March 29, 2020. “Dry Bones” Sunday. TLW12A
Sunday Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, shared across the denominations.
Theme: How the Holy Spirit brings our ‘dry bones’ to life
Read the passage first and let it speak for itself. The link takes you to NIV text which combines accuracy with clarity. The order follows the sequence of the Bible, which is a progressive revelation from Old Testament, to Gospel account, to the teaching of the early church who knew the perspective and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Following the Bible’s own sequence makes it much easier to grasp the overall thrust of what God is saying through it.
Then there are links to the verse-by-verse commentary and brief application.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 — a vision of dry bones brought to life
The prophet calls the Holy Spirit to bring resurrection
John 11:1-45 – The miracle that brought Lazarus back to life
The seventh sign showing Jesus to be the Messiah of God
Romans 8:6-11 – The hold of the flesh opposes God’s Spirit
When we become Christians, the flesh nature tries to hold on
And also: Psalm 130
Ezekiel 37:1-14 — a vision of dry bones brought to life
The prophet calls the Holy Spirit to bring resurrection
1-3 The hand of the LORD was on me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign LORD, You alone know.”
“He brought me out by the Spirit” – God gave him a detailed, graphic vision.
“Valley… full of bones” – a battlefield graveyard which symbolises the spiritual death of the exiles. The vision underlines the promise of new life: “I will give you a heart of flesh… and I will put My Spirit in you…”, Ezekiel 36:16-38.
4-6 Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’
“Prophesy” – ‘speak forth’ a declaration in faith.
”I will put breath in you” — ruach means both breath and spirit.
• For further study: John 3:1-21. Jesus expected Nicodemus, knowing this passage, to understand the concept of a new spiritual birth by the Holy Spirit.
7-8 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9-10 Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ”
“Prophesy to the breath” — or ‘speak in faith to the Spirit’ is the Scriptural basis of the ancient prayer, “Come Holy Spirit”. We can and should invite the fuller presence of God’s life-giving Spirit.
10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.
11-12 Then He said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.
13-14 Then you, My people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”
“I will put My Spirit in you and you will live” – at first, resettlement of exiles (Ezekiel was an exile prophet). Longer range fulfilment: spiritual rebirth and life of the Holy Spirit experienced by the church following Pentecost.
• For further study, see John 3:5-8; John 11:25-26; Romans 8:9-17; Col. 3:1-4.
This is exactly what happens when by faith we ask Jesus to be Lord, and are born from above. This is an invitation for the Holy Spirit to enter, we come to life spiritually, and we recognise Jesus in a way we couldn’t before, as our Lord. This passage gives good biblical grounds for us to entreat God for renewal, and to speak the life of the Spirit into the ‘dry bones’ of institutional Christianity.
What God wants, is what we should be asking for, and in faith speaking out.
Sometimes things remain when really they have died. Where are the “dry bones” that God wants you to pray into new life?
John 11:1-45 – The miracle that resurrected Lazarus
The seventh sign showing Jesus to be the Messiah of God
1-3 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.
Bethany – a village on the side of the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem.
4-7 When He heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days, and then He said to His disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
He stayed… two more days” – Lazarus needed a healing touch, yet Jesus delayed, which seemed uncaring. He loved the family but was obedient to God’s timing, for His greater glory.
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
9-10 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
“Walks in the daytime” – meaning doing what God wants and following His timing.
11 After He had said this, He went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12-13 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought He meant natural sleep.
14-15 So then He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
17-20 On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet Him, but Mary stayed at home.
“Four days” – a day after the soul had finally departed the body, according to common folk belief.
21-22 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask.”
23-24 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“I am the resurrection and the life” – meaning He is “I AM”, Lord, over life and death, and also Lord of new and eternal life through believing in Him.
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
28-31 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33-34 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” He asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
“He was deeply moved… and troubled” – “a deep anger welled welled up within Him”, NLT and The Message; while empathising with Mary’s grief He took issue with the hypocrisy and unbelief of the bystanders, v.37.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38-39 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” He said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”
“Cave with a stone… across the entrance” – a tomb of this kind would have been quite commonplace at that time. It indicated a relatively well-off family.
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41-42 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that you always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent Me.”
43-45 When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in Him.
