THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 8
2 Cor. 4:3-6
Heaven’s strategy in the good news of Jesus is contrasted with scheme that the god of this age, the devil, operates
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.
- Earlier Paul talked about people whose minds were unreceptive and hearts veiled, in their attitude of turning away from God and so unable to hear His call or let it reach their hearts. Only in Christ, in other words whenever someone turns to the Lord, is this religious blindness removed. The Holy Spirit gives a freedom to see differently – and spiritually. Before we turn to trust Jesus and allow Him to be Lord of our lives, the good news is confusing and even a bit threatening. The moment we ask Him in, a change occurs in us (“the veil is taken away”) and suddenly what was confusing becomes clear – and a truly exciting discovery. Paul sets out this transition in the preceding verses, 1 Cor 3:14-17.
- “Our gospel” is the gospel that Paul proclaims – Jesus Christ crucified who is Lord – and that he seeks to live out and make authentic as a Christlike servant.
4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
- Some people find it difficult to believe that there is a real and spiritually active devil setting out to spoil all that God purposes for good. The Bible here explains clearly that we have a personal opponent, Satan, called here the “god of this age” because he exercises dominion in those who allow him to. His major work is keeping people blinded to the truth about Jesus – and the truth about his existence and activities. Turning humbly to Jesus and asking Him to be your Lord is a move he will resist and tell you not to make – but it is a stepping into the light where what was seen dimly becomes distinct (explained further in verse 6, below).
5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
- Paul is following a radically different path from his self-promoting opponents, 2 Cor. 11:4
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
- The light of God’s Spirit that comes into our hearts not only gives us a different means of understanding – revelation – but it is also an attractive light that can be perceived by others, the life of Jesus in us, verse 10, which is clearly not an earned attribute, verse 7.
This seems to be Paul’s comment on people who don’t understand the good news of redemption that He is preaching, the truth that is “set forth plainly” in the words of the verse preceding this passage. They are unbelievers, so they are just not getting it.
That doesn’t inform us much about the problem, except perhaps to find more opportunities to preach and a more persuasive method – a man-centred solution. It has been tried, over the centuries, and the 16th-century persecutions of anyone deemed to be an ‘unbeliever’ added to the ranks of martyrs in a variety of horrible ways.
Paul gives us a much better answer in verse 4, where the apistoi, unbelieving ones, cannot see the light. The words are words, but the Word, Jesus Christ the image of God, is like light penetrating and bringing vision. This is not about the knowledge of the gospel of Christ, a mental/intellectual process. It is about the revelation of the gospel, a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, or inner being.
In May 1739 John Wesley, an Oxford graduate, knew all about the gospel and had spent time in Savannah, a new American colony – with spectacularly disappointing results. Back in London and visiting the Moravian chapel in Aldersgate Street, on the east side of the City of London, he heard the reading of the beginning of John’s gospel – and had an encounter with God where in his words his “heart was strangely warmed”. The rest, as they say, is history. It is a vivid illustration of the difference between knowing what the Bible says and receiving what the Bible says, as a spiritual transaction of the heart. It is salutary to note that Wesley returned with his pride and self-sufficiency broken – and so then God could meet with him. Pride, of the Pharisees and other religious Jews, got Paul beaten up, thrown out and slandered in place after place. Pride is what keeps the veil in place and the heart untouched. Turning in need to God, believing with the belief you have, is what removes the veil and allows the spiritual light to reveal the reality of Christ.
This insight from the Bible of what keeps people from a personal, heart faith in God shows us how to disrupt the strategy of the devil to keep people blind to their need of God and the light that is from God.
For reflection or discussion
Where are you, along the line from a closed-mind unbeliever to a person of strong and open faith in God? Where are there pockets of ‘unbelieving’ which give the god of this world opportunities to block the light to that part of your heart?
Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11
The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 4 of 5
Thursday, Dec 21: Romans 16:25-27
Paul exhorts hearers of the letter in Rome to be strong in the Good News, to be made known to Gentiles everywhere to the glory of God.
25 Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says.
- “My Good News (or my Gospel) might seem to be Paul’s version versus others. Paul’s gospel is perhaps more developed, as one would expect, but no different in essence – and gained at first hand. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Galatians 1:11-12, explains that “his gospel” is not a version of someone else’s gospel but an understanding that he received directly from the Lord by revelation; see also Ephesians 3:2-6.
This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time.
- The prophets, in stark contrast to the exclusive culture they lived in, saw in the Spirit the nature of the gospel and its universality – “a light for the Gentiles”. This truth was hidden, spoken out by the prophets but still a mystery waiting to be revealed until Jesus came and until the time Paul is writing in.
26 But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him.
- God has commanded that the message to be made known to all people everywhere, for them to respond and believe. In among His final instructions to the disciples, in a very well-known passage, Jesus told them to go and make disciples “of all nations” or as we would say, all kinds of people – not just people like us.
