TLW02A for Sunday, January 19, 2020
Theme: In Jesus we find God’s grace and renewal of life
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Isaiah 49:1-7 — The servant of God brings new light to the Gentiles
It is His life’s call to bring every kind of people to God
1 Listen to Me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called Me; from My mother’s womb He has spoken My name.
“The Lord called Me… from My mother’s womb – this second ‘Servant Song’ describing the Messiah to come emphasises the very specific, personal call in language like the call of Jeremiah, and of Paul. This is no ordinary call on the Servant’s life, but the central meaning of it.
• For further study, see Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15.
2 He made My mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of His hand He hid Me; He made Me into a polished arrow and concealed Me in His quiver.
“Mouth like a sharpened sword” – unlike Cyrus, the Servant conquers by the force of the truth of His word, by encouragement for the righteous and judgment on wicked-doers, Isaiah 11:4. His word is ever effective, Isaiah 55:11; Eph. 6:17; Hebrews 4:12.
3 He said to Me, “You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendour.”
“My servant, Israel” – not the rebellious nation described in Isaiah 42:18-25 and 59:1-15a, but an individual who characterises the ‘true Israel’ of God’s original intentions, who will succeed where the nation of Israel so tragically failed.
4 But I said, “I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due Me is in the LORD’S hand, and My reward is with My God.”
“In vain… for nothing at all” – in the third and fourth servant songs the suffering theme emerges more fully. At His first coming the Servant (Christ) was met with rejection by His own people, and His mission looked at the time like a failure (John 1:9-11) but here in the foretelling is assurance that God’s plan will be successfully fulfilled.
• For further study, see first servant song, Isaiah 42:1-9 (last week), and the last two, Isaiah 50:4-11 and 52:13-53:12.
5 And now the LORD says – He who formed Me in the womb to be His servant to bring Jacob back to Him and gather Israel to Himself, for I am honoured in the eyes of the LORD and My God has been My strength –
“To bring Jacob back… gather Israel to Himself” – now it is clear that the Servant, though identified with Israel (v.3), is an individual person, called to serve Israel and beyond in a work of restoration.
6 He says: “It is too small a thing for You to be My Servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make You a light for the Gentiles, that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
“Also… a light for the Gentiles… to the ends of the earth” – reiterating Isaiah 42:6-7, a clear intention for God’s salvation to reach to all on earth. The Servant is to fulfil the call of Abraham, and the call to the nation of Israel, to be a blessing to other nations. The apostles and disciples in every age have heard this again in the Great Commission.
• For further study, see Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-6; Matthew 28:18-20.
REFLECTION The Messiah’s path of renewing his own people and then, through them, other nations would not be an easy one. It would be beset by apparent failure – and that is how it seemed, when Jesus was arrested and crucified (Luke 24:17). But this passage also tells us that what God sets in motion, He also brings to successful completion (verse 4). It teaches us to take a longer view and to grasp the bigger picture of what God is always doing – renewing and saving. The first renewal extends the scope of God’s desire to reach people with His love and grace. The Jews believed it was just for them, and could not grasp that God could have any interest in non-Jews from other nations who worshipped gods rather than the Living God. Religious-minded people today feel they have some religious merit to receive God’s grace. But the good news is, God’s salvation reaches out to everyone, and Jesus is the light and way to relationship with Him, whoever and however we are.
QUESTION Why is it too small a thing for the Servant to restore and bring back people from the 12 tribes? What has God’s plan been, all along?
John 1:29-42 — Jesus renews the sinful world by the Holy Spirit
John recognises the unique sacrificial role which enables salvation
29-31 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.’ I myself did not know Him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that He might be revealed to Israel.”
“The Lamb of God” – John recognises that Jesus is the One spoken of in the servant passages of Isaiah and particularly Isaiah 53:7: “He was oppressed… brought as a lamb to the slaughter”. In the OT era lambs were sacrificed for sins; Jesus became the full and final sacrifice for humanity’s sin. Our salvation is not through our actions or sacrifices, but by believing in His.
“I… did not know Him”(and v.33) – unlikely to mean that Jesus was a stranger to John, his cousin. God gave John a sign, the Holy Spirit descending as a dove, to show him the Messiah.
32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him.
“John gave this testimony” – second testimony, see John 1:19-23. John had already baptised Jesus.
33-34 And I myself did not know Him, but the one who sent Me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the One who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
“Baptise with water… baptise with the Holy Spirit” – John’s water baptism was for repentance, and he points out that having seen the Holy Spirit descend and remain on Jesus, He would baptise (drench figuratively) with the Spirit, enabling those who believe in him to live in a new, empowered life characterised by God’s grace gifts working through them.
• For further study, see John 20:22; Acts 1:5, 2:4; 11:15-16; 19:4-6, 1 Cor. 12-14; Galatians 3:5, 14, 4:6, 5:16-25; Eph. 1:13, 5:18; Phil. 3:3; 1 Thess 4:8. This Holy Spirit-empowered life is normative for believers in the NT and today.
