Psalm 41 & Mark 14:10-11
Betrayal is a word filled with painful associations for each of us and the deep emotion conveyed by David in Psalm 41:9 “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.” resonate powerfully with us expressing both a sense of hurt and loss. Dr Catherine Calderwood, the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, who flouted her own advice so blatantly over two weekends and who overnight resigned her position, in a sense betrayed the Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and to an extent her colleagues in the NHS. The betrayal though was not by design but through thoughtlessness or even stupidity. That is very different from Judas who went purposefully to the Chief Priests to betray Jesus. It’s not that he bumped into them and the subject came up, or that they summoned him and forced him in some way to deliver up Jesus. No, he did it of his own bat, with a purpose in mind that was entirely financial as far as we know.
Mark records that the Chief Priests were delighted to hear this, and I was thinking last night that they must have seen this as an answer to their prayers. In their warped way of thinking they must have believed that God had delivered Jesus up to them, and they, albeit by foul means would not fail to do the “right thing”. And such a small cost!
God had of course delivered Jesus up to them though not in the sense they thought but in the sense that he meant when speaking to Pilate “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” Jn 19:11, and which Peter drove home to the crowds on the day of Pentecost “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Acts 2:22-23.
Sometimes, God allows wickedness or sin to prevail in a limited sense, and in the short term but only that through it his purposes will be served, and in it are often contained the seed of its own destruction. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, was sold into slavery, suffered injustice, lay forgotten and rotting in an Egyptian gaol, yet God raised him to be Prime Minister of Egypt second only to Pharaoh himself. For what purpose? To save Israel from famine and to protect the covenant. The cross was not a defeat, an end of Jesus the trouble maker as the Chief Priests thought but the scene of Jesus glorification, and of his victory. Wickedness was turned to good, sin to righteousness, and death to life for all who turn to Jesus.
Give thanks for Jesus, and praise God that he often turns what is wicked and those painful experiences to good.
Pray that this may be true in the present circumstances and that from these troubling days good may come
Pray for those you know and Love, and for the church family. Pray that through this all God will advance the gospel.
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Read Galatians 5:13-26 (read again verse 22-26)
For those of us who find it hard to get the recommended amount of daily exercise within the curtilage of our own homes help is at hand. The former Olympic athlete Daley Thompson has devised a simple programme of exercise that will keep us fit while we’re “locked down” and help us stay healthy. If you want more information my understanding is that he has a website.
Karen, Sam and I are enjoying our one period of exercise a day on our walk and yes Pepper the Golden Retriever enjoys it even more but I suppose if she could talk she would ask why don’t we go further? If I were Dr Dolittle I would answer in one word. Knees! Well, anyway, back to the subject in hand. Exercise is often a matter of self-control or discipline if you want to put it in those terms but Paul has an interesting take on this whole subject as he writes to his young apprentice Timothy (1st Timothy 4:7-8). “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
As we conclude our study of Galatians 5 and the Fruit of the Spirit we thought yesterday about how the Fruit of the Spirit develops as Christ’s character is formed in us. That doesn’t of course happen automatically or accidentally so that one day we just discover magically that we display these qualities. No, like physical fitness or competence in any subject you learn and you remember and you gain competence by practice. Well the thought that struck me last night was that this all depends to a large extent on self -control or self-discipline if that helps us understand better.
Paul of course is primarily talking about resisting temptation and the desires of the flesh but I’m not sure that is the whole of the matter. Self-control is not only negative its positive as well, doing things we don’t in ourselves want to do like taking exercise. The Olympic swimmer may not want to be out of bed and in the pool at 4 or 5am but success depends on that kind of self-discipline. So, just as muscles when exercised become stronger and more efficient, the more we exercise self-control in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, bible reading, simplicity in living, solitude, meditation and so on the more likely it is that these graces will be produced in us – these Christlike qualities.
That is the thing that for me connected with Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. He knew what lay ahead, he knew how the week would end with arrest flogging, insult, condemnation, a cross, death and bearing the sin of the world, yet he kept going. “Ride on! ride on in majesty! Hark! all the tribes hosanna cry; O Saviour meek, pursue Thy road with palms and scattered garments strowed.” This wasn’t a mistake or a miscalculation by Jesus. He was following the Father’s will and that required the maximum self-control to stop himself turning the donkey round and heading back to Galilee.
Paul’s parting shot is “Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit.” The picture there that comes to mind, for me at any rate, is how bad it looks on a state occasion when one soldier is out of step with the rest. It looks awkward, it is potentially trouble if he tripped another soldier up, and it displays disharmony, lack of training and discipline. To keep in step with the Spirit is to follow the Spirit’s leading, to live in harmony.
