Tradition has it that John was exiled to Patmos which is where he wrote the book of Revelation. Patmos, and other islands in the Sporades group of islands off the east coast of Greece, was used by the Roman authorities to keep ‘political prisoners’ banished and out of the way. Political prisoners could include magicians, astrologers, prophets and anyone expressing views that could be considered a threat to Roman power. Clearly the preaching of the new followers of Christ would come into that category, and one who had been known to be someone who had spent time with Jesus and whose teachings and writings would therefore carry more weight was someone to be watched by the authorities.
According to Revelation 1:9 John ‘was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus’, in other words, because he preaching the salvation Christ offered. Like other apostles such as Peter, John did not see imprisonment as a time to sit moping and worrying about his own sorry state and lack of opportunity to continue his evangelistic endeavours, but as a time to spend more time with God, and to witness to those around him. So it was that in verse 10 we read that John was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day – spending time with God – when he had his ‘revelation’, initially being instructed to write to the seven churches and then seeing various visions of heaven which he also wrote down to share with other followers of Christ.
Time in prison, or banishment, is similar to ‘waiting’, waiting for Jesus’ return, waiting for release to continue speaking and witnessing about Jesus, waiting on God to hear what work He has for you to do, or to hear what he wants you write or to see what he wants you to draw or paint or write about. John had a head start on us; he had spent three years with Jesus, hearing his teaching, seeing his miracles, witnessing His transfiguration, with him in His agony in Gethsemene, having his feet washed by Jesus at the Passover meal, seeing His crucifixion and His ascension, and through the Holy Spirit God revealed some amazing things to John while he was on Patmos.
I hope we all might have taken the opportunity of the ‘imprisonment’ imposed by lockdown to spend time with God, to be with Him in the Spirit, and hope we might all have the desire to continue to do that as lockdown lifts and we are released to speak and witness more openly about Jesus. We might not have the revelations John had, but we won’t know unless we spend that time with God!
As we learnt earlier in the week from Lynette we know Peter the disciple to be impetuous, with a big mouth and big heart, quick to jump to conclusions but equally capable of brilliant Spirit-led flashes of insight into who Jesus was. We know that at the beginning of Acts Peter steps up to the mark and begins to take the lead as the disciples wait for the promise of the Father – the Holy Spirit – and begin their ministry and establish the early church. We also know that Jesus called Simon ‘Peter’, the rock on which He would build His church, and Peter’s journey ended in Rome where he was crucified by Nero and became the first Bishop of Rome, or Pope. There are two letters attributed to Peter, though modern scholarship generally rejects this.
However most sermons and teaching about Peter usually focus on Simon the disciple rather than Peter the Apostle, his wisdom and teaching evidenced in the early chapters of Acts and the two letters and, as we also learnt earlier this week, Mark’s gospel which it is believed was heavily influenced by Peter’s teaching’s and eye-witness memories.
Peter’s actions in the first 12 chapters of Acts are mostly concerned with preaching the gospel and performing miracles – doing what he had seen Jesus do – initially to the Jews, but increasingly as the Spirit led him to the Gentiles, and this is where we see his wisdom, in realising that the message wasn’t just for the Jews but was for all people, and encouraging the other believers to spread out and spread the gospel across the whole of the known world. Try reading the first 12 chapters as if you were reading a novel (ignore the chapter and verse breaks), it won’t take long to read the story and get a picture of Peter and his wisdom in leading the early church.
Father, fill us with Peter’s enthusiasm, excitement and wisdom as we preach your word to those unbelievers who need to hear it. May we be able to perform miracles as Peter did, to help to spread your precious word, and give us Peter’s strength and wisdom to cope with the opposition that we might face as we do so. Amen.