“Many… believed” – as v.40; other witnesses to the miracle reported Jesus’ actions maliciously to the Pharisees in Jerusalem, v.46.
Ezekiel, in his vision, was told to speak life to the dry bones, and saw them resurrected. Here, Jesus follows what He has ‘seen’ in prayer and speaks life to a corpse wrapped up and buried in a cave, and Lazarus, miraculously resurrected, stumbles into view. This is the seventh sign recorded by John in which Jesus showed Himself, rather than declared Himself, to be Messiah. A short time later Jesus would be back in Jerusalem for Passover Week, ending with His own death on the cross, and then resurrection following a similar burial to Lazarus.
Following the world order of things, everything becomes sick or wears out or goes wrong; but by contrast, turning to the Lord of life is always a lifegiving move. It aligns us with Him, so that the life of the Lord can flow into our situation.
Think of a time (or times) when prayers seemed to go unanswered and everything was going pear-shaped – but later you could see God’s higher purpose.
Romans 8:6-11 – The rule of the flesh opposes God’s Spirit
When we become Christians, the flesh nature tries to keep its grip on us
6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.
7-8 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
“Governed by the flesh” – the selfish and independent ‘human’ nature, resisting what God wants for us, is life-sapping, not life-giving.
9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.
“Have the Spirit of Christ” – which comes by you deciding to trust Jesus for your salvation and looking to Him as Lord. Telling Him (and others) of that intention underlines the decision; otherwise we can continue in a kind of nominal assent, which does not unseat the independence of the selfish nature, or allow room for the Holy Spirit to lead our steps.
10-11 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.
“He who raised Christ from the dead” – the Holy Spirit is the all-powerful life-giver and the resurrection of Jesus proves that. To the extent that we invite Him, we find Him empowering and life-giving.
What, or who, is the power that made resurrection happen – the dry bones brought to life, Lazarus emerging from the tomb, Jesus Himself raised to life on the third day? This teaching for Christians in Rome speaks of the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ in the same sentence (v.9). Jesus spoke the command to Lazarus’ body and the Spirit of God re-created his deceased body as a living person.
Our humanness gets in the way of what God intends, but the Holy Spirit is the one who kindles life in our human spirit and empowers us to live for Him – as we turn (and keep on turning) to Jesus and call Him Lord.
How do we make room for the Holy Spirit to give us His new life and empowering to live for Jesus? How do we make it difficult for Him?
Father God, as we come to You submitted to Jesus, we know that You are the giver of life.
Left to ourselves we can only die back, but as we open ourselves to You we always find renewal.
At this time, where our flesh nature so readily entertains the fear of death, we thank You, that in You we have the opposite spirit of peace, joy and hope.
May we be strong in the Spirit of Christ and in our small way, lifegiving to others as You are lifegiving. Amen.
Mothering Sunday — March 22 TLW11A
Previous week March 15 Following week March 29
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.
1 Samuel 1:20-28 — Hannah’s motherly instinct is to put what is right before what she wants, and she gives up her son to fulfil her vow
together with Psalm 34:11-20
John 19:25-27 — in His dying breaths, Jesus honours His mother, trusting His disciple John to look after her
Colossians 3:12-17 — As people of joy in the Good News of Christ, we carry the kind of love that can let go and forgive
1 Samuel 1:20-28 — Hannah makes a great sacrifice on behalf of her son
This mother’s instinct is to put what is right ahead of what she wants
20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.”
“Samuel” – sounds like “asked of God” or “heard by God” in Hebrew.
21-22 When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the LORD, and he will live there always.”
23 “Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the LORD make good His word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.
“Make good His word” – an earlier, unrecorded word from the Lord or, possibly, Eli’s pronouncement, v.17.
24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh.
“After he was weaned” – much older than we would expect; he could have been five years old.
“Three-year-old bull…ephah of flour” – or three bulls, either way a substantial offering, indicating that Elkanah was prosperous.
25-26 When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD.
“As surely as you live” – a way of emphasising the truth of words. Hannah exalts the Lord by her testimony of what He has done.
27-28 I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.” And he worshipped the LORD there.
“The LORD has granted me…” – following Eli’s earlier words; Samuel is the direct answer to that blessing.
