Following are the set Bible readings for all churches that share the Revised Common Lectionary, with verse-by-verse commentary, for Sunday, October 18. Read the Bible passages in their entirety first and ask the Holy Spirit to begin to speak to you through them. Then, explore deeper with the notes. Reflecting on the readings during the week is intended to create a richer experience, hearing those passages again and brought into the present with a sermon, in your Sunday gathering whether livestreamed or in a church building.
Reference TLW41A. A link to the print edition appears at the bottom.
Here is a linked article which explores this theme with reference to the three readings, Explaining… How God works beyond our boundaries
And a video introduction to the theme in Just a Minute
Theme: How God influences people before they know Him
OT: Isaiah 45:1-7 — How a Persian king named Cyrus will act as God’s servant
NT gospel: Matthew 22:15-22 — Jesus, answering a tricky poll-tax question, sets out how to obey both the government of God and the laws we live under
NT letter: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 — Praise for the Thessalonians showing their kingdom values while suffering for having turned from idols to Christ
Also read: Psalm 96:1-13
Isaiah 45:1-7 — How a Persian king will act as God’s servant
God will favour Cyrus with success to show that He is the one true God
1 “This is what the Lord says to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armour, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:
“His anointed” — also called “My shepherd, Isaiah 44:28, paradoxical for an unbelieving Gentile king. Foreigner or not, God had a particular commission for him. This would have been shocking to Isaiah’s Jewish hearers.
“To Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of” — Isaiah named Cyrus, a future Persian king, 150 years before he conquered Babylon in 539 and allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem.
• For further study, read Ezra 1:1-14, 6:3-5.
2 “I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.
“Gates of bronze” — Babylon had over a hundred of these.
3 “I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
“So that you may know” — Cyrus received proof, through his victories, that the Lord had power to fulfil His plans.
4 “For the sake of Jacob My servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honour, though you do not acknowledge Me.
“Though you do not acknowledge me” — Cyrus worshipped Marduk, the main Babylonian deity.
5-6 “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from Me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged Me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.
“From the rising of the sun to… its setting” — east to west, the whole world.
“I am the Lord” — God is going to reveal Himself to this unbeliever as the one true and living God.
7 “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.”
“Light… darkness… prosperity… disaster” — the record of God in the Bible is that He is is thoroughly good and therefore does good: however all events in history are under His sovereignty.
SUMMARY God is sovereign over the whole earth and all its people — including those who do not know Him or honour Him. But God can use whoever He chooses to further His plans. Here in a remarkable prophecy, given 150 years ahead of its fulfilment, and a full century before the events of the actual exile, Isaiah names the Persian ruler God will use to release His exiled people from Babylon. This was a shocking revelation for Isaiah’s strict Jewish hearers, who could not imagine God showing favour to anyone other than to His chosen people.
APPLICATION God is much bigger than our short-sighted perspective where sometimes we hardly see beyond the boundaries we have made. There are some Christian-professing groups today which operate as a ‘closed shop’ and don’t relate to anyone outside their tradition or socialise with neighbours — even though the story of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told is one of His best-known teachings. One of the good effects of the 2019-2020 pandemic and its restrictions on Christian worship and other gatherings, has been to constrain Jesus’ followers to find ways of practising faith in their neighbourhoods — and see where God is working there.
QUESTION The Bible urges that “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority… ” 1 Tim. 2:1. Who comes to mind?
Matthew 22:15-22 — Jesus answers His opponents’ poll-tax poser
He sets out how to obey both the government of God and the laws we live under
15-16 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap Him in his words. They sent their disciples to Him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are a man of integrity and that You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because You pay no attention to who they are.
“Pharisees…Herodians” — The conservative religious Pharisees were ardent nationalists while the political Herodians supported the Roman-sponsored Herod dynasty. The only thing they had in common was their hatred of Jesus.
“Laid plans to trap Him” — with something they could use to call for His death sentence.
17 “Tell us then, what is Your opinion? Is it right to pay the poll-tax to Caesar or not?”
“Pay the poll-tax to Caesar” — the Jews resented taxes paid to Gentiles and especially as Roman citizens were exempt from paying it. It was a trick question; if He answered no, he could be arrested for treasonous behaviour. If He answered yes, He would lose favour with the people for supporting the idolatrous and oppressive tax.
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap Me?
“Hypocrites” — the Greek word means ‘play-actor’, see Matthew 6:2.
19-20 “Show Me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and He asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”’
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
“Denarius” — the Roman coin used for paying taxes, issued by Emperor Tiberius and bearing his portrait and inscription, and on the reverse an image of him wearing priestly robes — held to be idolatrous by Jews.
Then He said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
“Give back to Caesar” — Jesus had not come to establish a political kingdom; His followers should obey their civil government. The coin with Caesar’s image belongs to him; by the same logic, humans made in the image of God, belong to God. By making a separation between Caesar and God, Jesus also made protest at what was shown on the coin.
• For further study, see Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left Him and went away.
