The signs of God’s glory seen in church and community
This article is based on the following Bible readings set for January 16 (following the interdenominational Revised Common Lectionary) and the Bible study on The Living Word post for January 16.
Psalm 36:5-10 — sets the scene: We see God’s light and glory in His love, faithfulness, justice and secure life.
Isaiah 62:1-5 — God’s people renamed in move from shame to glory
John 2:1-11 — Jesus miraculously changes water into good wine
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 — Paul teaches God, not man, glorified through spiritual gifts
THIS WEEK’S STORY that emerges from the Bible readings for Sunday, Jan 16, 2022, is about God’s glory, not just in heaven but how it is seen in the church and wider community.
We think of glory as the blinding light of heaven — and it is. But it is also about God’s presence being manifested through ordinary, but devoted worshippers, who become extraordinary through the gift enabling of the Holy Spirit. This is not the visible glory of God as at the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain top, or in Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus. Rather, this is God’s presence and reputation being evident through revelation, or in encounters such as healing or deliverance.
Let’s start with a few verses from Psalm 36 which set the scene.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, Your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is Your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.
They feast on the abundance of Your house; You give them drink from Your river of delights.
For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light, we see light.
Excerpt from Psalm 36:5-10
This is about God’s presence in fairness, justice, in goodness and in His non-judgmental love.
When we begin to discover who Jesus is, and what He has done for us, in time when it sinks in and the Holy Spirit has prompted us some more, we take the big step of asking Him into our heart. Asking Him to be the Lord of our life. And an encounter takes place. An encounter and a spiritual transaction.
A lot of things change in this encounter. A lot of what was hard to understand in the Bible now becomes much more clear.
We have a new spiritual life, and a new eternal destiny — and a new peace that we didn’t have before. We become aware of God’s love as never before, and we find we have a love for others that wasn’t there before. Jesus explained this (in John chapter 3) as being reborn from above, a new spiritual birth.
Paul explained this as becoming a new creation, saying that it means that the old has gone and the new has come. The verse for that is 2 Corinthians 5:17.
It is not an overstatement to say that God’s glory rests on the new believer, who has come to Him through Jesus. There has been a profound spiritual change. And other people, who might not understand the nature of the change, will often recognise the difference.
Nearly 800 years before Jesus began His ministry, Isaiah foretold something like this. The nearer focus of his vision was about the exiles coming back to the homeland, and coming back into relationship with God again.
The more distant part of this picture — like most prophetic pictures, Isaiah’s has a kind of timeline where there is a foreground and a more distant background — that further aspect was surely to do with the life and salvation God’s Son, Jesus, would bring. Last week we were thinking about how He brings this salvation and new life to everyone, ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders’ who will receive Him.
Those dispirited exiles were ‘insiders’, who felt like ‘outsiders’. But now they are to have the joy of learning their new name and new identity under their God. And later, those who met with Jesus in Galilee and elsewhere, and those who meet with Jesus spiritually now, will also enjoy that new and delightful name, and a new identity as God’s children, loved and honoured by Him.
Let’s hear Isaiah’s words as he recounts the vision that God has given him.
…You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord’s hand… for the Lord will take delight in you…. so will your God rejoice over you.
Excerpt from Isaiah 62:1-5
Jesus and His disciples had been invited to a wedding at Cana. These were not wealthy people. But it was socially important to set out a good feast with plenty of food and wine to honour the guests. But the supply of wine began to run out, to the shame of the host. Jesus indicated the large stone receptacles which held the water used for the Jewish ritual hand-washing before eating.
Nearby stood six stone water jars. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
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. Then he… said… “You have saved the best till now.”
Excerpt from John 2:1-11
There was symbolism in this miracle that would have been clear to the people of the time. An abundant supply of good wine was a sign of spiritual renewal. This would bring to mind the words of the prophet Amos:
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the reaper will be overtaken by the ploughman, and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains, and flow from all the hills…”
On one level, Jesus and His disciples are enjoying a social occasion at Cana, about 10 miles north of Nazareth and a little more than that inland from Magdala and Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.
Honour, and its opposite, shame, were keenly felt emotions in first century Palestine. A wedding gathering, which could last for days, needed to have plenty of everything — especially wine. So when the wine ran out, this was going to leave a lasting stain on the host’s reputation.
At this early stage of His ministry, Jesus did not want to attract attention of the wrong kind. But after His mother nudged Him, as He became aware of the possible shame that would come on the host, Jesus acted in this, the first of seven signs of the Messiah, recorded by John in His gospel account.
Water doesn’t change into wine. Even grape juice needs the right process and several months. But this was an example of a work the Father wished to do through Jesus. Jesus, in His humanness, only ever did what He saw His Father doing, as John tells us later in his gospel (John 5:19).
So this was not a whim, nor an action born out of presumption, but we can be sure that Jesus was hearing His Father and knew exactly what He was to do. How did that work?
Jesus operated in the same gifts of the Holy Spirit that are available to us. That is not to say that there is not a difference. Jesus, as we know, was perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit. We may have a way to go on that!
God is glorified in the gifts of the spirit, because this how God is seen to break into people’s lives in the best possible way. The result must not be attributed to the person bringing a gift, but the glory must go to the One giving the gift.
Gifts in the church are used for the benefit of the whole membership and the wider community they are there to reach. And Paul explains the importance of this emphasis, in this next teaching:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them….There are different kinds of working, but in all of them, and in everyone, it is the same God at work.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge… to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing…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.
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines.
Excerpt from 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Thinking about the ministry of Jesus, and the ministry of those early apostles, today’s church gatherings can seem rather bland, not to mention formal.
Has God ceased to do amazing things among those He loves? Was that just a season in the ministry of Jesus, and the establishing of the first churches? There are plenty of vibrant fellowships today all over the world who are quite sure that God’s heart has not changed, nor His gifts gone away. If anything has changed, it is our expectation.
Where spiritual gifts are being shared deferentially and responsibly, and people’s lives are being blessed and changed by this kind of specific encouragement that the Holy Spirit brings, there won’t be a problem with attendance or paying the heating bills. Everyone comes with some need or difficulty, and to discover that God knows all about it and wants to release you from it, is what everyone has been waiting for.
To put it bluntly, we have constructed a religious framework, where Jesus came to dismantle one. He came to set us free from religious obligation, to empower us to live in His life, havinge joyful fellowship with Him and the Father..
Depending and hearing God in faith is demanding — faith takes a lot of emotional energy — and so there is always the temptation to try to reduce that faith relationship to a form we can easily replicate next Sunday and the Sunday after… and so on..
It’s a trap! This the enemy using temptation to steal the glory away from God.
God our Father is the Fountain of Life, who takes great delight in us, His children. The Spirit of Jesus is present, especially in the faith present in the worship gathering, and always working to deliver from the evils of shame and dishonour the enemy is always trying to put on us.
And that working draws us into active partnership with Him through spiritual insights and impartations He gives us for others. Others will see and hear, at first from a distance, then coming closer to the reality of Jesus until they, too are receiving His unmerited gift of forgiveness, freedom from sin’s burden and new life in Him.
This is God at work with a light show and rejoicing in the heavenlies, and His Body on earth growing in influence and numbers and blessing the wider community.