1)# ’Distracted by all the preparations.’
This comment about Martha is in contrast to what is said of her sister Mary ‘who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.’ It seems unfair on Martha and a little selfish of Mary. Yet Mary is commended and Martha is gently chastened. We read that Martha was distracted, literally weighed down, and became ‘worried and upset about many things’. As a result she muddled up her priorities and became resentful towards Mary. Martha’s time with Jesus was being squeezed.
It’s an easy mistake to make. Life is busy, especially leading up to Christmas. There are jobs to do and demands on our time. Time with Jesus through Bible reading and prayer gets squeezed or neglected. But if we make time with Jesus a priority, then he will help us to have a right perspective on other things. As we approach Christmas, let’s make sure that all the preparations do not distract us from our focus on Christ our Saviour and Lord.
2)# ’Who sets his heart on seeking God.’
2 Chronicles 30:19
It’s an interesting situation here. King Hezekiah was restoring and reconsecrating the temple for worship of the Lord. In their enthusiasm to celebrate Passover, many of the Israelites had not purified themselves according to the Mosaic law. This put them under the condemnation of that law. But Hezekiah’s prayer highlights the importance of the heart over external ritual and rules. In sharp contrast, and on many other occasions, the Israelites fulfilled the laws, but their hearts were far from God.
Sometimes we prevent people from serving the Lord because they don’t conform or fit the norm and we overlook their love for Jesus. Other times we give preference to some because they say and do what is acceptable, irrespective of their motives. King Hezekiah knew the hearts of people were right, even if they hadn’t fully complied with the rules and regulations. And we must do the same. God is looking for people whose hearts are set on serving him. After all, a right heart will, given time and encouragement, lead to right actions.
3)# ’But that night they caught nothing.’
We can assume that there were fish in the Sea of Tiberius and we can assume that the fishermen hadn’t lost their touch. ‘But that night they caught nothing’. Many of us will have been in a similar situation asking ‘why?’. Things we’ve done many times before, now go wrong. Changes in our life may undermine our identity. Maybe we’ve even lost our way in following Jesus and we’re left, like the disciples, sitting around on the beach wondering what next.
For the disciples in general and Peter in particular, Jesus needed to help them move on to do a new work that they hadn’t done before, relying on him instead of relying on themselves. The same may be true for us. When we begin to catch nothing, as it were, it may be that the Lord is helping us to move on to do something new, relying on him to guide and provide. But whether it’s moving on or staying put, we must always take our lead from God, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
4)# ’He reached down from on high and took hold of me.’
These words of David are during a time when he was being chased by Saul and in constant fear for his life. His enemies had been hunting him down, looking to overtake him and slay him. But whilst David struggles to avoid the grasp of his enemies, the arm of the Lord brings welcome salvation, not just once, but time and again.
Lifting someone ‘out of deep waters’ (v16), when they are being overwhelmed, requires strength and firmness. Sometimes our situation might need a firm hand from the Lord to help us overcome. A word of rebuke or correction is not easy to take and discipline is not pleasant, but submitting to the ‘hold’ of the Lord is important if we are to avoid the grasp of the enemy. Remaining in Christ is a fundamental aspect of our discipleship and one we need to attend to on a daily basis. So let’s make sure that Jesus has a hold of our lives each and every day.
5)# ’She keeps crying out after us.’
This woman was getting on the nerves of the disciples. She may not have had the sweetest voice - but she was persistent. Her request for healing on behalf of her daughter seemed to be ignored by Jesus. Now it was getting too much for the disciples and they wanted her gone.
But what was a nuisance for the disciples was an indication of faith for Jesus. She acknowledged her position as a Gentile and a woman, but she also acknowledged her reliance on the mercy of the Lord and received reward for her faith. Not only do we need the same humble and persistent attitude, but we need to learn to recognise it in others, so we don’t turn them away from coming to Jesus.
6)# ’What you are doing is not right.’
