out. External observances won’t satisfy and cannot sustain right living.|
|13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, so that sinners will turn back to You.||13 At first sight, this is surprising – that David, caught up in such serious sin, should seek to teach others. However, the context is that, as king, David had spiritual responsibilities. He was prepared to teach the nation from his failings.|
David was an outstanding king of Israel, a military strategist, a musician and songwriter with a profound sense of God’s presence in worship and prophetic insight – and the perpetrator of some colossal mistakes, alluded to in this psalm.
Why is that helpful to us? Because we can make some pretty bad calls and find ourselves heading down the wrong path. But David knew God. He knew God was for him, and God’s love is unfailing, and His compassion of a different order, to anything we could imagine.
David teaches us not to make excuses, not to bother justifying ourselves, but to recognise that like all humankind we are flawed. We can come back to God’s mercy, but the path is one that gets us stooping down low. We need to pleased the cleansing of the Blood, and to ask the Holy Spirit to do a work of renewal in us – in this Psalm 1 reads as quite contemporary.
Why do we find contrition and humility so difficult? It’s the same reason that gets us into the mire in the first place. There are places in Scripture where the answer is more explicit, but these verses are rich in clues.
For reflection or as a discussion starter
How do you respond to the suggestion that, like King David, you were sinful at birth, or even before (v.5)?
Readings in the church calendar for March 18 (Lent 5)
Jeremiah foresees a covenant of heart rather than statute
MONDAY, MARCH 12
The law, so inflexible and easily broken, will now become a spiritual motivation to live a godly and righteous life
|31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.||
31 “The days are coming” – looking ahead to the coming of the Messiah, a new era.
31 This is the only explicit reference to the New Covenant in the Old Testament.
|32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.||
32 The Sinai covenant, unlike the early covenants with Noah and Abraham, were conditional. It was like a marriage, with the expectation that the Israelites would be a faithful partner to God, the husband, provider and protector.
32 It was a covenant that could be broken – and they broke it continually. That the Old Covenant would one day end in failure and exile was revealed to Moses and foretold in Deuteronomy 30:4-6.
For further study, see Deuteronomy 28-30 and read Deuteronomy 30 alongside this passage.
32 “Not like the covenant I made with their ancestors…” Jeremiah is foreseeing a new age characterised by divine grace and the covenant made with Moses is too inflexible for this new relationship to come.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.
|33 As had been foretold in the time of Moses, a way of changing hearts to know and want to follow God’s ways, would be needed. Only the Holy Spirit of God received into the heart, could make this fundamental, regenerative change.|
34 No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest,”declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
34 One of Jeremiah’s memorable sayings is that the heart is deceitful and beyond cure, Jer. 17:9. Only a change from a law written externally on stone tablets, to being ‘written’ internally on hearts as an internal covenant and a principle of life, Romans 8:1-4, would be effective.
The new covenant would also amount to the gift of a new heart, Ezekiel 36:25-27.
The Old Covenant was a way of living expressed in charter form which would keep tribespeople, relatively ignorant of God’s ways and God’s word, on the right track with the help of the priests. When they went off the track, a system of penalties provided a way to get right with God.
All the time there was good leadership, submitted to God, and a disciplined priesthood, this worked. But the inflexible system had limitations. It did not adequately represent God’s grace and the Israelites and their expectations were evolving. The intention was that the tribes would be separated to God and guard their own values and culture from pagan (and horrible) influences around them. At the same time, they were to be a witness of the true God to those around them.
At the end of a long prophetic ministry and reflecting on the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah heard from God and saw in the Spirit an entirely new kind of covenant, a covenant of the heart and spirit rather than a covenant of precepts to be learned. This foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God, who fulfilled the law and the priesthood in becoming a sacrifice for all time by dying on a cross while remaining sinless.
What does this immediately mean for us? Unearned redemption by God’s grace in Jesus Christ changes everything – “The old has gone, the new has come”, 2 Cor. 5:17. So either we are hanging on to an outdated system, trying to live the best life we can and perform the necessary religious requirements to please God – or we take hold of the truth that God loves us, is for us, and has given us His Holy Spirit to be our guide and enabler in holy living.
Trying to do both doesn’t work. We can’t be set free from the law – it is for freedom that Christ has set us free – and still look to live by a framework. That is saying we are free but living all bound up. Jeremiah would say, make your mind up – but the New Covenant doesn’t break and is much better. And Paul would say to us, “The old has gone…”
For reflection or as a discussion starter
How much are we still constrained by old covenant thinking? Why is that?
FRIDAY, MARCH 9
The emerging message
Raising our faith viewpoints reveals the grace God had for us in every situation
These passages describe four common ‘heart conditions’ or attitudes of the heart that are not acceptable to the Lord. They are also explicit about His grace and mercy in such situations which always provides a way back to Him.