“I give him” – honouring the Lord with sacrificial love. In turn, the Lord honours her with further sons and daughters, 1 Sam. 2:19-21
11 Come, my children, listen to Me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
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.
“I will teach you” – like “Come My children”, the language of the Bible genre called wisdom literature. Wisdom here has three components:
- “fear of the Lord”, meaning awe and worshipful attitude;
- intentional avoidance of evil, especially evil speech; and
- v.14, doing good.
14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
15-16 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.
“Turn from evil” – always be ready to change a behaviour and come back to God. These verses are quoted by Peter in his letter to summarise the loving and relational Christian lifestyle, 1 Peter 3:10-12.“The eyes of the Lord” – watching over and protective of those who are maintaining a relationship with Him; by contrast, those whose independence from the Lord leads to evil attract His attention in a different way.
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.
“Brokenhearted… crushed” – exaggeration for effect, of how “the righteous” have dealt with their human pride and stubbornness.
19 The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;
“Many troubles” – the psalm is clear that the prevalent evil that we must distance ourselves from, v.14, will bring trouble for both the wicked and the righteous. However there is a very different outcome for the wise and God-fearing who experience God’s love and attention, and can face difficulty with greater resilience.
20 He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.
“Not one of them… broken” – the apostle John, commenting on the Roman custom not being fully followed for Jesus, alluded to this together with Exodus 12:46, making the connection between Jesus and the passover lamb, John 19:36.
Hannah’s ability to lay down her right to what she most wanted, a son to bring up, sets the bar high by any measure of sacrificial love. She was determined to do what was right by the Lord and what was best for the son she had been given.
The psalm brings out two related themes:
- how the Lord seeks out those who push through to do what is right by Him, and
- that doing what is right comes at a cost: “The righteous person may have many troubles…”
However, the psalm shows us that the person who persists in doing what the Lord wants, through troubles, sees a very different outcome from the “evil person” who is presented for contrast. There is real cost and difficulty, but with it comes the promise of deliverance: “The LORD delivers him…” One definition of an “evil person” might be one who gives, but with the motive of coercing the Lord into rewarding the action. Like Hannah, we trust the Lord with what gives us and give back to Him, without strings, what counts as His.
What are the similarities between Hannah as a mother, and Mary the mother of Jesus?
John 19:25-27 — Jesus honours His mother with His dying breaths
He trusts His disciple John with the responsibility to look after her
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
“Near the cross… stood” – a number of women, considered a low risk and not kept away as men were. “His mother’s sister” may have been Salome, wife of Zebedee, making the writer a cousin of Jesus, and giving greater reason for His assignment of Mary’s care to John, v.27.
“The wife of Clopas” – possibly the disciple that Luke named as Cleopas, who encountered the resurrected Jesus on the way to Emmaus, Luke 24:18.
• For further study, compare Matt 27:55–56; Mark 15:40; Luke 23:. Mark 16:1.
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.
“Took her into his home” – in Jewish family law Jesus as eldest son had provision to assign the care of his mother to another. Jesus’ brothers may not have believed in Him at this point, John 7:5. According to tradition, Mary moved with John to Ephesus and both are buried there.
John is teaching the wider point, that those witnessing the scene were the heart of the new community of believers gathered at the Cross (a fair definition of the Church) and Jesus wanted them to start putting into practice what He had commanded earlier, to love and care for each other.
• For further study, see John 13:34, 15:12, 17.
Here we feel a mother’s grief and loss, although it seems impossible to put ourselves in Mary’s place, witnessing the horrific execution of her own son. However, this scene gives us a window to see the kind of relationships that Jesus wanted to be the hallmark of the new community of gathered believers.
- It is family. Some of those standing near the Cross were related, some were not, but they were all family in another way, through sharing a close relationship with Jesus.
- It is about relationships, not the kind that are measured by order of importance (hierarchy) or order of influence (authority), but the mutuality of belonging to one another – “Here is your son… your mother”.
- It is enduring, not transient. This was not an arrangement till Mary got over her grieving, but an adoption for Mary to make her contribution and receive from others as part of this koinonia community – the ‘communion’ or fellowship word that came to mean the gathering to break bread and remember Jesus together.
How good are we at the ‘belonging’ of fellowship? What can be difficult for people joining a close fellowship?