There are times when we need to be told the facts as they really are. It appears that over time, amongst the Jews, the rich and influential had taken advantage of the poor and helpless and this had become the norm. But that didn’t make it right, and it needed Nehemiah to give them a piece of God’s mind, as it were. It’s easy for us to fall into the same trap.
Given time, wrong attitudes and actions that become acceptable in society can also become acceptable within God’s people, which is not right. So we must be on our guard and help one another. This is not to puff ourselves up or have a ‘holier than thou’ attitude, but simply to recognise that, as members of God’s Kingdom, we live by his standards and not by those of society. Following this rebuke by Nehemiah, the people took action to put things right and it’s important for us to do the same.
7)# ’Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
Who indeed?! Little did the Pharisees realise just what they were acknowledging in this question. As Jesus clearly demonstrated, he has the power to forgive sins, so he was indeed God incarnate. There are many today who will deny Christ’s deity so as to avoid the implications and challenges of God revealed in flesh and blood. Yet in so doing, they deny themselves the forgiveness that God alone can give.
The journalist and novelist, Marghanita Laski, once said,‘'What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness. I have no-one to forgive me.” The burden of unforgiven sin weighs heavily on us, however much we pretend it doesn’t matter or however much time passes by. Many fit-looking people are going through life crippled by unforgiven sin. If that is you, then today is as good a day as ever to come to the One who can forgive, and experience the healing and freedom that his forgiveness brings.
8)# ’Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field.’
2 Samuel 23:12
As one of David’s mighty men, Shammah is a good example on three counts. Firstly he is named, clearly identified as one of David’s men. So for us, we must be clearly identified with Christ, as one of his followers.
Next, Shammah took his stand. He was ready and waiting - not running away like the others. In Ephesians 6 we are given ‘spiritual’ armour to put on, so that we can stand ready for any attack of the enemy. Sometimes we can see an attack coming, but sometimes we’re caught by surprise. That’s why we must be properly dressed and ready to stand firm.
Lastly, Shammah was in the middle of the field. This was a deliberate move. He avoided being cornered and could clearly see an approach of the enemy and so defeat them. Let’s make sure we don’t get cornered by compromising our walk with Jesus and let’s remain alert so as to defeat any attack Satan makes against us.
9)# ’Keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.’
Paul is on a roll here. He has just encouraged the Church in Rome to offer themselves as ‘living sacrifices’ and to use their gifts for the good of the fellowship. Now he shares a few one-liners as the Spirit prompts him. Paul has dealt with some hefty theological issues and maybe anticipates the believers getting stuck in theological debate, rather than living it out. So here’s the ‘live it out’ exhortation!
‘(You) keep your spiritual fervour…’ ‘You’ is implied in this exhortation. No excuses, no passing the buck. It’s up to us. It’s our shared responsibility, encouraging one another. The spiritual fervour (lit. burning) is maintained, by serving. It’s that passion in our hearts that we had for the Lord when we first believed. It’s that desire to be all out for Christ, whatever the cost. It’s that love for the lost that compels us to share the gospel. And it’s serving the Lord, so the effort we put in, is not in vain (see 1 Cor 15:58). May the fire of the Holy Spirit burn within us as we fervently serve the Lord today, in word and action.
10)# ’Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’
Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. The stench of death was around him. Stiffness and decay were setting in. Martha believed in resurrection, but for the future, not for the present. But Jesus is the resurrection and the life, now, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead is both real and symbolic, a foretaste of what was and is to come.
Lazarus came back to life to die again, but Jesus rose on to life, never to die again. Now, all who trust in him will one day rise on to eternal life in a resurrected body. But even now another resurrection is available. Through Christ’s death and resurrection we can put to death the sinful nature and live a new life. The grave clothes of the old life, the bad habits, bad attitudes, wrong actions do not have to bind us up. The Holy Spirit sets us free to live according to his ways. So let’s live his way, with his strength, today.
11)# ’There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.’
