Theme: Who exactly is Jesus and what is the source of His authority? (Christ the King)
To read in the week of Nov 18, to prepare for Sunday, November 25 (TLW 47)
2 Samuel 23:1-7 — Final words from a renowned and godly ruler of Israel. David recalls God’s covenant with him and looks forward to a promised royal descendant
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 — the majesty of the Ancient of Days. A glimpse of heaven for Daniel who sees amid a myriad angels attending the throne of God the honouring of “one like a son of man”.
John 18:33-37 — Jesus is questioned by Pilate about who He is. Jesus explains that He is no political figurehead but His kind of kingdom is rooted elsewhere.
Revelation 1:4b-8 — The freedom to serve God as His priests now. Jesus, present from the beginning will return as the completion of truth
Also: Psalm 132:1-18
2 Samuel 23:1-7 — Final words from a renowned and godly ruler of Israel
David recalls God’s covenant with him and looks forward to a promised royal descendant
23 These are the last words of David:
‘The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse, the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, the hero of Israel’s songs:
“The utterance of the man exalted” – testimony to God’s work through his life, having been raised up as king of Israel, from shepherd to ruler, 2 Samuel 7ff; like the Bible’s wisdom literature, what follows contrasts just rule in the fear of God with
2 ‘The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue.
“Spoke through me” – not presumptuous, but in awe at God using Him prophetically.
3 The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me:
“When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God,
4 he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.”
“When one rules… in righteousness… in the fear of God” – in the style of a prophet, David sets out in bold strokes a picture of a God-centred ruler – unmistakably alluding to the One he foreshadowed, Jesus Christ.
5 ‘If my house were not right with God, surely He would not have made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part;
surely He would not bring to fruition my salvation and grant me my every desire.
“An everlasting covenant… secured in every part” – even though his household had failed God, David believes rightly that God’s promise recorded in 2 Sam. 7:12-16 will hold good with a descendant of David as the Eternal King, fulfilled in Jesus Christ when He
For further study, similar prophecies in Isaiah 11:1-10; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jer. 33:15-18; Zech.9:9-10. Fulfilled in part, Matt. 4:14-16; Luke 24:25-27,44-49; John 5:45-47; John 8:28-29.
6 But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns, which are not gathered with the hand.
7 Whoever touches thorns uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear; they are burned up where they lie.’
“Thorns” – worthless but also dangerous, needing to be shifted with an weapon or implement. “Burned up”, literally ‘consumed with fire in the sitting’ or as we would say, on the spot. For God’s judgment as fire, see Isaiah 9;18; 10:17. The fate of the rebellious when the Messiah, in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant finally establishes His rule on earth, Isa. 63:1-6.
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 – the majesty of the Ancient of Days
A glimpse of heaven for Daniel who sees amid a myriad angels attending the throne of God the honouring of one like a son of man
9 ‘As I looked, ‘thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat.
His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool;
His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of His head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.
“The Ancient of Days” – pictures God as a king of great power and immense maturity giving judgment in court. The description symbolises His wisdom in white hair; righteousness by white clothing; and power in judgment, as fire. The description is similar to that of an angel in Matthew 28:3 and Jesus in Revelation 1:14.
10 A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before Him.
Thousands upon thousands attended Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him
“Thousands attended” – a very great number of angelic beings stood before Him. John also recorded that there ‘thousands and millions”, i.e. too many to count, surrounding God’s throne and ministering to Him. Angels are spiritual beings created by God for worship and for mission (like us) who, largely unseen, help in carrying out God’s work on earth.
13-14 ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, [enash] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
“One like a son of man” – an Aramaic phrase ‘bar
For further study: Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62; Luke 21:27; Rev. 1:7.
IN PRACTICE The first aspect of who God is comes through David’s final testimony about ruling in the fear of God, and Daniel’s picture of awe as he is
QUESTION Daniel’s vision of thousands and millions in the heavenly court was extraordinary and unrepeatable. What kinds of spiritual practice help us to have some sense of a glimpse of heaven and the majesty of the heavenly court?
John 18:33-37 – Jesus is questioned by Pilate about who He is
Jesus explains that He is no political figurehead, but His kind of kingdom is rooted elsewhere
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
34 ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about Me?’
