Revised Common Lectionary : Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 18:1-5; Genesis 21:1-7; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 or Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 100:1-5; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8, 9-23
- Trust the Lord.
Is anything too hard for the Lord? (Genesis 18:14).
We need to hear these words as God’s call to greater faith.
Sarah, like Abraham, had heard God’s promises, yet ‘she laughed to herself’ (Genesis 18:12).
We can hear God’s Word, and still remain, in our hearts, men and women of unbelief. The Word of God does not benefit us when we do not receive it with faith (Hebrews 4:2).
God knows what is in our hearts, just as He knew what was in Sarah’s heart (Genesis 18:13-15). He knows the human heart, ‘deceitful above all things’ (Jeremiah 17:9), yet He continues to love us. He does not give up on us. He perseveres with us. He could have given up on Sarah as a hopeless waste of His time, but He did not.
‘The evil heart of unbelief’ is always with us, but God is constantly at work to create in us ‘a clean heart’ (Hebrews 3:12: Psalm 51:10). 'Soften my heart, Lord’ (Mission Praise, 606).
We have here the contrast between Isaac, the child of promise, and Ishmael, the fruit of unbelief. Ishmael was born as a result of impatience, the failure to wait upon the Lord. In the birth of Isaac, the initiative belonged with God, and the glory belonged to Him.
In Christ, we are the children of promise - ‘children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God’ (John 1:13).
God did not forget Ishmael. There were blessings for him (Genesis 21:17-21).
The difference between Ishmael and Isaac is the difference between common grace and saving grace.
Many people know much of the grace of God in ‘the common things of life’ (Church Hymnary, 457). There are so many blessings for them to count. Still they fail to appreciate God’s greatest gift - His Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Thank God for this and that and... Jesus!
- Love the Lord.
‘I love the Lord... I will call on Him as long as I live’ (Psalm 116:1-2).
Our love for God is to be a lifelong life. It is to be the love of our life.
What are we to do when our love for God grows weak? We must remember His love for us - ‘Great is His love towards us. The faithfulness of the Lord endures forever’ (Psalm 117:2).
When we find it difficult to keep on loving God, we must remember how much He loves us.
When we feel like giving up on loving God, we must remember that He never gives up on loving us.
He loves us when our love for Him is strong. He loves us when our love for Him is weak.
In love, He reaches out to us. He brings us out of our weakness and into His strength. Let His strong love reach you in your weakness and give you His strength: ‘Loving Him who first loved me’ (Church Hymnary, 450).
- Obey the Lord.
Before law, there is Gospel - what God has done for us (Exodus 19:4).
We are to obey in the Spirit of grace, as those who have been redeemed by His mercy (Exodus 19:5-6; 1 Peter 2:9-10).
God’s Word is not only for the leader. It is for the whole people of God (Exodus 19:3, 7, 9, 11).
God speaks to us concerning possession, consecration and reverence.
- Possession - We are His 'own possession' (Exodus 19:5). In love, He has claimed us for Himself. We belong to Him.
- Consecration - God is holy. We are to be holy (Exodus 19:10, 14; 1 Peter 1:15-16).
- Reverence - Don’t rush into God’s presence, presuming on His blessing. We must not take God’s blessing for granted. That would be arrogance (Exodus 19:21-22).
We must come to Him with this humble confidence: God will bless those who truly call upon Him (2 Chronicles 7:14-16).
May God help us to say, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do’ (Exodus 19:8).
- Worship the Lord.
‘Exalt the Lord our God ... Make a joyful noise to the Lord’ (Psalms 99:5, 9; 98:4, 6; 100:1).
We are to worship the Lord with joy. We are to glorify God. We are to enjoy Him.
- In our worship, we must never forget the holiness of God: ‘He is holy! ... The Lord our God is holy!’ (Psalm 99:5, 9).
- In our worship, we rejoice in the love of God: ‘His steadfast love endures for ever... He has done marvellous things!’(100:5; 98:1).
The God of ‘awesome purity’ loves us with the most perfect love of all: ‘No earthly father loves like Thee...’
