‘Be filled with the the spirit speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:19)
We can see from this verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that singing and music was a central part of Christian worship for the early church 2000 years ago, and has been central ever since. For a large part of the last 2000 years, most people couldn’t read, with only the rich getting a formal education. Hymns and songs with their catchy melodies would be one of the main ways that people would learn about God and Jesus. It is much easier to remember a song than to memorise a piece of scripture. Hymns and songs were and are vital because they build up the church and they instruct us. They speak to the heart and to the mind.
Songs are incredibly powerful more so than laws! They mold us from the inside, Paul recognises this and so sees how important it is to make sure that we prioritise sung Christian worship as a central part of living out our faith. If you want to know about the ethics of the Old Testament read the Psalms, not the laws!
The number 666 is notorious. It represents evil. This number comes from the Apocalypse of John (Revelation). The Apocalypse is the mystical prophecies of a first century AD Christian by the name of John. The Apocalypse is the last book in the Bible (Revelation). 666 is the number of the incarnation of evil in the last days just prior to the final battle between good and evil. It is the number of a person, pejoratively called the beast, who will have all the authority of the Devil just as Jesus has all the authority of God.
The Apocalypse says:
“This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is 666.” (Revelation 13:18)
The Apocalypse invites us to calculate the number and thereby to identify the person. The most likely theory is that the number stands for Nero who was emperor of Rome from AD54 to 68. Nero initiated in those days a terrible persecution of Christians.
In classical Hebrew and Greek, the letters of the alphabet represent numbers. In the first century, this provided an opportunity to make secret codes for the initiated. The formal title of Nero in Greek was NERON KAISER. If we transpose that into Hebrew letters we get NRON KSR. There are no vowels in ancient Hebrew except the letter O. If we add up the value of each letter we get 666! N is 50. R is 200. O is 6. N is 50. K is 100. S is 60 and R is 200 = 666. Nero’s formal title was sometimes written as NERO KAISER that is without the final N in NERON. This fact is very important and adds weight to the theory that 666 is Nero. Some ancient manuscripts of the Apocalypse have 616 instead of 666. If we drop the final N = 50, lo and behold, we get 616.
The Apocalypse seems to be saying that in the last days the decisive battle between good and evil will take place. In those days evil will be embodied in a person who will be like Nero but much worse and much more powerful.
‘And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.’ (Ephesians 6:18)
Pray is a powerful weapon. Paul tells us two things about pray in this passage, it must be constant, pray in all situations. It must be unselfish, pray for others, pray for our Church.
Paul is in under arrest, chained to a Roman soldier day and night, no longer spreading the Gospel message from city to city across the known world. Paul was under spiritual attack, doubt would have filled his mind and so he asks that they pray also for him: ‘Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.’ (Ephesians 6:19-20)
Paul’s request for prayer is not that he will be released from the chains, but that he will share the Gospel fearlessly in his chains, to the Roman soldiers and to those in power. Paul doesn’t want the chains he is in to stop him from sharing the good news about Jesus.
What do we pray for? Release from the chains that hold us? Or that we might fearlessly make know the mystery of the gospel in whatever circumstances we might find ourselves.
Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (John 6:35)
It is interesting that in John’s Gospel there is no account of the Last Supper itself. John’s Gospel does talk about Jesus washing the disciple’s feet, teaching and praying; but there is no mention of bread and wine in chapter 13. But throughout John’s Gospel, the Eucharist is there in the many chapters that talk about Jesus as the bread of life and the true vine. About feeding on him and the importance of his blood. It’s here very clearly in chapter 6:
‘For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.’ (John 6:55)
We need more than just physical food, Jesus is telling us that we must feed the souls. When we feed on Jesus we feed our minds and our souls. We need spiritual food not just physical food.
When we come to church we get that kind of nourishment, in the songs we sing, in the profound liturgy we say, in the prayers, in the bible readings, in the sermon. In the sharing of communion with our church family and in the fellowship afterward.
But it’s not just on Sundays at Church that we can get spiritual nourishment. We can feed on the words of Jesus, by reading the Bible a little every day, by talking about our faith with others. We can feed on Jesus through praying together or by ourselves. We should never stop learning about God’s love, we should never stop feeding on Jesus.
