Readings (Revised Common Lectionary) for Sunday, February 17, 2019
Jeremiah 17:5-10 — Trusting the Lord is to find refreshment and be fruitful. Trusting in man is like trying to survive as a bush in the desert.
Luke 6:17-26 — Jesus’ inaugural teaching according to Luke shows the radically different values of the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 15:12-20 — In Christ alone, who was resurrected, is our assurance of new life and eternal life.
Also: Psalm 1
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OLD TESTAMENT READING
Trusting the Lord is to find refreshment and be fruitful. Trusting in man is like trying to survive as a bush in the desert.
5 This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
“Cursed” – attracting negative consequences, the opposite of blessed, see v.7
6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
“Bush in the wastelands” – lit. juniper in the Arabah, a bush that shrivelled in the dry heat of the valley stretching south from the Dead Sea.
7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.
“Blessed” – attracting God’s favour, as stable in a life of faith as depending on one’s own strength is unstable.
“One who trusts in the Lord” – The blessing promised to the righteous man, Psalm 1:3, is fulfilled in Christ the perfectly righteous man, Acts 3:14, and in those who are righteous in Him, 2 Corinthians 5:21. References here.
8 “They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
“Planted by the water” – with a deep lifestream that keeps it supplied, in contrast to the dying desert bush.
9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
“Heart is deceitful” – the first of three wisdom sayings about the flawed nature of human personality.
• For further study: the Lord is able to heal and transform even such a broken and dysfunctional organ, and promises to do so under the new covenant, Jer. 31:33; Jer. 32:40; also see Ezek 36:26; Rom. 5:5; Heb. 10:22.
10 “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”
“I the Lord search” – only the Lord knows how deceitful and wicked the human nature (our selfish motives) really are.
11 Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay are those who gain riches by unjust means. When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them, and in the end they will prove to be fools.
“Riches desert them” – just as the sand grouse hatches eggs it didn’t lay, and the young birds soon leave the bird that is not their mother, wealth unjustly acquired easily evaporates, Proverbs 23:4-5.
1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
Jesus’ inaugural teaching according to Luke shows the radically different values of the kingdom of God.
17-18 [Jesus] went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of His disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases.
“A level place” – or plateau on the hill; both the contents and the setting suggests Luke is giving a shorter version of the Sermon on the Mount. He leaves out the portions that have to do with the Law, which are found elsewhere, suggesting that Jesus repeated his teaching on various occasions, Luke 11:2-4; 12:22-31, 33-34.
Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch Him, because power was coming from Him and healing them all.
“Healing them all” – the crowd did not gather to hear Jesus, they came with deep needs of deliverance from spiritual oppression and physical disease, through the power coming out from Jesus.
20 Looking at His disciples, He said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“You who are poor” – in Matthew’s account it is “poor in spirit” and “hunger for righteousness, while Luke emphasises material poverty as well.
21 “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
“Blessed” – experiencing the joy and favour that comes from God’s grace.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
“Blessed… when people hate you” – with its associated woe, v.26, Jesus recalls how the prophets were rejected, while false prophets were popular. The implication is that Jesus’ growing rejection by religious authorities was his provenance as a true prophet.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
24-25 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
“Rich… well fed” – the counterpart of poor and hungry, vv.20-21.
“Blessed…woe” – the OT perspective is that Israel is blessed in a covenant relationship, Deut. 33:29, Ps.33:12; Ps. 146:5, therefore woes are God’s judgment owing to unfaithfulness to the covenant, Isa 5:8-15; Jer. 13:27; Amos 6:1; Hab. 2:12-17.
Jesus also describes God’s covenant people this way.
26 “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
In Christ alone, who was resurrected, is our assurance of new life and eternal life.
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
“Some of you say… no resurrection” – probably in their letter to him referred to in 1 Cor. 7:1. Greeks believed either that death was final, or in an immortality of the soul, but not in a possible bodily resurrection.
“Christ has been raised” – expressed in a verb form that conveys certainty, repeated in this passage six times from v.12-20
13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
“If Christ has not been raised” – Jesus’ resurrection is a foundational truth for Christians; if that is a doubt, the preaching of the gospel is disempowered.
15-16 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.
17-18 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
“Still in your sins” – the resurrection of Jesus is proof of the sacrifice of Christ and the atonement of human sin, 1 Cor. 15:3; without that we are unforgiven and under the judgment of God for our sins, Romans 3:19; Eph. 2:1-13. References here.
