TLW14 for Sunday, April 7 – Lent 5
Theme: God is creative in renewing His people and His world
Isaiah 43:16-21 — The Lord is doing a new thing. Don’t expect earlier moves of God to be repeated, but discern His purposes now.
John 12:1-8 — Mary does a new and shocking thing to honour Jesus. Unintentionally she foretells His death in anointing Him.
Philippians 3:4b-14 — Paul changes radically to gain new life in Christ. He trashes his former achievements as barriers to the far greater worth of knowing Jesus.
Also: Psalm 126
Isaiah 43:16-21 —The Lord is doing a new thing
Don’t expect earlier moves of God to be repeated, but discern His purposes now.
16 This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters…
“A way through the sea” – a reference to the exodus through the Red Sea at the birth of the Hebrew nation.
17 …who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Chariots and horses” – representing the most advanced (and costly) military resources. The Israelite refugees, on foot, were no match – apart from God.
18 ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
“Forget the former things” – The Lord is speaking through Isaiah 200 years before the exile, and 300 years before the return of the exiles. However, people are not to dwell on the Lord’s past means of deliverance – He is not to be restricted to a certain way of doing things. Today, we are not to look to a previous revival, as the pattern for the next.
19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
“Doing a new thing” – not like the “way through the sea” of verse 16 but this time “a way in the wilderness”. The common factor is miraculously reversing nature, this time releasing “streams in the wasteland” rather than turning back the sea.
20 The wild animals honour Me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to My people, My chosen…
“I provide water in the wilderness” – benefitting the animals who live there, but also spiritual refreshment and new freedom for the oppressed exiles coming out of Babylon.
21 …the people I formed for Myself that they may proclaim My praise.
“That they may proclaim My praise” – God’s purpose is for people tto turn to Him and declare His praise. Looking beyond revivals, His ultimate purpose looks forward to a time when creation generally will turn to God, Isaiah 42:11-12, Romans 8:20-21.
IN PRACTICE In a world that presents us with frequent, ongoing change it is natural to seek to preserve and maintain what we have known and loved. We visit stately homes and take trips on steam railways and rediscover former breeds of farm animals. However, spiritually we must keep moving on — because God is always moving on. The Bible gives us God’s timeline of faith, and He constantly surprises us by doing what He has not done before, and saying, in various ways, “I am doing a new thing”. We would rather cling to the last ‘new thing’. If we have known the excitement of a move of God in revival or renewal or just gentle revitalisation, first we want more of the same. Then we recognise that we just need more of God — whatever He is doing now. The challenge is agreeing that it won’t be the same.
QUESTION What was the last ‘new thing’ we experienced in church or Christian life? How much are we looking back to that time? How much are we seeking signs of a different move?
John 12:1-8 — Mary does a new and shocking thing to honour Jesus
Unintentionally she foretells His death in anointing Him.
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
“Before the Passover” – on Thursday that year, and Jesus arrived the previous Friday, just before the Sabbath.
“Bethany” – two miles east of the city, which was already filling up with pilgrims travelling in; it made sense for Jesus to stay with friends a little way out.
2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him.
“Lazarus… reclining at the table” – this was a main-meal deipnon, dinner, and reclining at table implies a special occasion where guests would recline three or four to a table. Evidently Jesus and Lazarus were at the same table. Lazarus, Martha and Mary were close friends of Jesus.
3 Then Mary took about half a litre of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
“Pure nard” – the oil of a fragrant plant from North India, that smelled like gladiola perfume. An extravagant act of devotion, and a humble one – only servants attended to guest’s feet. Women usually had their hair covered, possibly not a single woman at home.
4-5 But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
“Worth a year’s wages” – Judas, a less-than-honest witness, was not concerned for the poor and may have been exaggerating.
6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
“He used to help himself” – the one verse which tells us that Judas was dishonest, although he had been trusted with the money bag. For a group’s treasurer to steal money would be scandalous, and bring shame on the whole group, in the view of outsiders.
7 ‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial.
“Leave her alone” – Jesus defending Mary gives meaning to the deed. Nard was one of the burial spices for the dead and Mary was, perhaps without realising, anticipating His death and anointing Him for burial.
8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me.’
“You will always have the poor” – Jesus is quoting Deut. 15:11, not discouraging helping the poor. His impending death leaves little time for His disciples to share His earthly ministry. Mary’s devotion to Him is a right priority.
IN PRACTICE Mary shocked the people in her village with her unexpected and dramatic action. You can imagine them talking about it, using their expressions for ‘over the top’ and ‘irresponsible’. But Mary’s reputation has now spread worldwide, and billions of people see her as someone who gave the devotion the Lord is seeking in a real way. Sometimes we can find ourselves carrying out what turns out to be a prophetic act, even if we never saw it that way when it happened. Mary ‘wasted’ a stock of perfume oil of great value, but gave a lead in her devotion of He who is of incalculable worth.
QUESTION Is our worship of Jesus extravagant and demonstrative? If not, why not?
Philippians 3:4b-14 —Paul changes radically to gain new life in Christ
He trashes his former achievements as barriers to the far greater worth of knowing Jesus
4b-6 If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
“Confidence in the flesh” – the danger of confidence in yourself and your attributes, inherited or earned. Paul sets out his impeccable Jewish credentials, a glowing record as a zealous Pharisee. By contrast he wrote to Corinth church, reminding them “…Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential…”.
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
“Gains to me I now consider loss” – the language of a balance sheet. On the road to Damascus, every ‘credit’ in Paul’s glowing CV now became something he had to lay down to accept Christ. A kernel of seeds to fall to the ground and die, John 12:24.
8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.
“Knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” – he does not mean knowing about the life and works of Jesus, but the transformation that comes from really coming to know a person – in this case, the highly transforming Person of Christ.
