Advent 3: Repentance call, attitudes contrasted

The Living Word Bible study for Sunday, December 17, 2017 (wk50)

Mon, Dec 11: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Tue, Dec 12: Psalm 126, Luke 1:46-55

Wed, Dec 13: John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Thur, Dec 14: 1 Thess 5:16-24

Fri, Dec 15: The emerging message

Mon, Dec 11: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Anointed by the Spirit of praise and joy to rebuild, restore and renew.

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,

  • The anointing of the Spirit is an anointing as both kingly authority – proclamations are what kings do – and as a divine servant, with concern for prisoners and the poor and practical involvement with those who are destitute. This brings together Isaiah’s earlier prophecies of a king to arise, and also the suffering servant of the Lord. Isaiah spells out Jesus Christ in all but name.

2-3 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…

  • This is a well-known passage. Why? Because Jesus applied it to Himself. Following His encounter with the Holy Spirit in baptism and testing in the wilderness, and soon after the start of His public ministry, Jesus attended the regular synagogue worship in Nazareth, in the synagogue He had known from childhood. Synagogue worship was relatively free, with ministry shared. He stood up to read Scripture and was handed the Isaiah scroll. He read the beginning of Isaiah 61 (above) and then said, to the amazement of His hearers, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Luke 4:16-21
  • Jesus, in His reading of this, ended as above “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”. He saw His call as divided into two visitations, the first to bring salvation and freedom and favour with God, which we now understand as His human sinless life and giving up that life on the Cross. The second includes the judgment and realised kingdom of God, which fits with the Second Coming.

…and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.

  • “The oil… and a garment…” is a picture of something applied and put on, an impartation. The language of anointing and oil is often used symbolically of the Holy Spirit. So this is describing an impartation which brings dramatic change to those receiving it from mourning and despair, to joy and praise. Without Jesus this life is a slow dying with a grim outcome. Receiving new life and eternal life in a new spiritual birth is coming alive in Christ with a release into the Holy Spirit’s expression of joy and praise.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

  • The immediate meaning of this for the original hearers is about coming out of exile and rebuilding the ruins, as documented by Ezra and Nehemiah. Isaiah saw this restoration, but also a restoration of God that affects every age. For us, the impartation of the Holy Spirit and the life of the Spirit is about being empowered as God’s agents of restoration and transformation. Those who demonstrate the Life of the Spirit are those who will, simply through their lives, bring renewal of church and also society, ministering in Word and Spirit and in engagement with the world that doesn’t necessarily own Christian beliefs or values.

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8 “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward My people and make an everlasting covenant with them.

  • The community of the people of God are covenanted (for us, under the New Covenant in Jesus) to imitate and display the character of God, who stands for justice and is set against wrongdoing, Micah 6:8; Isaiah 35:15 .

9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

  • The people of God are those who represent and uphold God’s values.

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

  • Clothed with salvation, arrayed in a robe of righteousness is a description of how righteousness with God is put on us as part of the faith relationship; we have to come to the point of realising that we cannot earn or achieve any of that righteousness. The theological term is “imputed”, meaning it is assigned or attributed to us through our new standing in Christ Jesus. _”God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”,  2 Cor. 5:21. Both of these verses are major statements of how God sees us in this spiritual transformation. This is the heart of the New Covenant for those who give their lives to Jesus. In Christ Jesus, as people of new creation with a new nature, we become — and are the demonstration of — what God’s righteousness looks like.

11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

  • A supernaturally natural process whereby the kingdom of God would start to be apparent, not just to the Jewish nation but to nations beyond,  Isaiah 49:6 . From the start of Jesus’ ministry his message emphasised the kingdom of God, e.g. Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Application

Isaiah foresees a Holy Spirit anointed ministry, the characteristic of which is freeing and transforming of people, vv. 1-2, communities, v.4 and values, vv.8-9. This is a broad-brushstroke picture of what the ministry of Jesus the Messiah would look like.

The same Holy Spirit is the enabler of the purposes of God in bringing to bear His kingdom order in all the dimensions of spiritual salvation, physical and emotional healing and deliverance from oppression, as demonstrated by Jesus.

The same Holy Spirit empowers the same purposes of God in us, giving us a growing revelation of how we are to continue Jesus’ ministry, and confidence in it.

The same Holy Spirit transforms how we see ourselves. The revelation of how God sees us “clothed” in Christ Jesus transforms our confidence from tentative prayer requests to declaring in faith and spiritual authority what we know God has already said.

Discussion starters

1. If Jesus took this passage (the first two sentences at least) and applied it to Himself, how might it apply to us?

2. How does the Sovereign Lord “make righteousness and praise spring up” before others, today?

Psalm 126 – A song of ascents.

If the Lord was able to do it before, He can do it again

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.

  • The immediate application of this is the restoration of the first exiles from captivity in 538 BC. However relating verse 1 to verses 4-6 gives this a much wider and more contemporary application.

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

  • The Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt, and now brought about a restoration from exile, a joyous turnaround. Both of these happenings said a lot about God’s character to the surrounding nations.