In sharp contrast to the imagery of the preceding verses, where turmoil and disaster are mentioned, the Psalmist speaks here of a river and its streams bringing blessing for God’s people. Whilst there may be a prophetic aspect to this psalm, as it anticipates the New Jerusalem with its river of the water of life, it also reminds us of the ‘living water’, ‘spring of water’, that Jesus gives to all who come to him, even in the driest of times.
This is the river that provides water to all who are thirsty; freely and abundantly. This is the river that burst upon the Church on the day of Pentecost and has been washing lives clean ever since. This is the river that will never run dry and provides safety and security for all who are baptised into Christ. The turmoil of the world around us need not disrupt the peace we can have as we bathe in this river. Be refreshed in God's river today!
12)# ’But I have prayed for you.’
How reassuring is this! Even before Peter’s denial happened in time, Christ had interceded before God the Father on his behalf. Little did Peter realise, at the time, the importance of this prayer. In Romans chapter eight, Paul speaks of Christ now interceding on our behalf in the heavenly realms. We may not realise now the difference Christ’s intercession makes for us here on earth, but one day we will. One thing we can know is that if Christ intercedes for us, then we need it! How grateful we can be that he acts on our behalf.
Satan’s ‘sifting’ of Peter was intended to bring his faith to ruin and Satan still wants to ruin God’s work in our lives just like he has done since the Garden of Eden. But ‘he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Phil 1:6). Let’s join with Christ in praying for one another, especially for those who are being ‘sifted’.
13)# ’I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.’
This may come as a surprise, especially when we consider some of the evil that has been done by one against another. The Israelites felt that they had gone too far with their wickedness and rebellion against God. ‘How then can we live?’ was their cry. It was as if they felt that God would be pleased to be rid of them. But not so. God wants all men everywhere to repent and turn from their wickedness whilst they have the breath of life (Acts 17:30). Death is not just the end of life on earth, but also the end of any hope for repentance and change.
Some people today feel that they can never be accepted by God, that their sins are too great, that they have fallen too far. But the cry of God is still, ‘Turn! Turn from your evil ways!’ However far we have fallen, whatever wrong we have done, whilst there is breath in our bodies, then we can turn in repentance away from our evil and towards a God who can forgive, heal and restore. Unlike us, who can find it hard to forgive, ‘the LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion’ (Num 14:18).
14)# ’While it was still dark.’
Whether this refers to the time Mary left home or when she arrived at the tomb doesn’t matter. The reality was that the darkness of the night and of recent events couldn’t stop something stirring within Mary that made her get up and go early to the tomb on that first Resurrection Sunday. As a result, she was amongst the first to encounter a risen Saviour.
There’s a lot of darkness around us today that can easily overwhelm us and cause us to hide away. Whether it’s the cost of living and economic uncertainty, political unrest and confusion or environmental concerns, we can succumb to despair. But Christ is risen! There is hope for the hopeless; help for the weary and light for those living in darkness. Let’s not wait for an easier time. Let’s not be intimidated by the darkness of evil. Let’s follow Mary’s example and respond to the stirring of the Holy Spirit within us and get up and go out to a world that needs to know that Jesus is alive and offers us resurrection life now and beyond death!
15)# ’Commit to the Lord whatever you do.’
‘...and your plans will succeed’. This may seem like an easy recipe for quick success, but take a closer look and it is squashed between ‘motives are weighed by the Lord’ and ‘The Lord works out everything for his own ends’. If what we do is to be successful (lit. established) then the motives of our hearts must be right and our plans must be in accordance with God’s will. Nothing more; nothing less.
Bright ideas are not what the Lord is looking for from us, but a willingness to give our lives in service for hIs plans. It’s not about us getting God to do what we want, but us working with God to do what he wants. As we lay out our lives today, let’s allow God’s will to be worked out in and through us, whatever we do.
16)# ’Taken away my disgrace among the people.’
Barrenness was often seen as a mark of being outside God’s favour and meant you were an embarrassment. Elizabeth and Zechariah had carried this shame for many years, although it was not their fault. Now as they trusted God’s promise, their shame was removed.