A PRAYER : Lord help me today to walk in step with the Holy Spirit so that the fruit of the Spirt may be faithfully produced in my life. Each day Lord give me self-discipline and courage to follow your will and the Spirit’s leading so that Christ is honoured in everything I am and do. AMEN
READ Galatians 8:13-26 (Read again verses 22-23)
It was a grim warning but we were warned by health professionals that the mortality rate would increase rapidly as the virus progressed and more people were infected. Nevertheless when we hear of the number of people who died in the last 24 hours of this one thing it is shocking and worrying. Yesterday I drove Karen to a food outlet to collect some things she had ordered on line. When we arrived the shop was also open and many who were coming out were wearing masks and gloves, an indication of the fear that is building in the community. We look now on others as a potential threat to our health. A few nights ago for a change we ordered a delivery from a national fast food chain. When it arrived the drive was kitted out with a mask and gloves, he deposited the boxes at the door and retreated keeping his distance. I was halfway though my meal when I thought to myself, “I wonder is this even safe to eat, who made it and who delivered it, are they in good health?” By that time though I reckoned it was too late to worry and carried on but it destroyed the enjoyment of the meal.
If worry and concern doesn’t make us paranoid it certainly destroys our peace and the enjoyment of life. Joy is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. In other words joy and its partner peace are the result of the Spirit’s work in the believer but joy and happiness are not the same though we tend to use them interchangeably. Happiness is easily destroyed or removed by circumstances like when we have a bad day in work, a disappointment or something goes terribly wrong. All it takes is one phone call, a moment in time, a national crisis and our happiness evaporates to be replaced by worry or despair. However, joy in the context of the fruit of the spirit is much more and much more enduring. When we talk about the fruit of the Spirit, we are talking about what is produced when the character of Christ is formed in us as we yield and co-operate with the Spirit working in our lives. Joy then is more than simple a lightness of heart or elation brought about by circumstances, it is a deep contentment and along with it peace that comes from the God. The old hymn “In heavenly love abiding” captures the sense I think in the words, “the storm may roar without (outside) me, my heart may low be laid, by God is round about me, nor can I be dismayed?”
Joy is associated with salvation in the fullest sense of the word rather than the narrow sense in which we most often use it, “Are you saved brother?”, meaning have you got your ticket to heaven? It encapsulates the totality of the blessing and peace of God which Charles Wesley surely comes close to in the words “Jesus! The name that charms our fears, that bids our sorrows cease; tis music in the sinner’s ears, tis life and health and peace.” Psalm 51 is a Psalm of repentance written by David in the aftermath of the episode with Bathsheba. Appealing to God not to take the Holy Spirit from him he follows that up with “Restore to me the joy of your salvation”, so even in David’s experience the presence and filling of the Holy Spirit and joy are closely associated, and where joy is found peace is there as well.
Lord in these days of uncertainty let me look to you for my safety and well being and that of my family and friends. Let your Spirit work in me until Christ and his character is formed in me, and let his presence be my joy and peace even today. AMEN
READ Galatians 5:13-26 (read again verses 19-21)
On Monday evening we were encouraged that the mortality rate from Coronavirus across the UK that day had dropped to 180, the third successive fall. In making this known one of the experts in the government’s evening news conference warned that there may be yet spikes in the figure and that it was too soon to say in a pattern was emerging. He spoke appropriately because last night we were told that over 300 people had died in the previous 24 hour period. The progress of 3 days reversed in one day. We hope that this increase will only be a spike and not a pattern for the future. That would be a worrying trend and our prayers must be that God in his sovereign grace will halt the progress of this virus but additionally, that even now we will learn the lesson that we as a human race are not omnipotent as we thought, that we don’t have power to control our own future entirely as we thought. Perhaps through this we will learn some humility, and Christians must trust God to bring some good from this wreckage.
Today I don’t want to dwell on the catalogue of acts of the flesh listed by Paul but two things are worthy of note as we look at this list of sinful behaviour displayed across the human race. It is easy for us to look at this list and say, this doesn’t bother me and I don’t do that and feel good about ourselves. When we come however to hatred, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, and envy, these are things that are quite common and easily hidden or made private. So we shouldn’t think that what he writes here has no application to our hearts, that there are not lessons here for us. Quite truthfully, there are!
Along with that comes an implied warning that the desires of the flesh, the old man if you want, don’t die easily and we are all troubled to a greater or lesser extent by old habits. Even in saying that it is a witness to the truth of the old proverb, or is it a saying, are they the same thing? I don’t know. Confused? So am I! The point is you’ve heard it said, ‘old habits die hard’. That covers not only old ways of working, but old ways of living in a spiritual sense and we must be on our guard. Like a spike in the mortality rate during the current health crisis there will be bad days when we don’t do so well, days when we seem to regress rather than make progress spiritually. What we ought to look for is a pattern of progress.
