Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Fifth Sunday in Lent: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

We need to be changed by the Lord.
It was ‘a valley of dry bones’ (Ezekiel 37:1-2). Then, the Lord changed everything - ‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’ (Ezekiel 37:5).
What a difference the Lord makes! ‘Breathe on me, Breath of God. Fill me with life anew’ (Church Hymnary, 103).
What happens when the Spirit of the Lord breathes new life into the Church of God? - ‘The Church that seemed in slumber has now risen from its knees and dry bones are responding with the fruits of new birth’.
‘Holy Spirit, we welcome You. Let the breeze of Your presence flow that Your children here might truly know how to move in the Spirit’s flow... Holy Spirit, we welcome You. Please accomplish in us today some new work of loving grace, we pray. Unreservedly, have Your way. Holy Spirit, we welcome You’ (Mission Praise, 274,241).

The Lord changes us when He forgives our sin.
We are not to pray to God with superficial words that don’t mean very much to us. Our prayer is to be a real cry from the heart: ‘Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord’ (Psalm 130:1). We are to ‘cry for mercy’ with a deep awareness of how sinful we really are: ‘If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?’ (Psalm 130:3). We must come to God with deep humility - ‘My heart is not proud, O Lord’ (Psalm 131:1).
When we truly confess our sin, we receive God’s ‘unfailing love’ and ‘forgiveness’ (Psalm 130:4). ‘In the Lord’ we have ‘full redemption’ (Psalm 130:7).
It is for ‘now’- ‘The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives’. It is ‘for evermore’- ‘But purer and higher and greater will be our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see!’ ‘Praise the Lord!... Give Him the glory!’ (Psalm 131:3; Church Hymnary, 374).

The Lord changes us when He gives us His Holy Spirit.
Each of us must choose. We can ‘live according to the flesh’ or we can ‘live according to the Spirit’. We can ‘set the mind on the flesh’ or we can ‘set the mind on the Spirit’ (Romans 8:5-6). The new life in the Spirit is just the beginning. God is preparing us for the greater ‘glory that will be revealed in us’ (Romans 8:18). We have ‘the first fruits of the Spirit’. The Holy Spirit is ‘the guarantee of our inheritance’. He is the starter which whets our appetite for the main course! With Him in our hearts, we long for more - ‘an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you’, ‘the redemption of our bodies’, ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21-23; Ephesians 1:13-14; 1 Peter 1:3-5). Led by the Spirit, strong in the Spirit, we press on to glory (Romans 8:14, 26, 17).

The Lord will change us when He raises us to eternal life.
Everything is moving on towards Christ’s death and resurrection. On His way to the Cross, Jesus performs a mighty miracle - the raising of Lazarus (John 11:43-44) - which points unmistakably to an even greater miracle - His own resurrection (Acts 2:24). Accompanying this miracle - the raising of Lazarus - , we have Jesus’ great declaration concerning Himself: ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die’ (John 11:25). His words are immediately followed by the question: ‘Do you believe this?’ (John 11:26). This question is put to each of us. Jesus waits for the answer of faith: ‘Yes, Lord I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God...’ (John 11:27). This is ‘for the glory of God’- receiving new life from ‘the Son of God...’ (John 11:4).

Monday, 20 March 2017

Fourth Sunday in Lent: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Don’t settle for “second-best”.
‘Samuel did what the Lord commanded’ (1 Samuel 16:4). Real obedience comes from ‘the heart’. It is more than just ‘keeping up appearances’ (1 Samuel 16:7). ‘The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart’- This is something we must never forget!’
‘It’s the presence of Your Spirit, Lord, we need’ (Songs of Fellowship, 256) - This is the lesson we must learn from the stories of Saul and David. The great difference between the two men is summed up in 1 Samuel 16:13-14: ‘the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David... the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul’.
David exerted a good influence upon Saul (1 Samuel 16:23). Sadly, however, Saul’s best days were behind him. He was only a shadow of what he could have become if he had chosen to become ‘a man after God’s own heart’ (1 Samuel 16:13-14).
Don’t settle for second best when you can have God’s very best!

