Article linked to the Bible study post for May 16 and these Bible readings:
OT: Psalm 1 — The good way in life is always God’s way
NT gospel: John 17:6-19 — Jesus prays for disciples to keep hold of their spiritual unity
NT narrative: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 — The importance of knowing the truth of Jesus’ resurrection
NT letter: 1 John 5:6-13 — The matter of who Jesus is established by three witnesses
PERHAPS it is a characteristic of being an island dweller — a fascination with the sea. Historically if one wanted to go anywhere from Britain, it involved a sea passage. In the winter months that could be uncomfortable, to say the least, with no guarantee of where you would end up if storm or unfavourable wind took the upper hand. Steering, with allowance for leeway and tide, is a skilled job reinforced by sightings and references to the chart to check you are on a true course.
And that’s the story we see in this set of readings from the Bible. God’s word gives us true guidance while the world, the flesh and the devil conspire to pull us off course — especially if we are unaware.
Psalm 1 — The good way is always God’s way
As usual, the story starts in the Old Testament where Psalm 1 gives us a really good overview of where we are heading.
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, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditiates on His law day or night….Psalm 1:1-2, 6
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous…”
The language is quite black-and-white — the “way of the righteous”, v.6 contrasted with “the way that sinners take” and “the company of mockers”. And it can sound legalistic as it talks about “the law of the Lord” and meditating on this law day and night.
The Old Covenant, which is the backdrop to this psalm, was about law and obedience, holy priests offering sacrifices on behalf of unholy people and God who was worshipped with awe and reverenece — and a bit of distance.
The following scenes show quite a difference of perspective. That’s something we learn as we find a common theme in different parts of the Bible — some looking forward TO Jesus, some with Jesus present or speaking, and others looking back to Jesus and anticipating His return. Those different perspectives are really helpful in us understanding God’s overall purpose.
2. John 17 — Jesus prays for disciples to be one in His way
The second scene is where Jesus is praying a long prayer for His immediate disciples. And as present-day disciples, we can take it as being for us as well.
Straight away we see one thing that is different from the psalm but another where the message is the same. “The law of the Lord” and “the Lord [watching] over the way of the righteous” has given way to an expression that sounds personal and relational:
“I pray for them… for they are Yours… Holy Father, protect them…”John 17:9-11
Jews of this time did not like to use the name of God, so instead they used a range of majestic titles. To address God in a personal way as “Father” was extremely challenging!
Jesus is basically praying that we as His disciples will not be confused or deceived into conflict. He prays that we will be protected and will retain the unity of mind and heart given by the Holy Spirit, predicated on the truth of Scripture and Jesus’ teaching.
My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.John 17:15
He also prays that they will be full of the Lord’s joy:
I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of MY JOY WITHIN THEM.John 17:13
Psalm 21 expressed this same thing from its different perspective:
Blessed [literally ‘JOYS TO’] is the one… whose DELIGHT is the law of the Lord…Psalm 1:1
The joy and the unity are not things we have to work towards, or gain as a reward. That’s the world’s way of thinking, which is wrong. This comes by God’s gift, or grace, just as He determines.It is God-given, a work of the Holy Spirit in us when we
3. Acts 1 — The truth of the resurrection was the heart of the apostles’ message
The third scene shows Peter beginning to take leadership of the band of disciples. The opposition they face has murdered once already. They must be resolute about holding on to the truth about Jesus and the reality of His resurrection to life — because it will be tested.
Peter leads with a prophetic word from Scripture — this is the enduring Word of God (logos) being highlighted and shared as a spoken word (rhema).
Truth is guiding them, from Scripture and from the way the Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture. They need to be true to the Lord’s original intention to have twelve envoys, or apostles — so they need to call another. But he must have witnessed the Lord’s resurrection and have known the Lord from the beginning — a first-hand witness to the truth.
4. The early church and the battle for truth
The early church came under attack from a source no one would suspect — from within. Satan used unregenerate self-appointed teachers, who were not proper disciples at all, to attract people to themselves and lead them astray with what Paul called “a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7). They explained away Jesus’ life and death by sayin gthat He became a different entity following His baptism, and then again on the Cross.
Of course, Jesus is fully man and fully God throughout. Difficult? Well, it’s a paradox, and things of God do not always fit neatly into our logical compartments.To be the all-powerful Redeemer that He is, Jesus needed to be both divine God and fully man, simultaneously.
People of Jewish background in those days liked everything that was contestable to be established with two or three witnesses.
This is the one who came by water and by blood — Jesus Christ. he did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Sp[irit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood;, and the three are in agreement.1 John 5:6
John gives three witnesses: the inner witness of the Holy Spirit — sometimes expressed as ‘we know because we know because we know…’ — the witness of the Father speaking to affirm Him at His baptism, and the witness of His offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, and the signs of sudden daytime darkness and an earthquake that accompanied His death.
Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony… and this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.1 John 5:10
We come to know God and know the eternal life he gives THROUGH believing in Jesus. John wants us to be absolutely confident about that.
The key proofs are essential beliefs — but armed with these essential beliefs we are a good match for the wiles of our enemy, Satan. We are confident about who we are in Christ and what He has accomplished for us.
That is a confidence which is its own invitation for others to follow.