1 Samuel 8:1; 1 Samuel 19:19; 1 Sam 25:1
Samuel had had a long and dramatic life as a judge of Israel, full of unbelievable events, from his birth, his calling to be a prophet, through to the last recorded event we have in scripture. Samuel judged Israel until we read in 1 Samuel 8:1 that ‘when he became old’ he made his sons judges over Israel. Then in 1 Sam 9 he anoints his first king, Saul, despite his and God’s misgivings. He did his best to guide Saul, but as Saul began to go his own way he anointed his second king, David, and both were still alive when he died. Saul was still on the throne and David was living in fear of his life, a fugitive constantly on the move to keep one step ahead of Saul’s soldiers searching for him to kill him, and Samuel then supported and did all he could to help David as he waited to become king.
The last we hear of Samuel before his death is in 1 Samuel 19:19. Samuel was at Ramah when David came to him and told him that Saul was trying to kill him and the two of them went together to Naioth. Word of this came to Saul who sent messengers to capture David – he had to send three lots of messengers and then had to go himself and none of them were able to capture David. Why? Because Samuel was standing in charge of a company of the prophets who were ‘in a frenzy’ and each set of messengers was drawn into this prophetic frenzy by the Spirit of God. When Saul himself arrived, the Spirit of God fell on him too and he joined them, stripping off his clothes and lying naked on the ground all day and night. This gave David time to flee, leaving Samuel to look after Saul and his messengers when the Spirit of God finally left them.
What an extraordinary situation, but I suspect that Samuel took it in his stride, knowing that God was in control and that he, Samuel, was still God’s anointed judge and prophet even in the presence of the other prophets and two kings. Samuel had started his life as Eli’s successor, priest and judge and effectively the leader of Israel. He had given in to the demands of the people and anointed Saul as king, handing over that leadership – at least in earthly terms – only to see it go pear-shaped as he had told the people it would. He then anointed a second king. And yet here he is, standing in charge of the prophets, king’s messengers, king and king in waiting.
It is not long after this that Samuel died and all Israel assembled and mourned for him. ‘All Israel’ would have included Saul and David. What a tribute to a life well-lived in obedience to God. May we strive to be as obedient as Samuel in our lives.
Priest and King: Foretold (Zechariah 6:9-15)
Zechariah – have you found it yet? Penultimate book of the Old Testament. Not a regular read, but scripture inspired by God. And not an easy read, as with many of the ‘minor prophets’. We think of them as minor, but in their day they were major, the Lord’s anointed person bringing his word to the Israelites. And just as it is not an easy read for us today, it wasn’t easy for the Israelites to hear at the time. Zechariah was prophet of the Israelites during the reign of Darius at the same time as Haggai and also appears in Ezra (who we think of as the major prophet of the time) alongside Zerubbabel the civil leader at the time and, like him, concerned with the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.
As we learnt on Monday from Heather, the Bible says a person cannot be priest and king, and yet here we find the high priest Joshua being given a crown, made from gold and silver taken from the exiles returned from Babylon, and being told that his name is Branch, which was understood by the Israelites to mean Messiah, and that he will build the temple of the Lord, sit and rule on the throne (ie, as King) and have a Priest by his throne. But is Zechariah talking about Joshua or using him to represent someone in the future? Who do we know as ‘Branch’, or the branch of Jesse, son of David, the Messiah?
In Ezra and Zechariah’s time they were concerned about rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, and yet this prophecy talks about building the temple. Who do we know in the gospels who talks about building the temple in three days?
Zechariah prophecies about someone who shall be royal and have a peaceful understanding with the priest beside him. Who do we know described as the Prince of Peace?
The crown that has been made with the gold and silver and placed on the high priest Joshua’s head bringing priesthood and kingship together is to remain in the temple as a memorial – a reminder to the Israelites – of this prophecy that there is one to come who will be Priest and King. The final verse talks about those who are far off coming to help to build the temple of the Lord; it might be Israelites returning to Jerusalem to help rebuild the temple, or it might be a reference to the temple being the Kingdom of God – not a physical temple but a temple built of people, including the Gentiles – those from far off.
