Surrender

All I am and have must be surrendered to Christ

Read: Song of Songs 8

[She] Solomon had a vineyard in Baal Hamon;
he let out his vineyard to tenants.
Each was to bring for its fruit
a thousand shekels of silver.
But my own vineyard is mine to give;
the thousand shekels are for you, Solomon,
and two hundred are for those who tend its fruit. (Songs 8:11-12)

Reflect:

Throughout Songs, the bride and groom have talked of her body figuratively as a vineyard. So as I thought about these two verses, I thought I should read them as a comparison between the taxes citizens pay and the voluntary giving over of herself to her husband which a wife does – even if that wife be a royal princess married to a king.

As well as royal brides, however, the vineyard stands in Scripture for all Israel, in the prophetic literature (Isaiah 5:7) for example.

Furthermore, Jesus expounded upon this idea in a parable of a rented vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12 and Luke 20:9-19). Jesus applied it not to carnal generosity but from the position of one who saw the rightful rents being refused to the landowner’s messengers, even to the point of the landowner’s son being murdered.

Jesus turned this metaphor of a rented vineyard into a parable that prophesied his own death.

The Jews didn’t want to submit to the King, so they killed him. And, through a miracle of God, the death of King Jesus made it possible for his chosen Bride (the church) to respond willingly to him.

Christians may own their own ‘vineyards’ as Christ’s gift to us, but we should – nay, must – surrender all to Christ: “In view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as a living sacrifice,” Paul wrote in Romans 12:1.

Crux:

All I am and have must be surrendered to Christ.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Worthy, worthy, worthy,
is the LORD God Almighty,
to receive praise and honour and glory –
may the whole earth be full of your glory!

LORD, you created everything and it was all subject to you, yet you handed authority over to Adam and Eve to care for the Garden of Eden, despite knowing they would sin.

You created the vineyard that was your people Israel and they were subject to your law, yet you allowed them to ask for Moses to be their mediator and to appoint Saul as their king, despite knowing Moses would stumble and Saul would fall.

You have granted me authority over the limited sphere of my own body, despite knowing I too would stumble and fall into sin. Wretch that I am!

Yet you have done this so I might be redeemed by your Son and granted his righteousness. You have called me to surrender all that I am and have to you. You call me to live as a sacrifice to you – wholly given over to your will and into your service.

I owe all that I am and have to you. Please allow me grace to serve you in all that I do, with all that I have: my skills and passion, my intellect and education, my heart and soul, my hands and feet, my ears and mouth. May all of me be submitted to you, my King.

Amen.

Multinational

Solomon’s foreign brides were a prelude to the multinational kingdom of Christ

Read: Song of Songs 6

Sixty queens there may be,
and eighty concubines,
and virgins without number;
but my dove, my perfect one, is unique,
the only daughter of her mother,
the favourite of the one who bore her.
The young women saw her and called her blessed;
the queens and concubines praise her. (Songs 6:8-9)

Reflect:

It’s hard not to get sidetracked here with thoughts of Solomon with all his hundreds of women and feel disgust at a man who used women as ways of solidifying his status in international relations. Of course, he wasn’t alone; marrying foreign women and taking foreign concubines was an established part of the political process of that time and place.

But culture, then as now, can never be used to excuse sin. As I have told my children many times, “Their sin doesn’t excuse your sin” and “Just because someone else sins, that doesn’t mean you have to follow their bad example and do it too.” The cultural acceptance of polygamy did not excuse Solomon’s polygamy. And Solomon’s polygamy cannot be used to justify polygamy, or even serial monogamy, today.

But once again, there is a deeper spiritual message in Solomon’s multitude of foreign wives and concubines. He was using them as a means to expand his kingdom, which was primarily a problem because he was sinning against God. Solomon was pre-empting God’s timing in the multinational explosion of his kingdom, which God inaugurated properly at Pentecost, a thousand years after Solomon’s reign.

Solomon wasn’t alone in this sort of pre-empting of God’s plans in the history of God’s people. Most notably, Abram and Sarai took it upon themselves to secure their heir through Sarai’s maidservant Hagar, with disastrous consequences that echo today. Better had they waited until the appointed time, when Sarah would become pregnant and give birth to the promised child of the covenant, Isaac.

Moses also sought freedom for Israel in improper ways 40 years before God gave him instructions at the burning bush. Moses initially sought to bring justice through the murder of an Egyptian slave-master, and then had to flee for his life. It was a much humbler man who returned to approach Pharaoh and insist that he “Let Yahweh’s people go!”