19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
“Most to be pitied” – without eternal life, Christians just suffer deprivation without the hope and joy of faithful believers who may suffer persecution but like Jesus and Paul, look beyond this life in anticipation and joy.
• For further study: Hebrews 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Phil. 21-23; Phil 3:7-11.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
“Firstfruits” – In the OT the first crop or sheaf of the harvest was presented to God to show that all the harvest belonged to Him, and would be shown so in dedicated lives, Exodus 23:19, Lev. 2:12. Similarly Christ raised from the dead is the guarantee of the resurrection of all God’s redeemed people, 1 Thess. 4:13-18. It is the beginning of the new creation of Isaiah 43:18-19, Isa. 65:17, Isa. 66:22. Jesus is the “firstborn from the dead”, Rev. 1:5.
Also: Psalm 1
Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, February 10, 2019
Isaiah 6:1-13 Isaiah’s call comes with a terrifying vision of God’s
Luke 5:1-11 Jesus uses Peter and his boat to reveal who He
1 Cor. 15:1-11 Paul stresses the reality of the resurrection of the Lord. Encountering Jesus turned him from
Isaiah’s call comes with a terrifying vision of God’s holiness. His speaking God’s message of both grace and judgment will bring mixed responses
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple.
2-3 Above Him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”
“Seraphim” – the word is suggestive of flames. Even as part of the heavenly host, they could not look at God directly.
“Holy, holy, holy” – meaning God is absolutely, fearsomely holy.
“The whole earth…glory” – despite humanity’s sinful independence from God and wicked regimes, God’s kingdom purpose is to fill the whole earth with His presence and glory. First seen in the incarnation of the Son, John 12:41; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:4-7 and to come fully in His future rule and reign.
• For further study: the cloud in the wilderness, moved into the tabernacle, Exodus 16:7; Exodus 40:34-35 and then the temple, 1 Kings 8:11, Psalm 26:8, 63:2. Several passages look forward to the whole earth becoming a sanctuary filled with the Lord’s glory, Num. 14:21; Ps. 72:19; Hab. 2:14; cf. Isa. 11:9
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Thresholds shook” – as the sound of heavenly praise shook the temple, the glory cloud appeared. Isaiah’s call came in the temple, which became the throne room of heaven in his vision.
• For further study: Moses, Jeremiah and Ezekiel received their call in similar encounters, Exodus 3; Jeremiah 1:4-10; Ezekiel 1:4-3:27.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
“Woe to me” – the vision of God and His holiness shocked Isaiah who thought he would die from seeing God, Genesis 16:13; Gen. 32:30; Exodus 33:20.
6-7 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
“Touched my mouth” – Isaiah knew he was unfit to speak the pure word of God. He was symbolically prepared for this task by purifying fire, taken from the place of atonement for sin, touching his lips.
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
“Here am I” – overcome by God’s grace, Isaiah (unlike Moses and Jeremiah) committed himself there and then to a life of unpopular ministry, Exodus 4:1-17, Jeremiah 1:6.
9-10 He said, “Go and tell this people:
“ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
“Make the heart of people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
“Make their ears dull” – meaning that he would show up how hard their hearts are (Isaiah 1-5) and closed to what God was showing and telling them. Goes with the prophetic call, then and now.
• For further study: this text is quoted in the NT to explain why some people reject the good news of the gospel, and why Jesus taught in parables, John 12:39-40; Acts 28:25-27; Matt. 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10.
11-12 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?” And He answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
“The holy seed” – like regrowth after a forest fire. Isaiah’s message from God would offer salvation but also spell
IN PRACTICE God calls ordinary people for extraordinary assignments and usually the qualification is not feeling worthy and not having a spiritual CV that matches the task. It has to be that way, for God to be seen doing the work or speaking the message, with no glory going to any individual. Isaiah was keenly aware that he identified with people who didn’t take God at His word, who were living lives of independence from His covenant. And so God was able to call him to speak His words
QUESTION Why are some people’s hearts hard and spiritual hearing dull? What strategy is given to us, to overcome this?
Jesus uses Peter and his boat to show him who He is. A miraculous catch of fish reveals his call to bring salvation to others
1-3 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat.
“The fishermen” – the four fishermen brothers, Simon and Andrew, James and John already have a sense of call from an earlier event, Matt. 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20. This story focuses on Jesus’ choice of Simon and his boat.