“I consider them garbage” – he uses a blunt, less genteel word for what is polluting and to be put out straight away. He is saying that his former way of life with its religious credentials was not only worthless, but despicable, see Ephesians 2:3-7.
9 …and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
“Not a righteousness of my own” – here is the dilemma, set out clearly and directly. Everyone starts off claiming to be righteous through ‘doing right’, charitable works and/or the performance of religious actions. Our world is about earning merit, so this is the way that fits our worldview. Paul shatters that worldview with his “garbage” comment and goes on to say that righteousness cannot be earned, but is received from God undeservedly, solely on the basis of our trusting Him in faith.
• For further study: the righteousness of God that comes on us through our trusting relationship with Christ Jesus, 1 Cor. 1:30, 2 Cor. 5:21, Phil. 3:8-9.
10-11 I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
“To know Christ…and…His sufferings” – to know Christ personally is to identify with Him and swap the world’s values for His. That brings with it misunderstanding and alienationt, such as Christ experienced and warned about, John 15:18–21. However, the Bible witness is that the suffering of God’s people is never final.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
• For further study, other places where Paul uses the imagery of athletics: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7-8.
13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead,
14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.
“Towards what is ahead… the prize” – the winner in Greek races received a wreath of leaves with the award. This is Paul’s picture of everlasting glory for the Christian who wins through. Eternal life is assured when we turn to Christ as our Saviour and Lord, but Christian maturity emphasises the prize of achieving kingdom of God gains that have eternal, rather than momentary, value.
IN PRACTICE The new thing that God was doing in Paul’s life was costly for him. As a Jew he had plenty to be proud of, but pride is the greatest barrier to us having a real relationship with God. That pride had to be broken for Paul to come to know God personally, and for him that was a dramatic turnaround. To diminish or at least, hold very lightly our achievements, may not be such a big thing for us, as it was for Paul to throw out his first-class degree in religious zeal. However, the principle is the same. God can’t have first place, where there’s no space. We need to make room, starting with the ornaments we used to think were the most precious.
QUESTION What apparent spiritual qualification may be acting as a barrier to the renewal God wants to do in us?
PRAYER Lord, the flesh is weak and it doesn’t like change. Yet Jesus said memorably that He could only be doing what He saw the Father doing. Help us to have that same resolve to talk to You, and walk with You, and to be found doing Your will and pursuing Your mission in the world — whether we find it comfortable or not. To the glory of Jesus we pray, Amen.
A hymn of praise to celebrate Israel’s return from exile, with Zion, meaning ‘distinctive’ at the centre of His plan. Zion, specifically the hilltop, here stands for Jerusalem and for the nation. The general thought is that is the Lord can restore Zion, the city, after its season of destruction, He can do the same for the people; and if He can do it in t he past, He can do it again.
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.
“Restored the fortunes” – the disastrous fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 589 BC and exile of most of its people, Babylon itself was conquered 50 years later by Cyrus, King of Persia. Cyrus issued a proclamation allowing the captive people to return to their homelands and rebuild their cities, Ezra 1:1-11; 3:7. The psalm attributes this reversal to the Lord.
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.’
“It was said among the nations” – the Lord’s restoration did more than give the people laughter and joy at the change they experienced – it showed the Lord’s merciful character to the surrounding nations, frequent theme e.g. Psalm 9:11, 64:9, Isaiah 12:4
3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.
“Restore our fortunes” – repatriation and rebuilding was one thing, the prosperity spoken of by the prophets another. This is a plea to complete the resttlement and bring a full restoration of the prosperity of former times, like the dry river bed of the Negev which becomes a flowing stream when the rains come.
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.
“Sow with tears” – hard work and the rigours of farming are also used by God. The person who remains humble and dependent on God will experience His blessings on the land.
TLW13. Bible readings for Sunday, March 31 (Mothering Sunday)
Mothering Sunday. Theme: The rich working of God’s compassion.
Exodus 2:1-10 — An Egyptian princess’s compassion saves baby Moses. Moses, born into oppression, is rescued for God’s purpose to be fulfilled in Him.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7— God is the Father of compassion who comforts us. Paul, with rich experience of God’s comfort, shares this with the church in Corinth.
John 19:25-27 — Jesus expresses His compassion for His mother. Near to death, He assigns a disciple to care for her.
Psalm 34:11-20 — The Lord’s special compassion for those broken to pride
Exodus 2:1-10 —An Egyptian princess’s compassion saves Moses
Moses, born into oppression, is rescued for God’s purpose to be fulfilled in Him.
The Israelite descendants of Jacob who followed Joseph had become numerous and a new Pharoah who knew nothing of the good Joseph had done resolved to enslave them – and ordered all male Hebrew babies to be thrown into the Nile.
1-4 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
“A man of the tribe of Levi” – named Amram and Jochebed, Exodus 6:20.
“She hid him” – there is a strong parallel here with Israel in Egypt. Moses was born into oppression, saved by an “ark” from a watery death decreed by the pharaoh, rescued and grew to maturity in the pharaoh’s court.
“Papyrus ark” – the same word as used for Noah’s massive barge. Papyrus was strong enough to be used for light craft and pitch was used for waterproofing all boats, Genesis 6:14, Isaiah 18:2.
5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it.
6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
“Down to the Nile to bathe” – not just washing but morning devotions to a river regarded by the Egyptians as a goddess with life-giving, healing properties. To discover a crying baby floating in the embrace of the Nile goddess (in her perception) would be a significant sign.
7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”
“To nurse the baby” – children were nursed for three years or more before being weaned, often by a ‘wet nurse’. .
8 “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother.
9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him.
“I will pay you” – There is an implication that the princess knew who the mother was, and the two women had an unspoken understanding
10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
“I drew him out” – a wordplay on the name Moses, which sound like the Hebrew mashah, ‘to draw out’ and may be related to a common Egyptian word for ‘son’.