“Are you…” – Pilate’s first words to Jesus are the same in each of the four gospels. There were two possible questions here with different political overtones – was Jesus a rebel leader in opposition to Roman rule, or was He the Jews’ religious leader, the Messiah?
35 ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’
“Pilate replied” – he is exasperated, despising the Jews and their ways and not wanting to get involved with their affairts, yet seeing no real basis for their extreme animosity. Ironically, he ends up supporting their position in which we see God’s providence in allowing Jesus to be executed by being ‘lifted up’ and not by stoning, as Jews were inclined to do.
36 Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now My kingdom is from another place.’
37 ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.
Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me.’
“My kingdom is from another place” – heaven is the place of eternal and absolute truth. Jesus came as the Way, the Truth and the Life, John 14:6. Relationship with Him is the only way to God and the only means of that life-bringing truth being revealed – a conundrum for intellectual theologians because it is not logical or understandable. Jesus came as living truth for all who would receive Him. Pilate, a politician, considered all truth relative in the shifting sands of people’s opinions; however Jesus of Nazareth and his philosophical-sounding answer did not present as a threat to law and order.
IN PRACTICE The second aspect of who God is, concerns the Son of Man who Daniel sees in his vision, approaching the Ancient of Days. On earth this picture is recalled, ironically, as Jesus of Nazareth is brought before Pontius Pilate. The Roman governor Pilate was used to factions, pressure-groups and politics in general. Appointed as Prefect of the Roman province of Judea, he encountered the religious politics of Jews and Samaritans, eventually being recalled to Rome after complaints from both. So it is not surprising that when Jesus of Nazareth was brought before him by the Jews, he saw Him at first as yet another political activist. Jesus immediately corrected that perception with His statement: “My kingdom is from another place”. The lesson for us is that human politics on earth and heaven’s purposes follow different agendas. There are spiritual connections – and tensions – between the two. We often pray and expect answers as though the kingdom of God and our world dominated by man’s organisation and control were the same, but the reality is that we pray through Jesus, who is the king of “a kingdom not of this world”. The better we know Jesus, the more we will discern His kingdom, and the more clearly we’ll see the difference — and learn to live and pray in the right alignment with what He is doing.
PRAYER Lord, I say you are a king – the king, King Jesus, to whom all authority is given. Help me to hold less tightly the priorities that seem to apply on earth, and to begin to see matters from a different perspective – Your heavenly perspective.
Revelation 1:4b-8 — The freedom to serve God as His priests now
Jesus, present from the beginning, will return as the completion of truth
4 To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
“The seven churches” – the letters were addressed so they could be sent out and passed on via the Roman road which ran north of Ephesus and then in an arc inland and back towards Ephesus, connecting the Roman province called Asia in modern western Turkey.
Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,
“Seven spirits before His throne” – better, ‘sevenfold spirit’ as NIV footnote. The number seven symbolises completeness and perfection. There may also be an allusion to the ‘angels of the seven churches, Rev. 1:20.
5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
5-6 To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father – to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
“Who loves us… has freed us…has made us…” – stated as present-time blessings. There is a dimension of the kingdom of God (God’s reign bringing God’s order) which is not just anticipated when Jesus comes again, but in some measure experienced now.
“A kingdom and priests to serve” – here, clearly and simply, is set out the essential difference between the Old Covenant way of relating to God (rules, hierarchical and formal rituals, led by a special order of priests who make connections by proxy, with God who is holy and remote) and the New Covenant (freed from the burden and guilt of sin by Jesus’ blood and now able to draw close to God as those who know Him and know His love, to serve Him in worship and mission without intermediaries). The human tendency is to revert to what is more ordered and more controlled, requiring less personal investment and responsibility, which is why the New Covenant remains a challenge for much of the Christian church today. As Jesus taught, the ‘taste of the old wine’ seems preferable.
7 ‘Look, He is coming with the clouds,’ and ‘every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him’; and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of Him.’ So shall it be! Amen.
8 ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’
“The Alpha and the Omega” – the alphabet is an ingenious way of representing knowledge through words. Christ, the Living Word, is supreme in this, ruling sovereignly over all human history including the part that for us has not yet unfolded.