Perhaps it is not surprising the Israelites in the desert, short of food and water, should start to grumble. We are inclined to do it if the traffic is bad and this was life-threatening. But when grumbling turns to speaking against the leader, or the Lord, there were going to be bad consequences, and a plague of carpet vipers appeared.
The psalm reading highlights rebellious ways as a second heart attitude to be addressed, and talks about affliction and wasting disease that results from it.
The gospel reading includes one of the best-known verses in John 3 and the heart issue is unbelief. In a multi-cultural, diverse and tolerant society it does not sit well with us to hear that whoever does not believe, stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Then Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, paints a picture of extreme contrast between living selfishly according to the old nature, and the grace of God which saves us and gives us a new identity as those in Christ and with a passport issued in heaven.
It is apparent how God’s faithful love is prominent in all of this, as though waiting for hearts that show signs of changing, if not exactly changed. The keys are repentant prayer and belief in Christ Jesus. The lessons are how we raise our viewpoint – looking up to an image is a symbol of looking up spiritually to gain heaven’s perspective. The first recorded words of Jesus following baptism and the desert testing were the proclamation of the kingdom with the words “repent and believe”.
The selfish nature, or flesh nature, which is our inheritance from Adam, the prototype of humanness, is part of us we have to keep putting to death, because it keeps on kicking. So we should be as ready to repent as we are to take a shower, and for similar reasons. Repentance always opens the way for us to repair or deepen our relationship with God, to hear. Apart from our pride, what is there to hold us back from getting closer to God and raising our perspective to align with His?
THURSDAY, MARCH 8
How God sees us in Christ Jesus, seated with Him in the heavenly realms
|The context of this passage is God’s kingdom purpose that is being revealed (the mystery of His will) to bring everything together under Christ’s lordship, Eph. 1:9-10. This “unity of all things” happens through the surrender of will and receiving of grace, by individuals.|
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…
1 “Trespasses” are lapses, “sins” are shortcomings.
1 “Dead” is without authentic spiritual life, where the most vital, spirit part of the human personality is not operating. In this state we can’t of ourselves meet God’s requirements, or engineer a way of having fellowship with Him.
1 The Jews are no better off – all inherit the sinful human nature and start off in independence and disobedience.
|2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.||2 Before God’s intervention, everyone who is born is physically alive but spiritually dead and alienated from God the life-giver. There is a contrast of opposites “between being in transgressions and sins” and being “in Christ”, Eph. 2:5-7 below.|
|3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.||3 “All of us” – Paul, as a Jew, doesn’t exclude himself. Possessing the law is no protection from the desires and thoughts of the flesh. We all like to seek a religious framework in which we avert judgment by doing ‘good’ things – it’s the way we are wired. Once we submit to Jesus Christ as Lord as well as Saviour, a transformation takes place and we see things with new understanding, vv. 4-5 below.
3 As in the great treatise explaining salvation by Christ, Romans chapter 1 through 8, the apostle does not turn to the grace of God, verses 4-8, until he has made very clear humanity’s inherently sinful nature and desperate need of a way out. See also Colossians 1:21-22.
|4 But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy…||4 “But” points to God, in His perfection, having wrath for man’s misdeeds and unholiness. Only God, in His perfection, can hold together this righteous wrath with “great love” and being “rich in mercy”. Only God can reconcile our independence and transgression, with His desire for us. The Gospel is all about reconciliation, led by God Himself.|
5 …made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…
5-6 The “As for you… but because” long sentence resolves here, a linguistic emphasis. The “blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly place” statement of the introduction to the letter, Eph. 1:3 not moves from general to three particular things God has done “in Christ” for every believer:
– From spiritually dead to new life in Christ
– Salvation, the unearned gift of God’s grace
– A citizenship of heaven, backed by heavenly authority, positionally “raised up… and seated… with [Christ]”.
The choice to accept this, remember this, live in this, is ours alone.
For further study: the ‘look higher, live higher’ exhortation is also expressed in Colossians 3:1-3.
|7 …in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.||7 “Might show” – endyknymai means ‘display’ or ‘demonstrate’, Amplified, or ‘point to us as examples’, NLT. The church is God’s exhibition to the world of His grace and love, and also His kingdom purpose, planned from long ago to be relevant long ahead.|
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God –
9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
8-9 Paul emphasises greatly (as he does elsewhere) that we owe our salvation entirely to the undeserved, unearned favour of God. It is His doing; the only part mankind plays is in the words “by faith” i.e. believing, trusting and receiving what God has done in Jesus. It is this in very small part that we find such great resistance of the flesh. The human nature always looks for something that has the feeling of action and reward. The great danger of an elaborate religious framework is that it supports and even feeds this desire for ‘works’ and provides what seems to be an alternative to responding to God’s love in faith.