“Put out… from shore” – in one of many coves with good acoustics around Capernaum. “Gennesaret” is a local name for the Sea of Galilee.
4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
“Put out… and let down the nets of a catch” – Simon answers respectfully, “Master…” but why would a former carpenter/rabbi know anything about fishing? They had caught nothing in the dark, daylight drove the fish deep, and the two-man drag nets were for shallow fishing. “Because You say so” – nevertheless, against all his experience, Simon obeys Jesus in faith.
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
“Partners” – the four (together with Zebedee) ran their fishing business together.
“Filled…so full” – this astounding miracle showed Peter God working through Jesus. It would take a couple more years and the Resurrection for them to fully understand, Luke 24:28-29.
8-10 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”
“Go away from me” – ‘I’m too much of a sinner to be around you’. At the same time, Jesus points to the catch and tells Peter he will ‘fish’ for people to be saved with results like that, Acts 2:41.
11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him.
“Left everything” – most Galileans lived a peasant existence, but fishermen in an organised business were better off. Letting go of their business was sacrificial.
“Followed Him” – their association with Jesus, John 1:40-42, 2:1-2, now becomes the close fellowship of following the Master.
IN PRACTICE Peter also knew that he was just an ordinary person with failings and misgivings, just a regular fisherman, no one special. And then he finds himself part of a miraculous demonstration of who Jesus really is, and how following Him will transform him from Galilee fisherman to a leading and
QUESTION Those first disciples “left everything” to go wherever Jesus went. What is He asking you to let go of, to be more available for Him?
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Paul stresses the reality of the resurrection of the Lord. Encountering Jesus turned him from persecutor, to proclaimer of the Good News
1-2 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
“Remind you of the gospel” – the letter begins by emphasising that the Cross and Christ crucified are primary, essentials of the Good News and assumes the Resurrection. It now develops this as another essential truth.
3-5 For what I received, I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.
“What I received I passed on” – the words mean handing on, intact, information received from others, e.g. Luke 1:2, Mark 7:13. Paul is probably thinking of the substitutionary death of God’s servant and then vindication, in Isaiah 53:3-12.
“Third day” – for Jews, part days count as days, e.g. late Friday, Saturday, and early Sunday
6-8 After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
“Appeared to James” – brother of the Lord, who led the church in Jerusalem, Gal.1:19, Acts 12:17, Gal. 2:9.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
“I persecuted the church” – or in Jesus’ view, he persecuted Him, Acts 9:4. Paul was in no doubt about the extraordinary grace which was shown to him as the one who rounded up followers of the Way.
10-11 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
“The grace of God” – Paul is keenly aware that God’s grace met him on the road to Damascus, gave Him a vivid vision of Jesus and led him to respond. And so the greatest persecutor of the church became the greatest church planter.
IN PRACTICE Paul, formerly known as Saul, was the chief prosecutor of those who
Jesus is alive and we can ask Him into our hearts and know Him personally. Then everything changes… and whoever we are, rich or poor, influential or not, we are on a mission with Him. We glimpse His kingdom — and we also begin to realise that we, too, have a call to make Him known.
QUESTION The Pharisee-trained Saul was zealous for his religion and then encountered Jesus – a turnaround transformation. What has your journey been?
PRAYER Lord, who am I and what can I do? But I place myself in Your hands. Show me how I am to serve – and help me in my human inability. Amen.
RCL readings for Sunday, February 3, 2019
Malachi 3:1-5 — The Lord comes to purify and renew His people
Luke 2:22-40 — Prophetic words over Jesus on His presentation at the Temple
Hebrews 2:14-18 — Jesus’ sacrifice has broken the power of death
Also: Psalm 71:1-6
The Lord comes to purify and renew His people. He calls time on the immoral and unjust; even the most spiritual will be refined
1 “I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
“My messenger” – a play on the name Mal’aki, ‘My messenger’. Here, the herald of the Messiah, Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27.
“Messenger of the covenant” – although the focus is on the one who prepares the way for the Lord, the Lord Himself is the “messenger of the covenant, whom you desire” – and sent by Yahweh, the Lord Almighty.
“Prepare the way” – quoting Isaiah’s repeated picture of a roadway being levelled for the procession of a king, Isaiah 40:3; 57:14; 62:10. Applied here to obstructions to the renewing of God’s people.