“All peoples on earth will mourn” — rejoicing at the return of the Messiah by those that are His, swept up in the air to meet Him, 1 Thess. 4:16-17. Others, the ones still on earth, mourning their sin and judgment. The combined quotation headlines the theme of Revelation, the sweepingly majestic yet human-related Lord, Daniel 7:13 who evokes both the sorrow of sin in the face of One so holy but also finding grace, Zechariah 12:10.
IN PRACTICE The third aspect of who Jesus is, also says a lot about who we are
QUESTION What is meant by priesthood in the post-resurrection New Testament? What should we call those who are set apart and trained as preachers, shepherds and leaders in the church?
PRAYER Lord God Almighty, may we grow in loving You and walking in awe of You, as we seek to represent You to our world, and bring the needs of our world to You.
This post in booklet form to print out for your church, respecting ©2018 The Living Word/Ian Greig
Image credit New Life Toronto (Mennonite) + excellent teaching summary here
Pentecost marks a huge event in salvation history, God’s plan for the world. The birth of Jesus, marked at Christmas, is rightly a prominent celebration. So is the death and resurrection of Jesus celebrated at Easter. The impartation of the Holy Spirit of Jesus to believers in Christ, not just a select few but all who open their hearts to Jesus and seek His power to live for His kingdom, must rank right up there in its capacity to bring God’s good change. The church of the Holy Spirit — there’s one, despite varied packaging — changes lives and social behaviour, nations and policies while other factions, including denominations, still show the human tendency to argue and divide.
Ezekiel saw this in visions he received and wrote about. He saw man’s unresponsive ‘heart of stone’ being replaced with a sensitive ‘heart of flesh’ that would want to follow God’s will without the crude mechanism of rules and religious regulations. Then he saw the scattered bones of the dispersed nation of Israel, its hope long dead, restored and enlivened by God’s Spirit. Jesus, recorded by John, taught intensively in His last days on earth about the coming of the Holy Spirit which, He said, He would send from the Father after He had gone from the earth. Then at Pentecost we read in Acts how the Holy Spirit came, visibly, and with an impartation that was very evident to the gathered disciples first, and then as the crowd responded, more generally. The church had just received its power to carry out its God’s given mission. Much later, Paul reflects to readers in Rome on the difference the Holy Spirit makes in believers’ lives: the kingdom of God, God’s rule and order in the world, is not yet fully produced, like a long and painful childbirth, but the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life gives us a powerful helper, One who knows exactly what to pray when we are struggling.
The readings this week show the Holy Spirit like God’s breath breathing life into dry bones, and then being promised as Jesus’ parting gift and imparted on the fiftieth day after Passover.
The lesson? Don’t try to live by your own strength — it doesn’t work that way. Live by God’s power imparted to you and you will see, bit by bit, His kingdom come.
Follow this through in the church calendar readings for Sunday, May 20, Pentecost Sunday, given here in Bible order. Prepare for Sunday by reading and reflecting on this word for the week and let the Holy Spirit speak to you through the Word.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 – The Holy Spirit breathes new life into dry bones
[Psalm 104:24-34, 35b – The Holy Spirit renews whatever He touches]
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 – The Spirit of Truth is Jesus’ parting gift
Acts 2:1-21 – The Holy Spirit comes with a visible, transforming impartation
Romans 8:22-27 – The Holy Spirit gives believers confidence to pray God’s will
Ezekiel 37:1-14 » The Holy Spirit breathes new life into dry bones
• Ezekiel has a vision of God putting His Spirit into His people to live again for Him
1 The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.
This vision follows on from God’s promise of a new heart and new spirit through the impartation of the Holy Spirit. The prophet also heard the Lord speak of repopulating the cities, with ruins rebuilt and numbers increased. But the exiles were scattered, with their hope evaporated.
For further study, see Ezekiel 36:26-27, 33, 35, 37-38
2-3 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
“Can these bones live” – Can these random, scattered bones become living people again? The people’s hopes were not just dead but dried up and dismembered.
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4-5 Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.
“Breath enter you” – difficult to capture in English is the wordplay where the one word ruach conveys three meanings, translated spirit, breath and wind.
6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’ ”
7-8 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
“There was no breath” – connected bones and tendons and muscle create a body; without respiration, it is still a corpse.
9-10 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.