Jesus Christ is God’s very best.
Jesus Christ has ‘tasted death for everyone’ (Hebrews 2:9). Now, through Him, salvation is proclaimed to ‘the congregation’, to ‘the ends of the earth’ to ‘future generations’ (Psalm 22:22, 27, 30). Jesus Christ, ‘the same yesterday, today and for ever’, proclaims salvation to the great ‘congregation’, drawn from ‘every tribe and language and people and nation’ (Hebrews 13:8; 2:12; Revelation 5:9).
Jesus Christ has passed ‘through the valley of the shadow of death’ for us (Psalm 23:4). Now, we rejoice in Him, our Shepherd of love - (a) the Good Shepherd who died for us (John 10:11); (b) the Great Shepherd who was raised for us (Hebrews 13:20-21); (c) The Chief Shepherd who is coming again for us (1 Peter 5:4). He restores us. He keeps us from ’straying like sheep’. He leads us ‘in paths of righteousness’ (Psalm 23:3; 1 Peter 2:25).
For God’s people, there is a glorious eternal destiny: ‘I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever’ (Psalm 23:6). We ‘receive this blessing from the Lord,...the God of our salvation’ (Psalm 24:5).
There is only one answer to the question, ‘Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? - Jesus Christ ‘shall stand in His holy place’. No one else has ‘clean hands and a pure heart’- no one else but Jesus. He is the One who receives ‘blessing’ from the Lord - and He gives it to us (Psalm 24:3-5)!
How do we receive His blessing? - We must open our hearts ‘that the King of glory may come in’ (Psalm 24:7, 9). How can ‘the Lord, strong and mighty’ live in me? How can I receive His resurrection power? Jesus says, ‘I stand at the door and knock, if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in’ (Psalm 24:8; Ephesians 1:19-20; Revelation 3:20).

Make a new beginning with Christ.
God wants us to ‘grow up in every way into Christ’ (Ephesians 4:15). We are to ‘walk in love’ (Ephesians 5:2). We are to live a life which is ‘pleasing to the Lord’ (Ephesians 5:10).
It is so easy for us to settle for something less than God’s very best. We settle down into a state of spiritual complacency.
What does God have to say about this? - ‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God’ (Ephesians 4:30).
He gives us His wake-up call: ‘Awake, O sleeper…’ (Ephesians 5:14). God says to us, ‘Awake, awake, put on your strength… Shake yourself from the dust, arise’ (Isaiah 52:1-2).
Have you become ‘lukewarm’? - ‘Be zealous and repent’.
Christ says, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him’ (Revelation 3:16, 19-20).
What will you say to Him? - ‘Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in today. Come in to stay’.

Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.
Empowered by God, Jesus gives sight to the blind man (John 9:3, 6-7).
‘The Pharisees’ hear the man’s testimony (John 9:15). ‘Some of’ them reject the Lord (John 9:16, 24). There will always be those who refuse to believe in the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ. They will pour scorn on those who have come to know the Lord.
The man gives his testimony: ‘One thing I know... I was blind, now I see’ (John 9:25). The Pharisees continue to fire questions at him (John 9:26).
He puts the most challenging question to them: ‘Do you too want to become His disciples?’ (John 9:27).
They hurl insults at him (John 9:28).
Fools attack what they don’t understand. The more they rage, the more they show their folly.
We say, ‘Lord, I believe’, and our spiritual ‘eyes’ are opened (John 9:38; 2 Corinthians 4:6).
Don’t be ‘blind’, despising the believer and the Saviour (John 9:39-40; 2 Corinthians 4:4).

Monday, 13 March 2017

Third Sunday in Lent: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

Called to serve the Lord, we begin with worship, praying and listening to His Word.
Worldly people create problems (Exodus 17:3). Moses asks, ‘What shall I do...?’ (Exodus 17:4). Indecision asks, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’ (Exodus 17:7). He gives victory (Exodus 17:8-9, 13). Joshua is being equipped for special service - ‘in the ears of Joshua’ (Exodus 17:14). God’s great concern is that His people move forward together. The work is not to be left to the few (18:18). God is looking to faithful servants who will ‘bear the burden’ together (18:21-22). There is much to be done, but we must never forget this: ‘prayer and the ministry of the Word’ (Acts 6:1-4). You may not be a Moses or a Joshua, but you can play your part. We rejoice in who God is and what He has done for us. Assured of His presence with us, let us worship Him: ‘Blessed be the Lord...’ (18:10-11).

We are to worship the Lord with joyful thanksgiving.
‘Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord... Let us come before Him with thanksgiving... Come, let us bow down in worship...’ (Psalm 95:1-2, 6). We are to worship the Lord with joyful thanksgiving. We rejoice in the Lord. We give thanks for His love. He is ‘the great God’. He is ‘our God’. He is the God of creation - ‘In His hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land’. He is the God of salvation - ‘We are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care’ (Psalm 95:3-5, 7). If we are to learn to worship the Lord with joyful thanksgiving, we must open our hearts to Him: ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts’ (Psalm 95:7-8). When we hear the call to worship, we must open our hearts to the Spirit of worship.

In our worship, we are being prepared for God’s heavenly and eternal glory.
God has great things in store for His people! (a) ‘Much more’ (Romans 5:9-10): ‘Justified by Christ’s blood’, ‘reconciled to God’, ‘We shall be saved by Christ from the wrath of God’, ‘saved by His life’. (b) ‘Much more’ (Romans 5:15, 17): ‘The grace of God’ has ‘abounded for many’. In Christ, we have ‘received the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness’. Through Him, we shall ‘reign in life’. (c) ‘More than that’ (Romans 5:3): Our pathway to eternal glory will not be easy. There will be ‘suffering’. God has given us a glimpse of our eternal destiny: ‘grace reigning through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 5:21). ‘We rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God’ (Romans 5:2). Having caught sight of the heavenly and eternal glory, we see our ‘suffering’ in a new light, the light of ‘God’s love’ (Romans 5:3-5).