35-36 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
“With two of his disciples” – one is Andrew (v.40 below) and because the the other is unnamed, we can identify from the context that it is the writer, the young fisherman John (see note to v.39).
[John] said, Look the Lamb of God!” – it was rare, in a culture where schools of teachers were competitive, for one teacher to refer his disciples to another, as John does here.
37-38 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
Rabbi… Teacher – one of a number of instances where John translates an Aramaic idiom for his Gentile and therefore Greek-speaking readers.
“Where are you staying” – a polite way of saying they would like to visit, and Jesus invites them in the same indirect way.
39 “Come,” He replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where He was staying, and they spent that day with Him. It was about four in the afternoon.
“About four in the afternoon” – John’s first encounter with Jesus was so life-changing and memorable, he notes the time – indicating again that he was the other disciple with Andrew.
40-42 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
Andrew lived and worked with his brother Simon and is the first person recorded to witness about Jesus. His two other mentions in John’s Gospel are about him bringing others to Jesus, John 6:4-9, 12:20-22.
“Cephas… Peter” – Aramaic and Greek for ‘rock’, hardly apt for the impulsive and mistake-prone man we meet in the Gospels. But Jesus renames him (as often in the Bible), prophetically seeing what he will become in the early church, following the Holy Spirit encounter at Pentecost.
The first renewal was a renewal of scope – In Isaiah it is stated plainly that God’s envoy is sent to the Jewish nation and also to the people beyond it.
This second renewal is is a renewal by transformation. John’s baptism was for repentance and it was essentially aspirational. People wanted to show they were turning from sin to hear God again, and the baptism was a ‘signpost moment’, but it didn’t empower them to live differently – it wasn’t a spiritual renewal. Now Jesus, who has received a full and lasting impartation of the Holy Spirit at His baptism, starts His ministry. As John has indicated, this is a Holy Spirit encounter for others, who are healed, delivered, restored and taught in ways that only God could do. All signs that the Messiah (or Christ) is present. This is the turning point, where people who met Jesus found salvation and experienced changed lives. This was more than good intention, it was an impartation of the means of knowing God personally and living differently as a result.
QUESTION What did Paul tell the original disciples at Ephesus when he first met them (Acts 19:1-7)? What does that tell us about the need for an impartation and empowering to live for Jesus?
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 — Believers find God’s grace through fellowship with Jesus
The Corinth church is richly renewed in the new life of Jesus
1-3 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be His holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Sosthenes” – probably the former synagogue leader who did the actual writing of Paul’s dictation. Corinth was the big seaport and capital city of Achaia in southern Greece.
4 I always thank my God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus.
“His grace given to you” – or “now that you belong to Christ Jesus”. The church at Corinth was somewhat notorious for the arrogance and self-centred attitudes which were like the place itself. However, the members had made a choice to receive Christ Jesus as Lord, experiencing God’s grace in salvation, with their sanctification a work in progress (as for all of us).
5-6 For in Him you have been enriched in every way – with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge – God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you.
“Enriched… speech and knowledge” – Paul begins with praise for the church’s spiritual strengths in spoken gifts, which were important to them, again reflecting the culture of Corinth which valued oratory and debate.
7-8 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“You do not lack any spiritual gift – which Paul goes on to teach more fully in chapters 12-14, also addressing misunderstandings about their use and emphasising the undeserved nature of these (lit.) “grace gifts”.
9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
“God is faithful” – spiritual gifts build up the fellowship but spiritual maturity is knowing who we are in Christ and knowing God’s faithfulness.
REFLECTION The third renewal is about being “sanctified in Christ” and living out the call to “be His holy people”. Being sanctified is simply about a transformation into holiness which is a work of the Holy Spirit over time, weaning us from thoughts and acts that come from the selfish (or flesh) nature and teaching us to live according to a different set of values led by the Spirit. Galatians 5:13-26 sets this out as a ‘before and after’ while also making clear that living by the Spirit is a daily choice and steady progress. Jesus, perfectly filled with the Spirit, brought transformation to all who encountered Him, but His last words in the various Gospels make it clear His disciples (and that’s us, too) are to go and find others, and do the same. This starts with us showing Jesus to others in the way we live for Him – and Paul challenges the Corinthians on this point, while reminding them of the good news: that they have everything they need (and spiritual gifts as well) to grow in grace.
QUESTION How would you explain how God works for ongoing salvation and renewal – in us as individuals, together as His church, and through us to renew the world around us?
PRAYER At the beginning of the year, Lord, we catch Your heart to renew us as individuals and as church fellowships. Thank You that You are always about Your renewing work – as much as we allow You to! So help us to work with You, accepting change, and looking for Your kingdom in everything. In Jesus’ name, Amen.