May 2 — The Big Story
Knowing we are loved by God enables everything
Article linked to TLW Bible study post for May 2
Psalm 22:25-31 — A time will come when all people will celebrate the Lord’s rule of love
John 15:1-8 — God’s vine is Jesus and we are to be His fruitful branches
Acts 8:26-40 — Led by the Spirit to the right person at the right time, Philip leads the Ethiopian to Christ
1 John 4:7-21 — God’s kind of unselfish love is the quality shown by spiritually reborn believers
• See the short video on this theme ‘The Big Story of God’s Love for us‘
God loves us and wants us as His partner
Failure for anyone is a bitter experience but when it is followed by an encounter with God and the fullness of His love, even failure can feel like a welcome lesson.
So it was with John Wesley, an Oxford educated clergyman who was destined for a great career in the Church of England. Full of personal zeal, he took a dangerous four-month passage to Savannah in what we now know as Georgia in the southern US, then a very new, raw and somewhat lawless colony. He was to be minister of its a church… and Wesley gave its services all the correct formality he had been taught. But in a community that was united in little but its pioneer spirit, Wesley’s inflexible High Church formality wasn’t the spiritual lead they were looking for.
What was it? Wesley has met some Moravian missionaries in the way out and had been struck by their prayer life, their trust in God and a quiet confidence in Him.
He returned to England in the spring of 1738 a broken man. He had studied much and attempted much, but it had all ended in failure, professional and personal.
That brokenness and failure left a hole in Him that God had been longing to fill.
That was to change. In the early morning of May 24, 1738 God spoke to him through the Bible in 2 Peter 1:4 KJV:
“There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature.”
“Partakers of the divine nature”? Having some of the very nature of God — His gracious love?
He had seen something like this in the lives of his former Moravian friends. They were at the opposite end of the scale to Wesley’s High Church stuffiness and it was wiith much reluctance that he attended the Moravians’ meeting at Aldersgate, London, that evening.
As Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans was read, Wesley felt “his heart strangely warmed”. This was not the formal words of his ordination. This was turning into a personal encounter with Jesus. It opened a window for Him to see God, not as in the Book of Common Prayer receiving confession of the “manifold sins and wickedness” of “miserable offenders” but rather Father reaching out with the grace of love that asks for no conditions. This gave him a growing assurance of salvation, the good news of salvation through Jesus which he shared for the rest of his long life.
It also gave him a new and quite different motivation through having experienced God’s love. He wanted to share what he was now receiving!
The Lord’s rule of love is foretold
That leads us into this week’s story which begins in the Old Testament in Psalm 22
They will proclaim His righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!Psalm 22:31
“He has done it” immediately brings to mind, in meaning and in tone more than actual words, Jesus’ last utterance before dying on the Cross: “It is finished!”
From that time on, the central proclamation of His disciples has been Christ’s victory over sin, sickness and death on the Cross and the freedom it brings all who believe it and receive it.
Jesus intends for us, as His followers, to be fruitful. “Fruitfu|” means producing more of what Jesus came to produce. In His own words, Jesus was sent to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. Each person who believes in Him and receives salvation, also receives a new start in new life which now has a spiritual dimension. Jesus is Lord, and every new believer who makes that declaration experiences the Holy Spirit (also called the Spirit of Jesus) on the inside of them, guiding and showing them what is right and what is wrong.
This is the kingdom of God — where God rules and reigns — and this is the fruit that we as believers and disciples of Jesus produce as we give away what what we have to others and see them joyfully re-order their lives under God’s reign, provision and care.
Jesus teaches the principle being fruitful in His love
The next scene in our story is Jesus teaching His disciples this principle following the Last Supper shortly before His arrest (John 13). It is vital teaching and He has left it till last, so there is a sense of ‘last will and testament’ about it. And it is in the context of the promise of being given the Holy Spirit (John 14).
I am the true vine and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruitJohn 15:1-2
If we don’t give it away — if we turn the new life that Jesus wants to give us in Him, into some kind of formality that falls short of His intentions, we are doing something by ourselves. We are not replicating what He came to do.
No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine… If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.John 15:4-5
He is quite clear that we cannot do anything of lasting spiritual significance by doing it our way and not His way. By doing it ourselves and not with Him. We have to remain fully ‘plugged in’ to Him and receiving from Him as the vine. If we do that, and only if we do that — with the Holy Spirit’s power that He promised earlier — will we be able to continue His work.
There’s another way of looking this. If we have not fully received Him as Savour and as Lord, and so we have not experienced the new spiritual birth —the new start He so wants to give us — we won’t be replicating His work. We won’t know what it is! We won’t understand it and we won’t have the Holy Spirit’s enabling to produce it. So we will be left as dead, fruitless branches that have to be removed.
But the good news is, anyone of any people group or any social standing, whether we have led an OK charitable kind of life or are serving time in prison for our crimes, can turn to Jesus, ask Him into their lives and know the freedom from guilt and new start that He gives us. It’s a release from fruitlessness, into being fruitful for Him by becoming a partner with Him.
Philip follows the strange leading of the Spirit to an encounter on the desert road
The next story introduces us to someone who we know from Acts 6 was one of the “men full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:23) chosen to understudy the apostles. Philip was outstandingly fruitful for Jesus because he was both sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, and also really ‘up for it ‘. The Holy Spirit has prompted him to head south into the desert where the only people were the occasional caravans. Philip’s obedience took him to the right place at exactly he right time, and only then showed him why he was there.
The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”Acts 8:29
In the chariot, probably more of an ox cart and proceeding steadily at the pace of the caravan, there was a Nubian dignitary, the minister of finance, and he was reading Isaiah aloud. It was Isaiah 53:7-8 which is the passage about the Suffering Servant allowing Himself to being led like a sheep to the slaughter.
The teaching in the temple at Jerusalem at that time commonly explained this as the nation of Israel being the suffering servant. It wasn’t very convincing. This was a God-fearing man who was going to Jerusalem to worship in the Court of Gentiles, and he was looking for a more satisfactory answer.
Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.Acts 8:35
Philip is so full of awareness of God’s love and the love of Jesus for us, that he couldn’t do anything else but talk about it. The OT passage was a foretelling of what Jesus would do. Philip gets right to the point. Because he knows Jesus and lives for Him, he has to speak about Him — it just comes out.
And he leads the Ethiopian courtier to the Lord there and then. At the next oasis, the man asks to be baptised and Philip is able to confirm the new faith he has declared.
Later when Philip appears up the coast in the former Philistine city of Azotus, it’s the same. He can’t do anything but speak out about the one he is bonded to in love and we are told that he travelled about Azotus, preaching in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
How love is the force behind the expansion of the kingdom of God
The next scene is the apostle John writing his circular letter to be read by the mixture of Gentile and Jewish believers in the new and growing churches. He could be describing Philip, who clearly lived in God, and with God’s Spirit living in him, and was strongly motivated by God’s love and the need to share it as widely as possible.
Let us love one another for love comes from God… God is love.
Whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in them.1 John 4:7-8, 16
And he gives us the bottom line in this story. It is about being transformed by knowing the love God has for us, demonstrated in Jesus. When we receive Jesus as Lord and are spiritually regenerated, a light comes on. We see God and in particular we become aware of His love.
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God… We love because He first loved us.1 John 4:7, 19
Love is the force behind the expansion of the kingdom of God. We receive it, we are energised by it, we give it away. And so the cycle continues.
God loves us. He always loved us first. But He has a world to reach with His love, and He needs volunteers who live in it already to go and share it with others.