TLW51 for Sunday, December 22 + Christmas Day, 2019.
Isaiah 7:10-16, Isaiah 9:2-7 — God’s sign of a light in the darkness
The virgin who conceives and gives birth to “God with us” foretold
Isa. 7:10-11 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
“Ahaz” – a notoriously faithless king of Judah who saw much of the population taken prisoner by Assyria and the northern kingdom of Israel, but not before Isaiah had urged him to put his trust in Yahweh, and even give him a sign.
12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”
“I will not ask” – feigning humility, Ahaz, true to form, does not want to turn to God.
13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
“A sign” – as often occurs in OT prophecy, there is more than one fulfilment in view.
15-16 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.
The sign for Ahaz to trust the Lord was a ‘type’ for the Virgin Mary in Isaiah’s betrothal, Isaiah 8:1-4, and a son who would barely be a teenager before a political reversal occurred. However the Christian church has seen this prophecy mainly in terms of Immanuel, God with us, in Christ’s incarnation and birth.
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
“Deep darkness” – refusing to trust God put His people into spiritual confusion, but God in His grace purposed to bring light to them – and through them, “light to the Gentiles”.
• For further study see Isaiah 8:22, 42:6, 49:6; Matt. 4:15-16, Luke 2:32.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
“As in… Midian’s defeat” – freedom comes by trusting God, like Gideon’s tiny army, Judges 6-7, and finally in the Second Coming.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
“Greatness” – the child to be born to reign for ever has four ‘throne names’ emphasising his kingdom purpose, divine power, compassion and protection. “Everlasting Father” speaks to his caring nature, and does not mean that the Son and the Father are the same (the heresy of modalism).
REFLECTION The story of God promising a sign to the unbelieving and rebellious king Ahaz shows how God is apt to shock us by treating us with so much more generosity than we deserve. This was a dark time for Judah, yet God was promising to break in with His presence and revelation. He wanted the king — just as He now wants us — to turn from our misplaced trust in other solutions and know that God is both greater, and far more able to save.
QUESTION If God’s love cannot be earned, how do we respond to His love?
Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-14 — God’s Son enters our human world
Angelic messengers appear to Joseph – and to shepherds in Bethlehem
Matt. 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
“Pledged to be married” – betrothal was a binding relationship requiring a legal divorce and financial settlement to end it. Joseph, a righteous man, was minded to spare Mary the shame if possible.
19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
“Her husband” – or husband-to-be. Similarly in v.24 Matthews describes Mary as “his wife”, although not yet married.
20-21 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
“Joseph son of David” – the angel prepares him to understand that the miraculous conception would be a son who would grow to fulfill the role of Messiah.
22-23 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
“Fulfill” – one of the 12 times Matthew shows the OT being worked out in Jesus’ life.
• For further study see, Matt. 2:15, 23; 3:15; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17;, 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 27:9.
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave Him the name Jesus.
“Until she gave birth” – the virgin birth is strongly inferred here; in Luke 1:34-35 it is stated clearly.
1-3 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to their own town to register.
“In those days” – Luke anchors the events of the birth in world events like the growth of the empire of the first Roman emperor and his introduction of poll tax, for a mainly Greek-speaking audience.
4-5 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
“Register with Mary” – who was of taxable age and who may also have been of the house of David. They took a three-day journey over mountainous terrain to just south of Jerusalem where Micah 5:2 had predicted the Messiah would, be born.
6-7 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
“No guest room” – a second room in a home. Bethlehem, a tiny village, would not have had an inn as in the traditional story.
8-9 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
“Shepherds living out” – in good grazing land where sheep were kept for sacrifice in nearby Jerusalem. No conclusion can be drawn for the time of year. Christmas was first celebrated in Rome in AD 354 and the December 25 date came later on still, to fit a Roman festival.
10-12 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Good news – Jesus is the person of the Good News which Isaiah had spoken about, Isaiah 52:7; 61:1
13-14 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”
“Peace… favour” – the three titles used by the angels, Christ, Saviour, Lord, point to who receives the peace. It comes from recognising who Jesus is, submitting to Him and simply receiving from Him what cannot be earned.