‘I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’ (Ephesians 3:16-19)
I really like Paul’s prayer in chapter 3 of Ephesians, in it you see Paul’s desire for the church to be filled with the same power that his ministry has been full of. Paul’s ministry was so powerful because through prayer he experiences the deep love of Christ.
Prayer brings together love and power: the relation of love that grows up between God and the person who prays, and the flowing of power from God too and especially through that person. (Wright)
Through prayer, we too can experience the deep deep love of God and have the power, that is the Holy Spirit, flow through our ministry as we build the kingdom of God in our communities.
‘Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us’, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.(Ephesians 3:20-21)
Jesus …came with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people …They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. (The Gospel of Luke 6:17-19, New Revised Standard Version).
“Power came out from him and healed all of them.” The same Greek word is used here as in the Mark passage above. Dunamis! Not only run of the mill healings but power-healings! At first glance, the power seems to be some sort of spiritual energy that flows out from Jesus. It seems to be a kind of energy that is detachable from Jesus. What is this power? To answer this question, we do need a little 1st Century Jewish background. After all, Jesus was a 1st Century Israeli rabbi. In the time of Jesus, it was forbidden to use the holy name of God, YHWH (pronounced, Yahweh. There are no vowels in ancient Hebrew!). Whenever YHWH occurs in the Hebrew Bible (The Old Testament) the reader would use a substitute such as Adonai (the Lord), Ha-Shem (The Name) or Ha-Gevurah. (The Power). Most English Bibles translate YHWH as “The Lord”. In conversation one of these substitute names was always used. To utter the divine name YHWH was blasphemy and liable of the death sentence. So, it seems likely that the power that came out of Jesus was not some mystical or spiritual energy but that it was nothing less than The Power! YHWH! The manifestation of God himself in healing. At his trial, Jesus also avoided speaking the divine name YHWH and he used the substitute, The Power. The High Priest is interrogating Jesus. He asked Jesus if he is the Messiah. Jesus replies: I AM. Then he says:
And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of The Power and coming with the clouds of heaven. (Mark 14:62).
The Greek word dunamis again and with the definite article. Jesus would have used the Hebrew original Ha-Gevurah. Although Jesus did not utter the divine name YHWH nevertheless the High Priest deems that Jesus has committed blasphemy anyway because of the other things he has said:
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? Mark 14:63).
At this point, the Gospel has the ring of truth with a piece of detail of historical reliability. We know from ancient rabbinic sources that The High Priest tore his robe and that this constitutes the verdict of blasphemy. The sage Rabbi ben Qorha said that once the
witnesses have given their evidence, “the Judges stand and tear their clothing and never sew them back up.” (Mishnah, Tractate Sanhedrin, 7:5).
Jesus, after his death but before his ascension, told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they are “clothed with Power from on high”. (Luke 24: 49). It is clear that Jesus didn’t think of this power as some sort of mystical or spiritual energy but rather as nothing less than the third person of the divine trinity – The Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:8).
And he could do no power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (The Gospel of Mark 6:5-6, my translation).
Haha. That’s funny. Most churches today would be ecstatic with joy if they witnessed a few healings! Evidently there is a difference between run of the mill healings and power healings (miraculous healings?). The Holy Gospel of Mark is a 1st century biography of Jesus in the Greek language. The Greek word used in Mark translated above as “power” is dunamis from which we get “dynamite”! In the language of Jesus, the Hebrew behind dunamis is ha-gevurah.
It must be significant that Jesus was limited by the level of faith in the crowd. I wonder if Jesus is still limited today by the level of faith in many churches! Conversely, The Holy Gospels also inform us that where there is faith in Jesus amongst the people then a connection is made and the dunamis is able to flow through Jesus from heaven to earth.
“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth.Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)
A mustard seed is tiny it’s about 1mm thick and from this tiny seed a mustard plant would grow often reaching well over 6ft in one year and would attract lots of birds who would come and perch in its branches and eat its seeds. Have you ever wondered why Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed?