27 All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.
The passage begins and ends with Paul giving all glory to God. For what? The message of good news which the prophets heard and spoke of first, not just for the Jews but for all mankind. Paul is seeing this unfolding, and he has had a good deal to do with this. However he is quick to point out that it was good news for him first, he was giving what he had been given, and it was God’s message and promise, not his.
He is showing us that when we see God do great things, and we may, by His grace, have had some involvement in that, hold it lightly and give the glory to God as it is due. It all goes wrong when we start to think it is our achievement, not God’s.
- To what extent have you received the gospel from someone else – and found that you needed to outgrow their perspective, as you grew in your own revelation of it, through your relationship with the Lord?
God announces through the prophet Isaiah Good News of enduring salvation
1 Comfort, comfort [i.e. comfort greatly, emphasised] My people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to [lit. speak to the heart of, encourage] Jerusalem [the Lord’s people], and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double [punishment] for all her sins.
- They had endured the punishment of captivity and exile.
- This section starts with an announcement of the Good News; it continues.
3-5 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare [clear] the way for the Lord [remove the obstacles]…
- This voice, God’s messenger who prepares the way for God’s coming, was identified with John the Baptist in all four of the gospels Matt 3:1-3, Mark 1:1-3, Luke 3:4 and John 1:23.
- In Isaiah 35 the picture is of a holy highway with the people travelling towards Zion, where the Lord has come. The imagery here is reversed; the Lord is coming out to the people (verses 9-11).
…make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.
- ‘Desert’ is not smooth sand but a picture of sharp crags and crevasses – terrain that is difficult to negotiate. NLT renders this “Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills, straighten the curves and smooth out the rough places…”
- The Near East custom was to send representatives to prepare a processional way; a bit like preparing a way down the Mall for the Queen in the royal coach.
And the glory [and majesty and splendour] of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
- Yahweh – the Lord – could not be seen; every Israelite knew that. But they needed assurance that the Lord was with them. The was the cloud, kabod, which unlike our idea of damp, grey clouds had a radiance as well. In Exodus 24:17 it is called a consuming fire. It is felt and not just seen – when the tabernacle was completed God’s glory so filled it that even Moses was unable to enter Exodus 40:35. The glory of the Lord that was the constant reminder that God was with the Israelites is the glory that Isaiah here will be seen again by everyone. The Transfiguration of Jesus was a cloud of dazzling radiance that surrounded Jesus and revealed others Matt. 17:1-3.
A voice says, “Cry out [prophesy]!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
[The voice answered] “All people are like[all humanity is as frail as] grass, and all their faithfulness [lit. all that makes it attractive] is [momentary] like the flowers of the field.
7-8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely [all] the people are [like] grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
- Quoted by Peter in his first letter: 1 Peter 1:22-25
9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem [God’s people], lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”
- ‘Shout’ – this is a message for all to hear.
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and He rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him.
- Unlike the unjust, and ultimately powerless, rulers who He will judge, God’s rule will be different: marked by compassion and righteousness – with power to rescue, Isaiah 59:16 and defeat enemies such as the Egyptians, Isaiah 63:11-12.
- His reward is with Him – God is Himself the Good News.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; He gently leads those that have young.
- The Ezekiel 34 passage (Nov 26 readings) portrayed God as the careful shepherd who would Himself rescue and shepherd His flock, Ezekiel 34:11, 15-16
This is a message of hope and encouragement for God’s people. The immediate hearers were Jews of the 8th century BC. But we can take hold of this as a lesson about God’s character; uncompromising in holiness and angered by our stubbornness and independence, but essentially loving, gracious and having our protection and best interests at heart, like the best kind of shepherd.
We may have done all sorts of things (and held all sorts of attitudes) entirely worthy of God’s anger. That is why we go back to Him often and agree with Him that we are prone to fall into sin, usually through our own independence. He has given us free will, to do what He would have us do, or to do what we want to do. Of course we get it wrong at times. The nation of Israel kept on getting it wrong, ignoring clear warnings and lessons from history, until they were expelled from their holy city and holy land to a life of servility in exile.
Here God is announcing that this ‘hard service’ has been completed and His love and mercy will once again override the need for judgment.Unlike the Jewish nation, we have a ‘fast track’ to God through Jesus. The hard service or worse that should have been ours, from our inherited independence and human pride, has been completed by Jesus in his dying for us. For the Jewish nation there was, quite justifiably, condemnation. The Bible word for us is that for us who have sincerely chosen to give our lives to Jesus, there is no condemnation, Romans 8:1-2 . There is always a way back for us in Jesus. The announcement of Good News is for our hearing. As we respond and turn to meet God, we find Him coming out to meet us. The way for Him to come, needs some levelling and preparation; thanks to Jesus we are equipped to do that.
- What are the obstacles, or obstructions, to God coming to us again and showing His glory?
- How do we do our bit to make straight… a highway for our God?