“Prophesy” – speak out in faith for God. Ezekiel is instructed to speak into the slain God’s breath or Spirit, “from the four winds” or from every direction, a complete and powerful renewal.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’
“Our bones are dried up” – Israel’s hope had gone. There was no way back to being God’s own people, in their perspective. In our language, they were not up for it.
12-14 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’ ”
“I will put My Spirit in you and you will live” – apart from God’s presence, God’s Spirit, there is no hope for God’s people. There cannot be a political and geographical restoration without the spiritual dimension, in Ezekiel’s time or future times.
Ezekiel saw death on a large scale as one who experienced the deportation following the fall of Jerusalem and in his mind’s eye, saw the nation as scattered bones.
We experience setbacks in life, and in church or Christian life. We are not immune from forces that cause death, in various dimensions. Projects, relationships and policies can all fail. We start by asking “Why?” and then move on to what has been learned. Ezekiel’s vision points to our unwillingness to work in the spiritual dimension. God can bring Israel alive again, even standing as a mighty army. Without His Spirit, there is no life, no hope.
Whenever there has been a crisis and the wind of the Spirit has been lost, the focus must be on catching that wind again. With the Holy Spirit, there is no life, just dead orthodoxy.
What “dry bones” need the breath of the Spirit to enliven them? Should we be joining God in speaking life into these bones?
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 » The Spirit of Truth is Jesus’ parting gift
• The promised Holy Spirit will show sin and self-righteousness and the devil’s lies for what they are
15:26-27 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of Truth who goes out from the Father – He will testify about Me. And you also must testify, for you have been with Me from the beginning.
The Holy Spirit is as much a ‘personal Person’ as the Father or the Son. He is sent out by the Father, but we are told that He is the Spirit of Christ, 1 Peter 1:11, and the voice and revelation of Christ, vv. 14-15 below.
16:4-6 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to Him who sent me. None of you asks Me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things.
“When their time comes” – Jesus attracted persecution as a church steeple draws lightning, but He warns that on His departure, the attacks will come to the disciples more directly, requiring their Holy Spirit-empowered testimony.
7-11 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in Me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see Me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
“Prove… to be in the wrong” – or “convict”, more formal versions. The Holy Spirit’s prompting to turn to Jesus is a turning away from the world and its values, especially its self-righteousness and lack of sin awareness. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus and contrasts His call with the sin of independence; He shows the difference between the world’s righteousness and the kingdom of heaven’s kind of righteousness; and shows the judgmental voice of the accuser to be lies of one already condemned.
12-15 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify Me because it is from Me that He will receive what He will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from Me what He will make known to you.”
“The Spirit of Truth… will guide you” – see John 14:26. The thrust of the gospel comes by revelation as well as information. Jesus relied on this, John 5:19-20 and in the same way that Jesus could do what He saw His Father doing, the Holy Spirit will only speak what He hears.
Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit from the Father comes right at the end of the Old Testament period. We live in the New Testament or more accurately, New Covenant knowing our release from sin secure for us by Jesus on the Cross and new life in Jesus who is resurrected, alive and active in our lives by His Holy Spirit.
Going back to this promise, as it was set out to the disciples before the Holy Spirit was given, helps us to understand more about the life of the Spirit in our lives, now that the Holy Spirit has been given. Turning to Jesus and recognising Him as our Saviour, but also asking Him to come into our lives as Lord, is asking His Holy Spirit into our lives. One of the many facets of this new life in Jesus, which this passage teaches, is having the Spirit of Truth, or reality, residing in us.
As believers, belonging to the Lord’s assembly, or church (there is only one!) we are enabled to a greater or lesser degree to perceive spiritually beyond what we can see or intellectually understand. This is the working of the Spirit of Truth who brings revelation of the spiritual reality behind what we see – truth and reality are twin meaning of the same word. As we read and study the Bible, or as we look at a situation, we receive information, which we can evaluate. But before we form an opinion, we must allow the Spirit of Truth to give us spiritual revelation of what that information looks like to Him. He will guide us into all the truth (or all the reality) – if we let Him.
What do you find is most helpful to you, in giving the Holy Spirit room to add His dimension to what you are seeing or hearing?
Acts 2:1-21 » The Holy Spirit comes with a visible, transforming impartation
• With a roar like a huge gust and what seemed like a divided flame, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and given a new praise language
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
“Pentecost” – the fiftieth day after Passover and harvest festival for the wheat harvest, was a time for remembering and renewing the covenants with Noah and with Moses and commemorating the giving of the Law on Sinai.