Back to Solomon with his foreign wives, and the link to Pentecost: At Pentecost, Jesus sent his Spirit to his disciples and since this time, Jesus’ Spirit has come upon all disciples at their conversion. On Pentecost, people of many different nations and languages heard the good news of Jesus in their own languages; they believed that Jesus was the Son of God, sent by God so their sins might be forgiven; and they repented and were baptised, publicly declaring their entrance into the kingdom of God and their new allegiance to this kingdom’s ruler: Christ Jesus. From that time on, the kingdom of God has been truly multinational.

Crux:

The many foreign brides of Solomon were a foretaste of the millions of Gentile believers whom Jesus has brought into his kingdom.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are the true King who reigns perfectly, expanding the borders of your kingdom not through warfare or abuse, but through the gentle work of your Spirit and the faithful witness of your citizens. You do not coerce anyone to become Christian, but your glory shines forth and attracts all those whom you chose and call to be citizens of the kingdom of your Son.

Thank you for seeing me as “unique” and choosing me to be one of the citizens of your kingdom. Thank you for your promise to perfect me. I am indeed blessed.

Thank you for upholding your church by your grace. Thank you for your continued empowerment of your people to share the gospel and spread your kingdom into every nook and cranny of this wide world. Thank you for making the world’s only divine multinational: the Church which is the body of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Surpassing

No human king’s glory can compare with the surpassing glory of the King of kings

Read: Song of Songs 3

I looked for the one my heart loves…
I will search for the one my heart loves…
“Have you seen the one my heart loves?”…
I found the one my heart loves. (Songs 3:1-4)

Who is this coming up from the wilderness
like a column of smoke? (Songs 3:6)

Look! It is Solomon’s carriage.
escorted by sixty warriors. (Songs 3:7)

Look on King Solomon wearing a crown
the crown with which his mother crowned him
on the day of his wedding,
the day his heart rejoiced. (Songs 3:11)

Reflect:

The juxtaposition of characters in this chapter is intriguing. The bride yearns and searches for “the one my heart loves” and the reader assumes this is her groom. But upon finding her “one”, she immediately describes the appearance of King Solomon in his royal carriage.

King Solomon is accompanied by 60 warriors, twice as many as King David’s famed chief warriors of 2 Samuel 23. He drives a carriage made by himself, which is replete with royal materials like purple cloth, gold and Lebanon cedar. Furthermore, it seems King Solomon wears his wedding crown.

So, is King Solomon the bride’s groom? Or is she just favourably comparing her beloved groom to King Solomon, wisest and richest and most powerful of Israel’s kings? I’m not sure.

But there is another comparison at play here in the text as well: King Solomon in all his splendour is seen coming “from the wilderness like a column of smoke”, a clear reference to the LORD who went before the people of Israel through the desert as a pillar of fire by night and a column of cloud by day.

King Solomon may be twice as mighty as his father King David, but here he is compared to the LORD himself, the King of kings. This King shall one day return rejoicing to claim his bride (the church) who yearns for him and searches for him eagerly.

Crux:

No human king’s glory can compare with the surpassing glory of the King of kings.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are the King of kings, majestic in glory.

Your coming will be like that of a great king riding his carriage, made from the finest materials, draped in royal purple. All will see you coming on the clouds.

Your attendants are too numerous to count: the vast hosts of heavenly angels who serve you, the countless descendants of Abraham who shared his faith, the multitude of saints who believe in your Son.

You wear a crown, a crown of thorns, which was placed on your head by your own mother, Israel herself. On that day they celebrated your death on a cross, but you celebrated your union with your bride, the church.

It is not King Solomon, still less any human husband (including mine), who displays your glory in all its magnificence. These are but pale imitations. It is in Jesus the Christ, your Son and Heir, the Messiah, that the radiance of your glory shines fully.

May Jesus ever be praised; may he be forever exalted as the King of kings!

O how my heart loves him!

Amen.

Echoes

The Jesus who appeared to his disciples after his death was the same Jesus who died

Read: John 21

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” (John 21:10)

Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. (John 21:13)

Again Jesus said, “Simon, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” (John 21:16)

Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:19b)

Reflect:

This final chapter of John’s gospel reads like a series of echoes of the events of Jesus’ ministry. It describes a third appearance of Jesus to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. The disciples didn’t at first recognise Jesus, but the sequence of events on this occasion must have reminded them of all that had gone before.