Colossians 3:12-17 — Put on the kind of love that can let go and forgive
Be people of joy in the Good News of Christ
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
“God’s chosen people” – a phrase from the law of Israel about the people of Israel, Deuteronomy 4:37, is now applied to the Christian community, 1 Peter 2:9. Being chosen by God (the theological word is ‘election’) is a common theme in the Bible but never separated from the other face of the coin, our choice and Christian responsibility: here, to live as God’s chosen people in loving attitudes.
13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
“Forgive one another” – a central part of the Good News is that, in Jesus we can know we are completely forgiven by God, which brings “the peace of Christ”, v.15 below. But our being forgiven brings the expectation that we, on our part, will readily forgive, and treat others with the generosity of spirit we received from God.
• For further study, read Matthew 6:12, 14; 18:21-35.
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
“Put on love” – another central part of the Good News, because knowing that we are loved by God, enables us to love in our relationships with others. Our imitation of God’s unconditional love for us, is the glue that binds together the distinctive values that witness to others, as in v.12 above.
• For further study, read Matthew 5:43-48; Mark 12:28-33; Romans 13:8–10; 1 Corinthians 13:1–13.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
“Let the peace of Christ rule” – knowing Jesus brings us a wholeness, through freedom from bitterness and anger, because it empowers us to practice God’s grace in our relationships, vv.13-14. To paraphrase: ‘Let Christ rule your heart — and therefore Christ’s way be the umpire of all your actions.’
16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
“The message of Christ” – specifically, let the Good News of Christ be the central, joyful core of discipleship and worship. More broadly, Jesus’ teaching generally.
“Hymns and songs from the Spirit” – a parallel thought to “be filled with the Spirit”, Ephesians 5:18, which results in singing and gratitude. “Hymns” refers to songs of praise, e.g. Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Timothy 3:16 and “songs from the Spirit” singing in tongues and other freestyle, inspired and prophetic forms of worship.
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
“Do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” – not a formulaic saying but an intention to honour God and give glory to Him by Christlike speech and actions.
The third strand about learning God’s way and living it out, highlights the inner life we have. Mothers are given the ability to bring comfort – compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience sound like the mother most of us can remember crying out for at times.
But they are not just maternal or feminine attributes! This “peace of Christ” is what the Holy Spirit gives all believers who receive new life in Jesus. It comes from the love for others, that we find through knowing that we are loved ourselves, and this is at the heart of the Good News message of Christ.
That love for others, the unconditional kind that comes from the Holy Spirit, is what enables us to bear with the dysfunctions of others and go further – forgive them the way God forgave us. That is where we find inner peace.
Keep that truth fresh and central, the apostle seems to say, and you will find yourself being good news to others and bringing glory to God as you go.
Who has caused you hurt and distress, through being unfair, untrue, unkind and unappreciating? Have a trusted friend pray with you and help you apply v. 13 above to forgive from the heart and have the Lord’s peace.
Thank You, Father, that we can give, and also give up, knowing that You first gave. You give us love, joy, peace and every provision – and you also give us the generosity of spirit to forgive others and cancel out the moral debt they owe us, just as You forgave us our debts. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit to live trusting You, and giving glory to You, by the inner peace we carry. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
TLW10A for Sunday, March 15, 2020. The undeserved love of God
Taken from the Revised Standard Lectionary, Year A, March 15 (Lent 2)
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.
Theme: God’s sheer goodness to undeserving people
Exodus 17:1-7 – God shows grace to the grumbling tribes who need water, and delivers them again
John 4:5-42 — The gift of God in Jesus is love for the Samaritans
Romans 5:1-11 — What Christ did for undeserving, ungodly sinners
Also: Psalm 95
Exodus 17:1-7 — God shows His grace in giving water again to the grumbling tribes
The people are not trusting God or their leader, but He delivers them again
1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, travelling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.
“No water” – with their animals, a big problem.
2 So they quarrelled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”
“So they quarrelled” – the spiritual problem was not the need of water, but not trusting in God’s provision of it.
3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
“Grumbled” – in distrust of God and His appointed leader Moses, even though they had seen the miracles of bitter water made pure at Marah, and finding food in the Desert of Sin, ç.