3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

  • A powerful dimension of breakthrough prayer is praise for who God is, coupled with thankfulness for what God has done. ‘Testimony’ stories which recall what God has done raise the level of faith in both teller and hearer, and are spiritually robust answers to the doubts and discouragements we hear all the time in the enemy’s accusing voice.

4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.

  • The Negev is an exceptionally arid area. As the seasonal rains flood the desert wadis, the land turns green again. The prayer looks for Israel’s fortunes to flower again in a similar way.

5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.

6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

  • This speaks of God’s character: faithfulness to those who have persevered with faith. It applied to the exiles but also speaks to today. “Sowing with tears” is part of the Christian experience, seldom understood at the time, in which God tests us and proves us – do we stay in faith for the promises expressed here?

Luke 1:46-55 – The Magnificat

True dependence on God puts us in place to be part of His next move

  • Mary may have made up this song, thinking about the story of Hannah, on her several days’ journey to see her cousin Elizabeth. It borrows much in thought and phrase from Hannah’s prayer, 1 Sam. 2:1-10 , but the tone of submission to God is different. It would not be unusual for a devout Jewish girl like Mary to have quite a depth of Scripture knowledge and insight, which she shows here. At the same time, as John Wesley suggests, perhaps Mary sang this Holy Spirit-inspired prophetic song without fully understanding all that she was singing.

46  And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord…

  • Older sources based on Latin texts may attribute this song to Elizabeth. But it is Mary’s. Elizabeth’s response (v.42) is an exclamation, a shout, quite different in tone from her quieter cousin’s.

47-49 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

  • Amplified Bible: “For He has looked [with loving care] on the humble state of His maidservant…” This is Mary describing herself as a sinner and a slave-girl – a humble state, rather than humiliated state.

From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.

  • Mary’s faith, waiting on God to bring His promises to fulfilment (see also v.45), was exemplary, by contrast with Zacharias, Luke 1:18-20 .

50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

  • “Mercy” is a BIG word, expressing the Old Testament and covenant-language concept of God’s love which is loyal, gracious and faithful. This love comes to those who overcome human pride to look to Him with awe and deep respect.

51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

  • Where people of influence are proud in their thinking and attitudes, problems in society ensue: cause and effect. The kingdom of God, allowing God’s rule and order to have domain in our thoughts and attitudes, stands in direct, confrontational opposition to man’s desire for independence and self-sufficiency.

52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

  • The tenses point to God’s “mighty deeds” of the past but as is often the way of the Prophets, may be using the device of looking back to what God has done, to speak of what God can and will do. The deeds of the past give substance to the promise of the Good News to come.
  • The established way of the world is turned upside down in this series of statements where the proud are scattered, rulers are removed from position, the rich miss out while the hungry and humble – those that recognise their need of God – are elevated.

54-55 He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as He promised our ancestors.”

  • Recalls the unconditional covenant with Abraham and his descendants – and those believing Gentiles like us who are ‘grafted into the vine’,  Romans 11:17-19 .

Application

The exiles knew their need of God. They had lost everything – and also lost much of the sense of their national identity as God’s covenant people. But after a generation, and a change of heart, the return began and it was a joyful returning.

Mary knew her need of God. She was young, she felt that she was a nobody, and her situation drew criticism – who else would know what the angel had said? Perhaps she had talked to God about this on her journey to see her cousin Elizabeth. And the evidence is that she had heard afresh from God and now she was rejoicing, knowing that she was blessed, singled out for an important, if challenging, assignment from God.

Sometimes we don’t know what’s going on in our lives. And sometimes it’s too confusing to expect God to tell us. Yet Mary, humble before God and aware of her need, seems to have come through to praise and rejoicing. In her song, she praises God not just for His goodness, but for specific deeds of the past where He has upheld the humble and overturned the self-sufficient.

Discussion starters

3. What attitudes are contrasted in these passages?

4. What promise, or promises, do we see in these passages? Is there a condition attached?

5. What lessons does Mary’s song have for us, in how we approach God?

John 1: 6-8, 19-28

The announcement of God’s next move comes with immediacy – and mixed responses

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John.

  • This is the apostle John writing about John the Baptist.

7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.

  • John the gospel writer uses the word for ‘witness’ or ‘testify’ far more than Matthew, Mark and Luke. His gospel sets out from the start to show that the facts about Jesus are well attested.
  • “So that through him…” John the Baptist’s ministry was a particular one – to testify about Jesus and point people to Him. They would not believe “in” John, but by means of, and “through” John.

8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

  • Such was his following that some people were getting exaggerated ideas about who John was – see v. 21 below.

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19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.

  • This was a delegation from the religious ruling council, the Sanhedrin, to check out the activities of someone who was to them an unauthorised teacher. In the 16th and 17th centuries in England, people who taught without the authorisation of the established church were commonly penalised and imprisoned – like John Bunyan – or worse. John Wesley, an Anglican cleric, was much criticised for his “enthusiasm” and was generally not allowed to preach in church buildings .

20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”

  • His appearance and ministry was in the style of Elijah, and Jews knew that Elijah had not died. So was this Elijah returned? Similarly “the Prophet”, Deuteronomy 18:15 . They were expecting various people to appear with the coming Messiah.