2 But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.
“Who can stand” – alluding to the requirement of clean hands, pure heart and unswerving loyalty, Ps. 24:3-5. It is judgment, or vigorous cleaning with strong alkali soap and beating with sticks. This is like the Lord’s discipline of His children, Hebrews 12:7-11.
3-4 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
“Purify the Levites” – stands for those giving a spiritual lead, who will be refined like precious metal in a smelting furnace.
5 “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear Me,” says the LORD Almighty.
“Sorcerers” – gained control of people through divination, occult magic and witchcraft.
“Oppress widows” – Moses’ covenant emphasised social justice to those on the edge of society.
• For further study, see Exodus 22:22; 23:6; Deuteronomy 10:18-19; 24:17; 26:12–13; 27:19.
IN PRACTICE This first picture of ‘the old order changing’ has a long reach to the Day of the Lord and Jesus’ return, in glory and also in judgment. But from the start of His
QUESTION Who are we, what are we doing here and why is the life of Jesus-centred faith so difficult at times? How does this give us a sense of God’s purpose and a realistic expectation of difficulties along the way?
Prophetic words over Jesus on His presentation at the Temple. Those waiting for their Messiah see in Jesus a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.
22-24 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” ), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
“When the time came” – this account shows Jesus’ family, materially poor, but painstaking in faithfulness to God and keeping of the law.
25-26 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
“Simeon” – unknown outside this story; a spiritual man who knew the promises concerning the Messiah, and was expecting their fulfilment.
27-28 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Moved by the Spirit” – in the OT era, the Holy Spirit came on certain people at certain times, e.g. moving Zechariah to prophesy about John, Luke 1:67-79 (called the Te Deum canticle in the C of E). Here the Holy Spirit guides Simeon to the temple courts at the right time, having assured him that he will live to see the Messiah; and then gives him the prophetic and enduring words that follow.
• For further study, see Numbers 24:2, 1 Samuel 10:10 and 16:13.
29 “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You may now dismiss your servant in peace.
“Dismiss” – from service on this earth. His final task completed, Simeon is ready to die peacefully – and gives us the words of the Nunc Dimittis.
30-32 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”
“Your salvation…a light” – parallel sayings are common in Hebrew literature (think of Psalms and Proverbs). “Salvation… in the sight of all nations” is equivalent to “light for revelation to the Gentiles”.
“Glory of Israel” – the Messiah came through the Jewish nation.
33 The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about Him.
34-35 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
“A sign… spoken against” – Isaiah had predicted the coming Kingdom of God and salvation outside the nation of Israel, Isaiah 42:6-7 and 49:6. It was deeply controversial. Mary, as well as Jesus, would go through anguish.
36-37 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.
“Anna” – Greek form of Hannah, like the mother of Samuel (1 Sam. 1-2) and also a prophetic woman, who recognised the Messiah. Before her, there were seven prophetic women recognised in Judaism.
“A widow”– her remarkable age (for the time) would be considered to bring remarkable wisdom. Widows who honoured their husbands memory by not remarrying were esteemed in Israel.
38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
“Redemption of Jerusalem” – meaning all the people of Israel, promised by God through his prophets.
• For further study, see Isaiah 52:3 and 62:12; Jeremiah 31:11; Hosea 13:14; Zechariah 10:8.
39-40 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on Him.
“They returned… to Nazareth” . Luke’s gospel does not mention the Magi’s visit, Herod’s reprisal or fleeing to Egypt, Matthew 2:1-23.
IN PRACTICE This second picture of how the old order changes, takes us into a scene where deeply devout and experienced folk have been waiting in expectation for their Messiah – with a keen leading from the Holy Spirit that this is imminent. These were people deeply steeped in the old order of Judaism and the Law, yet they were excited to encounter the child who would grow up to change it – change everything they had known. The Holy Spirit used these ‘traditionalists’ to speak prophetic words over the child, words that would be deeply controversial and as He began to work them out 30 years later, would see him pushed out of ‘their’ synagogue by a mob who wanted to push him over a cliff because He spoke of good news for Gentiles also. This story reminds us of how personal devotion to God is they key to perceiving what He is doing
QUESTION How do you respond to change – as an enthusiastic ‘early adopter’ or a more cautious or even resistant ‘late entrant’? How do you know whether God is behind the change, or not?
