Theme of the week
Scripture is holy and lifegiving, leading to eternal life and given to us to trust — in the historic words of the collect prayer for the week, “to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest”. This vital Christian principle of becoming familiar with God”s revelation of Himself is for each generation to embrace — and for each generation to entrust to the next.
FIRST OLD TESTAMENT READING, Deuteronomy 34:1–12
Pass it on — it is God-given to give away Moses, aged 120, ascends Mount Nebo from the Plain of Moab from where the Lord shows him the distant promised land — Gilead, Judah and the Jericho valley — but this is the end of his journey; it is not to be his land. He dies and is buried in Moab.
Moses has laid hands on Joshua to be his successor, full of wisdom.
1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho.
As the Lord had told him to Deut. 32:28–32. Nebo (range) and then to the top of Pisgah.
- It is no mean ascent — like Pen-y-Fan (highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons) and then as much again, and in a hot climate.
There the Lord showed him the whole land — from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar.
- That is describing a view north, north-west, west and then south.
4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, “I will give it to your descendants.”
- A number of references in Genesis, the clearest being Gen. 12:7; 13:14–17
I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”
- The explanation has been made a little earlier, Deut. 32:48–52
On that same day the Lord told Moses, 49 “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. 50 There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. 51 This is because both of you broke faith with Me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold My holiness among the Israelites. 52 Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”
- ”Broke faith with Me”: These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarrelled with the Lord and where He was proved holy among them.
Exodus 17:7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
- Numbers 20:12–13 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
5 And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. 8 The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.
- The point of the passage is that the revelation of God is continually being passed on. The principle is always, what we have, we give away, remembering that God is continually giving, for us to give.
9 Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.
- Laying on of hands was practised by Jesus e.g. Luke 4:40, in the early church e.g. 2 Tim. 1:6 and is done today, in the impartation of ordination as well as in healing and general prayer ministry. It is a sacramental action where we make a visible and outward sign in faith, as the means of an unseen blessing by the working of the Holy Spirit.
10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face,11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt — to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
- Moses appeared (with Elijah) on the special occasion on a mountaintop we call the Transfiguration of Jesus, when Jesus” face and garments began to shine brilliantly. Matt. 17:3–4
SECOND OLD TESTAMENT READING, Leviticus 19:1–2, 15–18
Pass it on — by living and relating by God”s standards
Moses sets out five key practicalities about how to maintain holy relationships. How we love God is surely demonstrated in how we do, or don”t, love one another. Jesus was later to teach that all the law and prophetic writings were predicated on this principle.
1–2 The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ”Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
- “Speak to the entire assembly” meant that it was for everyone to keep the covenant by living as those set apart for God and therefore living by His standards.
- The character of God is behind His commandments. No other deity of ancient times could relate man’s moral duty to the deity’s holiness.
15–18 “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly.
“Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
“Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life. I am the Lord.
“Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.
- A remarkably contemporary list of warnings about how relationships commonly founder and therefore how to be different as those loving the Lord and His ways.
- From a longer list, the five key relational commandments. Jesus quoted the “love your neighbour as yourself” in His statement of the Great Commandment, Matt. 22:37–38 (see below).
READING FROM THE PSALMS, Psalm 1; Psalm 90:1–6,13–17
Pass it on — use the time and opportunity we have profitably
Psalm 1:1 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,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night.
- Taking heed of God’s revelation of Himself, the “law of the Lord” or we might say, the Bible and the Gospel leads to choices — who we listen to — and blessings due to those who listen to God and choose for Him.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers. 4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
Psalm 90:1 Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.
3 You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
4 A thousand years in Your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
5 Yet You sweep people away in the sleep of death — they are like the new grass of the morning:
6 In the morning it springs up but by evening it is dry and withered.
- Generations and generations come and go, but God”s perspective is eternal. However the psalmist sets out how the Lord has been the security throughout all generations. How? Because one generation passed this relationship and this assurance on to the next.
12 Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on Your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with Your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as You have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May Your deeds be shown to Your servants, Your splendour to their children.
17 May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.
- The psalmist asks that we might experience God’s love and Favour, so we can continue the cycle by relating our experience to our children and beyond.
NEW TESTAMENT GOSPEL READING, Matthew 22:34–45
Pass it on — show it, don’t just say it
Jesus outlines the principle of the Great Commandment
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.
The Sadducees and Pharisees were rivals, holding different doctrinal positions. The Sadducees had apparently been silenced; the Pharisees, in their superiority, were not about to let that happen to them.
35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question:
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
- This was probably a question that came up often for Jesus. The rabbis of His time spent a lot of time summarising the various commands of the law — and also putting them in order of perceived importance. His answer echoes the style, but with confrontationally different substance.