Jesus met them on the shore after a long night of fishing. I wonder if they recalled the day Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt 4:19)

Jesus took bread and fish and gave it to them to eat. I suppose they must have remembered the day Jesus fed 5000 men and their families and later declared, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” (John 6:35)

Jesus told Simon to feed and take care of his sheep. Simon must have thought of the day Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd… I lay down my life for my sheep.” (John 10:14-15)

Jesus told Peter to follow him, and he must have remembered that day just a short time ago when Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Crux:

The Jesus who appeared to his disciples after his death was the same Jesus who died – and his message was the same good news message.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are the same yesterday, today and into tomorrow. You are the Alpha and the Omega; the First and the Last; who was, who is and who is to come. Holy, holy, holy are you, my LORD God Almighty.

Jesus, you are IT. You are the crux of all creation, the true centre of the universe. And the message you came to teach is the same message that changed all and changes all.

You call me out of my old life, making me new. May I leave that life far behind.

You feed, sustain and nourish me. May I eat and be satisfied.

You call forth my love for you and command me to love your “sheep”. May I love well and dearly.

You are the One Way to the Father, and you call me to follow you. May I follow in your steps all the days of this eternal life you have granted to me.

Amen.

Father

God the Father is now my Father

Read: John 20

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” (John 20:17)

Reflect:

In this gospel, God the Father is mentioned about 100 times. Always, up to this point, Jesus has spoken of him as “the Father” or, more intimately, as “my Father”. In his prayer (John 17), Jesus addressed God as “Father… Holy Father… Righteous Father.” As narrator, John the evangelist uses the words “the Father” or “his Father” to refer to God.

But here – and only here – Jesus refers to God not only as “my Father” but also as “your Father.” Jesus’ death on a cross and his resurrection from the tomb have changed the very fabric of the universe. No longer is God removed from his people: he is their Father, our Father, my Father, your Father.

Jesus accomplished the adoption of an entire kingdom, bringing me and millions of others into the family of God, so we may cry to God with the Spirit’s help, “Abba Father! Dearest Dad!”

I am no longer separated from God by the expanse my sin created and kept between us. Now, Jesus Christ is my brother and I am his sister. God the Father is my Father and I am his daughter. And just as Jesus ascended to be with his Father, so, one day, shall I.

Crux:

God the Father is now my Father!

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are Jesus’ Father and you are my Father. This is immeasurably precious to me.

Abba, Dad, you have chosen me and called me to follow; you have adopted me and appointed me to belong. You set your heart of loving-kindness, grace, mercy and compassion upon me. You sought me and fought for me and bought me with Christ’s blood.

Now I am yours, your child, your daughter, forever more. I belong to you and can never be taken from your family. There will be no other family for me ever.

I belong to your family:
You, holy and righteous Father, are my Father.
You, dead and risen Son, are my brother.
You, wise and true Spirit, dwell within my spirit.

Thank you for wanting me. Thank you for winning me. Thank you for welcoming me into your family, the very family of God.

May I always live as a true daughter who cherishes her Father’s love and lives to love him.

Amen.

Loved

God’s love for me grows in response to my growing love for Jesus

Read: John 16

“So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:22)

“In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26-27)

Reflect:

Jesus is talking here about the immediate future: what will happen after the Last Supper sermon is ended. “Now” is their time of grief because Jesus is about to die by crucifixion, an ugly painful death during which the disciples will be scattered and leave Jesus alone while he bears their sins in his body on the cross. But the disciples “will” rejoice and “will” ask “in that day”, once Jesus has been raised again to life. The disciples will rejoice because Jesus has won their forgiveness and granted them righteousness, admitting them to the family of God, indwelling them by God’s Spirit.

Then, Jesus Christ will no longer be a physically present intermediary who will relay their requests to the Father so that the Father may display his love for Jesus by answering Jesus’ prayers (as, for example, was necessary when healing a boy suffering convulsions, Mark 9:14-29). Instead, the Father will love Jesus’ disciples directly and in a different manner to his general love for “the world” (John 3:16). God’s love will now be amplified in response to the disciples’ love for Jesus and belief in him, and their prayers will be answered generously and completely.

This is complicated, but basically what it means is this:

God’s love for us, which began in eternity past when he chose us in Jesus before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), is now expanded in response to our love for Jesus, which his Spirit enables.

God loves us, so we love Jesus. And God loves us all the more, because we love Jesus. As Christians respond to the Spirit and love the Son, the Father witnesses our love and loves us more.