Jesus’ sacrifice has broken the power of death. Living as God’s children is freedom from the fear of death
14-15 Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
“Children” – those who have accepted the sacrifice Christ made, and thereby have become sons (or daughters) of God.
“Break… the power of death” – in becoming man and suffering an undeserved death the Son broke the power of the devil to bind us with fears, especially those rooted in fear of death.
“Held in slavery” – Satan, a “murderer from the beginning”, John 8:44, does have power to harm people to some extent, Mark 5:2-5; Luke 13:16, and to incite people into sin that leads to death, Romans 6:16 and 23. However, Jesus’ defeat of Satan frees us to know God’s ultimate rule over all life and death.
• For further study, see Deut. 32:39; Job 2:6; Psalm 90:3 and 139:16; Rev. 1:18
16 For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham’s descendants.
“Abraham’s descendants” – heirs to God’s promises to Abraham by faith i.e. all believers.
17 For this reason He had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people.
“Merciful… high priest” – Jesus’ role as our merciful and faithful High Priest, ending the need for an order of priesthood on earth. This is explained in detail in Hebrews 4:14-10:25.
18 Because He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.
“He is able to help” – Jesus took divine retribution on Himself, for us, and was fully human in His experiencing this suffering. Similarly, He knows about trials and temptations as one who has ‘been there’ like us. This high priest “has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet… did not sin”, Hebrews 4:15.
IN PRACTICE The third picture of the old order changing takes us to the place which is the pivot point of the change – the Cross, Jesus’ place of self-sacrifice. It is the place where He gasped, “It is finished!” and the power of Satan to control us with fear, and the kind of fear that is rooted in death and oblivion
QUESTION We know that the Cross was about victory. Jesus went there as a human, like Adam, but a second, sinless Adam. How does knowing this enable us to pray confidently?
PRAYER Father, I praise you again for Jesus and the new kingdom order that we can participate in, with new life in Him. Help me to be willing to be refined and purified – and in my thoughts, words and actions, to be with You, embracing the new order and rule of Your kingdom. Amen.
January 27, 2019
Theme: Proclaiming and teaching and receiving the Word which reveals God
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 — Ezra reads the Law to the assembled people. They find both conviction and joy in Scripture
Luke 4:14-21 — Jesus reads the Scripture which defines His call. He proclaims freedom, sight for the blind and God’s favour in its entirety
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a — God has put teaching ministry and other gifts in His church. They work in concert in His body, diverse but one
And also: Psalm 19
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Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Ezra reads the Law to the assembled people. They find both conviction and joy in Scripture.
1 All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.
“Water Gate” — south of the Temple and more open space
“Bring out the Law” — the first five books, probably emphasising Deuteronomy.
2-3 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
“Seventh month” — The people assembled for the Festival of Trumpets, Leviticus 23:24-25 at the beginning of the new year, October 1, 445 BC
5-6 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
“Opened the book… the people… stood… and… lifted their hands” — Ezra unrolling the scroll and publicly reading the precepts was worship, in the presence of God.
8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
“Giving the meaning” — articulate exposition of the Hebrew Scriptures for the Aramaic-speaking people, brought up in Babylon.
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
“Weeping as they listened” — the word of God, brought worshipfully, brought conviction, Ezra 10:6; Isaiah 57:18 – 19; Jeremiah 31:13; Ezra 3:13. They were becoming painfully aware of their ancestors’ failure before God. However, the New Year festival recalled with joy what God had done for them, Numbers 29:1-6.
10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
“The joy… is your strength” — as the people, rejoicing, received the presence of God afresh, He would show Himself strong for them.
IN PRACTICE The Holy Spirit is active in the Old Testament but He is seldom highlighted until later, but he is certainly active in this public reading of Scripture which leads to a profound revelation and repentance among the people. The Law, their heritage as the people of God, had been missing from their lives. They could now see how their ancestors had become independent from God (a good definition of sin), had dismissed warning after warning from God’s prophets, and the cause-and-effect of the exile which was their experience. Scripture is God’s words of instruction, and also God’s “now” word of direction as the Holy Spirit makes a deep connection with us. The hearers came to repentance before God, not for what they had done, but for others who had gone before, which is teaches us that we can make the same response. Joy and strength arise through repentance, because God is love, and His very nature is mercy. What he wants most is to give us a second chance – and to do what connects us to this desire.