37 Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
- Deuteronomy 6:5 was part of the Shema prayer which opened with a recitation of Deut 6:4–9. Observant Jews would recite this twice daily. So Jesus was starting with something very well known to His hearers — perhaps like quoting part of the Lord”s Prayer to a modern day congregation. He puts this verse together with Leviticus 19:18 (which we read earlier).
- The two commandments stand together. The first without the second is a nonsense (cf. 1 John 4:20), and the second cannot stand without the first because a disciplined sense of duty to do good to others falls far short of love. Our love of others can only come from God”s love received by us. 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
- “Hang” is a more literal word for “depend”.
41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is He?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
- This was a conventionally-correct reply among those who studied and discussed the Scriptures — what we call the Old Testament. Jesus” implied challenge is that this answer didn’t go far enough.
43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls Him “Lord”?
- “David speaking by the Spirit…”, in other words, David speaking prophetically.
- David did speak prophetically in some of his psalm writings. The well-known example is the beginning of Psalm 22, quoted by Jesus in Aramaic as He was dying on the Cross, and verse 22 is quoted in Hebrews 2:12 as a Messianic prophecy.
For [David] says, 44 “The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”
- Jesus is quoting from David’s Psalm 110, the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament. It was a key Old Testament passage for early Christian understanding of the role of Jesus.
45 If then David calls him “Lord”, how can He be his son?”
- The widely held view of the Jewish community was that the coming Messiah would be the son of David. Jesus shows that the OT itself (e.g. Ps 110) tells us that is not the whole story. But if Messiah is not David”s son, whose son is he?
- The solution is given by the beginning section of Matthew (chapters 1–2) and by the voice of God himself Matt. 3:17; 17:5: Jesus is the Son of God. The title “Son of Man”, used by Jesus of Himself, has the double meaning of “human being” (as in Ps 8:4; Ps 80:17 for example) but also the meaning of a heavenly figure who at the end time brings the kingdom to the oppressed on earth Daniel 7:13–14. So there are two aspects to the Messiah. Matthew’s gospel, written with Jewish believers in mind, repeatedly recognises that Jesus the Messiah is Son of David — by title Matt. 1:1; 9:27, by genealogy Matt. 1:2–16, and by portraying Jesus as King of the Jews Matt 2:2; 27:11, 29. Therefore Jesus is both a human Messiah in David”s line but also a divine Messiah who transcends human limitations.
46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
NEW TESTAMENT EPISTLE READING, 1 Thessalonians 2:1–8
Pass it on — with urgency and despite opposition
Paul reminds the church in Thessaloniki how despite opposition with God’s help they dared to proclaim the Good News. The apostolic messengers spoke with God’s approval to be entrusted with the gospel, not for themselves but demonstrate in their lives and to give away.
1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel in the face of strong opposition.
- There is both a cost and an urgency in sharing the gospel. It will bring opposition — overt or covert.
3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.
- This is a question that could be asked of some high-profile and high-budget ministries today. There will always be the human tendency to dishonesty.
4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.
- To be entrusted to do more than tell it — show it in holy lives.
We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed — God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.
- Amplifies the point of verse 4, above. The human nature, or flesh nature, wants something for itself, including recognition! If it doesn’t get it own way, it wants to manipulate or enforce. The apostles chose to be people who were learning and growing, just as their protégés were.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
- What is a mother’s instinct for her baby? To give of her best, sacrificially if necessary. This is a picture of “giving away” the Good News and also living the Good News so that we become Good News to others.
Jump to message from this reading
The holy tradition leads us in a holy commission
Pass it on — it is God-given to give away
Moses was privileged to enter into God’s presence like no other man, and was entrusted with the ‘Ten Words’ or commandments which formed the basis of God’s instruction for His people. There was a lot of detail, a lot of how to live it out, which those ten words stood for. Through the most testing of circumstances — a chariot army behind and a large body of water in front, provision for a huge number of people an animals in a desert region, attacks by other tribes and more than his share of insurrection — Moses walked a good walk with God, but not perfectly. Not trusting the Lord earlier, at Meribah (v.4 note), was to keep him from realising the vision. He was to hand over the honour of actually entering the Promised Land to a much younger assistant. He died at the age of 120, perhaps symbolic of three periods of 40 years.
Moses had been given the Law; he had led the people in how to keep the Law; and his last challenge was to be willing and gracious in giving all that away, to the person he had particularly mentored — “Joshua son of Nun [who] was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him.” This is a picture of how we are given the word of God by hearing and seeing others, but charged with the responsibility to pass it on to successors.
