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Duddingston Kirk, Edinburgh

Sunday services in the Kirk
are suspended at present.

Bible Reading Notes

These notes were compiled by the Reverend Dr James A P Jack. You will find reading the Bible rewarding and encouraging, but reading the Bible is not always easy!

These guidelines may help you.

October 2020

The Book of Nehemiah

October 1       Nehemiah 7:1–3

Those who would be in positions of responsibility among God’s people must possess these two traits of character – reliability, and obedience to God. One may be obedient to God, yet have little practical ability, while another may have the practical wisdom but be ungodly. Both are of little use in God’s work. God is looking for those who are both reliable and God-fearing.

October 2       Nehemiah 7:4–7 (8–73)

Just exactly why God inspired Nehemiah to take this census we are not told, but it may very well have been to counter a feeling of apathy which could easily creep in once the work of rebuilding had finished. It is easy to maintain enthusiasm and vitality while the work of rebuilding continues, but when it is over a dangerous sense of apathy often sets in. Moreover it would be easy and dangerous to assume that now the walls were built nothing else was required. God’s people needed to be reminded that, important though walls and temples and church buildings are, of far greater importance are people themselves. What we are before God is more important than the work we have accomplished.

October 3       Nehemiah 8:1–8

The ‘spotlight’ now turns from Nehemiah to Ezra. God calls each of us to do a specific job. For some that job may last an entire lifetime, and at death, we must leave it unfinished. Others are able to complete the work God has given them within their own lifetime, and they step aside while another takes the initiative. Nehemiah’s ‘job’ was the rebuilding of the walls. Now that the walls are rebuilt the responsibility for leadership passes to Ezra. Each of us must recognise this in our own lives – do what God has called us to do, and be willing to step back when we are finished to allow others to continue.

October 4       Nehemiah 8:9–12

When people heard the law in language they could understand they were moved to tears. They realised just how far they and their fathers had deviated from the divine law. Ezra and those who assisted him reminded the people that this should be a day of great joy and celebration, not mourning. Trust in God raises two contradictory emotions within our lives. We mourn as we realise how great our sin is, but we must also rejoice as we realise that, through God’s mercy and love, our sin has been forgiven.

October 5       Nehemiah 8:13–18

As they heard the law read they were reminded of things that had long since been forgotten. They were, for instance, reminded of the Great Festival of Shelters, which had been neglected. They set about observing that great Festival as they were instructed in the Law. How easily God’s people, in every age, can overlook some important aspect of the faith until it is, somehow, dramatically forced once again upon their attention.

The First Disciples

October 6       Mark 1:14–20

The first men called by Jesus were ordinary fishermen. There is no indication of anything about them which suggested a special aptitude for discipleship. It was their ‘ordinariness’ which marked them out. First, he called them to ‘catch men’. Mission is the very essence of the Christian Church. Second, he was to train them. Their ability to be disciples was not their own cleverness but what they would learn. Third, they had to leave their nets and follow Jesus.

October 7       Mark 2:13–17

If it is surprising that Jesus should call ordinary fishermen, then it is even more so that he should call a tax collector to be a disciple. They were usually seen as traitors working for the Romans; they were also noted for dishonesty. Yet Jesus called such a man. None of us, in our own strength, is fit to be a disciple, yet no one is such that they cannot be changed by Christ, to become fit for discipleship.

October 8       Mark 3:13–18

Now begins a time of training for the work to which they were called. They were not to idle in privilege and prestige, but to work. First, they had to be ‘with’ him. No servant of Christ can operate alone – they must have a sense of the ever-present Christ. Jesus chose twelve disciples. Is that number accidental or significant? Israel comprised twelve tribes. Did Jesus choose twelve disciples to establish a new ‘Israel’?

October 9       Luke 6:12–16

Jesus had many disciples, from among whom he chose twelve to be in a special relationship with him. First, he chose them after a whole night in prayer. The choice of spiritual leaders – ministers, elders, leaders of praise, teachers in Sunday Club, leaders of organisations – is perhaps the most important task facing any congregation. The choice of the right people for such positions is vital for the well-being of the congregation. It should, therefore, follow much prayer.