2-4 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
“A sound” – it was a big sound, filling a space for 120.
“All of them” – probably the 120, not just the 12. The Joel prophecy was for men and women, Joel 2:28-32 and quoted below v.18
“Tongues” – the word also means languages. Contemporary experience is that the spiritual gift of an unlearned praise and prayer language often accompanies being filled with the Holy Spirit.
5-12 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
“Each one heard” – where the gift of tongues is used today, sometimes a person of different ethnicity and culture will hear words of praise, often meaningful to them, in their language. Jerusalem was a city population of seven nations and three languages, swelled by “God-fearing Jews from every nation” visiting for the festival.
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14-16 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17-18 “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
“My Spirit on all people” – In the OT the Holy Spirit came on individuals to empower them in God’s service as righteous kings, prophets, craftsmen etc. This promise, fulfilled at Pentecost, was for a Spirit-filled people, male and female, young and older, all of whom would know a Holy Spirit-inspired confidence in God’s guidance and expressing God’s ways.
“They will prophesy” – broader than foretelling, forth-telling: speaking out for God.
19 “I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
“Wonders… and signs… before the coming…” – signs of the future consummation of the kingdom.
“Everyone who calls…saved” – not future timing, but inaugurated by Jesus for anyone who will show intent by responding in faith and turning to Him, Matt. 7:21.
The disciples, like any of us, were of themselves and independent lot. Peter was a courageous leader who was sometimes a bit too quick to ‘make it happen’. Others were jockeying for position and status. Thomas seemed to withdraw while he struggled with his own unanswered questions. These were the men we read about but in the upper room, there were many women disciples, too who had their own perspective.
On the day of the festival, they were all together in one place – under one roof, but a careful reading of the ends of the Gospels and the beginning of Acts tells a story of a coming together in one heart and mind as they prayed day by day. Prayer doesn’t change God but it does change us, and then God can change something in the word through us being aligned with Him.
The coming of the Holy Spirit has sometimes been seen as the birth of the Church of Jesus. In reality, the church – the gathering of believers – had already formed, but it couldn’t pick up its mission or go anywhere. That takes the Holy Spirit’s leading and empowering. Where we frequently go wrong is to try to do what we can by ourselves. Where we are fruitful is when we intentionally take time to be changed, become aligned, get into agreement with other believers – and then allow God to magnify the little we have.
Why can it be helpful for us to have a prayer and praise language that we can use without thinking about it first?
Romans 8:22-27 » The Holy Spirit gives believers confidence to pray God’s will
He helps us to know what to pray for in hope and faith, for what is not yet seen
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
“Groaning” – creation is personified as a woman in labour. Something is being produced that involves both suffering and hope.
23-25 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
“First-fruits” – a down payment on the fulfilment of God’s blessings. We know of, and can live in the security of, being adopted with the full rights of sonship, 1 John 3:1, but this is an experience to come, together with renewed bodies.
“Hope” – not so much a ‘will it, won’t it?’ but more of a confident expectation that what is not seen, or not received, will certainly be in the Lord’s timing.
26-27 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
“Spirit Himself intercedes…” – The Holy Spirit is a person, one of the three Persons of the Trinity, whose relationship is so close that they are One God. So the Holy Spirit knows exactly how to pray for a person or situation in a way that matches God’s will. His leading of us may be in words, in expression through an unlearned prayer language, or in ways that are largely silent.
This short passage is taken from a letter written to a Holy Spirit-led and Holy Spirit-filled group of believers. The New Testament letters all make this assumption. Without this understanding, the letter can read as little more than chiding by the apostles to do more that is right, and less that is wrong. We have probably heard that kind of message in church, and left wondering how we do it.
The rules and regulations and religious strictures that applied to Jesus and the disciples applied to every Jew before the Cross and the Resurrection. But then, everything changed. The life of the Spirit was a new experience of being motivated and enabled and empowered to live for God, in a new identity. This is quite different from trying to keep within the requirements of the law, or within the legalism of any ordered religion. The Holy Spirit – Spirit of Jesus, Spirit of God – resident in us, by our invitation, shapes our will in a more holy direction.