God foretold the coming of Jesus the Priest-King through Zechariah, hundreds of years before He came to earth but the Israelites did not understand at the time of the prophecy and did not understand at the fulfilment of the prophecy. Praise God that we can understand and know Jesus as our priest and king.
David is a poet, and not just a poet but also a musician. The first we hear of David after his anointing is that he is known as a man skilful in playing [the lyre], a man of valour, a warrior, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and he was sent to play for Saul, to soothe him when evil spirits tormented him, and at this point Saul loved him greatly (1 Sam 16:14-23). As we know, the relationship between Saul and David did not remain on such a good footing, but after Saul’s death we read that David intoned a lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan (2 Sam 1:17-27). David’s final words recorded in 2 Sam 23:1-7 are also a poem – and in between we have the Psalms, many of them attributed to David.
David, like Moses last week, was a remarkable man, so blessed by God, so talented in so many areas (see 1 Sam 16 mentioned above) and yet so human. And he expressed his humanity in his music and poems:
his joy and love of God and God’s creation,
his fear and despair when Saul sought to kill him, his sorrow at the loss of Saul, his King and Jonathan, his friend,
his remorse at his own failings,
his dependence on God for the responsibilities of kingship.
We read his poems in translation so lose some of the poetic nuances of the original; some of them are acrostic poems – using each letter of the Hebrew alphabet to start each line or verse – and some were clearly not just poems but lyrics, set to music on the lyre (same Greek root word). It is worth looking through the book of Psalms and reading not just the Psalms themselves but the explanations given to many of them.
Many of our own hymns and worship songs are based on Psalms, probably the best known being Psalm 23, and some denominations for many years only used the Psalms in worship in what is known as metrical settings. David’s poems are an incredible resource for us in our worship individually and corporately and should not be taken for granted. Read them, sing them, get to know them so that you can turn to relevant ones depending on your own mood.
Praise God for blessing David with this talent, and for giving us this resource.
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
Numbers 11:11-25, Numbers 20: 2-13; Deut 4: 21-24
Throughout this week we have learnt quite a lot about Moses:
How he survived death at birth by the courageous actions of his mother and sister and the compassion of Pharoah’s daughter
How he wanted to champion his oppressed Hebrew people
How God blessed him on numerous occasions by meeting with him and revealing Himself to him, such that Moses glowed with God’s glory and had to veil himself
How he continued to champion the Hebrews even when they were angry with him and God, and God was angry with them!
Moses seems to be an amazing man, so blessed by God, able to meet, chat, even argue, with God. But today we learn that Moses was as much a human being as the Hebrews and us.
In Numbers 11 when the Hebrews got bored with the manna God sent each day and moaned, ‘the Lord became very angry’, and Moses also became angry and argued with God, accusing Him of treating him badly, laying the burden of the people on him. Moses feels hurt by God and expresses it to Him. God responds by giving Moses 70 elders to help him manage the people, and by sending quails as meat for a change from the manna.
In Numbers 20 the Hebrews again become angry with Moses (and God) because there is no water at Kadesh; again Moses and Aaron intercede with God whose glory appears to both of them and gives them instructions to speak to the rock to bring forth water but Moses takes out his frustrations with the Hebrews (and possibly his grief at the death of his sister Miriam) by striking the rock. For this God tells Moses and Aaron that they will not enter the land He has planned for the Hebrews.
In Deuteronomy 3:23-28 and 4:21-24, we read of Moses’ pain on arriving at the Jordan, the border of the ‘promised’ land and pleading that God might let him cross over to see the good land beyond the river, the hill country and the Lebanon but God tells him he can ‘see’ it from mount Pisgah but shall not cross the river. None of the Hebrews who left Egypt were allowed to cross the Jordan except Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 32:11-15). God had made them wander in the wilderness until that whole generation was dead and only those born during the exodus were to enter, so God was not treating Moses and Aaron any differently other than Caleb and Joshua, but Moses clearly felt aggrieved and pained; he blamed the Hebrews for God’s anger and judgement on him, unable to acknowledge or accept that it was he, Moses, who had taken his own anger and frustration out by not following God’s command. Had he acknowledged this, who knows???