Leviticus 19:1–2, 15–18
Jesus is the Word of God — the Living Word. Much of what we call the word of God is about Jesus and His teaching (the Gospels) or the Way of Jesus that the early church sought to practice (epistles). But without too much difficulty we can see Jesus in these Old Testament passages, like the detail of the Law in Leviticus. “Be holy… because I am holy”. What does this holy God look like? Jesus said in John 14, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father… I am in the Father, and… the Father is in Me.” Our human nature too easily veers off. We get into judgmental attitudes, say things about others which are not true and defamatory, and go for what we want without regard to consequences for others. Or something in a relationship has become strained — and we’d rather hold on to it than speak to the other person and try to put it right. That turns into a lasting and damaging grudge which is the opposite of love and forebearance.
Have you seen that in your family, workplace, neighbourhood (or even church)? What is different, and holy? Jesus made this accessible by demonstrating that He is the Way, a Way that we can pass on by daring to be like Him in a selfish world.
Psalm 1; Psalm 90:1–6,13–17
It really helps if we spend our time around the right people and not the wrong people. We become like those we hang out with. We’re all concerned that our children don’t “get in with the wrong set”. So we know the way it works. The choice not to “sit in the company of mockers” but delighting and meditating on the law of the Lord comes down to one thing. Where is our focus? What do we think about? There are plenty of people who want to assert their proud thoughts and opinions, but the blessing comes when we consider God”s thoughts. As often as we turn to God’s thoughts — turn to God’s word, practically speaking, we find His love that satisfies, the joy and gladness to make a difference. So much better than joining the circle of negativity. It’s a small investment of time that pays big dividends.
You have heard the expression, “Use it or lose it!” Here’s a slightly different one that is just as compelling: “Show it or blow it!”. People are tired of speeches that don’t deliver, of “fake news” and every kind of insincerity. They do, however, recognise what is real when they see it. Rabbis at the time of Jesus were much occupied with finding snappy summaries of parts of the complex 600 clauses that the Law had become, and saying what was most important. They weren’t so good at equipping people to live holy lives that blessed others.
Jesus took a radically different approach, dressed up as something they would find familiar. In His teaching He used some very familiar words: two commandments which He said were essentially one commandment. We cannot truly claim to love God if we don”t love others. It’s true the other way round as well. Loving those around us (not always easy) draws on the love relationship with have with God: knowing His love, being free to return it.
For 2,000 years people have heard the message of God’s love and seen it in action. This has become the moral anchor for well over two billion people across the world.
Where it hasn’t been successful is where there has been a mixed message — people whose fundamental beliefs are actually the same, but losing sight of what it means in persecutions, conflicts and even wars.
This “Great Commandment” communicates to people, not needing a lot of words, where people can see what loving God and loving others is like, and that it works. Nobody would say they don’t want it; they just don’t trust the religiosity that we have too often made part of the package. What we pass on to others for Jesus’ glory, will look like what Jesus was doing.
1 Thessalonians 2:1–8
There has never been a time in history when the Christian gospel did not attract opposition and persecution. It is said that there have been more Christian martyrs in recent decades, than in all of Christian history. At a lower level, political correctness makes sharing what is good and true in schools or libraries or even by long established Christian festivals more and more difficult. Christians are now being punished in the courts for taking a moral stand or preaching in the streets.
The first apostolic messengers found people stirring up riots. They were beaten, imprisoned and run out of town — but they pressed on with the message of life in Jesus that had been entrusted to them. Unlike other orators of their time, they were not seeking praise or profit, but handled their task and the rebukes that came with it, with humility. This was different!
Don’t think that we are a Christian country. That is long past, and our task is even more urgent and difficult, than if no one had ever seen a Bible or heard its message. But the message, shared in the power of the Holy Spirit, and demonstrated by the same Spirit, is different, lasting and life-changing. And we have been given it, to give away, as best and courageously as we can.
1. Why is it up to us to pass on the Good News?
Think about how Moses addressed the people (Tuesday: Leviticus 19).
2. How do we pass it on?
We may not be great speakers or teachers, or even outward-going personalities. But think about the essence of what Jesus was teaching (Thursday: Matt. 22). How much is taught, how much is ‘caught’?
3. Holy living, by God’s standards? Sounds impossible. But how unrealistic is it to use the list in Leviticus 19 (Tuesday) as a starting point?
If you were to decide on a ‘code of conduct’ for your group, neighbourhood, church or organisation, what would it look like?
4. How do we set out to live God’s way in a world where all the values seem to be against this?
Think about Paul and his companions, the hostility they encountered and the help they relied on Friday: 1 Thessalonians 2). What was the experience of the early church of being empowered by the Holy Spirit? Could this be our experience?
5. Where do you need more courage to live for Jesus and share His life?
Ask God, who knows and will supply all your needs. In a group, you can agree this together in prayer – a powerful thing to do.