IN PRACTICE The thread linking this week’s readings is compassion and in this account of Moses’ birth and early life we see how God’s Father heart of compassion stirred an Egyptian pagan princess to fulfil His purposes, not just for Moses but eventually for the whole nation. The crying baby floating in a papyrus basket is a salvation story which stirs many emotions, and it seems a far cry from the Egyptian chariots, a generation later, bearing down on the Israelites who seemed to face annihilation at the water’s edge – until they were “drawn through” the parting waters to be saved from destruction on the other side. God’s overriding characteristic is mercy and compassion, and His favourite action is saving. In a world fallen through Adam’s sin and largely rebellious towards God, and therefore all too open to the predations of the devil and his minions, there will always be threats, curses and conflicts. A merciful God of compassion stands over all of them, waiting for those who will turn to Him. (169)
QUESTION Given the wars and conflicts we see far away and close to home all the time, how would you explain what God is like, and why the world He created is not like Him?
John 19:25-27 —Jesus expresses His compassion for His mother
Near to death, He assigns a disciple to care for her
In John’s Gospel, this event takes place during the account of the crucifixion, after the soldiers had cast lots for Jesus’ clothes, but before Jesus’s last utterances.
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
“Near the cross of Jesus” – soldiers would guard the execution and keep spectators at a distance, but women were a low risk for acting violently and were expected to express their mourning, perhaps near to a dying prisoner.
“His mother’s sister” – the only reference in the NT to Jesus’ mother’s sister, who might have been the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John, see Matt. 27:56.
26-27 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
“The disciple who He loved” – John is given the responsibility to provide for Mary (on the assumption above, his aunt), almost certainly widowed and without income and therefore dependent on the provision and protection of others.
“This disciple took her into his home” – A Jewish family law could be used to assign the care of one person to another. There is another dimension to this as the embryo church community gathered – Jesus wanted them to love and care for each other, as He had taught with great clarity, John 13:34, John 15:12, 17.
IN PRACTICE Every Christian believer dwells on what is was like for Jesus to give up His life, and not only give it up, but voluntarily take on Himself the punishment and torture and shame that is so graphically recorded. We can dwell on it, but we don’t get close – perhaps hold off from getting too close – to the reality of that experience. In all of this, which is beyond our human capacity to understand, there is this exchange which is even more incomprehensible. Jesus, dying in tortured agony where every breath adds to the pain, speaks out His concern for His mother, standing and sobbing in a family group nearer to the Cross than other observers. There is a saying that, what is in us, is what comes out when we are under extreme pressure. What came out of Jesus was His compassion, forgiving His tormentors and charging the disciple who had shown similar qualities with care of His mother. He loves us with that same love today.
QUESTION Jesus wanted those who were close to Him to love each other – He had made that plain, and demonstrated it again as He was dying. What sort of priority should we make this in our church gatherings and interactions – and why?
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 —God is the Father of compassion who comforts us
Paul, with rich experience of God’s comfort, shares this with the church in Corinth
Paul, the much persecuted apostle sent to the Gentile nations, praises God for seeing him through many life-threatening difficulties, and uses this to encourage troubled believers in Corinth.
3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
“Praise be to God” – Paul extols God for the suffering and difficulties that his opponents use against him to call into question his apostleship.
“Father of compassion”– a reflection on God’s limitless compassion, and never failing comfort. This letter frequently refers to God’s strengthening and refreshing of believers who face difficulty.
• For further study, read Psalm 145:9; Lam. 3:22; Micah 7:19; Isaiah 40:1; 51:3, 12; 66:13.
5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
“Share… in the sufferings of Christ” – cannot, of course, refer to Christ’s unique atonement for sin, Romans 5:8-10; Romans 6:10. Paul endured danger, opposition and adverse conditions for the sake of God’s people and the gospel, much as Jesus did.
6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.
“Distressed… for your comfort” – one’s own suffering is a qualification to come alongside others and empathise. Paul’s opponents sought to use Paul’s many hardships to discredit him as one out of favour with God. Paul maintains that his sufferings are a way God uses to connect with a strengthen other believers.
7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
IN PRACTICE Few would disagree that Paul was a courageous and good man, who came back after a very bad start to fulfil a vital and far-reaching mission and give us much of the NT teaching. However he alludes to the extreme difficulties he has faced, detailed later in this letter. His point is that, to set out to follow the Son of God who was love and compassion incarnate, is to set out on a rough road through bandit territory. But it is a great training ground, for understanding both the challenges faced by every believer, but also the comfort of God which flows to every believer. The fallacy we all fall for is that of not needing God in the good times, the lure of self-sufficiency, which is an attraction to our humanness. But Paul says, expect trouble – and also expect God to be right with you in the dark valley, our confidence against the fear that evil oppression stirs up. And self evidently Paul, who has taken more hits than anyone, is a survivor. God who has so often comforted Him, is the same God who is there to comfort us.
QUESTION Paul starts by praising God for His goodness against a backdrop of hurt and hopelessness. How is he coaching us to respond to our pain and difficulty?
PRAYER Father God, as we come to You as Your children, we are overwhelmed by Your care and comfort while the world is trying to overturn us with hurts and rejections. We call to mind the difficulties and challenges we are facing now – and we praise You that You are not only greater than all of them together, but that You turn the assaults of the world, the flesh and the devil into a training exercise and a fresh encounter with Your mercy. We receive Your love afresh, in and through Jesus. Amen.
Psalm 34:11-20 —The Lord’s special compassion for those broken to pride
11 Come, my children, listen to Me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
“Come, my children” – the earlier part of the psalm, praise for deliverance, now turns to wisdom, which often used the language of parents instructing children.
12-13 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry…
“The eyes of the Lord” – Psalms 32, 33 and 34 all use this picture of God seeing everything
16 …but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth.
