Advent to Christmas
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.
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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