QUESTION The people, hearing the law,
Jesus reads the Scripture which defines His call. He proclaims freedom, sight for the blind and God’s favour in its entirety
14-15 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised Him.
“Returned… in the power of the Spirit” — Jesus tips up into his public ministry, following baptism and visible encounter with the Holy Spirit.
“Teaching in their synagogues” — in Galilee, including Capernaum. Luke highlights what happened at Nazareth event. Jesus’ followers start to see Him as Messiah; others start to challenge His authority.
16-17 He went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it is written:
“The scroll… was handed to Him” — synagogue worship followed a pattern which included a set reading from the law (early books), and a reading from one of the prophets (later books), with an exposition which tied both together. Jesus is handed the scroll for Isaiah 61, to be read in Hebrew and paraphrased in the more familiar Aramaic.
18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
“Set the oppressed free” — all five phrases speak about those who are marginalised in society, and “poor”, “prisoner”, “blind” etc carry both material and spiritual meanings.
20-21 Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
“Scripture is fulfilled” — gracious words, they said, from “Joseph’s son” until Jesus, in His exposition, vv. 22-29, dared to apply the good news for non-Jews. Then they became angry.
IN PRACTICE Here is a reading of Scripture on a different occasion but with similar deep impact, as Jesus unrolls the scroll to Isaiah 61 and reads the opening words as His personal commission. He had attended the Nazareth synagogue countless times as He grew up. Now, following his encounter with the Spirit of God at the riverside in baptism, He reads and speaks with a different tone and greater authority. What He tells them is true, but it is difficult for them, knowing Him as the carpenter who grew up with Joseph and Mary and siblings. Even more shocking was His explanation that the good news was proclaimed for all – for non-Jews as well. Judaism was never intended to be a ‘closed shop’ and neither is the Christian church which particularly exists for the benefit of others. Jesus’ hearers quickly forgot the heavenly authority of His teaching and became angry. The word of God, proclaimed with the Spirit of God, is powerful both to save – and to convict.
QUESTION In what ways are we bound up, unable to see properly, feeling bad about ourselves and lacking God’s joy in our lives? How does encountering Jesus change us?
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
God has put teaching ministry and other gifts in His church. They work in concert in His body, diverse but one
12-14 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free– and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
“One body” — Paul assumes the Corinthians know that they together form Christ’s body. “Many parts” — Earlier Greek and Roman sources use the state as an analogy for many different members comprising one unified body.
15-17 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
“If the foot should say” — orators of this period often personified objects as speaking.
18-20 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21-24 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.
“Parts… we treat with special honour” — the “parts that we think are less honourable” stay clothed however hot it gets.
“Eye cannot say to the hand” — the Corinthian church had got carried away with the more demonstrative gifts, and Paul will single out the prayer and praise language of tongues as a gift to use wisely, not to show off spirituality, 1 Cor. 12:10, 27, 30.
24-26 But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
“Greater honour” — people with spiritual gifts that stand out to other do not need extra honour.
“Equal concern” — when all the gifts are working together, there will be a mutual concern that will prevent division.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
“The body” — Each individual, in each congregation and every expression of Trinitarian church is part of Christ’s body on earth.
28-30 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
“God has placed in the church” — earlier, different spiritual gifts were discussed but now, people with a specific and established kind of ministry gifting are in view. Paul teaches that ‘showy’ and less showy gifts are of equal value. When it comes to gift ministries there is a certain order, not of value but in function, because of how they edify the church. Not all are the first-to-act pioneers who go out and plant churches, but without them there would be no churches. Not all are commissioned to speak a word from God and shape the church’s vision, but those that are should be recognised in their calling without any jealousy. Similarly with those who instruct others in the faith, or take risks in exercising faith for the miraculous.
31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.
“Greater gifts” — emphasising the gift of God’s unconditional love, given to us to to give away. This verse headlines 1 Cor. 13, which is where chapter 12 is going. All gifts are empty gestures unless motivated by God’s love.
IN PRACTICE Paul’s teaching, arising from tensions in the church in
There is a tension between our desire for predictability – this is “our synagogue” or this is “our church” – and God doing something unpredictable, like Jesus’ message at Nazareth or Holy Spirit-led ministry at Corinth.
God knows our needs, meets us with love, and wants to walk over the bridge of our faith, to work in our lives and community. Will we learn to let Him?