“Keep your tongue from evil” – the apostle Peter quotes vv. 12-16, 1 Peter 3:10-12, making a point about Christians living in a peace-loving way.
“But the face of the Lord” – a sharp contrast between the Lord’s countenance towards those who trust Him and His expression to those who oppose Him in doing evil.
17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
“The Lord hears… delivers… is close” – assurance that the Lord looks out for those who, in the Hebrew expressions used, are broken to their own pride and stubbornness, Psalm 147:3.
19 The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;
20 He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.
“Protects all his bones” – the link to the crucifixion in the Gospel reading is that this verse was taken as having been literally fulfilled by Jesus, John 19:36.
Christmas Day OT reading
Christmas Day Gospel reading
Christmas Day Epistle reading
Christmas Day application
Sunday, December 30 OT reading
Sunday, December 30 Gospel reading
Sunday, December 30 Epistle reading
Sunday, December 30 application
THEME 1 (DECEMBER 25):
THE GRACE AND GLORY OF GOD APPEAR FOR US
Readings are in Bible order, Old Testament, Gospel, Epistle, following the logic of progressive revelation. Some churches use a liturgical order with the gospel reading last.
DECEMBER 25 – OLD TESTAMENT READING
Isaiah 9:2-7 – the glory of God comes on Israel
A nation in spiritual darkness receive a peace-bringing mighty king of David’s lineage but heavenly origin
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
“Have seen” – prophetic vision that sees the future with the clarity of it already having happened.
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.
“Enlarged” – no longer a small remnant after five centuries of resettlement and growth.
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.
“Midian’s defeat” — the Lord using Gideon, Judges 7.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
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.
“Wonderful counsellor” – the titles reveal Immanuel as both human and divine: a ‘counsellor to carry out a plan or action; with divine power; bringing the Father’s compassion and protection; and exercising a style of rulership which brings wholeness and wellbeing to the whole of society.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
DECEMBER 25 – GOSPEL READING
Luke 2:1-14 – shepherds experience God’s sudden blaze of glory in terror
They are directed to seek out Mary and Joseph and their baby, visitors to Bethlehem for the census
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
“A census” – for the purposes of the Roman poll tax. Joseph was of the house of David, Mary possibly so.
4 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.
“Bethlehem” – as foretold in Micah’s prophecy, Micah 5:2.
5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
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
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
“Out in the fields” – so probably between March and November. The time of Jesus’ birth is not known. The midwinter tradition arose much later from Christians re-purposing the pagan midwinter festival.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
“Terrified” – by the majesty of angels in bright light suddenly appearing in the darkness.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
11 “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.
12 “This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favour rests.”
“Good news” – the word that gives us ‘evangelise’. “On earth peace” – Jesus is the Prince of Peace prophesied by Isaiah, Isa. 9:6 to bring God’s peace; not to all, but all who would turn to Him and come to know God and God’s favour.
DECEMBER 25 – EPISTLE READING
Titus 2:11-14 – We’re growing in grace while awaiting Christ’s return
Christians are empowered to live above themselves while expecting Jesus to appear in glory
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
“Grace… offers salvation” – the word ‘grace’ is used generally and also specifically, as here, meaning the favour with God, unearned but made possible by Christ’s sinless self-sacrifice. It is offered to, not conferred on, all people – a response to Jesus is called for – but anyone of any state can choose to turn to Him, come to know God in a personal way and be changed by this grace.
12-13 It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,
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.
“Teaches us… to live…” – Salvation (also called justification, Titus 3:7) and holy living are “not because of anything we have done but because of [God’s] own purpose and grace, 2 Tim. 1:9. Jesus will come again, the “blessed hope” we wait for. Meanwhile, the grace of God through the Holy Spirit enables us to live by these values.
IN PRACTICE The favour of God has come to us through Jesus being revealed to us – the Bible is clear that we cannot earn it. However, there is a personal, active choice we must make to turn to Jesus and receive His lordship. Nowhere does the Bible teach that salvation is through the church; widely it teaches that salvation is a choice to invite Jesus as Saviour. Before that decision we are all walking in darkness, as Isaiah describes, not able to see the spiritual realities of good and evil. Then God’s glory visited the village of Bethlehem and God’s grace was experienced, by the most ordinary of people. A couple of generations later, believers in the early church are rejoicing in being “a people that are His very own” and knowing the grace of God helping them in their eagerness to “do what is good”.
PRAYER Lord we love the nativity scene, but help us to see beyond it to Your Lordship and Your glory. May the impact of who You are, transform how we are, in this season of remembering Your first coming and preparing for the next.
THEME FOR SUNDAY, DECEMBER 30 – THE GRACE AND GLORY OF GOD GROW IN US
DECEMBER 30 – OLD TESTAMENT READING
1 Samuel 2:18-20,26 – the young Samuel is an apprentice in the tabernacle
He grows in stature and God’s favour, as was said later of the boy Jesus
18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord – a boy wearing a linen ephod.
19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.
“Linen ephod” – an embroidered over-garment worn over the robe, by priests in the sanctuary. The contrast between Samuel and Eli’s sons, all young Levites, is that Samuel lived up to his calling.
20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home.
26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the Lord and with people.
“Grow in stature and favour” – like Luke’s description of Jesus as a boy, see Luke 2:52 below, also Luke 2:40.
DECEMBER 30 – GOSPEL READING
Luke 2:41-52 – Jesus grows in grace at the temple
Unknown to His parents, He spends time with the teachers of the temple courts who, remarkably, allow Him to debate with them.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.
“Every year” – Good observant Jews like Jesus’ family liked to keep the three commanded festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, Exodus 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16. Galileans and others at a distance would try to keep Passover at least.
42 When He was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.
“Twelve years old” – preparing to take adult covenant responsibilities, usually at age 13.
43 After the festival was over, while His parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.
“Unaware” – often entire villages and extended families travelled and socialised together.