We can take heart from Moses and know that when we are hurt, grieving, angry we can talk, even plead, bargain and argue, with God – God can take it, soak it up like a sponge, wring it out and it is gone; He will never reject us. But we can also learn from Moses that when God says ‘Enough is enough!’ we need to acknowledge and seek forgiveness for our own part in any grievance or anger or He will judge us accordingly.
Praise God for His grace in listening and his mercy in judgement.
New International Version
21 Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. 22 All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
How long would it take to greet every saint in Christ Jesus? For Paul in the first century AD, not too long perhaps; for us 20 centuries later, considerably longer. Who are the saints Paul is talking about? Just normal people like you and me – except not so normal, in that they, and we, believe in Christ Jesus. And that is who Paul means, all those who believe in Christ Jesus. Do you think of yourself as a saint?
In these days of on-line worship we do tend to greet everyone in a way that we might not when meeting at the church building – we see all the faces on the screen at the same time and we can all greet each person as they ‘join’ the meeting rather than just the person on welcome duty have that opportunity. Will we continue to do that when we do meet in the church again?
It is interesting to see that while Paul was being kept in prison in Rome, he knew that even in Caesar’s own household people were being convicted and converted so there were believers within the ermperor’s own house. Amazing – one wonders how they managed to keep their jobs! Perhaps through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so Paul draws this letter to a close as he does most of his letters, blessing the readers at Philippi with the wish or hope that they will all know Christ within them and be able to show that grace to all who meet them.
New International Version
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
These are very familiar verses, and the basis of numerous hymns and songs. So much is packed into these four short verses it is hard to know what to focus on, but the four words ‘The Lord is near.’ are what hit me as I read them. The Lord is near, he is near through the Holy Spirit living within us; he is near through his word – the bible; he is near – and because he is near we do not need to worry or be afraid, but we can rejoice, and place all our concerns before God in prayer. In doing so we will know the peace of God deep within us, keeping our hearts and minds safe and completing the circle – keeping us close to Jesus, so the Lord is near.
Let us all rejoice in the Lord and thank God that he is near to us. Let us bring our supplications with thanksgiving and rejoice in the peace we know deep within.
New International Version
2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
Having drawn attention to and praised so many of his co-workers Paul suddenly changes tack (many scholars think 3:2-4:1 was a separate letter which was later incorporated into the first letter) and after a strange warning about dogs, evil workers and those who mutilate the flesh, focuses on his own story of the ‘life in the flesh’ as Saul, up to the moment on the road to Damascus when he was struck blind. His own background passed all the tests that might be brought to meet strict Jewish requirements, including circumcision or ‘mutilation of the flesh’, but in which, following that Damascus road experience, he realises is meaningless as it is all mere outward show, and pointless if the inner truth isn’t there.
I doubt any of us would have such a perfect CV as Saul, but I am confident that we do all know with Paul that it is the inner ‘me’ and our commitment to Christ that is much more important than any worldly CV, perfect or otherwise.
Thank you, Father, that you have given us a much simpler – and less physically painful – way to salvation, as we place our belief and trust in you, and help us to help others to know that too.
New International Version
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.
Paul is confident that his friends at Philippi are following his instructions even though he isn’t there, but urges them again to look to God for their guidance which in itself would please God, warning them that doing things in their own strength and their own mind is not something to contemplate.
God is at work in us too, enabling us both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Let us rejoice that God has chosen us to work for and with him, and seek his strength and guidance in the daily living of our lives.
Father, thank you for choosing me as one of your witnesses today ; thank you for entrusting me with continuing the work that your Son Jesus started two thousand years ago, and thank you for giving me your Spirit to guide me in living my life for you and being your voice, hands and feet on Northway today. Amen.