Let us worship Him with holy fear and heartfelt love: ‘O how I fear Thee, living God, with deepest, tenderest fears... with trembling hope and penitential tears! Yet I may love Thee too, O Lord, Almighty as Thou art, for Thou hast stooped to ask of me the love of my poor heart’ (Church Hymnary, 356).
- Rejoice in the Lord.
God has great things in store for His people!
(a) ‘Much more’ (Romans 5:9-10): ‘Justified by Christ’s blood’, ‘reconciled to God’, ‘We shall be saved by Christ from the wrath of God’, ‘saved by His life.’
(b) ‘Much more’ (Romans 5:15, 17): ‘The grace of God’ has ‘abounded for many’. In Christ, we have ‘received the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness.’ Through Him, we shall ‘reign in life.’
(c) ‘More than that’ (Romans 5:3): Our pathway to eternal glory will not be easy. There will be ‘suffering.’ God has given us a glimpse of our eternal destiny: ‘grace reigning through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 5:21). ‘We rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God’ (Romans 5:2). Having caught sight of the heavenly and eternal glory, we see our ‘suffering’in a new light, the light of ‘God’s love’ (Romans 5:3-5).
- Serve the Lord.
In Jesus’ miracles, we see Him triumph over sin, death and hell.
As well as healing, there is forgiveness (Matthew 9:5-6), the raising of the dead (Matthew 9:18, 24-25) and the casting out of demons (Matthew 9:33).
The Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders) did not like what was happening, and they came up with their own explanation - ‘He casts out demons by the prince of demons’ (Matthew 9:34). Jesus gives us another, better, explanation: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...’ (Luke 4:18-19).
Jesus was sent to preach the Gospel. We are to bring the Gospel to other people. Jesus was 'teaching... preaching... and healing' (Matthew 9:35).
What opportunities there are to bring the healing power of Christ into many hearts and homes! These opportunities will be missed if ‘the labourers’remain ‘few’ (Matthew 9:37). Many are ‘harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’(Matthew 9:36). We must not fail them!
Jesus gave authority to His disciples (Matthew 10:1). He gives authority to us. It is the authority of the Word and the Spirit - ‘you will be given what to say’by ‘the Spirit of your Father speaking through you’ (Matthew 10:20).
Christ’s disciples were being trained for a great work to be done in the Name and the Power of the Lord (Matthew 28:18-20).
If we are to communicate the Word in the power of the Spirit, we need to see our life as life in the Spirit and life under the Word. Scripture calls us to ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18) and to ‘let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly’ (Colossians 3:16). To be filled with the Spirit is to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. To let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly is to be filled with the Spirit. We are to live in the power of the Spirit. We are to live in accordance with the Scriptures.
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20:1-9 (or Ezekiel 17:22-24); Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34
- Don’t settle for second best when you can have God’s very best.
‘Samuel did what the Lord commanded’(1 Samuel 16:4). Real obedience comes from ‘the heart’. It is more than just ‘keeping up appearances’(1 Samuel 16:7). ‘The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart’ - This is something we must never forget!’. ‘It’s the presence of Your Spirit, Lord, we need’(Songs of Fellowship, 256) - This is the lesson we must learn from the stories of Saul and David. The great difference between the two men is summed up in verses 13-14: ‘the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David... the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul’. David exerted a good influence upon Saul (1 Samuel 16:23). Sadly, however, Saul’s best days were behind him. He was only a shadow of what he could have become if he had chosen to become ‘a man after God’s own heart’(1 Samuel 16:13-14). Don’t settle for second best when you can have God’s very best!
- Jesus Christ is God’s very best.
‘We boast of the Name of the Lord our God...Through the steadfast love of the Most High’we ‘shall not be moved’(Psalm 20:7; Psalm 21:7). We do not trust in things that ‘collapse and fall’. We build on ‘the Rock’(Psalm 20:8; Matthew 7:24-27; Psalm 18:1-3; Psalm 62:5-7). We ‘rejoice’ in our God. He has made us ‘most blessed for ever’(Psalm 21:1, 6; Ephesians 1:3). Think of Jesus Christ your Saviour. He is absolutely trustworthy. He is completely dependable. His love is an ‘unfailing love’(Psalm 21:7). In Him, there is salvation. In Him, there is joy. With His strong and powerful love, He has saved us. He has given us ‘a new song’to sing, ‘a song of praise to our God’(Psalm 40:1-3). Let us lift our hearts and voices to Him in praise and worship: ‘Be exalted, O Lord, in Thy strength,! We will sing and praise Thy power’(Psalm 21:13).