This changes how we pray as well. If we pray what we want, or what is in line with our opinions, we may not be agreeing with the will of God. If, however, we allow the Holy Spirit to direct how we pray, either with our words, or with His prayer language, or without words, He checks our heart motives and strengthens our desire for God’s will, interceding for us and drawing us into that intercession. If prayer does not appear to be answered, it is for us to check whether it is of the first kind, that needs to progress to the help of the Holy Spirit in the second kind.
p class=”p4″>Think of a prayer situation where you have been interceding, in other words, praying for someone or something else. How does God want you to pray so you are agreeing with Him? How do you find that out?
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14
Mark 1: 9-15
Jesus demonstrates the way of dependence on God as a key to a Holy Spirit empowered life.
|9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.||At this point, Jesus had grown up in Nazareth and stayed in the area, as people did. Galilee is the area on the west (Mediterranean side) of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan, and north of Samaria. People from there had a distinctive accent that stood out in Judea or Jerusalem.|
|10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove.||This is the Son of God, the sinless Saviour who lined up for baptism to identify with sinners needing a fresh start, and receives an impartation of the Holy Spirit, identifying with all of us who are powerless without Him.
In the believers’ baptism practised by many contemporary churches, including these days some Anglicans, it is the practice to hear a brief testimony story of how the person came to know Jesus, and in their story, people often make reference to their former independence and perhaps waywardness. Going down into the water is symbolic of a spiritual death and rebirth in coming out again. Often pastor and friends will pray for the person to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit while they are in the water and prophetic words may be given.
|11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.”||There are not many passages in Scripture which are clearly Trinitarian, but this is one of them. Jesus is the centre of the story, the Holy Spirit is visibly involved, and the voice of affirmation is of course the Father’s.|
|12 At once the Spirit sent Him out into the wilderness,||“At once”, euthys, is a word characteristic of Mark, used nearly 50 times in his fast-paced narrative.|
|13 and He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.||
Forty days recalls Israel’s 40 years of testing in the wilderness. Israel failed at several points, but Jesus was victorious.
Wild animals, which would have included dogs, wolves, jackals, leopards and bears, are only mentioned in Mark’s gospel, which emphasises the protection of angels in this sinister, desolate place.
“Tempted (or tested) by Satan”. Not an impersonal evil, or a figure of speech for a difficult thought – although the difficult or condemning or fear-provoking thoughts we struggle with are put there by the enemy until we decide to put them out. The other gospel accounts have the detail of how Jesus countered the plausible but dangerous lies of Satan with Scripture truth. At this time Jesus is being confronted by a powerful, personal and persuasive deceiver and enemy, not three questions but a 40-days long power struggle.
Who is Satan? For further study see Genesis 3:1; Job 1:6,9; Zechariah 3:1; Rev 2:9-10; Rev 12:9-10.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.
15 “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Three short sentences here succinctly sum up Jesus’ whole proclamation:
• This is the time
The kingdom was the banner over everything that Jesus taught and demonstrated. It means, simply, that God’s rule and order over people’s hearts and lives is being established. This shows up where God’s rule and order has been lacking – which is a strong incentive to repent (turn and put right) and believe
This is a thought-provoking story, and a challenging one, for at least two reasons: (1) The person in the whole of history with the least need for baptism leads the way of those seeking baptism, and (2) He says it is to do what is right in the sight of God, Matthew 3:15 “…to fulfill all righteousness.”
As John asks “Why?” Jesus’ words of reply are paraphrased helpfully in The Message as: “God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.”
So Jesus was doing something that from man’s perspective that seemed unnecessary, because it was very necessary to fulfill God’s higher plan and purpose.
This challenges us to always look above our situation and our perspective, to discern God’s higher and more enduring purpose. The challenge that goes with that, is how we will join Him in that purpose? Are we ready? Are we ready, in God’s sight? The call for repentance, and for an act of repentance especially, makes our flesh nature rebel in anger. Yet this may be necessary, if only for us to pledge our dependence on God and invite the empowering of the Holy Spirit once again. There are also times it is necessary for us to go into repentance on behalf of people and situations that have nothing to do with us, as Daniel and Nehemiah did, “to fulfill all righteousness”. Jesus had no personal repentance to make; a repentance and redemption for all who would turn to Him, from the sins of the whole world, was His life’s work.