QUESTION Does the Lord need to remind His church of the centrality of His word again? What would Paul write to our church about practising spiritual gifts and Spirit-led ministry?
PRAYER In your own words, thank God for His lifegiving, encouraging and at times correcting word. And for gifts in the church who help bring that word.
January 20, 2019
Isaiah 62:1-5 — Glory comes to Zion in a new name. God’s gracious vindication will sound until it shines out for all to see
John 2:1-11— Jesus miraculously changes water into wine. Social shame is averted as Jesus shows God’s glory at a community gathering
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 — Paul teaches the balance of spiritual gifts. The glory of God is shown in supernatural enabling of ordinary people
And also: Psalm 36:5-10
Glory comes to Zion in a new name. God’s gracious vindication will resound until it shines out for all to see
This expands the theme of shame erased by glory e.g. Isaiah 60:15; 61:7 and the general thrust of previous weeks’ Isaiah readings, Isaiah 60:1-6 and Isaiah 43:1-7 (Jan. 6 and 13). Isaiah sees the servant-Messiah keeping on speaking out, in the manner of Psalm 28:1-2, until the transformation of Zion – a metaphor for God’s people – is complete. This is a long-sighted view, through rebellion and exile, then regathering, the coming of the Messiah in earthly ministry, and the presently-expected coming again of Jesus in judgment and glory.
2 The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
“Vindication” – or righteousness. In Isaiah 46:13 the same word in Hebrew is translated “righteousness”.
3 You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah [My delight is in her], and your land Beulah [married]; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married.
“You will be called” – names often made a statement about a person’s character or reputation or even call, and sometimes people changed their names to reflect this. The change of name for the people of God reflects how God now sees them differently.
“Married” – the change is from a state of loneliness, deserted and desolate, to intimacy, in an exclusive and delightful relationship of love and protection, like the covenant of marriage. The expression of a land being married to a god, especially the One God, is unknown in other literature of the time. This way of expressing the unique covenant between Yahweh and Israel is only found in Isaiah.
5 As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.
“Your Builder” – the One who has formed you. Other versions render this “so shall your sons marry you”, the idea of the blessing of an expanding household.
IN PRACTICE Many passages in Isaiah see far ahead of his time to a series of events which will only come to finality when Jesus returns. Here he sees a time of Israel’s “desolation” from abandoning trust in God and failing to listen to those charged to proclaim His message. But Isaiah has also caught God’s heart – that He is for His people, that his fundamental nature is to be merciful, that he can always bring His purpose out of man’s mess. That is reassuring when everything around seems to be a mess, and even if we are convinced that we caused it. God is bigger, and already has a new name and new life for us. Renewing is what He does. Sometimes our little bit of personal glory or fulfilment just has to die, because God will have us see His glory, His alone.
QUESTION If renewing, vitalising, “re-branding” is what God does, why are we reluctant to let go of what we have and allow Him to bring change?
Jesus miraculously changes water into wine. Social shame is averted as Jesus shows God’s glory at a community gathering
1-3 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to Him, “They have no more wine.”
“Wine was gone” – a social embarrassment. The family was obligated to provide a feast of the expected standard. There was no variety on offer, and people drank wine, water or a mixture.
“No more wine” – some commentators see here a problem that symbolised Israel’s spiritual barrenness. The OT background of Judaism in the first century saw plenty of wine as a figure for God’s blessing and joy,.
• For further study, read Psalm 104:15, Proverbs 3:10, Matthew 26:2.
4 “Woman, why do you involve Me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
“Woman” – formal but not inappropriate. Perhaps “With the greatest respect, why are you involving Me?” Jesus would not let the nature (and cost) of His ministry be set by a human agenda. There is a hint here that Jesus and the disciples arrived unexpectedly.
5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
“Ceremonial washing” – as we wash hands before eating, so did they, but with ceremonial law more of a motive than practical hygiene. For a feast with many guests, over several days, large quantities of water were needed.
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8-9 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said,
10 “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
“The best” – symbolising how everything Jesus introduced in the Messianic age He inaugurated, was better. Good wine was viewed as a sign of God’s blessing, Amos 9:13-14. God’s particular and personal blessing, the Messiah, had now arrived.
11 What Jesus did in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which He revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.
“First of the signs” – John records seven or eight, each of which make a statement about who Jesus is, His lordship, and the glory of God.