4 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
“Moses cried out to the Lord” – in prayer and dependence, by contrast to the people who had cried out against him.
5 The LORD answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.
“Take… some of the elders” – not all of them were blaming Moses, and he needed witnesses to what God would do.
6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.
“I will stand there before you” – the Lord revealing Himself, and reinforcing Moses’ leadership.
“Strike the rock” – for Paul, the rock was a sign representing Jesus, 1 Cor. 10:4.
• For further study: the Lord is referred to as “the Rock”, Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, 30; 1 Samuel 2:2.
7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
“Massah and Meribah” – testing and rebellion, although they knew God’s deliverance in leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud and fire, and manna, Psalm 95:7-8, Hebrews 3:7-8.
Moses was the convenient target to take the blame when there wasn’t enough food in the desert or there wasn’t a source of water. But actually, God allowed these times as tests, to know what was in their hearts, and whether they would trust Him – and they often failed.
- The good news in this passage is that God is good, His love is constant when ours is not, and when we eventually turn to Him, He is there for us.
See article on separate page, Understanding the Good News – God’s grace
How good are we at choosing not to blame, but to seek and trust God in the face of difficulties?
John 4:5-42 — The gift of God in Jesus is love for the Samaritans
How the unbelieving and hostile people found revival
5-6 So He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as He was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
“Sychar – a village opposite Mt. Gerazim near OT Shechem or NT Nablus, where Jacob had bought some land, later giving it to Joseph, Gen. 33:18-19, 48:21-22. A 40m well by a crossroads exists today.
7-8 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give Me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
“A Samaritan woman came” – women did not generally fetch water in the heat of the day, except this social outcast.
9 The Samaritan woman said to Him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
“How can You ask Me” – Jesus’ desire to reach this lost woman overrode conventions: addressing a lone woman, and drawing from a well used by (ritually unclean) Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”
11-12 “Sir,” the woman said, “You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
“Living water” – God reproves the Jews for rejecting Him, “the fountain of living waters” in Jer. 2:13, and other prophets spoke of the time when “living waters shall flow from Jerusalem”, i.e. knowing God’s grace and spiritual life, Zech. 14:8; Ezekiel 47:9.
13-14 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
“A spring… welling up to eternal life” – like Jesus’s teaching about springs of living water from within, meaning the new life of the Spirit, at the Feast of Tabernacles, John 7:37-39.
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17-18 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“I have no husband” – she replies in guilt and shame for her immoral life while beginning to seek this “living water”.
19-20 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21-22 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe Me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.
“A time is coming” – all temples, priests, and sacrificial worship is now superseded by the priesthood of all believers in Jesus, the “living stones” of the church, 1 Peter 2:5.
23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you — I am He.”
“I am He” – showing why “salvation is from the Jews”, v.22, able to speak of His Messiahship in Samaria without the political connotations.
27 Just then His disciples returned and were surprised to find Him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do You want?” or “Why are You talking with her?”
28-29 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward Him.
“Could this be…” – She saw Christ first as a Jew, v.8, then as a prophet, v.19, and now the Messiah.
31-33 Meanwhile His disciples urged Him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Then His disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought Him food?”
34-35 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent Me and to finish His work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
“My food” – or My fulfilment, is in carrying out the mission. Jesus’s sayings needed spiritual discernment and were often only understood by the disciples after the Spirit had been given, John 2:22.
“Fields… ripe for harvest” – literally “white” at the end of the natural cycle. Here, sowing at the well was already resulting in a supernatural harvest in the village.
36-38 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.”
“Even now” – there is a foretaste of the messianic age where “the one treading grapes” overtakes “the ploughman and the planter”, while remembering that we harvest what others have planted, Amos 9:13, Micah 6:15.
39-41 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they urged Him to stay with them, and He stayed two days. And because of His words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”
“Saviour of the world” – also in 1 John 4:14. The Samaritan revival is the first sign of Jesus’ saving mission beyond the Jews, the pattern for the way the early church moved out to Judea, Samaria and the Gentiles, John 3:1-15, John 4:1-42, John 4:46-54, Acts 1:8.