When Paul gives the warning of verse 21 it is to people, and in the context people in the church, whose pattern of life is like this and the tell tale word is ‘live’ “who live like this”. Paul is talking about a settled pattern of life, not the odd bad day when the wheels seem to come off the wagon. The point is that we cannot live like this habitually and at the same time claim a living connection with Christ.
So, we have to ask was the profession genuine in the first place, or have we fallen away from out first love? There can be no assurance for us if we live in the old way of life whatever it entailed jealousy, fits of rage and the like. That’s why Paul’s call to live by the Spirit which we thought about yesterday is so vital. You know, we forget there is often a lot of truth contained in older hymns, ones we don’t sing so much these days and words from one have just sprung to mind....”Yield not to temptation for yielding is sin each victory will help you some other to win.” That part at least is true, each day we make progress contributes to a new pattern of life but two things before we leave this section of the letter. Remember that victory is only possible in the Spirit’s power and a warning be on your guard when we think we are strong is when we are most likely to fall. I could tell you lots of stories about that but not today.
Read Galatians 5:13-26 (read again 16-18)
I’ve been talking to people. Of course that’s not unusual for me at any rate, it goes with the ‘job’ and explains why, when on holiday, which this isn’t, I don’t want to talk to people, especially strangers. Does that make me weird? Humm! Let’s not go there. Talking to people is not unusual but what has been is the mode of speaking to people it’s now almost exclusively over by phone, by email or text. By whatever means the story is the same, after two or three weeks of isolation at home the novelty is wearing off and it’s becoming hard. The gardens are almost immaculate, not a weed in sight, the odd jobs list is becoming shorter by the day, then what? Most people would love to be out and about and back to normal but it’s not going to happen, not because the government restrictions, or because we run the risk of being cautioned by the police. No, it’s something deeper, something personal and internal we don’t want to become ill, especially the older and more vulnerable we are. So though there is a conflict of desires, the inner concern in this case, keeps us on the right side, at least doing the right thing.
It’s fine for Paul to say “do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh” (V13) but the desires of the flesh are strong in us and there is an internal battle going on which in fairness he recognises and it comes down to this; gratify the desires of the flesh (gratify not satisfy – the flesh is never satisfied) or live to God’s glory. Now that battle would be unequal but for one thing and Paul identifies that in verse 16; “live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”.
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would come to believers, “unless I go away the Advocate (Spirit) will not come. John 16:7. He then outlines the work of the Spirit and in verse 13 says “when He, the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth” and in verse 14 “He will glorify me.” The Spirit is the presence of Christ in us and when Paul says “Live by the Spirit” he’s saying that we have the power already to live in the way we desire as Christians, to Christ’s glory. This though, is not in our own strength but in the Spirit’s power. So then, the conflict he describes is not an equal contest. If I try to live for Christ in my own power the desire of the flesh is stronger. The result is failure and discouragement. If though, I live in the power of the Spirit, the Sprit is always stronger. Either way the flesh and the Spirit are mutually exclusive, we can’t gratify the flesh while at the same time living to the glory of Jesus and vice versa. The problem is that this is not an automatic process and this is all made clear by one writer, Ronald Fung, who says “Paul does not regard the believer simply as a helpless spectator or an unwilling pawn in the fierce battle between the flesh and the Spirit; the assumption is rather that the Christian can overcome the flesh by siding with the Spirit. The active leading of the Holy Spirit does not signify the believer’s being, so to speak led by the nose willy-nilly, on the contrary he must let himself be led by the Spirit.”
As arguments continue about what are the essential supplies we can legitimately leave the house to buy and what are not; or who can work and who can’t because the work is not essential there is no such ambiguity in what Paul writes. We are called to do one thing “live by the Spirit” and to abstain from another gratifying the desires of the flesh. As we live by the Spirit, he will so fill our lives with the presence of the risen Christ that there will no longer be room for the desires of the flesh. Perhaps today is the day we can take a stand, not by ourselves but with the Spirit.
Read Galatians 5:13-26 (read again 13-15)
I suppose that the examples of using our freedom unwisely are plentiful and apply to every one of us. Recently though what has concerned us most is the behaviour of those who for their own pleasure continue to ignore the best medical advice on social distancing to slow the spread of Covid-19. After weeks of advising and urging people the government finally moved to give police the power to break up gatherings of people and if necessary to fine or arrest those who don’t comply or are frequent offenders. The old response we used to give as kids when someone, usually our parents, made us do what we didn’t want to do can be heard, if not literally at least imagined...”it’s a free country isn’t it” . Well in this case if we don’t as a nation use our freedom wisely and endanger others we will lose part of that freedom.
