This week’s theme (March 20, 2022) is squarely set in the Lent season of preparation and — dare we say it? — repentance. We are talking about taking opportunity to come back to God — with the tone of the Scriptures conveying a sense of urgency. See also the March 20 detailed Bible study on the Bible readings and this week’ s video (10 min)
The Old Testament Bible reading from Isaiah 55 contrasts attempting to buy God’s favour, with receiving His grace, and seeking Him while He may be found.
In the NT, Jesus’ teaching headlines two local calamities. These, no doubt, caused people of the time to reflect on whether they, or the victims, were coming under God’s judgment. The teaching point Jesus brings out of this, is that EVERYONE needs to repent. The ‘fruit’ that God is patiently looking for, is that turning of hearts back to Him.
And post-resurrection, the letter from 1 Corinthians 10 reminds Christians how God’s covenant people, back in early times, knew the anointed leadership of Moses. They also witnessed God’s signs of cloud by day and fire by night. And they experienced their miraculous deliverance through the parted water of the Red Sea. Yet God’s people strayed off into some terrible mistakes. Thousands perished through the judgment signs of plague and snakebite. The point is, we can all too easily let our spiritual relationship with God lapse, and be living our independent life and not His life in us.
This week we set the scene with some verses from Psalm 63, which speak about guarding our relationship with God as the most precious thing in life.
Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands…
…Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. I cling to You; Your right hand upholds me.
Verses from Psalm 63:1-8
Some people maintain that God’s grace is not evident in the Old Testament. It may not be spelt out as plainly as we would like, but it IS there, and this passage is a good example. Here, God’s grace is contrasted with man’s common tendency to try to earn favour from God — a bit like a business transaction in the marketplace. But as we shall see, that is NOT the way to go…
“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?…Give ear and come to Me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, My faithful love promised to David…
…Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy… He will freely pardon.
“For… as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Excerpt from Isaiah 55:1-9
God’s ways are higher than our human wisdom or logic — and we might add, that is because they are both spiritual and holy. God is Spirit, and therefore we must tap into the spiritual dimension of our being, in order to Hear Him and respond to Him. He urges us not to treat His offer like a regular transaction, or a business deal. He is looking for a friendship, a relationship of mutual trust in which He is the initiator, drawing enjoyment from our response.
By contrast, our human way lines up the wicked for the punishment they deserve, while those who are righteous receive their entitlement to God’s favour. But that is our distortion of the truth. It doesn’t work that way. As this passage makes clear, God is above all, merciful, and so anyone can turn to Him, experience His love and forgiveness, and be given a new start. Or a further new start. And there is no entitlement in His kingdom.
This may not be the way that most humans interact because, as the passage reminds us, God’s thoughts and ways take place on a higher plane, because they are not limited by time or human emotions. Therefore God can take a view on potential as yet unfulfilled, and change that is not yet apparent. These are gracious interactions! Knowing God demands that we start at His place, not ours.
The teaching begins by reflecting on how people commonly make judgments about the misfortune of others. We often miss the point as a result.
Jesus taught: “…Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them — do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?
“I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Then He told this parable: “A man had a fig-tree…in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any.
“So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree, and haven’t found any…
“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”
Excerpt from Luke 13:1-9
This NT story is about God seeking in our lives the fruit of our change of heart, and how He will watch and wait for years until it happens. Our sin and selfishness in that time calls for summary judgment — and punishment. Yet God is minded to hear our pleas for ourselves, and our intercession for each other. So He extends the timescale of His mercy, in anticipation of the fruit He is seeking, starting to appear.
The barren tree that is given a further chance to produce, is contrasted with the opposite — the people who were given everything, and yet were unable to honour God’s providence or walk in His way.
The Israelites of the OT did not know Christ, and yet as Paul makes clear, Christ was present with them in the desert wanderings and tests. Their frequent failure to maintain their trust in God, is described as testing Jesus Christ Himself.
The message is clear. We must examine ourselves to see where our religious custom and practice has distracted us into worshipping something other than God — in other words, an idolatrous behaviour as we learn from this passage in 1 Corinthians 10:
We should not test Christ, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel… as examples and… warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Excerpt from 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Paul’s teaching concludes with a spiritual ‘health warning’. When we think that, spiritually, we are on top, this may be our vulnerability and the point of greatest attack. This self-deception is where we open ourselves up to spiritual confusion and moral failure. He points out that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. The other side of that truth, is the reality of those tests and trials. They will always be part of our journey through life with Him.
This season especially offers us the opportunity to check our hearts and our spiritual health. This is the time to turn to God and receive His grace — and know His new life and unconditional love in a fresh way.