“Amazed” — at His wisdom and authority, Mark 1:22
SUMMARY This episode was stage-managed by two opposing groups finding a false unity in their hatred of Jesus. The moral question concerns the honour and obedience shown to God and His realm on one hand — the focus of all Jesus’ teaching – and the realm of civil government and its laws. Jesus sets out guidelines for separating the two.
APPLICATION Today, all forms of Christian church understand the need for some separation of church and state. By contrast, totalitarian governments suppress church under the control of the state, and pockets of extreme Islamist religious control attempt to create authoritarian control of matters of state. Recognising the partnership between spiritual discernment and worship, and the pragmatic processes of just government, honours both — and Speaker’s Prayers that precede the day’s business in our House of Commons, attended by MPs of all shades of faith, are a way of inviting God to preside over that partnership.
QUESTION What might Jesus say about present gatherings and family visits — and face coverings?
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 — Full marks for Thessalonians’ kingdom values
Many have renounced pagan idols for Christ and suffered reproach for it
1 Paul, Silas and Timothy — to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.
“Paul, Silas and Timothy” — The letter has the triple authority of Paul, with Silvanus who was a leader in the church in Jerusalem (and contributor to 1 Peter), and Paul’s young understudy Timothy (also a contributor to 2 Cor., Phil, Col. and Philem.), all of whom helped plant the church in Thessalonica. Timothy had just returned from there, 1 Thess. 3:6. Paul does not begin this lettrt by stating his apostolic authority, probably because there were no false teachers disputing it.
“The church of the Thessalonians “— the pre-Christian Greek OT (Septuagint) familiar to Paul and the earliest Christians used this word to refer to Israel as God’s covenant people. Now Paul is borrowing it for a mainly Gentile gathering, a way of saying that they are the new covenant people, chosen by, and having chosen to respond to, God (also v.4).
2-3 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Your work produced by faith” — the Thessalonians are showing the three essential evidences of the Christian life: faith, love and confident expectation of Jesus and His return.
• For further study, see 1 Thess. 3:6; 5:8; 2 Thess. 1:3-4
4-5 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.
“Brothers and sisters” — lit. ‘brothers’ but an inclusive term, used more than 20 times in the two Thessalonian letters.
“He has chosen you” — there is a tension in Scripture between the Holy Spirit’s work in choosing us, and our choice and decision in responding to His prompting. These ideas are not contradictory; in God’s order they work together.
6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
The Thessalonians took on what Paul modelled and were influenced by what churches in Judea were learning.
• For further study, read 1 Cor. 4:6, 1 Cor 11:1, 1 Thess. 2:14.
Severe suffering — mainly being ostracised socially for not supporting the usual festivals. The gospel is salvation to some, and a threat to others, as seen by the different responses in the synagogue when Paul first spoke about Jesus there. Both Jesus and Paul knew a lot of this treatment.
• For further study, see Acts 17:1-9, I Thess. 3:2-4, Matt. 12:14; 2 Cor. 11:26.
7-9 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.
“Became a model” — today a fashion model knows how to make clothes (and their designer) look good. The Thessalonians made Jesus look good in how they spoke and behaved under duress, by wearing to good effect the ‘kingdom clothes’ of godly attitudes and actions, an example for the new churches in northern and southern Greece and beyond.
9-10 They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
“Turned to God” — most Thessalonian believers were non-Jews who had formerly worshipped various pagan deities. Greeks from other areas were reporting how Thessalonians were turning in repentance from false forms of worship, committing themselves to serve God and living in the expectation of Jesus’ return: the marks of true conversion.
“From idols” — figures in pagan temples. An idol today is anything we put our trust in apart from God, often more of an institutional kind.
SUMMARY Writing to Christians in Thessalonica, Paul must have reflected on his earlier experience of fleeing the city at night after an angry group from the synagogue stirred up a riot with a hue and chase. “Did your stay go well,” someone might have asked, and we don’t know how Paul would have answered that, but a year or two later, Timothy has returned from a visit, and he and Silas are helping Paul compose a letter in the warmest terms to help the new believers with some answers to their questions. Probably the majority of those new believers were Gentiles and people with no knowledge of God at all, unlike the Jewish converts. Yet they were the ones where God was working.
APPLICATION The place to start for Paul was the synagogue and people who had some knowledge of God, and of the foretold Messiah. Some did receive the Good News of Jesus and the kingdom, but others rose up against him and caused him a lot of pain. Those early church-planters seemed to expect pain and unpopularity as push-back against the gospel, but when it happens to us we ask, “Why me?” as though God has deserted us, or is proving less than faithful. Perhaps “Why not me?” would be nearer the mark, recognising that the good news and kingdom values we carry are on a collision course with the world and its institutions.
QUESTION What are some ‘idols’ we pay greater attention to, or tend to trust more than God?
PRAYER Lord, we thank you for the justice of our legal system, the relative stability of elected government and the peace we experience — even in trying times like the present.
We cannot say how many of the high-profile leaders we see broadcasting day by day enjoy a relationship with You — but we know You can guide them, and bring Your purposes through them.
So we bless all those who govern, who hold responsible positions, and who bring Your good order in many different ways. And we bless them to become increasingly aware of Your greatness, dominion and merciful love — moved in this difficult time to turn to find Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.
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