REFLECTION God’s holiness and divinity is a barrier to people who see themselves as ordinary and flawed and not even very ‘religious’. Yet in this story these are the very qualities that God seems to choose in revealing Himself and sharing His mission. Joseph, the jobbing tradesman, and the shepherds, considered a rough lot, better outside than in, were the very people God trusted to hear Him and act for Him… and they did!
QUESTION Joseph and the shepherds were given vital roles in the event of Jesus’ birth. Where does God need us to step up to a role in His plan?
Romans 1:1-7, Titus 2:11-14 — Salvation offered to all freely in God’s grace
Jesus has secured for us a privilege humanly impossible to attain
Romans 1:1-2 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures…
“Servant… Apostle” – Paul introduces himself as a willing bond-servant to Jesus and one (with the Twelve) who has seen Him, Acts 9, and received His commission to be sent on His behalf.
3-5 …regarding His Son, who as to His earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through Him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for His name’s sake.
“Regarding His Son” – Paul headlines the good news, how Jesus came as a human by natural descent, was part of the Jewish royal line, died and was raised from the dead – then to be the means of grace for us to turn to Him in faith and receive new life. This will be expanded throughout the letter.
“Obedience that comes from faith” – faith comes first. The decision to believe and trust the Lord is a complete change of heart, which is evidenced in a change of values and behaviour.
6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
Those Gentiles… called to belong” – Paul, a Jew, was called to preach especially to non-Jews. In multi-racial Rome he needed to emphasise that Gentiles fully belonged – and were loved by God, v.7
7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
11-12 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…
“The grace of God has appeared” – Jesus has come as the living representation of what God has done FOR US rather than setting the bar of what WE MUST DO. Anyone, Jew or Gentile, male or female, can turn to Jesus and choose to receive His salvation offered. Not all will be saved, but all have the choice.
“Teaches us” – or instructs, coaches, encourages. We experience the ongoing grace of God by the Spirit of God, who helps and empowers us to live above ourselves.
13 …while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ…
“Wait for the blessed hope” – a clear focus on Christ’s return is holy living, 1 John 3:2-3.
14 ….who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.
“Redeem us… and… purify” – the Lord wants us free of life’s sin and baggage so we can partner with Him in His mission.
REFLECTION When Jesus appeared and started His ministry, crowds responded and people wanted to follow Him and ‘do life’ better. The enormity of what Jesus has done for us did not sink in until after His death, resurrection and ascension. It was Paul the apostle sent to go beyond Judaism with the good news of Jesus, who made plain what had always been there — God doing for us what we could never earn or attain. This is “receiving grace” and “being called to be His people” which is not following a religion but entering a relationship — the result of which is that we find ourselves doing what pleases God.
QUESTION How overawed are we by what God has done for us? And how difficult is it to share that gratitude and joy with others?
PRAYER Father, at this time of year especially, we overflow with thanks for Your sending of Your Son, Jesus, and the new life which is His gift to all who turn to Him. We pray that our families and communities may be impacted by the reality of Jesus this Christmas time — and for opportunity to play our part in sharing the message. Amen.
And also read : Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
TLW50 for Sunday, December 15, 2019 (Advent 3)
Theme: Stages of revival in the promised coming of the kingdom
Isaiah 35:1-10 — The watered desert bloom is a picture of revival
A highway over the rough places will lead to the Lord
1-2 The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendour of our God.
“Desert and… parched land” – in the preceding chapters of God has spoken through the prophet of judgment for the nations , including fertile Edom becoming a desert, Isa. 34:1-17. This includes Judah and Israel for their own rejection of God. This picture of the Messiah’s reign is a complete reversal – the whole world as a garden.
3-4 Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you.”
“Your God will come” – the essence of the good news is God’s coming to save His people.
“Vengeance… divine retribution” – words that seem to conflict with a God whose overriding characteristic is mercy. In the preceding chapter, Isa. 34:8, this was about God’s justice in the context of Edom which had oppressed Israel at every opportunity. This is robust assurance to the faithful that their day will come.
• For further study, see Isaiah 40:9; 52:7; 62:11, Rev. 22:12, 20.
5-6 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
“Eyes… opened… lame leap… mute shout for joy” – unmistakeable signs of the Messiah’s appearance. Jesus quoted this passage when John’s disciples asked if He was the Expected One, Matt. 11:4-5 below.