The Samaritans, having changed their version of the Scriptures to support worshipping independently on their own mountain, were hardly deserving of God’s favour. However, God breaks man’s ‘rules’ to bless those who seem to least deserve it, and bring spiritual life in unlikely places.
- The good news is that a heart that turns to God is what is important, not track record – because of His bias towards grace.
Where are the unlikely ‘Samaria’ places that we know, where God might be already working?
Romans 5:1-11 What Christ did for undeserving, ungodly sinners
When we have trusted Jesus, the tough times grow our faith and expectation
1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
“Justified through faith” – summarising the preceding teaching on how we are all under God’s judgment for humankind’s rebellion, which our ‘good’ actions cannot address but only believing, trusting faith like Abraham’s.
“Peace with God” – not a feeling but the settled reality of now being reconciled, freed from the fear of judgment, and having the joy of a personal relationship with God through Jesus.
3-5 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
“Glory in our sufferings” – tough circumstances still come but Christians find that God makes use of adversity to grow us in faith and character.
6-8 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
“The right time, when we were… powerless” – the realisation that while we are unregenerate sinners we can do nothing to help ourselves. This brings into focus the magnitude of what Jesus has done, dying for us, even though we were utterly undeserving.
9-11 Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
“Justified by His blood” – in Scripture, “blood” is shorthand for violent death, Leviticus 17:11.
“We were God’s enemies” – because we inherited Adam’s independence, a hostility to God’s order that must be removed for reconciliation to happen.
“Saved from God’s wrath… reconciled… having been reconciled… saved” – the repetition emphasises the point. Christians “justified” (declared not guilty) now by Christ’s blood poured out on the Cross, can be assured that at the judgment to come they will be confirmed in God’s eternal love, not wrath.
The grumbling Israelites and the independent Samaritans teach us that ‘deserving’ is not the way God works. Paul stresses that in ourselves we were lost and helpless and couldn’t do a thing about it. But Jesus did – before we ever made a single move to trust Him.
- This, says, Paul, is the “grace in which we stand” and it is this well-spring of God’s life within us, that holds us and grows us, through good times and tough times, while we joyfully give God all the glory.
How difficult is it for you to praise God and speak of His love for you, when all your feelings say otherwise?
Lord, I thank You for loving me when I wasn’t even looking Your way and for dying for me before I ever came to believe and trust in You. As I learn how You delight to bless, beyond anything we could ever deserve, so grow me in this Lent season to be more generous-spirited and gracious to others – like You. Amen.
The Living Word 09A for Sunday, March 8, 2020
Theme: How to be completely accepted by Almighty, holy God
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.
Genesis 12:1-4a – God promises to make a nation through Abram, who takes God at His word and sets off to the unknown
John 3:1-17 – Jesus tells Nicodemus, ‘the teacher of Israel’, that even he needs to be born again spiritually to enter the kingdom of God
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – Like Abraham, we are made right with God by believing Him, not by any merit from our good works
Also read: Psalm 121
Genesis 12:1-4a – God promises Abram to make a nation through him
Taking God at His word he set off for a new land
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“The Lord” — Yahweh, explained later in Moses’ encounter, Exodus 3:14-15.
“Go from your country” — God spoke to Abram about leaving “while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran”, Acts 7:2. His name occurs in other ancient texts from 20th-19th centuries B.C.
2-3 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
I will make… I will bless…” — A sevenfold promise expanding the LORD’s original blessing of the whole human race, Gen. 1:28 into a covenant which is largely just on God’s side (unlike others), and everlasting.
4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.
“Abram went” — with limited understanding of what God was saying; a model of faith which obeys and trusts understanding to follow.
Believing God is always a step into what we do not know – otherwise it would not be believing. Abram’s willingness to trust God’s purpose absolutely, leaving a settled existence to seek an unknown destination in another land, leaves us wondering how we would respond. God was clear about the outcome of Abram responding in faith – he would know God’s blessing and also become part of God’s blessing to others. But we are left with the sense that Abram understood very little about his unique call. And that’s the point: faith doesn’t seek to understand everything first.
- Faith is able to trust God to work out the details. “So Abram went, as the LORD had told Him…”.
Do you want God to show you the whole map before you set off on the journey?
Page with additional detail and Bible reference links
John 3:1-17 – Jesus tells ‘the teacher of Israel’ even he must be born again
Nicodemus learns that spiritual regeneration is the way into the kingdom
1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.