44-45 Thinking He was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find Him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for Him.
46-47 After three days they found Him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.
“After three days” – a day’s travel of about 20 miles, a day turning back, and a day finding Jesus in the city.
“Listening… asking questions… His answers” – the teachers were rabbis, scholars of Mosaic law. The style of rabbinic instruction was question and counter-question. It was highly unusual for them to entertain a boy, let alone be enthralled by His scriptural understanding. Jesus was a prodigy.
48 When His parents saw Him, they were astonished. His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’
49-50 “Why were you searching for Me?” He asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them.
“Your father and I…My Father’s house” – Jesus makes it clear that God is His true father. He is aware of His unique relationship, his parents less so.
51-52 Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
“Jesus grew in wisdom” – Jesus was fully God, but also fully man, having laid aside His majesty to be born as one one of us. The Expanded Bible renders this: “But He gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing, (lit. emptied Himself).” There is no suggestion in Scripture that Jesus had all knowledge and wisdom from birth, and in this passage we see Him growing up like any other boy.
DECEMBER 30 – EPISTLE READING
Colossians 3:12-17 – God’s people are to grow in grace
God is love and Jesus demonstrated unconditional love; growing in His character of kindness and gentleness is what distinguishes the body of Christ.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
“God’s chosen people” — this phrase was used of Israel, and then of the Christian community, Deut. 4:37; 1 Peter 2:9.
13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
“Bear with… forgive…” – Jesus taught that having received grace and forgiveness from God, we must extend the same grace to others. Being forgiven by God means we, too, must forgive, without condition.
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.,
“Put on love”— which will look like attitudes of v.12, and like the fruit of the [redeemed, regenerate human] spirit, Gal. 5:22.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
“Peace of Christ” — where Christ rules, where Jesus is accorded His lordship, His peace will act as an umpire. Allegiance to Christ outranks differences between
16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
“Psalms, hymns and songs” — the model is the book of Psalms, which includes psalms of truth from Scripture, hymns of praise and the spontaneous, prophetic songs from the Spirit.
“Do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” — the bottom line is a requirement to keep on growing in Christian maturity and TO show Jesus to others, by living as those who represent Jesus and His Way.
IN PRACTICE The grace and glory of God become a growing part of us when we surrender our self-rule and independence, and ask Jesus to come in. That’s the pathway towards Christian maturity. The story of young Samuel, called by God, and the young Jesus, the Son of God, speak to us about our growing up process. Words written to the church in Colossae challenge us to grow in Jesus-like attitudes and relationships. So why do we get conflicts and tensions in the church? Because we have an active enemy, always looking for unresolved tensions that have become sin, that he can use to deceive, divide or destroy. The remedy is the rule of the opposite spirit — someone attacks us angrily and we choose to respond in peace, or someone is hurtful or difficult, and we choose to love them anyway. This is grace and it disarms the enemy and brings God’s glory – never more powerfully than when we choose to forgive, Matthew 18:21-35.
QUESTION “It’s just the way I am” – but God sent His son and may not accept that limitation! What can you do this Christmas that will release His change?
PRAYER “Lord, I thank You that You came – and have come for me. I give what I have, myself, to You and I receive from You new grace and life in Jesus. Amen.”
Download TLW52 booklet Dec 25/30 to print for your church
(TLW50) Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, December 16, Advent 3
Theme: ABCD of Advent – Change as Christ’s coming beckons
Zephaniah 3:14-20 — The alienated ones are gathered with rejoicing.
God’s wrath over man’s rebellion is real, but so is His mercy for all who turn to Christ
Luke 3:7-18 — Whose values are we agreeing with?
John challenges hearers with the need to change their stance before God at the coming of the righteous Lord who baptises in the Holy Spirit and in fire
Philippians 4:4-7 — Anxiety stalks, but praise and thanksgiving
Knowing God through Jesus, and knowing His nearness by the Holy Spirit, is to rejoice
Also: Song of Praise: Isaiah 12:2-6
SUMMARY The Lord is taking delight in His faithful people, gathering them and bringing them home. John foretells that One greater than him will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire, warning people to get right with God. Paul reminds his churches, don’t be anxious but rejoice, for the Lord is near!
OLD TESTAMENT READING
Zephaniah 3:14-20 – The alienated ones are gathered with rejoicing
God’s wrath over man’s rebellion is real, but so is His mercy for all who turn to Christ
14-15 Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your punishment, He has turned back your enemy.
“Be glad and rejoice” — a complete reversal of the pronouncement of woe and wrath earlier in the chapter, after which a remnant arises again to find God’s favour.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.
“Taken away your punishment” – stated as if judgment day had already happened. God removes His wrath and lifts the curse of transgression through Christ.
For further study, read Romans 5:9, Rom. 8:1, Gal.. 3:13-14.
“The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you” – the true king of Israel was always the Lord, Yahweh, and other rulers were to represent Him. The NT uses this title of Jesus the Messiah, John 1:49, Matt. 27:42 and John seems to apply this verse to Jesus at His Triumphal Entry, John 12:13.
16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.
“Hands hang limp” – do not be discouraged.
17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.’
“The Mighty Warrior” – Yahweh is the supreme Commander, Psalm 24:8.
“Will… delight in you” – like a bridegroom with his bride, Isaiah 62:4-5, Isaiah 65:18-19. Zephaniah was possibly a disciple of Isaiah who shared something of the same vision. His message is that when God’s people seek Him, Zeph. 3:12-13, and rejoice in Him in a relationship of trust, vv.14-15 above, the Lord is so delighted He bursts forth with celebration and loud singing.
18 I will remove [or gather] from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you.
“All who mourn over the loss” – all translators agree that this is a difficult verse. The context esp. vv.19-20 below suggests this is God’s promise to make things right, by both gathering and removing those who remain rebels to God’s truth, and also gathering and bringing back those driven from Jerusalem by oppressors.