7 The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
“Thirsty ground” – the Arabah (Wadi Arava, south of the Dead Sea) is difficult, rocky, arid terrain with little rainfall – but there are rivers deep in the rock and ‘dry’ rivers like the Nahan Paran which can flood widely. God’s blessing in such a dry place is rain coming and rivers appearing.
8 And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it.
“A highway” – Isaiah saw a built up level road across the wadis and rock outcrops, the Holy Way leading pilgrims to Zion. It represents a reversal of Isaiah 33:8, 34:10 when none could pass through.
9-10 No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
“Those the Lord has rescued” – the redeemed. The immediate picture is a safe and joyful homecoming from exiled captivity. Isaiah is also seeing beyond, to the sorrow-free time of final gathering of God’s people into God’s kingdom on earth.
• For further study, see Isaiah 25:7, 51:11; Hebrews 12:22-24; Rev. 21:4.
REFLECTION Prophetic pictures in the OT seldom depict one time or event. A description of a process or changes that happen in stages, like the coming of Jesus and His kingdom, challenge our time-related and experience-limited logic. Once travel was difficult and limited; then there were regular buses; now look ahead to a time when no transport needed. So it is with the coming of the kingdom, first inaugurated by Jesus, God with us and incarnate like us. We come to know and trust Jesus as the Son of God, our Saviour and Lord, and we enter into new life with spiritual awareness and a sense of God’s kingdom order breaking in to our lives as we pray. But the time is coming when Jesus will return again, a majestic but shocking event when He will gather all those who are truly His. This is the “divine retribution” or judgment when He will call His own and provide a spiritual highway of safe passage for them to come to Him, their lord and king. This is the good news: The kingdom is coming, even now in incremental ways, and we see it with eyes of faith.
QUESTION Are we intentionally journeying towards Jesus? If not, we are becoming more distant from Him; it is movement, one way or the other.
Matthew 11:2-11 – Jesus praises His forerunner, the great prophet John
Yet Jesus says the humblest born again believer is greater
2-3 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask Him, “Are you the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
“John…in prison” – John the Baptist was imprisoned by the local Galilean ruler Herod Antipas for challenging the immoral relationship Herod has entered into with his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. John and his followers were confused – this captive was not set free, the “baptism of fire” had not yet occurred, Isaiah 61:1; Matt. 3:11-12. Hence the question.
4-5 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.
“Report… what you…see” – Jesus’ priority with the needy of society and miracles that have been foretold are clear indications of his identity as the Christ, or Messiah. His quotation of Isaiah 35:5-6 and 61:1 would be clear to John, without Jesus prematurely declaring who He was to others.
6 “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of Me.”
“Stumble on account of Me” – John and his disciples were shaken in their faith by expecting a more majestic kind of Messiah, and a more instant outworking of John’s prophetic words.
7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind?
“A reed swayed” – a comparison of austere, unbending John, who cared little for public opinion, or the politician Herod whose emblem for his coinage was a reed, like the 5m-high ones that grew on the banks of the Jordan.
8 “If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.
9 “Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
“Fine clothes… a prophet” – many who claimed to be prophets in the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah were simply courtiers supporting corrupt leadership. John intentionally positioned himself as one like Elijah – who was no establishment figure.
10 “This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
“Born of women” – normal human birth, contrasted (by implication) with new birth into the kingdom of heaven.
“Not… anyone greater than John” – John was the last of the OT prophets and also Christ’s forerunner, a unique role. Yet any born-again believer enter new life and becomes “greater” than John as part of the atoning work of Christ, something that John only saw in a shadowy way.
REFLECTION Jesus’ baptism and entry into His ministry, starting in Galilee, was in any understanding of the word, a spiritual revival. It was fulfilling in part what Isaiah had prophesied – leaving part to come. It was also a part-fulfilment of John’s prophetic appeal to the crowds who came out to the wilderness region where he was baptising people in an act of repentance. He was telling them to get their lives right with God because One far greater was coming, who would baptise, or drench, them in the Holy Spirit and also fire. This would be an encounter with the purifying fire and holy judgment of God as well as the impartation of the life and power of God by God’s Spirit. Any study of the various waves of spiritual revival over the past few hundred years cannot fail to see the common factors: people turning to God, acknowledging their sin and recognising what Jesus has done for them, having a spiritual encounter that is life-changing and enduring. The kingdom keeps on coming in different waves of revival and of course “the One who is to come ” is the same Lord who is certain to come again” at the end of time, the fulfilment of what both Isaiah and John saw. This time it will be final: eternal belonging, one with God, or cast out to the torment of eternal desolation.