- Looking forward to the Return of our Lord Jesus Christ
In Ezekiel 17:22-24, we have a prophecy which looks forward to the coming of the Messiah, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This prophecy ends with God’s promise: ‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it’. God has fulfilled His promise. He has sent His Son to be our Saviour (Matthew 1:22-23). We now await the fulfilment of prophecy concerning Christ’s Return: ‘I will come again’; ‘This same Jesus... will come back’; ‘The Lord Himself will come down from heaven’. He says, “I am coming soon’. We say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’(John 14:3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonoians 4:16; Revelation 22:20).
- Lifting our hearts to the Lord in worship
‘You, O Lord, are exalted for ever... The Lord reigns, He is robed in majesty...’(Psalm 92:8; Psalm 93:1-2). The Lord is ‘exalted’. We are to exalt Him in our worship. He is not exalted because we exalt Him. We exalt Him because He is exalted. He is ‘exalted far above all gods’. That is why we sing, ‘I exalt Thee, O Lord’. ‘He is exalted, the King is exalted on high’- This is the truth concerning the Lord. ‘I will praise Him’- This is our response to His truth. We sing, ‘Jesus, we enthrone You, we proclaim You our King’. This is our response to the eternal truth concerning our Saviour: ‘The Lord is enthroned as King for ever’. ‘From all eternity’the Lord is ‘robed in majesty’. Let us respond to His majesty. Let us ‘magnify’the Lord - ‘O Lord our God, how majestic is Thy Name’(Psalm 97:9; Psalm 29:10; Mission Praise, 158, 217, 388, 507).
- Let there be less of self and more of Christ.
‘Your boasting is not good’- May we never become so taken up with ourselves that we forget Jesus Christ and all that He has done for us: ‘Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us’, ‘you were washed... sanctified... justified in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God’( 1 Corinthians 5:6-7; 1 Corinthians 6:11). There were problems among God’s people - ‘sexual immorality’, ‘lawsuits’(1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 6:7). In all of this, Christ was being forgotten. There are no depths to which we cannot sink when we take our eyes off Christ. There are no heights to which we will not be raised as we look away from ourselves to Him. Christ is able to lift from the guttermost and ‘save to the uttermost all those who come to God through Him’(Hebrews 7:25). Let it be more of Christ and less of self!
- Looking to the Lord to send His blessing
We preach the Word. God gives the growth (Mark 4:26-29; 1 Corinthians 3:6-7). A small child can count the seeds in an apple. Only God knows how many apples there are in a single seed! God’s Word is a ‘seed’ which bears much fruit (Mark 4:30-32; 1 Peter 1:23-25). Parables whet the appetite - for more! They were given to people ‘as they were able to hear it’ - ‘a starter’(Mark 4:33-34)! May we be ‘visual aids’ to whet people’s appetite - for God!
1 Kings 21:1-10-14, 15-21a; Psalm 5:1-8 (or 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Psalm 32:1-11; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
- God’s Word of judgment – a call to hear His Word of mercy
We read of human sin and divine judgment (1 Kings 21:1-4,15-16,20-24). There is also something else here: the mercy of God - ‘Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days…’(1 Kings 21:29). The judgment of God will come - but not yet. It is held back by the mercy of God. We live in confusing times. There is much evidence of sin. There are some signs of repentance. What are the servants of the Lord to say? Is there a single message, a Word of judgment, a Word of mercy? Here is what we must say: ‘What the Lord says to me, that I will speak’(1 Kings 22:14). Let us not settle for a one-sided message - preaching judgment without a glimmer of hope, promising mercy without issuing the Gospel warning. May God help us to be like Paul: ‘I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God’(Acts 20:27).