There are things in our lives that bring shame and disgrace which may or may not be our fault. Things said or done in a moment, that have an impact for years to come. Things suffered because of other people’s mistakes. Things hidden that we fear becoming known. Things that weigh us down. Well, things can change.
In Christ we can be healed. In Christ we can be forgiven. In Christ we are valued. No longer shunned, but welcomed. No longer hiding, but righteous before God - in Christ. Whether our circumstances change or not, our position in Christ is real and secure. Let’s live in it today.
17)# ’You are the man!’
2 Samuel 12:7
It’s never easy to confront our own sin, especially when our reputation is at stake. David was king, loved and adored by his people. He had been chosen by God and had defeated many of Israel’s enemies. Life was sweet and David was lulled into a false sense of security. His initial indiscretion led to attempts at a cover-up which, when they failed, led to a contract killing. He was so confident that he’d got away with it that he didn’t recognise himself in Nathan’s story.
But God doesn’t turn a blind eye or a deaf ear. Nor is he influenced by power or position. David’s sin was exposed and the consequences were severe. It was a hard lesson that David had to learn and the fall-out lasted for generations.
We all do wrong, accidental or deliberate, inadvertently or premeditated. So let’s be quick to own up, come to the Lord in repentance and get things sorted, rather than think we can get away with it and actually make things worse, for us and for other people.
18)# ’You also should wash one another's feet.’
Washing feet was not pleasant. The feet would be hot and smelly, with dirt in between the toes and perhaps rough, cracked skin from stones and rubbing leather. It was a menial job for the servant to do. So Jesus does it, as an example for us to follow. We may not do much literal washing of feet today, but serving one another will mean accepting the dirt and grime of people’s situations and test our patience and gentleness.
Nice-looking people can have some real dirt in their lives, hidden from view, that needs to be washed with the love of Christ. And ours are the hands that Christ uses. Washing feet means getting down on your knees, and getting your hands dirty. Helping others requires humility and a servant heart. And one more thing. Washed feet became dirty again once out on the road. So let’s not think that helping one another is a one-off event. We’ll be doing it again and again and again - just like our Lord and Teacher.
19)# ’Well versed in the Law of Moses.’
This doesn’t simply mean that Ezra could recite the law of Moses from memory. It indicates a clear understanding of the words and their meaning and an ability to share it with others. It came from reading, meditating and then applying it to life. He didn’t just want to be full of knowledge, but wanted it to make a difference to how he and God’s people lived.
This is something we need in the church today. People who are ‘well versed’, thoroughly familiar, with God’s Word. We may not have the lineage of Ezra, who could trace his ancestry back to Aaron, but if we know what the Bible says, then we can share its truth with other people. As important as reading the Bible is the listening to and meditating on what the Spirit teaches us through his Word, so that it is inscribed on our hearts. The more we read the Bible, the more the Holy Spirit will teach us. The more we learn, the more we can share, and the better our living for Christ will be.
20)# ’The large crowd listened to him with delight.’
They’d never heard anyone quite like Jesus. His teaching had authority and he had time for the ordinary and marginalised people. His teaching spoke of close relationship with God, but also revealed the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and pulled the rug of pomposity from under their feet. But listening ‘with delight’ is one thing; putting it into practice is another.
The psalmist said: ‘I delight in your decrees...your commands...in your law.’ How? Just by listening to them, reading them? No, but by living them out. As James wrote, ‘Do not merely listen to the word... Do what it says.’ That’s the challenge and the encouragement, but it’s the only way we will experience the delight that the Psalmist spoke about. Daily Bible reading is good, but even better when, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we let it make a difference to how we live, day by day.
21)# ’Correct me, Lord, but only with justice.’
Jeremiah recognises the value of submitting to the correction of God rather than provoking his anger. Correction is never easy to take, but it is helped if we submit rather than resist. Willingness to be corrected shows humility and a teachable spirit. The Lord can use people like Jeremiah. God’s justice will not leave us broken, but restored; not useless but ready for service. It speaks of a confidence that the Lord will do what is right and best as we submit to his correction, however painful that might be.