QUESTION As the expectation and intensity of God’s presence with us rises in this Advent season, it reminds us what Advent is really looking forward to: not the first coming of Jesus, but the second. Are we ready for that?
James 5:7-10 — Be patient and know the Lord’s coming is near
Guard against judging others in the waiting season
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.
“Autumn and spring rains” – in a dry climate, critical watering times, seen as signs of God’s faithfulness and blessing, autumn rain to germinate and establish and spring rain to fill out the ear. The farmer saw the harvest coming in stages; so it is with the final harvest of the kingdom.
8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
“Be patient and stand firm” – early believers had to maintain faith while enduring cruel treatment, in the expectation of Christ’s imminent coming [parousia] when both oppressed and oppressors will receive their justice. Believers will be rewarded for their faithfulness, Proverbs 14:14, Matthew 5:12.
9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
“The Judge is… at the door” – the last days technically span any time period between Christ’s ascension and second coming and it is a time of enemy activity, exploiting tensions to incite believers to sin and open themselves up to the devil’s oppression. James warns against this temptation to sin.
10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
“As an example… take the prophets” – many prophets were persecuted for their obedience in challenging the prevailing opinions of those around them, like Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah – and John the Baptist, imprisoned by Herod Antipas and then executed on a whim
• For further study, read Matthew 11:2, 14:8-12.
REFLECTION It is fair to say that the Lord is always about the work of revival, turning people’s hearts back to Him, in preparation for the great and final revival when He comes again. This is the meaning of the season of expectation of coming, or Advent. Christmas rightly celebrates the time of His first coming, but all these passages remind us not to look back, but to live as those looking forward to what is to come – and it could be at any time. It is a call to preparation, in the awareness that the Judge is standing at the door. We need to be right with Him for when that time comes – and the only way is that of the One who said “I am the Way”, the only name under heaven by which we can be saved. However much different religious ideas dress it up, it comes down to a heart decision to accept Christ personally and live for Him and with Him – no one and no one’s action can do that for us. All three of this week’s Bible passages are like a theatre spotlight picking out Jesus in every scene and action – and reminding us WHO it is all about.
QUESTION What does it mean in practice to live as those who know that the Lord’s coming is near?
PRAYER Father, as we look forward to celebrating the day that remembers the incarnation of Your Son, help us to also look beyond that event and discern how You may be preparing for an even more sudden arrival to rule and reign in all of this world. Then all that does not already belong to You will be taken – and all of us that doesn’t own You as Lord. May Your Holy Spirit be active in our hearts and communities, leading us back to You in all our ways. Amen.
The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 2 of 5
Tuesday, Dec 19: Psalm 89:1-4 and 19-26
The ‘headline’ to this late psalm of around 586 BC is in verses 38-40: walls broken, strongholds made ruins – and the covenant supporting the rule apparently renounced. In a lament it appeals to God for restoration.
1-2 I will sing of the Lord’s unfailing love forever! Young and old will hear of Your faithfulness. Your unfailing love will last forever. Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens.
- Love connects with faithfulness, as one expression. Each of these words is repeated seven times, to make a point: It appears that God’s love and faithfulness is what has failed in His rejection of the king of Davidic line, and therefore covenant, 2 Sam. 7:16.
3-4 The Lord said, “I have made a covenant with David, my chosen servant.
- This the point of the psalm. That covenant was established through the prophetic word spoken by Nathan to David. Unlike the covenant with Moses and people (Exodus 19-24) which was two-way and therefore conditional, this was essentially one-way and unconditional – provided that the Davidic dynasty remained loyal to God the covenant giver. The covenant held good – the Messiah was of David’s line – but the most severe curse implicit in the Moses covenant was also operating, Leviticus 26:27-39, Deut., 28:36-37, 45-48. Reference: NIV Study Bible page 21 table.