Crux:

God’s love for me grows in response to my growing love for Jesus.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are love: You are the origin and source of love. You instigate love, magnify love, exemplify love, amplify love. You enable and expand my love for Jesus. You also respond and reply to my love with your own love for me. You build my love for Christ and you bless my love with your own for me.

How glorious are your ways, O God,
your paths beyond searching out!

You have chosen to bless me with full and complete joy, unending and everlasting joy, found in seeing and knowing and loving and believing in Jesus, whom you sent as a gift of love to me.

O LORD, how wonderful is your will,
your gifts above all treasures.

Please continue to bless me by building my love for Jesus. Keep my eyes focussed on Jesus and not on myself, nor my family, nor my community, nor my country. May I see Jesus and not my situation, not my suffering, not my opinions, not my preferences. May I love Jesus all the more, and may your love for me abound in response.

Thank you for your loving kindness to me. May I find my delight in you, so you may delight in me.

Amen.

Commanded

Read: John 14

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happened. so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince off this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me. (John 14:28-31)

Reflect:

The greatest act of love the world has ever witnessed was Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. His death was not compelled by this world’s prince (ie, the devil); it could not be, because the devil has no power over Jesus (v30). Rather, Jesus’ death was an act of obedience to his Father’s command (v31).

Jesus’ words in this passage reveal anew three key things about Jesus’ nature:

  1. Jesus has the ability to foretell truth (v29).
  2. The Father is greater (even) than the Son (v28).
  3. The Son willingly obeys the Father (v31).

Even though Jesus said seeing him was the same as seeing the Father, in some sense God the Father is, has always been and will always be greater than God the Son. There is complete harmony between the members of the Trinity, yet their is also hierarchy and subordination. And this does not mean that there is a lack of love, nor is there any disobedience. This loving obedience allows Jesus to be completely calm and assured for his future, even though he is very aware he is going to his death.

Crux:

Jesus loved me to the cross because his Father commanded him to.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for Jesus’ act of love on the cross. Thank you for your love within the Trinity for each other, and for your love for me.

Please help me to love others in the way Jesus loved. Please help me to know others are greater, and that’s okay. Please help me to obey Jesus’ commands and teaching because I love him.

Please help me to understand what Jesus teaches me, with the help of the Advocate’s teaching. Please disciple me, be my Rabbi, through the voice of the Holy Spirit, so I am reminded of all I know to be true about Jesus.

Make me mature in my faith. I know this will mean disciplining me when I am disobedient. I submit to you in that as in all things. Please conform my spirit, my soul and my self to the image of your Son Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Love

Jesus loved me to the end; I must love other Christians likewise

Read: John 13

It was just before the Passover festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15)

“A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

Reflect:

Jesus set me an example to follow, and it wasn’t just washing feet. I’ve done that for my children many times, for my husband only once that I remember, and never for people outside my family. This act of foot-washing symbolised love that is willing to humble itself before the other person, to serve them wholeheartedly.

When Jesus told his disciples to love one another in the way he had loved them, he meant them (and me) to love perseveringly and enduringly (v1), humbly and sacrificially (v14), deliberately and intentionally (v3-4), whether the person receiving our love understands our act of love or not (v7). This kind of love has very little to do with sex, as our society sees it, at least.

Crux:

Jesus loved me to the end; I must love other Christians likewise.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You love me! What a marvellous, precious truth. Thank you for loving me.

Thank you that I have been able to carry this truth around in my heart all day today, through the busy intent focussed times and the laughing splashing fun times and the quiet steady peaceful times. Thank you for speaking these words into my soul, deep into my innermost being today:
“You are loved by God.”

This has cheered me, challenged me, encouraged me, exhorted me, softened me and sheltered me as I knew the reality of your love for me. Thank you.

Please help me always to love others. May I see needs and seek to meet them. May I listen patiently and not just be in the room. May I have the right words at the right times – and quietness and a closed mouth when that is needed. May I be generous, ready to share; humble, ready to serve; and kind, ready to comfort.

Amen.

 

Usurpers

I need to believe in Jesus, not seek to usurp Jesus.

Read: John 11

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (John 11:47-48)

Reflect:

Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead. This is not just any “sign”, this is a giant neon broadway sign flashing “Messiah! Messiah! Come begin your Eternal Life Here!!!”