October 10       Matthew 10:1–4

When Jesus chose his disciples it was that they might do something. They would be with him to watch and to learn – then they were to ‘do’ what they learned from him.

October 11      Matthew 5:1–12

To whom was the Sermon on the Mount spoken? It is clear that the teaching within the Sermon is directed to those who would be his close followers – those who would be insulted and reviled because they were his followers. Christian service must be preceded by Christian training – and who better to teach than the Master himself.

October 12      Luke 11:1–14

Every servant of Christ must pray, but there are some to whom prayer seems to come more naturally. The history of the Church is studded with men and women who have achieved great things simply through the intensity of their prayer life. Do not be too proud to seek help in this whole matter of prayer.

October 13      Matthew 10:5–15

Christian service inevitably brings one into conflict with the world of unbelief. Note how Jesus warned them that they would not always be welcome. Doors would be slammed in their faces, but it was essential that everyone should have the chance to respond to the Gospel. Note also the close relationship between preaching and healing.  

October 14       Mark 6:30–32

Mark records the return of the twelve. Spiritual rest is essential. Christ’s disciples in every generation must be deeply involved in the work of Christian service, yet they must also have opportunity for spiritual refreshment. Spiritual rest is not simply a matter of doing nothing. Spiritual rest is active – it is a receiving of spiritual strength, as opposed to giving it out in spiritual service. Services of worship, together with our own private devotions, are times when we can withdraw from the noise of the world to be alone with God.

October 15       Mark 9:2–9

Elsewhere in the gospels there are other occasions when these three were alone with Jesus. There seems to have been a large and indeterminate number of disciples, from among whom Jesus chose twelve to be ‘with him’. Out of them, three were privileged to be with him on certain special occasions and, of these three, one was particularly close to Christ. This was not favouritism. In our own circle of friends there are different levels of intimacy. So in spiritual relationships there are some whose maturity, insight and experience allows a deeper bond of love and respect.

October 16       Mark 10:35–41

Even the disciples could disagree with one another. Two of them, James and John, asked a special favour from Jesus. Here we see an element of spiritual pride. It may well have been their privilege of sharing some of his more intimate moments that encouraged them to think that privilege should extend to places in heaven. When the others heard of their request they were angry. Perhaps the others were already a little jealous that James and John were closer to Jesus than they were. Spiritual pride and spiritual jealousy can do much to harm spiritual relationships.

October 17       John 14:1–14

While Jesus spoke to his disciples in terms of love and comfort, it is only too obvious that two of them completely failed to understand him. Thomas and Philip were amongst the twelve chosen by Jesus. They shared in the mission to the towns and villages round about, they listened to his teaching and witnessed his many miracles – and still they did not understand!

October 18       John 18:15–18, 25–27

It is assumed that the unnamed disciple is John – the one Jesus loved. If it is hard to know why two of the twelve should fail to understand, it is even more difficult to know why one of ‘the three’ should be so lacking in courage that he denied any knowledge of his Lord. Yet, we should not be too hard on poor Peter. The awful warning to us all is that even one so richly privileged can suffer such a lapse of moral courage.

October 19       Luke 22:3–6, 47–48

Luke says simply, ‘then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot’. We have already seen that Jesus chose the twelve after a whole night in prayer. Did he, even after such prayer, still choose the wrong man? Or was the choice correct, but Judas failed to fulfil his potential? Or is it possible that Jesus realised that Judas was a suspect right from the beginning, but decided to take a risk and give him a chance? We may never know the right answer to such questions, but we know that Christ’s servants, in every generation, are subject to attack, and can be overcome.

October 20       John 20:24–29

Thomas is still having problems with his doubts! In a sense we must admire him – he wasn’t going to accept anything without proof; yet see how Christ gently rebukes him – ‘stop your doubting and believe’. What is the precise distinction between faith and gullibility? If we believe something because it has been proved to be true, then it is not faith.