- For further study: Five of the seven ancient covenants were of the Royal Grant or unconditional type: with Noah, Genesis 9:8-17; grant of land to Abraham, Gen. 15:9-21; with Phinehas the priest, Numbers 25:10-31; this covenant with David, 2 Samuel 7:5-16; and the New Covenant, below.
The two conditional covenants were the second part of the covenant with Abraham as patriarch, and his descendants, Gen. 17 – conditional on consecration to the Lord; and the ‘Mosaic’ covenant with descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all redeemed from bondage, Exodus 19-24, conditional on consecration to the Lord as His people, His rule and His purposes.
The New Covenant, promised at the very time that Israel is about to be expelled from the Promised Land for breaking covenant, is an unconditional covenant of pure grace in which the law would be “written on hearts”. The only condition is accepting and receiving this covenant, in other words, entering into it.
I have sworn this oath to him: ‘I will establish your descendants as kings forever; they will sit on Your throne from now until eternity.’” Interlude
- In an unconditional covenant, even if the party entering into it breaks covenant, God is committed to fulfil it. That is not to ignore the consequences of reneging on the covenant, which this psalm seems not to take into account.
In the classic form of ancient Royal Grant covenant, a king would make a grant to a servant, whose heirs would continue to benefit from it as long as they maintained the same loyalty and service to the king. So it was unconditional, except in the sense that the essential condition of the covenant had to be maintained.
- The classic suzerain-vassal conditional form of covenant was made between a great king and a subject king and it demanded total and exclusive loyalty and service, in return for the suzerain’s (great king’s) protection. Kings and Chronicles detail times when Israel worshipped other gods and sought the protection of other powers – both serious transgressions, the consequences of which the prophets spelled out.
19 Long ago You spoke in a vision to Your faithful people.
- Or ‘Your godly ones”. People like the prophet Nathan, who God used to speak His words of covenant over David (2 Sam. 7:4ff above)
You said, “I have raised up a warrior. I have selected him from the common people to be king.
20 I have found My servant David. I have anointed him with My holy oil.
21-23 I will steady him with my hand; with my powerful arm I will make him strong. His enemies will not defeat him, nor will the wicked overpower him. I will beat down his adversaries before him and destroy those who hate him.
- This was David’s experience, even when it seemed inevitable that he would be overpowered by the greater army and force of public opinion in Absalom’s uprising, 2 Sam. 14:28-18:33.
24 My faithfulness and unfailing love will be with him, and by my authority he will grow in power.
25-26 I will extend his rule over the sea, his dominion over the rivers. And he will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
- References the promise of Exodus 23:31, that the Lord would give Israel the land between the River Euphrates and the Red Sea.
God said that His faithfulness and unfailing love would be with David and his descendants. Not all the kings that succeeded him had this experience, but there were reasons, which the prophets were not shy of pointing out.
David was not of perfect character, or conduct. He was a warrior, and had been responsible for the deaths of many enemies. Yet he knew God’s extraordinary favour, summarised in 2 Sam 7:4-16 and recalled in this psalm.
How much more can we look to God for mercy and grace and favour, because of who we are in Jesus Christ, the position of adopted sonship we have gained through accepting the Lordship of God’s Son.
- Why is it important as church to begin worship with declaring God’s goodness in praise? What reminder does that embed in us?
Bible study on the lectionary readings for Sunday, December 3 – Advent Sunday
MONDAY, Nov 27: Isaiah 64:1–9
An appeal to God “to come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember Your ways”, who are like clay being shaped by the hand of the potter.
1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
- An appeal to God to “make His name known”. His name and His nature is the same idea in Hebrew thought. So in our secular and largely unbelieving culture, we can take this as the basis of a biblical prayer for God to make known again His love, His justice – and His holiness.
**3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.
- Reflects Isa. 30:18: Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him.
- Waiting for God is active, attentive and expectant, not a passive kind of waiting.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember Your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
- Prophetic in a future sense. When Israel and Judah continued to forget God’s ways and abandon the framework of the covenant, first the northern kingdom of Israel fell, followed a century and a half later by the fall of Jerusalem, the loss of the holy city and the exile to Babylonia and Egypt of a now dispersed holy nation.