“Nicodemus” – an influential, educated and genuine-hearted lay representative of the Jewish religious establishment. A wealthy person of this name is mentioned in other Jewish sources of this period.
2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with Him.”
“He came… at night” –- for privacy and a longer discussion than crowds would allow. John also suggests the double meaning, as he does elsewhere, that there is a spiritual darkness, out of which Nicodemus seeks to escape.
“Rabbi” – remarkable respect from a renowned teacher, v.10 below, to a Galilean not formally trained as a rabbi.
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“See” – perceive, recognise, or simply enter.
“Born again” – also “born from above” e.g. The Message which helps to answer Nicodemus’ question, below. This is a spiritual birth, a faith transaction in which the human spirit is kindled into spiritual life by the Holy Spirit, vv. 5-6.
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
“How…” – difficult to understand from human perspective and life experience.
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.
“Born of water and the Spirit” – made clean and made spiritually alive, a spiritual regeneration that comes about only as a result of an intentional decision to trust Christ. In Paul’s letter to Titus is the “trustworthy saying” describing rebirth as washing, Titus 3:4-7. Nicodemus could not have understood this as a reference to baptism. Christian baptism, from Pentecost onwards, is an intentional, symbolic dying to the old life and rising to the new, after receiving Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
6. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
“You (singular) should not be surprised at My saying, ‘You (plural) must be born again.’ ” – Jesus is saying that Nicodemus and all the Jewish ruling council he represents need spiritual rebirth to see the kingdom of God, and grasp the nature of His call – and applies this to all people.
8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“Wind blows wherever it pleases” – Heb. Ruach and Gk pneuma means both wind and Spirit. We cannot control how the wind blows; nor the new birth, which is, in effect, the opposite – relinquishing control to God.
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?
“Do you not understand” – emphasised, because Nicodemus the teacher should have known from Scriptures familiar to him, about new birth allusions in the breath (Spirit) entering the dry bones of Ezekiel 37, and the heart of stone replaced by a new living heart with the Holy Spirit indwelling and enabling, in both Ezekiel and Jeremiah.
• For further study, see Deuteronomy 30:6, Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26-27, Ezekiel 37.
11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.
“We speak of what we know” – not hearsay. Jesus focuses on how believing faith, more than intellect, is needed to receive this teaching.
12-13 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man.
“Gone into heaven… came from heaven” – like Proverbs 30:4, “Who has gone up to heaven and come down… what is His name?” Only Jesus descended from heaven and then returned there (on His ascension, Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9).
14-15 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.”
“Lifted up” – the first of three uses by John of this phrase. Another double meaning: Jesus “lifted up” on the Cross to die for us, and His “lifting” in resurrection and also exaltation to the highest place of honour. The Israelites, afflicted by venomous snakes in the desert, were commanded to look up at the bronze serpent and believe that God would save them; so we are to look at Christ, “lifted up” on the Cross and believe what He has done for us, to gain life spiritually and eternally. A way of understanding the new spiritual birth.
• For further study, read Numbers 21:4-9
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.
“God… loved the world” – a truth at the foundation of Christian faith. God’s love is without condition and extends to “so loving the world”, which must include “whoever” does not know Him, or who opposes Him before they come to believe: He loves us first, 1 John 4:9-10.
17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
“Not… to condemn the world” – Jewish people believed that the end of the age would bring both judgment and salvation with eternal life. But in Jesus those promises start to take effect, with salvation and new life starting in the present, through new spiritual birth.
Abram (who became Abraham) came into in right relationship with God, simply by what he believed. Or to put it another way, by trusting God with his life. This is what Jesus encouraged the renowned “teacher of Israel” and wealthy man of business, Nicodemus, to take hold of when he visited Jesus privately. What God is looking for in us is usually a lot less complicated than we want to make it. That was certainly true for Nicodemus, and for Pharisees generally, who maintained an oral tradition of layer upon layer of ‘good practices’ that had been constructed as a way to keep the law perfectly. Except that it missed the point: the Law of Moses was a rule-based way of trying to define a relationship between loving, merciful God and somewhat wayward man. Jesus told this worthy teacher, “You must be born again”. Rules and strict observance cannot change us spiritually – only the Holy Spirit does that. Nicodemus simply needed a new spiritual start to be put in right standing with almighty and holy God. Now that he had met Jesus, he needed to believe, accept and trust who Jesus was.