- All have sinned … Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
Psalm 5 is a morning prayer: ‘morning by morning’, we are to come before the Lord ‘in expectation’ of His blessing (Psalm 5:3). The Psalmist prays with great earnestness. His prayer is a ‘sighing’before God, a ‘cry for help’(Psalm 5:1-2). He acknowledges the holiness of God: ‘You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil, with you the wicked cannot dwell’(Psalm 5:4). The words of Psalm 5:9 apply to every one of us. Paul quotes this verse in support of the conclusion that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’(Romans 3:13,23). There is, however, a way of coming to God. It is ‘by His mercy’(Psalm 5:7). Each of us has been declared guilty by God (Psalm 5:10; Romans 3:19-20). For the fallen, God has provided a way of forgiveness. For the guilty, He has provided a way to gladness (Psalm 5:11; Luke 2:10-11). ‘Hallelujah! What a Saviour!’(Church Hymnary, 380).
- Our sin is great. The Lord’s love for us is even greater than our sin.
‘The thing that David had done displeased the Lord’ (2 Samuel 11:27). Often, we do not live up to the ideal. Throughout life, there are choices between our own will and the will of the Lord. Sometimes, we make wrong choices. We choose our own way rather than the Lord’s way. Throughout life, God is speaking to us. He is trying to get our attention. He wants it to be less of self and more of Him. He is leading us to say from the heart, ‘As for God, His way is perfect’ (2 Samuel 22:31; Psalm 18:30). May we have this testimony: ‘I have kept the ways of the Lord; I have not done evil by turning from my God’ (Psalm 18:21).
In God’s dealings with sinners, we see His great love for us. In 2 Samuel 12:7, there is conviction of sin - ‘You are the man’. In 2 Samuel 12:13, we have confession of sin - ‘I have sinned against the Lord’ - and forgiveness of sin - ‘The Lord has taken away your sin’. In 2 Samuel 12:20, there is the restoration of the sinner - ‘washed... anointed… changed… he went into the house of the Lord, and worshipped’. These were not easy times for David - ‘the child died’ (2 Samuel 12:18). Later on, ‘a son’ was born (2 Samuel 12:24). Sometimes, good things are happening to us. Sometimes, bad things are happening. ‘The Lord loved him’ (2 Samuel 12:24): ‘Through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy', never forget ‘His love’ (Mission Praise, 702). Our circumstances change. His love never changes. When you’re feeling down, let His love lift you up!
- The forgiveness of sins – a tremendous blessing!
The forgiveness of sins - what a tremendous blessing this is (Psalm 32:1-2). We receive God’s forgiveness when we confess our sins to Him. This is the Psalmist’s testimony: ‘I made my sins known to You, and I did not cover up my guilt. I decided to confess them to You, O Lord. Then You forgave all my sins’(Psalm 32:5). This is the promise of God: ‘If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’(1 John 1:9). Knowing that our sins have been forgiven by God, we can face our many trying times with confidence in Him: ‘You are my hiding place. You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance whenever I am afraid. I will trust in You, I will trust in You. Let the weak say, “I am strong in the strength of my God”’(Psalm 32:7; Mission Praise, 793).
- Christ loves me. Christ lives in me.
Who is the Christ who stands in the centre of Paul’s testimony and preaching? He is the crucified Christ – ‘I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me’. He is the living Christ – ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’. In Christ, there is love- ‘He loved me’. In Christ there is life - He ‘lives in me’(Galatians 2:20). The world tells us to forget about Christ – ‘He’s out-of-date’. The Word of God calls us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
- Jesus forgives our sins and He calls us to be faithful to Him.
Jesus does not come to us because we are good. He comes to us because He forgives sins. The woman came to Jesus and received forgiveness. The Pharisee, though steeped in religion, remained unforgiven (Luke 7:47-50). Don’t be like the Pharisee. Don’t look down your nose at the ordinary people who mean so much to the Lord. ‘Some women…’: Much of God’s work is being upheld by faithful women who, by their praying, giving and working, are ‘ministering to Him’ (Luke 8:1-3).