19 At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honour in every land where they have suffered shame.
20 At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honour and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes [bring back your captives] before your very eyes,’ says the Lord.
“I will rescue… gather… give honour and praise” — special favour in an intimate way for those who have held on to faith through the deprivation and shame of exile.
IN PRACTICE This week’s theme of ‘Be Prepared’ starts with a passage that is set in the context of God’s wrath. The start of Zephaniah 3 is about Jerusalem, the city of oppressors, and God’s judgment which, as always is intended to be a wake-up call and bring correction, Zeph. 3:1-7. However, following the inevitable punishment, a refining takes place and God delights in those that remain, who have kept faith in Him. In our world, we can see where God’s judgment for ‘doing our own thing’ has resulted in a dramatic fall in church attendance and prosperity. Perhaps it’s needed, so that we wake up and think again about whose church it is, and whether we are in love with God the Father and His Son Jesus, or the traditions we are attached to. The bottom line is that God is good, He loves us and He has a real purpose for all of us – for which some discipline is also a measure of His love.
QUESTION What does God want from us as a faith community, that is a tension with what we want?
Luke 3:7-18 – Whose values are we agreeing with?
John challenges hearers with the need to change their stance before God at the coming of the righteous Lord who baptises in the Holy Spirit and in fire
7-9 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’
“Vipers” — a way of challenging them about having become the seed of the Serpent, Gen. 3:15, in their attitudes and actions. These vipers, Isaiah 59:5 are the rebellious people of God who turned the way of the Lord into crooked roads, Isaiah 59:8.
“We have Abraham” – the erroneous and somewhat arrogant belief of some Jews who believed that descent from Abraham was their assurance of salvation, John 8:33-39, Acts 7:2.
“The axe… tree… good fruit” – genuine faith produces good fruit. Claiming the ancestry of Abraham was meaningless if not matched with righteous, just and generous-spirited living including a willingness to engage in repentance responding to John’s call.
10 ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.
11 John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’
“Two shirts” – a long tunic undergarment.
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptised. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’
13 ‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ He told them.
14 Then some soldiers asked Him, ‘And what should we do?’
He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.’
“Tax collectors…soldiers” – probably a form of police in the employ of Herod Antipas to protect the tax collectors, a rejected community seen as supporting the Roman oppression. John preaches honesty and concern for those in need, against the fraudulent dealings and extortion that had become part of the accepted way of life.
15-16 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, ‘I baptise you with [in] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with [in] the Holy Spirit and fire.
“The Holy Spirit and fire” – a holy ‘drenching’ that will transform and purify. Fire is often used in the OT as an illustration of the judgment that purifies, exposing what is insubstantial and ‘combustible’. The Holy Spirit also reveals what is not of God and exposes our self-deceptions in a transformation that can be a fiery and radical purification.
17-18 His winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
“Wheat… chaff” – the righteous versus the unrepentant. John’s theme throughout is on the need for a humility before God which brings with it a sincere dependence on God and a lifestyle of willingness to recognise and deal with everything in life which is not God’s way. “Winnowing fork” – many Jews had assumed a false sense of entitlement, believing that when the Messiah came, only pagans would be singled out, but John makes clear that judgment and punishment that judgment will come on all who do not repent.
“Proclaimed the good news” – John’s message heralded the coming of a Saviour, both imminently and also in the final judgment – a message of joy and justice for all who would receive Him but a stark warning for those who would not, both present and future.
IN PRACTICE The Jews were confident that they deserved favour from God because of their heritage, rather conveniently overlooking the swatches of of their Scriptures (Old Testament to us) which speak of rebellion and apostasy and the inevitable consequences which they suffered in exile and then a series of invasions. The hated (but for the most part, just and professional) Roman rule was just the latest of a number of occupations.
What about us? We live in a so-called Christian country. We may have served our church or fellowship faithfully, with others looking to us as the ones who ‘keep things going’. But has that given us a false sense of entitlement? This “be prepared” season is a good time to ask if we are holding faithfully, or perhaps just tenaciously, on to what God actually wants us to let go of, so He is able to “do a new thing”, Isaiah 43:18-19. And to be humble enough to let go of any sense of entitlement is definitely a good way to “be prepared”.
PRAYER Lord, as I mentally line up for John’s baptism and wonder what in me has more of the hallmark of the snake, rather than the Spirit, help me to let go of attitudes that need to go, and to embrace the change and holiness You are revealing in this season. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
Philippians 4:4-7 – Anxiety stalks, but praise and thanksgiving overcomes
Knowing God through Jesus, and knowing His nearness by the Holy Spirit, is to rejoice
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!
“Rejoice… always” – the back-story here is a disagreement – we might say, a church split – serious enough for the parties to be named in a letter to be read out. The enemy’s strategy is always to find ways to cause disagreement and division, and the God-given remedy is the capacity that Christians have to see beyond themselves, and find agreement. Rejoicing is an attitude of relationship with God, not circumstances, and in that relationship His way becomes clear.
5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
“Gentleness” – the quality of Christlike consideration, generosity of spirit, especially required of church leaders, 1 Tim. 3:3, Titus 3:2.
“Near” – A reminder repeated elsewhere in the NT that the next great event in God’s salvation schedule is Christ’s return. The whole span from Christ’s coming at Bethlehem to the final consummation of the kingdom is “the last time” in which, from God’s perspective, a thousand years are like a day, . “Near” or “at hand” also speaks of the Lord’s nearness in the prayer relationship, the presence of One poised to return.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
“Do not be anxious” – because the Lord is near. Prayerful thanksgiving in every situation is the antidote to anxiety which makes way for God’s peace.
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
“The peace of God” – the assurance of those who know their sins are forgiven and, receiving God’s love, can trust Him beyond their perspective of circumstances.