And yet, here are the Top 70 VIP Jews, the Sanhedrin, holding a committee meeting. This scene could have been right out of some present day professional development day (makes me think of that TV show, The Office…) where the HR rep tries to focus people’s attention: “What’s our vision? Are we on task and on track? What are we accomplishing here, people?”

The sad thing is, the chief priests have got their job roles and responsibilities completely mixed up. Instead of using their positions to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, like John the Baptist faithfully did, they’re worried about losing things that aren’t even theirs in the first place.

It’s not “our” temple, it’s the LORD’s, the place the LORD God chose as a dwelling place for his Name. (Check it out: Deuteronomy 12:3,5,11,21 etc and 1 Kings 5:5 and 8:29,35,43 etc.)

It’s not “our” nation, it is the nation the LORD made of Abraham’s descendants, a nation he chose to call his very own (Genesis 12:2, 18:18, 21:8, 46:3), a nation the LORD God calls “my people” over and over and over again (Exodus 3:7,10, 5:1, 7:4, 8:1,20-23, 9:1,13,17, 10:3 as well as Leviticus 26:12 and a gazillion other places).

Surely, what belongs to God cannot be lost by God’s people. Not to the Romans. Not to any pagan non-believers, no matter how strong they might seem in comparison to God’s people. My God is bigger, and he protects his own.

Crux:

I need to believe in Jesus, not seek to usurp Jesus.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I acknowledge and honour you as God Most High, Sovereign Ruler over all creation and over the nation of your people most especially.

You chose to make your Name dwell in the temple in Jerusalem for a time, and you chose to dwell among your people as Immanuel, God with us, for a time. Now you dwell in the hearts of your people by your Spirit, for all time. I honour you with your current temple, my body, and seek for you to be honoured by the body of all believers, the church.

You chose to make a nation of your very own from Abraham’s descendants, and to expand your nation to all who believe in Jesus Christ. This is your new nation, your eternal nation, the church, won with the blood shed by Christ.

LORD, make me (and we, your church) a people who know exactly whom we belong to and do not let us try to usurp your position of sovereign headship. Help me to be a good citizen of your kingdom and not to desire the nonsense of dual citizenship with the nations of earth. May I represent Jesus my King well as an ambassador to those who do not believe in Jesus.

Amen.

Suffering

God’s grace and glory are displayed in me when I suffer.

Read: John 9

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)

Reflect:

There is a clash of ideologies between the disciples’ question and Jesus’ answer. The disciples are looking for a cause to explain the man’s disability, whereas Jesus reveals a purpose to his suffering. The question of suffering is not primarily one of cause and effect, rather, it is one of purpose and plan.

The important thing is not what circumstances led to the suffering. Within the Christian world view, all suffering originated with the Fall, with the first sin and the consequent curse, so all suffering is caused by sin either directly or indirectly. There’s no value in dwelling on who sinned, or what sin led to which consequence, because ultimately, the problem of sin has already been solved.

The solution to sin was and always is Jesus’ sacrifice of himself. However, this sacrifice has not (yet) achieved an alleviation of suffering. The reason any person suffers, whether it is me, my loved ones, you or a man born blind some 2000 years ago, is for the ongoing purpose of showing off the works of God, displaying God’s glory.

This ideology allows Christians to suffer joyfully, to persevere when persecuted, to die with dignity, to mourn hopefully. We can do all this because we know that God is at work within us and within our situation, to bring about our good and his glory, whether or not our wounds are healed in the short term.

Crux:

God’s grace and glory are displayed in me when I suffer.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I truly believe you are a God of loving-kindness, compassion, mercy and grace. You care for your people with tender-heartedness, generosity, patience, gentleness and wisdom.

I see your character at work in this story of Jesus healing a blind man and then speaking to him several times to ensure that he was not just physically healed, but also spiritually nurtured.

When I think of my own past suffering, I am forced to conclude and confess that I have not always glorified you in my responses, particularly my immediate, automatic responses. I am sorry. Please forgive me. Please change my heart so that what I know to be true will be evident from my first response as well as from my more thoughtful and informed responses later on.

I acknowledge that you have always been at work, displaying your care for me as I have suffered. You’ve provided for my needs even before I thought to ask. You’ve comforted me as I cried aloud to you. You’ve encouraged me when I sought your strength. You’ve brought me to the place where I could rejoice with singing where previously I was wailing with grief.

O LORD, continue to magnify your glory in my suffering.

Amen.

PS LORD, even as I pray this, I tremble at the thought of what suffering you might yet allow into my life. Please continue to walk beside me and uphold me, all the days of my life.