Our pride may be hurt, our reputation may be damaged, but it’s better to be right than wrong before the Lord. Jeremiah’s message warned of God’s impending anger upon the sin of his people. Jeremiah took notice and acted. We will do well to follow his example.
22)# ’Come to me ... and I will give you rest.’
When weary or overwhelmed by the struggles of life, we might have a sit down, listen to some soothing music or go for a quiet walk. But Jesus invites the weary and burdened to come to him to receive rest. A sit down or a quiet walk may remove us temporarily from the troubles, but won’t remove the troubles from our lives. When we get up or arrive back, they will still be there. What we need is to know that someone bigger than us, bigger than our struggles, is there to help us overcome and see us through.
That ‘someone’ is Jesus and when we come to him, he gives us rest and peace deep within. ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you’ (1 Pet 5:7). Knowing someone else is in control, when we are floundering or struggling, brings peace. Help will be provided, a way ahead will be revealed and our strength will be renewed. Don’t wait or struggle on alone, but come to him today.
23)# ’I have commanded a widow.’
1 Kings 17:9
This is a beautiful insight into the ‘behind the scenes’ workings of the Lord. Elijah was on the run from King Ahab and needed some ‘contacts’ to help him survive. God’s agents of help were ravens and this widow. Her part was nothing glamorous; we don’t even know her name; but she was chosen for special operations by the Lord, who took her every-day routine and made it a key part of his plan. That’s what God does.
He uses ordinary people, doing ordinary things to achieve the extraordinary. Our mundane lives can take on a whole new perspective when we make ourselves available as Christ’s agents. ‘A small cake’, ‘a cup of water’, ‘a crimson cord’, ‘a jar of oil’, can all become agents for change when used for the Lord. Let’s not despise or dismiss the mundane. Let’s make it, and ourselves, available today and see what God can do!
24)# ’He will appear a second time.’
We may be looking back to the first advent of Jesus over the next few days, but let’s also look forward to his second advent which will be in sharp contrast. The first coming of Christ was unnoticed by all but a handful of people. His second coming, will be seen by all.
The word ‘appear’ in the original language indicates compulsive viewing - wide-eyed. It’s what happened for just a few shepherds when the angelic choir showed up on the hillside that first advent. But when Jesus comes again all of creation will see and hear the hosts of heaven accompany Jesus on his return to planet earth.
Some say Christ has already returned secretly, others talk about an extra return before his second coming, but the Bible is clear. Just as there was one first advent, so there will be only one second advent to bring salvation as well as judgement - and it won’t be secretive or unnoticed. It’s getting closer by the day! So let’s make sure we are ready and waiting to welcome him back.
25)# ’Not to bear sin.’
This is so reassuring! If Jesus had to return to deal with sin, then it would mean that his first sacrifice for sin was not enough. Then how could we be sure of our salvation? But his first sacrifice is enough, for all time and the following passage in Hebrews emphasises this fact.
Our sin has been dealt with. We have been saved from God’s wrath and Christ’s first advent was not in vain. We can live a new life now and our sinful nature can be put to death. Religion is all about us trying our best to please a holy God, and failing. Christ’s coming is all about a holy God giving his best, for us and succeeding. As a result each one of us can rejoice at Christ’s first coming, live in relationship with the God who made us, and look forward to Christ’s coming again.
26)# ’But to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.’
Mary had to wait nine months, but the baby came. We may have to wait a lifetime, and more, but Jesus will come again.
Waiting is all part of life, but you can wait in different ways. You can wait impatiently which leads to irritation. That can lead to frustration which may result in inappropriate action. You can wait impassively, which leads to apathy. A sleeping church is not what Christ wants and several times in the book of Revelation, Jesus calls on his church to wake up! Or you can wait expectantly which leads to action. ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ is the command. The apostle Peter explains that any ‘delay’ in Christ’s return is because the Lord is ‘not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ (2 Pet 3:9)
As disciples of Christ, there are things to be done before his return and as a new year stretches ahead, let’s determine to be waiting, watching and working for Jesus until he returns. The reward will be our complete salvation as we receive new bodies to enable us to live in the new creation. Well worth waiting for!
