Sunday 30th April – Psalm 3
1 Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
3 But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
4 I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.
7 Arise, Lord!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
8 From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.
The background to this Psalm can be found in 2 Samuel chapters 15-17 where we see David fleeing Jerusalem because his throne has been usurped by his rebellious son Absalom, and many in the kingdom are against him. He feels his chin is on the ground and his life is being wrung out by his enemies. Do you know the old Negro spiritual “Sometimes I’m up and sometimes I’m down and sometimes I’m nearly to the ground”? That was David’s position here.
But from verses 4-6 he declares that there is another side to all his travails and it begins with the word BUT. “But you Lord are a shield around me”. David recognised that the root of his life was not to be found in the circumstances ranged around him but in the divine care and vindication of his heavenly Father. When we find ourselves hard pressed by the circumstances of the day, and even in the disturbances of the night, we need to stop, cast our eyes up, and remember our heavenly Father IS a shield around us.
A prayer – Heavenly Father, remind me of that this week. Amen.
READINGS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
If you don’t have a bible at home you can find the readings on a website such as www.biblegateway.com or an app such as YouVersion
Monday: Mark 6:1 – 13
In chapter six we see Jesus movements around the North of the country including his hometown and it includes his saying, “a prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home” (v4). Why is it we can’t see greatness when it is close to us? Is it because we can’t see greatness because it is near us, it has to be at a distance? If so it may lie in the feeling that God cannot be near us, cannot be close by in the circumstances of our lives, which of course is untrue. We need to be alive day by day to the fact that God is near.
I wonder if the twelve whom he sent out felt that experience if they were travelling through places where people knew them? Possibly. Jesus command as they went out preaching the message He had given them was to accept support but to move on if there was no welcome. How many preachers of the Word, ministers of the gospel, have felt no inclination to hear and every inclination to resist as they have tried to share that gospel? It is hard to hear the Word of God bouncing against a wall. Jesus reflected this when he approached Jerusalem at the close of his public ministry when he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem …how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”.
It’s always possible for good things to be done for the people of faith (vs12,13) but for those who resist, oh the pity, the pity.
Tuesday: Mark 6:14 – 29
A well know story this of John the Baptist’s beheading at the instigation of Herodias. The intrigue and machinations of the Herodian dynasty far outweigh many other dynasties and can be followed online by those who are interested but for our purposes here all we need to know is that the ruling Herod Antipas (as he was called), having divorced his wife Physaelis, married Herodias who was previously married to his brother. John the Baptist was not slow in telling him he ought not to have her and this angered Herodias who nursed a deep-seated grudge against him. She would not have her personal relations challenged by this prophet.
Challenges on sexual morality are always prickly where because desire always seeks to trump everything else. It annoyed Herodias more than Herod (why this was maybe v20 gives us a clue) and as with most grievances it got worse, smouldering away in her heart, until what started as an annoyance at being called out about her sexual dalliance led to murder through connivance with her daughter. How awful to bring her own family into her darkness. We cannot share responsibility for our lives with anyone else, we stand or fall by our own actions and Herodias’ life and character has stretched down the ages marking out her black heart. John’s disciples took his body and laid it to rest in an honorable way. Herod, hearing of Jesus, became scared that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead; his conscience rightly troubled him, we don’t know about Herodias.
Wednesday: Mark 6: 30 – 44
The old Nursery rhyme says “The Master wants a wife”, well here we see that “the sheep need a Shepherd”. This is what Jesus remarked on when he looked at the crowds who followed him and his disciples to a different part of Lake Galilee. They couldn’t get enough of him. He spent the next while teaching them many things but as the day began to wane the disciples were concerned about food and wanted him to stop the teaching and send them for food. What happens next is one of the classic feedings where Jesus feeds many and is surely showing that as a Shepherd he is not one to leave his sheep starving.
I think Mark is saying more to us in the details of the story but I’m wary of putting ideas in that I can’t be sure of so I’ll leave it to you.
The sustenance that is given to the people here is physical and God can surprise us in granting us material benefits but our underlying needs are invisible and spiritual – Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. Often we mistake our needs for our greed but it is the fundamental things of our souls that God promises to supply us with. Jesus said in the beatitudes in Matthew 5, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled”. This is the kind of hunger that we need in our bones, it grows as we feed on His Word and God will give it abundantly.
A Prayer – Give me the best hunger, Lord, and let me always seek its sustenance from you. Amen.
Thursday: Mark 6:45 – 56
After the feeding of the multitude this episode hammers home Jesus’ power over nature. He is not beholden to things just happening but can and sometimes does (though not always), step in and produce the miraculous whose purpose is to make us stop, pause and consider the closeness of God to our lives not just give us something to gawp at.
My daughter Elizabeth’s close friend from Colorado Springs texted to tell her of a terrible accident that her 18 year old son had been in. His car was knocked into the opposite side of the road and hit by an oncoming vehicle throwing him out of his driver’s window. He was rushed to hospital, intubated, headed to surgery to put his face back together, no-one yet knew if his brain function was intact. Our family along with others prayed for his mother and for her son’s recovery overnight. The next day we received pictures of him during his first hours in hospital and then pictures and news the next day. He was awake, alert, extubated, talking and hoping for discharge the day after. Prayers of thanks were gratefully offered; God was good and all connected were amazed. Archbishop Temple was once challenged about prayer just being coincidence to which he replied that the more he prayed the more coincidences seemed to happen. “Men ought always to pray and not to faint” – Jesus (Luke 18:1)
Friday: Mark 7:1–13
This chapter starts with verses favoured by little boys who have come in for tea after playing. “See – Jesus didn’t think you had to wash your hands before eating ….”. Theological point made, argument won! But perhaps not if Mum or Dad has anything to say about it!
The passage actually has to do with some of the multiple points of law that the Pharisees and teachers of the law had added to the commandments in the Old Testament. They wanted to add their own special gloss to the commandments.
What they did was what pride does in every age and background, which is to make up rules around the style of life that we live and measure others on that scale.
Jesus spoke harshly to these people as did James who later said, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Jesus tells them that they thought more highly of their own traditions than the commands of God (4:8). They were hypocrites who honoured God with their lips but their hearts were far from him (v6).
We need to beware of pride which sneaks up on our own way of living and seeks to make it the standard for others.
Saturday: Mark 7:14-23
The idea that what you eat makes you more acceptable to God is what Jesus rules out here, Mark pointing out that Jesus declared all foods clean by this. The apostle Paul clearly adds to this when he tells Timothy “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim 4:4). There may be environmental or health issues today that make us steer clear of some things or veer toward others – e.g Paul encouraged Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake – but nothing is inherently wrong in and of itself.
What Jesus does teach here is that the real source of what makes us impure and not right for closeness to God is the fallen human heart. It is what comes out of a person’s heart that defiles him – “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23). Who can cleanse the heart then? Only Jesus by His Spirit. There used to be a little children’s prayer that went like this : “Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart Lord Jesus. Come in today, come in to stay, come into my heart I pray”. To pray that prayer and to take him into the heart is what will cleanse any man, woman, boy or girl.