For further study: 1-3 “all have sinned” and suffer sin’s consequences, Romans 3:22-23. 8-10 Salvation can never be achieved through works, Rom. 3:20, 28; 4:1–5; Gal. 2:16; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5.
10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Christians prove their faith by the fruit of their lives in good character, nature, and in doing good – never the other way round. Paul emphasises this so much, because it is such a widely held fallacy that our good deeds give us credit on heaven. The only credit acceptable is on Jesus Christ’s account, not ours.
For further study, James 2:14-26.
These few verses are some of the richest we can find, in terms of explaining the grace of God and how it works out in our lives. This is God’s initiative in reconciliation, a concept so simple and at the same time so profound, that we find it hard to grasp. And perhaps it is not possible to grasp, without allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us at a deep level, to break down the pride and resistance in us, and bring us to the point of gratefully looking up, to raise our faith to be enabled to live higher, the theme of all these Bible readings.
Of course, this mind-blowing explanation of how God has treated us, has huge implications for the way we set out to treat others.
The actions and attitudes of others deserve our wrath, just as we deserve God’s wrath. How does He see us? His handiwork, being shaped and polished. How does He treat us? Gently, as His handiwork requires. Do we see others as God’s handiwork? And how do we treat them, when they cut in on us, or worse? Living by the truth is challenging, but the alternative is living by falsehood, and it’s a hard act to sustain.
For reflection or as a discussion starter
4 Think for a moment about your relationship with God, your stance against the schemes and deceptions of Satan, and your relationships of all kinds with other people. What practical difference does it make to be in Christ Jesus and seated with Him in the heavenly realms?
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7
God’s love rests on us the moment we turn to Jesus as God’s only Son and believing, receive Him into our hearts
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,
15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.”
14 Jesus refers to Numbers 21:8-9 and sees this action by Moses as a precursor or foreshadowing of His own call to self-sacrifice.
|16 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.||
One of the best known and most quoted verses in the Bible, which may be Jesus’ words or John’s commentary on Jesus’ words. There is no equivalent of quotation marks in NT Greek, so we can’t be sure. But Scripture is Scripture.
“One and only Son” – also John 1:14, 1:18. The word is monogenēs which means the only one of its kind. In the Old Latin translation, monogenēs was translated unicus, the root of our word unique. The essential nature of Jesus as one and only Son, is the same nature as the Father’s
|17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.||17 “For God did not send…” John designates Jesus as ‘the Son sent by the Father’ a number of times, which is the image of the shaliach, messenger or envoy, who is like the sender and able to represent exactly the sender’s interests with the sender’s message.
For further study see John 3:34-36; John 5:19-26; John 6:40; John 8:35-36; John 14:13; John 17:1
|18 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.||
18 John is speaking of settled convictions, not feelings of confidence or doubt which come and go. The “how to” of coming to that settled conviction has already been explained in John 3:5-9 in which Jesus explains to the well-read Pharisee Nicodemus that to perceive the kingdom of God one must have a new start and be born again of the Holy Spirit, and so gain eternal life in the One to be “lifted up” like the bronze snake lifted up by Moses in the wilderness. As God miraculously granted physical life to the dying through the bronze snake, Numbers 21:4-9, so God miraculously gives spiritual and eternal life through Jesus. Unlike the snake, Jesus has life in Himself, John 1:4, John 5:26.
18-21 Two groups of people are starkly contrasted:
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.
21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
In this excerpt, we come in halfway, to a conversation between Nicodemus, a well-read and thinking man and Jesus. Jesus explains to him that seeing the kingdom of God is a spiritual perception enabled by the Holy Spirit. Entering into the kingdom of God is a spiritual renewal – a spiritual birth experience. This comes through recognising who Jesus is, a raising of perspective and diminishing of self which allows the Holy Spirit to connect with the human spirit.
We so easily slip back into seeing things from a worldly perspective (where Nicodemus started). The challenge is to be ready to move position, to change perspective, to see what is illuminated by the light.
In our politically-correct world where relativism reigns and absolutes are scorned, everyone wants to uphold their own path to their own ‘truth’. That clashes head-on with this stark black and white scenario, where we either do believe in the Son and have eternal life, or we do not believe and we perish. Stark or not, that’s what the Bible says. There is no assurance in anything else – or anyone else, but Jesus.
To stand with Jesus as one of His, is to see with His perspective. To look up at Jesus on the Cross or in our mind’s eye, in the heavenlies, is to recognise the severe limits of our own perspective and gain a higher one – with eternal benefits.
For reflection or as a discussion starter
3 “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned…” What do you believe about this, and how would you explain it to an enquirer in ordinary language?