IN PRACTICE The Lord is gathering those that are really His with rejoicing, not with arguing. However, we have an enemy who is utterly opposed to the love, grace and acceptance that is the heart of the Gospel, and will work on our thoughts wherever our independence from God (the short word is ‘sin’) has given him a way in… and we may not realise where it from until it is too late. Church politics, often linked to religious inflexibility, has resulted in millions that believe in God but don’t believe in His church. If, however, we are characterised as those who “Rejoice always” because we know that God is good even when things are challenging, then that is a very attractive proposition. Anxieties abound in our complex and conflicted world – and everyone is looking for the people who can deal with doubt and fear by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving. A tall order? God has called us, as Christians, to live differently and has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do it.
QUESTION The adversary, Satan, was real enough to Jesus – in the wilderness and wherever He found people oppressed by sickness or other difficulty. Have I become too rational and educated to look for these spiritual realities, and tackle them as Jesus did?
PRAYER Lord, as I draw near to You in this season of preparation, I recognise that preparation involves change, and You are asking all of us to be prepared to check our thoughts, consider our priorities, review our responses – and give them all to You! Help me to let go of all that hinders, so I can grasp with both hands all You have for me that is lifegiving. In Jesus’ name and for His glory, Amen.
Also: Isaiah 12:2-6 – Song of Praise
2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord Himself, is my strength and my defence [or song]
3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
4 In that day you will say:‘Give praise to the Lord, proclaim His name
5 ‘Sing to the Lord, for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.
6 ‘Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.’
TLW49 December 9 Advent 2
19 + 10vv
Theme: Advent ABCD. Be prepared – for Christ to come again in a glorious return
Luke 1:68-79 — Praise for God’s plan of mighty salvation. Zechariah’s prophetic song over the forerunner, John.
Malachi 3:1-4 — A messenger will prepare the way for the Lord. When He appears He will come to refine and purify.
Luke 3:1-6 — God’s word to John is to preach repentance. He is Isaiah’s prophesied voice in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’
Philippians 1:3-11 — Prepare for the day of God’s work completed in us. Paul prays with joy for the believers in Philippi with a view to God’s eternal purpose for them.
ABCD of Advent: Be prepared – for Christ to come again in a glorious return
The messenger of the Lord will prepare the way and then suddenly the Lord, the Refiner, will come to His temple. The word comes to John son of Zechariah, to call people to repentance and prepare the way for the One to come. Christians in the Early Church are reminded that God’s work in us is always a ‘work in progress’, with its completion date the day of Christ Jesus.
CANTICLE – INTRODUCTION TO ‘BE PREPARED’ THEME
Luke 1:68-79 – Praise for God’s plan of mighty salvation
Zechariah’s prophetic song over the forerunner, John
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come to His people and redeemed them.
“Praise be” — Benedictus in the Latin translation.
“His people… redeemed” — Zechariah is correct about the Jewish people, but His perspective does not extend to God’s desire for inclusive salvation, Luke 3:6.
69-71 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us
“Horn” — of a powerful animal, a ‘mighty salvation’, Ps. 18:2.
72-73 to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
“His Holy covenant… to Abraham” — although the original promise to Abraham had a focus on the land, this now emphasises the people of the land.
74-75 and to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
“Rescue us” — the people of Israel wanted freedom from physical, Gentile enemies, the Romans. God’s plan through His Son Jesus was for spiritual freedom from sin, from Satan and from death.
76-77 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
“My child… a prophet” — at this dedication and naming of the baby as John, Zechariah prophesies over Him. John was the last of the OT prophets and was called by Jesus the greatest, Luke 7:28.
78-79 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
“Rising sun” — the Messiah is described in the OT as the sun rising and dispelling darkness, Isaiah 9:2, 60:1; Mal. 4:2-5.
“Path of peace” — or the way of the Lord: God’s purpose is people finding peace with God through faith in Christ Jesus, Romans 5:1.
OLD TESTAMENT READING
Malachi 3:1-4 — A messenger will prepare the way for the Lord
When He appears He will come to refine and purify
1 “I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
“My messenger” – a play on the name Malachi. This messenger is Isaiah’s “voice in the wilderness”, Isa. 40:3 which the NT understands as the ‘Elijah’ of Malachi 4:3, the role which John the Baptist fulfilled, at least at the first coming of Christ. It was the custom in that culture for a king to send a messenger ahead to address obstacles to their visit – one way of seeing John the Baptist urging people to repent and prepare for the greater Messenger to come.
For further study, read Matt. 3:3, 11:14, 17:10-13; John 1:14-17
2 But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.
“The day of His coming” – a picture of judgment and also purifying. The launderer’s work with lye soap and beating with sticks was not gentle; neither was the heat needed to raise the dross of impurities from molten metal.
3-4 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
“Purify the Levites” – the term messenger was usually applied to prophets and priests – and the priestly class of the Levites, who were supposed to be an example in serving at the altar, will be purged of their unfaithfulness.
IN PRACTICE Malachi’s message here about the Lord and messenger of the covenant focuses on the refining and purifying aspect, particular for its guardians, the priests and Levites. Bring that into today and the NT reminds us, James 3:1, that teachers will be judged more harshly. For those given privilege and responsibility, more is expected, Luke 12:38. The priests and religious leaders of Jesus’ time were not proclaiming God’s purpose but thwarting it.
Jesus is poised to come again, and the more that reality becomes clear, the more it is plain that He simply wants His Church back. He wants it to be His church, holding His values and proclaiming the unashamed message to the various empires of man, that He is the way to salvation into the kingdom of God.
Creating our own version of temple and priesthood may be more accessible for us – but it’s not what He had in mind. It’s not the New Covenant way of knowing God that the Early Church began to work out.
Our honouring His first coming, and preparing ourselves for His return, must involve pruning back what doesn’t belong, to reveal a church that Jesus will recognise.