Freedom of will was something God gave us in the beginning but having blessed humanity with everything we needed he called for obedience, which really was a call to trust him when you boil it down. We as a race made the wrong choice, exercised our freedom not to trust God and ended up enslaved to our own desires. Freedom lost! Jesus though has restored that freedom to those who trust in him – Here’s what he said “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house for ever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8)
So that is where Paul is coming from in verse13, but there’s a choice to make – free will always involves choices. Do we want to choose again the things that once enslaved us, not a clever thing to do, or do we choose obedience. If you’re saying to yourself right now, “What’s he talking about???” I don’t blame you. I’m talking about Jesus command to remain in his love John 15:9-10. How do we do that, remain in his love? By keeping his commandments, and that, to be specific, is to love one another as I have loved you, or as Jesus answered on one occasion, “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matt 19:19). So action towards others should be the visible outworking of a new relationship with Jesus when we come to put our faith in him. The deeds should be the proof of faith. So love is more than talk in this sense, it is an act. We act for the best interest of the other person though to tell you the truth, we may not even like them. Who is your neighbour? The person in need!
It was interesting that Boris, from his sick room, commended the population for being neighbourly and caring saying that there really is such a thing as society. Something that’s actually the reverse of Margaret Thatcher’s famous comment in the 1980’s, “There’s no such thing as society, only individuals and families.”.
I was listening to the radio the other day....well it was on in the background which isn’t really the same thing, but the contributor to the show said she was out walking and as people were crossing the road to avoid each other they were at the same time greeting each other in “an old fashioned 1950’s way”.
In an unexpected way, the present crisis seems to have reversed decades of our obsession with privacy and individualism by causing us to look out for others but it was always something believers were called to do with their new “blood bought” freedom in Christ. Loving others in the sense Paul means it here is not romantic or a soppy sentimental feeling, but it is an act of the believer’s will to live in obedience to Jesus, and in that way keeping his command to love one another.
The clock showed the time 7.54pm and I said to Karen ....”If no-one else is out there I’m not standing applauding like an idiot.” “I am” came the reply; applauding she meant, not an idiot. I’m likely to get into bother for that one so keep it to yourself. It’s our secret! Anyway as the special BBC News item came on the TV we went to the front door and there, to my relief, were our neighbours across the street already out with the family cheering and applauding, and from all around we could hear but not see others doing the same. Applauding in gratitude for the doctors, nurses, clerks, porters, radiographers, ambulance personnel and all the others of the NHS staff who have remained at their posts to serve the public in these last hectic days and who will be there as the crisis deepens if it progresses as we’ve been told.
It is good to be thankful, and a relief in these dark days of grim news to have something to cheer us. One is the number of ordinary people who have volunteered to stand in the gap and make up the short fall in social services. Another is the retired medics and nurses who have willingly return to help where they can. A third is to hear, as I’ve spoken to people in the church family over the last two weeks, how you are keeping in touch by phone and social media and supporting one another. We ought not to underestimate the significance of small acts of kindness and help given to one another in times like these, and we must make the effort to keep it up and maintain the attitude of caring for the vulnerable especially, when normal life resumes. I wonder though, what the longer term effects of this will be on the country and the community. Will it make us a more unified country, a more compassionate society, a community with a real heart for others, a church that is thankful which no longer takes for granted the privilege we have of meeting Sunday by Sunday to worship and for fellowship, a spiritual family in which even the youngest or the most insignificant as the world regards them, is valued?
More good news is when we hear of the people recovering, some coming back from the brink of death after days when their life hung in the balance, and being restored to their families, many in answer to prayer. In such conditions the victims are powerless to help themselves and must receive intervention from others if they are to recover and come back to health and the picture is much the same when we consider our spiritual need. In our natural state we are dead to God, without spiritual life. Without intervention there is no prospect of life and no hope in eternity and in our reading from Colossians 2:6-15 Paul reminds his friends of this very thing V13 “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” (ESV).
Just to make the picture a bit clearer, at least I hope so. Circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham. What Paul is saying is that before God made them alive they were outside the people of God. He was a stranger to them and they to him, and while alive physically they were dead to the life of God. Still more good news then and another reason to be thankful for if this describes you then God has pulled you back from the brink and has made you alive when you were dead.
LISTEN https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSbJPZLNIuc Living hope. Phil Wickham