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”

  • The Qumran community had applied Isa 40:3  to themselves. Their understanding of it? Isolating themselves to secure their own salvation. Here John is making a much more missional call to “make straight the way” for the Messiah and enabling people to make their own preparation by getting right with God – repentance.
  • Baptism, with the same connotations of turning decisively from the old life to the new, became the symbol of membership in Jesus’ kingdom.

24-25 Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

  • The Pharisees held to a conservative theological position and were expecting the Messiah. John, as a forerunner, looked like a candidate but denied being that.

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.

27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

  • John tells them that the anointed One they are seeking is right there with them in the crowd and that this is to be a much greater ministry.

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

  • Not the Bethany mentioned elsewhere that is close to Jerusalem.

Application

Who were the last of the Old Testament prophets? We think of Habakkuk and Zechariah and Malachi, and then there was a period of about 400 years without a prophetic word being recorded. Jesus came right at the end of the Old Covenant era, and by His life, death and resurrection He gave us a new and better covenant based on new life trusting Him as Saviour and Lord. The Old Covenant, the Jewish system of rules and regulations would have been difficult enough for us, even if as Gentiles we could be included.

Jesus was among the crowds that came to the Jordan for a baptism of repentance, and that baptism was carried out by a kind of Elijah figure, in the way he dressed and lived – an outsider. He had a message to proclaim, and it was a direct and challenging call. Get right with God! Someone far greater than me is coming after me, in fact He is here! Demonstrate your readiness by going into the water for baptism, an act of repentance!

John was the last of the O.T. prophets. His cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, spoke for God and challenged about the kingdom of God – but we would agree He was more than a prophet.

Discussion starters

6. Are we more ready to criticise what we don’t like, or more ready to look for how we can make straight the way or the Lord?

7. Does the call to repent sound like condemnation; or do we see it as encouragement into what God might be preparing us for?

1 Thess 5:16-24

The Good News, 1 Thess 5:8-10, brings rejoicing and thankfulness reiterated by the Holy Spirit in ways which are to be spiritually discerned.

16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

  • Pray continually means be in a prayerful attitude and consistent with it, not giving up. Really knowing God, keeping close to Him and being aware of Him is a prayerful attitude where joy and thankful praise lead other expressions; this is a helpful key for maintaining effective prayer when circumstances are discouraging.

19 Do not quench the Spirit.

  • The Holy Spirit is like a dove, who flies away at any sense of threat. If people come together in any kind of a wrong attitude, anything which is unholiness, the Holy Spirit will back off until there is repentance of unholy mouths and the finding of holy hearts for His landing. Ephesians 4:30 says ‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God’ and is set in a context of Eph. 4:28-32 which is a summary of what to avoid, so as not to quench the fire and grieve the Spirit, which is all to easily done.

20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt…

  • The prophetic gift, which can be expressed in various ways, is always meant to encourage church, 1 Cor. 14:1-14 and this upbuilding dimension of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is always needed. It is a common mistake to dismiss or devalue the spiritual because it might not seem pragmatic, and instead rely on the pragmatic, which might not be spiritual or discerning of God’s purpose.

21 …but test them all; hold on to what is good,

22 reject every kind of evil.

  • An early Christian teaching recorded in Didache 11:8 (not Scripture but nonetheless instructive) was that “Not everyone who speaks about spiritual things is a prophet, but only if the person’s conduct is like the Lord.” This is a reminder to check the character of those speaking out,  Matt. 7:15-20  and also check that a prophetic word has a good origin and agrees with the apostles’ teaching,  2 Thess. 2:2, 1 John 4:1-3 . We would look for the word to be in agreement with Scripture generally.

23 May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • The Holy Spirit is always at work to sanctify us — bring us back to the path of holiness in which we make choices and partner with Him .

24 The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.

Application

We all want God to presence Himself more. We may be praying for revival, a special kind of God presencing Himself over a period of time, with all kinds of salvations and transformation happening. or we may want an encounter with God in this or that gathering or prayer time. There are times when God Himself is preparing to do a work among His people. The ‘preparing the way’ Scriptures speak not only to the coming of the Messiah, but also to our time – we are told to be ready for Him to come at any time. The preparing is repentance leading to holiness, and the Holy Spirit is so named because He is the Spirit of Holiness. He is speaking, but not everyone is listening. It’s easy to miss the prophetic word that comes in a plain wrapper – something in the Sunday sermon or in a Bible reading which stands out, or in a spoken-out prayer or a conversation.

Or He may be speaking from a distance, if something has caused Him to back off. We can’t argue with others and hold unforgiveness in our hearts and be in disrespect of godly authority and also expect the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit. He hates discord and disunity! So He stays away! He is the Holy Spirit and He doesn’t work man’s way.

When He does have freedom to work among us – it is by our permission, we either do invite Him and allow Him, or we don’t – He brings us into alignment with what is good, right and holy.

Discussion starters

8. In what ways might the Holy Spirit bring us a word that helps us see the need for repentance?

9. What would be the tone of that word that helps you know that it is from the Lord?