- It’s the same for us – we need to meet Jesus, acknowledge what He has done for us that we (like Nicodemus) could never do, and receive Him as Lord. No one else can do that for us – it is simply our decision, to invite Him in.
In what way have you been a good observing person like Nicodemus? Why does that not have the power to bring new life?
Link page on how Nicodemus was reminded by Jesus of teaching he already knew
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – Like Abraham we are made right with God by faith
The gift of God comes only by believing, not by any merit from good works
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter?
“Abraham, our forefather” – the Father of the Jewish nation is now Father of faith to all believers.
2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.
“Justified by [good] works” – Over the centuries the faith of the patriarch ancestors had degenerated into a ‘works-righteousness’ where keeping the many rules (like Nicodemus) had taken the place of the faith relationship with God. In Jewish writings familiar to Paul’s contemporaries, Abraham had been wrongly portrayed as someone justified by his good works (e.g. in the non-canonical Apocrypha writings 1 Maccabees 2:52, Sirach 44:19-21).
3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
“Abraham believed God” – Paul quoting Genesis 15:6, where nothing is mentioned about works, Paul shows Abraham to be the example of righteousness to follow, because of his relationship with God. Abraham kept no law, carried out no service and performed no ritual that earned credit to his account with God. His righteousness was awarded simply on the basis of his believing faith, a model now for Christians.
4-5 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
“The one who works… the one who… trusts God” – wages received for work are earned, not a gift. By contrast, what God gives is gracious (unearned and undeserved) and a gift. Therefore people cannot be declared righteous because of their good works.
“Credited”– a financial/legal word much used in this chapter, which means to add to the account something that belongs to another. The implication of these verses is shocking, because in God’s accounting He breaks the world’s rules and grants salvation to, or justifies, His ungodly enemies turning to Him in faith.
13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.
“Abraham… received the promise” – of Genesis 12:2-3 (above), but not by fulfilling any condition, but by believing and acting on it.
14-15 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
“Depend on the law… [depend on] faith” – opposites: believing faith and good works are mutually opposed, because faith trusts in God’s work, rather than relying on ours.
“Law brings wrath” – for ‘wrath’ understand ‘judgment’. The nature of the law (as opposed to grace) is to flag up every transgression for judgment.
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
“By faith… by grace” – faith and grace go together, as do the opposites, law and judgment.
“Of the law… also…those that have the faith of Abraham” – Abraham is the Father of the Jews but also of those (non-Jews) who share his faith but not the law.
17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
“Gives life… and calls into being things that were not” – different expressions of the same idea. Isaac’s birth to Abraham and Sarah, a life called out of two people well past childbearing; Christ crucified and dead, then called into being in resurrection. God has the ability to create out of nothing. He has the ability to confer life on those spiritually dead in sin – the new birth, John 3:3, 7, 14-16.
In his teaching to believers in Rome, Paul addresses the human desire to aspire to righteousness by a “depending on the law”, meaning human striving with expectation of some credit for it. His shocking answer is that God applies that credit to those who clearly have not earned it. Thoroughly undeserving people find salvation by simply trusting God and not doing anything else! The message for us is direct but also a little difficult: we must root out every strand of entitlement, and every every tendency to man-centred righteousness,. It is the lesson of Abraham, of Nicodemus and now taught to the early church by Paul.
- The promise of new life and eternal life is secured by God’s definition of righteousness, not ours – the righteousness that comes by faith.
Is Christ’s church a gathering of people like us, or is it for us to serve people not like us who are finding their way to faith?
Thank You so much, Father, for making a way for me to be accepted by You in a way I never could have achieved – through believing and accepting Jesus. I hear again Your command to be born of Your Spirit, that I may be counted as being in right standing with you – by faith, nothing more or less. Once again I surrender my baggage of unbelief and accept Your invitation of grace, gladly Jesus, in Your name. Amen.
Sunday, March 1, 2020 TLW08A
Theme: God presents us with choices, whether or not to rely on Him
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.