27)# ’Continued to spread the word.’
The raising of Lazarus from the dead had happened some time earlier, but the people who were ‘with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb,,,’ kept talking about it. As a result, even more people wanted to meet Jesus. In fact the Pharisees said that ‘the whole world has gone after him!’
In a society that is more and more ignorant of who Christ Jesus is, there is just as much need for those of us who have new life in Christ, and have experienced his transforming power, to ‘spread the word’. Whilst a vaccine might rescue us from the Covid-19 virus, people need to know that there is salvation from the deadly virus of sin and its eternal consequences, but only in Jesus.
We may be challenged over what we believe as Christians, but let’s not stop talking about what Jesus has done for us. If God is graciously at work in our lives, then we must generously tell others, so that they can also experience forgiveness and new life in Christ. So let’s ‘spread the word’ today, and share the good news of Jesus.
28)# ’I will restore you to health and heal your wounds.’
What a promise! For a people in captivity, away from their homeland, these were sweet words indeed. As a people, they had sinned and had suffered the consequences. They had been attacked, defeated and led into exile. The future seemed bleak. But God had not abandoned them and he promised restoration and healing. As Israel turned back to the Lord, so they found his unfailing love, mercy, grace and forgiveness.
It may be that, at this time of uncertainty, we are in a similar place of desolation, or know someone else who is. Whatever the cause, whoever is at fault, this promise still stands and there is restoration and healing with Jesus. However damaged we are, Christ can restore. However deep the wounds, Christ can heal. Come and receive restoration and healing from him today.
28)# ’Your love and faith, your service and perseverance.’
This is the commendation from Jesus to his Church in Thyatira. And what a commendation! Love here is the Greek word ‘agape’ - indicating wilful action. Sacrificial kindness to those who don’t deserve it. Just what Christ has done for us.
Faith is where we step into another dimension, where assurance and certainty are not based on what our senses detect, but on the eternal word and promises of God.
Service is what a servant provides, not for themselves, but for the benefit of others.
Perseverance is keeping going, especially in the face of difficulties, knowing that eternal reward awaits all who finish and don’t give up. Love, faith, service and perseverance - qualities of Christ that can be seen in all who follow him.
Sadly, for all that is commended, the church in Thyatira tolerated false teaching and its associated practices. It’s a timely reminder that diligence in some areas of our lives, must not be undermined by complacency in others.
30)# ’She went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.’
The ‘but’ highlights an interesting contrast between Martha and Mary. Their different characters are revealed. Martha takes the initiative and goes to meet Jesus, even before he’s arrived in the village. She is confident and takes a lead in the conversation, getting straight to the point. Then it is she who goes and tells Mary that Jesus wants to see her.
On the other hand Mary seems more pensive, reserved and sensitive. She stays at home until she is called. Then she falls at Jesus’ feet, weeping. On another occasion, it seems that these differences in personalities caused a bit of friction between the two sisters (Lk 10:40).
Within the Church of Jesus, there are many differences. Different characters, different ways of doing things, different gifts and abilities. But let’s appreciate our differences and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, let them strengthen our witness for Christ, rather than cause upset.
31)# ’Those ... with us are more than those ... with them.’
2 Kings 6:16
Paul said that we do not fight against flesh and blood - yet so often we fight as if we do. Elisha’s servant had seen the size of the ‘flesh and blood’ army surrounding them and he all but lost heart as he asked ‘what shall we do?’
The reality of what we can see often blinds us to the reality of what we can’t see. We may not get our own view of the angelic powers that are on our side, but we do have the record of this incident as the next best thing. Let’s not let our physical senses restrict our faith in what is unseen.
But the Christian does have a sixth sense - an awareness of the spiritual forces we engage with as followers of Christ and the angelic help available to us. This doesn’t give us the right to ‘throw our weight around’ - because it’s not our weight - but it does give us the assurance that we are never on our own, whatever we face or whatever comes against us.