October 21       John 21:15–19

Even though Peter brought shame on himself by denying his Lord, he still stayed within the company of disciples, and it was with them that he met again the risen Christ to be forgiven and restored. Here is the great encouragement and hope for all who have made some mistake in life which they now regret – even the man who denied his Lord three times could still be forgiven.

October 22       Matthew 27:3–10

Judas left the company of disciples after the betrayal. We do not know if they had any subsequent contact. Later, in utter shame he tried to return the money, and when that failed he destroyed himself. Here is perhaps the most tragic incident in the whole Bible – the man who has such opportunity, and whose failure was so complete that it ended in self-destruction. Judas’s suicide was both spiritual and physical.

October 23       John 17:1–5

Here we ‘listen in’ to Jesus pleading with his father on behalf of ‘those whom you gave me’. What a humbling thought that Christ should pray for his followers. How often do we uphold one another regularly in prayer – ministers, elders, leaders of praise, teachers in Sunday Club, leaders in the various organisations?

October 24       John 17:6–19

Such phrases seem contradictory, even nonsensical, until we realise that ‘the world’ here is not the created physical universe, but that part of mankind whose standards are unspiritual. Christ’s disciples must live among unspiritual people and they cannot avoid this; but they must maintain spiritual standards, even amidst ungodliness. They have been ‘sent’ into this unspiritual world in order to be witnesses to it.

October 25       John 17:20–26

Christ not only prayed for the disciples with him at that time, but ‘also for those who believe in me because of their message’. In other words, Christ was also praying for all future generations of disciples who would turn to him as the Gospel was handed down to them. Christ is praying for us! Here we see what Christ is praying for – that we might be brought into the deep bond of fellowship already existing between the Father and the Son in Heaven.

October 26        John 14:15–26

Christ knew that his time on earth was short, and so he is already planning for his disciples’ future after he had left them. Here is his teaching, and his promise, that they will not be left alone, but that the Holy Spirit (whom Jesus describes as ‘another Helper’) will come to them. Almost certainly none of the disciples would, at that moment, have any understanding of his meaning. This would come later with the experience of the Spirit’s power.

October 27       Matthew 28:16–20

Before his Ascension, Jesus met his disciples. Note how some still doubted! There are some people who will be spiritual cripples all their lives – their doubts will never allow them to come to a complete faith. The Church, if it is to be truly the Church of Christ, cannot avoid being a missionary Church, ‘going out’ to those who have not yet responded to the Gospel.

October 28       Acts 2:1–4

Christ promised his disciples another Helper who would be with them forever after he had left them. That promise is now fulfilled as the Holy Spirit indwells all the believers. The Church is not merely a fellowship of men and women who believe in Jesus Christ – it is also a fellowship of men and women empowered by the Holy Spirit; and that is still true today.

October 29       Acts 8:1–8

Christ commanded his disciples to go into the entire world with the Gospel of salvation. Today we read of them moving out from Jerusalem into the province of Judea and Samaria. Note how it required a persecution to get them moving! Sometimes we are so slow to obey God that he has to use some extraordinary means to push us into obedience.

October 30       Acts 6:1–7

Even before the Church left Jerusalem it was already showing signs of growth. This growth led to certain problems. Some of those becoming members required material help as well as spiritual encouragement. Peter and the others could not cope with this extra work, since they saw their main priority to be ‘prayer and the work of preaching’. Note very carefully that those delegated to the distribution of funds had to be ‘full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’. Every position within the Church, even though it seems to be dealing with secular matters, must be filled by a spiritually mature person.

The Church Leader

October 31       1 Timothy 3:1–7

Note how leadership is seen as ‘work’ – it is a job to be done. A position of leadership within the Church is neither a reward for work done in the past, nor a mark of honour and respectability; it is a job to be done. If a man or a woman is not prepared to do to the full the duties of their office within the church, then he, or she, has no right to be in that position.