We don’t seek to be baptised more than once. However, the Bible tells us to be seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and to open to confess sin in repentance, as a means of constant readiness. The two go together, as at Jesus’ baptism.
For reflection and discussion
How ready are we to join God in what He may show us next that He is already doing?
How ready are we to get before God in repentance and seek His further infilling and empowering of His Spirit, in the face of the resistance of the flesh?
The emerging message – Friday, January 5 (Epiphany)
“Arise, your light has come…” The light of God’s glory has risen, and it is prophesied that all nations, meaning Gentiles, will come to this light. Meanwhile the nation of Israel is coming home, truly.
All kings, from the ends of the earth, will defer to the coming king who combines true greatness with a heart to rescue the poor and redeem them from oppression. The godly flourish during his reign, from shore to shore.
Distinguished visitors from afar recognise the significance of the birth of Jesus and come to worship Him. Gentiles coming to the Jewish Messiah show that he is their Messiah, too.
God’s plan, which astonished the culture of the time, is revealed by the Holy Spirit: Gentiles and Jews are part of the same church body, with equal share. This united church has spiritual authority and is marked by believers who have confidence in their new identity in Christ Jesus, and confidence coming before holy, almighty God.
How do we respond? We look beyond our walls and our ‘tribe’ with light and love.
This united church has spiritual authority and is marked by believers who show confidence in their new identity in Christ Jesus and before holy, almighty God. There will always be the human tendency, born of pride, to keep separate. But the Holy Spirit’s work is always to unify, from a heavenly perspective. Jews, Gentiles, Christians or not, denominational barriers, state church or independent – the Holy Spirit gives us a heavenly, rather than worldly perspective, if we allow Him to.
Who is Jesus and what is this Good News? Who is it for?
This is the mystery that was being revealed to those early believers who knew Paul. They struggled with it. But the Holy Spirit gave them a sense of heavenly perspective — the greater vision of what God was about.
This what had been shown to Abraham in those earliest times, composed as prophetic song by David a thousand years earlier, foretold by Isaiah and others more than 800 years before and grasped by Mary, then acted out in a remarkable way by distinguished Gentile visitors. The early church, mainly Jewish to begin with, had to come to a completely new understanding of what they were about.
And so for us — every generation has to get this revelation afresh.
This Good News has been given to us, but not for us alone. It is given, not for people like us, but for us to share with people who are not like us.
That is our task as church — to be confident in the inevitable spiritual battle for souls and for God’s rest and peace, and to be as generous as the Lord Himself in relating to those on the fringe of faith or outside it.
Where does this generosity come from? We are, as the renowned Archbishop Temple said, the only organisation on earth that exists for those who don’t belong to it. We are people on a mission – the mission that springs out of the mystery Paul writes about. It’s a mission that only makes sense as we become empowered by the Spirit of Mission.
Paul writes: “God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by His Spirit He has revealed it to His holy apostles and prophets.” Paul wrote it, but God spoke it to Paul’s heart. This is Scripture —as meaningful for us as the prophecies about the Messiah were for the Jews and Wise Men of Jesus’ time.
This is what we see God doing, and so our call is to be willing to join Him in it.
Who are the ‘Greeks’ and ‘Gentiles’ of our world — the not-yet believers around us? Where is God working outside the church walls?
When we begin to address this honestly and join God in what He is doing, our church attendances and finances and very future will begin to look very different. The kingdom of God will be evident among us. As we seek to mirror something of God’s generosity of spirit, there will be a release. We trust God and give away what we have – and He finds us faithful and gives more.
For reflection and discussion – all the questions
1. Where do we see the Lord’s light resting, and what response is the Holy Spirit leading us to make?
2. If this is God’s pattern of leadership, and if this is a picture of Jesus’ kingdom rule, why does the church sometimes struggle financially?
3. Good science is good – but are you tempted to seek explanations from within our knowledge and experience, and fit the narrative accordingly? Why do we need to try to do this?
4. God’s plan and God’s purpose are mentioned half a dozen times in this short passage. How are you beginning to see God’s plan in your life, your church, your community?
5. What are good ways of focusing our attention on God’s plan and purpose and encouraging one another in it?
Readings this week for Sunday, January 7, (Epiphany):