QUESTION What simple changes would bring your church closer to Jesus’ intention?
Luke 3:1-6 — God’s word to John is to preach repentance
He is Isaiah’s prophesied voice in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’
1-2 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar – when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene – during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
“Herod tetrarch of Galilee… Philip tetrarch of Iturea. When Herod the Great died in 4 BC his sons Antipas (Galilee) and Philip (Iturea), also Archelaus, not mentioned, succeeded him as tetrarchs ruling quarters of his former kingdom. Also mentioned by Luke, Lysanias, the fourth tetrarch and the overseeing Roman governor Pontius Pilate.
3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
“Preaching a baptism of repentance” – John heralded the coming Messiah saying that people needed to repent of their sins and prepare spiritually; the response and demonstration of repentant intention was water baptism.
4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.
“Prepare the way” – before a royal visit, workers would clear and level the road. The quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5 was associated with the Jews’ return from exile, Ezra 1-2, and end-times salvation. The picture for Jewish hearers was of another deliverance like the Exodus from Egypt.
5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.
“Every valley… filled in” – a poetic way of saying the Lord’s purpose will not be thwarted. There are also moral overtones. The humble and lowly are to be built up, the crooked changed, and the proud and arrogant, particular obstacles to God’s purposes, will be humbled.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”
“All people” – Luke’s gospel was written with Gentile believers being added to the church in mind. All four gospel accounts quote Isaiah 40:3 but only Luke takes the quotation further: “…the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.” Luke, a Gentile, asserts, from Scripture, that all people – not just those included in the original covenants – would see God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. It would be 20 years after the Resurrection, at the Council of Jerusalem, that this was recognised, a huge and controversial shift of attitude, see Acts 15, Galatians 2.
“All… will see God’s salvation” – God’s intention, that His covenant people would act as a light and model of righteousness to the nations around them, was clearly set out by Isaiah, Isa. 42:6 and 49:6: “The Servant… is called… to be **a light for the Gentiles**…” “…He says, ‘You will do more than restore the people of Israel to Me. I will make you a **light to the Gentiles**, and you will **bring My salvation to the ends of the earth**.’ ” Luke also reports the aged, godly Simeon’s prophetic blessing at the dedication of Jesus, Luke 2:28-32 “…My eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The purifying of the Levites, Mal. 3:3, addresses their negligence of this important widening of the mission of God.
IN PRACTICE Luke’s picture of John, the prophetic voice in the wilderness of Isaiah 40 is a call for us to be prepared for the expected order to be upset.
The Jews expected their Messiah to come to them and deliver them, as their entitlement.
We think of our church attendance and charitable actions, and feel we should be the ones lining the way for the royal visit.
God often does things differently from our expectations. In recent years there have been increasing testimonies of how God shocks people that don’t really know Him with His love. We have been challenged by His perplexing grace to those we consider, in our judgment, rather undeserving as we hear stories of prisoners in jail receiving Jesus and Muslims of harsh views having visions of the Lord.
This gospel passage emphasises our being prepared for His return in expecting – and praying for – people who are not like us, to begin to see His salvation.
QUESTION Who, in our world and culture, are to us like the ‘Gentiles’ that Jews of Jesus’ time struggled to accept as a focus of His salvation?
Philippians 1:3-11 — Prepare for the day of God’s work completed in us
Paul prays with joy for the believers in Philippi with a view to God’s eternal purpose for them.
1 I thank my God every time I remember you.
“I thank my God” – Paul is writing from closely-guarded imprisonment, but his tone is thanks and joy for what God is doing among others.
4-6 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus.
“Day of Christ Jesus” – His return. God (the Holy Spirit) initiates salvation, works the ongoing salvation in us needed beyond the change of heart of initial salvation, and will bring salvation for all to its conclusion on this future day. Paul writes with this longer, eternal timescale in view.
For further study, read Phil 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:2–11; 2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 20:11–21:8)
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.
“In chains or… confirming the gospel” – the Philippians stood with Paul and supported him practically and financially, despite the stigma of imprisonment in their culture. The partnership remained strong although Paul’s ability to “defend and confirm the gospel” seemed to have been removed by imprisonment. His perspective is that God is always “carrying on” the “good work” that He began through good times and hard. God always completes what he starts.
8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,
“Love may abound… in knowledge and… insight” – in knowledge of God’s Will and so able to move from the immediate picture and the judgments we make, to seeing the bigger picture of what God, in His unconditional love, is doing in others.
10-11 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.
“Pure and blameless” – questioning what will be found in us on the day of Christ’s return. Harbouring wrong attitudes, especially the judgmental or resentful kind, will bring the Lord’s censure — we are commanded to forgive, to show grace, to treat people better than they deserve and above all, to love. It’s only treating others as God treats us.
“The fruit of righteousness” — not something we can achieve by any amount of effort or discipline. Rather, it is being yielded to the Holy Spirit, such that He can grow righteousness in us, from the inside out.
IN PRACTICE God’s timescales can be difficult for us in a world where up-to-the-minute news is on the ‘phone in our pocket, ‘instant’ drinks and food offer to save us time and we can be in another country for a meeting and back again the same day. Having to wait is challenging for us, and the waiting for Jesus’ return that the Early Church seemed to measure in years is counted for us in millennia. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the good work begun by the Lord is taking a long time to bring to anything like completion: the world has got bigger and vastly more complex. The message of this epistle is to have faith in God for all the loose ends that we see. He will bring to completion the good work that He has started, whether that is in us personally or the mission of the church we are involved in or the bringing about of a just world order.
QUESTION What does it look like, to be filled with the fruit of righteousness?
PRAYER Lord, we want Your glorious return but we are so unprepared. Teach us to wait actively but also to willingly put right with You those traits which have no place in Your presence. Amen.
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