• For further study, see also John 1:14, 11:4, 11:40
IN PRACTICE When Jesus turns up, everything is likely to change. Averting shame by the miraculous provision of choice wine was a good change. However, Jesus’ ministry was to get more conflicted. Surely healing the sick could only be good, but for some people, not good if someone was ‘meant’ to be sick or blind, and not on the Sabbath. Life with Jesus at the centre opens up all sorts of possibilities but as it always challenges the established order of how things are, it may not be comfortable, and we sense Jesus’ reticence in performing this miracle as He started out.
QUESTION Do we want Jesus to show up at our party? For that matter, how much do we want Jesus to show up in our church, knowing that He will disrupty the familiar order?
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Paul’s balanced teaching on spiritual gifts. The glory of God is shown in supernatural enabling for ordinary people
1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.
“About the gifts” – the Corinth church flowed in the gifts, which was good, but there had been tensions and a lack of balance where the more demonstrative gifts had been allowed too much prominence. He will continue beyond this passage to teach that sacrificial love is the standard for everything else, where the good of the whole body is a higher value than individual expressions.
2-3 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
“Speaking by the Spirit of God” – the mark of true worship, a sincerity of heart beyond words that comes only through the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives. In a pagan society with many processions, temples and idols, expressing Jesus as one of many deities was not the same as exclusive allegiance to Jesus as Lord. The Greek word for Lord is that used to translate ‘Yahweh’ in the old Greek-from-Hebrew OT.
4-6 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
“Different… gifts” – gifts of grace, i.e. unmerited, and explained in a way that reflects the Trinity (like Matt. 28:19), a way of emphasising the diversity and also unity of spiritual gifts.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit…
“Message of wisdom” – these gifts are familiarly referred to as the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom. The first is a supernatural flash of insight into a person or situation, usually to raise faith as God ‘flags’ what He wants to do e.g. in healing or other release or impartation. The word of wisdom works with the first in the sense of knowing how to go ahead with the insight that has come. Sensitivity to the other person and timing are examples.
9 …to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit…
“Faith… healing” – faith and healing often work together (as all the gifts work in concert) to raise faith to pray with expectation and confidence for healing. The gift of faith is distinct from general faith or saving faith – it is an impartation of the moment to see heaven’s much bigger picture, and go for it.
10 …to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.
“Miraculous powers” – goes with the gift of faith, the ability to ‘see’ God doing something that could not be humanly explained. “Tongues” was the gift that the Corinthians rather over-emphasised and used (wrongly!) as a badge of spirituality. It is essentially an unlearned prayer and praise language. Paul calls it elsewhere “speaking in the tongues of angels”. When you don’t know what to pray, have run out of praise or the mind gets in the way, the Holy Spirit uses this as His bypass. It acts as a conduit for other gifts. A very specific and less usual use is a public’tongue’ where another person (or persons) present will be given an ‘interpretation’ which is the gist of the tongue for others to understand. That is another way God brings a prophetic word.
11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines.
“Distributes” – anyone may seek any gift, and situationally, God gives you the gift you need to minister for Him. But some people find they have more affinity with a certain gift or group of gifts.
IN PRACTICE God’s glory is poised to be seen in the church, not exclusively, but as training ground for what He may do with us in the wider community and even with people of tenuous faith. He loves people, and it is narrowly religious and exclusive to suggest people earn favour by church attendance or service. That denies the basis of the gospel which is God’s grace, unearned. However, church is a great place to learn to exercise gifts of the Spirit, and as Vineyard church founder John Wimber used to teach words of knowledge and healing, “This is the kind of thing we ought to do in church”. It brings God glory when someone is healed, or an intractable problem springs free in a way we couldn’t have predicted. He likes to partner with us and involve us in what He is doing – at a minimum, exercising faith in prayer for what we discern He wants to do. But the bottom line is, the glory is must be His, and He is not about to share it with another, just so that we can become proud – the learning point for the church in Corinth and for us.
QUESTION What would make church more relevant for 21st century people? Would more of God’s glory seen in extraordinary happenings, help?
PRAYER Lord, there will come a time when Your glory will be over all the earth and everyone will confess Jesus Christ as Lord. For now, we see it dimly, here and there. We come to You and ask fervently for more of You, more of Your light, more transformation, love and justice to break out in our churches and families and communities, and we pray it in Jesus’ name and for Your glory alone. Amen.
Also: Psalm 36:5-10