In our worship, we are equipped for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Here, we see Jesus’ ministry of love. He brings the Samaritan woman out of her bondage to sin and into the joy of His salvation. Jesus comes to the woman in love. His love overcomes cultural divisions. His love breaks down cultural barriers (John 4:9). This is not simply the story of one woman. It is the story of ‘many Samaritans’ coming to faith in Christ (John 4:39). There are two ‘stages’ in their coming to faith. First, they ’believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony’ (John 4:39). Second, ‘they believed because of His Word’ (John 4:41). The Samaritans came to trust Jesus as ‘the Saviour of the world’ (John 4:42). The woman said that ‘salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22). It is also ‘to the Greek’ (Romans 1:16). The Gospel is for all. Pray that the human word will be empowered by the divine Word (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2:13).

Monday, 6 March 2017

Second Sunday in Lent: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17


Human failure and divine faithfulness
This is a divine Story, carried forward by God’s grace and power. God’s very great promises (Genesis 12:1-3) find their ultimate fulfilment in the coming of God’s eternal Kingdom (Revelation 21:10). We have not reached our heavenly destination. We are still caught in the tension between obedience (Genesis 12:4) and disobedience (Genesis 12:11-13). We are conscious of our human failure, yet we rejoice in the divine faithfulness. We read of Abraham’s sin (Genesis 12:10-20), yet we look beyond this to God's salvation. This is not simply the story of Abraham. It is the Story of Abraham's God. This becomes clear in the change of name. Abram (‘exalted father’) draws attention to the man. Abraham (‘Father of Many’) points to God’s purpose (Genesis 17:5). Like Abraham, we are to worship God (Genesis 12:7-8). We are to say, ‘He is exalted’. We are to say, ‘Christ must increase, and I must decrease’ (John 3:30).

Our help comes from the Lord. He will keep us from evil.
‘Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips’ (Psalm 120:2). God calls us to ‘believe the truth’, ‘love the truth’ and ‘follow the truth’. We are to be people who ‘do what is true’ (2 Thessalonians 2:10-11; 3 John 3-4; John 3:21). How can we be such people? We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is ‘the Truth’ (Hebrews 12:2; John 14:6). When we are tempted to turn away from the pathway of truth, we must remember this: ‘My help comes from the Lord’. We must remember God’s promise: ‘The Lord is your Keeper...The Lord will keep you from all evil’. God’s promise is not only for ‘this time’. It’s ‘for evermore’ (Psalm 121:2, 5, 7-8). This gives us glorious hope as we keep on looking to Christ, ‘eagerly awaiting’ His Return (Hebrews 9:28).

In ourselves, there is no salvation. Our salvation is in Jesus Christ.
Salvation is not a ‘reward’ to be ‘earned’. It is God’s ‘gift’ (Romans 4:4-5). Salvation comes from the Lord. ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only Son’ (John 3:16): Without the love of God, the gift of God, the Son of God, there can be no salvation. The way of salvation does not begin with the word ‘I’. Jesus Christ is the Way. He is the Saviour. Salvation is in Him (John 14:6; Matthew 1:21; Acts 4:12). Looking to ‘Jesus our Lord’, crucified and raised for our salvation, we are saved and we give ‘glory to God’ (Romans 4:20-25). We rejoice in ‘God our Saviour’ - ‘He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own mercy...’ (Titus 3:4-7). Looking away from ourselves to Christ, we learn the truth of God’s Word: ‘it is on the basis of faith that it may rest on grace’ (Romans 4:16). This is Good News!

God so loved the world. Christ died for us. This is Good News for sinners.
We say, ‘I’ll turn over a new leaf’. Christ says, ‘You must be born again’ (John 3:3, 7). Our way of thinking begins with ‘I’. Christ’s way of salvation begins with ‘God’: ‘God so loved the world...’ (John 3:16). Begin with ‘I’ and you have sin, guilt and condemnation (Romans 3:10-11). Begin with God and you have Good News for sinners: ‘God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). Through faith in Christ, we are ‘born of the Spirit’ (John 3:6-8; 1:12). The Spirit of God is the Spirit of holiness, love and truth. Those who are ‘born of the Spirit’ are to live a life of holiness, love and truth (1 John 4:2-3, 6-7, 12-13; 5:2-3). ‘Come to the light’. ‘Do what is true’. ‘Obey the Son’. Let Christ increase. This is the work of the Spirit in us (John 3:20-21, 36, 29, 34).

Help us to resist Satan – in Your strength.

2 Kings 23:31-24:17 “The king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valour … all of them strong and fit for war” (2 King...