The mustard seed – one of the smallest seeds that grow into ‘the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches. The image should make us stop and think, perhaps Jesus is being slightly satirical.I would think a more appropriate image would be a mighty oak tree growing from a small acorn. Or perhaps a more biblical tree, like a mighty cedar tree, in fact in Ezekiel in the old testament it says:
God says ‘I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it … it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches’.
But here Jesus doesn’t compare the kingdom of God to the tallest and strongest of trees. Jesus likens the kingdom of God, the church to something that sprouts up quite quickly from almost nothing and the develops into an ungainly spindly shrub. This should make us smile, Jesus is giving us a humorous picture of the kingdom of God that contains a deep meaning.
Churches I think can take comfort from the lips of Jesus. Like the mustard plant, a church can be an untidy sprawling shrub. But Jesus is saying something quite profound about the church; It will be a bit a messy and jumbled but in the mess is real life, and perhaps it isn’t easy to find your place in neat and tidy systems. But in Jesus’ church, that is a bit messy and tangled, there is a place and room for everyone (Martyn Percy).
we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2Cor 4:14-18)
Paul is writing to vulnerable communities of faith who were on the edge of losing heart. In this passage, he is unusually personal. He talks of wasting away outwardly. The struggles of life. What are we to do when faced with the struggles of life?
Paul answers us in v16:
‘we do not lose heart, though outwardly we are wasting away’
And why because our hope is on what is unseen, we are to fix our eyes on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal. Our hope, and christian resilience is built upon the fact that God raised Jesus christ from the dead. Our hope in the face of adversity and pain is not rooted in any human capacity for optimism or natural strength of character. It is based upon something God has done.
By God’s gift and choosing, we find ourselves part of a bigger story, God’s story. And so we see throughout history communities of Christians, spreading the good news, and the hope they have in Jesus, even though they are struggling, and under persecution.
For Paul he knows he is part of God’s story, something so big and wonderful, something so amazing as being part of the family of God, because Jesus died and rose again, that he can describe his present sufferings as a slight momentary afflictions by comparison. That hope he has in the God of love shown in Jesus’ life death and resurrection gives him the strength to face the struggles that he now faces. We to are part of that bigger story and are part of the body of Christ, our hope is found in Him, Jesus is our sure foundation.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven in Jerusalem. (Acts 2:1-5)
Jerusalem was full at this time because Jews had travelled in from all around to celebrate Pentecost.
For a first-century Jew, Pentecost was the fiftieth day after Passover. It was an agricultural festival. It was the day when farmers brought the first sheaf of wheat from the crop and offered it to God, partly as a sign of gratitude and partly as a prayer that all the rest of the crop, too, would be safely gathered in.
But, for the Jew, neither Passover or Pentecost were simply agricultural festivals. These festivals echoed the great story of their forefathers. The Passover remembers the exodus from Egypt when God fulfilled his promises to Abraham by rescuing his people. They sacrificed a lamb just like they did the night they left Egypt and crossed the red sea into the Sinai desert.
50 days after days after Passover, after crossing the red sea, they came to Mount Sinai, where Moses received the law, on the stone tablets. Pentecost then isn’t just about the first fruits, the sheaf of wheat which says the harvest has begun. it’s about God giving to his people the way of life by which they must now life, giving them the 10 commandments.
So as we hear about what happened to the first disciples as the holy spirit came upon them at Pentecost, Luke, the writer of the book of acts takes it for granted that we would remember that Pentecost is about the first fruits of the harvest and the giving of the law on stone tablets.
Now we see the first disciples being filled with spirit and then going on to bear powerful witness to Jesus and his resurrection to win converts from the very first day, this like the sheaf of wheat which is offered to God is a sign of the great harvest to come.
And whereas Moses and Israel were given the law written on Stone tablets, here the disciples receive the holy spirit into their hearts.
Pentecost then is the first fruits of the Kingdom of God, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the moment when we move from stone tablets to God dwelling within us.
Jeremiah tells us this was God’s plan when he said:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with my people. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, says the Lord.
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:32-35)
We are God’s forgiven people through the power of the cross and we can know God because His holy spirit lives within us.