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean…
- Ceremonially unclean
…and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you…
- At difficult times the response the Lord looks for is urgent, fervent repentant prayer 2 Chron 7:14
…for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.
8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
- Recalls Isaiah 29:16 and the relationship of the potter to the clay that is being formed. The clay is not to attempt to define the pot that is made Isaiah 45:9.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.
- There is a promise that the Lord will turn from His anger Isaiah 54:7–8.
- The appeal to the Lord to “act on behalf of those who wait for Him” and “come to the help of those who…do right, who remember your ways” is the theme of hope, the confident expectation based on the Lord’s covenant mercy.
This passage is an appeal to the Lord to presence Himself again which honestly sets out attitudes of faithlessness which have invoked the Lord’s anger. It ends with a forthright appeal based on submission – like clay in the potter’s hand.
- They have failed to keep alive the memories of what the Lord has done among them;
- They have continued to sin against His ways, even while seeing the Lord come to the help of righteous people;
- Their prayer life, and their whole relationship with the Lord, has collapsed
These are common failings, for us now as well as then. They are all causes of faith malaise – and without faith we cannot please the Lord Hebrews 11:6.
- Should we celebrate good things the Lord has done, answered prayers, delivered situations more often e.g. by sharing testimony stories as part of worship?
What is Advent about? See verses 2 and 4 and 7 and comments.
Link to page with all the week’s posts
Steadfast in living and proclaiming the Gospel
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Paul and Silas fled from Thessalonica under persecution, to Berea where the same happened, then to Athens and Corinth where Paul wrote this letter. Against this backdrop, he is urging the church to imitate their example of being steadfast in proclaiming and living the Gospel and flawless and transparent in character.
9 You remember our labour and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
10 You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was towards you believers.
- This recalls the original apostolic band and their character. There was no question of them exploiting the Thessalonians or profiting from the gospel. A common attack on the message is to mount a character attack on the messenger or the messenger’s character, and we know from other letters that this happened. The genuineness of the message is affirmed by the genuine character of those bringing it.
11 As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, 12 urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
- “His own kingdom” is where God’s rule and order prevails. If you had been living in a country where there is civil war and terrorism, or an oppressive regime such as Nazi Germany in the 1930s, you would say that the rule that prevailed was unjust, unsafe and unwelcome. Arriving back in the UK, you would say that the rule was very much better and fairer, even if you didn’t get to meet the Queen or her Prime Minister. The kingdom of God is like that and more – where God’s unmitigated justice, love and good purposes for His people are His rule.
- Of course that experience of God’s peace and good provision is under attack all the time – we were reminded of this in Psalm 43:1, Psalm 107:6. It is up to us to exercise faith in the victory of Jesus and in the Person of Jesus. Praise directed to God (also in Psalms 43 and 106) is a way we assert the kingdom of God over the kingdom of darkness.
13 We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.
- There is an assumption made that this letter is being heard and circulated among empowered believers. 1 Thess. 1:5
“… our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.”. This is the difference between accepting, or being influenced by, a human word – logical, persuasive, understandable (like a good political speech or motivational talk or lecture) and God’s word at work in us as the Holy Spirit gives His understanding and encouragement. God’s word at work is not principally about information we understand, but revelation where we ‘get it’ and find ourselves doing it.
Imitate the saints – who were transparently honest as well as courageous (1 Thess. 2:9-13)
Paul and Silas and their travelling companions did not look polished or successful to the class-conscious Greeks. Having suffered imprisonment, beatings, and stone-throwing mobs forcing them to leave one place after another, they probably had scars and mended clothes. Who were they to bring righteous direction to the church? And they almost admitted it.
The human temptation is always to make ourselves look good. In craving significance, we want to ‘big ourselves up’. However, putting ourselves forward, obscures what is truly good, which is God’s nature in us. Once we get hold of who we are in Christ, our standing with God as His children and being counted righteous because Jesus declares us so– then what is the need to prove anything? This was the unassuming way of the saints who walked with God before us. Their way is what we imitate, so that people may begin to glimpse Jesus in us, and that supports the message about Jesus which we bring.